The Letters Page: Episode 252
Writers' Room: Mystery Comics Vol. 2 #93
It's gritty time!
Run Time: 1:30:13
We start with some goofs and chats, and then we get right into it, telling a story designed to make you feel good about the world and humanity! All is well!
A note on that brilliant cover that Adam drew and the name of the episode. During the episode, we posited just when the issue might land, and we were mostly right, but off by a little. Fortunately, our eagle-eyed listeners noticed an issue while Adam was livestreaming his drawing of that cover, which gave us the opportunity to shift the issue number slightly, clearing up any potential conflicts. So, that is accurately Issue #93 of Vol. 2 of Mystery Comics!
Join us next week for an Editor's Note, and if you're on the Letters Page Patreon, you can join us this Friday morning at 11 AM Central for the live recording of said Editor's Note!
- Sometimes when they get a prompt the concept is fairly straightforward - if it’s two characters interacting they can look to see when both characters were available, last week they had one that was pretty much by definition limited to a single issue, etc. A lot of time they at least have an idea for what it could be. This week it’s Fanatic and the Organization.
- Adam’s first impulse is a story where Fanatic kills a bunch of Organization goons and there’s one survivor. This guy, because it’s a trope, is a Catholic mobster and has a response of “why was I spared?” We get a story from his perspective where he comes to terms with what’s happened.
- Christopher thinks that’s fine as a direction to go. Do they want to actually go anywhere with it, though? Like, does this guy then go on to do something interesting beyond this one story? In talking it through, Christopher has an end for the story occur to him, so they’ll just start rolling and we’ll get there when we get there.
- Christopher’s vague idea had been to just do a more standard “The Organization is using some kind of relic to get powers and Fanatic opposes them, but they’ve gotten enough power from the thing to actually make it less one-sided” thing, but Adam’s idea is more interesting.
- When to put it… It could easily be a ’90s thing, but early ’80s could also be fun. The Comics Code was increasingly toothless and this could fit into the Mystery Comics era in early volume 2 where each month there was an issue about the Wraith and another about something else going on in Rook City. Like, it couldn’t be super bloody (the CCA was still a thing) but the first pages could easily just play out like a horror movie from this guy’s perspective. We get glimpses of what’s going on until a big splash page showing when he sees her in full being super intimidating. She doesn’t notice that he’s survived (because her killing all these jerks and then leaving him seems weird - he gets injured and passes out but is covered by another body), but he saw her and it made an impression.
- Yeah, that’s good - the big splash page involves him getting slashed and the panel is her standing over him. That’s when he passes out and when he wakes up he’s just surrounded by all of this death. “Why did she spare me?” He’s just reading so much into why he’s alive and how he needs to change. In reality, she had just moved on after he passed out and missed that he was still alive.
- We’re going to put this in Mystery Comics volume 2 #93 in March of 1984. [Well, the actual issue Christopher says in the episode is issue #94 which is the other issue that month, but as the show notes point out, this was spotted as being the Wraith issue that month during Adam’s art stream where he did the cover.] This was a great premise idea. The idea Christopher had could have gone in several books and would have been exactly how you’d think “Fanatic fight the Organization” would go, but this premise in this book with this kind of violence at this time in history just screams “Fred Diller” [which I took to just be Adam not saying “Frank Miller”, but then a few minutes later Adam brings up that Fred Diller’s first issue was Mystery Comics vol. 2 #1 in 1980, so it seems we have another official SC Metaverse person].
- So, the issue starts with a page of Organization goons getting ready to do Organization stuff and then Fanatic bursts in through a wall and it turns into that horror story thing where we don’t really see her until that splash page just before our guy passes out. Speaking of our guy, they name him Luca Caruso [there’s a whole bit where they started with “Stanley Tucci” but avoid that because “Italian mobster” is too on-the-nose, then go through Hispanic and Irish options (complete with additional famous-people names) as other traditionally-Catholic groups before coming back around to Italian because, really, you want to know exactly who this guy is as quickly as possible and giving a guy in the Organization an Italian name is the fastest shorthand possible].
- Luca Caruso wakes up after the fight and we get mostly his internal monologue as he takes in the scene and gets out of there. The storytelling here is going to have a strong noir vibe and stylistically is probably delivered in caption boxes rather than thought bubbles. He goes to a nearby church - a big, stone thing - and goes into the confessional booth.
- How straightforward do we want this to be? He might not go straight to “I need to turn my life around”. That’s there, but the main thing is his thought process that he was in the middle of doing something and received a message from god. Ah, there’s an idea. Like half of this issue “takes place” in the confessional, but a lot of it is technically flashbacks as we go through how this guy was basically “raised in crime” and it’s all he knows. There’s a running bit where the priest tries to get him to just talk about what sins he’s committed but Luca wants to give context and is basically telling his life story to the poor guy.
- The theme here is incidents that Luca recognizes as times when he could have stepped away from this life. These are the choices he’s made along the lines of alienating his family vs. alienating the mob. That sort of thing. The priest can chime in with something like “Oh, and that’s when you chose [good thing]?” “Nah, that’s when I chose [bad thing].” The thing is, he’s kind of proud about the choices he’s made. He saw them as incidents where he kept his word and was providing for people close to him. The problem is that by being “a good guy” in those ways he was doing bad things.
- There’s a little back and forth here about what Luca’s approach/dilemma is. They land on: He’s basically long since resigned himself to the fact that he can’t be redeemed. He had reasons for doing the bad stuff that he thought justified doing them (helping family, etc.), but he’s basically accepted that he’s going to hell when he dies. But if that’s the case, why did the angel spare him?
- Having decided that, they back up to have the most recent “could have stepped away” moment be something like being involved in a drug deal or something. In the course of that, he sees somebody in danger and does the right thing to help the person. While he’s doing “there’s a car explosion” and he has an opportunity to just walk away. [I’m not sure exactly what the story is here - maybe the car exploding is cover to let people think that he’s dead?] But no, the guy he saved turns out to be somebody his boss has been looking for and he turns him over and then goes right back to his life. That was were he really came to the conclusion that he was irredeemable - when he could have just walked away and start new but didn’t.
- Okay, so then he asks the priest why the angel spared him. We get something in the “God works in mysterious ways. He still has a purpose for you” vein. From here, Luca goes and we have a parallel “confession” with the devil, i.e. he goes to talk to the Chairman. Heh… or rather, he says something to the priest about thinking about what he said regarding all of that and the Lord’s grace and whatnot. Then, as he’s walking out of the church the Operative knocks him out and he wakes up in the Chairman’s office.
- Pike wants to know what happened and this guy is the only survivor. Luca explains the setup and how they were doing everything by the numbers. Then an angel shows up and kills everybody. The Chairman is largely silent throughout this, but the vibe they want to convey is that his attitude is “don’t go reading into this” - where the priest expects Luca to examine his life and whatnot, the Chairman has just taken a report from a subordinate and expects him to go back to work now (while keeping in mind that “you failed me” and therefore “owes” him). The hope that the priest would give is this ephemeral thing. The Chairman’s expectations are concrete. Hope is a strong thing, though.
- They think that the Chairman scene is much shorter than the confession with the priest so we probably have time for another scene before we get to Christopher’s intended end point. Some wheel-spinning on how that could go before we get to the point that they want a further interaction with Fanatic. It’s a bit contrived, but it’s a comic book. He’s thinking about everything as he walks down the street and catches a glimpse of a winged figure flying by overhead. At first they consider him chasing and shouting until he gets her attention, but a rooftop scene is cool, so he follows her, rushes up a staircase to a rooftop where he finds her.
- She’s “too busy” for him, but he demands a minute. She owes him that much. She doesn’t know who this jerk is. When he explains she throws off a comment about how if any evildoer was spared this day, she can assure him it was not intentional. She does not care, but he’s grasping at things straws here. He goes on about how maybe it’s the case that she didn’t intend to spare him, but that God could be pulling a “mysterious ways” thing like the priest said. She agrees that it’s certainly possible and that he’s meant for more. That’s above her station. All she can say is that he should pray that he doesn’t find himself in the same position again. Then she flies off. There’s at least the passive “agreement” with his position given that she doesn’t smite him right now. There’s an element of mercy, but the threat of damnation if he doesn’t change.
- He climbs down from the rooftop and we get more inner monologue as he walks down the street. Eventually he’s met by a figure who steps from an alley, shoots him, and takes his wallet. There isn’t a “final thought” at the end there or anything. The monologue up to that point is that maybe redemption is possible. Or not - at the least he doesn’t want to wind up in that situation again. He has helped people before - even if he’s not redeemable, maybe he can at least help others choose a different path. He can keep others out of being in a similar position. There’s inklings of him heading towards a place where he’d be making better choices.
- They need to make it clear that the his death is just random Rook City street crime rather than a “hit” or something. They don’t want any dialogue from the killer, though. He just goes through the wallet and takes the rings Luca had worn. He also picks up Luca’s cross necklace (which he’s been wearing throughout and has a blood splatter on it from the initial fight - which has been a reminder throughout the issue) and then discards it (along with the now empty-of-cash wallet) so the final shot is the cross in the spreading pool of blood.
- That’s a very “1980s crime comic” kind of ending. It’s also very on-brand for Rook City that we get this guy’s whole life story and him having something prompt him to think that he probably shouldn’t be doing all of this bad stuff, but then it’s all for nothing because Rook City is terrible.
- Adam also mentions that Fanatic’s relationship to Mystery Comics has always been kind of weird and that this Fred Diller is the type of guy who would think that and would try to figure out how to make her make sense in stories here. A lot of “superheroes in ‘crime cities’” stories prompt the question of “why can’t they just fix things?” You can stop all of the crime you want, but you can’t change people. Fanatic can stop crimes all day, but there’s just a cycle of violence at play here that everyone is stuck in here.
- You’ve said in the past that people tend to not tell Fanatic about some types of crime (e.g. bank robberies) due to her tendency for extreme overkill in such cases - so, how did she get involved in fighting the Organization today? Given the stereotype of the mafia being predominantly Catholic, how do the low-level grunts react to her angelic presence? Well, what do you know, you got a whole issue about that. Seriously, though, we don’t really get any indication in this issue how she got involved. Most other cases where she interacts with this “level” of criminals it’s probably violent crime in particular which gets attention on its own, or a drug thing where she can ask where the person got the stuff, etc. We probably get some stories where she’s more merciful or does a kinder thing rather than smiting (and we see that in the latter portions of today’s issue). There’s probably at least some other goons who “give up” or otherwise have reactions to her appearance. In these stories she probably exists as something of an urban legend.
- Has the Organization ever included powered people/non-human entities (Fey, demons, former Bloodsworn gladiators, etc.) in its ranks? When you see “members of the Organization” they’re street-level unpowered humans doing crimes. They could see there being specific Chairman/Organization plots involving ringers being brought in for a special job that might involve powered people. We know that Fanatic is around in Rook City from her origins up through the era discussed today and there’s probably at least some other overlap with Organization stuff in that time, but that’s not to say that it’s a case where the Chairman sets out to specifically call up some demons to work for him. You might get a crew leader (a step or two down from Underboss) who lets himself get possessed or something. After OblivAeon, Chairman Pike is cultivating an upstanding image as he tries to become more of a national figure. He’s helping to rebuild Rook City and everything. What a great guy. The Organization is necessarily changing, but we’ll see how that shakes out in the future.
- How does Fanatic interact with NightMist and Harpy due to their tendency to dabble in the occult? If Fanatic were to wind up in NightMist’s house, what would happen? They do not have a good relationship. Fanatic wouldn’t really get along with Dark Watch at all. Setback is probably fine. Expatriette too. But Mr. Fixer is an undead abomination and then you have two witches. That being said, she’s just in very different stories than Dark Watch and so they don’t cross paths a lot. You get the occasional thing where Fanatic needs NightMist’s help for something (or vice versa) and there’s a “working together doesn’t mean we like one another” quality to it. Additionally, those paths probably diverge the later you go, so Harpy doesn’t even really enter into things at all. That being said, if somebody is fighting Apostate she’s good with that. If Fanatic winds up in Diamond Manor, that’s going to be a mess due to all of the “I need to destroy these evil artifacts” going on that probably results in ghosts or other things getting out.
- You mentioned “fairy Fanatic” at some point… Variant? No, they don’t see themselves doing that - it wasn’t even a full story, that was just a fun bit where Fanatic looks like Tinker Bell because that’s funny.
- Has she had major dealings with the Fey-Court (what with all of the Catholic/Irish mythology syncretism during the Christianization of Ireland)? Well, she and the Fey-Court run in similar story circles as it is - “magic” as opposed to technology, science, space, etc. stories. She has this whole “I am an angel of the Lord” thing going on and members of the Fey-Court could have a lot of fun poking around in that belief. There’s probably plenty of potential dealings going on there.
- How far does Fanatic’s belief-based powers go? Can she be stronger than Haka if she thinks she is (say, an arm-wrestling contest where she honestly believes that she will win)? Yeah, she could win that. She doesn’t believe that she’s physically stronger than Haka, but she could easily believe that it’s necessary to beat him at the contest if there’s a reason for her to need to (while he is physically strong, she has more power in that she has the Lord behind her). We don’t see her throwing cars around like a strength-based hero would. She can, but that’s not the kind of thing she does.
- Can Fanatic hear prayers that believers pray silently to her? Yeah, she probably kind of believes in the background that she could hear such prayers and so does. It’s likely used as a plot hook to get her involved in a story now and again (“I hear the prayers of the desperate!”), but rarely. Readers view it as lazy.
- Regarding Rambler: it feels a little bad to take a real life person of color, and influential musician who may have been murdered and re-imagine his life such that he’s a supernatural anti-hero. I get that there’s the “deal with the devil” story that kind of pushes him into Legendary status already, but I don’t get a similar twinge for things like [Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln,Vampire_Hunter(novel)) - did you have any qualms about using Robert Johnson in this way? They talked about this a bunch a long time before the point where anybody else knew about him and yeah, the question was whether they wanted to base a character on a real person like this. Part of why they did is because they hadn’t done so before and that’s a thing that does happen [I mean, Blood Countess Bathory is right there…]. It’s less common with “main characters” which is why Rambler is kind of a C-lister who’s off on the side doing his own things. While he is based on Robert Johnson, he’s more based on that folk-tale, popular-consciousness version of him rather than the real guy. So, yes, they did have some qualms, but ultimately not to the point of not doing it. The Abraham Lincoln counterexample probably feels different because it’s so obviously fictional since there isn’t a pre-existing connection between Lincoln and the supernatural in the popular imagination. There’s also the fact that Johnson is more recent and so feels more real. They really are trying to be respectful about things while still basing a character on the folktales that surround this guy who happens to have been real as opposed to some other Tall Tale figures. The murkiness of Johnson’s life story that are what allowed the folk-tale version of him to even happen was more or less necessary for this to work. Making a character out of somebody for whom more concrete details are known would be more difficult.
- About Grimm… What happened to his brother? Everybody knows that it’s “the Brothers Grimm”, so why only one in Sentinel Comics? The story of the brother of Grimm is one they haven’t gotten into yet. In the first volume of Tome of the Bizarre (where he’s just a narrator and isn’t connected to any kind of canonical continuity) Adam can see some writer trying to introduce a brother, but it just works better with him on his own. Since he’s a specter haunting an ancient library maybe we see a skeleton in the background at some point that he says was one of his brothers. They won’t say that a story involving this won’t come up eventually, but there isn’t a definitive answer yet.
- You’ve said that Grimm probably isn’t a Singular Entity, but that prompted the question of whether there is a Singular Entity of Stories? Would Grimm be a Scion of such a being? Are there more Scions? They start at the position that there’s a good chance that there’s a Singular Entity of something related to this. Then again, there are many other Entities whose remit stories could be seen to fall under - passing down knowledge is Preservation, writing something new is Progress, etc. Storytelling is everything which makes it kind of tricky. Eh, Christopher’s kind of talked himself out of this in the process of talking it through. Adam suggests somebody doing a cheeky thing where they talk about a Singular Entity that’s above all of the rest and it’s one of Story. That sounds extra-canonical in the same kind of way that the Fantastic Four meet God and he’s Jack Kirby. Anyway, where we’ve landed is that there isn’t one.
- [Note admonishing them for not using the term “ghostapo” when referring to a bunch of Nazi ghosts in last week’s episode.] That term definitely gets used, but not in the Golden Age. That’s not the right kind of vibe for the era. Whenever General Geist returns is probably when it first gets used.
- When we first meet Gwydion as Papa Legba he’s working for GloomWeaver and making (bad) deals with people much like Rambler did. He seems to fear becoming obsolete or otherwise out of favor, but how did a Fey come to be working for GloomWeaver? Is he afraid of what GloomWeaver will do to him if he’s not needed anymore? Is he trying to use GloomWeaver for something himself? Does he do the thing that Rambler does where he makes deals to offset other debts he’s already incurred? When he first shows up as Papa Legba he’s Gwydion but he doesn’t act like he is because at the time he’s being written nobody (not even he himself) knows because that was a later retcon. When he’s later revealed to be Gwydion part of the implication there is that GloomWeaver is also unaware that Papa Legba is actually Gwydion. As such, Gwydion is being a real method actor when he’s being Papa Legba and so acts in the ways that you’ve noticed. Gwydion created Papa Legba to worm his way into GloomWeaver’s business and when he is not "being* Papa Legba he knows that Papa Legba can’t be too successful because he doesn’t want to attract too much attention.
- When Gwydion is revealed, does anybody call him out on how insensitive the whole Papa Legba thing is? Are there any Voodoo/Voudon entities that are depicted positively in Sentinel Comics? NightMist does some voodoo. Nobody calls out Gwydion directly, but it’s possible that somebody noticing how this Papa Legba doesn’t actually match up with the traditional depictions is what tips them off that something is amiss (of course, what’s really going on is a writer noticing all of this as a problem and then using it as the wedge point to break things).
- I’ve read that Gwydion is kind of like the Welsh equivalent to the Dagda, so what’s their relationship like? The names and roles that they’ve wholesale stolen from various mythologies as parts of the Fey-Court do not match up with the traditional depictions/relationships between them. So, in Sentinel Comics the Dagda rules the Fey-Court and Gwydion is just a part of the Fey-Court. There might be some antagonism there, but that’s partially explained by Dagda being very orderly (for Fey) and Gwydion is very much not.
- I see some overlap between Gwydion and other Rambler foes (like Dolos creating fake things like Demiurge and Anansi weaving stories like Grimm) - is anything done with that in the comics? Not really. We’re talking about characters that appeared rather dispersed over decades of storytelling for a character who was never a really major/frequent presence. The fact that Rambler wound up with various foes that happen to share themes is not terribly surprising. Maybe if Rambler had had his own book at some point this kind of thing would have been addressed, but he didn’t.
- Does Gwydion actually “become” his various guises? Like, would it be fair to say that Gwydion is Papa Legba within the context of Sentinel Comics? It sounds like the question here is “is there another Papa Legba in Sentinel Comics” and they don’t think we ever see one. There might be one and a writer might do something with that, but we haven’t seen one yet. This is another point that a Rambler book could have gotten into (or that could come up In the Future) as a “war of gods” kind of thing.
- Kismet’s family crest is tied to the stories of Coyote - is that connected to Gwydion too? They don’t think it’s been brought up. It’s possible, but they won’t say definitively that it is or isn’t.
- You’ve said that True Time-Travel is rare at best and is more often reality-hopping; have we ever seen Rambler interacting with another version of himself (in the way that La Capitan/Comodora interacts with her own alt-selves)? Could he make a deal with himself such that he could summon another version of himself? Could that alternate Rambler refuse such a summoning? They don’t think we ever see multi-Rambler action. In the hypothetical case where Rambler had another Rambler trapped in a deal, no, Rambler doesn’t have sufficient mojo to cross reality boundaries like that. Across planes (from the Realm of Discord to Earth, say) is different and he’s perfectly able to do that - but that’s all still within one universe.
- Have Rambler and La Comodora met? If so, what did they think of one another? Any coordinated schemes across the magical and temporal landscapes? They don’t think so. Rambler doesn’t have that much multiversal stuff going on such that they’d interact. Again, there’s an important distinction between traveling between universes/timelines and just between different planes/realms. Rambler does the latter, not the former. The way they go about things is also very different. La Comodora’s schemes are often along the lines of knowing things start at point A and end at point B and then she pulls on whatever strings are necessary to get from A to B. Rambler is just going around accumulating leverage that he can use whenever it happens to be useful/necessary.
- Has Rambler ever done anything as bad as La Comodora erasing the Iron Legacy timeline entirely? No. Or at least nothing told in the pages of Sentinel Comics.
- How would things go if Rambler were to meet an alt-reality version of himself (let’s say a very similar one considering what he knows about himself and how dangerous/untrustworthy he is)? While this hasn’t happened you’ve basically landed on how it would go. Let’s say that the alt-reality one is from the Cheery-verse and is much like him, only more gregarious. Excited to see me? Wants to shake my hand just because? Nope. Not doing any of that.
- About Demiurge: Where is he from? Where does he live? How does Rambler defeat somebody with his level of protections? Has anybody (say, NightMist or Zhu Long) attempted to “cure” him? What is his favorite food? Chicken tikka masala, but he hasn’t been able to have it in forever. Their thoughts are that he’s pretty mysterious and we don’t have a lot of detail on where he came from and he does move around between the various stories involving him. Getting him cured could be a thing where NightMist tries to cure him, but it could also be a thing where he’s trying to trick her into removing his curse rather than it being her idea. They’re not sure exactly, but there’s room for stories of that type. He shows up in more than just the Rambler stories they’ve mentioned so far. How does Rambler defeat him? That’s kind of the standard “comic book puzzle” thing where the hero has to think of a new clever thing every time it happens. They’d have to Writers’ Room it to think of a specific case.
- Christopher asks how many words they can put on this one and Adam says that he wants few-to-none as he’s thinking something very “stark” for this one. Maybe “Fanatic the monster” standing over the mobsters? Or maybe over you, the reader as if you’re in their point-of-view? Adam thinks maybe we have Luca there praying as well - he’s imagining a Frank Miller cover style. They do some great-for-radio showing each other some covers for the vibes they’re going for.