The Letters Page: Episode 262
Writers' Room: Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 2 #310-311
Kicking off the spooky months with a bang!
Run Time: 1:35:45
This is the FIRST of the three episodes recorded in a row... and yet! It could be the third, based on the amount of goofy unhinged nonsense we're up to, right off the bat! Why? Who can say?
But then, we get into a story, and we try to play it cool, but we let some things slip. You'll figure it out! And if not, don't worry, we reveal all... or, at least, a lot. Time will tell, and all that!
Join us next week for an (already recorded) episode all about an old Nazi foe, back from the dead!
- “Robert Johnson vs. the Headless Horseman” is, unsurprisingly, in Tome of the Bizarre. Depending on the era it could have been Arcane Tales. Justice Comics is always an option for grab bag stuff. Regardless, TotB it is. In fact, they’ve already picked the issues this takes place in: volume 2 #310-311 from October-November 1984.
- So, the original story prompt was “Robert Johnson”, but he’s just Rambler by this point. The Headless Horseman is doing stuff and Rambler interferes. The February 1983 issue (#290) is we had the story where Robert Johnson freed himself from GloomWeaver’s service (but not his curse). That was the beginning of Rambler’s time as a free agent. This is an early story showing what he would then get up to when left to his own devices: some mystical/magical/cursed thing is happening, he shows up, and goes about undoing/preventing/messing with it.
- So, how does that play out here? Adam suggests just go right for it and have there be a town where people are getting their heads chopped off. Christopher balks at that thinking we have the Headless Horseman riding through town throwing exploding pumpkins around. They both thought that their suggestion was the way the story went. TV/movie adaptations lean into the “is missing a head and is trying to get a replacement” angle that Adam was thinking about. [In the story, Ichabod Crane is chased by a horseman, crosses the bridge that’s supposed to be the boundary the specter won’t cross, but then is struck in the head by the thrown “head” of the horseman - but only a shattered pumpkin is found there the next day.] There’s probably at least one decapitation in today’s story, but let’s have that be an escalation not a starting point.
- Christopher’s idea is that we’re dealing with a game of Mafia/Werewolf where there’s some weird cases of arson in town at night and you have a group of people who are all accusing the others of being responsible during the day. Adam specifically wants this to not be in Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown, but it’s also not going to be in Megalopolis or whatever (“Rambler stories are usually road stories”). Christopher invents Red Springs, IL as where this is happening.
- We can start this off with somebody waking up to find that their house is on fire. They get up, collect the rest of the family and make it outside, but see the Headless Horseman riding away. We then transition to a meeting of the “town elders” or city council or whatever you want to call it with all of the accusations flying around. It’s eventually “decided” that it must be the school teacher (because of Ichabod Crane’s role in the original story). He’s some young guy who’s new in town and a little eccentric. He gets locked up in the town jail cell - if it’s not him, and the Headless Horseman rides tonight, that’s a pretty good alibi, right? Well, the Horseman does ride that night, but the jail is what’s burned down and the teacher dies.
- Rambler then rambles into town. He arrives just as the town is ready to, well maybe not lynch somebody, but there’s somebody that they have latched onto now as responsible and it’s getting pretty serious as the mob accuses this new “culprit”. He watches, leaning against part of the charred remains of the jail and calls out something like “If I could interject…”
- It’s at this point that Christopher realizes something that is true about Rambler, but he hadn’t put it together this way until he had to actually describe the way he’s getting the crowd’s attention here. In a lot of ways, Rambler is “mystical Columbo”.
- [There’s a long discussion here when they get to the identity of the new suspect. Christopher suggests the town blacksmith and they go ’round and ’round for a while about how people still have horses and horses still need to be shod. It’s kind of entertaining, but I would point out as somebody who grew up in rural IL in the ’80s that while some people still had horses, it’s a low low percentage of the overall population and farriers and blacksmiths are few and far between. People who still have horses are people who like the idea of having horses more than people who “need” horses and so there is less demand for horse-specific services. At the very least, while it’s possible that some random small town in IL in 1984 would have a blacksmith or farrier (or even a local “stable” as they eventually suggest that it’s a “stable owner” rather than a smith/farrier - the idea is that they land on this guy due to the association with horses), it’s an oddity. Mechanized farming just reduced the need for farriers and the ready availability of mass-produced tools and machines means that local blacksmiths aren’t much of a thing either. Anyway…]
- Rambler gets everyone’s attention (without really even having to raise his voice much - weird how they all managed to hear him, the guy’s got some good projection). He points out that the fire that burned down the building next to him had an accelerant - a powerful one based on how fast and completely it burned. The idea Christopher’s going for here is that he’s trying to point out that this was a magical fire without outright saying that. Adam thinks that this isn’t going right - “How does he relate to people?” “Poorly.” He’s more likely to outright say that it’s magic and stuff like “Are you going to wait for the Horseman to kill you or are you just going to kill each other first?”
- Okay, so Rambler’s speech is along the lines of how clever this plot is - how whoever is behind it has set things up so that they all kill each other rather than having to do it himself. How convenient.
- Christopher wants this to unfold so that over the course of the story various people are somehow finding themselves filling the “roles” of characters in the story [gee, I wonder who could be behind this given that setup…]. We’ve got Ichabod Crane, the school teacher. Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, Ichabod’s rival and who may have been the horseman that Ichabod encountered on the road. Katrina van Tassel who both were interested in romantically. They already had the school teacher involved, but he’s now dead and has left a widow. Maybe there’s some town lout who fills the Brom slot. A point is that none of these people are anything like the story characters, but over the course of the comic they start acting less like themselves and more like their role. So, we had the teacher die, but somebody else in town starts acting like “The Teacher”. Maybe neither the original teacher nor this person have a wife/widow but those are the three roles: Teacher, Rival, Love Interest. Maybe we had some gangly teacher who died and somebody new becomes the Teacher, the gym teacher is the Rival, and the principal is the Love Interest - it’s very school-centric, but it’s an excuse to have them all near one another.
- Anyway, Rambler comes in and basically says “You’ve obviously got a ghost.” His attempt to point this out results in the crowd blaming him and running him out of town. We jump forward to the next Horseman attack, but this time Rambler shows up to stop it. We do something like have the Horseman throw the pumpkin head at Rambler, he puts up a hand to block the ensuing explosion, and the backlash from that unhorses the Horseman who is revealed to be one of our “players” who is very confused (like just waking up from a dream). Which is it, the gym teacher or the principal? The latter is more interesting and so that’s what we go with.
- She’s willing to trust Rambler now, so that gives him an “in” for actually resolving things. They go to the school and he sets up some wards or whatnot to keep the Horseman out and to keep the people with roles contained in case something else weird goes on with them. Then another Horseman shows up outside, so we know it’s not these two in particular, but something is definitely affecting people and it seems to be specifically people who work at the school. Rambler tracks down a cursed copy of the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
- That night he goes about destroying this book and they’ve got a half dozen or so people that might be affected in the building. The Horseman shows up outside and there’s consternation about who it could be now. Hmm… on second thought, let’s have him determine that there must be a book doing this and he talks to the Teacher about it and tasks them with finding/destroying it while Rambler goes out to confront the Horseman.
- This is the full supernatural manifestation of the Horseman rather than being a person playing a role. Maybe it’s clearly a spectral thing that passes through Rambler and other things as he rides around. We cut back and forth between the “fight” and the teachers looking for the book. Rambler can fight a spirit - he can use wards to protect himself and try to trap this thing. Adam has an idea that Rambler thinks he has this in the bag - he has a charm that he’s used a lot to “capture ghosts”. This should be easy. He holds the thing up, draws the Horseman in, then it cracks and explodes and lets out all sorts of ghosts and scatter. The Horseman re-materializes in front of him. He’s no mere spirit.
- Around this time we see somebody finally finds the book. The cover shows the Horseman (as it has been appearing in town) facing off with somebody who looks suspiciously like Rambler. This has got to be what we were looking for. The plan is to then put the book in a ritual circle that Rambler set up earlier and it should take care of the rest.
- We need to figure out where we’re going for the next part. This is coming to the point where he’s solved the problem for the town, but is just starting to have problems of his own. Maybe the townsfolk put the book in the circle and stab it with “this flaming knife” and that lifts the curse from the town, but then the Horseman grabs Rambler and rides off with him.
- Oh, better - the curse is lifted from the town, but that doesn’t dismiss the Horseman spirit - if its link to the town in broken, “You’re the next best thing”. He throws the pumpkin head at Rambler, vines emerge from it enveloping him, and then he wakes up riding as the Horseman. End of issue #310. Christopher thinks that the book begins and ends with some narration boxes, though - leaning into the literary origins of the story we’re dealing with. The ending narration talks about how Robert Johnson is riding to the next town for him to curse or whatever with Rambler actually protesting that he isn’t with more narration along the lines of “Protest as he might…” yadda yadda. Actual back and forth between the narrator and Rambler [again, I wonder who could be behind such a setup - it’s a mystery].
- Obviously, this is a Grimm story. The next issue is Rambler breaking the Headless Horseman curse on himself and fighting Grimm. How dire does this get? Do we get a montage at the beginning of him terrorizing several towns? Probably. We have him as just the worst iteration of the Headless Horseman - blowing stuff up, beheading people, etc. He’s a prisoner inside of this situation until he figures out how to break this. It’s a very Rambler story where he’s cursed and forced to be a weapon wielded by some greater evil before managing to break their control over him in some way. This is a place where we can develop a deep personal animosity between Rambler and Grimm (they’ve been in stories together before, but now it’s personal). Rambler doesn’t like being controlled like this, at the end of this issue we get Grimm vowing to ruin Rambler’s story.
- To get that hatred of Grimm towards Rambler we need the latter to do more than just get Grimm to stop this story - his stories stop all the time (he just left Red Springs when Rambler did enough to disrupt what he’d set up there after all). Maybe Rambler manages to “lock” Grimm out of an area or something. Oh, maybe he just takes this story from him entirely - Grimm can no longer use the Headless Horseman story. How does he do that? Removing a story from Grimm’s repertoire is an incredibly useful tactic. Maybe he manages to make the story itself dangerous to Grimm in some way such that he has the choice of either keeping it, although it’s risky for him to use, or just saying The End and putting it away for good. Oh! Even better than “The End”, Rambler arranges things so that Grimm winds up saying “And they lived happily ever after.”
- We know that Grimm will take on roles in the stories. Maybe we put him in the Ichabod Crane role somehow and he’s in danger of dying if he uses the story again. Grimm can “die” in his stories, but maybe Rambler manages to magic up the Horseman’s sword such that it could actually kill Grimm and so having this deadly version of the Horseman tale play out with Grimm as Ichabod would actually end him, and so he has to end the story instead. That leaves open the option for sequels of course, but Grimm hates Rambler now for making him lose access to any story at all. Rambler hates Grimm too because of all of this. This may well be their most mutual-hate hero/villain relationship.
- A bit behind the curtain a bit: “Robert Johnson vs. The Headless Horseman” was a listener-submitted topic, but they’ve known for a while that an early modern-appearance Grimm story that put him on the map a bit more was a Headless Horseman thing. When they first created Grimm this was one of the first stories that they picked to be a thing that he did.
- We’re getting “Grimm: Lord of the Harvest” as the last November episode and while this story doesn’t lead into that at on a narrative level, it sets the seeds for “what is Grimm like in the modern era of comics” and the relationship between him and Rambler. That story is the culmination of “modern Grimm” [there’s a mention of TotB vol. 4 #1 being more setup for that story than today’s was, implying to me that the Lord of the Harvest story is the one where he dies - also, this is all just more evidence to my eyes that we’ll be getting a Rambler deck and he’s Grimm’s nemesis]. Christopher notes that it’s fun that this story is October-November 1984 and Lord of the Harvest starts 30 years later and is in November-December 2014.
- Is the Headless Horseman usually portrayed as The Headless Horseman in Sentinel Comics or is it more of a Celtic version where it’s a type of magical creature rather than a unique individual? Neither! It’s portrayed like it’s the one from the Washington Irving story, but that’s because of Grimm reasons and as such the Role can swap between people.
- Do they do any stories with a more modern version (say, a headless motorcycle rider)? Grimm could do a sequel to the Headless Horseman story in the ’00s or something where this kind of thing happened. Rambler could even try to call attention to the story being over so that Grimm could explain how new stories get told all the time, etc. The Internet is an amazing thing. That being said, they think that there is definitely room for “headless ghosts” in stories that don’t specifically relate to Grimm and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
- Is the Headless Horseman always a villain or sometimes is it more sympathetic? If there is another it’s probably more of a Dullahan situation. That’s more of a NightMist thing. This is likely the only time where we have something called “The Headless Horseman”.
- Have there been any Headless Horsewomen (I see that more often in the motorcycle version)? You see that “more often”?! That’s pretty cool.
- Do they just have the jack-o’-lantern head or the older “literal decapitated head held under their arm”? Jack-o’-lantern head that he throws.
- Does the Horseman have other appearances in Sentinel Comics (as a ghost of a person who died in the American Revolution seems like a fun thing to throw at Legacy)? What other heroes might have encountered him? Sorry to disappoint with the bait-and-switch here. They don’t think they do another big Headless Horseman thing. That idea of a ghost from the American Revolution is a fun Legacy thing, though. It’d have to be another ghost, though (maybe ghosts of a group of British soldiers). Legacy getting help from the ghost of George Washington (or having to save him from some torment so there’s a fight between them first) is also fun. It’s worth noting that there are probably a single-digit number of “Legacy and a ghost” stories, so you’ve got to be careful where you use them.
- If you had to make a Headless Horseman Critical Event, which Villain deck would you assign it to that best explained who he was taking the reigns for? Well… hmm… uh… Citizen Dawn probably with the Citizens representing horses… yeah… Or maybe a Grimm Critical Event, who knows?
- Given the number of Silver Age time-travel shenanigans that I’m sure we’re all certain happened at one point or another, how likely is it that a hero or heroes had to ride into battle on horseback? Absolutely certain - heroes have ridden horses in the context of knights, cowboys, etc. Legacy has probably time traveled to the American Revolution at some point and would have ridden a horse to fit in/not draw attention by flying (or somebody’s doing something that’s going to change the past and if Joseph Parsons is close to being killed the powers just stop working or something). Stories where Legacy’s powers are disabled or otherwise not usable are a standard gimmick. It happens. Plenty of horse riding in Silver Gulch too.
- In the comics is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow still a book by Washington Irving and is the Horseman still tied to that story specifically? Yes. More than you probably expected since without Irving’s story the Horseman wouldn’t exist in the setting.
- The ’90s got edgy and over-the-top, but did anyone get beheaded on-panel? It’s certainly happened in Sentinel Comics at some point. Not a lot, but for example there’s a card from one of the Æternus decks where it happens.
- The times we’ve seen Rambler so far make him seem pretty unbeatable, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely for a comics character - do you just have to outsmart him in some way? Sometimes you can just wrap him in pumpkin vines and force him into a reign of terror and madness as the Headless Horseman. You could also shoot him with a gun or stab him with a knife and he would just die. The impression you have is largely due to the stories they’ve told us about him have so far largely involved him showing up as kind of a deus ex machina in other peoples’ stories. In his stories he’s often the one who has to do the outsmarting and he often winds up as “the mystical punching bag” in many ways.
- I can imagine NightMist or Argent Adept beating him in a magical duel [they can also see that; they also see him saying “I’m not getting into a magical duel”], but how does a character like Wraith or Expatriette stand a chance against him? What are his weaknesses? Well, given the above answer, the fact that you chose one that famously uses knives and the other uses guns there’s a pretty good answer right there. Like, he’d have wards and stuff set up for protection but man does Expatriette vs. Rambler seem like it would not go well for Rambler unless he knows about it ahead of time and is doing a specific magic thing. He has some last-ditch effort tricks to pull, but Expat can just shoot him. She shoots so much. Most heroes would do well against Rambler given that he doesn’t have a skill set based around going toe-to-toe with powerful people. His deal is coming into a situation with and edge (and that edge is often information) such that he leaves the situation “up” from where he came into it. “How can I turn this deal into a better deal?” is his operating mentality. A lot of the stories we’ve seen him in are after he’s set up a bunch of deals already and then we see him cashing those in rather than the difficulties in getting to that point.
- When does Robert Johnson first take up the name “Rambler” and what are the circumstances that make him a hero/anti-hero/whatever-he-is? The thing that pushes him into his modern role (which is hard to say is a “hero” or “anti-hero” - he’s a rambler, a nomad, vagabond). The guitar battle with GloomWeaver really is the point where this happens. Just being a free agent rather than a servant is what does it. There are forces in the world that need to be managed (which is kind of what he was already doing while still working for GloomWeaver by subverting the spirit of his “job” and getting something for himself). Rambler might just be what he was called from his first appearance. Like, it could be his “title” before we even learn who he used to be. The Rambler was just the guy you could make a deal with. If so, Tome of the Bizarre vol. 2 #90 in June ’66. In looking it up, they remember that in that story we also get the Robert Johnson backstory, but “Rambler” was also established there and we hear that before getting his real name. That being said, very few people call him Robert Johnson - most other comics characters who know him just know him as Rambler and while it’s known by readership, most Metaverse people also just call him Rambler. They discuss parallels to real comics characters (like, how many more readers know “Gambit” vs. “Remy LeBeau”? Or “Rogue” vs. “Anna Marie”? The latter is cheating a bit since for a long time Rogue didn’t have an established civilian name - Rambler’s situation is likely somewhere between those two). It’s also kind of likely that there are at least some writers who have had people question whether he’s even really Robert Johnson in the first place.
- In the OblivAeon refugee episode you made up a new Sara Scott who became the Wraith in her reality after Maia’s death and who gained mist powers when traversing the mist gate into Universe 1 - you named her Haze, but you already gave that name to the Inversiverse version of Faye Diamond, so what do you do? Just have two characters with the same name? Come up with a new name for one or both of them? Just let both of them keep the name - they’re in two different realities and the likelihood that they meet is low. We’re also just not likely to see Faye Diamond Haze by the time that Sara Scott Haze is around given the fact that by the time the latter got powers from the mist gates the former was busy being the mist gates.
- So, Captain Clawsmic - does he just do space adventures full time or does Hugh Meowsley have a law practice back on Earth? Given that Captain Cosmic is in a situation where he’s “lost in space” or whatever, they kind of think it’d be funny if Captain Clawsmic just takes over his law practice. So, while he’s often off doing space adventures, we’ll say that he sometimes does legal stuff on Earth.
- While Haze!Sara Scott has things pretty good in Universe 1 (powers, her best friend back [kind of], no more burden of being The Wraith), how does she handle the downside of losing Eduardo and the worry about what is happening back in her home reality? Is she involved in any kind of attempts to reconnect to the Multiverse so she can get home? She is not involved with any Multiverse science stuff. There isn’t any kind of organized efforts to reconnect to other realities in the first place. There might be some lone lunatics out there, but by and large it’s not something that is of much concern to people. There might be stuff that happens later on, but at least not up through the period we’re involved in. She definitely has angst about leaving her world, but she’s making the best of it. The issue where she meets the main continuity Wraith is probably a full of big emotions.
- Has Omni-Unity ever had to face off against Omnitron-X/U/Whatever it is now? He seems like the best option for somebody to talk her down from solving the world’s problems by getting rid of that whole free-will thing, right? Could she get an empathy chip installed? There are answers to these questions, but they’re not going to get into them now. Sorry.
- If the new Janet Valenco isn’t a fan of small mammals like her Universe 1 counterpart, what happens to the latter’s pets? She takes care of them for a while, doing the best she can. If we follow the character long enough they’ll eventually die (because rodents don’t live all that long) and she doesn’t replace them so eventually she doesn’t have any and can relax and not have to keep up that charade anymore. Then she finds that she misses them. She never got to the “I love them!” level like the Janet she replaced, but she still took responsibility for these little fuzzy lives and came to enjoy them over time. To the point where she might get a new pet later.
- You mentioned that Omni-Unity is in Universe 1 and isn’t a villain per se, but you also said that no major advanced technological knowledge was brought over by refugees; isn’t that a bit of a contradiction given that Omni-Unity would know a lot about tech and would be more than happy to hand out free
candytech upgrades? Are they just too low-scale for their additions to make a big difference? Are they contained/quarantined in some way? Partially it’s that Omni-Unity shows up in a world where multiple bad Omnitrons have existed and been stopped. There has also been a good one (or two? - reports on the Internet are unclear on that). She can’t just show up and start doing Omnitron things or she’ll quickly be opposed. She has to be smart about whatever she does - for good or “evil”. Anything she does would be noticed. She doesn’t have an empathy chip, but she has a higher level of “humanity” and personality than other Omnitrons. She’s got more of a sense of self-preservation and caution than others.
- What role do you see the OblivAeon refugees playing in the Metaverse (here it’s likely RPG content)? Like, which comic titles would they feature in? Minor characters in one-off stories? More central roles in larger stories? Some will show up as supporting cast in books. Others are new major/minor villains/annoying thugs. Hero team-up options. We’ll certainly see Unity/Omni-Unity interactions at some point.
- What are the rules for requesting post-OblivAeon Writers’ Room episodes? Ask. They can (and have) told RPG-era stories, it’s just that there are certain things they won’t do yet. If you ask for something that they won’t do, they just won’t put it up for voting until the time is right. Your best bet for post-OblivAeon content is relatively low-impact stuff. The larger stories are what they’re saving for the purpose of making adventures/specific storylines out of them.
- Miss Information is almost a proto-refugee given that she’s been dropped into this reality, never to return to her home - but she also now has the Pandemonium Key, giving glimpses into other realities; does she have any plots involving her fellow displaced denizens? See, this is one of those “big plans” areas. There are probably some minor Miss Information stories they could talk about without spoiling the big ones. Within the context of this question it could be fun to have her trick people by making them think that she is capable of sending them home or something if they do what she asks (probably fighting the Sentinels of Freedom).
- Can you give us Miss Information’s home reality’s number? They don’t have a number picked out for that one. Mainly because it’s never revisited. It’s just the reality she came from and hasn’t yet been revisited in any other story (not to say that something else couldn’t show up there eventually).
- Strychniles is an OblivAeon refugee, right (you didn’t mention him in the “official” list)? What is he beyond a belligerent, misanthropic plant? Is he unique, manufactured, part of a species of things like him, etc.? He’s definitely a refugee from the Extremeverse and was a foe of Shear Force. He was created by a K.U.D.Z.U. scientist and was a member of that organization. He’s a scheming criminal mastermind who happens to be a plant. He kind of fits into the role of the main villain’s assistant/pet who’s also malicious, but in his case he’s not just a sniveling comic relief character, but is actually quite intelligent. He is “unique” due to his created nature, but is related to the strychnine tree.
- Are there any refugee villains who try to settle in as normies only to be discovered by heroes and then have to prove their innocence? Possibly becoming supporting cast for the hero - possibly giving insight into their villainous Universe 1 counterpart? That’s an interesting idea that they did not think of. There’s space for that kind of thing.
- Regarding a term for OblivAeon refugees, have you considered “Mist-placed”? That’s a good one. That’s probably not how they’re referred to in-comics, but they’re happy to adopt that one for our purposes. Saying something is “misplaced” is too casual/rude for the term to get used for the situation if you’re talking about real people, so it wouldn’t be used in-setting. The fandom in the Metaverse may also use it, though.
- [Liz C. pointing them to the situation for the characters of Death’s Head and Circuit Breaker in the Transformers franchise for a model for the verisimilitude for a possible rights situation like they suggested for Hedgelord in the refugees episode. They read up on it a bit on air, but feel free do go down the rabbit hole yourself.] Man, that was kind of crazy. Thanks for pointing it out! It is kind of similar to the idea that they had for Hedgelord.
- We’re going to do #310. As much as they’d like to show “Rambler as the Headless Horseman” on the cover, that kind of spoils where things go, right? We could just do a cool Headless Horseman cover with some text mentioning Rambler. Yeah, that’s kind of the obvious move. [More good radio as they trade ideas based on existing covers for inspiration.]