The Letters Page: Episode 25
Today is an American holiday, so we're going to talk about an All-American hero!
Run Time: 83:50
Look forward to all manner of voices from Adam in today's episode!
About 10 minutes in, we introduce the robot named CON. And yes, we will explain CON in this episode. It's about time!
At the 20-minute mark, Adam refers to human flesh as, "Delicious, delicious flesh." We just want to mention right now: we do not support or advocate cannibalism. Adam does not consume human flesh and he does not think of it is actually delicious. That line about delicious flesh was from Plague Rat's point of view.
Right after that, we explain how time travel works. So, that's cool.
Around the 47-minute mark, we say that Chrono-Ranger mostly acts in the main canon timeline just after saying that he act in a bunch of different timelines. Turns out, both are true. In the bulk of Sentinel Comics, he's doing stuff in the primary timeline, but in his occasional solo limited series, he shows up in and alters many different timelines.
In the future section, we actually reveal a decent amount of story, both from the Tactics timeline and the RPG timeline. A lot happens to Jim Brooks in both futures, including two different name changes.
Thanks for listening! Get your Plague Rat questions in now!
- Jim Brooks grew up in the mid-1800s. Starting in Oklahoma City, but moved further west to what is now New Mexico and a small mining town (since a ghost town) known as Silver Gulch. The Hayes Brothers were already a problem there and he rounded them up and delivered them to the authorities after they dynamited some fencing on the land where he was working at the time. Nobody at the sheriff's office wanted to do anything with them as the family was an important/influential one in the area. Jim "deputized himself" and arrested them.
- He eventually wound up as sheriff himself as he was good at this sort of thing. He never had to kill anybody in the course of his duties, but that's not to say that there weren't times he needed to shoot people.
- One day there was some weird lights and a "hole in the sky" reported and he went to investigate. He walked into what turns out was a hole in space-time and fell through time until he eventually lands in some unforgiving wasteland. He passes out for a while, waking up to the sounds of snarling rat beasts surrounding him. He kills 4 of them, but a 5th gets to him, taking off his arm at the shoulder when it bites him. He escapes from it, and manages to find a building to hide in. When he approaches this metal bunker, a voice calls him inside.
- There's nobody inside, to all appearances, but he continues to hear the voice (which is rather chatty). Citing the fact that he's losing a lot of blood, it directs him to lie down on a table (which extends from a wall, along with some mechanical arms) for treatment before he passes out. Once he wakes up, he's got a fancy new robot arm in place of his missing one.
- The voice is CON (Concordant Harmonic Entity) version 4 and explains that Jim is in a time of terrible monsters and no people (that it's aware of). CON's been on its own for thousands of years - upgrading and defending itself in the hope that somebody would eventually find it. CON has a job for Jim - after explaining time and time travel in general, CON explains that it has mapped the timeline and has found points where things "went horribly wrong" and resulted in this terrible present. Luckily, CON is also a time machine and can send him back to fix these events. Jim initially wants to just be sent back home, but CON convinces him to act for the greater good and try out this plan. Most of the initial targets Jim gets sent to take out are monsters of one stripe or another.
- Jim had started out in Wild West comics being published by an "ancestor" company of Sentinel Comics back in the heyday of movie Western and later writers decided to bring these old characters/concepts (like Jim, the Hayes brothers, and Silver Gulch) that they owned in the back catalog into new stories.
- From readers' perspective, this "new" character of Chrono-Ranger just kind of shows up. Neither they nor the other heroes in the books have any idea who this guy is. He just shows up in the crossover Freedom Five/Prime Wardens vs. Akash'Bhuta event in FFA #10. At a pivotal moment, this guy with a pistol and cowboy hat just shows up on a hilltop, unloads into AB's face, and disappears. This gives the heroes enough of an edge to win the day, but there's no explanation. Letters to the writers ensue where the readership are looking for clarification on just what happened, but no answers were forthcoming (the implication being that Jim's inclusion here was an editorial mandate). We get to know that this was one of Jim's earliest missions - to go back to this specific time to prevent AB from overwhelming the heroes.
- He goes on a bunch of other monster-hunting missions (yetis, chupacabras, etc.), and eventually gets a job going back to the wild west era to take down Doc Tusser - some kind of trollish creature in a cowboy hat and carrying a gun. He's a bit of trouble for Jim, but Jim eventually shoots him, considering this just another job done and moves on (although he was a bit concerned at first that this seemed more like a "person" than most others and shooting people is crossing the line). After several more assignments he gets another one to take down Doc Tusser. Jim's a bit taken aback since he already killed him once. They fight again, and it's definitely the same guy as he remembers Chrono-Ranger from the last time, but he seems to have recovered completely from what had appeared to be a mortal wound from the first time. This time Jim takes care to put him down, assuring himself that this troll man couldn't have survived his wounds. He moves on to a few more jobs and then Doc Tusser is back again - it's obvious now that Tusser has a pretty significant ability to regenerate. After several more encounters with him, we see Jim attack Tusser with his mechanical arm (art on "Terrible Tech Strike"). CON has synthesized a toxin that CR injects into Tusser at this point that causes his immune system to attack his own body with the hopes to negate the regeneration power and cause his body to consume itself after this encounter (which was published around the same time as Vengeance was happening, although obviously back in wild west times instead of the "present" where the actual Vengeance stuff was happening).
- One of the "monster" encounters in the middle of all the Doc Tusser shenanigans was the Plague Rat story. CON has identified Plague Rat as the origin point of the infection that created the Rat Beasts that tore off Jim's arm in the "Final Wasteland" period. He winds up hunting PR in the sewers beneath Rook City, but he underestimates PR and winds up being hunted himself. Dark Watch had been hunting PR too, but instead of discovering this giant rat monster, they find a giant rat monster locked in mortal combat with a cowboy who has a mechanical arm. Plague Rat wins that fight, but they scare it off before it can kill Jim off. Jim, rather than desiring help, sends the team on to finish the job, which they do - allowing Jim to travel back to the future - this is because...
- Completing his bounties is how his Temporal Dislocator gets recharged. The time-travel device loses its charge when he makes a jump, but completing the bounty (i.e. changing the timeline in the way CON intended) creates enough "temporal energy" to recharge it which allows him to make the jump back to CON.
- So, we've seen him jump into stories involving the Freedom Five, Prime Wardens, and Dark Watch. The next major thing he appears in is another big crossover story involving Citizen Dawn (in the Mobile Defense Platform base) where she's making a big push to actually conquer some sizable territory. During that, Citizen Truth is at the front of the fighting and doing a good job of preventing any heroes from being able to make any headway against the Citizens (Parse and Fanatic present here - this is where Absolution breaks). CON has identified this as a problem and has given CR a bounty on Citizen Truth - Jim objects on the grounds that he doesn't kill people. CON's fine with this, saying that "No Executions" on this job is a valid policy - just stopping him is sufficient. Jim arrives in the fight behind Truth, shoots him in the leg to get him out of the fight/drop the shields, and gets out again. The heroes rally and win the day (but are, once again, confused by this guy's presence).
- One last instance where he shows up was in a fight between the Southwest Sentinels and a group of minor villains known as the Crackjaw Crew. The Sentinels were losing the fight, however, and they're really important for the timeline in general, so Jim shows up and shoots out the hover chair that one of the Crew uses. It explodes and knocks out "The Whole Gang", which allows the Sentinels to arrest them.
- Jim is noticing a troubling trend, however. Lately he's getting fewer "monster" bounties and more "people" bounties. This kind of started after he lost the Plague Rat fight (even though the job eventually got completed by others). The guys mention in passing the time that he got sent to fight some of the Dreamer's projections, but make sure to specify that it was a weird one where he just needed to take out a few of these weird things and that he wasn't sent after the Dreamer herself.
- After Vengeance, post-Slaughter-House Six, Ambuscade has set up a bunch of explosives in the Wagner Mars Base on his own. Chrono-Ranger is sent to kill him - specifically to kill him. The image he's given has Ambuscade in his mask and so this could be a robot or something. Once he's on Mars he quickly determines that this is just a guy in a mask. He uses one of the tools that CON had rigged up for him to get around the kill necessity - the "bad thing" he's there to stop is that Ambuscade has rigged up all of these bombs and can't be allowed to trigger it. The Temporal Grenades that CR has been given are able to stop Ambuscade in a time bubble which gives Jim enough time to go around the base and disarm everything. After the grenade wears off, Jim explains the whole "I was sent to kill you" thing to Ambuscade and gives him a second chance (or more like a seventeenth chance, but Jim doesn't know that). This does actually have an effect on Ambuscade going forward, but more on him in his episode.
- That leaves Jim without a completed bounty, though (since he was supposed to kill Ambuscade, not just foil his bomb plot). That means that when he activates his time machine it doesn't really work - he gets lost outside of time, unable to communicate with CON. He's stuck there for an indeterminate period (because, you know, he's outside of time), until he gets picked up by an old pirate ship. This is La Comodora who offers him a deal - she'll get him out of his predicament (upgrading his temporal dislocator and mechanical arm as a bonus) in return for him going after her younger self who is getting up to stuff that she doesn't remember doing (which includes somehow dragging one timeline through another, which would create a "time black hole" or something). The upgrade to his time machine means he can now pursue beings through time (necessary given La Capitan's abilities). He chases her, she eludes him, he prevents the actual badness that La Comodora was worried about but in the end he's also stranded in Pompeii at around 79 AD.
- At the last moment, another door in time opens up and another time traveler, the Chronoist, offers to save him. This is, essentially, the guy who got the Chrono-Ranger gig instead of Jim Brooks in his home reality. He brings Jim along to the OblivAeon fight in Rook City, since it's vitally important for all timelines. It's interesting to note that less time (heh) passes in the life of Jim Brooks than for most other heroes in the comics - he's present for a bunch of important stuff, but he's just popping in and out for those events without living through the downtime between them.
- The Chronoist, using his own time machine connecting him to CHE as a reference, helps repair Chrono-Ranger's to reestablish contact with CON who is glad to hear from Jim again, but also lets him know that he's already right where he needs to be given the dire nature of the situation. When OblivAeon fires the giant green beam of energy that destroys Rook City [I think this is the first visual description of that event we've gotten], Jim is right at the center of the beam. The Tactics/RPG split here is whether the heroes decide to write-off Rook City as a lost cause or to continue the fight to save what they can.
- When the heroes who fought off OblivAeon investigate the rubble, they find this cowboy guy they've seen here and there a bunch of times. He's in rough shape, although not quite dead yet. They can see a bunch of his mechanical bits exposed and this weird glowing thing near his left shoulder (where his sheriff star/time machine was). It looks like it has a button and they press it. CON sees what's going on, but can't pull him back to the future to help save him, and so decides to download himself to Chrono-Ranger's mechanical parts across time - this is CON version 5. This brings with it a significant charge of temporal energy, which allows him to create a fairly sizable time bubble around him which pops everything inside it back in time a few seconds, reversing a bunch of damage around it - except for Chrono-Ranger himself as the time-shifting technology has to not effect his own body for other stuff to work. More in the future section.
- When did the heroes first encounter Chrono-Ranger, who met him, and how did that encounter go down? The first encounter is in the Akash'Bhuta fight, but they don't meet him at that time. They first meet him in the Plague Rat fight when the members of Dark Watch talk to him.
- Did Chrono-Ranger meet Haka in the Final Wasteland before going back in time? Does he stay in the main timeline? Chrono Ranger and the Eternal Haka never meet (CON and Haka don't know about one another). He goes to a lot of different timelines and is constantly saving/altering those timelines by his presence. The times we see him in the main timeline are mainly the ones that were mentioned earlier.
- Can CON enable time travel within the same timeline (referencing the fact that in earlier episodes the guys generally talk about time-travel as specifically reality-hopping rather than actual time travel within a timeline)? Yes. CON's main limitation was that it couldn't travel through time itself and needed an agent (up until it figured out how to upload itself to CR's gear at the end of the multiverse era).
- As James Brooks originated in Western comics, how did readers react to the sudden change to the time-travel stuff? They didn't. The Western comics were really old and weren't in continuous publication up until Chrono-Ranger started showing up. Certainly, really observant comics historians or similar could have realized that the publishers were reusing this old character, but it's not like he was rounding up the Hayes boys one month and then dealing with time travel the next in terms of comics publication. This is similar to Faye Diamond's introduction in really old comics before being introduced as Nightmist decades later.
- What's the coolest thing he's seen in his time traveling exploits? That's pretty subjective, but maybe watching the destruction of Pompeii.
- Was CR able to prevent the future of the Final Wasteland? He doesn't know, but yes.
- Questioner has a pet hypothesis that Jim kills the original Plague Rat, but then gets infected and becomes one himself - is that what happens? Nope. He (and several other heroes) get infected, but don't ultimately become rat beasts. More on this next week in the PR episode.
- In the Prime Wardens Argent Adept's bio, it says that they would have lost the fight against Akash'Bhuta if they hadn't been helped by Chrono-Ranger, what did he do to swing the fight their way? Did he have some kind of special tech for this purpose? He just uses his normal revolver. He shows up at precisely the right moment to distract/stun her enough for the heroes to make a comeback and win.
- What's the storyline behind Temporal Targets? That's the book that a lot of his cards' flavor text cites. Publication-wise, this was something the company started putting out to explain all of the events that Jim had been popping in and out of. By the time it was published, it was covering events that often had taken place years prior (like the Akash'Bhuta fight), just now from CR's perspective. We also get his origin story here.
- Is there a story behind his connection to his hat or is it just a trope? This is a holdover from his original Western comics as a running character trait that "you don't touch the Sheriff's hat" and the modern writers kept it going.
- What is the Masada? It's a ray-gun that CON put together for Jim to use in a situation when he just couldn't do any damage to something with his normal weapons. This is demonstrative of the sort of "CON supplies Chrono-Ranger with the equipment he needs" plot detail (represented in-game by stuff like "Displaced Armory").
- Who are the people on "The Whole Gang" and how do they factor into his story? That's the Crackjaw Crew, as mentioned. More on them in the upcoming Interlude on Nemeses later this month.
- What's with the phrase "Thunder and mud!"? It's something he would say that was retained from the old Western comics - it's sort of like Unity's "Sparks!" exclamation.
- Jim seems to be a fan of the "solve a problem, then ride off into the sunset" trope (or in his case "solve a problem, walk through a time-portal") and he seems like he doesn't socialize with the other heroes - is there a reason for this or is he just not into small talk? Does he have any friends? Since the completion of bounties is what allows him to jump back to CON, he tends to not stick around much. He's not really much one for small talk anyway and is OK with solitude, but the nature of his story doesn't really allow him to get to know any other heroes (until the Future section).
- Did Jim have any kids before he got dropped through time (and does he have any descendants running around)? Not that he knows about. He had a sweetheart back in Oklahoma, but she didn't go with him when he went out west. She found out after he left that she was pregnant and her telegram never reached him.
- During his time-travels, has he ever met himself (or alternate-universe versions of himself)? No. He and La Capitan/Comodora are the only "true" time-travelers out there and he never gets sent to the same place twice and so doesn't interact with himself.
- Does he return to CON after each mission? Yes, by the nature of how the time travel works (up until the Ambuscade incident at least).
- How's his relationship with CON? They get along. He finds the chatty robot a bit annoying, but appreciates the effectiveness of it.
- In the CR books, did the writers ever use time-travel as an excuse to have him meet past versions of heroes (previous Legacies, Black Fist, etc.)? Absolutely - in his solo series they did this a lot.
- Now that he's met La Comodora, does anything happen between them (common time-travel experiences)? No - they become friends/drinking buddies given the common experiences, but they don't have a romantic relationship.
- How are Plague Rat and Jim nemeses? Jim justifiably has a chip on his shoulder regarding man-sized rat creatures given that one ripped his arm off, but is PR long-lived enough to have been that rat creature or is it a descendant? Is he trying to stop Plague Rat to stop all rat beasts in the future? It's mostly the last bit - CON knows that Plague Rat and the infection that comes with it is part of what leads to the Final Wasteland and so needs to be stopped, but for CR this is kind of personal and that is what justifies the Nemesis status. Plague Rat doesn't know about any of this, but they've said before that being a Nemesis doesn't have to be a symmetrical motivation.
- Why do we almost never see his mechanical arm? His original mechanical arm is rather spindly, but is rather compact when he's not using it - we generally see it while he's extending it, consciously. While in its compact state it's easily hidden at his side by his poncho.
- Who/What is CON and where did it come from? The Concordant Harmonic Entity was created near the "end of the world" scenario that resulted in the Final Wasteland by some heroes - Unity, Mr. Fixer, and the Argent Adept. They decided to build this entity for the purpose of having it be smart enough and last long enough to figure out time travel to try to prevent this bad future. The vast knowledge of the Virtuoso of the Void and the mechanical know-how of the other two were what allowed them to build the bunker and the AI that went with it, along with the ability to self-upgrade when necessary. CON's personality is mostly due to Unity's influence, but it's largely a combination of their minds. In the thousands of years it's existed, it's worked its way up to the 4th major iteration and is finally able to send things through time when CR finds it.
- Tactics - After the destruction of Rook City he wasn't found by other heroes since they hadn't fought off OblivAeon. He didn't die, but was pretty messed up. Since nobody was there to press the button he didn't get help from CON. Some people helped him out, but wound up betraying him. There is no law in Broken City and so he's no longer a lawman - he's a much different person now. Rather than Chrono-Ranger, he's now Renegade. He has a degree of brain damage, but still "knows" that he's supposed to hunt down people/things that make things worse and he's not too shy about using his guns to do so.
- RPG - He's saved by the heroes, CON shows up to help out, etc. He's no longer Chrono-Ranger given that the defeat of OblivAeon prevents even his form of actual time travel. CON manages to repair his body more effectively (using more metal bits melding the arm and star with Jim's spine) which further combines them - they're still separate personalities, but they're all bound up in the composite body. CON still has some temporal "charge", though. They're now known as the Time Slinger (still Jim Brooks with a six-gun after all) but now with some minor time-manipulation powers (like slowing down time in a bubble around targets to make them easier to hit). He hangs out at Freedom Plaza with the Sentinels of Freedom, giving some weapons training (and horse-riding). He settles down a bit - he's still a lawman, but as is common here, is more of a mentor role.