The Letters Page: Episode 234
Creative Process: Bunker Foes
Who could possibly have beef with Bunker?
Run Time: 1:31:00
Do you want to start off by talking about what happens when you break the laws of reality? Because that's what's happening here!
We attempt to make up some Bunker enemies! And we succeed in doing so, but only partly? More success than not, but certainly with some things that don't go the way we expected. Which is fairly normal for us, I suppose.
We also read and respond to your letters! Again, normal for us, but still notable! It's where the name of the show comes from, after all!
Next week's show is a Writers' Room for a story called "Polar Express"... wait, that can't be right, can it? Seems... off. Or like we're covering ground already done by someone else. Well, regardless, we've already recorded that episode, so I hope it pans out. If you are on the Letters Page Patreon, please join us for a very special end of the year live Editor's Note on Thursday, December 22nd, at 11 AM, Central time! How special? We did say "very", but that's not particularly clear. Just know that it's at the very least special because it's the last episode of 2022, which has to be worth something, right? Anyway, we look forward to talking to you all then!
- They start off with a bit about a former army colleague who had been a rival of Tyler Vance’s but wound up disgraced/dishonorably discharged who then hooks up with a mercenary group and winds up wearing a cow catcher like the front of a train. His name, Train Face! Enough about him since they’re doing another episode just after this one that features him.
- They do have a specific character they want to work on already in mind. It’s another tangentially-military-related character, but they’ll do that one last. They want to try to knock out a few here that aren’t tied into Bunker’s army career.
- They don’t want to make an enemy for Bunker who’s main thing is magical stuff. Bunker’s a guy in a big metal suit that shoots lots of guns, so something that can not immediately get murdered by the weaponry and that can try to chew through the suit or otherwise mess with the technology is good. Maybe some kind of swarm villain? I mean, Myriad is right there as something they’ve already done (but doesn’t exist until the Future), but maybe something that’s more like “termites, but with metal instead of wood”. Ooo, or somebody who is made of/controls nanites? Bugs/nanites are an early/late split, so they’d have to figure out when they want to place them.
- They like the “swarm of nanites” thing, so let’s go with that. They also need to tiptoe around how much the goal is to “control the Bunker suit” since they don’t want to retread the Schema and Omnitron plots. Playing around with the idea that this was a person who did something wrong and now they’re “Oops, all nanites.” Maybe a one-off ’90s villain that’s presumed dead and comes back in the ’00s as this. They were working with some experimental nanite thing and during the fight they get knocked back into the rig and get electrocuted, but their consciousness gets uploaded into the nanite swarm.
- Adam suggests somebody from Mordengrad who had been working on Baron Blade’s nanite stuff, but stole a bunch of it and left to strike out on their own. That sounds good. How about Justice Comics #489 in February ’96. We’re not long after Vengeance and Blade is out of the public eye for a while. This is a guy who takes the opportunity to steal some of the tech he was working with and make a power grab - setting himself up as the new ruler of Mordengrad.
- Do we want him to still have a physical form after this intro story? The way Christopher had envisioned it, he just “dies” by electrocution at the end of this one and when he shows up later it’s a case of “obviously when he was electrocuted by the nanite control rig his mind just got ported into the nanite swarm” in terms of explanations. Having asked the question makes that seem like a more interesting option, though. Maybe he’s got a really spindly, almost skeletal body but he uses nanites to flesh himself out. He’s altered the original flesh-repair nanites to just be flesh-replacement nanites. We avoid him just being a swarm or an AI this way. They name him Yuri Grekov.
- Okay, so this guy uses his control of the nanite tech as a means of controlling the rest of the technology in Mordengrad and that’s the basis for his rule. They think this guy is also the most bombastic of the various temporary would-be leaders (there’s been a few by this time - maybe a military guy and some kind of social leader prior to this one).
- So, what’s the deal that gets heroes involved? Picking a fight with the Freedom Five is kind of a dumb move. Oh… okay, so we’ve had a few leaders by this point who were trying something different. This guy is a Baron Blade fanboy and is taking the country back to its roots and that means destroying the heroes (he’s not as fixated on Legacy as Blade is). The Glory of Mordengrad must be reestablished, and they can do that by taking down the capitalist pig-dogs and who’s a better stand-in for those than the Freedom Five who deprived them of their glorious leader?!
- They’d kind of thought that the pre-accident guy wouldn’t have a “supervillain name”, but now that they’ve decided on his personality it’s kind of warranted. It should be something that works okay now, but also after he becomes the nanite guy. Framework (no, Framewerk!) is good for later, but can they justify it for the first time around (which might wind up being a 2-part story given how much they’re putting into it). A dumb thing they could do is have his plot against the Freedom Five involve framing them for something bad. Then the heroes follow clues that lead back to him, they fight, and he’s defeated. The defeat is from Bunker just blowing him up or something because in that era they didn’t really specifically avoid having the guy with the heavy weapons use them.
- We leave the guy as just his brain and bits of his skeleton (parts that get damaged get metal replacements) that’s the frame that the nanites attach to. Adam has the “fun” idea that if this guy is in prison he’s basically just a brain in a jar. They can’t have any metal near him because it’ll just get “nanited up” and he’s back in business. They’re imagining him as mostly a physical threat. Like, in a fight he might just form the nanites into a big fist and punch the hero. He can do more ranged stuff and him being “modular” and shifting his approach on the fly is a nice parallel to Bunker.
- Then they have him come back in the early ’00s as the nanite swarm guy. He hates Bunker, but is just a lone villain guy now. He’s not working with direct ties to Mordengrad anymore (let alone trying to rule). There’s probably some story where he encounters Baron Blade who finds him offputting. They put this reappearance in JC #544 in September 2000.
- Moving on, let’s do something non-technological. Also, let’s have one where they start off hating Bunker instead of having to “get there” through other means. How about someone who is justified in their motives of “hating Bunker” but not their methods. Adam’s thinking a post 9/11 thing where they have legit grievances with the United States’ military-industrial complex and see Bunker as the personification of that who we’re supposed to treat as a “hero”. It has to be far enough after 9/11 for the initial round of super-patriotism to die down a bit, of course. Probably 2005 at the earliest.
- Let’s make it a Freedom Five in 2007. Far enough after the war starting for sentiment to turn a bit, but prior to the death of Osama bin Laden which revived that positivity regarding it again. Do we want to just go full-blown “domestic terrorist” with this? It could still easily be a divisive story (without getting to the point where people burn down the Sentinel Comics building). They want the balancing act here to be that the person has good points, they’re just going about things the wrong way. The comic still comes off somewhat preachy, though. Maybe with Bunker saying some stuff at the end about how the guy was right and that maybe he is part of the problem, etc. Something to sow some seeds regarding the team having a schism with the government that can get picked up later.
- They start off thinking that this is most likely a one-off in the fall of ’07, but there’s almost a decade of space there for repeat appearances, so they figure that some later writers try to do a more nuanced take on this guy’s grievances.
- They talk about about “The Magneto Problem” in that they’re faced with writing a villain who they agree with, if they just stopped at like 90% of how far they take things. They agree that the military-industrial complex is a Bad Thing, so how to approach this… An easy origin point here is just somebody whose family was killed by the American military in a conflict where both sides are using weapons made by the same companies and they see the war as just a means of lining some executives’ pockets. Like, they and their family weren’t involved in anything and were collateral damage due to gross negligence (say a drone strike on a cafe or similar). They decide the person was a journalist who did a lot of work in the middle east or wherever and decided to just settle in rather than making trips back and forth - they move there full time and start a family.
- They may have made this one too sympathetic. It’s hard to see how you get from that to “… and so I will kill the guy in the Bunker suit.” They might just see where this one goes and if it doesn’t wind up making “a Bunker foe” they can still have an interesting character and then try again. Let’s keep the journalist angle and lose the whole family, killing off a spouse is still not a great look, but it’s a bit lighter than the dead kids thing… Nah, there’s something interesting to be done here, but they don’t think it’s going to wind up on-topic for the episode so they’re just going to “fast forward”:
- Journalist or an ambassador in the middle east, falls in love, spouse dies as collateral damage, gets bitter about the military-industrial complex, falls in with the wrong crowd, they plan on blowing something up, realization that them blowing stuff up isn’t any better, has a change of heart, stops some plot before it can go too far, etc. It’s a preachy story about the cyclical nature of war. He can wind up as Freedom Five supporting cast in some way and eventually winds up working with G.L.O.B.A.L.
- So, let’s move on to the one that they had some idea for already. In response to the Cuban Missile Crisis there was a new antagonist created, probably in poor taste. Let’s put it in Freedom Five in November ’63 issue #163. They’re presented as a behind-the-scenes manipulator who creates global destabilization so they can profit from it. “The military-industrial complex? You’re welcome.” This is somebody who actively works towards wars occurring because it’s good for business. He might not be selling all that many guns himself, but he’s working for/with various arms dealers/manufacturers for that purpose.
- We know when he first appears, but what is he doing in that issue of FF? He’s trying to replicate a similar situation as the Cuban Missile Crisis in Megalopolis. Like, maybe there’s a bunch of countries with missiles aimed at Megalopolis and the situation is devolving and the heroes have to convince the various powers to not fire them. Legacy gives a speech, Tachyon does some science, etc. There’s got to be somebody to fight and that can just be some mercenaries who are masquerading as Soviet soldiers on US soil. He’s named Crisis Man (well, really Mason Galt).
- He shows up a few more times. The next thing they know happens with him is that at some point Bunker causes him to be launched into space and therefore Never Heard from Again™. They think that Tyler Vance tricks him. He sets up a decoy Bunker suit during some encounter counting on Crisis Man then trying to steal it. Only it’s actually a disguised rocket and it flies off into space. They put this in the late ’60s due to all of the Apollo mission stuff. The plot from this guy is to use rockets to put a bunch of “cannons” in orbit so that they can be fired at anywhere on Earth. April ’69, FF #228.
- In January 1981 (FF #369), we start seeing some robot foes (well, really cyborgs, but they’re initially thought to just be robots) that are called Death-Con, reusing a name from a Tempest villain-turned-ally from the ’60s (see episode 200). They get names like Death-Con [X] where [X] is a letter from the NATO phonetic alphabet (so things like Death-Con Bravo or Death-Con Victor). These are advanced robotic war machines with sci-fi weaponry that the Freedom Five have to fight. They eventually break some of them open and discover that there are people in there who are piloting the things, but they’re under duress. The implants that are used to control them are derived from the F.I.L.T.E.R. tech used in the original Death-Con.
- This is a soft reboot for the character of Mason Galt. It’s “revealed” here that the company behind the development of the Death-Con technology was another Mason Galt plot, so he’s been retconned here as having been behind that from way back. He’s been out in space for a while and had his own adventures (as one does) - he’s collected a bunch of alien technology and spent time creating crises out there too, has amassed power, and has returned to Earth. They think he’s got an “orbital platform” kind of space station thing that he runs things from and can launch his cyborgs to Earth from, like what he’d originally wanted to set up with the Apollo missions. Christopher initially says that he names his base Python after the original Greek myth where the serpent was a notable enemy of Apollo, but he thinks that’s too highfalutin’ for Galt and so names it Balboa.
- What does he want? Money. (Why? He’s out in space and can just get space money!) He originally comes back with a basic “defeat the Freedom Five” plot, but he later gets explained as having been out in space and realized that not only was he a little fish in a really big pond, he was always going to be so out there. By getting some mediocre space tech he figures that’s good enough to take over the world. By having his robots defeat the Freedom Five, everybody will want to buy them. Heck, if there’s some small-scale conflict going on somewhere he can just give Death-Con robots to both sides and now all of a sudden it’s a major regional conflict. He’s a small-minded person with a decent amount of power.
- Crisis Man is now a recurring foe for Bunker (and others). From this initial 3-issue arc (hinted at in the cards from DE Bunker’s deck [hmm… well, Recharge Mode and Upgrade mode cite FF #369 and #370, there are no cards that cite #371 which I think means that we can finally place which issue Turret Mode is from]) they all get designations from the NATO phonetic alphabet, but later stories might start using Greek letters (like Death-Con Gamma) or animals or whatever - a naming convention is consistent within any given story, but it changes from story to story. There’s a big story in the early 2010s where we get Death-Cons 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 where they get more terrifying as they go and that leads to the Death-Con Prime story where they combine together and Death-Con Prime is Mason Galt himself. That’s kind of creepy in that if this is a “combiner” robot in a Power Rangers or Transformers way since there are people in those other robots. Like, he’s got human intelligences operating the limbs of the combined robot, but they’re under his direct control.
- Also, the Freedom Five sure do wind up fighting lots of giant robots, huh? Not that Death-Con Prime is anywhere near as big as Terrorform or Omnitron. They’re thinking he’s like 50 feet tall and they’re imagining Terrorform as being hundreds of feet tall - the “last” one we see in silhouette on Unity’s Hasty Augmentation is the size of skyscrapers and they’d estimate it being over 500 feet tall (but they get bigger over time). It’s worth noting that it’s designed to actually fight people whereas the Terrorform is
a real-estate schemefor terror.
- So, one of Bunker’s foes is surely some Soviet knock-off of the Bunker suit, right? There are absolutely multiple foes over the years that fill that space (with multiple gimmicks: sleeker design, huge and intimidating, haptic feedback where the “perfect soldier” is actually performing the fighting maneuvers rather than “driving” the thing like Tyler does, etc.), just not major recurring ones. Probably at least half a dozen of them.
- How many of Bunker’s foes wound up making the transition from war-comics enemies to civilian costumed super villains once the war they were part of when they were introduced became no longer relevant due to time marching on? Did any have a notably smooth or rocky transition? Crisis Man was a villain born in the Cold War who got reimagined. Bunker probably doesn’t have any notable ongoing villains who were established in the Vietnam war because those comics were so bad. You probably get some of those Soviet Bunker suits that had a name used for them and then in the ’90s somebody reused the name without any connection to the older story. Bunker has the sliding timeline thing going on where whatever war he fought in was whatever the most recent one was. Fright Train’s origin is meant to also work in that timeline and changes with him. Most of the others don’t have that luxury and so more often wind up as one-off villains rather than recurring nemeses. We also run into the problem that his solo book was a war comic and military comics didn’t have nearly the “recurring antagonists with colorful names” thing that supers comics did, so there’s just fewer opportunities for a villain to recur in the latter books.
- Have any of the following methods ever been used to fight Bunker, and if so by whom how did he deal with it:
- An EMP that disables the suit, trapping him inside? Definitely. Baron Blade, Miss Information, and Omnitron at least have done something like that. He has a manual escape hatch that doesn’t rely on the suit being powered. At least, he might get trapped in the suit once (and he has to rewire stuff to an alternate power source or whatnot) and then he later the install such a thing so that he won’t be trapped unless you’re burying the suit or something.
- A giant magnet to stick the suit to so he’s left dangling? Yeah. Some fight in a junkyard where they pick him up with the magnetic crane. Good stuff. Fortunately, he can run a current through the exterior of the suit to demagnetize it. We’re establishing a trend here where a thing happens to him once and then he upgrades the suit to counter that problem in the future. Ambuscade likely did that one.
- Some kind of gunk/goo in the machinery? Yes. The Adhesivist at least, but probably others too. He probably has to find some kind of acid or solvent to deal with whatever the goo is.
- Just fire and lots of it, trying to cook poor Tyler alive in his tin can? The Ennead (or Atum in particular) do that. He gets some better temperature regulation equipment installed.
- A virus to infiltrate the suit’s systems? Omnitron definitely, probably Schema.
- Dropping him into some kind of liquid (a deep lake/the ocean, a pool of lava, etc.)? We’ve seen him walk his way out of the ocean. After the first time that happened he likely upgraded the oxygen recyclers. Adam brings up that that one was probably not even really a problem for the suit to handle the first time, but dropping him into the ocean means that he’s out of the fight since he has to plod his way back to shore. A better “upgrade” after the fact is probably some kind of propulsion system so that he can get out of the water faster. For a volcano, some Citizens of the Sun are about to chuck him in at one point and Legacy catches him. He probably doesn’t actually have countermeasures for that other than an ejector seat so that he can bail out.
- Taking a hostage to force Tyler to leave the suit? All the time and he just gets out of the suit. He’s happy to get out of the suit to deescalate or solve a conflict. That’s one thing that the game deck doesn’t really model well, but the RPG version addresses.
- Some kind of “Bunker-buster” suit to counter him? Yes, many times as discussed above. In fact, Bunker Buster is probably one of the names. Let’s say Bunkest as well (y’know, better than Bunker).
- Does the Bunker suit have a toilet function? It has to, but we’ll leave it at that.
- From the perspective of a government analyst, it likely seems like Tyler Vance is the most replaceable member of the Freedom Five (lacking Legacy’s powers, Wraith’s wealth, Tachyon’s smarts, and Absolute Zero’s indentured servitude) - he didn’t even build the suit himself, he’s “just” the guy who’s trained to use it; do we ever see some government bureaucrat try to replace him with a stronger hero or something? Has said replacement ever turned out to be a villain (or simply incompetent)? Did any such character stick around? They like that story and it’s a reasonable thing to have happened. The point here is that Tyler Vance is exceptional in his ability to operate the suit. Maybe not to the point of being the only person who can, but it’s rare and a story involving somebody else who can might turn out to be because they were using some experimental drug or were using some kind of augmentations that were unreliable, etc.
- Has Bunker ever had to specifically fight somebody outside of his usual milieu, say a magical enemy (on his own, outside of things like “shooting grenades into the amassed denizens of Æternus” or similar)? That’s going to be a Freedom Five thing rather than Bunker foe in particular. Like, even if the rest of the team is captured and he has to save them solo that’s not a situation that’s written to be thematically a Bunker foe. He’s fought plenty of magical bad guys, but it’s not like he has any magical nemeses. Even then, the Freedom Five probably have the lowest incidence rate of fighting magical foes of the various teams. It’s not like NightMist has a specific villain who’s “a guy with two guns”.
- In some DE art we’ve seen an arcane Bunker suit; how much does he understand that one? Can he upgrade/repair it like he does the others? Does he need help and, if so, who helps him? There is a magic suit that’s been warded so that he can go up against magical foes more safely. That would have been done by NightMist/Argent Adept/choose your helpful mage. It’s a one-off that then gets put into the background in shots where you see all of the suits because that’s what you do. It’s weird and he doesn’t really understand it and would have trouble maintaining/repairing it. He doesn’t like using that one if he can help it.
- Where do the Harpy’s birds come from and what happens to them afterward? Mostly I can assume they’re just local birds, but what about cases when they’ve traveled through a portal to some distant realm? How much of an environmental impact has she had in terms of invasive species (colonies of crows on Dok'Thorath?)? If the birds usually get wiped out in the conflict, is Naturalist annoyed by her depletion of that resource? They don’t think the birds typically get “wiped out”. Many obviously die, but if they were just getting obliterated when she attacks with them she’d be upset. If she’s in the Realm of Discord and needs some birds she’ll reach out with her power and hope that there’s some sufficiently bird-like things around that her power can attune to. Other times she might open a portal to Earth and pull some through. She tries to return birds if she’s brought them somewhere they should not be, but that’s never going to be a perfect process. She does try to not use birds in a more judicious way than she used to.