Podcasts/Episode 271

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The Letters Page: Episode 271
Writers' Room: Cosmic Tales Vol. 2 #16

Cosmic Tales Vol 2 016.png

Original Source

Primary Topic

Intro

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:38:31

Today's topic is "Captain Cosmic and/or Naturalist Story Where Neither Are Responsible For The Relevant Problem And Both Contribute Positively To Its Satisfying Resolution And Neither Are Tricked By Anyone In The Process"... and we feel called out. However! We do our best to present at least one of those two daring do-gooders in a purely positive light!

In the process of storytelling, Christopher draws some things on his whiteboard to illustrate a point to Adam. Here are photos of those drawings!

First: [[1]]

Veneer's plan: [[2]]

The ultimate outcome (SPOILERS!): [[3]]

Those pictures are likely worth far less than the going rate of 1000 words.

Next Tuesday is the first Tuesday of 2024, and is thus our traditional "break", but we'll be back the week after that with episode #272, all about Stuntman AND Night Snake! Get your questions in now!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • The topic, as suggested and voted in was “Captain Cosmic and/or Naturalist Story Where Neither Are Responsible For The Relevant Problem And Both Contribute Positively To Its Satisfying Resolution And Neither Are Tricked By Anyone In The Process”. They have not done any preliminary work on this. Are they doing Captain Cosmic, Naturalist, or both? Adam’s initial impulse is for them to have a story with an unambiguously Evil villain. That’s the easiest way to avoid the trap that is why the topic is worded the way it’s worded. Christopher also thinks that having them both in a story is very difficult since the main way to wind up in a story with both of the named heroes involved is because you’re playing that weakness off against each other (not that they’d be opposed to one another, but just that you’d have their similar weaknesses balance against one another). They’re thinking some Silver Age or possibly early Bronze Age story.
    • This gets into some discussion about the various Ages of comics and how/when Sentinel Comics Ages started. The Silver Age started in the Metaverse with Freedom Four #88 in August 1957. The Iron/Dark Age also started earlier with the start of the second volume of Mystery Comics in May 1980. What’s the inciting incident for the Bronze Age? In reality there’s not a single event [like with the establishment of the Barry Allen version of the Flash in Showcase #4 in 1956 to kick off the Silver Age]. Let’s say Moonfall as where things are generally agreed to be the demarcation point, so the Bronze Age starts in the Metaverse in April 1968, a few years earlier than in reality (a nebulous “early ’70s”). The Iron/Dark Age likely lasts at least through Vengeance, possibly into the early 2000s, but we digress.
  • Given the intersection of “Captain Cosmic or Naturalist” and “Silver or Bronze Age”, that actually limits things pretty handily. The Bronze Age starts in ’68 and ends in ’80. Hugh Lowsley first appears in 1970 but Naturalist doesn’t show up until 1990. As such, we’re probably looking at an issue from Cosmic Tales involving Captain Cosmic sometime in the ’70s - likely in the first few years of the character’s existence where we have a fairly straightforward “hero stops a bad guy” plot.
  • Any villains they already have that could work for this or do they want to make a new one up? Let’s go with the latter, but rather than play out what is quite possibly a protracted character creation process, let’s just pause recording and figure out the guy’s name and deal before coming back. That done, let’s get into it.
  • What they decided on was a villain doing space stuff. He’s in a system with a lot of planets, several of which have sapient life on them and have begun to interact with one another. This one guy on one of the planets has a lot of power and is racist (speciesist?) - he hates the people from those other planets and thinks the people on his planet are the best. If those planets were more like my planet those people would likely die, but then there’s more room for my people. It’s at this point the audience has a collective “This guy sucks!” response, which is the point. Captain Cosmic can see this guy and say “Well, this seems pretty cut and dry.” If a modern reader had gone back to this issue and saw that line they’d think “Oh, no! He’s missing something!” but they’d be wrong this time.
  • So, having come up with that, they went looking for anything that they’d already invented that could fit this. Sure enough, they came up with the Darzon system way back in episode 143 for a story in the March 2015 issue of Cosmic Tales (#541) where they had Unity and Omnitron-U fight a Scion of OblivAeon named Sever. Today’s issue is therefore the first appearance of the Darzon system in comics. The planet/city called Mosaic hasn’t happened yet, but in that story the system had 13 planets and many of them had their own kinds of sapient life. Today’s story involves some jerk on the planet nearest the star Darzon and he thinks that Darzon-1 is obviously the best.
  • Since it’s the planet closest to the sun, let’s say it’s heavily desert/lava and that the people are crystalline. We have another crystalline villain, Shredd (a Sky-Scraper foe) - is he from here too? He’s only got crystalline parts, but Christopher was thinking fully-crystalline guys (Crystal-folk) here. Shredd was “infected” to be like that after being trapped somewhere, so he’s not from here. Additionally, given they already know the name for this guy, when you think “crystal” here, think smooth and perfect rather than angular/pointy. They’re a beautiful people.
  • See the images in the show notes, but it’s at this point that Christopher describes the plan. Initially there are the 13 planets out in their separate orbits around the star Darzon. The villain’s plan is to just put all of them into a ring - sharing Darzon-1’s orbit around the star.
  • Anyway, let’s just talk about this jerk. His name is Veneer. He wants everything to be perfect (for his particular vision of what perfection entails, to whit desert planets with beautiful crystal people on them). His planet seems like it’s just built up out of sand. Sun-baked sandy ground. Buildings made of sandstone. Even people who appear to be made of glass.
  • The first thing Adam thinks of is that in order for Captain Cosmic to become aware of this jerk, he probably has to succeed with one planet. Spoilers, I guess, but Christopher suggests that this system originally had 15 planets. Don’t worry about it.
  • Things Christopher wants to establish before we jump into “telling the story” mode. What are this guy’s powers? How is he moving the planets? A thought for a power is that, given that he’s made of crystal, maybe he can refract light through himself in a controlled manner. He can blind you with a blast of light, shoot lasers, etc. Can all the people from this planet do so? Adam starts with the idea that this guy is more clear and perfect than usual, but Christopher had exactly the opposite idea. He’s naturally less perfect and beautiful than is normal for his people. He has to work to make himself so and undergoes an experimental procedure to make himself better (which is unnecessary - he was fine and the only person who had a problem with his “flaws” was himself), but as a result he’s basically turned himself into a lens. That’s fun in that it gives us an explanation for his own powers, but also his mental hangups that cause him to pursue the villainous plot. He’s made himself perfect, why not the rest of the planets too?
  • It’s fun to have a “science-powered” villain who’s also an alien. Sure, he’s a weird crystal alien man, but the reason he has powers is your run-of-the-mill “I experimented on myself and now I have powers” origin. How does he use his powers to move planets around? He doesn’t. He probably builds up a cult of personality - look at how beautiful he is now! He can perform a similar procedure on you to give you a lesser version of his own perfection (he could make them as perfect as him and so get the full suite of powers, but he saves that for himself). So, he’s got soldiers from those people. Having arrived here, there are probably a bunch of different expressions of the “crystal people” archetype on the planet and some of them likely were jaggedy. This smooth, lens-like vibe is his gimmick and “his people” get a bunch of space ships or whatever and they go out to drag planets around.
  • We can start out with him doing a dictator-style speech in front of a podium or whatever, addressing the assembled crowds of crystal people while the first stage of his plan is completed. The first of the other planets is being brought into its new orbit. This way we get some handy exposition about the plan and his motivation front-loaded and also see that he’s actually capable of doing the plan at all.
  • As part of that we probably see some “plant people” or whoever was on the moved planet burning up or something - showing the devastation that is being caused by this jerk. We can also show some of these people as refugees on other planets later. Other planets aren’t necessarily inhospitable for them, but it’s still not their home.
  • With that stage set, we catch up with Captain Cosmic. There’s some space security force that he’s been hanging out with or something and they get a notification that something bad’s going down in the Darzon system. Let’s actually give him something heroic to do - when we make the transition he’s in the middle of doing something like patching up a dam that was going to break and kill a bunch of people. But he’s a hero and has managed to save them instead. Huzzah! Then we hear about Darzon and he tags along to help. They run into the Darzon-1 ships and the peacekeeping force is taken out. Captain Cosmic manages to save one of the pilots and they land on Darzon-1.
  • Captain Cosmic from there learns about Veneer and the plot and goes off to fight some crystal jerks and stop them. He fights some, eventually there are too many laser lens guys attacking for him to be able to shield himself from all of them and he’s captured. He’s thrown into some crystalline prison where he meets both some dissenting crystal people and aliens from other planets in the Darzon system. Why doesn’t he just have all of them eliminated? These weren’t captured by Veneer, but by his lieutenants and they have just captured these troublemakers until Veneer can tell them what to do. Like, he’s probably just going to kill them all, but let’s not be too hasty. Well, more that he recognizes that his followers aren’t as ruthless as he is and they don’t want the policy to be “just kill everyone” and he can tell that they think this and so just lets that dictate the policy.
  • Anyway, it’s in this prison that he learns more of the specifics of Veneer and his plan from the other prisoners (and a jaggedy, asymmetrical Darzon-1ian explains that the others that CC has encountered have gone through “the process” and everything). Like, the prisoners are able to give a lot of background explanation and how they know everything about Veneer (like who he was before, etc.) is never explained. At least one of the Darzon-1ians dislikes Captain Cosmic because he’s an “Earthling” and he’s got a lot to say about how terrible we are (poisoning our sky, etc.) - this is also unexplained, although it tells you a bit about the type of writer we’re dealing with. Just no subtlety at all.
  • Captain Cosmic’s plan is to use his powers to fake one of his fellow prisoners “naturally” starting to become lens-like without going through The Process. When the dumbfounded guards come in to see, the prisoners jump them and manage to escape and they all head off to try to do something about Veneer.
  • They arrive at his “citadel” or whatever. The baddies are in the process of carefully placing the next planet they’ve brought in - it’s tricky, to get the orbit to work they have to be very careful with placement. Spoiler: Christopher’s plan and why there are 15 planets to begin with is that by the end here two of these planets are going to collide and become an asteroid field, leaving the previously-established 13 planet system (Christopher’s imagining that planets 1 and 5 are the ones that get destroyed). We get enough refugees that make it away that the relevant people are still represented in the system generally. It’s also handy that Captain Cosmic doesn’t have to kill Veneer - he can just be standing on top of his citadel as another planet lands on him.
  • A quirk of this fight is that Captain Cosmic’s powers are of limited utility against Veneer. He can block attacks, but his own powers are largely ineffective against Veneer whose body just refracts the light of Captain Cosmic’s powers, allowing him to redirect attacks back at CC or at bystanders. Not just “light blasts”, but even hitting him with a construct the light it’s made of will just be taken in and repurposed. As such, Captain Cosmic winds up having to be clever and make more use of the environment than usual. Let’s say that the first time he tries something and Veneer focuses and sends the blast back at him the crystal guy who didn’t like Earthlings dives in the way to save Captain Cosmic and, gravely injured, implores the hero to stop Veneer.
  • In any event, the fight with Captain Cosmic is proving enough of a distraction that the careful planetary alignment process has been disturbed. Things are starting to crash, gravity is getting weird enough that we get a lot of floating rocks and whatnot. Captain Cosmic appeals to Veneer - if we move now, you and I can get everybody to safety. Veneer rejects this, choosing his citadel monologue right up to the end. Captain Cosmic still manages to get a ton of people out (both normal and polished Darzon-1ians), but there’s still significant loss of life (due to what Veneer had already put into motion by the time our hero arrived). Does Veneer die? I dunno. Probably? Comic book characters have certainly survived “exploding planets” before.
  • The way things shake out - the newly-numbered Darzon17 is one that can sustain life, but didn’t have a society on it already. Most of the refugees wind up there to set up shop. The old Darzon-1 was largely crystalline in nature so the resulting asteroid field does a fun prism effect for the sunlight for the rest of the system and we get neat rainbow patterns all over which comes to exemplify the harmony of different cultures and people as we later get the setup in the Unity/Omnitron-X story told years ago.
  • Captain Cosmic flies off and does some introspection about how “if only he could have not been such a racist and seen value in others” (just with more long-winded comic book writing). Y’know, still very unsubtle messaging.
  • One last thing Christopher wants to happen is that during the final fight with Veneer, they have the “take my hand”/“let’s go save everybody together” moment which Veneer rejects to keep fighting and then at some point before going to save people CC manages to hit him in the face with a rock. So, this “perfect” beautiful figure is now cracked, like a damaged smartphone screen (although that comparison wouldn’t have been apt at the time).

Questions

  • Does the prompt for this episode leave open a topic in which the named heroes accidentally cause a number of severe and irrelevant problems for themselves in the course of solving the matter at hand? Does tricking themselves count as “anyone”? Well, that “causing problems for themselves” is kind of exactly the way that CC and Naturalist stories go and is the reason for the prompt today to be worded the way it is. Over the course of a story they cause problems for themselves while solving the general problem. It wasn’t intended, really, that they shared a flaw like this, it just turned out that they were both “Success with a Major Twist” all the time. Constantly using Red Zone abilities while in Green. Using Qualities they don’t have so they have to default to a d4. You know, that last one really is the kind of thing they both do. For the latter question, yes.
  • How often do Captain Cosmic and Naturalist even interact (given the and/or option in the prompt)? Are there any major stories where they do? Do they get along? There are not a lot. There’s a thing where Naturalist winds up on Dok'Thorath and fights Infinitor that seems like Captain Cosmic would be there for. A story specifically where the two of them are the headliners rather than them simply both being around for something seems less likely. A thing where CC guest-stars in a story from Naturalist’s era headlining TotB is the most likely place for that to happen. They probably get along fine. The issue both of them would have is that they’re both the guys who take charge and make the plan for how to fix whatever’s going on so you might end up with a bit of ego clashing there. This is also them making their own problems as usual, though. If they were to just do what the other proposes it would work. They’re both right about what the other person should do. It’s self-reflection they’re bad at.
  • When thinking about Grimm interacting with other villains and comparisons to Wager Master’s usual shenanigans actually being fairly similar it occurred to me that a story where the latter did this by interfering in a Glamour plot which then came up again in… Tome of the Bizarre Vol. 4 #50! Did Grimm narrate the “forbidden love” story? Was this part of the lead-up to the event or was it a random, non-Grimm issue? Is Grimm powerful enough to mess with Wager Master and was this story a hint to the readers that something big was going to go down soon? Was Grimm a character in the story as he is wont to do? In this period, every issue was at least introduced by Grimm - not necessarily narrated by him throughout (there are narration captions throughout the story, but they’re not specifically written to make it obvious it’s Grimm “speaking”). This issue would have had the page at the beginning and probably a coda with Grimm doing his thing. So, this story happens and involves a Singular Entity, but does it represent a case where Grimm is “messing with” Wager Master? It’s left ambiguous (or, well, maybe “ambiguous” is even too far - it is a question that’s not brought up in the story itself). There are a number of stories in this era where we still get the “recap page” introduction and maybe another page as a coda, but which it’s not explicit that it’s part of whatever Grimm’s up to or whether Grimm is doing anything other than telling the story.
  • What about issue #55, Alpha vs. Lord Wolfhunt? Was the mama bear that Alpha encountered before Wolfhunt showed up Grimm? Was he in that story at all? At the very least, Grimm wasn’t there in his “winking at the readers so that they know he’s the bear” capacity. Beyond that we don’t know that he wasn’t the bear. To continue the above answer, there’s an attitude that “all of these stories are told for a reason…” but in reality they’re not. It’s a grab-bag comic title and not everything in there is part of the Grimm arc.
  • You mentioned something along the lines of Rambler being a good nemesis for Grimm given that he was a real guy who became a living legend - what would Grimm’s opinions be on somebody else who fits that description: Blood Countess Bathory? Has Grimm ever forced her into some role - possibly Dracula?!? She has not been forced into a Dracula role, but it’s likely that at least one of the various Dracula plots was Grimm messing with her. Yeah. Let’s say that that happened. She’s interesting to Grimm since she controls so much of the arc of her own story. That’s, like, prime target material for him to work with.
  • Just who was the being that Grimm made a deal with that caused him to be the Grimm we know? A Singular Entity? Is he a Scion? They don’t think it’s ever explained. From a modern comics perspective we’d probably assume that it was a relevant Singular Entity (stories, lies, truths, etc. - lots of options), but it’s never spelled out.
  • [Another question that starts off like the last one, but adding to it with…] Who would think that “cursing” this guy with reality-breaking powers was a good idea? Around what era would the guy who became Grimm have been from? He’d say that he was around from time immemorial, but when is he really from? He’s younger than GloomWeaver. Probably much younger. Christopher suggests that Grimm probably can’t have existed before books - and not just writing/scrolls; the actual codex design, if not printed books themselves. They land in the vague “early 1500s” as the ballpark estimate.
  • [Along those same lines, given he’s given lots of power by some other entity and that in 2014 he’s out to destroy reality] Is he a Scion of OblivAeon? No.
  • [If yes - yadda yadda] If no, was it some other Singular Entity? It’s possible that it was another Singular Entity, but the details never come up. Adam points out that Grimm is actually probably more powerful than most other Scions. Like, looking at the scale of what he’s doing, other Scions aren’t doing that. He doesn’t do much with his power, and the way he uses it is not all that ambitious. It’s a very specific power and is bound by very weird rules, but is still immensely powerful.
  • “Writing Visionary out of the story” sounds an awful lot like dropping her outside of reality like has happened to various other characters who are typically trapped in that nowhere/nowhen unless retrieved by some other powerful being, like the Terminarch - was dropping Visionary out there for 6 months a justification for Bugbear’s presence in Cosmic Contest? They did not specifically do that. It’s a delightful theory, though.
  • Who all, in your opinion, counts as one of the Magic Bros.? What kinds of Villains do they fight? Were any Villains temporary Magic Bros. to deal with some greater threat? Is Scholar’s houseboat their unofficial hang-out? Anybody who can actively do magic counts as a Magic Bro. The reason they’re not a team is that if you’re in a situation where they’re all in one place things become “too easy”. You have to have a threat like Grimm to justify having them in one place. They tend to fight Villains who are either very magical, or very “anti-magical”. The houseboat is not their hang-out because there’s not enough room. There’s barely enough room for the Scholar - it’s full of junk.
  • Would “Magic Bros. vs. General Geist” be a suitable topic for voting? They don’t think so. For real though, Magic Bros. is not a thing. It’s an emergent phenonmenon that happens when more than 2 magic users are hanging out. NightMist and Harpy hanging out isn’t Magic Bros. It’s a running joke in the Metaverse and apparently the Meta-Metaverse.
  • You mentioned the Pied Piper recently - as an alliteratively-named magician whose name refers to his clothes and his instrument, is he a Virtuoso of the Void? If not, does this weird coincidence ever mentioned on-panel? They don’t think canonically, but somebody probably floated it as a theory at some point. Oh! Argent Adept is talking to Diamond Diva at some point and is naming off Virtuosos and includes the Pied Piper - she says no and Anthony gives the above rationale. [Note that this is the third time that they’ve been asked this question. See Editor’s Notes 49 and 53 for the full variety of answers in addition to episode 268 about the Grimm version of things.]
  • When you talked about Scholar of the Infinite looking through the void to see things about Grimm, etc. is that the Void or just some other void? They try not to use “void” lazily anymore. Regardless, Scholar of the Infinite is connected to the Void - that’s a whole thing.
  • Was the Scholar of the Infinite story tied in with the Void (I don’t remember)? How does the Void have anything to do with Grimm? The Scholar of the Infinite bio, when written for the Villains of the Multiverse preorder a decade ago mentions that he’s now acting as a gateway between reality and the infinite void. Now, that was typed up with the lower-case v, but was intended to be the Void [plus, in the comic-book font that most of us are probably most familiar with seeing the bio written in, it’s all-caps anyway]. Being able to look through the Void outside of reality doesn’t really let him see how Grimm works, but does let him see what Grimm is up to. He’s not “seeing” so much with his eyes as perceiving through the ley lines, out into the Void, and from there out into Ur-Space outside of reality and so can get a better handle on what Grimm’s plan is doing. [They don’t spell it out here, but if that’s where he’s “looking” that means he can look back in time too, which is presumably how he learns Grimm’s true name.] Adam: Boy, Scholar of the Infinite existing is really bad. It’s not something that should go on for very long. Christopher: Don’t worry, that’s solved easily.
  • Is the whole Green Knight thing you mentioned Grimm being involved with tied into the Arthurian story? Yes.
  • With the ending of Grimm’s Multiverse arc being complete, are there more stories that cover similar ground? Like, heroes being stuck in a book or a tv show kinds of things or does the mere presence of Grimm kind of render such stories redundant? The answer has to be yes - there’s almost certainly a “stuck in a tv show” or similar story out there. It doesn’t happen a lot and they don’t have an example in mind offhand, but they happen. Grimm’s stories aren’t omnipresent either. There are fewer of them than a lot of villains.
  • Is there any flashback episode (possibly during the Ennead arc) where the readers are clued into the true origins of the Egyptian pantheon/underworld, even if most characters remain in the dark? There has to be, because the readers know what we do. That has to have been communicated in such a way that the readers learn it but the characters don’t. That sounds like the sort of thing that a ’90s one-shot would have covered.
  • You posited a story in which Omnitron-X tries to figure out human religion - would Fanatic be a character he specifically seeks out in that story? Would her answer include “I once tried out a bunch of religions and don’t want to talk about it anymore and so don’t recommend it”? Nobody acknowledges that Fanatic story. Once it’s done, within minutes, it’s memory-holed and is never brought up in canon ever again. If Omnitron-X did go to Fanatic on this sort of question her position is that she’s only ever been “incredibly Catholic” (in a very hand-wavy and not at all by-the-book way).
  • We know that Guise is a ridiculous person and so him of all people being given the Philosopher Stone is likely a relief to a few villains, but in the recent Draculas episode we see that for all his faults, Guise isn’t stupid - he’s able to figure things out that given his demeanor you might think would be beyond him; should the villains that feared the Scholar also fear Guise? Yeah, probably. They should. Scholar is more dedicated as far as doing things and making things work. Guise’s power is a threat to them and if Guise knew what they were up to and was trying to follow in John Rhodes’ footsteps yeah - the villains who rightfully feared the Scholar should definitely fear Guise. A lot of Guise’s story is villains (heroes, writers, artists) underestimating him. But you’re right - he’s not stupid and in the RPG era he’s growing more mature.
  • Now that the Hydro-Force have been seen in all their glory, I have a question about Silver Siren Argent Adept: has there ever been a version of Anthony for whom whistling has been his “instrument” (or has he utilized that technique in his main version)? They are positive that he has whistled to do magic at some point. His main “power” for the card game is Vocalize - he uses his voice as his instrument regularly. There’s probably some villain who’s restrained his hands to prevent him from using instruments and also done something to his voice so he can’t sing and that’s how he gets out.
  • [In Editor’s Note 74 Adam mentioned that the week between Christmas and New Years Eve was the most boring week of the year - excuse me?! Oh you poor non-Canadians who miss out on all of the Boxing Day (or week) sales. Even leaving aside that maple-flavored consumerism, it’s a glorious week of guilt-free time. No work. No commitments that you haven’t specifically chosen. It’s a great time of year.] Why it’s boring is because everyone’s busy. He’d like to do stuff with friends but they’ve all got family in town or whatever. It’s a week of sitting on your hands waiting for your friends to be free to do stuff. At least that’s Adam’s lived experience. Christopher likes it because it’s a quiet week when people have other things going on. Adam does fondly remember always getting Barnes & Nobel gift cards from his uncle for Christmas and so there was a yearly tradition of going to the book store on the day after Christmas. That was fun. Just going to the bookstore in general was fun. He’d usually buy one of the Marvel “Essentials” books - black and white reprints of old comics. You’d get a huge book of a ton of comics due to the cheaper reproduction for like $20.

Cover Discussion

  • A few letters ago they realized that they didn’t actually place this issue in the timeline. They chose Cosmic Tales Volume 2 in the early ’70s, but let’s pick the actual issue. They choose #16 in June 1971. That’s now the first appearance of both Veneer and the Darzon system.
  • So, this is probably very much a “what you see on the tin” kind of cover. We can have Captain Cosmic facing off with Veneer who’s shouting something at him. He can be in front of a big machine and we see a diagram of the various planets on a screen.
  • So other than the already-discussed “crystalline”, “beautiful”, and “inhuman” tags for Veneer, do we have any other notes on what to do for his appearance? Costume notes? Off the top of his head, Christopher doesn’t think he has much of a “costume” (or as little as Comics Code rules will allow) since seeing the light of him is part of his whole gimmick. Maybe pants and some kind of diagonal suspender or something. Just enough to give some visual interest that breaks up the diamond-like appearance.