Podcasts/Episode 231

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The Letters Page: Episode 231
Writers' Room: NightMist #150

NightMist 150.png

Original Source

Primary Topic

Intro

Which minor villain gets scary today?

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:27:31

We're halfway through the second spooky month, but this episode is less "spooky" and more "potentially exitentially terrifying". I'm sure nothing bad will come out of it.

If you're a Letters Page Patreon supporter (and if you're not, maybe you should be!) join us for a live show this Friday! We look forward to seeing you there!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • Today’s topic is “a minor villain gets real scary”. They talked briefly before recording about potential villains to use for this, but didn’t talk about the actual plot. They tried to pick somebody who could use a bit more actual narrative to flesh them out for the audience. Like, the Hippo has his niche as a jobber, but there’s not a whole lot more we need to know to understand him. They pick the Seer - a Host-based villain that’s usually a Fanatic foe, but who has also faced NightMist. Once, back in episode 58, they mentioned a story in which the Seer did something with Magmaria, so that’s what they’re going to flesh out today.
  • What had been said in that old episode was that the Seer had gone to Magmaria and was taking the crystalline remains of dead Magmarians (basically their “souls”) and using them as a source of power. NightMist was involved and it was a story written as a way to try to “power up” the Seer so that he was still somebody who could still be a worthy foe of the post-Void (and thus more powerful) NightMist.
  • They could put this in Dark Watch, or in the late ’90s in NightMist itself. She comes back in (what will become known as) her Dark Watch look in NightMist #130 in March ’96 and the book ends in September ’98 at issue #160. That’s a decent gap where we can put this one. We could have a story in the low 130s where the Seer shows up and just gets demolished by NightMist now [Christopher cruelly types that into his spreadsheet, but neglects to say which issue] and then this one in the #140s or low-150s. How big of a story is this - it could be the big issue #150 story or it’s a 2-parter a few months on either side. Let’s just do the former, so today’s story is November ’97 in #150.
  • So, they’re imagining that this is a double-sized issue, so there’s a bunch of room to play around with. Is this just NightMist vs. the Seer (with Magmarians) or do we have some supporting cast stuff in there too. With the extra room they could have some Soothsayer Carmichael stuff in there. Maybe not him as they’ve used him a lot recently… Who else? Probably not Lydia the Gorgon. Maybe Virgil Miller (the on-again/off-again romantic interest who’s also a paranormal investigator). Christopher kind of wants to not have supporting cast people around because if Soothsayer Carmichael is around he’ll just explain the magic stuff to her and it’s more interesting if she has to talk to the Magmarians to learn about whatever’s going on. She’s also kind of fresh into this “struggling with her sense of humanity” thing just after the Void stuff and having her interacting with these non-human people effectively might help her deal with that. That’s more of a B-plot through-line than the main story, but it’s still present.
  • So, the Seer wants more power. He’s not necessarily doing this specifically to keep up with NightMist, but there is an amount of “revenge” motive here after his casual defeat at her hands not too long ago. They’ve interacted in the past (he’s infiltrated Diamond Manor at one point), but they think this is a case of NightMist just happening to be the hero that stops his plot rather than it being something “personal” in either direction. Maybe he’s stolen something from her that he’s using to take the power from the Magmarians? There was a story in the late ’80s where they know he stole something and maybe that’s what is involved now. [We have seen a preview of a Diamond Manor card “Relic Room” that shows him poking around a room full of magical items. It cites the final issue of Tome of the Bizarre volume 2, #350, from February ’88.]
  • What’s the thing do? Maybe a receptacle that can store souls? Nah - the fact that we’re dealing with Magmarian souls rather than “just” their crystalline remains seems more like a reveal later, so the thing explicitly being for that is too much. Maybe more like a “converter” - it can take “magical energies” in several forms and transform them into other forms. Souls just happen to be one of said options. The “Vessel of Osmozo” or something. It’s a former cage/home of a genie that was banished somehow - like it’s an “empty genie’s lamp” (but not a lamp specifically) that he can use to draw power in and then use for himself, but the reason it works is that its original purpose was to house a spirit. We have to learn over the course of the story the thing that we already know to be true, but wasn’t at the time. Like, maybe this is where the actual reason the Magmarians are so reverent of/focused on magma crystals is established. By using the crystals for “power” in the way the Seer is, they’re preventing the potential of new Magmarians from growing from the crystals he uses.
  • Adam suggests maybe instead of being the former “home” of a genie/djinn that it was something used to capture them. The user could then use up their power before moving on to the next one. That’s a bit more parallel to how the Seer is using it. You find the genie lamp and draw it out in to this thing. “No, we’re not doing the ‘three wishes’ thing where you screw me over. We’re doing this on my terms.” They do some off-the-air name and appearance discussion. This thing looks like the thing that Fabergé Eggs are pattered after (so, maybe not as ornate, but the same kind of look). It was made by somebody who has a problem with genies and they made it to do away with them by doing this “capture and use them up” thing to them. It’s called Psellos’s Gift [presumably this guy.]
  • The Seer stole this thing from Diamond Manor about a decade (in publishing time) ago. Then after she returned from the Void he shows up to use whatever this thing is against her and it doesn’t work/she casually defeats him (maybe when she just had the mist powers it could have drawn her in, but the Void stuff she has going on is something else entirely). Then he starts hitting the books and we have enough things in place to just tell the story.
  • So, the book opens with the Seer creating an active volcano somewhere? Or maybe he’s somewhere and is making a demand that [somebody] give him something that he wants or he’ll create a volcano. They don’t and so he does. Hmm… maybe we don’t actually have enough puzzle pieces yet. He wants power and respect, but what’s the specific goal here? “Ruling the world” isn’t really his thing. Or at least, he always wants more power and, ultimately, ruling the world is an indicator of having a lot of power. Maybe he’s looking to get enough power here so that he can go on to take over some other realm to make it his own. He needs a somewhat wide variety of power to do so. He’s already got some from the Host and we’re moving on to the volcano thing. They decide that “making active volcanoes” isn’t what he’s doing but is a consequence of other stuff he’s doing.
  • Instead, what we start with is him in “collector of power” mode as he’s finding somebody somewhere and taking power from them. He’s got this thing that he’s already used to grab power and is using that power to try to get something from somebody. In the process, a bunch of steaming fissures open in the ground, lava flows out and he disappears. NightMist notices something going on from way over where she is and needs to investigate.
  • Who does he beat up for power at the beginning of the book? It could just be some sorcerous acquaintance of NightMist. It’s in some old temple in a desert or whatever. He walks up and is stopped by guards with glowing lances or something before he talks about being here to take the power within these walls. Yadda yadda. It doesn’t really matter what the specific details of what they talk about is for our purposes, because this place exists entirely for this scene where the Seer immediately takes these jerks out and wins. There’s a fight first, which can be pretty cool and is where the ground cracks/lava come into things. It’s just incidental to the Seer storming the place. Anyway, the guards having been taken care of he gets inside and finds a thing on a dais. It’s a complicated arrangement of metal discs suspended within a framework. As he approaches, somebody else runs in saying that he can’t touch it. The Seer doesn’t even want the thing. He pulls out the egg-looking device and drains power from the whatever-it-is, washing out its color in the process as a visual indicator of what’s going on. When he’s done the discs and whatnot just fall to the table and then he back-hands the whole thing which crumbles to dust when it hits the ground. Any remaining guards just fall to their knees weeping as he laughs and walks out. Or maybe somebody says he can’t leave, but we get a panel showing his eye glowing and we change scenes, with the implication being that he killed the rest of them.
  • We move on to NightMist. She’s gotten a lot of reports of places of power being defiled and there’s signs that it’s one person/thing going around accumulating power. Oh, wait… The Scholar should totally be involved in this. He can just show up at her door with terrible news. She knows, but having that setup means that of course the Scholar would know about it too and so shows up to help. Also: this kind of “items of great power” and “ancient magics” stuff isn’t really Argent Adept’s thing (he’s more the magic of the natural world kind of stuff), so let’s not involve him. Plus he’s probably busy with his own crises. Scholar can be involved in a similar way to how Soothsayer Carmichael is, but with the difference being “active monitoring” vs. “determined that something was up through study”.
  • Along those lines, though, we can have the two of them name-drop the usual supporting cast/other practitioners who readers might expect to be involved. Like, our two heroes have been in contact with various other people to talk about what’s going on, but they don’t need to show up in the issue. That can be where they mention Argent Adept and Soothsayer Carmichael. Like, they mention talking to Anthony and relate what he told them (with a caption box with an Editor’s Note to a recent issue of his book [they say Virtuoso of the Void, but that title didn’t exist at this time - Prime Wardens vol. 1 #143 was this month, though]). They’re not trying to one-up each other, but there is an escalation of who all has been in contact. NightMist has even heard from the Court of Blood that something is up and Scholar has heard similar concerns from Zhu Long. Everybody is worried that they might be next.
  • As they are talking we get flashback panels showing NightMist visiting some of these places that have been ruined, including the temple that we started the issue with. Scholar is describing the ley-line stuff and how there’s no place on Earth that makes sense as the next target. “What about within the Earth?”
  • And from there they go to Magmaria. They find Magmarian “villages” before getting to the main city and everyone’s gone. There are signs of fighting, but there are no Magmarians (dead or alive) to be seen. Well, until a group of them come charging up from a lava pool to attack them. There’s a shaman with them and they’re able to “talk” to him (like telepathy kinds of things - not everybody can communicate with Magmarians, but NightMist and Scholar can figure it out) - they just came to avenge the deaths of their fellows. It’s a big misunderstanding; the heroes are here investigating. The shaman “tells” them that several of their autonomous, outlying communities have been attacked like this. They don’t know what’s doing it since the places are always deserted when they’re checked up on.
  • Something in here is where we start getting the idea that they don’t really even care about “dying” as there’s this whole cycle of life thing. The people just being gone is the concern (and there’s something about how “their forms no longer resonate in the lattice we’re all connected to” or similar to indicate that we can know that they didn’t just wander off or were kidnapped - they’re not a “hive mind” but the guys like the idea of “resonance” that they can feel one another). The Seer is committing some “light genocide” incidentally during his quest for power.
  • Okay, so from there let’s say they can find a way to track the Seer and find him where he’s set up a stronghold in some old Magmarian building. He uses it as a base - when he finds a new place topside to attack, he’ll first grab a bunch of Magmarians to drain to “fuel up” for the fight. He’s turning this place into a temple from which he can initiate his takeover of whatever that other realm is. NightMist and Scholar find him here.
  • Do we need to show/define how (beyond the Magmarian perspective) what he’s doing will be a Bad Thing? We have the “light genocide” here locally, we have the fact that he’s using Magmarian energies while topside which is causing localized lava eruptions and whatnot (but he’s doing so all over the world, which makes those localized issues a widespread phenomenon), and maybe we say that by reducing the number of Magmarians they’re no longer performing whatever management of the magma and whatnot inside the Earth that they normally do and that’s destabilizing the planet generally. Adam thinks that the ritual itself should be a danger as well. Okay, so the Seer is looking to go to this other realm to take over, but he’s not interested in ever coming back and so doesn’t care about leaving anything behind him: when he completes the ritual, by using all of this Magmarian energy he’ll basically be using up all of the heat energy of the Earth - the mantle and core of the Earth will cool and solidify.
  • Let’s say that the various objects up on the surface that he’s draining are all powerful artifacts attuned to different “types” of magic (like one’s a Natural Magic thing, another is Blood Magic, etc.). He uses Psellos’s Gift to drain them, but he doesn’t use that power up. He’s only expending Magmarian energy - all of these other types of power are being used in the temple he’s building to imbue obelisks with the power to act as conduits. Safely storing/buffering the power until he’s ready to claim it all at once (and so are balanced against one another so as to not immediately destroy him) as he makes his entrance into that new plane.
  • NightMist and Scholar show up and does he just casually dispatch them? Adam suggests that the Seer isn’t there at first so they (and the reader) have a chance to poke around and see what he’s up to. That’s good - they can get some exposition done about what the Seer’s plan is as the two of them describe what all of this has to mean/put it together themselves. Just as they come to the conclusion that the only logical explanation is that he’s not going to be here anymore is when he shows up and confirms that he’s setting up shop elsewhere.
  • And then they fight. NightMist and Scholar have to rush around to avoid him since he’s got so much power now. Their strategy involves hiding behind the obelisks and attempting to “tune” them to use against him. They’re not pulling power from the obelisks themselves, but are setting things up so that he accidentally unleashes the power by hitting one. Maybe we have the Seer manage to knock out the Scholar and has NightMist cornered and dead-to-rights, but Scholar reveals that he was faking it and does a thing… Nah. It’s more fun to have the heroes do a team-attack thing. Like, she channels her new Void power through the Philosopher’s Stone or he transmutes himself into a form that she can then “haunt” in mist form.
  • Oh! The Seer wasn’t ready to make his move yet, but having NightMist and Scholar here gives him an opportunity to drain them - he needed a way to tap into the Ley Line network and he needed access to the Void and they’ve managed to bring both of those right to his doorstep and now the ritual can begin! “We’re going to stop you!” “Let me be more clear. The ritual has already begun!” Now there are lines radiating out from our heroes feet to the various obelisks in the temple. Every time they use their powers some of it is used to drive the ritual towards completion.
  • This is a fun sequence. NightMist was without powers for a long while. Then she gets powers back and is even stronger, at which point she casually defeated the Seer. Now the Seer is much more powerful, but she has to find a way to defeat him without using her powers. Great! No problem. Both she and the Scholar are pretty good at that (Scholar had a long while where the only “power” he used was minor alchemy facilitated through the Stone). She’s still got relics she carries that she can lean on like she did while unpowered and the Scholar can try a sneaky tactic of transmuting Psellos’s Gift itself.
  • Let’s say that what the Scholar does “reverses” the function of the Gift. It starts expelling the Magmarian energy that it had drained. As flames belch forth from the Gift and hit the ground, Magmarians form. Sure, our heroes can’t really use their powers, but a bunch of Magmarians are plenty good at just punching the problem until it goes away. They’re not really fighting him directly, but turn their attention to the obelisks. Even better, once these “new” Magmarians come into existence the others can feel them being added back to the “lattice” and come rushing to their aid, so we get a throng pouring in from the surrounding area as well.
  • A fun overall result of this story could be that all of the released powers from the destroyed obelisks winds up pouring into the nearby lava and it’s positioned to be some new Thing for the Magmarian people (undefined at this time, just there as a thread for a writer to pick up).
  • The Seer gets weakened more than injured as the ritual is disrupted and the backlash of everything falling apart does successfully send him out into some other realm, but in an uncontrolled manner and without being in charge of where he wound up. The heroes don’t see what happens to him (and of course presume that the explosion of energy likely killed him), but there’s a coda to the book where the readers see that he’s lost somewhere out there.
  • As a result, they think that Psellos’s Gift was definitely destroyed to cut off that as a plot point. The other option would be for it to have wound up with the Seer but continue to be stuck in “take power from the Seer and put it back into the world” mode. They prefer it shattering being what triggers the explosion that sends him elsewhere.

Questions

  • Given the non-specific topic for the episode, here are Degausser’s top three choices for which “minor villain” to feature:
    • Revenant as one of, like, 3 people on the planet with a power suit with rockets and lasers it seems like he could get real serious really quick. They think that he’s a more serious villain in the Benchmark era and is situationally big-deal villain. He has resources; what he lacks is vision.
    • Judge Mental - somebody with wide-ranging mind-control powers who thinks he’s in it for the greater good? Maybe he sees some murderer get off on a technicality and that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. He makes the murderer drive off a cliff or something and then keeps doing that sort of thing. That’s why they commonly call “mind control” as a general thing “villain powers”. He feels that he’s serving justice, but they don’t think it’s specifically a “for the good of all” position. It’s “everyone must obey justice”. He has a pretty dark story with the Southwest Sentinels and more in the RPG (and is around a bunch for Captain Cosmic). He’s been around for a long time, but doesn’t really have a single big thing in the Multiverse era, but most of them are pretty dark already. Mind control is no joke.
    • The Hippo - sure he’s a joke character for Haka, but if he were to change targets he could really do some damage. They think that the audience already has a pretty good idea of how dangerous the Hippo is. Yes he is “funny” but that doesn’t negate the danger. He’s an “S-tier, street-level thug”. If you need a street level bad guy, he’s the strongest one.
  • Just to set the record straight, how do you spell Darkstrife, Painstake, and Psylence? [Like that, which is apparently not how the letter writer spelled any of them.]
  • Did creating Psylence require alchemy (given that Project Cocoon seems to be mostly grounded in science but the Grey is a distinctly magical realm)? Did this particular Cocoon cell have to do magic to create her? Christopher would ask if the Grey is necessarily a “magical realm” - it’s certainly a supernatural thing relative to our common understanding, but how much does that necessarily equate to “magic”. They’re not sure on that exactly, but Adam’s perspective on what the Project Cocoon people did was to make something that was analogous to an antenna that just managed to connect to the realm and from there connected it to her. Think about somebody with a HAM radio who’s just hopping around different frequencies until they manage to pick up a signal. Regardless, they don’t think whatever it is they did would qualify as alchemy and they’re not certain that it’s repeatable either. They used scientific means and got an inexplicable result - speaking strictly scientifically it would have been a failure.
  • How is there a version of Psylence (in Dark Visionary’s home reality) that’s a hero? Messing with the surface-level stuff in a way that fights bad guys. It’s hard for Spite to fight the Wraith if all of a sudden he can’t remember that the Wraith exists. She’d temporarily mess with bad guys’ memories, but not permanently. Sure that’s not great, but Visionary is questionable in some ways too regardless of the Dark version’s presence. Or Ra setting people on fire. Or just generally going out into the streets and beating up criminals.
  • [Citizen Theory used Ritr, a text-generating AI to generate the next set of questions. It’s got limited data to work from since they’re not paying for an account until they are sure they’ve found an AI for this purpose that they think is worth it, but let’s see how it goes. I also wouldn’t necessarily take some of their answers as gospel.]
  • What are the Letters Page podcast? What indeed.
  • What is your favorite episode of the Letters Page podcast? Adam likes the Extremeverse one. Christopher is limiting to “in recent memory” and says the Greazer/Fashion team up.
  • If you had to pick a favorite hero, who would it be and why? Christopher says that Adam is his hero. Adam says Wraith.
  • Who is your favorite villain in Sentinel Comics? Adam: Baron Blade - that’s an easy one for him. Christopher: a villain you haven’t heard of yet.
  • What are some questions you’ve always wanted to ask a super hero? That’s a fun one. That would require some thought. Maybe ask Haka what it’s like to have seen so much of the world. Or K.N.Y.F.E. what it’s like to be in other realities. Chrono-Ranger about which cryptids are real. Mr. Fixer (non-dead) what he considers to be the meaning of life.
  • Who is Citizen Theory? The person who sent in this letter.
  • Why does Citizen Theory enjoy writing letters so much? Presumably because they like Sentinel Comics generally and want more information regarding that.
  • Do letter writers discover new things about themselves? That’s fun. It depends on which mindset they’re in when they write in. They certainly hope so.
  • What has Citizen Dawn learned from being a letter writer? She’s got a pen-pal somewhere that wants to come to Insula Primalis but can’t.
  • What is Sentinel on which the podcast comic is based? That’s a good question, what is Sentinel?
  • What is the page Letter Page exist in the world? Huh?
  • How to Chris and Adam research for each letter? First off, it’s Christopher [and Citizen Theory made sure to mention that in providing data to the AI they used “Christopher”]. They don’t necessarily research for each letter. They do research for many episodes for verisimilitude reasons but also for depth of interest. It’s not really “normal research” either, though, since so much of it is intertwined in the creative work they do. They’re just taking tidbits and then weaving that into the rest of the process.
  • In what other ways are new people introduced to the RPG or comics series? Most not from the podcast are people who find the RPG or card game and then ask questions about where the comics are. There’s plenty of recommendations from friends or FLGS employees - friend recommendations are the best way to learn about/spread the word about new games.
  • What is the Letters Page podcast? You already asked.
  • What is the fictional Metaverse of Sentinel Comics? The world in which Sentinel Comics is a real publication company printing and is the primary superhero comics company in that reality.
  • What are the creators of Sentinel Comics the RPG and Sentinels of the Multiverse Definitive Edition? Christopher starts listing names until Adam points out that the question isn’t “who” but “what”. The answer is Humans.
  • What is their goal with this podcast? Originally to inform people more about the universe their game was set in, but they accomplished that. It’s evolved into a method of perpetually adding to that universe. We’re telling the story of Sentinel Comics.
  • How did you get started with Sentinel Comics? By making Sentinels of the Multiverse and realizing that they needed the comics to base it on.
  • What are the challenges of writing a story based in a fictional world? All of the challenges of writing a story in a fictional world are advantages. It is strictly useful to them that they can ask “well, what year was this in?” or “what writer was working on this one?” They inadvertently gave themselves a large set of tools that they did not realize at first.
  • What is your favorite part about writing for the Letters Page podcast? When a story just comes together like the Greazer/Fashion story did. Also the unexpected audience response they get to something they didn’t expect to be as popular as it winds up being like Soothsayer Carmichael or Psylence.
  • What are your favorite pieces of content that you’ve written for the Letters Page podcast? Their “favorite episodes” earlier are part of it. The humanity of the characters they’ve written.
  • What are your favorite comics series or books? They both grew up with and loved X-Men books. Adam is currently reading Radiant Black and the other Massive-Verse line of books and highly recommends them. Christopher has recently been reading the books by Adrian Tchaikovsky that start with Children of Time (the third book came out recently) and they’re great speculative fiction.
  • Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Get a real job like economics or finance. For real, though, for any creative endeavor just write/draw/etc. Just do it a lot. That’s the only path. The two of them have had slumps sometimes, but having the weekly podcast as a regular “you’ve got to make up something” has been a big benefit to break out of writer’s block (or other creative equivalent).
  • [No longer in the AI section] Remember when you made up a jingle for the Law Hawk’s legal line, said people should call it, and then backtracked and said to not call it? Well, I called it. It’s a “adult entertainment” line. Do with that information as you will. [During the discussion here they get into a bit where they talk about how all 900 numbers are, or at least the number that are over time approaches 100% without touching it - they struggle to come up with “asymptote” as the line that is approached but not reached and the type of curve that he’s thinking of as a logistic function as are pointed out in a future episode.]

Cover Discussion

  • We probably want NightMist, Seer, and Scholar all on the cover. Adam’s kind of thinking a “magical Vitruvian Man” thing with NightMist. Or maybe put all three of them in there. Some kind of magical diagram kind of thing. As a #150 issue maybe they’d do the diagram’s lines in foil or something - foil had kind of died out as a fad by now, but something to make the issue pop on the newsstand. Do we have words? They are possible, but in this era we get kind of half-sentences for cover words. Or slightly twisted aphorisms. Maybe do a riff on “absolute power corrupts absolutely”? Is there something they can swap “absolute” out on that? Or maybe “knowledge is power” instead. Maybe with the diagram they just use “The Measure of a Man”. [In the end, there wound up being no such phrase on the cover at all.]