The Letters Page: Episode 258
Episode #258: Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 4 #55
It's time to hunt!
Run Time: 1:25:12
We start with some goofs about episode, dice, and more, but then we get into it! Because we gotta tell you several back stories and also, after all of this, record another episode in ONE DAY?! Is it possible? I guess you'll have to wait until next week to find out THAT outcome! For now, we're gonna talk about Alpha, and we're gonna talks about the Lords Wolfhunt!
Join us next week for some XTREME Omnitron action and more! We hope you enjoy this stuff at least half as much as we do!
- The topic today is “Tabitha Taft defeats an Alpha foe”. This was a fun topic to come through because Adam and Christopher actually already had something perfect for it that they came up with during the Rook City Renegades development process. While filling out Alpha’s deck, Adam drew an art that they then came up with everything that was happening in that story and have just been sitting on it until now.
- In Tome of the Bizarre vol. 4 #54 (in 2014! So late in the timeline!) we had a thing where Lord Wolfhunt III is out pursuing his family’s traditional pastime: hunting werewolves. This time, his quarry is Alpha. Now they need to go into a bunch of backstory to explain that previous sentence.
- All the way back to April 1977 and Wolf-Woman #31. In that issue we are introduced to Lord Byron Wolfhunt. He’s an impressive figure of a man; tall, broad, and boisterous. He’s got a big, white, curly mustache and wears a monocle. It’s a printed medium so you can’t really tell, but he’s got a very lofty, aristocratic accent. Or maybe you can tell/guess just from looking at him and based on how pompous his dialog is. He’s the current patriarch of the Wolfhunt family who’s been hunting werewolves since time immemorial - long enough that it’s become the family name. They do so not because they feel that werewolves are evil or whatever - they just see it as a calling, to prove that they are superior. It’s a right of passage. It’s very much got the British fox-hunting aesthetic going on - red coats while on horseback, etc.
- Are they hunting “people” or “monsters”? In the ’70s, werewolves would largely fall into the monster category, except for the fact that we have Wolf-Woman as a protagonist. Sure, she was introduced as a monster back in 1950, but a large part of the story in her “modern” book here in the ’70s is pushing back on that idea and showing her as a person.
- Anyway, Lord Byron Wolfhunt and his clan hunt her, popping up here and there between ’77 and ’78. He’s recognizable, but not a particularly important character. In June ’78, Wolf-Woman #45 they’re fighting on the parapet of an old castle during a storm (very dramatic). She’s about to lunge at him, but slips on a loose piece of flooring. He has her now, with his silver sword and his gun he backs her to the edge and is monologuing about his superiority and how all wolves are the same, etc. Then he slips on the same loose floor tile or whatever. She tried to warn him (getting out a lot more words than such a split-second event would allow - that’s comics for you), but he falls off the tower. As he’s falling he recognizes that she was trying to help and maybe wasn’t all that bad. And then he died.
- It’s only 13 years later when Alpha #30 (March ’91) introduced Lord Byron Wolfhunt II. His father wasn’t specifically referred to as Lord Byron Wolfhunt I in the ’70s because this wasn’t foreseen, but now it’s “revealed” that he had a son who shared his name and is now in charge of the family. He’s a rugged guy with a bit of an edge (it’s the ’90s after all) and has that whole smoldering thing going. They put him in like his early-to-mid 30s (basically, in comics terms he’s an adult who’s not old). He’s a much more regular feature in Alpha than his father was in Wolf-Woman - he’s clearly starting to question the whole family tradition and especially his own father’s fanaticism. He’s met many werewolves and while many have been monsters, some of been some of the best people he’s known. We learn that he’s a widower and he blames the hunt for the circumstances of her death in addition to his father’s. He doesn’t want his own son (who’s like 7 or 8 at this time) to be subject to these tragedies either.
- Initially, Byron II is hunting Alpha as the werewolf his father was hunting when he died (presumably the one who shoved him off the castle). The writers for Alpha were initially kind of steering clear of the old Wolf-Woman stuff, but eventually decided “why not?” and started pulling in story threads from the older material - cherry-picking the stuff they wanted and ignoring what they didn’t. Eventually they meet and have a conversation and between that and his already suspect position regarding the family tradition things end well.
- Then we get the period in which there’s a will they/won’t they romantic subplot involving the two of them. This ends in Alpha #89, which is the final issue in February ’96. It’s the end of an arc where Apex mortally wounds Lord Wolfhunt and Alpha comes on the scene only in time to cradle his dying body in his last moments. He professes his love for her and then dies. Just in time for a word balloon to come in from off-panel yelling “Daddy!” - Byron Wolfhunt III runs into the scene to see his dead father in the arms of a werewolf covered in his blood. Other than a coda pondering if she’s doomed to always be hunted/mistrusted/etc. that’s how Alpha ended.
- That’s the last time we see or hear about the Wolfhunt family until today’s story in 2014. Long enough for a young boy to grow up and become a young man/vicious hunter. Lord Byron Wolfhunt III is in his late teens (in the way that you watch a movie/TV show set in high school but all of the actors are in their late 20s) but he’s had a rough go of things, what with all of the wolf hunting. His face is scarred - not all of his hunts have been successes, but he’s survived them all (which is more than you can say for anybody else involved in those hunts). He’s a hardened man and has a hatred for wolves. His father was a fool - trying to befriend the wolves? These things that had killed both his wife and father? Folly.
- The three perspectives are fun. The first was just in it for the tradition and sport of it. The second was really questioning the whole thing. The third is fanatical about it/racist against wolves.
- Anyway, he’s very much hearkening back to the post, aristocratic, “they’re just beasts; we kill them because they’re beneath us and killing them elevates us” kind of position. Killing wolves is what we do, and that’s what makes us the men that we are. Sure, buddy.
- The story itself… Alpha is doing stuff, Lord Wolfhunt shows up to hunt her while swearing vengeance (and while monologuing a sufficient amount to get new readers up to speed on this guy’s whole deal). What gives him the substantial edge that he has over the prior Lords Wolfhunt? Being a child of the new millennium (if we’re in 2014 and we’re positioning this guy as being like 17 or so now he’s probably Gen Z - maybe a really young Millennial), while he’s doing this throwback thing to old-school aristocracy and tradition, he’s also embracing things like GPS tracking and drones. He’s wearing what looks like the traditional red fox-hunting gear, but at some point Alpha gets the drop on him and tries to claw him, but the “cloth” is actually some kind of nano-mesh-reinforced stuff. No shying away from whatever advantages modern technology can give him and that’s what makes him a threat to her (also: his relentless need to kill her and her desire to, y’know, not just kill the kid - if she wanted to just rip his head off she could probably do so).
- There’s probably a fair bit of this story that involves her planning out how she’s going to use whatever advantages she has available to her and then finding that he’s two steps ahead of her. We see her using her ability to track things, her enhanced senses, her speed, strength, claws, fangs, everything and he has answers for all of them. Eventually she finally manages to evade his trackers and gets the drop on him, which is when we find out about his armor. Of course, now that he was within claw range of her, she’s now in stabbing range of him. “You are not the predator here,” etc.
- We probably start with her fighting some other big hairy beast. First thought is a wendigo, but Adam suggests that it’s just a bear. Like, she’s in wolf form and she’s fighting a bear, but eventually there’s like a moment of “respect” between them. Like, they’re wrestling around but eventually they break apart. The bear rears up on its hind legs and roars, she roars back, there’s a beat panel as they stare each other down, then the bear turns and heads back into its cave. When she turns she gets hit by some metal dart/bolt thing that zaps her. Lord Wolfhunt rides out of the woods and tells her that the hunt is on. He’ll even give her a head start of, oh, 17 minutes.
- She stalks him; he knows she’s there. She’s hiding from him; he can find her. She gets the drop on him; he doesn’t care and then stabs her. Throughout their interactions we get his monologuing about family traditions and whatnot, but she tries to convince him that he can be better than this, etc. There’s probably some comment about being close to his father that gets thrown back in her face regarding him “knowing” how that ended.
- She manages to get away through the underbrush after getting stabbed, but the weapon left some kind of silver goop in the wound and she has to dig this mass of stuff out of her own shoulder and then passes out. We see a large figure grab her by the nape of the neck and drag her off. She wakes up in the bear’s cave.
- Do we want this to be two issues? The thing where she wakes up in the bear’s cave seems like a pretty decent act break between issues. It looks like there’s still room for #55 to be a continuation. We’re in the space between the Wager Master/Madame Mittermeier romance in issue #50 and the Scholar of the Infinite stuff [I have that in #59].
- [In discussing how Tome of the Bizarre volume 4 would totally be the kind of book they’d pick up - sure things were all over the place, but neat stuff! - we get this:] Maybe it was an editorial mandate thing. Like, Grimm is back and all so maybe there was this idea of how you could have this grab bag of topics but you couldn’t put a weak story in here. The first 60 issues of TotB vol. 4 had to all be solid. They’re doing a thing about stories, so only your best work, people.
- As such, we have this two-part story involving the return of a guy with a familial grudge and everything. Beasts, hunting, etc. This is right up Grimm’s alley. Issue #55 here probably ends with a Grimm bit (not that he’s interacting with Alpha). Oh, you thought I was gone? No, I was just letting this all play out… and then he talks about narrative cycles/story structure/etc.
- In writing stuff into the spreadsheet Christopher is specific in noting that it’s a she-bear doing like a protective mother/seeing a similarity with Alpha/etc. thing. Maybe the initial fight involves Alpha mentioning that she knows she was just protecting her cubs or whatever.
- She wakes up in the cave, reverts to Tabitha Taft, takes stock of the situation, and eventually makes her escape as Tabitha Taft - succeeding largely because Lord Wolfhunt isn’t expecting to be tracking a person. She gets home and then Tabitha Taft, reporter dishes the dirt on the Wolfhunt family.
- Adam wants more than that - she should do something more in a direct confrontation for the sake of the story. Yeah, that happens too, but part of this is her actually looking into them. She’s known about these jerks for years, sure, but now she goes into investigative reporter mode and digs up their history, where they’re from, all of the shady business they’re involved in, etc. She goes to have that final showdown with him as Alpha, but then reverts to Tabitha and explains to him that sure, they could do this now, but while they speak his family’s “empire” is crumbling.
- Oh, Adam has a cool moment here: she reverts and basically dares him to shoot her or whatever because it doesn’t matter - she’s already won. He has something to stab her with and whatnot, but grabs her by the collar and basically just starts screaming at her to change back (what with the wolf obsession he’s having trouble dealing with her just standing there as a person). “No, you change.”
- Jokes about her chomping him to let him literally change instead of the “change your ways” thing prompts a bit about how they had considered having the previous Lord Wolfhunt become a werewolf - like, she tries to change him in order to save his life at the end.
- Anyway, how does this end? The cops show up while he’s threatening to stab this poor woman? No, the way to go here is for him to come to the conclusion himself that he is defeated. Nobody shows up to take the victory from him - just with the situation in front of him where he won’t kill her if she doesn’t change and she simply refuses, he ultimately just gives in and walks away. Or maybe he just has a total breakdown, falling to his knees crying about how this is all he has of his father and grandfather. That’s stupid - she can tell him a lot about his father outside of this context. She’s been working her whole life towards being a better human. Time for you to start working on that too.
- Christopher still wants something in the middle of #55. The cave, investigation/reporting, confrontation is too quick? Clean? There should be something else in there like some other reporter is getting in her way as she’s looking into things or whatever. Doesn’t have to be particularly notable, just some kind of drama in the middle - some Successes with Minor Twists.
- Adam asks what other reporters see in terms of “How are you getting all of this stuff if you’re not a werewolf?” Christopher thinks that her reporting doesn’t even mention that angle - she’s just reporting on the sleazy business dealings and whatnot that are funding their lifestyle.
- Maybe it’s something as simple as simple as somebody notices what she’s poking around at and calls somebody she works with to have them attempt to (“subtly” in that it’s obvious that he’s being told to stop her) get her to drop it. Stop chasing this lead, there’s people tied up in this that we don’t want to touch. They could probably even use this as a way to set up some later conflict. As a random example that might not be it, maybe the Wolfhunt’s finances are getting laundered through Organization resources and it’s somebody there that doesn’t want her poking around too much. There’s some interested third party. If it is Chairman/Pike Industries-related that would make total sense. The other reporter doesn’t even need to be in on anything - just that if they are getting calls about whatever it is she’s getting into, that’s probably a sign that she shouldn’t get into it. She’s liable to get fired or worse and he’s worried for her safety. Okay, great. That’s what we needed - a 2-3 page scene that shows not only her reporting but that there are consequences for it in this case.
- So, there we go. They did know the beginning, history, and end of the story already - it was just a matter of filling in the details. They’re happy with how things turned out.
- What is Tabitha’s work/life/hero balance like? Does she put in the hours to be a better reporter/get a raise only for her duties as a hero derailing that work? Does she turn down social invitations so that she can prowl the rooftops? Does she just try to live a normal life and both jobs get in the way? Yes to all of those. Being a reporter is her passion - she genuinely likes her job. Sharing information, chasing down leads, all of that. She has a nose for it. However, if you think about the number of established heroes they have that have this kind of double life, she’s probably the poster child for it. She has much more of a balancing act going on than most. The conflict between her regular life and her super life is a common thread for her stories and both of her jobs get in the way of her having a personal life. There’s definitely some old story in the ’70s or wherever where her editor gives her an assignment to look into these reports of werewolves. “That sounds ridiculous. Werewolves don’t exist.” She probably writes about all of these people who are reporting werewolf sightings but then debunks these werewolf myths.
- Does she, as somebody mostly associated with Rook City, ever report on Organization stuff? Is she at all successful in doing so? Does the Organization ever try to shut her up for good - sending somebody to beat her up in an alleyway only to get mauled by a werewolf himself? Yes to all of those. The thing they set up today is not her first run-in with Organization stuff, but it’s one of Tabitha Taft’s first forays into reporting on the related business dealings and whatnot rather than reporting on Organization-related crime generally. That being said, in the cases of her just reporting on Organization-related crime, they’re powerful enough that they don’t care. Sure, there’s street crime, but where does that actually lead if it gets reported on? Even if through her reporting she manages to prevent some crime from happening it’s not even like she’s cutting off a head of a hydra. She’s maybe slightly wounding one of the heads. There’s probably a fair bit of “this story will surely be what finally brings them down” but the Organization really doesn’t care.
- Does Tabitha ever report on Alpha, Dark Watch, or the Wraith? Does she try to paint them in a good light? Not on Alpha - her official line is that werewolves don’t exist so she’s definitely not going to report on this, what did you call him? Alpha? She might not go out of her way to report on Dark Watch or the Wraith, but in the cases where she does she’d try to stick to positive things - there’s already a lot of negative things being said about them in Rook City and while she knows they’re good saying too much about them at all can only really serve to give their opposition more info to work from.
- How does the tone of Alpha’s comics differ from Wraith’s (given they’re both street-level crime fighters in Rook City who have secret identities)? Do writers accentuate the similarities or specifically work to differentiate them? There’s not a lot of overlap. They might both have Organization plots simultaneously, but a tone difference is that Wraith’s stories are street-level crime stuff and Alpha’s are street-level crime stuff that gets weird. The added wrinkle of the “fighting for control” theme is another thing that sets Alpha apart. In fact, a lot of the “things get weird” trend is due to her rather than anything she’s dealing with being weird.
- Does she ever have interactions with the Order of the Simple Machine? They don’t see necessarily why not. Maybe she writes a story about this group and then gets kidnapped and she has to talk herself out of just going full werewolf and killing them to get herself out of the situation since they’re all just normal people and only that one guy over there even has a gun. She figures there might be a story in this and so goes along with it as they drag her to their headquarters. Like, they’re upset that she mischaracterized the group’s motives or whatever and she prompts them to tell her the real story (and then maybe suggests that they have some good points, but have they considered not doing bad stuff to further those ends?).
- This prompts Adam to consider that she might actually get name-dropped more than just about anybody else in the comics. Like, you see a lot of Tabitha Taft bylines in entirely unrelated comics because she and Bruce Watkins are the go-to “reporter” characters in the setting (for wildly different use cases).
- What’s up with the black costume we see in several places in Alpha’s deck, but which isn’t used on any of her Variants? Some artist just changed things up and it stuck. That’s kind of her “modern, teaming up with Dark Watch era” look. The one people think of as her “iconic” costume is the one on the base character card. The black one is the “shiny black leather, post ’00s” costume like it seems like everyone had. Plus she had to fit in with Dark Watch without being a member.
- In Editor’s Note 66 you revealed that the gentleman on Alpha’s “Thrill of the Chase” card to be one Lord Wolfhunt - is this his first appearance? Was he ever an antagonist for other heroes? Does he ever team up with other villains? Is he just an Alpha foe? This is the first appearance of Lord Byron Wolfhunt III. The original had a few minor appearances and the second had a bunch of appearances and was a notable character in her stories. It’s not that he wasn’t an antagonist - he played many parts in her story. They aren’t sure that Byron III shows up again in the Multiverse era. He could show up again in the future, but who knows what “form” that reappearance takes. Does he revert to hunting werewolves? Hunting something else? Become a hero? Or the best option (and therefore the least likely because when do comics ever have people take the best option), just become a regular dude? He deserves a shot at peace.
- [Letter from Brian Le Wolfhunt, longtime listener/Patreon person, who has a whole YouTube Channel and everything - at the end of this section they even mention that they completely forgot that your name was Brian when they named him Byron] So… Apparently I exist in Sentinels? We get the idea that he’s a big game hunter and judging by the name he probably hunts wolves (maybe even werewolves)? Given that he’s wearing the traditional English fox-hunting outfit, is he British? I think I see a sword hilt, how good of a swordsman is he? Does he hunt with that sword or does he primarily use a gun? Does he exclusively hunt Alpha or does he turn his weapons on Apex and his pack too? Was Alpha the one to scar his face? Is he a one-off or recurring villain? He does use a sword, but also guns/other projectile things. He doesn’t have bloodhounds, but earlier generations would have used them (he uses modern, technological tracking methods - he has a tracking device called B.L.D.H.N.D. but we’re never told what that stands for). It wasn’t Alpha that clawed his face - he’s fought many werewolves before finding Alpha. We probably get some bit in his various monologues that while he’s killed many werewolves already he considers this his “right of passage” hunt (that probably feeds into why her refusal to participate in the end is what breaks him so effectively). Man, this guy needs to get over this vengeance thing. While he’s definitely the villain of this story, he’s not really a Villain. You could respect him if he didn’t have so much baggage and he just dealt with his issues.
- [A guess that the story of how Tabitha Taft defeats him is that she reports on his, I dunno, poaching or something so the police arrest him rather than her fighting him directly.] You’re in the right direction, but nothing so pedestrian as poaching. Let’s tear down your entire family.
- You mentioned in the Scholar/Darkstrife/Painstake episode that Painstake’s progenitor was a Demon Prince that was permanently killed by the others - the others are linked to the 7 deadly sins, so what was the “theme” of this now-deceased one? Did it used to have one of the sins and a new Prince took it up after their death? The 7 Princes that are specifically called out/made official in the Æternal Torment limited series all correspond to one of the deadly sins. Princes of Æternus that appeared prior to that did not - that was a new narrative feature added in that story. It is known that there have been more/different Princes in the past and more could exist in the future. Painstake’s “mother” was a Prince, but predated this gimmick. We don’t get a lot of detail about them beyond that other than the mere fact that she was powerful enough for (at least most if not all) the other Princes to feel like they needed to work together to remove her. This only kind of worked in that now we have Painstake. Is Painstake just this being finding a way to return despite the others’ best efforts? Is she her own new being? Good questions!
- [Continuing on the idea of an 8th Sin:] It’s notable that the list of Deadly Sins used to have 8, just that 2 of them don’t appear in the modern list: Vainglory and Despair/Sorrow; Vainglory got fused with Pride and Despair split between Sloth and Envy, but knowing this, could this lost Prince be [Name] the Despairing? Sounds pretty good for somebody trying to cause emotional torment, right - maybe that’s why she was so “powerful” in terms of possibly ruling Æternus? That’s a fun theory. Every once in a while they’re really excited to get a letter like this that is absolutely the kind of thing that somebody would write in to an actual comic book letters page. A reader theory that wasn’t intended by the writers but totally fits!
- We were told that Darkstrife and Painstake killed some civilians as collateral damage during a fight [yes, that happens with these two] and then Darkstrife is the one who suggested they join the Cult of the Crystal Mind (given that since finding his soul counterpart he’s the one who can feel when things are wrong vs. Painstake who knows it intellectually without feeling it) - so what was his stance on killing before this? Oh, he’s definitely killed before this incident (and will again), but this one was particularly bad. He started out in a “killing whoever is in my way” moving on to “killing bad guys” and he’s still working on learning about the sanctity of life and whatnot (because these are antiheroes). This incident was just a real failing on their part where they just completely failed to watch out for bystanders while fighting some monster.
- Did either of them show signs of being haunted/traumatized after this event? Yeah. Being haunted/traumatized is kind of their whole deal. Constantly.
- If Fashion could make some kind of holographic shirt that still let Ra and Darkstrife feel like they were shirtless, would either of them wear it? It’s not just about feeling shirtless, but looking shirtless. They could see Darkstrife willingly wearing a mesh shirt. He’s one of the characters for whom coming up with a “Rave Variant” is really easy.
- You’d think “Legacy” as the one that’s really hard, except he’s the designated driver - standing at the bar in khakis and a polo while drinking water. He’s at the rave so that’s his rave look. This is one of those differences between Legacy and Haka - they’re both big muscle guys with dad/uncle energy respectively, but Haka would be out there with glow paint on his face and glow sticks in his hands, just going. “Haka knows how to party.” As avuncular as he is, he’s somebody who knows how to have fun, possibly more than anyone else. “He’s great at unbridled joy.”
- So, you both love cool/legendary swords, the listeners/readers love cool/legendary swords, and Darkstrife has a cool/legendary(?) sword? It’s definitely a cool sword. They don’t know about legendary, but there could be legends about it in the future. If it were an MMO item it would be a Legendary quality item. Probably an Heirloom one that levels with you as well.
- Anyway, Darkstrife and Painstake are steeped in Japanese culture, demonic nature, and souls - there actually is a legendary sword in Japanese folklore that’s demonic in nature and consumes souls; do Darkstrife and Painstake ever come across the Muramasa Blade? That would be cool. Adam can think of another too. They could do a whole Tale of Swords thing here… Christopher says “not in the Multiverse Era”, though.
- [A few thoughts on how the sword could be used; demon wielding it against them and they don’t realize the danger it poses to them in particular, one of them tries to use it, etc.] There are a lot of ways that sort of thing could go, but you’d need to consider whether you’re leaning on the sword bit or the Japanese mythology stuff. It could be written either way - as far as the former goes, there are mythical swords from all over the world. There have certainly been legendary swords showing up in Sentinel Comics over the decades, possibly even a Muramasa Blade, but it hasn’t been a plot element in Darkstrife and Painstake stories specifically. It’s not a hard “no”, but a dodgy one.
- You recently warned people to not eat Darkstrife and Painstake which prompts a question: what would happen if you (or a vampire or werewolf) did? Can demons be used for Blood Magic or is their equivalent of life force too different? You could use a demon for Blood Magic, but you’re likely to get Chaos Blood Magic instead. You get weird stuff happening that’s still kind of doing what you were trying to do. Eating them puts you at risk of developing fibromyalgia. [Insert class-action lawsuit advertising copy here.] They don’t think that a vampire has managed to take a “consuming” bite from either of them. Like, in a fight they probably got bloodied, but it’s not like the bite has been a plot point for anything. Could be a cool story. “Vampire drinking the blood of a demon” is just a pretty cool story prompt in general. Maybe it could be a thing to Writers’ Room where we have Darkstrife and Painstake getting ready to fight some demon, but then a vampire shows up and kills their foe, drinks its blood, and now they have to deal with him (“and that’s how the real Dracula happened”).
- The Protomen have a bunch of excellent covers, including a whole album titled The Cover Up that has some that are even better than the originals. Christopher also gives a shout out to Scary Pockets, a funk band made of people who are session musicians for other bands that get together and play funk covers of songs you know.
- Anyway, Adam can think of covers for either of these. Do we want the cover to match the story prompt? Christopher is so happy with either of these stories that he’s basically fine with whichever Adam wants to do. Either/both work. Adam’s thinking the “Tabitha Taft defeats an Alpha Foe” is good, so he’s leaning towards the second issue. We can do a thing where Lord Wolfhunt is ready to kill her in Tabitha Taft form where people would see that and assume that it’s just a Covers Lie situation, but then that actually happens in the issue.