The Letters Page: Episode 26
An episode about a slavering rat beast!
Run Time: 76:10
Just a warning: we rehash some old jokes this show. We're out of material, folks. You heard it here! We're already washed up.
But there are also some actual reveals in this episode! Like Plague Rat's real human name from before he was fully rattened!
This is an episode of cautionary tales and important life lessons. Brush your teeth. Don't play in the sewers. Don't do drugs. Or crime. Stay in school, kids.
We go from drug dealer, to rat beast, to infectious rat beast, to captured rat beast... look, a lot happens with Plague Rat, actually. You'll just have to listen to the episode!
And we have a decently long Q&A segment today! Lots of fun stuff there. Good questions. Strange answers. And even a few twists!
And we wrap up with a glimmer of hope for the future.
Next week is Ra!
- The Organization
- Mr. Fixer
- Miss Information
- The Freedom Five
- Fright Train
- Slaughter-House Six
- Baron Blade
- La Comodora
- Absolute Zero
- Dr. Medico
- The Hippo
- Plague Rat first appeared in Tome of the Bizarre in the '60s (one of a number of monsters who appeared in that title, but one of the few recurring monsters) in a story titled "Don't Play in the Sewers". A big rat creature who lived in the sewers and would drag people down into them and whose bite was a nasty source of infections. It was around for a while before the writers bothered giving it a backstory in the late '60s or early '70s.
- The story they landed on was that Plague Rat used to be a guy, Randy "Rot Mouth" Burke (the nickname came from his terrible dental hygiene) - a successful drug dealer in Rook City. He kept a cache of drugs in the sewers, and he knew the layout very well, allowing him a safe fallback position/stash of goods during any turf conflicts with other dealers.
- Once the Organization started moving into the drug trade, however, and had a lot more resources/manpower to facilitate their takeover. As part of this push, ol' Rot Mouth was targeted for elimination as competition. He managed to escape into the sewers, but since he's a marked man he has to live down there, only occasionally making it topside for supplies, or risk being killed by the Organization's goons.
- In the meantime, Pike Industries starts just dumping all sorts of toxic/pharmaceutical waste into the sewers too since they're not big on environmentalism (Mega-heroin and Übermeth get mentions here, which are always funny - well not funny funny... You know what I mean). So now he has to deal with not just the drugs he personally is dealing with and all of the rats and alligators down there, but now all of this extra nastiness. He's not getting enough to eat or drink and is taking his own drugs by this point (and probably eating the rats). These conditions slowly mutate Randy into a creature more well-adapted to such a toxic environment. On the plus side, Rook City's sewers no longer have an alligator problem, but now they've got a much larger rat problem, one that's still hungry and both willing and able to come to the surface to grab prey to drag back down with it (y'know, like people).
- Early Plague Rat stories were typically not really "superhero stories" in that they were more just "scary" stories/cautionary tales about people being snatched and eaten (or almost eaten) by this giant sewer rat thing. Somewhat later he would show up as an incidental threat for heroes who happened to wind up in the sewers for other reasons.
- So, now he's been around for a couple of decades and is well-established as just a general threat in Rook City's sewers. In the mid-'80s, Pike Industries' continued chemical dumping (and a new component of that) has resulted in a further evolution - Plague Rat's bite itself now carries a mutagenic element to it and victims will transform into rat creatures themselves. The initial stages effects the person's mind more quickly and they begin to act more savagely, but the transformation itself is by no means as slow as Plague Rat's own transformation was (a couple of days instead of the years it took for Randy to fully transform).
- This added threat level ups his status to "main villain" of a story, which is the one mentioned in the Chrono-Ranger episode when he encounters the Dark Watch heroes while they're on the hunt (in an issue of Rook City Renegades). After the heroes (called out by name as the 4 non-Harpy members of Dark Watch although later it's specifically mentioned that the "Dark Watch" team hasn't officially formed yet) win the fight, the CDC (and totally not really Revo-Corp employees posing as CDC agents) shows up to contain the contamination threat/devise a treatment for the already-afflicted and cart Plague Rat off. He's out of the picture for quite a while after that.
- Revo-Corp does a bunch of experiments on Plague Rat in the meantime, in the process changing "the way he works". They devise a cure for the plague, but don't disseminate it immediately because it's hard for them to monetize at the time. Eventually, through a series of dummy corporations on top of other dummy corporations, they sell him off to other dummy corporations which turn out to be run by Miss Information (after becoming a villain, before she gets any powers or is even actually outed as the villain Miss Information) who then releases him in Megalopolis as a distraction for her own activities back in FFHQ.
- This is the primary "event" fight with him - he's still highly infectious (and it's communicable between infected people and others through blood contact) and there is panic in the streets because of him running around. This is when Revo-Corp shows up to save the day with their miraculous cure for the plague (offered free as a humanitarian act - garnering lots of positive press, obviously) and taking the rat creature into custody (obviously a better option than the CDC, whose bureaucratic bumbling can't even find a record of the last time they had custody of this thing).
- PR's out of sight for a while again this time (side note: it's interesting that he was a frequent monster who showed up a lot in his early years, but now that he's a larger threat he's only around for big "event"-style stories before being carted out of sight for long periods). More experiments ensue - they cure his infectious plague as it was decided to not be a useful "feature", but modify him to be useful as a kind of "bloodhound" for one of their R&E (Recon & Execution) teams. This doesn't change his savage monster nature, but at least he's not turning other people into monsters anymore.
- These R&E teams are sent to recover lost "assets". Specifically, they're out to recover Setback and are now using Plague Rat as a bloodhound to track him. Plague Rat never winds up as a primary antagonist for Setback, but more of just one more thing that he constantly has to deal with. He's working with the Dark Watch guys, has some adventures with Ra, and a bunch of Freedom Five stuff and specific run-ins with people like Biomancer, Ermine & Fright Train (post-Vengeance), and the Slaughter-House Six when Plague Rat (with his handlers) will just show up out of nowhere while Setback is already in the middle of a fight.
- This is intentional. The handlers know that their situation isn't ideal. They're trying to wrangle an uncooperative monster who's more interested in biting them than the heroes and so know that they don't have a chance to take on the heroes themselves. Instead, they wait for chances when the heroes are already busy with a fight, hoping that the general confusion will give them the opportunity to jump in, grab the target, and get out. As such, "Plague Rat hunting Setback" becomes a fixture in the latter's stories for a while.
- Eventually, though, Plague Rat is sent after a different hero - Akash'Thriya. Superheroes/villains are generally aware of Akash'Bhuta as a powerful earth spirit and Baron Blade has recently become aware of this smaller, seemingly related being and has decided that it would be useful. Since he owns Revo-Corp, he directs them to get Akash'Thriya for him.
- Plague Rat shows up while Bugbear is fighting Akash'Thriya and the Naturalist, tearing Akash'Thriya limb from limb (complete with discussion about whether Christopher promised to not make that joke). During this, he takes an important piece of her (not an internal organ as she doesn't have them, but a metaphysical equivalent). She's able to pull herself together again, but she needs that back and so she and the Naturalist chase PR and his handlers back into some sewers. The heroes win, Akash'Thriya gets what she needs back, and she sees Plague Rat's situation (in the control harness) as bad and so frees him. The heroes leave, but now Plague Rat is free again (and promptly mauls his former handlers). He disappears into the sewers and that's the last we see of him in the Multiverse.
- How is the infection spread - like is it some kind of venom in his bite or a kind of gas or what? It's carried in his saliva, so bites are really bad but even his claws give a chance for infection because there could be some on them from when he licked his fingers while eating earlier or something. He also belches toxic gasses, but that's not part of the infection.
- Art shows that Legacy, Tachyon, and Ra have been infected and they're pretty powerful, is there any way to resist it? No. That's kind of what makes it so terrible until Revo-Corp makes an antidote (not a vaccine). If you had some method of preventing him from breaking your skin you might be OK, but we see him ripping a Bunker suit apart, so good luck with that.
- What are the cures? As mentioned, Revo-Corp's cure. One seeming exception is that in the fight where Legacy, Tachyon, and Ra all get infected (in the Megalopolis sewers), Tachyon is able to shake it off herself with a hand-wavy "fast metabolism fought it off" explanation. This is later ret-conned in a La Comodora story when she shows up and takes care of it for her.
- Why was Chrono-Ranger not infected since he took his arm off? First, that was a Rat Beast in the far future, not Plague Rat himself. He was infected during the fight in the sewer that the Dark Watch heroes came across (see CR's alt-art incap side), though. In both cases CON is able to take care of things (being in the future and having access to Revo-Corp's info on the matter).
- Are there any long-term effects of the infection for the cured? Not really beyond the expected psychological trauma.
- How sentient is Plague Rat? Does he have a particular goal? He's pretty much just a beast. He can say English words, but the guys compare it to parrots or "what a dog would say if it could talk" - it's the subconscious remnants of his past humanity that he's retained as these sounds, but he's by no means communicating.
- In-game, the infection can affect everybody, but does that carry over in the stories to things like Absolute Zero, Omnitron-X, Haka, Dr. Medico, or Dark Watch Mr. Fixer? Haka is susceptible, but the others mentioned aren't (DW Mr. Fixer before being "fixed" by Faultless) as they either don't have blood or aren't "using" it to sustain them.
- Because of his bestial nature preventing him from recognizing the difference between "hero" and "villain", has he infected any of the latter? Have any villains (Ambuscade or Bugbear for example) hunted him? Other than Revo-Corp has anybody tried to capture him to use as a weapon? Miss Information used him as a distraction in one of her plans, as mentioned previously (although she didn't capture him herself). No primary villains (i.e. those with their own decks) were infected, but some minor ones certainly were during the big infection event. Powers don't really matter when you're infected, though. When the Hippo was infected he wouldn't be a "super rat creature" just a larger one, infected Ra wouldn't be a fiery rat creature, etc. It's really just the closest we get to "zombie-apocalypse" style zombie threats (although "fast zombies") rather than the "voodoo-zombies" like in Gloomweaver stories.
- When PR was captured, did they try to cure or weaponize the plague so they could then profit by the cure? Definitely onto something - they did develop a cure, but they didn't wind up selling it - it was more of a public-relations coup they went for by giving it away. We don't see them weaponizing the plague in the Multiverse, but they've got it ready somewhere.
- Do people in-setting call him "Plague Rat" or something else? What did Revo-Corp call him? There are other descriptive terms that probably get thrown around, but "Plague Rat" is the general term. Revo-Corp has a subject number for him: 18-PZ4 (they've got a lot of projects and everything gets this kind of number).
- Can he recognize people who may have been nice to him (citing Setback interaction text in the Video Game)? Not really. I mean, he has a memory, but he really just wants to bite and rend stuff. Setback wasn't involved in finally freeing him from the handlers either, as mentioned.
- Does his infection actually turn people into rat beasts or is it just a mental affliction? If the former, how many rat beasts are running around Rook City? If there's a cure, why hasn't it been given to Plague Rat? It does turn them into rat beasts. There weren't many in Rook City to begin with and aren't likely any left now given the limited nature of that story - it's more likely that there are some running around in Megalopolis, but even that's suspect given Revo-Corp's efforts there to dispense the cure. Plague Rat's own mutation was a bit more complex than the infection mechanism and so the cure doesn't work.
- Does Revo-Corp have any kind of legal claim to Plague Rat? Why does his VotM version not have infection powers? The infection was successfully engineered out of him by Revo Corp. They don't have much of a "legal" claim to him, but he's this large dangerous animal and so it's not really contested that they took him (it's not generally known that he was once a person - sure he's got some humanoid elements, but so do a lot of monsters).
- In VotM, Plague Rat is Setback's nemesis, does this mean that Chrono-Ranger's gotten over his problem with rats? Chrono-Ranger never shows up in stories involving Plague Rat after he got turned into a "bloodhound" by Revo-Corp (by then he was lost in time and/or tracking down La Capitan). The stories in the "bloodhound" era were focused more on Setback and so that's who wound up as nemesis. However...
- Chrono-Ranger's status as nemesis was explained by his (not Plague Rat's) motivation based on what happened to him with the Rat Beasts in the future, but then why is Setback the VotM nemesis given that Plague Rat probably couldn't care less and Setback certainly doesn't have a grudge? This is another example of asymmetrical nemeses. Chrono-Ranger wants to kill Plague Rat for specific reasons, but PR doesn't care. Similarly, Setback has no grudge with Plague Rat, but PR is being sent after Setback by his handlers (it's not personal).
- PR's VotM card's incapacitated side shows him as a human again, how'd he get cured? Uhh... that's not Plague Rat, that's a handler. You can see Plague Rat's tail leading around the corner as he makes his escape.
- Is the spreading of his plague an intentional goal or incidental? He doesn't care about spreading the plague. He'd probably be less likely to attack/eat another rat beast if anything else was available, but it's not like he wants more around specifically.
- The art for the handlers are obvious references to a popular "spook-chasing" franchise - are they and the Sentinels brand related? They're not familiar with these "spook chasers" and there's no crossover happening here. The handlers just look like what they look like. They're not afraid of no rats.
- Is there any chance for him to be cured/returned to some semblance of normality? Let's talk about the future...
- During OblivAeon, in either timeline, he's in the sewers of Rook City and that's obviously a major turning point between the two.
- Tactics - some has already been revealed. Given the level of destruction, a lot more chemicals get dumped into the sewers - worse than ever before - further changing him. He becomes even more monstrous and is prowling Broken City for prey. His infectious bite is worse than ever, not in the "turning people into rat beasts" way, but in the "you'll die pretty much instantly" way.
- RPG - He's been hiding in the sewers, hasn't been coming topside much and doesn't attack people much. The therapies he had while at Revo-Corp that was responsible for eliminating the infection has actually started to dial back his mutations in general. Spoilery stuff for the future, but going back to the last Question, there's hope for some semblance of normality in the future. "The pages of Sentinel Comics have not seen the last of Randy Burke."