The Letters Page: Episode 270
Writers' Room: Freedom Five #513
All new, all different, all... what?!
Run Time: 1:18:11
An alternate Freedom Five line-up, in the 90s? Gotta be a blatant but misguided marketing stunt, right? Correct. We get into it! And tell some strange stories! And cover a number of issues! And even answer questions!
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- So, the only real homework they’ve done for this is that they’ve each independently thought about it and looked at the timeline for where it could fit.
- The first question is “why is this happening in the Metaverse?” Short-term sales boost/marketing stunt seems likely. Adam’s imagining something in the early-to-mid ’90s as a follow-up to the Vengeance event. Christopher’s look into the timeline shows that things are pretty well filled in in the immediate aftermath up until Freedom Tower is completed. There’s a chunk of time after that where it could fit - early-to-mid 1993. There’s enough room there for an arc of up to 4 or 5 issues and can culminate in Freedom Five Annual #14 in June of 1993 [oooo, one of the few issues I didn’t have a firm date for yet!] and we can make that the new lineup alongside the old lineup (well, maybe we start with them running into one another and fighting, but then discovering their reasons for fighting are spurious and then they work together). Maybe the reason for the new team is that the old team is “lost in space” or otherwise missing and presumed dead, so when they show up again it’s assumed to be fakes or something.
- Let’s see… Vengeance wrapped up in May ’92. Freedom Five #506 the next month was a “debrief” issue where we first see the plans for Freedom Tower, then there’s the plot where Vyktor kidnaps Dana Bertrand, the next issue is the rescue plan/wedding. Then we get to Freedom Tower itself and meet Don Vickers (the head of security). That’s the stuff going on in his batch of issues. Let’s put this arc starting in January 1993.
- Adam likes the idea of doing a blind open with the new team. We just start there and then have to have a flashback or exposition explaining that the old team is missing. We can have the previous, December issue be a holiday story thing (probably from Inventory and unrelated to events on either side) and then in January we just open the story with them gone and Jefferson Knight is trying to build a new team. Is he on the team? Like, having him step into the leader role somehow could be the move.
- How many of them are new characters altogether? Neither of them think that any of them are new characters given that this is a sales boost thing. Other than giving Jefferson Knight a hero name, these are all going to be established heroes. What can Jefferson be? Maybe give him some gauntlets that give him armor and a hard-light sword constructs and we call him Freedom Knight (y’know, because his name is Knight and he’s leading the Freedom Five). It’s uninspired, but does the thing (Adam also throws out “Sir Freedom” but Christopher actively recoils from that - Freedom Knight isn’t a good name, but Sir Freedom is a bad name).
- Who are the other four? Probably “the four other most popular characters who would boost sales.” So… NightMist for sure given how her book is going at the time (although this is during her “depowered” phase). Ra? Backdraft starts up in July 1994, so that’s an indication that he’s hot [ha!] right now. Chrono-Ranger? That’s fun, but man… Okay, Christopher can make a case for it (although Adam then brings up that you’re going to kind of be forcing things for everybody in this story in terms of justifying it). The Prime Wardens are all out given that they have a book already and putting them on another team is pushing things, even under the gimmick that we’re already committed to here. Dark Watch doesn’t exist yet, so NightMist is okay, but we can’t do Fanatic here because of the other team.
- Who has had a boost recently due to Disparation stuff? Man, more stuff pointing to NightMist. Naturalist is kind of doing stuff here and we’re a few years out from him taking over Tome of the Bizarre. Having this be a catalyst for both that and the Backdraft thing is fun. Adam thinks that Naturalist is a case where finally being given a headlining position in a book is what makes him popular rather than it being a “reward” for being popular. Adam is a bit iffy on Ra as well, but Christopher has stronger feelings on keeping him.
- Not Parse. She’s around, but in a transitional period so it would be weird.
- Setback is around, but they don’t think of him for this one.
- Visionary could be, although we already know that she’s doing dark stuff by this point. Her solo book already got cancelled and we’re a few years out from the Science & Progress one-shot where we learn about her being no foolin’ Evil. Her popularity would be on the back foot at this point.
- Do we put any villains on the list? No, probably not.
- Probably not Mr. Fixer or… hmm… Expatriette? Nah, she’s still too “gun stuff” and they like having Chrono-Ranger as the kind of ridiculous pick and as the wildcard, so doubling up on gun people is weird. Ha! It would be fun if Jefferson Knight is putting together a Freedom Four, but then Chrono-Ranger just shows up and pulls an Absolute Zero to join the team. It’s silly to have that particular character stick around for any length of time, which is why it works for this dumb stunt. Christopher is kind of iffy on him being there, though, and feels that Naturalist might be better than Jim for this (Adam points out that while it’s 6 or 7 issues, it’s still just one story so having Jim stick around isn’t too bad).
- Alpha? She’s around. Next year she’ll have a team-up with NightMist and she has her own solo book, so she’s a known entity. Not a horrible choice.
- They can’t use Unity as that undercuts the whole “always just the intern” thing. She might either also be missing with the rest of the Freedom Five or she’s around and even more mad at Jefferson Knight for not picking her.
- Sky-Scraper is around, but Christopher doesn’t think she fits the “goal” of the book.
- What else do we have going on? Mystery Comics has a Wraith story, Justice Comics has a Bunker story, one presumes there’s a Legacy story in America’s Finest Legacy, but we can say that the FF issue came out late that month and so those stories happen prior to it. Something that’s pretty funny is that this is the same month as the Disparation issue featuring the Ashen Heir-led alternate Freedom Five - that doubles up on “NightMist” themes, but she’s popular enough that they can do it.
- Who do we have? Freedom Knight, NightMist, and Ra. We’re maybe on Chrono-Ranger if we can’t find something better. He, Visionary, and Sky-Scraper might be the only real options. Sky-Scraper is just so minor… but maybe we use this to push her a bit to try to make her more popular. Scholar is a worse option. That idea of Jefferson making a Freedom Four with himself, Ra, NightMist, and Sky-Scraper and then Chrono-Ranger shows up during their first “mission” and just sticks around for it can work. He’s planned from the beginning, though, so he’s obviously included in the marketing.
- Alright, into the actual story. The Freedom Five are missing and Jefferson Knight knows that if a big deal is made of it that villains will come out of the woodwork to capitalize on the team’s absence, so he works quickly to get a replacement team in place. He puts together the Freedom Four and now we need a villain for them to face. Who’s the first villain in Megalopolis to notice that the Freedom Five are missing but that Chrono-Ranger could also show up for? Eh. This doesn’t have to be well-written because none of this is. He could show up to stop the Adhesivist and that would be fine since it doesn’t have to match his normal m.o., it’s just an excuse to get him here. You know what? Citizen Dawn isn’t bad because you want this to be a high-profile thing to showcase the new team. They’re not going to get into details today, but we know at least that she’s involved in the plot of the overall arc (although that’s a red herring - the real problem is whoever time/reality/whatever displaced the regular Freedom Five, causing their absence but in a way that they themselves didn’t realize that they were gone). We need a jobber for this week.
- They could do Glamour for today’s issue. She’s capable of being a full-team foe for an issue. We could also go smaller into real jobber territory with Labyrinth or Crossword. Let’s just do Glamour. She’s somebody who doesn’t seem out of place in this position, but is also capable of being the mastermind behind the whole thing that shows up again in the Annual issue in a few months. She’s also a reasonable person to be the first to “discover” that the Freedom Five are missing even if she weren’t involved.
- Okay, so Jefferson Knight gets his gauntlets to become Freedom Knight and puts together the team. Glamour discovers the Freedom Five are missing and does a thing. The team fights her and her goons and Chrono-Ranger shows up to save the day (undoing some of her illusions, not shooting people). It seems like kind of a nothing issue, other than we’re casually saying that the Freedom Five are gone.
- So, we can have the Citizen Dawn thing overall, but this stunt should probably also be a kind of “greatest hits” thing. We can have a Fright Train and Ermine thing. Man, but so many of these people are in jail after Vengeance… Maybe a thing Glamour does in the first issue is release a bunch of them? Or, because we’re talking about Glamour, maybe they’re not really there in the first place. Or maybe an early story for the new team is a Skeleton Key thing and he’s the one who frees other “you can put these villains in jail” guys who were rounded up during Vengeance. This could also be the story where Skeleton Key dies (since we know that he’s later brought back by Zhu Long). Hmm…
- Okay, so #513 is the Glamour thing as stated. The next two issues are “on the trail of Skeleton Key as he frees a bunch of jerks, but it’s hard to catch him since the heroes have to deal with said jerks.” Issues #516-517 are Citizen Dawn things, but a red-herring in terms of her being involved in the overall plot. Issue #518 culminates in the real team coming back. It might be Glamour’s doing… Not Biomancer, Kismet, Blood Countess Bathory, or Chairman. Having it be Glamour works. Let’s say that the final showdown is where Glamour can be the most Glamour possible - they’re at Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums and Curiosities.
- This whole thing is a dumb stunt that doesn’t really land. Unfortunately, as a dumb stunt they do the full speculator market approach with a ton of alternate covers with foil and whatnot. It’s terrible. It’s got one of the worst most-collected/ least-read ratios for a story they’ve done. They even put A-list talent on the book, but even they are phoning it in here while operating under editorial mandate and the “stuntness” of it is just painfully transparent.
- Is there any particular reason for Sentinel Comics to have such static team rosters over such long time periods? The basic reason is “because Sentinels of the Multiverse supports 3-5 hero teams.” The Metaverse reason they’ve come up with is that the most popular comic book company in that reality chose to build hero teams as “families” so you don’t see as many substitutions as you see in other comics publishers. You get a lot of allies who work with them regularly or for a specific time (Ra with Prime Wardens, Alpha with Dark Watch, Unity with Freedom Five, etc.), but the teams are set. Other publishers in the Metaverse didn’t necessarily follow suit. Sentinel is a more top-down editorial structure/culture than we might be used to - that lets them pull off big payoffs more often due to that tight editorial control, although at the expense of some of the more out-there stuff that people with less oversight might invent. That changes over time, of course (there was that one time in the early ’90s where they tried a different Freedom Five line up, after all - see how that went).
- Are there other more short-lived team books that only run for a year or so before quietly being dropped and forgotten (except by people trying to show their street cred)? There was Fahrenheit-X… It helps that they have less character-specific books like Mystery Comics, Justice Comics, or Tome of the Bizarre where they could have an impromptu team form around a specific plot without needing to formalize anything.
- Have there been any situations where a single character was on multiple teams at once? Not really - this was the closest we get to that given the number of members of this team that were also in individual books at the time. You can explain it, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense. It’s better than being on multiple teams at once, but only slightly.
- Have there been any notable additions to any of the teams, even if they didn’t work out and they left again shortly thereafter (although maybe not before Unity slashed the new guy’s tires in a fit of jealousy)? No - we don’t see Ra or Visionary join the Prime Wardens. They just work with the team occasionally. You get a lot of readers who basically consider Alpha to be a member of Dark Watch, but then you get the “well, technically she isn’t” crowd chiming in. They could see Unity getting a probationary membership for a story, but she gets injured or something and so goes back to being an intern.
- The team has Felicia since Legacy has such importance to the team, so having her around fills that "slot"? They considered it, but thought better to avoid that since this is supposed to be a real new lineup and having her there seems like cheating - putting Jefferson Knight there is kind of the “continuity” choice.
- Haka would be fun since he was in the original Freedom Five lineup - maybe put Arataki on the team if we’re post-OblivAeon for today? Arataki could have been interesting for that reason, but she’s already on the Prime Wardens (which she’s on for the same, but stronger, reasons).
- My gut tells me Unity, Visionary, and Ra for the rest? You got one! It’s going to be hard for people to guess where they went with it since where they went with it is “cynical cash grab set in 1993.” There are probably some apologists for this story, though. Likely people who read it when they were teens.
- Why hasn’t an ongoing team of 3 been a thing? It’s hard to have a real team dynamic with just three people. Duos are easier than trios, but in both cases they would get expanded out to 4 or 5 in short order (except for the edge twins who are their own thing). It’s more notable that they didn’t have larger teams. There are things they would do differently if this wasn’t something being retrofitted onto the framework of the card game. The real detriment to their storytelling in terms of verisimilitude is that they really should have a lot more heroes than they actually have and they can’t really add them. They’ve justified that within the Metaverse, but it’s still weird.
- What were the Metaverse reasons for any notable team shake-ups? Because of the stuff they’ve already talked about, it’s much more common for a character to have changes made to them as a character than to have somebody pulled from a team and replaced with somebody else. Reworking Fanatic over time to have her fit into where they needed her to fit for the stories she’s in feels bad at the outset, but Christopher thinks that it actually makes her feel more real in that the character is allowed to change and grow over time, which is what happens to real people. The constraint of having to evolve a character rather than just being able to swap them out for somebody more “acceptable” is a strength of the way they’ve done it, although it might make a retrospective reading of a character’s stories a bit jarring for a modern reader. Something Adam would like to explore is having a team with a very large rotating cast, but that isn’t something that Sentinel Comics in particular is well-suited for.
- So, we don’t see many kid sidekicks in Sentinel Comics, but the Freedom Five seem to get a fair number of hangers-on like Unity, Setback, Tempest, or Sky-Scraper - was the Freedom Five acting as mentors to other characters always an intentional background element to their story (ultimately leading to Freedom Plaza)? Were there any characters that were set up with the Freedom Five like this but didn’t resonate with audiences or make a notable impact on the Multiverse? Yes. The Freedom Five are a team of very strong, very public heroes with a giant audacious building in the middle of a city. There is plenty of room for people to stay with them and learn. Their job is to protect the world, so it makes sense for them to try to increase the number of heroes active to protect the world and to make them the best heroes they can be. The post-OblivAeon situation is such that there is less emphasis put on these 4-5 person teams and more on these extended networks/organizations. It’s possible that there would be more “mentee” characters (to whom they’d add Omnitron-X) who were not around for very long, but they’re not going to make them up now.
- [Letter outro just talks about how Sentinel Comics is appealing because it can make more consistent sense than real comics that don’t know where they’re going.] Yeah, that is a benefit to doing things this way. They can go back and add a thing to 1981 because they know they’ll need it around for something in 1996. They do sometimes “ruin” things intentionally for the bit, though.
- [No question, but: I thought it kind of sweet that Fanatic thinks that her team are good enough that when they all died they’d all get to go to paradise with her - it was a way to showcase just what she thinks of her friends even though she might not say it (even if it’s ultimately just a way to get them into the Underworld for the story).] Thanks! They love observations like this.
- Wait, so Ra and the Ennead aren’t aware of their true origins in what’s now the Underworld? Were the “originals” descendants of Underworld refugees rather than having lived there themselves? What else could explain the gap in their knowledge? All of them were originally like Anubis, from that realm. Were there even any holders of the relics between the original beings and the modern avatars? If there were any such stories we’d have to explain how the relics got back to their original temples or whatnot. The relics were items that belonged to the originals who then were killed and the items absorbed a bunch of their power. Marty Adams becoming Anubis is an example of this happening for the first time at the very least - Marty as Anubis does not have all of the memories of the original, so he’s a good test case for what’s going on. A lot of knowledge and personality impressions come through, but it’s not as if you would remember things as if they happened to you. Being killed likely has a detrimental effect on the memory retention as well.
- Regarding how to make “The Egyptian Underworld” less cumbersome, does Sentinel Comics ever use the term Duat? Would that refer to something else? That term does get used, but they wouldn’t put that on a cover of an issue because the average reader wouldn’t be familiar with the term. You might be able to get away with it in the middle of a run set there, but you’re right that it’s the term that would have been appropriate, they just still wouldn’t have used it if they’d remembered at the time.
- How do the readers find out that Fanatic is responsible for the heroes’ arriving in the Underworld (given that her powers likely aren’t well-understood enough for readers to get it on their own and it seems like the wrong era for exposition via text-box)? The team talked about where they were and in wondering how they got there Fanatic said that she was just thinking about their eternal reward, but then we get a thought bubble where she’s admitting to herself that she was also thinking of Ra. The readers can put it together, but even Fanatic herself isn’t aware of it. The characters don’t really get it sorted out.
- Man, as someone raised Catholic, imagining what Fanatic would believe was an appropriate eternal reward is funny - heaven and hell for Catholics are both rather esoteric and very Catholic-centric: heaven is existing eternally in the presence of God, Jesus, and the angels, and hell is not so much a place as much as it’s just existing eternally separated from God - that’s the reward/punishment. Yeah, so Fanatic was very headstrong about everything early on, but by this point she’s softened a bit due to her having had so many experiences that cast doubt on whether her own opinions and what she thinks heaven would be like are accurate. If early Fanatic died, man, you just created heaven I guess. Oops. She was very Catholic in her early versions but eventually recognizes that she doesn’t know what’s really going on.
- Given Fanatic’s… less than accurate handle (for character, comics-writing/editorial, etc. reasons) on Catholicism, would her vision of heaven look more or less like a more benign Clarity? Man, this is getting into the “who can say?” part of what Fanatic thinks. The creator of Fanatic was probably a devout Catholic and probably doesn’t like the Host explanation. There have just been so many other interpretations of her over the decades that it’s just really hard to say.
- Who exactly knows about Clarity other than Fanatic and NightMist? Scholar, definitely. Darkstrife and Painstake probably do. Argent Adept might not, but Soothsayer Carmichael does. Rambler and GloomWeaver do.
- Who besides Blake Washington has handled the Staff of Ra (besides Fanatic, wink wink, nudge nudge) and what, if anything, does it do for them? It doesn’t work the same way that Mjolnir does. Anybody can pick it up and carry it, but it doesn’t automatically impart the Ra stuff. It’s even possible for somebody who could attune to the Staff and become and avatar of Ra could pick it up without it happening because Blake Washington is already attuned. There could be a story where he’s in a coma or something and so we get a “temporary Ra” who uses it until he recovers or something, though. Or a Silver Age where he loses his powers and some other chump shows up with a “I’m Ra now!” kind of nonsense (but it turns out to be a power-stealing thing so it’s not a canonical second Ra situation).
- [Entertaining letter calling them out for how ridiculous Fanatic transporting the team from Dok'Thorath into the Underworld while both of its guardians (who are both independently quite overpowered themselves) are on duty, but with a more constructively posed question:] Can you provide examples of when the OP nature of Fanatic’s powers caused actual outcry from the readers? We get it. This is an example of a thing they wanted to include. Fanatic rarely does a faith-based thing that is truly staggering but then the implications are brought up by the readers. This is one of those times, but then we just move on. It’s not a weird outlier, but a specific case of the type of ridiculous thing they’ve said Fanatic is capable of. There might be a time when the team was out in space where a planet was falling apart/exploding and she holds it together. There’s almost certainly a time when she’s raised somebody from the dead. The metaphysical implications of that are astounding. But why don’t we see her doing that for everybody? shrug She’s a rough character to handle, honestly, and they very intentionally don’t always have her handled very well. So many different writers are going to have such vastly different takes regarding her. Catholic writers vs. Protestant writers vs. writers who don’t really care about the fine details of faith but just want to have a badass angel lady doing heavy metal stuff. The reason for the Host explanation in general was an attempt to make her even kind of vaguely work. We give her ridiculous external-to-reality power that she only can access through the medium of her faith. Vast power, specific limiter, try to keep her mentally/internally consistent. The way to limit this kind of character is via doubt and after this explanation is established that’s used heavily.
- So I have this right: Anubis understood that the Underworld was the corpse of the realm that they had all come from, but the current avatars of the other members of the Egyptian pantheon didn’t? Right.
- Is Ammit from that realm or from somewhere else? If so, does she know its true nature as well? Yes and yes.
- Does Marty Adams, as Anubis post-OblivAeon know? Hmm… “maybe” to “probably” but from an “as the avatar of Anubis he has an interest in knowledge and may have learned such a thing” rather than directly “because he’s Anubis”. Ammit may have also told him about it - although she has reasons for doing whatever she’s doing.
- Is there anyone outside of the pantheon/Ammit who knows (Zhu Long, Blood Countess Bathory, etc.)? Blood Countess doesn’t. Zhu Long might - the destruction of that realm “predates him considerably” but “that doesn’t mean that he isn’t aware of it and its history.” That’s a maybe in that it’s never stated one way or another, but if anyone did it would be him. There’s just not a lot of means for people to have learned about it in the first place.
- Christopher doesn’t feel that the “main” cover for #513 is a “team reveal” cover (with the team maybe on a variant cover). Adam thinks it is because it’s 100% “trying to sell you this issue” and that’s its only purpose. We’re putting these characters on the cover to sell the comic and who cares why there’s on the team or whatever? Like, if we were doing a cover for the story you’d at least leave Chrono-Ranger off as his appearance is a surprise, but that’s not what the point of this comic is.
- As such: Cool team pose with Megalopolis background? Maybe - with the variants in mind they need to be done in a way such that they can isolate art elements to do the foil stuff or whatnot.
- Do we give them “Freedom Five Costumes”? Hmm… Maybe as a “communications device” excuse, give each of them an FV logo badge to wear.
- Do we have any idea what Jefferson Knight looks like? Adam has some ideas, but we need to make sure that we’re not contradicting stuff that’s been said. A quick perusal of these write-ups didn’t find anything, so go to town. He’s got gauntlets that make an “energy construct” sword and shield for him. Maybe blasts and force fields too. They spitball whether he’s still in a business suit while a hero or if it’s got armor (because Knight) or whether it’s more like “’90s superhero armor” rather than medieval plate or whatever.
- Probably just the one cover unless you want to do FFA #14 with the teams fighting each other.