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The Letters Page: Episode 244
Writers' Room: Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 3 #126
Let's get wild... wild west!
Run Time: 1:17:42
We start off by talking about... legislation?! Yeah, OK, weird, but look. It's scary out there. We're concerned.
Then we do some math. Sorry.
Then! We talk a bit about the Sentinels of the Multiverse: Disparation BackerKit campaign that is currently ongoing but about to finish up! Check it out while you can!
And finally, we tell a story. Or! A few stories! Pretty cool stuff, if we do say so ourselves. And we do. Emphatically.
Join us next week for an episode about a Hero turned Villain!
- It’s finally happened! Silver Gulch made it through the voting. The first major Silver Gulch story was in Justice Comics #432 in May 1991 - Wraith gets stuck in the past. They don’t want to do that one (it’s kind of one note, although an entertaining note). They don’t want to do a really recent story either as they feel we need to get the setup of what a “typical” Silver Gulch story is like before doing the one in the ’00s where “Silver Gulch comes to the future”. That leaves them with the 1998 story in Tome of the Bizarre - this is during the Naturalist’s run of the book but it also has Argent Adept, Expatriette, and Setback in it and the story lasts three issues.
- That’s kind of a weird set of characters to have in one story. Well, it’s 2 normal groups that don’t often run in the same circles. Naturalist and Argent Adept work together at least semi-regularly and Expat and Setback obviously go together. So, what brings these pairs together? Christopher thought that they’d (off the air) already established that this is a case where Setback and Expat have something happen to them such that they get stuck in the past and then Argent Adept becomes aware of something weird going on and goes to investigate/help them and he and Naturalist just happened to be together at the time. [Christopher also dropped the existing title for the story; it’s admittedly not a great title, but it has one - Wildlife West.]
- The reason Christopher didn’t want to talk about the 1991 story is that it’s “The Wraith winds up in the past. She meets Sheriff Pratt. They fight some nameless outlaws/foil a train robbery. She has to get through a portal before it closes, which she does.” This story is more interesting in that random things keep winding up in Silver Gulch. Setback and Expat are the first people to do so, but there were random things before them. It’s 1883, but weird future tech keeps cropping up (specifically in the hands of outlaws). This is the story that irons out the details of the Hayes Gang and they’re all sporting futuristic guns in this one.
- So, who gave the Hayes Gang the guns? Christopher doesn’t think it was a “who” so much as just being what a random time portal happened to drop through to the old west this time. He could be convinced otherwise. Adam wants somebody to be responsible. Somebody wants things to go to Silver Gulch 1883 in particular - creating a Weird West situation out of a Wild West situation.
- Adam suggests we have a situation where Setback and Expatriette are trying to stop the villain and wind up getting sent to the past too accidentally/during that fight. That could work, but do we want the villain known ahead of time or for it to be a reveal later? Well, given that we’re following Naturalist and Argent Adept, we might not find out until later since the action doesn’t start with that fight; we only learn what happened later once everyone’s together in the past. It starts as “we need to save Expat and Setback from random time portals” but is later revealed to be “we have to stop the guy making the time portals”.
- Christopher has an idea for how to go about building this story: let’s aim specifically to make it one that’s playable in SotM: DE once the Naturalist is available. That means we have to use a villain who either appears in the core box, Rook City Renegades, Disparation, or the [redacted] expansion that Naturalist appears in (we’re already up to 4 boxes required for the heroes and environment, so let’s try to keep things contained to those for the villain too). Let’s go set by set and see who the options are:
- Core: Baron Blade is possible but unlikely. We’re in the post-Vengeance era where he’s still largely out of the picture. Citizen Dawn is a no - she’d need to have a “time travel Citizen” to pull it off, but this is also right around the corner from when Sunrise will start, so best to leave her off the table for now. Grand Warlord Voss is too busy being banished who knows where. It could be Omnitron, but seems very unlikely. Maybe slightly more likely than Blade due to the Vengeance thing (and Adam has some notes in Omnitron’s favor, but we’ll come back to that). It’s not Akash’Bhuta - she’s not yet Akash’Thriya, but this isn’t her shtick and she’s dormant at this time. Matriarch is also out for “being in jail” reasons.
- RCR: The Chairman - they could justify this one too, but it’s a bit too sci-fi for him. If Chairman got time travel, his plot would be to go to the past and buy up a bunch of cheap land that will be more valuable in the present and arrange for him to inherit it or whatever. Plague Rat could be in the past, but there’s no “plot” for him. Spite is another no. GloomWeaver… it’s hard to know what he would want from this situation/sending technology to the past. Kismet, it’s chaotic for sure, but the tech is weird here as well (plus they think they’ve done Kismet/Expat/Setback stuff recently enough to skip her). Ambuscade isn’t not his style. Apex and Fey-Court aren’t here for the tech stuff. Terrorform would be, by extension, a RevoCorp thing and they might be involved, but not Terrorform. We know the 4 Terrorform stories.
- Disparation: La Capitan seems almost too easy. The Dreamer is out. Miss Information doesn’t exist yet. Iron Legacy is a hard no. Apostate it’s not his style, but he could be involved. The Ennead are busy having a war in Heliopolis already. Grimm is actually possible, but weird. Necrosis is also possible, but it’s weird. The last Villain that’s not revealed yet at the time of this episode’s release is also out.
- So, they think it’s Omnitron. Adam’s idea is that Omnitron’s logic is “if the technological singularity happens sooner, I’d have defeated these heroes by now”. So, which Omnitron is it? We’re post-Vengeance and while the “Omnitron” that we saw a few years ago would have been in the Omni-Blade (which technically counts as Omnitron III and is the technological precursor to the less-conscious factory version for Omnitron IV), but that iteration was under Baron Blade’s control. We can say that the Omnitron “consciousness” involved in this story winds up in the past and is destroyed/lost there. There’s enough of a technological “air gap” between 1883 and the invention of computers that this version of Omnitron just fizzles out and has no subsequent iterations based on it. That’s not to say that we can’t have a big, stompy steampunk Omnitron robot in the old west. All of the future tech the Hayes Gang has are Omnitron and so the heroes manage to defeat the gang, and that’s all well and good, but then there’s enough of this tech around to cobble itself together into Omnitron.
- Hmm… so having this be a stable time loop thing is fun. We can even say that some bit of tech survives. We get a coda in issue #127 where, I dunno, Frederick Aldred finds some computer chip and uses it as a basis for inventions.
- Issue breakdown: They now know that #127 is this big fight with dieselpunk Omnitron [I’m not sure that is the right era - dieselpunk usually refers to things using the aesthetic from the 1920s through the ’50s, y’know after internal combustion engines that might use diesel fuel are around - the old west is typically solidly steampunk] and ends with that coda about Omnitron tech being found later that would eventually lead to the original Omnitron being built.
- Issue #125, rather than fighting the villain initially Setback and Expat are just dealing with some tech weirdness and when the tech gets sent to the past they wind up getting pulled along too for Setback reasons. Argent Adept notices that there’s something weird going on with time and that his sometimes allies Pete Riske and Amanda Cohen suddenly aren’t around anymore and he decides to help. This might be the first time Naturalist meets them, but Argent Adept knows them already. That’s where the issue starts - Argent Adept perks up as he notices a thing, asks if Naturalist knows Setback and Expatriette and then says that they suddenly don’t exist in this timeline anymore. We’re also seeing weird technology stuff going on - why is super-advanced technology popping up where it didn’t exist before? Of course, that means that this is a case of “actual” time travel, which probably drove some readers crazy. Some time after this story we probably get a Disparation where the gimmick is a world set in the “present” but as an extrapolation of this kind of Weird West setting as a kind of Band-Aid over the continuity implications.
- Anyway, Argent Adept manages to stabilize one of these time anomalies long enough for them to use it to jump back in time too. He picks up some piece of this weird tech that’s popping in and out of reality and can tell that it’s about to jump back, so he’ll use it’s temporal resonance to hitch a ride back as well. They think an end of this issue that’s the two of them arriving and Argent Adept looking around… I know where we are, and when. [tumbleweed blows by, cut to establishing shot of Silver Gulch] Maybe we don’t even see much Setback and Expatriette at all in this one.
- Issue #126 can start with Expatriette and Setback. They’re not captives or anything, they’re just stuck in the past with no way to get home. Omnitron doesn’t have any inherent reason to try to capture them; it’s just doing this “send tech to the past” plan and if a couple of heroes get trapped back then too, whatever. They can’t mess up its plans. Anyway, we actually start with AA and Naturalist wondering where to start, but that’s when we find that Expat and Setback have been stuck here for long enough (not years, but long enough) for us to be treated to Cowboy Setback and Cowgirl Expatriette.
- First things first, we need to get the new arrivals into era-appropriate clothes. Setback and Expat have been fighting the Hayes Gang for a while now and if you’re going to help you need to look like you belong here (here’s the cutaway shot of Setback being ejected from the Saloon seen on one of the previewed cards in the Backerkit [although I note that the issue citation as it exists in that preview places it in the previous issue, so that might now be one of the details that changes between now and production]). We get a page of clothes shopping or whatever. Argent Adept winds up with a bunch of white and has a sleeve garter [which were used because men’s shirts were basically one-size-fits-all and hand long sleeves with the expectation that you’d use one of these as the means of adjusting the length to fit]. We also need an excuse for him to play the piano at the Saloon at some point. They joke about Naturalist being in a suede jacket with a lot of fringe, but I can’t tell how much of a joke that is.
- The main story for this issue is the heroes teaming up with Sheriff Pratt to fight the Hayes Gang. When Setback and Expat explain the problem with the gang, this is initially met with confusion. Setback is straight-up superhuman and Expat is very good with guns and there are a lot of them available here. The trick is that this gang has sci-fi future guns (well for the 1880s - it’s at most cutting edge RevoCorp weapons rather than being completely out of what you might expect in a comic book setting in the late ’90s; y’know what - the Omnitron tech was in Mordengrad for a while, so it’s quite possible this is Blade-tech stuff - we can even say that there was a plot point of Pete and Amanda going to Mordengrad to check on things post-Vengeance when this happens).
- Anyway, the Hayes Gang is defeated and the heroes collect the bounty: the princely sum of $300. That’s the equivalent of around $5000 in 1998 dollars, but the value of the physical currency as a cultural artifact/collector’s item is higher - the value of a 1885 $10 bill is in the thousands of dollars on the collectors market. They like the idea of Setback absolutely collecting that bounty because he’s being a cowboy and then that works out for him later in that the value of the bag of cash he gets is how he funds his lifestyle after they return to the present. Every once in a while he just sells one to a collector. [And this is leaving out the possibility that some of the money in the era would have been gold coinage, which might have even more value per dollar of the reward.]
- That’s the first half of the issue. The rest is investigating where all the tech is even coming from (and things are still happening regarding that). They find some weird mining drill that’s still operating autonomously and destroy it. It’s at that point that all of the various tech bits start reassembling themselves where we get the reveal that this is Omnitron right at the end of the issue.
- So, we already talked about what happens in #127, but then how do the heroes get back to the future? They know that they need to destroy Omnitron and leave no trace of it (although we know they miss at least one piece). Maybe rather than destroying the Omnitron tech (because it’s hard to be sure of the methods available to them in terms of really destroying things thoroughly) so they collect it all and bring it with them. Options seem to be either that they somehow trick Omnitron into returning to the present and they hitch a ride or we call back to the resonant frequency of the stuff that AA used to get here in the first place as a way for him to reverse the direction. The anomalies are still happening, but if he can reverse the frequency or something they can stop them, but also use them to jump back to 1998. They like that one, but a third option is that Setback pulls a Setback and Omnitron’s general time travel nonsense happens again to get them back. Let’s go with the Argent Adept option.
- To build to that resolution, let’s say that during the Omnitron fight, as parts get damaged it’s constantly pulling in replacement parts from the future. They can’t defeat it until they manage to pull off this time travel nonsense to send all of them, Omnitron included, back to the future. The “temporal explosion” that occurs when they win and get sent back to the future blows off a chunk of Omnitron, which flies out into the wilderness, never to be found again. They now don’t think the “resolution” to that even crops up. The coda we get instead is Setback trying to pay for a pizza or whatever with some of his reward money. It’s somebody that he’s trying to pay with it that tells him to find a collector to sell it to, which is when he has a realization about just how much money he’s wasted by using this money as money.
- So, that was fun! It’s really hard to do a smaller-scale Omnitron story (or even really finding a spot to even have an Omnitron story that they hadn’t already made up years ago).
- Between the EE and (known to this point) DE art set in Silver Gulch, there’s a notable absence of a hero who used to call it home; does Chrono-Ranger ever go there and/or does he know that it’s become something of a recurring destination? He seems to know that Pratt becomes the new sheriff, so he appears to have at least heard about some adventure there, but did heroes ever use him as a resource of practical advice for the place? The Draw! one-shot is a story where Chrono-Ranger has to go back to Silver Gulch to deal with Doc Tusser. That’s the only time he goes back, but that is when he learns that Pratt became the sheriff after he left. That story predates the stories in which other heroes wind up there. Jim’s first appearance was that small unexplained thing in Freedom Five Annual #10 during the climax of the big Akash’Bhuta event. His first real story was Tome of the Bizarre vol. 3 #1 in April ’88 which is where we get him falling through time to the Final Wasteland and meeting CON and whatnot. Then we have a few stories here and there but Draw! in April ’90 was the one that covered more about where/when he was from and how his “job” as Chrono-Ranger works. The first time another hero winds up there is the Wraith story in Justice Comics mentioned earlier, #432-433 in May/June ’91. There aren’t any stories there where Chrono-Ranger works with other heroes and they don’t ask him for advice otherwise either.
- Are the Hayes brothers a bigger part of DE Silver Gulch? Do most stories set there involve them or are they eventually dealt with for good? They’re a fixture. They were part of the 1991 Wraith story and obviously in the ‘98 story they detailed today. At least Tyler Hayes still has his sci-fi minigun in the ’00s event (although that might be explained by that event being earlier than the ’98 story from the Hayes brothers’ perspective). They knew a bunch of the story they were telling today already and so it’s in the deck (although the Villain involved was new info). They weren’t involved in every Silver Gulch story. They’re villains, but not Villains. We never see them dead. They’re probably eventually hanged, but that could be years after their latest chronological depiction in the comics.
- Did anything come through to Silver Gulch from the Final Wasteland portal that Jim originally went through? Has anything/anyone else from Silver Gulch wound up in some other time? Has anything notable been deposited there other than the heroes? What’s the deal with the Time-Lost Smoke Belcher? The portals that Jim and Wraith went through are both “normal” time portals that are direct results of the Time Cataclysm that doesn’t get explained until OblivAeon. Today’s story involves Omnitron time travel (much like Omnitron-X uses) and it happens to be “coincidental” that the destination is Silver Gulch again. The Time-Lost Smoke Belcher was part of the Omnitron plot.
- Organized baseball began in the 1840s and started to really pick up popularity after the Civil War; did the settlers of Silver Gulch bring the game with them? Was there a field on the outskirts of town during the mining boom? Did Mr. Fixer affect the timeline by playing or coaching a game while he was there? What position would sheriff Jim Brooks play? They don’t see why not in terms of people playing generally. We know there are Silver Gulch stories. We know there are Heroes Playing Baseball stories. Is there a story combining those elements? They don’t think so. Heroes playing baseball is typically an issue to decompress between big stories so doing that while in Silver Gulch is a bit weird. They don’t think there’s an official field for play, though. Silver Gulch is very small and very rugged. You get up, go to work, go drink at the saloon, go to sleep, and repeat. There’s a lot of gun violence and isn’t a place for families. Jim would be a pitcher - the whole marksman angle.
- Did any hero/villain who traveled to Silver Gulch want to stay there? Did any do so? No. The closest would be Setback who got into being a cowboy. He didn’t fit in, but he loved playing along. He stood out more than the lady with purple hair and an eye patch.
- What effects (if any) do the following emotions have on Sludgeon’s powers? Happiness: he’s a contented puddle of muck. Surprise: the initial shock might let him form up into something, but it’s a short-lived effect. So, like he might form up into some spiky shape, but if he then relaxes he’s a puddle again (of course, if what surprised him turns out to actually anger him once he realizes what’s going on he could keep going). Love: probably also just a puddle, but you could also do a story about this where love gives him life or something and he can do more with it, but then his heart is broken and he’ll never love again. Sadness: puddle. Fear: probably also a puddle. Confusion: puddle.
- Does Sludgeon ever get any kind of redemption or a chance to do more than alternating between anger and apathy? Just anger and apathy through the Multiverse era at least, who can say after that.
- In the Naturalist/Akash’Thriya foes episode you made mention of a Mister/Miss Abyss; who are they? When were they around? What kinds of stories were they in? Were they heroes, villains, anti-heroes? They don’t want to get into this too much, not necessarily because they deserve a full episode, but they’re both just minor characters. Mister Abyss was a villain in mid ’70s in the Wraith cartoon. We had that campy Wraith live-action show from ’66-8. As a result of that there was also a cartoon from ’73-4 (16 half-hour episodes aimed at children - there wasn’t even cartoon violence; a smiling Wraith would capture foes by throwing lassos or nets over them). Think something like a Hanna-Barbara show from that era. Mister Abyss was from one of those episodes and wore a diving suit. He would eventually show up in the comics, but was a super minor character used once or twice in the late ’70s. The concept was rebooted later with his daughter, Miss Abyss. She’s a giant in a huge diving suit and is pretty scary. She’s a Tempest villain and first appears in Justice Comics #563 in April 2002. They could see doing a Miss Abyss story, but Mister Abyss is just a nothing background character. She’s on the level of, say, Skeleton Key, Sludgeon, or the Yeti.
- One idea for a Naturalist/Akash’Thriya foe that you didn’t use was someone created by Akash’Bhuta; are there any other people that she cursed along the lines of what happened to create the Naturalist who might be seeking revenge? That’s a fair question. The story they tell of the Naturalist’s origins of him going through this experience and changing as a person is presented as a unique thing and is structured as a folk tale, intentionally. That being said, it seems entirely possible that she’d done something like this to other people over the eons of her existence, but possibly not again in proximity to the Naturalist’s origin. Barring the presence of Argent Adept to shepherd him through the experience it’s possible that any other instances would have had worse outcomes. It’s feasible, but they haven’t used that for anything. They could see it maybe be used in the RPG era as somebody who this happened to a long time ago but we haven’t seen before. Also, with Akash’Thriya being gone, it’s neat to bring up setting elements that had her as an origin point. The Drought spirit they made up recently likely also comes up again in the RPG era.
- So, with this Drought spirit trying to create incursions of the Void into the main plane of existence, do they ever encounter Void Guard? Not in the Multiverse era; there’s just not time to really get into that in the time that Void Guard is a thing. It’s totally fair game in the RPG era. At least, that sounds like a perfect job for Void Guard, but what are they even up to? Time will tell.
- Given that Drought was created by Akash’Thriya, does she view them as her “child”? Short aside that with the whole Mother Nature thing, all of the various Akash’es are solidly “she” in terms of pronouns, even Akash’Flora. Drought is probably a “they” or possibly even “it” given that it’s more of a force than anything - either are fair game. They don’t think that Akash’Thriya sees them as her offspring. It’s more something she “let in” than something she “created”. There’s still drama there as it’s something that she is responsible for and nurtured, just not a direct “parent” role.
- Which one of the three to do? They should at least talk about what each would be. The first is Argent Adept and Naturalist encountering time portals and technology things, but no Silver Gulch. The third is dieselpunk Omnitron which sounds like it’d be the most interesting. The second also has potential as we could have our four heroes in old west outfits fighting the Hayes Gang and we could do some kind of Western pastiche thing (like reference High Noon or whatever). Showing off Omnitron would be a cool excuse to draw a new character, but the second is the best opportunity to show off Silver Gulch in particular given the prompt of today’s episode.
- Having chosen that, it could be fun to have the cover of this 1998 comic be made up to look like an old Western comic. Like, have it set up to be a gunfight in the street or whatever. Because this is Tome of the Bizarre Presents: The Naturalist it’s going to be Naturalist featured prominently, even though Expat is obviously the most likely to be involved in a gun fight, but covers can lie. Even make it look not only like an old comic in terms of trade dress and whatnot, but even print it to look distressed and beat-up over time.