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The Letters Page: Episode 235
Writers' Room: Justice Comics #583
Choo-chooooose Sentinel Comics this holiday season!
Run Time: 1:15:38
Happy Holiday times, everyone! We've got a story full of Christmas cheer... and trains heist! Multiple trains; one heist. You'll see!
If you're on the Letters Page Patreon, join us this Thursday for a very Christopher-and-Adam-mas Editor's Note! Also, for Patreonists, voting is up for next month's topics! Go vote!
See you soon!
- So, the prompt here evokes the existing story book (and its subsequent computer-animated film adaptation) The Polar Express. Christopher has neither read the book nor seen the film. Adam gives him a quick summary of the book. What Christopher thinks they should do is to follow the main story beats of the original book, but Adam had some ideas already as well so let’s discuss that.
- Adam’s story in a nutshell is that we bring in Cold Shoulder and she approaches Fright Train to pull a train heist. Absolute Zero is the only hero around and has to stop them. Somewhere in the middle of the story Fright Train realizes what she’s stealing and it’s toys for kids or something like that. He has a crisis of conscious and teams up with AZ to stop her. Christopher likes the people involved but feels it’s too similar to the AZ and Hippo “holiday heist” story.
- Christopher proposes a “beautifully-painted” comic book where AZ is in Freedom Tower and outside he hears a train. He goes outside and Fright Train is there and AZ rides him to the north pole. Just kidding. Adam likes Fright Train and Cold Shoulder interacting a bit so they have a bit of history for when they might encounter one another again later. This could be a story from Fright Train’s perspective with Cold Shoulder and AZ playing opposing “antagonists” to him with Cold Shoulder trying to get him to do a thing and AZ getting him to not do a thing.
- A train heist is good, plus keeping things on a train keeps that aspect of the source material. Just forget the “toys for kids” angle. Okay, so Fright Train wakes up as he hears the sound of a train and goes outside and finds one just outside. It’s not surprising because he just lives in a shack in the train yard, so there’s nothing fantastical going on. He’s just still that excited. You get the idea that he does this every time a train goes by. This is both a Christmasy story, but also humorous; if you’re putting Fright Train, Absolute Zero, and Cold Shoulder on a train together you know exactly what you’re up to and it’s to be cutesy.
- As he’s standing there admiring this freight train, one of the cars’ sides opens and Cold Shoulder is there telling him to “Come on, we’re going to do some train crimes.” It’s a short train - just the engine and a few cars. She’s got a team assembled; the Yeti and Current are also present. There we go, covering both “winter” and “train” themes between them. They’re going to use their train to catch another train that’s full of gold and then they’ll have all the gold.
- Cold Shoulder has this thing rigged up on a remote control. They pull away and she first shows Fright Train the front car where that stuff is, then the second car which is full of wrapped “Christmas presents”. Just, the stereotypical wrapping-paper-and-ribbons boxes. The plan is to get close to the target train, find a switchback point to turn their little train around, and drive backwards to catch up to the rear of the other one (locomotives can run in either direction), and hook their train to the other. The four not-at-all-distinctive-looking villains will put on guard disguises and board the other train. Hmm… no. They just knock out the first round of guards to come to their train, take their uniforms, and disguise the guards in “bandit” outfits so that it looks like the attackers have been subdued when any other guards show up.
- Christopher begins to go into the bit where they start carrying the “gifts” into the other train, but then realizes that the story he’s telling is just a successful train heist, so where does AZ come in? Adam has some thoughts: they’re not doing guards anymore. They’re dressing as Santa and Elves. They’re taking the presents in to where the gold is and swapping them out. This isn’t just a gold train, but it’s mainly a passenger train that just happens to have a few secure cars at the end that are transporting the gold. Absolute Zero just happens to be one of the passengers. The last car is full of guards so when the villains’ train attaches we immediately get a cool fight. Hmm… it’s better if the villains have to travel through the passenger compartments. So the last car is still full of guards, but the gold is closer to the front and the “Santa and Elves” disguises and presents are a gimmick for passing through the passenger areas. The “guard car” is where they’re based but they have guards throughout the train and with the gold too.
- Fright Train is probably “Santa” in this scenario and somebody probably eventually gives him the stink eye and he responds with “What? You’ve never seen a black Santa before?” and their response is more along the lines of never seeing a Santa who’s 10 feet tall. Adam brings up the fact that the Yeti has the big white beard, which is a good point. It’s funnier if Fright Train is an elf, so Yeti is Santa.
- That’s a good opportunity as well. The villains fight the first car full of guards and Current, Cold Shoulder, and Fright Train all do their things and are effective, but Freddy is just there looking tired. Afterwards, Fright Train asks why they brought this guy along. “For the next part!” and that’s when the costumes get put on. Yeti really gets into the role and owns it. We’ve set up “Die Hard on a train” with Absolute Zero in the John McClane role.
- Because a sleigh bell and it being misplaced are important in the original book, Christopher would like to work a bell into this somehow. Let’s say the train is traveling from Rook City to Megalopolis and AZ had been in town to see somebody and was given a bell, which he loses during all of this? Nah. Instead of a bell, let’s just say there’s an early scuffle with the villains and he manages to get the remote for the getaway train off of Cold Shoulder and then loses it so now both he and the villains are trying to find this thing. For the bell connection, let’s just say that it had been decorated for the theme too and had a bow and a little bell on it. That way the sound of it jingling as the fighting goes on can be an indication that it’s nearby. It’s got a red light on it too for a Rudolph connection.
- “Santa” and his elves walk through the train with the gifts. Are they handing them out? Having empty boxes with them that they fill up with gold is good. About the only real reason to have them distributing boxes to passengers is if they actually contain bombs and it’s part of a hostage-taking situation, but that doesn’t seem right for the tone of story we’re dealing with here. It’s weird that they’re carrying gifts without handing them out though… It’s the “traditional” Parade of Gifts! That’s totally a Christmas Eve tradition. It’s just Santa and his helpers walking up the train and back with gifts for people to see.
- Absolute Zero, of course, recognizes them instantly and follows them (he’s got a trenchcoat and a hat that he uses to disguise himself). There’s a fight in the gold car. He probably gets knocked through a window or wall and has to climb along the outside/on the top. Just standard train combat tropes.
- Yeah. Okay, so his plan is to fight them individually, but we first have him confront all of them (“tickets please”). We get a bit of a fight, but he’s knocked through the wall and that’s when the reader gets a “just as planned” thing from him since the best shot he has to defeat them is if they think they’ve already won. We could do a bit more Die Hard here as after he takes the remote from Cold Shoulder he leaves her tied to a chair with a note saying “Now I have the remote. Ho-ho-ho”. Nah - no need to get that specific/overt with the Die Hard references.
- He fights Cold Shoulder early and he gets the remote, but she gets away. He fights Current on the top of the train, which is tough because of the wind, but he ices her up and she bounces her way back to the getaway train. We probably want a big “final” confrontation between AZ and Fright Train where the villain grabs a hostage and holds them over the side of the train demanding the remote back. Everything’s insured, there’s no reason for anybody to get hurt. The thing is, he lost the remote. That’s when we get the farcical bit where everyone’s looking for this thing that’s jingling while getting kicked around.
- Why does everybody need the remote? The villains is pretty easy as they can’t detach their little train from the big one and get away with their loot without it. Why does Absolute Zero care enough to be in on the farce of looking for it - from his perspective they can just stall until the train arrives and then have the villains arrested. Maybe Fright Train says that if they can’t use the remote to detach, he’ll just destroy this train. That seems a bit murdery for Fright Train - not that he can’t be murdery occasionally, but that seems off for this particular story at least.
- How about the threat given above is enough to get AZ on board with helping to look, but if he’s going to be rummaging around in the passenger compartment with them, he’ll look out of place. “We’ve got you covered.” Cut to AZ in a reindeer costume - Ray Manta was originally going to be in on the job (Rayndeer Manta?) but had to drop out at the last minute. The suit’s a little big on AZ, but it does the job.
- AZ finds the remote and gives it to the villains. He doesn’t want any more violence or anything that might hurt the passengers. Just take your gold and get out. The villains get on their train, detach, and start pulling away from the big one. But then it starts speeding up in the original direction again. What’s going on, somebody look out the window or something. What do you mean everything’s locked shut? Turns out that AZ took the opportunity of holding the remote to pair it to his suit and he’s now controlling this little jail-on-wheels now that the villains are safely separated from the bystanders.
- Can’t Fright Train just punch his way out? Minor addition to the beginning of the story where Cold Shoulder is showing Fright Train how the thing is set up. This is a very secure train with magnetically-sealed doors and windows, reinforced walls, and it’s even equipped with kinetic dampeners so that if the train is hit by anything it’s not as easily affected.
- Do we have the train pull up to the station where the rest of the Freedom Five are or anything? Do we even need more of a resolution? Adam suggests some kind of humorous ending - like the train arrives wrapped like a present or something. How about, after the “villains are trapped” scene we have a coda where the train arrives, AZ disembarks, the Freedom Five are there saying that they got his distress call, but what’s going on? “I was worried I wouldn’t have anything for you, but I did some last minute shopping.” He takes them back to the villain train which has been “gift wrapped” in ice (complete with a bow) and that’s why they couldn’t open the doors.
- For an Absolute Zero/Fright Train story I have three guesses as to where you’d go with it:
- Standard “Fright Train tries to hijack or otherwise rob a train and for whatever reason it’s happening somewhere cold and/or AZ is the only one around to stop him”? That’s not too far off, but they put their own spin on it (plus expanded the roster).
- As a spin on the first option: the train is full of something like model train sets that are meant as gifts to orphans or something and halfway through the job Fright Train has a change of heart and helps give the gifts since he’s spreading the joy of trains? That was kind of their first idea, but as stated then it was too close to the AZ/Hippo story. Not to say that both stories couldn’t exist, but they wanted to do something new for this one.
- Through some comic book shenanigans Fright Train and Absolute Zero wind up on the actual Polar Express as depicted in the book/movie and go to meet actual Santa Clause? No. There’s probably legal issues involving using the actual story that closely, whereas reusing the title as a reference has more leeway. The actual issue title is probably even “A Polar Express” to try to differentiate a bit.
- Is there a Santa in the Sentinel Comics Universe? Well, there’s Space Santa. They think that he’s the inspiration for the legends of the more recognizable Santa on Earth. There are probably issues here and there that play around with the “Was that Santa? Is he real?” trope without ever actually showing Santa. They don’t think there’s ever an “official”, canonical appearance of Santa as how we usually think of him, but Space Santa is real.
- How big is Fright Train’s model train collection? Approximately how much of his take from his various crimes goes towards that hobby? How cool is his setup? Adam thinks he would like to have a model train collection but he’s a criminal and moving around as much as he does would probably make that difficult. Christopher, however, thinks that he does have a train collection. Note that he didn’t say “model”. Fright Train has a big field somewhere where he keeps the actual trains that he’s stolen over the years and that’s where he lives a lot of the time - the Train Yard. They’re not even on tracks. He just picks up entire cars and carries them here one at a time, so even if somebody were to find them and try to repossess them, good luck getting them anywhere. He’s got quite the variety of examples, some of which are quite old and rare and they’re in good condition as the maintenance of these old decommissioned things that otherwise would have been scrapped is part of the point for him.
- Is Fright Train in two places at once? In the “Off the Rails” RPG adventure, Fright Train is being sent to a moon prison, but he and Baron Blade are free during the events of the Sentinels of Freedom video game, which takes place after the end of the RPG Starter Kit scenarios (where Blade was captured), so what’s the timeline here? It goes: RPG Starter Kit -> “Off the Rails” -> Sentinels of Freedom. The villains are free during SoF because they escaped during “Off the Rails” and nobody got sent to the moon successfully - those two stories were written together with the explicit purpose of the RPG scenario setting up the status quo in the video game.
- If Steven Graves were built as a hero in SCRPG, would his Power Source be Training? Experimentation is the real answer. Fine, you could do a version focusing on his military training and you’d get his power from his Archetype.
- So, while you’ve said that Scholar often works behind the scenes, the prompt of a time he goes all out didn’t seem too far off for me considering in his EE deck we see quite a few times he’s more active (punching GloomWeaver with the Philosopher’s Stone, destroying the ground under some minions’ feet, running from a T. Rex), so it seems like that he’s plenty “involved” in a bunch of stories; are Scholar stories as action-packed as his deck would lead us to believe? They feel that “going all out” is on par with “losing his cool” - for him using all of the power at his disposal is pretty linked to him losing his composure. He does have many action-packed stories but he, more than most heroes, has a lot of non-action stories.
- In Editor’s Note 61 you said that the steps to becoming human were 1) having flesh, 2) installing an empathy chip, and 3) befriending Unity; if Biomancer heard about these rules and decided that he needed a human instead of a flesh child, does this procedure work: make a flesh child, give it an inactive empathy chip, make a Devra Caspit flech child to be friends with the first one? If this doesn’t work, where does the plan fall apart? Could he correct it and, if so, how? Biomancer could make a flesh child and then something weird and magical could happen to turn that flesh child into a human, but Biomancer cannot make a real human being. He could make something close such that some other X Factor could happen to complete the process. Please also keep in mind that the steps for making a human stated above were a joke. The joke was around Omnitron-X, and so it’s a process of becoming a real boy more than becoming “human” - Omnitron-X has personhood but isn’t a human.
- [Dr. B with a somebody did math wrong on the podcast entry] The function you were discussing in episode 231 is a logistic function - a function that starts off growing quickly (perhaps exponentially), but then levels off, approaching but never reaching an asymptote called the “carrying capacity”. An example of these in action is the infection rate of a disease - they often grow very quickly at the beginning of an outbreak, but inevitably run up against the problem that there’s no more population to infect.
- [Moved from the end of the Overview at around the 42 minute mark] Christopher tried to get Adam to commit to a painted cover to match the style of the original book, but Adam’s “yes and” was too powerful: there would have definitely been a painted variant cover.
- We’re forgetting something. Which issue this is. It could be Freedom Five or Justice Comics. It feels like an ’00s or early ’10s issue. Adam thinks that JC fits the weird one-off story better than FF which tends to care more about issue-to-issue continuity. There’s a three-issue arc in 2008 for JC that’s the first appearance of Busybody and right before that there’s a Ray Manta/Omnitron-X thing, with a one-issue gap. No, dang - the gap is in May, so that’s out. Let’s see. 2001 has JC branded as Sky-Scraper for the year. It could be December 2000 or 2003. Let’s say the latter. Justice Comics #583.
- Art! We could have a thing were AZ is encased in an ice block in the shape of a present with just his head sticking out the top and we have the villains standing around him. Having the villains in their festive outfits is fun, but do we want to give that away on the cover? If the issue title is A Polar Express the train has to be on the cover - in 2003 we probably even do a “parody” of the book cover (although there are no people on that cover). We can just have the train but then in the foreground in front of the train we have the villains around AZ.