The Letters Page: Episode 242
Mystery Comics Vol. 2 #350
What the heck? WHERE the heck?!?!
Run Time: 1:32:27
We're doing some experimental cooking in today's episode! Metaphorically speaking, that is. Spite is best used sparingly, especially since he's so often, uh, expired. And Rambler is still a relatively new flavor for us, so this... soufflé... might be different from other soufflés you've had, but we're still proud of it! (OK, that metaphor got entirely away from me. I regret nothing!)
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- The prompt today is “Rambler vs. Spite”. When it was suggested they first thought “that’s a weird one” but quickly followed by “but it makes a lot of sense”.
- First things first, what Spite are we dealing with? They agree that this is Spite while he’s dead. They’ve mentioned before that Rambler is a “hero” by category, but he is not super heroic. He is the most anti-hero of their anti-heroes. This story could be one where “Rambler does a problem”. This could be a story that leads to one of Spite’s returns from death. This issue itself could be seen as a contained, one-off story, but then later (like a month or two) we get another Spite story and it’s a direct consequence of this one.
- A prompt that they had a while back that was close in the voting but didn’t quite make it in was “Spite goes to hell” - they could have this one do double duty. Christopher’s original thought for that prompt, if it had gotten in, would have been “Spite has a great time in Æternus”, so let’s lean into it. Spite is in Æternus and is loving it and one of the Princes of Æternus reaches out to Rambler to get him to please deal with this jerk. Spite is such a pest that a demon wants to make a deal with Rambler in order to get rid of him.
- So what’s the deal? Just bringing Spite back to Earth? Some pocket dimension where it’s only a matter of time before he escapes? They think that “back to Earth” is fine as long as Rambler is getting something out of the deal and in the process he has Spite “leashed” in some way. Of course, Spite will find some way of subverting that or otherwise getting “free”. Rambler thinking that “I’ve got this” and then not, in fact, having it has been his downfall multiple times.
- To start with, they need to check something with Æternal Torment in ’98. It was the story that really defined the Princes of Æternus - they’d all shown up at some point prior, but this is where things are actually pinned down as “these are the specific Princes of Æternus and they’re each tied to a deadly sin” (so we may have had Mannock show up in the past, but here is where he’s pointed out as being Mannock the Greedy). They need to pick who’s actually on the Throne at this time.
- The Abomination of Desolation story was in ’94 and was when Spite returns and is “all blorpy” by the end of it. He’s so far gone by the end of it that when he’s destroyed it was presented as “no, really, that’s the end of Jack Donovan” (until the Agent of Gloom iteration; of course, there were also clones involved in the intirim). Christopher thinks that we have this story where the real Spite is in Æternus and is just being too much for the demons and so they bring Rambler in to get rid of him and at the end of this Rambler sells Spite to GloomWeaver.
- So, working through Prince options. Abbados wouldn’t care that Spite’s there. Mannock could work. Seviathall works really well for this. Greezigrax isn’t right. Belagorr isn’t bad either (“ugh… can somebody please deal with this? I don’t wanna.” [this makes Belagorr a solid bet for Sloth in my mind]). Lusithar could work, but they feel like they’ve used him enough already and when he’s in charge you get big Æternus stories. They go with Belagorr with a “just get this guy out of my hair” reason for getting Rambler involved.
- Where to put the story? The early ‘00s seems right for a variety of reasons (the ’90s vibe is still alive and well, but we’re after the demons’ establishment, etc.). Tome of the Bizarre is still Naturalist at this point and Arcane Tales is still Ra’s book. In running through other books they briefly consider Disparation with the excuse of it “not being ‘here’” but they decide against it. What they land on is for it to be a one-off issue that’s bridging a few stories in Mystery Comics. Adam initially opposes it for tone reasons, but Christopher points out that there’s a story in fall 2003 which is where the “Host” explanation for Fanatic and Apostate is established. There’s room for things to get a little weird here and there after such a long era of “urban crime” being the focus of the title, so why not try out this supernatural thing as a one-off to test the waters? It goes over okay, so they feel fine doing the Host stuff the following year. They drop it into October 2002, which winds up also lining up nicely with issue #350.
- Christopher starts with an opening of Spite in some reddish environment (“Oh no, more Spite stuff?”) before having him come across and just murder some demon. Adam jumps in to suggest that they flip it. We start off with a scene in Æternus with demons doing demon things and then Spite comes into it. Good, let’s roll with it.
- Establishing shot of Æternus in the stereotypical “hell” mode, prisoners in chains, etc. but no demons. Wait, there they are… impaled on their own pitchforks. Turn the page to a big splash page with Spite murdering a lot of them. What “version” of Spite is this? Mask merged with his face, but he still looks like a man. Probably the white hair at this point. Some Hell-elements to his look (or Hellements if you will). Stuff to indicate “this is ‘Hell-Spite’”. He was really blorpy the last time we saw him, so should he still have some of that? Probably some, but this is his spirit reconstituting itself, so we don’t need all of that going on. Maybe we get stuff like his arm looks fairly normal, but he reaches out to grab somebody and it extends much farther than it should. As it’s just his own reconstituted spirit, this is like his idealized version of himself (now that’s a terrifying concept).
- It’s also fun that this is a place of Torment and he is into this whole thing and is having a great time. The “problem” is that he doesn’t care about the throne. All of the demons are working towards the goal of running the place and he’s 1) not engaging with the gimmick and 2) messing up everyone else’s attempts. [Adam is now envisioning the art for this one being a Greg Capullo thing - he’s the guy who started doing a lot of art for Spawn after McFarlane stopped always doing it himself.] They like the idea for a scene where this sniveling demon approaches Spite with offers of aiding him in his rise to power, etc. just for Spite to kill him. The scene pulls back to Belagorr watching this happen through some obsidian viewing portal thing where he complains that ugh this guy has been just killing his minions for like a year now.
- Hard cut from there to wherever Rambler is. So… where is he? At this point he’s known to be around, but is still rarely used. He’s often helping heroes, but we’ve also definitely seen him do some questionable stuff. We could have him hanging out in a bar somewhere playing his guitar. Just a normal guy doing normal guy things. He finishes a song and looks up at the crowd with a “You didn’t like that one?” The whole audience is just looking at him silently. “Aww… Something’s going on here.” Then everybody in the audience opens their mouths simultaneously and there’s a shared word balloon for all of them: “Robert Johnson, the man known as Rambler, we have need of you in Æternus.” He is not pleased with this. He’s been playing here for 3 weeks and it’s been great. People like the music, it’s a stable gig. He’s mad that the demons messed up his gig.
- They try to work up a way for this to include a little fight for Rambler in the scene. He’s not the type to go straight from “sees a demon” to “fight the demon”. We back up a bit: he’s playing the song, but he doesn’t get to the end. Some guy stumbles in and up onto the stage. Rambler starts with a “Hey, buddy… Wait until I’m done” when the guy’s eyes go black and he says that he has a message from Æternus. This is intrusive enough that Rambler goes into action, slamming his hand into the guy’s chest, knocking him down and binding him to the floor. Then he looks back up to the audience and tries to keep playing/brushing past what just happened, but then the crowd erupts into chaos and runs away. The gig is ruined anyway. What they want to show immediately is Rambler’s ability to bind and control things that could be a threat to him.
- So, now that things are ruined and he’ll have to leave town anyway, he talks to the demon guy. He has a message that he has an opportunity to help Belegorr which can increase his own power in Æternus, etc. Rambler is having none of it - he’s not interested in dealing with Belagorr again. He fries the demon from the inside out, packs up his guitar, and leaves town.
- Back in Æternus we have more Spite stuff, more Belagorr stuff, Belagorr winds up sending envoys to Spite to offer him power - maybe being a Prince serving just under him. Or a kick-ass Duke, perhaps? Spite is not having any of this political nonsense.
- Christopher’s imagining three scenes with Rambler. The one already described and maybe another (very brief) one in a diner or something. The third is one where it’s apparent that something in Æternus really is going off the rails enough that he has to deal with it. He’s mad at Belagorr that the situation has devolved to the point that he has to get involved. He’ll take care of this problem, but he’s going to get something out of it. “You owe me.”
- Anyway, the diner. He’s got a good heap of greasy-spoon diner breakfast food in front of him. The waitress comes by to top off his coffee and give him the check and as he’s paying (wadded up cash in his pocket that he’s had for decades, it’s probably still good right?). Then her speech balloon changes to the demon stuff from earlier as she makes an offer from Belagorr. Rambler is annoyed. Cut to an exterior shot of the diner where we see a flash of light happening inside.
- Back to Æternus. Spite’s still messing stuff up. We’ve had Belagorr make an offer to Rambler, Spite, and Rambler again. This time, Belagorr is going over all of the things he’s tried (reaching out to x, y, and z - listing a bunch of stuff to show that he’s exhausting his options). One of his little obsequious servant imps suggests just bringing Rambler there directly. Bringing this guy who has a demonstrated ability to seal/destroy them with seemingly little effort isn’t a great idea, but as the imp says “What other options do we have?”
- Maybe we don’t spell that out exactly, but the next plan is just to send a few really big strong guys through to get him. They walk through the portal. Beat panel. Rambler walks through holding one of their heads. Eh… not a head, but a glistening orb of power or something - they’re dead but make it a bit less gruesome. We don’t need a third scene with Rambler out where he is on Earth, but he comes through on his own obviously annoyed with the repeated interruptions.
- Belagorr starts to offer his standard demon stuff, but Rambler interrupts. They’re going to put all the cards on the table. “You need me” and so Rambler will be setting the terms here. What can Belagorr even offer him? What Rambler wants is to be left alone. “Yup! That’s what I can offer!” - he can offer a means to shroud him from the attention of Æternus so that, say, demons can’t be trivially sent to wherever he happens to be whenever the demons want. That’s a good start, but he’s also going to be taking whatever he comes across during this job.
- Eh… how about we have some vague foreshadowing too. Rambler: “I’ll take the shrouding, but I want something else too.” Belagorr: “What?” Rambler: “You know what.” There’s something specific indicated that they know but the reader doesn’t.
- It’s only after that’s hashed out that they get down to what the actual job is. This human, Jack Donovan, is causing problems. He was known as Spite. Rambler knows about him and figures he’d be right at home here. “That’s the problem!” Insert additional whining about how Spite’s not playing the game right.
- The next part kind of writes itself. Rambler fights Spite and it’s a big thing with lots of fire and stretchy arms and destruction. It’s interesting to see Rambler doing more fighting than his usual binding/deal making kinds of things. Well, kind of. Rambler’s main shtick is making deals and getting promises/earning favors that he can call in. He’s calling some in now. As the fight’s going, he’s just pulling in various entities from elsewhere to join the fight. There could be a bit where Spite rips up some sharp chunk of hell stone and lunges after Rambler to stab him and he just keeps summoning in other things to get stabbed instead.
- So, while all the stabbing is going on, Rambler’s been backing up under the onslaught. Eventually he’s backed up against a big stone cairn and it looks like he’s out of luck. Then when Spite stabs at him, he dodges and so the stab hits the stone behind him. Right in the center of a sigil that Rambler prepped ahead of time. It activates when Spite strikes it and he gets sucked into it. Rambler picks up an obsidian skull from the top of the cairn and we can see Spites face pressed up against the “inside” of its surface.
- Rambler goes back to Belagorr and demands “the thing” - Belagorr hands him a small stone box. We don’t get to know what’s in the box. Rambler points out that if he finds out that the shrouding doesn’t work or that Belagorr has somehow crossed him, things will not go well for Belagorr. Oh, yeah, “I hope to never see you again. If I were to see you again it would be because I’m trying to kill you.” Rambler: “Likewise.” Then he walks out with the skull in one hand and the box under his arm.
- We have a coda with him playing guitar in the bar again. Reverse shot of the scene and it’s empty - he’s just playing. After he finishes a song, some nondescript man in a purple robe walks in, clapping. Some pleasantries are offered before Rambler cuts him off and asks that they just get on with it. The man would like to slip into something more comfortable and Rambler says it’s okay since nobody likes this bar anymore. The man’s face melts off and the figure becomes GloomWeaver. Rambler knows that GW has been wanting this thing for a while and so he’s been keeping his eye out/has made some efforts to set things up. The implication Christopher’s going for is that Rambler set this whole thing in motion - he wanted to get something from both Belagorr and GloomWeaver and so set up this situation with Spite since he knew that GW wanted him for whatever reason.
- Anyway, the deal is made and Rambler gets something in a small wooden chest from GloomWeaver. After GW leaves, Rambler opens the boxes he got from GW and Belagorr, and puts their contents together. Whatever it is he needed involved getting something from both GloomWeaver and Æternus.
- Man, it’s fun to have a “good guy” who’s still able to do more villainous things/have the plots within plots going on. They think that maybe there has to be something in here at some point that gets across the point that just being dead (and even evil and dead) doesn’t mean you wind up in Æternus. Like, you might develop an alignment that makes it easier for a spirit to wind up there, but it still needs some other push to actually make it happen and that’s what Rambler did with Spite. Like, after Abomination of Desolation there’s not really much of Spite left but Rambler saw the potential, rounded up what was left and sent it on its way.
- So, Spite wrecking things in Æternus is Rambler’s fault. Spite becoming an Agent of Gloom is Rambler’s fault. But hey, at least he’s been shrouded from Æternus and has things that both Belagorr and GloomWeaver had been holding onto, but were willing to let go for the right price. Christopher and Adam both have ideas what those things were, but they’re not going to discuss them on air.
- We heard about the Inversiverse version of Spite (Peacemaker) - does he get an Agent of Gloom-type transformation as well in that reality? They’ve said before that an Inversiverse character doesn’t necessarily follow the same arc as the mainstream version of the character. The story they told about Peacemaker also would have predated the Agent of Gloom story and with how close that story was to OblivAeon they don’t think such a thing is ever seen in the comics. That being said, it’s a fun thought experiment to consider what that person would be like. They think it still works! We have Peacemaker defeated in some way and GloomWeaver steps in to give him the power to keep fighting, only with the mandate to remove gloom from the world. He’s not out there just to make peace, but to bring joy. They’d have to workshop a name for him.
- We have not seen the Inversiverse Rambler yet: what’s the more interesting take on that idea, the less interesting take, and which would have been in the comics? Rambler is very strange and especially so for the Inversiverse considering how much he skirts the good/bad line as it is. A true thing about him is that at the end of the day he is a hero, he’s just very much an “ends justify the means” and it’s hard to understand or fully trust any given thing he’s doing. So, the Inverse version of that is all of that but at the end of the day he’s out for himself and/or is a villain. So, the “less interesting” option is probably “he’s exactly the same except the ends he’s working towards are evil instead of good”. The more interesting one is that he’s somebody who seems very trustworthy and does heroic stuff, but those “heroic” acts are actually set up to have villainous consequences.
- I don’t think you’ve actually said this yet, so: does Rambler’s music actually have any magical properties? Has his Blues ever been used as a magical medium? Does he perform rituals that involve him playing guitar? Has he ever played a duet with Argent Adept? They don’t think so. He is so good as to be bordering on supernatural, but it’s not magical just on its own. The one place they’ll carve out of that is like what happened with GloomWeaver at the end of the story. He played a song to call GloomWeaver, but it’s not specifically that the music is magic, just that he did some magic during the song. The Blues are so important to him that performing is just going to find its way into most things he does. It is very important to them that Rambler is not just Argent Adept mark 2. His magic comes from the curse that he’s under and the bargains that he makes. His music is his calling/purpose. His music is not inherently magical, but he often plays in the course of doing magic. He plays in the course of doing a lot of stuff.
- What choice did Wraith actually make in Mystery Comics Vol. 2 #207 (on DE Spite’s “Sadistic Choice” card - Spite’s holding Mayor Overbrook over a chemical vat while the flavor text implies that there’s some emergency across town that Wraith should also be dealing with)? Mechanically in the game, this card pulls out two Bystanders and then removes one from the game (thus “saving” them since Spite can no longer get them) and destroys the other. In the story, she saves Mayor Overbrook. The situation they think is going on is that Spite’s got a video feed set up showing someone else in peril who will die if Wraith doesn’t get there in time. Wraith isn’t falling for that, though. She (correctly) calls out that Spite already killed that person - the video feed isn’t live, but a recording. Spite’s kind of easy to predict in that way. Spite expected Wraith to save the person who isn’t a corrupt politician, rushing across town only to find that she’s too late and left Overbrook to die needlessly and his death is her fault. Maybe he’d also then release footage showing her abandoning the Mayor to the serial killer. Of course, after he’s saved we get the dumb line from the Mayor about how her saving him “doesn’t change anything” in their dynamic.
- What’s the story behind the story on “Bloody Summer” (with Spite holding a skull with one of Wraith’s razor ordnance blades embedded in it)? It’s from a story in which Spite kills a bunch of people and frames Wraith. As mentioned in a recent episode, there’s stuff all over Rook City. Conversely, maybe he’s just got plenty of her weaponry from when it’s been embedded in his own body. Heck, he may have gone to get in a fight with the Wraith explicitly in order to get more of her kit to plant in crime scenes he causes.
- [Letter about the Harpy/Apostate romance not really being “a romance I hated”] Yeah, that’s kind of their reaction too - that’s why they intentionally built in the fact that it ended abruptly/sloppily when a new writer comes in and undercuts all of the hard work the previous writer had done with it. Some people are going to hate the romance because they don’t see/like the two characters being together. Others hate the hamfisted way it was resolved which ruins the whole exercise in retrospect.
- How does it work that Matthew kept the team from falling apart when it was later “revealed” that he was still a villain all along? It doesn’t! That incongruity is part of why it’s such a bad story!
- Does it ever get referenced later? Does it get brought up when Dark Watch faces off with him in the future that he could have broken up the team, but didn’t? Does anybody ever try to build something good on it later? It sure would be a lot more satisfying if any of that happened. The best you probably actually get is during the later story involving Harpy and Apostate [likely the one on her “Losing Focus” card] where she treats him like an ex rather than just another villain. If somebody were to bring any of that stuff up, the handwavy excuse would be for him to talk about how you just don’t understand what his plot really was and then not ever explain it further. This is why the story sucks. They are committed to making it a story that sucks and so there isn’t a satisfying explanation, call back, or retcon by later writers.
- Was “there is no Matthew” also a deception? Have there been writers who have tried to imply that Apostate’s feelings for her were real in that time, etc.? During the Harpy/Apostate/Realm of Discord fight and she asks the “did it mean nothing?” question there’s a very brief hesitation before he reiterates that it was a scheme all along. They also think that that there may be some book where there’s some bad stuff going down and one part of it seems to get resolved with no input from the heroes and then there’s a coda where we see that the guy doing the thing gets accosted by Apostate. Like, this guy was going to do something bad to the Harpy and Apostate takes him out with no further explanation ever given. The relationship is mostly unaddressed and relegated to the realm of fanfic. Give it another 20 years and the people doing that will get jobs at Sentinel Comics and can make their dreams a reality.
- [Letter posits the idea of a Matthew Critical Event for Apostate’s DE deck where you have to wait a full real-time hour before he swaps back over to being a Villain and nothing that happened in the intervening time mattered.] They were leery, but y’know what, print it. Set up a game, Harpy and Apostate have to be there. You play through several rounds before setting everybody’s HP back to full and shuffle all cards back into their respective decks and start over. Adam suggests maybe homebrewing a Fanatic variant that’s Matthew, but even that doesn’t work because while he’s Matthew it’s not like he’s an adjunct member of Dark Watch doing hero things. He’s just some guy who sometimes has black wings. Maybe you make a character card that you play next to Harpy. End Phase: put a love token on this card and on Harpy. When [x] love tokens have been placed, remove them all from the game, pretend they never existed, set up a game vs. Apostate and remove this card from the game.
- Was Fanatic ever made aware of the Matthew era? What would her opinion be of nice-guy Matthew? Certainly Fanatic never crosses over into the book during that time. The Tome of the Bizarre story with Apostate vs. Ra and Fanatic in the Ruins of Atlantis is shortly after the Matthew era. As soon as “normal Apostate” is back on the table, writers start using him again. Something fun, however, is that the story in Fanatic’s book where the Host explanation is established is happening during the second half of the Matthew era. Apostate is over in the Fanatic book doing that while Harpy is doing actual Dark Watch stuff rather than the focus being on her weird romance subplot. It’s also in that Host story that we learn that he is specifically a spirit of deception.
- How much of the dislike for Matthew came from Fanatic fans? Certainly some of it. There’s a full spectrum of feelings on this. Some hated it from the beginning, some liked it until the ending was botched, some like it unironically even now, some like it by ignoring the ending, etc. The contingent of Fanatic fans are initially mad about him being used this way, but then they get hit with the Host stuff which they’ve previously established as having fractured the Fanatic fandom. That kind of took up most of the Fanatic-fan outrage.
- Does it ever come up that Apostate is actually possessing somebody else’s body during the Matthew period? Are people he possesses aware of what he’s doing? During the romance it’s just kind of handwaved and you’re not supposed to think about it. He’s definitely possessing a body, because that’s how he works, but the next letter gets into this a bit.
- In what issue is it revealed who it is that Harpy is dating (to the readers and to the rest of Dark Watch)? Issue #40 has the reveal to both the readers and characters at the end of the issue.
- So, the construction worker who wakes up after Cosmic Contest (the body that Apostate had been possessing that gets “restored” by Jansa’s Endling tech) should definitely be named Matthew, right? That’s great. Yes. Canon. Anyway, back to the question a bit ago about whether the people he possesses (it’s not always corpses that he possesses) are aware of what he’s doing. If this Matthew guy was the “body” that dated Harpy, was any of his own personality getting through? That’s a fun thing to consider.
- Did later writer ever try to get them back together? Nobody yet.
- Did Apostate have to put on more of a mask of humanity than usual to avoid tripping various wards that NightMist and/or Harpy have around their homes/persons and it just became a little too real for him? They like so much of this just being left open to interpretation. We never get a comic from the perspective of Apostate after this story.
- Man, this story probably shifted a lot of Hot Topic merch and not many comics, huh? Oh man! Can you imagine? They probably still make/sell it. There’s probably a guy’s shirt with an arrow pointing one way with a “She’s my Harpy” and a ladies shirt with an opposing arrow that says “He’s my Matthew.” Ugh… So bad/great! Some goth kid probably got a tattoo. Goth couples exchange black feathers.
- What was Apostate’s incredibly cringy pet name for Harpy? “My little bird”, obviously. She called him “[her] big eagle” (queue disgust from both of them at coming up with that). She definitely wrote some bad poetry for/about him.
- Was there any degree of “notice me, senpai” between NightMist and Soothsayer Carmichael? Absolutely not. There is zero chemistry between them. They also feel that he reads as significantly older than her (which gets weird considering Dark Watch-era NightMist having lived that subjective eternity in the Void). As far as “comics age categories” they’re probably the same, but he’s an old soul. She reads as early 30s and he reads as mid 40s. There’s no chemistry between him and anyone. That’s kind of the point of him.
- Well, Adam’s already boxed himself into a Greg Capullo thing. This is probably just hell-Spite in Æternus fighting demons, with Rambler being a surprise. Christopher does have words for the cover: Torment comes to Æternus (if you want to go longer you can do follow that with : and its name is Spite!). Nah, just the first part. A decade earlier and the subtitle would fit, but not really here.