The Letters Page: Episode 266
Writers' Room: Arcane Tales Vol. 2 #506
Spooky season continues with a Very Spooky November!
Run Time: 1:25:31
This one gets pretty extreme! We're gonna tell a few issues worth of story, and we're going to try to not make this the longest episode, as a result. We think we did a pretty OK job at both — what do you think?
Join us next week for Episode #267: Prime Wardens in the Egyptian Underworld! Get your questions in about it now!
- So, in mid 2006 Arcane Tales volume 2 picks back up at issue #500 (after having “been” Ra: God of the Sun for years - despite the Ra book having its own numbering starting at #1 but whatever, we’ll just count those 399 issues as being part of AT anyway - comics are weird). In the discussion here they give us a new detail on this where Ra: God of the Sun was not consistently the name. Sometimes it would have an “Arcane Tales Presents” thing or similar (although sometimes these details wouldn’t be in the cover trade dress and would rather only be part of the interior title page). It was not consistent, but it’s the rationale for not having the Ra title be its own thing and the return to AT be a volume 3 instead.
- Anyway, 2007 starts off with a three issue story they’ve told us about before (and, spoilers, is the topic of this episode): Æternus vs. the Realm of Discord/GloomWeaver. The Ætermal Torment limited series in ’98 was the story that established the whole setup in Æternus with these specific Princes of Æternus who are each vaguely associated with a different deadly sin. Some of them were new, others were merely repurposed characters who’d shown up in earlier stories. One such was Ismodial - very much the scheming/manipulative type who would get others to do her dirty work. It’s notable then that in 2007 she is the one leading the charge into the Realm of Discord.
- A discussion of how we actually start on page 1 leads to the question of whether GloomWeaver has a throne. Adam points out that he does and that they’ve shown it [although my memory only gives me Dark Watch NightMist’s incapacitated side from EE]. He also points out, however, that the Throne of Æternus that the Princes fight over seems to actually provide some additional power. GloomWeaver’s throne is just a big chair - in the post-OblivAeon era where Spite and the Master are vying for control of the Realm of Discord they’re not actually fighting over the chair.
- It started out as a joke, but Christopher’s come around on us opening on a shot of GloomWeaver sitting on his throne, head propped on his hand as he listens to some cultist going on about something through a portal. Just showing him having to deal with the drudgery of actually running this enterprise. Adam thinks the scene is okay, but less jokey in that this is, overall, a pretty serious story. Like, we can still joke a little just showing that GloomWeaver’s day-to-day kind of sucks. He’s not getting what he wants. Maybe he gets mad and smites either the cultist directly through their connection or some random RoD denizen. It’s less that he’s bored and more that he’s frustrated. We can even get some inner monologue from him about that accursed NightMist and how she’s trapped him here. Even destroying her grandfather’s soul wasn’t enough. Mortals seem to be able to flit in and out of this place but I’m stuck here. How could this day get any worse? That’s when a rent opens in the fabric of the Realm of Discord where Ismodial leads a force of demons from Æternus in to conquer this place and bring it torment. GloomWeaver knows that it was here already.
- We cut back to the mortal plane. Who do we follow? Argent Adept sounds right. He’s not the one who notices whatever is going on, though, he’s just the focus character when Dark Visionary shows up - she’s the one is aware of what all is happening but she can’t be the lens through which the readers see events. Right now we’re in the weird zone where Dark Visionary is in charge and the readers know is, but the other characters don’t.
- Adam suggests that Argent Adept is tending bar, but Christopher points out that they said that he doesn’t do that any more after quitting his old job way back when. Maybe he’s playing a gig - he can still just be a musician. Playing a guitar doesn’t sound right, though. That feels weird. It’s hard to come up with what venue/instrument he’d use for the occasional weekend where he just wants to feel like he has a normal life for a bit. Maybe he sings with a band… Does Argent Adept have a band? Surely not. He could be the type to sit in occasionally, but typically you don’t do that as a vocalist. Maybe he plays flute? Okay - buskers playing the flute are not unheard of, so maybe that’s it. He’s busking in the park with his flute and Dark Visionary walks up. She doesn’t just teleport in or whatever. She walks up and puts a buck in his coffee can wearing normal, civilian clothes (although wearing a hoodie with the hood up). He just says “Hi, Vanessa” without looking.
- She reports that there’s a problem, which he assumed given that she’s there. She’s not the type to make social calls. She says there’s something wrong in the Realm of Discord which he starts to brush off given that if they were trying to push their way into reality he’d feel it. That’s not the type of “something wrong” she’s talking about. There’s something else going on with Æternus, so maybe let’s go figure out what exactly. We’re going to need some help - and this is when the Prime Wardens aren’t a thing. They get Fanatic as she’s always down for smiting some demons. She invites Ra as her plus one. What? They’re just friends. Don’t be weird about this. Visionary and Argent Adept work together to make a portal so they can all get into the Realm of Discord. What they find there is war. The realm of chaos is being assaulted by the realm of torment.
- So, we come through the gate and it’s an instant fight scene with a bunch of monsters. The Realm of Discord is a dangerous place for anybody to be, really, but the denizens of Æternus, with their own warlike and dangerous nature of their own are making a good show and are actually “winning” as much as we can tell. We get a few pages of that fight before we get to the conclusion where the heroes make a deal with GloomWeaver. Like, it’s their idea and he doesn’t even pretend like he’s not on board with this. They can all agree that Æternus winning is bad for everybody.
- Given the era, they could include Spite on the team. They don’t think that he’s brought up, though. Having him show up now undercuts his appearance when he shows up later on. Maybe we could get at least some indication that he’s around as like a “Discordian spirit” or something. We’re foreshadowing without spoiling his full Agent of Gloom arc. Christopher thinks that it’s just too cluttered. GloomWeaver vs. Æternus has enough going on already even if we left heroes out altogether.
- So, the question is do we just get GloomWeaver-empowered versions of these four heroes or does GloomWeaver fight alongside them (and no, this does not mean that a hero GloomWeaver deck is a thing, so don’t even get started on that)? They think the former. They say that they’re here to help him fight these jerks alongside him, which isn’t going to happen. He’s kind of busy holding the threads of this very realm together. What the heroes can see is all of the monsters from Æternus fighting all of the monsters from the Realm of Discord. And that’s bad. What you don’t see is that the realm of Æternus itself is attacking the Realm of Discord - Æternus is noteworthy in that the realm itself has a dread will that tries to impose itself on other realms and the RoD does not have the same kind of will that can act in opposition. That’s the job that GloomWeaver’s currently busy with. The job you four need to do is taking down Ismodial as she’s the one running this particular invasion. Now, there’s probably more going on we don’t know about, but that’s where he points them.
- Oh, something they also discussed before recording is that they know that this story is one that’s meant to set up the one told later in the year with Dark Visionary and Argent Adept that involves Psylence. Do we want a deus ex machina for this story’s resolution in the third issue to be The Grey? They can’t stop Æternus, but what if they bring in a ringer to stop everything? That sounds fun. Let’s put a pin in that.
- Issue 2 opens with the explanation of how this is going to go. GloomWeaver’s busy with holding reality together or whatever, but what he can do is make it so that the rest of the Discordian denizens “recognize” the heroes as being from there and will obey them. They’re basically being made into Princes of Discord to oppose the Princes of Æternus. Let’s see… We can have green-flames Ra, chaos-sword Fanatic, a Drum of Despair-wielding Argent Adept (well, the real drum is on Earth, but we have something like a spectral version of it, and… what for Visionary. Maybe GloomWeaver can see what’s going on with her, but he’s not going to blow her cover because the current situation continuing works for him, but he’ll make is so that both halves of her nature can be used at once and we get a “split vertically down the middle” version of her. Let’s give her a third eye in her forehead as well, but it’s split as well with the opposite colors to the rest of her.
- They go fight against the demon forces of Æternus, including some match-ups with some of the Princes. You’d get Fanatic vs. Abbados which is a ridiculous knock-down/drag-out affair. Meanwhile AA and Visionary fight either Greezigrax doing magic stuff or Seviathall… yeah, that’s the play. It’s Seviathall doing a whole “can you really trust each other” thing between those two heroes. This is fine. Trust issues here isn’t really the tactic to use since Visionary is all kinds of suspicious and because of the whole deal with her she knows to what extent she can trust an actual hero. Plus trying to pull a manipulation trick on Visionary is kind of hilarious. Hmm… a way to get more “screen time” for more Princes could actually have the fight appear to be Mannock and Greezigrax, but it’s illusory and they’re really “fighting” Seviathall. That’s an interesting, weird fight that contrasts with the relatively straightforward thing Fanatic is up to. Let’s throw Ra into that fight while we’re at it. Everybody in that fight is having a good time.
- That’s most of the issue. We get the setup/empowering and these two fights, then we end with the fact that Ismodial wins her “fight” - she completes a hellish ritual and rather than just having a rift between realms, it opens the floodgates and Æternus starts to overwrite the RoD. Hmm… instead of just “opening the gate further” let’s have the ritual bring the Throne through and the overwriting spreads out from it. We get a nice two-page splash with GloomWeaver on his throne on one side and Ismodial sitting in hers with their respective realms merging in the middle. Seems bad.
- The third issue opens with the heroes worried at the recent developments. Then Fanatic and Ra just go attack Ismodial. Christopher initially supposes that they get knocked aside (more or less literally - the point is that they’re insignificant to her at this moment). Adam counters that even that’s not necessary. Ismodial is “the lusty one” and sees what’s going on with these two and suggests that they have other things they’d be better off doing. Christopher spins this further. All four heroes attack; Ismodial says that they’re all repressing some things that they should deal with right now and this is basically incapacitating for Fanatic and Ra. For Argent Adept and Visionary it’s irrelevant (now, Visionary’s deal is not necessarily the same as Argent Adepts, but “repressed sexuality” at least isn’t going to cut it in terms of messing with her).
- To be clear, this isn’t something that makes Fanatic and Ra fall to the ground making out. They’re overcome by the feelings that they’ve been suppressing and are more or less “unconscious” as they process things. Compare it to a sudden realization that you’ve wasted your entire life. That’s the kind of mental whammy that’s been put on them.
- Well, if the whammy isn’t going to work on AA and Visionary, Ismodial will just do things the old fashioned way. We can have a bit of a “real” fight here in which Visionary and AA are outclassed, but we can have some psychic communication between them noting that “Huh… that attack didn’t work on us because we are above these things, but this fight is also kind of irrelevant given how entangled the two realms are. Is there a way we can weaponize that kind of weakness? Maybe bring in another realm that can stop this?” Visionary can be the one pushing that angle with Argent Adept wondering if that’s advisable.
- They could even have AA bring up something (that hasn’t been a thing that’s been said before, but can be true now) that “that realm” has been quiescent for millennia - it used to be a significant problem when it would encroach on other realms, but it hasn’t been an issue for a long time. Inviting it in here might upset whatever balance has been in place. Visionary asks if he sees another way out of this, which he doesn’t. This is setup for the Psylence stuff we get to later.
- Lacking other options, they proceed to bring The Grey into this situation. They don’t have enough power to do this normally, but they siphon all of the power that GloomWeaver granted to all 4 of them and use that to send up a beacon/put out bait to try to get The Grey’s “attention”. They don’t know that this will even do anything, and now they’ve got to keep the fight going without being Princes of Discord. Just as it seems like everyone and everything is about to be destroyed… An overwhelming feeling of nothingness hits everyone and we see The Grey encroaching in.
- They stop to discuss what the actual “plan” is here. Adam imagined a situation where the heroes are hoping that when Ismodial sees The Grey encroaching she takes action to stop it, but that also means she has to break the connection between Æternus and the RoD in the process. That the heroes are bluffing and that Ismodial won’t call their bluff. Christopher thinks it’s more of a calculated risk - that at least if The Grey takes over, there’s a chance to get out of it. Æternus winning is just the end.
- He thinks that Argent Adept and Visionary did a thing: we see The Grey roll across the battlefield (depicted on the page as a lack of color). But, there is a tiny crystalline glimmer of hope between those two heroes. Visionary did a version of her psychic cocoon, but not around herself. She created a vessel that Argent Adept filled with Music - something he could use to dispel The Grey, but that he normally wouldn’t be able to produce once The Grey was present. They prepared it ahead of time and are holding it up between them as The Grey rolls across everything, the fighting stops, everything stops - including their desire to hold the thing up. They drop it, which causes it to shatter, and the music comes out and drives things back.
- The Grey retreats, but from the point centered on where the heroes were standing and so the four of them are the first ones to become able to act once again. That gives them an opportunity to act before the opposition recovers. If they can banish the Throne back to Æternus, then it’s just a straight fight they have a shot at winning. Fanatic: “Why bother banishing?” Visionary and Argent Adept start talking about a ritual or whatever and Fanatic just flies at the thing with her big sword (which Ra sets ablaze as she’s going). She hits the Throne, it explodes, and Æternal stuff starts getting sucked back through the rift. With The Grey still covering so much of the place, there’s no opposition to that pressure to return until they’re already out.
- They think that there’s some indication that Æternus is “damaged” by the interaction with The Grey - like the fires are extinguished or things are blacker than usual, etc. This whole thing has cascading repercussions for Æternus and for the Realm of Discord (and the heroes). Ra and Fanatic likely got out of this the lightest - just having to confront their own emotions a bit. I mean, they’ll probably just continue to ignore things until Ra dies. Super healthy. The Argent Adept and Visionary threads are what lead to the Psylence story later in the year as mentioned earlier. GloomWeaver shows up with a “good truce, team” and talks about needing to tend to his own Realm once again. When next we meet I hope it’s on favorable terms, although I do not expect it. Argent Adept and Visionary do a thing to get the team home, but we stay with GloomWeaver for a beat as he considers that while they “used up” the power he gave them, he still has a connection to them and he’ll use that link to the mortal realm as the basis for building himself a physical vessel on Earth (setting up the Skinwalker story).
- The Skinwalker foreshadowing is the coda. When the heroes leave we follow them briefly so we get at least some inkling on their ends about there being fallout to what they’ve done here. Like, Ra and Fanatic have a real “we need to go off and talk about some stuff” vibe despite the fact that they’re definitely not going to actually talk about that stuff once they’re off alone together without a chaperone. Argent Adept and Visionary have a brief discussion where he asks what the “deal” was with how her Discordian form manifested (split halves, etc.) and she pulls some b.s. about the dichotomy between conscious use of her powers vs. unconscious, etc. He’s getting more suspicious of her and she really suspects that he’s on to her, but can’t act on it yet.
- [We start off with a Cult of Gloom letter at around 48:40 and, folks, it is a good one giving
Æternusoff-brand Dante’s Inferno a hard time. No real question, just some classic Gloom trash talk.] It’s weird how small this 3-issue story is considering the power levels at play and the ramifications that follow.
- What’s the significance of the symbol we see the Cult use in the DE version of GloomWeaver’s deck (seen as the Summoning Circle, on the banner from Devoted Disciples, or the self-mutilation on Ardent Acolytes)? It’s GloomWeaver’s face with kind of a voodoo aesthetic.
- Has any non-demon ever claimed the Throne of Æternus? Can a non-demon do so? What would that entail? Would the non-demon become a demon as they’re infused with Æternal power? Has a villain or hero from Sentinel Comics ever taken the throne? Who would even have shot at doing so (Dawn seems like she’d have enough power to cow some demons, but the Chairman seems to have the right mentality for it, maybe a Disparation NightMist who tries to use it for good but is inevitably corrupted)? The short answer is that a non-demon has not ever taken it in the pages of Sentinel Comics. We can go through the intellectual exercise, though. Dawn probably could in the right circumstances. Hypothetically, anyone could claim it. Practically speaking, nobody ever holds the throne. Even the Princes. If a human took it, though, they’d probably be either destroyed in short order or, if they managed to survive, they’d become corrupted and demonic by the power they’re now using. There’s probably a fair number of demons in Æternus who started as human and just transformed over time due to the energies they were exposed to. That’s largely what’s going on with Darkstrife - he’s just still fairly young. A Disparation story where some character takes the Throne could work - oh, say Soothsayer Carmichael who “knows how to do this” and then becomes terrible over time might be fun. They don’t know of a story where this happens offhand, though. They could play that out, so suggest/vote for “Someone unlikely takes the Throne of Æternus” as a topic.
- Could we get a full list of the villains who have gone to Æternus because the list being “Spite” seems like a missed opportunity? Can we get a list of times when Æternus managed to claim a chunk of Earth, at least for a time (like, the infernal realm merging with Rook City and nobody noticing is funny to consider)? We know 100% of the times when Æternus really comes to Earth because there’s basically just the one story (with other minor incursions that are covered in Darkstrife and Painstake stories). Oh, and the Neighborhood Watch issue they did a while back in the post-OblivAeon era (which is maybe less-major than the other big one, but it’s also less-solved afterwards). The “list of villains” is something they don’t really have. They start to go down the list (Apostate has, but thinks these guys are too into it - he’s more of a hobbiest rather than treating it as a lifestyle, Biomancer could go either way, Baron Blade probably hasn’t, etc.). They’re more comfortable thinking in terms of categories because they don’t want to make definitive statements they’d have to walk back later. Space villains or street level villains are unlikely to have ever been there. One exception due to Block shenanigans might be Kismet (she’s a street-level magic villain and the latter category is more likely). Miss Information probably hasn’t. Wager Master kind of fits into the “space” category, but Singular Entities are their own thing.
- You noted that there are very few villains/villain groups who would work with General Geist, but that he’s also not any particular hero’s specific nemesis (although having a… fondness for Legacy due to every time he defeats General Geist it results in him getting more power) - did he ever work with an iteration of Omnitron given the whole “efficiency of death” angle? How about Omni-Unity? A thing Christopher wants to dispel here is the idea that “he gets stronger with every defeat” is a particular “power” or truth about the character. It’s not a programmed-in thing for the character. It’s true that every time he has been defeated he comes back stronger, it’s just a storytelling thing where they have to one-up his last appearance. It’s not inevitable. It’s not like the Legacy line where every generation gets stronger. It’s just been true for his arc. They don’t think if you’re a writer who’s bringing back a Nazi ghost that he’s going to be a minor threat. You make that guy worse every time. There has not been any General Geist/Omni-[thing] crossover. There’s probably a pretty self-evident reason for no team ups between him and any version of Unity if you think about it.
- Thinking about the undead necromancer angle getting power during OblivAeon, I got to thinking about the whole Anubis/Ammit situation: would he ever do anything with the Ennead? Possibly trying to make use of a whole “dead” universe/realm? Would he be an ongoing problem for Fanatic and Anubis in the RPG era? They think that there isn’t a story where Geist tries to do anything with the Egyptian Underworld. Not because it’s not a cool idea, but it’s just a bit thematically off. You do the Nazi ghost thing or the Egyptian Underworld ghost thing. Adam pushes back on that idea a little given the whole Raiders of the Lost Ark thing - there’s sufficient crossover potential there. However, the Underworld has some very powerful guardians who he is not capable of taking on. That has changed a bit recently, so him being a specific Anubus foe in the RPG era could be a thing. He knows the Dead well enough that he’s not going to try to mess with that corner of the world while the original Anubis is running things and keeping Ammit in line.
- Given Germany’s stance on depictions of Nazi iconography, could we assume we aren’t going to see much of General Geist in official GTG game products? Does his going all-in on the skull motif give enough wiggle room? That latter is spot on - a big reason for them having him lean on the skull iconography instead is to get around problems like that in the future. The original G.I. Bunker promo card had a burning Nazi flag on it and they couldn’t distribute it in Germany in that original form because enough of the swastika was visible on it. As such, the modern General Geist appearances lack both swastikas and the SS lightning bolt emblem.
- How viable would the haunted forest that General Geist winds up in as an Environment for SotM? Very low. Even General Geist in general making it in is very low, but put an asterisk next to all of that since the future may hold many things and they’re not ruling anything out. They have no plans for either of these concepts to be in DE at this time, but time will tell.
- Does General Geist go to the ruins of San Alonso after OblivAeon (I could see both a serious story about all the death and destruction or a silly one about ghost movies)? If they had him go there it would be serious. They know some stuff about what happens to San Alonso after OblivAeon and there are ramifications [they seem to be attempting to be cagey about it being San Lazarus, possibly forgetting they’ve said that name before].
- How does Unity feel about General Geist? Is he worse as a Nazi or as a mass-murdering ghost? That’s kind of splitting hairs. They don’t think her opinions on him would change just because he’s a ghost. Either way, she’s not a fan.
- How would General Geist interact with Apostate? Given that every time Apostate dies he winds up possessing a new body, would he be a powerful member or or thorn in the side of the Dead Reich? Apostate would not be on board with General Geist mostly because he’s not fun. Apostate is here to mess with people. If the people are all dead there’s nobody for him to mess with.
- You mentioned that he uses “necrotic” magic, which is a category you hadn’t mentioned before - is he the only one to use it? The most powerful? Who else could use it? How much written knowledge of necrotic magic is there and does Soothsayer Carmichael have opinions on it? There aren’t many dedicated users. Blood Countess is pretty much just Blood Magic as a dedicated user. General Geist may be the only such dedicated user of necrotic magic. This is also a question of whether “necrotic magic” is a type or an effect which is a thing that comes up a lot when they discuss things. Zhu Long uses a lot of types of magic and definitely at least does things to this effect. NightMist could also likely get an effect. Christopher leans on the side of there being “necrotic practices” you can do to perform magic as well as there being “necrotic effects” that you can arrive at through various Types. The idea of various “schools of magic” are also largely down to how we think about magic rather than it being a intrinsic part of “magic” generally. They need to have “ways in which we think things work” in order to tell stories effectively. But, because it’s magic, it doesn’t actually always have to conform to that because it’s inherently something beyond our understanding. We’re faking it until we make it. Soothsayer Carmichael hates it. Keep dead things dead.
- Has he ever appeared in a story where it’s just him in conflict with a villain? They don’t think so. It’s possible, but it seems like a step “down” to be in a story that’s a “side thing” (given the lack of our usual point of view characters, the heroes). They could see maybe playing out the Apostate thing mentioned earlier, but they also think that heroes would be around in that story.
- If he was victorious in bringing around the Dead Reich, what would the world actually look like? Zombies everywhere? What would he work towards afterwards? Would this be explored in Disparation? They don’t know if it’s covered in Disparation. He wants everything to be dead and then be part of the empire of the dead. Once everything and everyone is dead, he just rules over all of those dead people and things. Probably more ghosts than zombies. That’s a shortcoming of many would-be world conquerors - they never seem to have a firm grasp on what they do while ruling the world.
- Does he know about nuclear weapons? He does. Seems bad, man.
- Does he appear in Vertex? If so, is he more successful there than in the Multiverse era? He probably has at least an appearance.
- Can he make Muerto his puppet? He can’t take control of and puppet another ghost just because they’re a ghost. He’s unleashing already evil dead spirits. Christopher thinks there’s a functionally infinite supply of evil spirits out there - certainly more bad people have died than he’ll ever get through when calling them up. He just reaches out to whatever malevolent spirits are around, hungry to be let out. He’s not vetting them beyond “present and evil”.
- Scion Geist? No.
- It’s understandable that you like hating General Geist - it’s just another example of that universal truth that the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.
- So, Adam, you’re doing all three covers, right? No. Here’s the deal, though. The cover for #505 is “GloomWeaver vs. Æternus”, the cover for #506 is the heroes with GloomWeaver power (possibly with GloomWeaver behind them) - that’s definitely “the cool one”, and so is the one that Adam wants to do. Adam notes that this is the period where Absolution is broken, though, so we’re going to have to Discord-up that baby.