The Letters Page: Episode 267
Writers' Room: Prime Wardens Vol. 2 #29
To the land of the dead! But with mummies and lots of sand!
Run Time: 1:40:28
Christopher starts off with another tale of injury, but this was far lower stakes and more medically attended to than last year's cave story, so that's good, at least!
Then, our heroes fall! But will they rise again? Gosh, let's hope so!
If you're a Letters Page Patreon supporter, join us this Friday for a live Editor's Note! If not, you'll hear it next Tuesday! Either way: it'll be a fun time!
- The prompt is “The Prime Wardens in the Egyptian Underworld” and they know what this story is. It’s from November 2013 in Prime Wardens vol. 2 #29, but they can give a little more framing for it.
- In September of that year we had the Thorathian War one-shot and PW #27 where we got the whole thing on Dok'Thorath where the rebels are fighting the military/government (which is largely leaderless due to Voss’ prolonged absence). The Prime Wardens are also there for both of those comics.
- Note that this is volume 2 of the book! The team is back together and are much better at being a team now. Tempest is Tempest himself. Argent Adept has died and returned, which turned out to be a good “growth” experience for him as a person. There’s a lot more trust and less undermining of each other going on now. Volume 2 Prime Wardens are the team at their best.
- Anyway, if they’re on Dok’Thorath in #27 how are they in the Egyptian Underworld two months later? In #28 there’s a bit of cleanup following the story and they’re still on Dok’Thorath (that story is as resolved as it ever gets at this point). There’s a bit of worry about how they’re going to get home, etc. but then the issue ends on a “jump scare”. The team is moving some rubble or otherwise helping out when they uncover some unexploded ordnance (like a atomizer bomb or something), which then explodes, killing them all. Then they all “wake up” in some dark scary “underworld” type place. They’re confused with somebody saying “I thought we just died.” Fanatic responds “We did.” That’s the end of the issue, but savvy readers could probably note details of the place they find themselves in and figure out where they are.
- How does this work? Fanatic. The team uncovers the atomizer thing and knows what it is because they’d had to deal with these things during the fighting. Then it comes online and they all have enough time before it activates to recognize what’s happening and have some final thoughts. Fanatic has two things going on. First, she believes that when she and her friends die they’d go to heaven. Second, what she’s really thinking of in her last moments is Ra. The blending of her faith in an eternal reward and her love for Ra as she dies results in… the team going to the Egyptian Underworld.
- So, things are bad. This is a bleak landscape and this is also likely the first time that a story has really directly addressed what’s going on there - we may not have had a story actually go there before. It would have been talked about before and we’d have seen the gate into the place that Anubis is in charge of and we’ve seen things come out. We know the backstory of “a realm of powerful beings that is essentially dead now” where the Egyptian “gods” were originally from. The Prime Wardens are now right in the middle of that and have to find a way to escape.
- Christopher had an idea for a villain, but Adam mentioned that he’d like something more nebulous. Christopher thinks that maybe we saw in an earlier story that Nephthys died (or if not “died” at least crossed over into the Underworld). If Anubis is doing his job of keeping the gates sealed as tightly as possible, maybe she’s still been trapped here and she’s trying to do a thing that brings her back into the world, but would bring the Underworld with her. Now, that might not be the main driver of the plot for this issue and is just something we’re laying groundwork for because there’s still room for more of this later on. The next big story in PW is the Progeny story the next summer so we could have a short Nephthys story here.
- There’s a bunch of quick “yes, and…” activity as they build out this idea. The gist is that the heroes find Nephthys in here and help her out of some jam she’s in. As “thanks” she offers to help get them all out of here. The old team may have been fooled, but they’re onto this offer of aid being a trick of some sort.
- Okay, the team wakes up. We figure out where we are, and Fanatic mentions her belief in an eternal reward but that she was also thinking about somebody related to this place (“It’s Ra right?” “Maybe. We know a lot of people from here. Moving on…”) and those wires getting crossed is how they wound up here. We get a fight scene involving some misshapen mummy creatures (like, maybe vaguely sphinx-shaped creatures that are really just hollow figures made of mummy wraps). They win, but it’s a dangerous place and fight so they could use a rest. Argent Adept creates a temporary safe space for them (see his DE card “Vernal Sonata” [which was the inspiration for this topic being suggested in the first place]).
- After a time spent resting, they hear calls for help. Some of them are concerned that this could be a trick of some sort, but Tempest insists on helping. They find Nephthys, who does actually need help. She’s stumbled into this place, but she knows where the exit is if the heroes can help out. They go along with it, but without trusting her. That way they’re not caught by surprise by her sudden but inevitable betrayal. They manage to stop her to some degree while managing to get out themselves. Hmm… Maybe it’s a partial success. Like, she tries to betray them such that she manages to get out but still leave them trapped, but because they were ready only one of them is left behind.
- Adam: Wasn’t there something in like 2007 that involved Ammit and Nephthys? Right after the Waves of Fortune event in Arcane Tales there was an Egyptian Underworld event with Anubis and Ammit doing stuff and Nephthys is “tortured in the Egyptian Underworld as part of that”. That leads into this - we don’t see Nephthys in that time.
- Anyway, she betrays them, but they manage to get out with only one actually trapped. Let’s say Tempest as he was the one most interested in helping the person calling for help even though it turned out to be a villain. He’s left behind with Nephthys who’s in the process of amassing her forces or whatever. The next issue involves the other four Prime Wardens getting Anubis to help (which he is very reluctant to do since his job is to keep things in there - not to care about why they’re there). Meanwhile, Nephthys is using Tempest’s weather controlling powers to create a storm in the Underworld (which is as bad as it sounds like that would be).
- How long does this go? It could go as long as 7 issues - there’s room for it. They’re not sure it goes that long, though. Issue #30 probably ends with Nephthys managing to start breaking through and then #31 is the Prime Wardens and Anubis freeing tempest and fighting things back through the gate. They could also extend things by having her draw power from Anubis and Ammit once the breakthrough begins. Oh, the seal is broken and Anubis does his thing about stopping anything from coming through etc. but then Ammit betrays him (because of course she does) and then sets herself up as a kind of Wormtongue-esque advisor to the Anubis-powered Nephthys. With that in mind we’re going to do 6 issues, a short palate-cleanser story, and then we’re into the Progeny story.
- Does Ra show up in the later issues? He almost has to if we’re having it be this big. He probably shows up in either part 3 or 4 (so issues #31 or #32). Then Haka asks if she wants to address her feelings and of course she doesn’t.
- Okay, so #29 is the setup and the team (mostly) getting out. #30 is them trying to get Anubis to help and him refusing until Nephthys manages to break free anyway. #31 is the big fight, ending with Ammit betrying Anubis which gets Nephthys even more power. That issue ends with something showing that Ra is aware that something bad is going down. Then Ra is a major part of the second half of the story.
- Adam comes up with a fun visual for how this is working. A “standard” portal is boring. Let’s lean into the Tempest/storm angle and have it be like a swirling mass of storm clouds like a hurricane and anything within the storm’s area is where the Underworld is crossing over.
- The big set pieces after that would be the other PW plus Ra freeing Tempest, then freeing Anubis. What happens with Nephthys after this? Anubis and Ammit still hate each other, but both of them probably agree that she should go “back” but we know that she can’t because we need her free for OblivAeon. Christopher thinks that she just… escapes. She’s been trapped for 6 years of publication time and he’s fine with the heroes winning, but she just manages to slink away before anybody can lay hands on her. She is fine just dropping the plan when it becomes clear that she’s losing and just getting out while the getting is good rather than risk going back in. Let’s say that she even manages to get away with some additional Underworld power. She doesn’t have the same access to the Underworld that she wishes she had (which is only possible through the Tomb of Anubis
or Fanatic for nonsense Fanatic reasons), but getting out is better than nothing. There can even be a thing where she mentions plans on returning and everything, but she obviously doesn’t get a chance to do so prior to OblivAeon.
- Do we need to go into more detail on the remaining issues beyond the short version of the arc of the story as a whole? Any major points to cover? Maybe some “real” moment in part 5 or 6 between Fanatic and Ra. We’re approaching OblivAeon stuff and so we need to get their relationship built up as much as possible for maximum devastation for her when he dies.
- Okay, so issue #32 has Ra show up and Haka says the thing about if Fanatic wants to talk about things with him, but then at the end of #34 she and Ra leave together. Then that interlude story in issue #35 is about them actually doing the proper love story thing. So, somebody suggest that as a topic for February! According to the discussion here, the Death of Ra is now in Arcane Tales vol. 2 #618 in June 2016, so around 2 years later. Editorial would know that was coming at this point, for the purpose of creating maximum heartbreak here. [I note that the ARG had his death in PW #60 - in the post-Timeline Project reckoning of things, that’s the same month as this issue of AT, so my guess is that the attack on OblivAeon with all of the gods is in AT along with the counterstroke and Ra’s death, but then we cut to PW for Fanatic’s response afterwards - like, we have the Death of Ra happen in “Ra’s book”, which seems more appropriate, and then Fanatic’s fury is in her book.]
- How do Tempest’s powers work in the Underworld (in Vernal Sonata we see green liquid and purple lightning, so can he affect whatever weather is going on here)? They don’t work “normally” that’s for sure. This place is a dead realm, so anything he does is going to be weird, but there are weather patterns for him to manipulate. As we saw in the overview, his abilities wound up being a key part of Nephthys’ plan. Adam thinks that overall it takes him less energy to make stuff happen, but everything is more chaotic.
- Was Argent Adept aware of the Underworld’s existence prior to this story or did he find himself out of his depths? He was aware. They were all kind of aware of it - they’d encountered Anubis before and were vaguely aware of what he’s guarding, although they hadn’t gone into it before.
- Is Captain Cosmic able to solve any Trials or encounters using a unique construct? Has he ever unlocked a door by creating a key construct? He fights things… maybe let’s say that he makes a “stone” sphinx to stomp on the mummy sphinxes.
- Does Fanatic have any particular “10 or fewer HP” moments while in the Underworld? She gets them there in such a situation! That being said, the “in the Underworld” stuff is largely frontloaded in the overall arc of the story, so the “10 or fewer HP” moments are probably near the end where they’re fighting Nephthys with Ra.
- Would Haka still be able to survive indefinitely while in the Underworld or would the mystical forces at play and the fact that it’s an Underworld counter his power (like, if he’s technically in an underworld, does that count as being “dead” for the purposes of the other Haka dying at the same time, etc.)? He would be able to “survive” forever. This isn’t an actual hell. It’s called an underworld, but it’s as much of an afterlife as Æternus is.
- Does visiting the Egyptian Underworld (or other such places) let Argent Adept converse with past Virtuosos of the Void or otherwise contact such ghosts with his music? No. He has ways of communicating with them on occasion, but because the Egyptian Underworld isn’t an actual spirit world/afterlife it doesn’t provide a bonus for these kinds of things. The only way it would help is if a past Virtuoso happened to be in the Underworld already. That could happen, it just wasn’t part of this story. Like, maybe there was an ancient Egyptian Virtuoso that got stuck in there.
- What effect does being spirit-adjacent have on his music/powers? Well, again they themselves still have their physical bodies rather than being spirits, but they kind of got into this with Tempest. Other than Haka it’s likely that all of their powers got messed with in some way while in the Underworld. Like, the Captain Cosmic sphinx construct wasn’t supposed to be that - he just ran with it once it happened. Fanatic’s “radiant” power isn’t the same bright glow but is some dark and dangerous effect.
- Does Anthony Drake ever compose his own music? Yes. All the time. Most of what he does is improvisational, but they think that he does write music (both just as music and for the purpose of being spells when it’s for an effect that he can foresee that he’ll need at some point). Most of the purpose-built songs in his deck likely fall into this category.
- What awareness do Ra and Fanatic have regarding each other’s origins? Does Fanatic know what the deal is with the Egyptian “deities” and their home dimension etc.? How does she feel about it? They don’t think that Fanatic knows. With the exception of Anubis and Ammit, it’s likely that nobody in-setting knows the full backstory of what the Egyptian Underworld actually is/was and how the relics work, etc. and they have their reasons for keeping quiet about it. We know that the Egyptian Underworld and Æternus aren’t really an afterlife/hell, but the people in the stories don’t know as much as we do. She “knows” that it’s “the Egyptian Underworld” and her feelings regarding it is that it’s a bad place.
- What does Ra know about The Host and what Fanatic really is? How does he feel about it? Ra doesn’t know what Fanatic is. Who does? Apostate does and has told a bunch of people (including her), but nobody believes him. Fanatic never acknowledges what she is - as far as she’s concerned she’s “an angel of the Lord”. That’s also how Ra treats it. He’s a god. She’s an angel serving some other god. They’re both wrong, but both accept their internal truths and probably both accept each others’ truths (to the extent that their own identities allow - Ra “knows” that he’s a god and accepts that she serves one that just doesn’t show up in person much, Fanatic “knows” that he’s not the God but accepts that he’s a powerful being of some sort and there seem to be a bunch of them).
- You’ve said before that in order for somebody to use an Egyptian relic, that person needs to somehow “match” that relic’s deity; how close much that matching be? Physically or metaphysically? Much more about metaphysics than being physically similar. Dr. Blake Washington, Jr. doesn’t look like Ra. It’s something internal. An idea or value alignment, maybe. The word “spirit” is useful here, but kind of handwavy. There’s some x-factor that’s not entirely spelled out.
- Could someone of the opposite sex as the deity use the relic? If so, is the sex of the avatar form based on the user or the deity? Yes and based on the user. You could absolutely have a lady Ra.
- Has that happened in Sentinel Comics? Not in the main continuity, but possibly in Disparation.
- Has anyone else ever wielded a relic other than the ones we know about (Blake Washington, Anubis himself, Roderick Ward and his 8 associates, Thiago Diaz [in Vertex], and Marty Adams)? Yes [Christopher says that he wrote something on the whiteboard so that Adam could see and be reminded of something, so it’s a specific thing they know about]. There is a shocking amount of room for stuff like that to occur.
- Would any of the following characters be thematically close enough to wield one of the relics? They’ll go down the list, but they want to point out a problem with the list. Dr. Blake Washington, Jr. was not a pyromaniac. About the only such “obvious” similarity between himself and Ra is that he has a bit of a temper. Not even an explosive temper or one that’s “hotter” than everyone else. What it really is is his deep, one could say burning, passion for archaeology. He cares about a thing that much and that’s the similarity that is latched onto. Adam also posits that he’s also got some “leadership” attributes that would go well with the chief deity.
- Citizen Summer/Staff of Ra (because Fire)? Possible, but it doesn’t jump out to them as obviously working.
- Blood Countess Bathory/Rod of Anubis (because associations with Death)? That seems less likely, but there is an amount of “seeking forbidden knowledge” in there, so it could work.
- Citizen Dawn/Scarab of Atum (because Sunny)? Adam thinks that one fits more, less because of the Sun thing directly, but more because they’re both conquerors.
- Argent Adept/Sun Disc of Isis (because Magic)? They’re all magical. Christopher has a hard time saying absolutely yes or no to any of them, though.
- Dark Watch Mr. Fixer/Ankh of Nephthys (because funereal/dead associations)? It’s hard to imagine any of them working with DW Fixer due to his particular situation.
- Tempest/Shield of Tefnut (because water)? Yeah, his aquatic nature and the associations with protection could make that work. There’s something there.
- Captain Cosmic/Orb of Nuit (associations with the sky/cosmos)? Eh… that’s kind of a stretch.
- Akash'Thriya/Sickle of Geb (Earth associations)? Akash’Thriya breaks enough rules to also be unlikely to be able to get anything out of them. She’s too metaphysically different for the relics to be able to connect to her.
- Fanatic/Crook and Flail of Osiris (both died and returned)? Eh… not sure about that one.
- Citizen Winter/Rod of Set (Icy)? Still not hard “no”, but leaning that way.
- Can you think of anyone for the windy association of the Khopesh of Shu? Think less “wind” and more “assassin” - Equity with that could be a pretty gross story.
- [Letter starts off with a comment about Haka being possibly “invulnerable” which causes them to break in.] We see him take wounds. He’s certainly very durable and heals very fast, but he’s not invulnerable. Depending on the writer/artist/era you could easily get stories where people shoot him with regular bullets and he has bleeding bullet wounds, they just quickly close up (although, we also definitely get depictions where bullets just bounce off of him too). Adam also thinks that we probably get ones where the bullets don’t bounce off, but they also don’t penetrate very far to the point where he’s able to just pick them out of his chest or whatever.
- Way back in episode 33 you mentioned that he woke one day to find his ta moko had faded (ultimately resulting in his being killed in his origin story but then also his banishment once he recovered), but that he eventually got them to remain by using a stick and snake venom - would his markings “heal” with the rest of him if he got injured in the face? What about the time he got chucked in a volcano by Ambuscade? [After a few hems and haws] They think that his “state” that he gets returned to is at a point in which he has the marks and so they heal as well. It’s a mystical (and ultimately chronal) thing rather than a normal healing process. Christopher points out that the spot on his left shin that got injured during the Cave Incident last year is in an area that he had tattoos and while the angry scar that’s left over from the injury obscures a portion of it, you can still see the tattoo beneath the scar tissue. Tattoos and related things are weird - if you have the relevant medical background to explain why tattoos last like they do even though the cells in your body get replaced over time, write in.
- What other scars does Haka have? Would those also return after a dip in a volcano? Christopher thinks he has one that nobody ever draws unless the story is drawing particular attention to it in particular. He has a very faint, thin scar across his neck from when he was first killed.
- How hard is it to leave a lasting mark on Haka? Pretty hard.
- How did the fans view the Werewolf Haka era? It varies. There are definitely some who look back on it as a really dumb story - it gets a lot of hate because it betrays all of the “healing” stuff we just got done discussing. There’s no reason that this should have worked given the established “truths” of Haka. Later, once the La Comodora explanation is given there’s even more reason for it to have not happened, and yet it did. It’s probably Haka’s equivalent of our world’s “Clone Saga” for Spider-Man - after a certain point we all just kind of ignore that it ever happened. Other people think it’s the coolest thing ever.
- How does Haka himself view that chapter of his life? Does he appreciate that it happened just for the novelty element in his long, long life? He doesn’t view it as a “good time” - the lack of control is a problem. His history in comics is largely about “fighting monsters” and for that time he was the monster. He’s a difficult character as writers often don’t know what to do with him and the werewolf arc was probably somebody just trying something out.
- Are there more werewolves or vampires? More werewolves by a wide margin. Christopher thinks at least 10x more but probably not yet 100x more (although possibly closer to 100 than to 10). The Court of Blood itself likely represents maybe 2/3 of all vampires and is the only sizable group of them.
- How many packs has Apex subsumed into his own? Have any packs attempted to resist that? What was their fate? If you limit to “big packs” likely no more than a dozen on the outside. Probably less. There are a larger number of small groups of 5 or 6 individuals that one might struggle to really call a pack in the first place. Plenty of packs resisted. Note that we only see 5 other pack leaders in the Apex deck - if there were between 8 and 12 major packs that were absorbed, those other leaders were ones who resisted and didn’t survive the struggle. Apex has no problem taking over a pack by killing its leadership.
- How do you decide which stories don’t have room within canon from the various things listeners suggest (“Yes that exists”, “No that doesn’t happen”, “Maybe in Disparation”, “Maybe/potentially in fanfiction”, “This could be suggested as a topic”)? It’s largely “vibes”. Between the two of them they have very good handle on what kinds of things happen in the pages of Sentinel Comics (and it is collaborative - they sell each other on stories all the time and that’s not always just “yes, and” but knowing when it’s “no, but” instead). Everything is knowable by them, which isn’t to say that they know everything right now. It’s often also plausibility and tied to character. A lot of what they say “no” to are things that would destroy the existing characters or going down a particular rabbit hole would not lead to anything productive. “Maybe in Disparation” is tied to the question of whether something is an interesting alternate take on some aspect of Sentinel Comics. Fanfiction is a lot broader and is largely things that are just not within the purview of what they want to do in the comics - like, jumping off of assumptions that people would make, but that wouldn’t happen in comics. The “suggest it as a topic” are things that they think could have happened, but they’re not going to put in the effort to follow up on it without knowing that the listeners want them to enough. Another part of it is just that they may have already been thinking along certain lines and then somebody independently asks for something that it fits, which gives them more reason to explore it in detail. Another possibility is within the Metaverse there could be a thing that was in the fanfiction up to a certain point when a writer who was down with said fanfiction made it canon. Donny Cates is a real-life comics writer who is very up-front about the fact that he based a lot of his Venom run on things he’d written as fanfiction years prior before he got a job in the industry.
- In your record-keeping for the Metaverse (comics issues, animated adaptations, etc.) do you include fan works like zines and fanfiction? Do they have effects in the canon materials? Can we expect much about them in the History? No, yes, and “pretty much, no”. They don’t try to craft out the non-Sentinel Comics part of the Metaverse. The History will answer some of that, but they recognize that of course fandom and canon build on one another and so that is a thing that would be true about Sentinel Comics even if they don’t explicitly map out what all of said things would be. Here’s where you can play along, though: when you write fanfic involving Sentinel Comics, just pretend that you’re creating the fanfiction that exists in the Metaverse!
- I can only think of four heroes in Sentinel Comics who have secret identities (the Wraith, the Naturalist, Alpha, and Young Legacy); others seem to have “secret” identities not so much by intention, just by happening to be obscure to begin with (like Mr. Fixer) - why does Sentinel Comics go so “light” on secret identities? A big part of that goes back to the original set of heroes establishing things in Sentinel Comics. Legacy had a very public identity. Scholar didn’t have a secret identity, but his identity didn’t really matter that much. Haka doesn’t have a secret identity, but nobody would believe the truth of who he was anyway. Wraith was the first one to have an actual secret identity (if they’re remembering right). They think she’s the first one who’s actively hiding who they are (although at first her reason is that she needed to be something that even the shadows are afraid of, and that’s less likely if you know that The Wraith is just some college student). Others with secret identities: Captain Cosmic, Setback, Harpy, Expatriette maybe on a technicality, Argent Adept keeps his lives separate enough that nobody really knows who he is, Benchmark (in that RevoCorp knows who he is, but the public may not until the Paradigms era), the Southwest Sentinels and Daybreak are all secret, Guise (although he doesn’t really use his civilian identity). Fanatic doesn’t have an identity. Chrono-Ranger doesn’t either, but people know that Time-Slinger is Jim Brooks. K.N.Y.F.E. is another one where her identity is pretty much irrelevant - and not many members of the general public are even aware of her as a hero in the first place. Parse has a secret identity in that nobody who knows her in her day-to-day would ever believe that she would do the things that Parse does (in any era of Parse stories). Ansel G. Moreau definitely has a secret identity. Really what they’re saying here is that more heroes than you think have “secret identities” but largely because the reasons they might count as secret don’t necessarily map to the reasons that real-life comics characters had them historically. Characters like Legacy and Tachyon who are some of the big names but also have public identities set the tone so it’s less of a big deal in aggregate.
- Christopher thinks that #29 is the one to do and that it should be clear that it’s kicking off a big arc. The last issue ended with them dying, so we should just jump right in showcasing the heroes in the Egyptian Underworld. Maybe even some copy that straight up says where they are. Looking up 2013 covers, any text is going to be rather pithy. Maybe something like “Sealed in the Egyptian Underworld?”, but “Egyptian Underworld” is just such a long phrase. Maybe just “Sealed in the Underworld?” and the art makes it clear that we’re dealing with Egypt stuff. Maybe use an “Egyptian” typeface for “Underworld” as well. We could also just have the team fighting the mummy sphinxes. It gives something away, but something that’s 100% fine to give away on the cover.