Podcasts/Episode 232

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The Letters Page: Episode 232
Writers' Room: The Mocktriarch Story

A Murder Most Fowl.png

Original Source

Primary Topic

Intro

Birds birds birds! But are they real birds?

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:15:55

We tell a story that we've known for a while, but have never shared here!

We also take a variety of questions on a variety of topics! You know, like we usually do on this show!

Join us next week for a much less known story about The Scholar!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • By popular demand, we’re doing the Mocktriarch story today. This is the Critical Event for the Matriarch’s deck in Sentinels of the Multiverse Definitive Edition. It’s the November 2007 one-shot story A Murder Most Fowl. They’ll also get into some other stuff happening around that that we haven’t been told yet, but there’s not a lot here for them to invent here as the broad strokes are already pretty well nailed-down.
  • The month before was Dark Watch volume 1 #100. They’re not going to get into that issue except to say that at the very end there’s a splash page revealing that the Matriarch is back and evil. What are you doing, Lillian!? This is after she’s been learning from NightMist for a while and so that’s even more concerning than it was before.
  • The one-shot opens with the Matriarch on a classic bird rampage in Rook City. There are actual people dying. The art isn’t lingering on it in a gross way, but it’s clear that bird murders (burders?) are happening. Dark Watch is there and dealing with the never-ending stream of “projectile birds” while trying to talk to her to get her to snap out of it. She’s just cackling and doesn’t care.
  • This story is a bit more “zoomed out”. Dark Watch is often very personal and we get to really see who these people are as people rather than heroes fighting villains. This one-shot is not that and is very much intended to be a good broad-strokes kind of deal to get people to pick it up and understand it as a self-contained story, but maybe leading to ongoing interest in the characters. This does mean that the characters are almost caricatures of themselves: Setback is kind of bumbling but pure-hearted, Expatriette is gruff and shooty, NightMist is magical and distant/not good at being a person, and Mr. Fixer is magical and distant/not good at being a person (but in different ways - NightMist says a lot more; Mr. Fixer might not have much “dialogue” at all, if you can count grumbles as dialogue).
  • Anyway, the heroes can’t get through the bird storm. This is probably worse than if you took both tellings of the original Matriarch story combined. The heroes fall back and regroup at the Dark Watch headquarters which is definitely a thing that the writer of this issue thought existed. That’s when Tachyon zips in. She’s heard that her cousin was causing trouble again, but you guys were supposed to be keeping her on the straight and narrow. She really thinks they’ve dropped the ball.
  • Who realizes that something is “wrong”? Tachyon is mostly directing this anger at NightMist in particular who retorts that she tried reaching out to Lillian with her powers and couldn’t get a read on her. Something is blocking her and she doesn’t think it’s Lillian herself, so somebody else is doing this to her. Is this a Mr. Jitters, Zhu Long, Realm of Discord, or any number of their other enemies plot? They don’t go down all of those rabbit holes, but there’s a laundry list of potential culprits.
  • They don’t just rush back out to fight some more, they do the boring investigation route of reviewing footage and whatnot (readers: begin dying of boredom), but then the headquarters is attacked by birds! More of the same “can’t physically get to her, can’t reach out to her magically” stuff. Even Tachyon can’t get through - she can deal with a lot of birds but there are always more birds. It’s weird that there are so many birds.
  • Two things happen almost simultaneously: in defeating the birds, it’s noticed that they’re mechanical. Sort of. They have metal skeletons. Also, the Matriarch herself is assaulted by two birds. Rather large ravens in fact (one with noticeable scars and another with an aura of power around it and wearing a fancy amulet). It’s Huginn and Muninn! That’s definitely an indication that something is wrong. Either it’s not really her or something is so wrong for her most staunch allies to turn against her. After the heroes notice the ravens we have one of them attack “the Matriarch” and manage to injure her face enough that we can see that she’s metal underneath the flesh.
  • There’s a slight aside here regarding how dumbed down distilled into their most archetypal form the characters are (to help new readers get familiar with characters they may not know much about). As such, there was probably a bit earlier where Expatriette suggested the sniper’s solution to the Matriarch problem. Given that earlier scene, at this point after we’ve seen the metal skeletons of both the birds and the Matriarch, we can just have Expatriette end the fight this way. Once we know that it’s not really Lillian there’s no longer anything “interesting” going on with the fight. They debate a bit on whether the bullet should ricochet off or not, but the cooler option is to have the shot be effective, she and all of the birds drop to the ground, but then she stands back up (and the birds start flapping their way back up into the air, but now the Mochtriarch’s got a sizable wound in her head).
  • At this point it’s a no-holds-barred kind of fight since the heroes don’t care about “saving” their opponent. Fun team-up things between the various Dark Watch members plus Tachyon. They manage to defeat/destroy the Mochtriarch.
  • How much does Dark Watch know about Biomancer at this point? Tachyon at least knows about him in general given previous incidents [Lightspeed was over a decade earlier in publication time]. Nobody knows “a lot” about Biomancer, but she knows enough. NightMist and Mr. Fixer likely also know about him. Y’know… Given this group we have everybody going around the circle saying that it’s Biomancer. We get to Pete last, “Yup, definitely Biomancer. Guys… Who is Biomancer?” Setback’s the only one who doesn’t know about him, because that’s funny, it hits his “heart of gold, head of lettuce” archetype, and is an easy excuse for an audience surrogate so that Biomancer gets explained for the new readers.
  • Do we need to show a flashback of Biomancer/his goons (i.e. fleshchildren) kidnapping Lillian? Nah - we can shorthand a bit of “tracking them down” via Tachyon getting enough of a “reading” from the stuff they’ve been fighting to trace the signal back to wherever they need to go. Christopher suggests a few other things that help narrow things down as well since he envisioned Biomancer being very far away, but Adam thinks we’re staying in Rook City for timing reasons. Christopher points out that 1) NightMist makes things like “travel time” trivial and 2) having her do something like teleporting everybody wherever they need to be is a good “introduction” to her and the scale of her powers. Adam counters that it’s a bit far considering the continuity of her being around in DW #100 which “just ended”.
    • Christopher’s fine with keeping things “local” but he does point out that Biomancer has access to [redacted], so there’s something that would allow him to move long distances quickly that they don’t want to tell us he has access to, but it’s true that that’s “super inside baseball” so yes, they keep the story in Rook City. [Popular theory in the Letters Page Discord is the Atlantean portal network mentioned in the Hero Headquarters episode.]
  • Biomancer has a base in a warehouse across down. They’re going to go in and fight their way through fleshchildren and more birds (which had been produced for the Mochtriarch to use since she doesn’t actually control birds), but they find that it’s all a facade for an underground base. Like, sub-subway deep in the Rook City underground in catacombs or something. Why are there catacombs in Rook City? I dunno; maybe that’s why the city is cursed.
  • Pretty quick after they get into the “underground lair” portion of the complex they find where the Harpy has been tied up (and hooked up to various machines that were, one presumes, used in the cloning process). Adam suggests that we cut to where she is before the others find her so that we can have a chance to have Biomancer monologue at her for a bit and then the others burst in. The general gist is how he’s destroying whatever meager goodwill she’s developed out in the world so why doesn’t she just go back to being the Matriarch for real? She has faith in her friends coming to save her. His confident rebuttal that they will never do so is undercut by Setback falling through the ceiling, crashing into some machine that then explodes, which is Biomancer’s cue to get out of there.
  • The rest of the heroes come down to join them. There’s a fair bit of chaos as they’re trying to free Harpy from her bonds while “birds” continue to attack through the hole in the ceiling and some homunculus guards come in to fight them. Harpy initially thinks that “hey, there are birds here; I can do something with that!” and tries to control them, but they attack her instead and Setback has to jump in the way to protect her.
  • It’s at this point that we get a speech balloon from off-panel (but with mechanical/electrical buzzing elements thrown in) saying that she’s the true Matriarch/no imposters will be allowed and the Mochtriarch comes in from the shadows. She is looking rough after the previous fights. It’s somehow managed to piece itself back together and drag itself here. It takes control of the birds present and knocks Setback aside with a bunch of them. She crosses to Harpy and hoists her up by her neck for some more gloating.
  • Tachyon is who saves the day. They think it’d be fun to have her use the static electricity effect that she generates in an interesting way here, so they say that she zips around to generate a strong charge and uses that and the equipment in the room to make a magnetic field that attracts all of the little chunks of metal flying around (i.e. the birds). Everyone gets shocked a little, but it takes care of all of the fleshchildren in the room - when she’s done and the dust settles she’s standing there with the Mocktriarch’s head in her hands (not that it still resembles Lillian Corvus anymore - it’s just a wrecked robot head). She chucks it across the room and NightMist portals it elsewhere. That’s taken care of forever.
  • So, they confer about how they could just leave. They have Lillian again and all of the robots are destroyed. Lillian, however, knows (via his monologuing) that he’s got samples from the whole team and is ready to do some really bad stuff in Rook City (not just ruining their reputations, but genuinely devastating stuff). They have to go after him now to stop him.
  • Adam has a valid question: who doesn’t Biomancer have DNA samples for at this point? Eh… the plot of this story is that they have to get them back. That’s definitely the only such sample he has for any of these people.
  • Anyway, they follow him deeper into the lair. There’s probably additional “cameos” of other heroes’ fleshchild copies like the Wraith or whatnot, but they’re clearly half-baked/incomplete versions and so don’t pose too much of an issue. They catch up to Biomancer, destroy the DNA samples he’s trying to make off with. He tries to make a deal with them - he can provide funding for their activities, help make them respected/adored by the people, etc. Mr. Fixer just punches him across the room. Then Setback picks him up with a “You’re going to jail” or similar, but then he just kind of melts all over Setback because Biomancer is super gross. Everyone else saw this coming. Poor Setback.
  • They love how this issue is both super dark, but also has these silly elements to it.
  • There’s a coda at the end about how they saved the day and stopped the villain, but there was still a lot of damage caused in the process and it’s all very obviously Dark Watch’s fault. Sure, they don’t have the same public personae as the Freedom Five, but it certainly doesn’t help things like the ongoing media campaign against these darn vigilantes in the Rook City media.

Questions

  • So, given that we have covers for Night’s Plutonian Shore, Freedom Five #583, and A Murder Most Fowl we know they all have a writing credit for somebody with the surname “Jewett” - was this person a fan of the original Matriarch story and are they responsible for the retelling the story/for her eventual evolution into a hero? What was their role in the comics - did they continue to write Dark Watch? Is this a one-shot or did it occur over several issues? It’s a one-shot with the aforementioned tease in the previous issue of DW. They could get into the answers to your questions regarding the writer, but it turns out that there’s a significant section about this person in The History of Sentinel Comics. It’s coming, they promise. They really hope within the next year.
  • Why is the Mocktriarch a Tachyon nemesis instead of the Harpy? What’s Harpy’s role in the story (if any)? Does she at least show up to wrest control of Huginn and Muninn from her doppelganger? She doesn’t need to wrest control of the ravens because they were never under the Mocktriarch’s control. We see what Harpy’s involvement is in the overview, but the Mocktriarch character card in DE is Tachyon’s nemesis instead because Harpy wasn’t involved in much of the Mocktriarch fight(s) at all, while Tachyon was and she’s kind of the star of the issue (sure, it’s an ensemble book and they all do stuff, but she gets a lot of the big moments, she’s the “guest star”, etc.).
  • Why did Biomancer choose the Harpy as the one to make a copy of? How did the copy control the birds? How, after the heroes win, were they able to prove that it wasn’t the Harpy returning to her evil ways? Does the Harpy receive even more scrutiny from the press/public/law enforcement after this? He chose her because she was already somebody with that bad reputation and he figured it would be easy to push on that. She wasn’t controlling real birds. Definitely gets more scrutiny? How do they prove it wasn’t her? They can’t! Sure, it’s worse in public perception, but this is Rook City so the cops are already bought and paid for so at least that aspect of it isn’t really any worse off than they were already.
  • Why does Biomancer target Harpy specifically? Is it because the Matriarch event is still fresh in people’s minds and so it’s easier to drag her name through the mud? What does he gain from this? They already answered the first few, but not the last. There’s always the general “sowing discord” and “making people distrust heroes”. It’s a good opportunity to get more DNA samples. Beyond that, we run up against the old standby: Biomancer’s plans are inscrutable. Different writers will have him do all kinds of different things, some of which are contradictory in apparent goal, and it’s all just “part of his plan”. The real trick here is that the writers don’t know what his plan is either. It’s part of the character’s gimmick to have all of these long-term, complicated plans and so sometimes when something notable happens and the writers don’t have a specific plan for where that’s going it gets retroactively assigned to him as a plot that actually came to fruition. He gets to do a bunch of things and his shtick is to say stuff about how his plans are beyond any of the heroes’ understanding, but from a meta perspective it’s all smoke and mirrors.
  • Given that the Mocktriarch gets an Indestructible Mask of the Matriarch in the DE critical event, how/where did Biomancer get such a mask? Is it just a non-functional aesthetic flourish to cover for the fact that she’s not really controlling birds (in a Kickstarter update for Rook City Renegades we see a card where Setback is protecting Harpy from fleshy/metal birds which means that, presumably, the Mocktriarch is controlling fleshchild birds)? The Mask is Indestructible not for story reasons, but mechanical ones. The Mocktriarch can control her “birds” at a level consistent with full-power, mask-wearing Matriarch, so the Mask card needs to have its effect in place. She’s not wearing the real mask. Christopher also points out that when using a Critical Event you replace any uses of the original villain’s name with the CE version (so, Voss’s card “Ruthless Approach” that says that Grand Warlord Voss deals some damage would be read as Censor deals damage). As such, the card in question should not be read as “Mask of the Matriarch” but is rather now the “Mask of the Mocktriarch”. [Note: the letter writer seemed to be under the impression that the Mask can’t leave play, but it can. When it’s reduced to 0 HP it is removed from the game, an effect not prevented by being Indestructible. However, any damage it would take is reduced to 1 and on Advanced it regains HP during the Villain End Phase, both of which act to keep it in play longer.]
  • Why did you have the subtle costume changes between Matriarch and Harpy (i.e. black dress with green stripe vs. green dress with black stripe and different glove lengths)? Mocktriarch seems to also be missing the feather detailing around her upper arms - did Biomancer just forget? The inversion is intentional. The Harpy costume was designed first and they decided at the time that it looked “too heroic” and so he started from there to make an “evil version” of it, which is where we eventually wound up. There’s not a thematic element to why Matriarch has longer gloves; the point is that you can look at the two pictures side-by-side and see the relation between them. Mocktriarch missing the feathers was just to have things be “a little bit off”.
  • Why is the Mocktriarch’s nemesis Tachyon? They already talked about this, but they left it in because they wanted to specifically respond to the common hypothesis in the fandom that it’s just “because the Harpy wasn’t out yet”. That is not it - note that Citizen Dawn [and Omnitron!] has a nemesis that’s not in the game yet either. They do carefully consider who the Critical Event nemesis (or nemeses!) will be and if it will be different from the default version [Censor’s nemesis is Sky-Scraper, for example and we don’t even really have an indication how far away her expansion will be]. You’ll see some more interesting stuff done there in RCR.
  • Where did Alpha get her domino mask? What made her choose that as her disguise? It’s clearly the best disguise that nobody can recognize you in. That was a product of the time that stuck as a character design. It probably originated as just her grabbing a strip of cloth (with eye holes) to wrap around her face to hide her identity that just kind of evolved into the domino mask.
  • What’s the biggest story she’s broken as a reporter? Something about the underground drug rings in Rook City (which, of course, everybody already knows about). What was news was just how long those organizations’ reach was - to Megalopolis or even further afield. She was also the one who broke the Spite story.
  • What was her role in the OblivAeon event? She got at least some panels showing her helping, fighting against Scions, etc. She doesn’t have a major story beat of her own in the major events, but she still had a book running at the time and so there were crossover events happening in those pages if they didn’t figure into the “main action” of the story. Probably a lot of Aeon Men in there. She likely had at least a few good moments in the Scion Strike book. The “side books” during the event had a lot of “what are the people on the ground doing?” kinds of focus.
  • Did she ever have a mentor as either a werewolf or as a reporter? She probably had an older reporter and a gruff editor at various points. They don’t think that she really had a werewolf mentor - the only thing that really fits there is Apex and that’s about as negative and example as you’d find. Part of her story is being a werewolf who’s having to figure all of what that means out for herself [a lone-wolf, if you will].
  • Other than Dark Watch, which Sentinel Comics characters does Alpha work with the most/best? She’s had crossovers with Wraith, Chrono-Ranger, Scholar, Rambler, etc. but she doesn’t really have major dealings with anybody. She’s a lone-wolf. [Hey! That’s my joke!] A lot of her interactions with other heroes are along the lines of “Ah! A monster! [they interact for a story] Well, I guess you’re okay for now, but I still don’t really trust you to not be a monster.” She’s very much a solo hero who has occasional crossovers.
  • Does Alpha love or hate scratches behind the ears? She probably would love them if she could relax enough to the point where she’s let somebody scratch her. She probably doesn’t while in human form, because that’s weird.
  • Which of the following is the most important to Apex in his “make more and stronger werewolves” agenda: turning already strong humans (athletes/soldiers, not superheroes) or having an already-strong werewolf turn them (i.e. which is more important, the strength of the sire or the strength of the subject)? Would a werewolf sired by Apex be bigger/stronger than if that same person was infected by a weaker werewolf? They’ve talked about how the strength of the sire matters a lot for vampires, but they do not imagine that this is the case for werewolves. It’s a force multiplier, but it’s a binary yes/no in terms of “are you a werewolf or not” in terms of how strong that effect is. They kind of feel that physical qualities of the subject matters for how strong their werewolf form is, but they can see counterexamples of having some scrawny guy turn into a really strong wolf. Maybe there’s less direct relation between physical strength of the human and the resulting wolf, but strength of spirit and whatnot can be what’s important. Maybe Apex has a way of telling how strong the “spirit of the wolf” is in a person and is really good at picking the best of the best for his pack that way.
  • If Omnitron-X were to scan the brain of somebody while they were drinking strawberry milk, could he replicate the “taste” of strawberry milk in his mind? If he did not enjoy that sensation, could he delete the experience from his memory? He could replicate the feeling of the taste, but what he’s getting from that person’s brain isn’t “the taste of strawberry milk” but rather “that person’s subjective reaction to/experience of strawberry milk”. If there were two people being scanned and one loved that taste and the other hated it, the data received by the scan would be very different. Omnitron-X can delete things from memory, but really wouldn’t delete things like this because he wouldn’t want to delete “human experience” data. It could be something actually established on-page that he doesn’t by having him point out that there’s a specific thing that he has to delete some terrible secret for the greater good or something (maybe it’s a matter of extrapolating his own actions due to the fact that he knows the thing and determining that it would be bad, and so forgets the whole thing).
  • If werewolf Captain Cosmic bit Fanatic, could Guise and Dark Visionary convince Fanatic that when she turns into a werewolf by the light of a full moon that she would then spawn a London construct around herself? Will convincing her of these things be enough to turn her into a werewolf of London? They’re going to say “no” and pretend that that answer is sufficient.
  • Has werewolf Sherlock Holmes ever shown up again? Maybe a Sentinel Comics version of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen type of thing (even if it’s out-of-continuity with the main-line comics)? They wouldn’t be surprised if there were later stories that at least referenced that one (at the very least there is the fact that “Sherlock Holmes” is based on Herlock Holm within continuity). If something like the LoEG was made it’d be an out-of-continutity thing where some high-profile writer comes in with the idea.
  • Are you guys familiar with Roger Zelazny’s movie-monster-mashup novel A Night in the Lonesome October or was “The Were-hound of the Baskervilles” just a crazy coincidence? They have never heard of that book, so it’s definitely a coincidence.
  • You said that Chuck Burnside’s m.o. was to kill supernatural creatures and create magical knickknacks from them or to steal their own devices for himself and that he “knows a lot about magic, but has no magical power himself” - has everyone’s favorite grumpy non-spell-caster Soothsayer Carmichael ever pulled a Chuck Burnside and saved the day by pulling out some kind of magical knickknack/gizmo? He would view that as crass, generally, but it’s not like we never see him do it. There is that one story where he does use something to get magical power and it goes poorly. The times we see him interact with relics or whatnot to “do magic” are outliers and never have “good” outcomes.
  • During the Blood Moon Rising storyline was there actually a mystery regarding Hexterminator’s identity, or did Faye immediately say “Chuck, that better not be you under that mask”? Hexterminator existed before Blood Moon Rising. They really like that characterization of how NightMist reacted, though.
  • Thiago was a good and earnest kid, but now Muerto is typically characterized as a good kid who wants to do good things, but is understandably depressed; does he ever get to just do “stupid kid stuff”? Does he cut class to have fun? Is he mischievous? Does he prank his classmates by pulling some jump-scare using his ghost form? Is he shown smirking while Rockstar and Headlong are arguing about something dumb and then individually egging them on so that they spend an entire issue arguing over, say, the right way to each string cheese? You see occasional moments like that from him, but they’re rare. He and Muse are very serious kids - kids who were forced to grow up too quickly (Muse over a long period of time, Muerto all at once). Thiago Diaz had this unquenchable spirit (although not really a “silly” kid) and as Muerto he notes with irony how he “got everything he wanted”. We do see a story where he and Muse pull a series of pranks on everybody but the joke is that until that is revealed at the end of the story nobody would suspect the two of them. At the end of the day Daybreak is a teen book and is on average more lighthearted. It still has it’s heavy moments, but that’s not the overall vibe. Muerto’s still pretty serious, but he was a serious kid to begin with.
  • You’ve said that Muerto has gone back to his family home at least once, but didn’t let them know he was there; does he check in on them regularly? Does he visit them on the Dia de los Muertos? He does go back once in a while (and they’re pretty sure that they’ve mentioned him specifically going back on a Dia de los Muertos in the past - he doesn’t always go back on that day, but he has done it), but not very frequently. He has had that moment of “I don’t know who I am now, but Thiago Diaz is dead.” He wants/needs to let his family grieve and move on, so he doesn’t try to reinsert himself into their lives.
  • What is the most likely result of a meeting between Fanatic and Muerto: Fanatic tries to smite him and has to be restrained by other heroes, Muerto tries to pass himself off as “just a robot”, turns out Fanatic knew him as Thiago and has a lot of feelings about him being a ghost, the writers punt on the whole situation by just not having the two characters interact for as long as possible? Certainly the last is the most likely and the one that goes on for a long time. The second “just a robot” option is probably pretty likely as well. The other two don’t really seem like the answer. The first is weird because he’s “not a normal ghost” - Adam says he’s a collection of the electrical impulses that existed in his body at the moment of his death (insert a bunch of leading questions from Christopher trying to parse out exactly how he’s different from any other ghost here). Christopher doesn’t think that Fanatic would draw such fine distinctions, but by the time she could meet Muerto she has a more nuanced position on ghosts (what with the whole “was actually haunted” thing from a few decades back). Thinking on that, the answer might be that he pretends to be a robot, she takes a beat panel to look at him and then just says that she’s had friends that had to deal with what he’s dealing with and asking if he would like help being put to rest. That’s how her approach to ghosts has changed, she’s more tactful and asks if they want her help. He doesn’t want that right now, but she’s there when he’s ready.
  • Does Muerto ever interact with other ghosts? Does he help other victims of OblivAeon find peace? Is there a horror story where he has to exorcise a vicious poltergeist (and feels dread at the prospect of someday becoming like that)? Is there a story were he encounters another ghost in Freedom Academy, they wind up at odds, leading to another student bursting through the doors of the study hall shouting “Ghost fight!” which prompts all of the other students to run to where things are going down? Where they’d want to go with this kind of thing is to have him encounter ghosts that have gone bad for whatever reason and he has to confront that as a possibility for himself. They don’t think that there’s a specific “ghosts of other OblivAeon victims” plot. The “ghost fight” wasn’t something they had in mind, but that’s a lot of fun to think about.

Cover Discussion

  • It’s already done! Great job, Adam.