The Letters Page: Episode 273
Writers' Room: Arcane Tales Vol. 2 #613
A tale, told swiftly, but told well! (At least, so we hope.)
Run Time: 1:20:41
We tear right into this one, building out Waykeep notably and inventing a new villain to keep things interesting! It's another great day here at The Letters Page, where we keep our letters on our page! Trying out a new tagline. It's not great. That happens. All part of the process.
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- We know this episode is about Lifeline and Waykeep. Waykeep shows up in the early ’00s, but Lifeline is late enough that they are really restricted in where they can put this. The first appearance of Tarogath as Lifeline is in the Cosmic Redemption one-shot in February 2015. If we’re sticking with the January episodes are about January issues conceit for the podcast this year, that means that today’s story has to be in January 2016 or be post-OblivAeon (technically, January 2017 is available as post-OblivAeon but pre-RPG relaunch, but they’re not going to put it there). That makes things a bit simpler.
- Additionally, Tome of the Bizarre vol. 4 #71 in October 2015 was the first appearance of Lifeline in his Blood Mage aspect, so this has to specifically be him operating in that mode. Well, they don’t necessarily know that this is a permanent change for him, but he’s certainly operating in that capacity through the Skinwalker GloomWeaver and OblivAeon stuff. Note, however, that the Skinwalker arc also starts in January 2016 so even if he can switch in and out of that form, it’s likely that he’s mostly operating in this mode now.
- That means we have Lifeline in two stories “simultaneously” but it’s fine - this can either be a self-contained thing or the end of a story and the idea is just that he moves from this one to that one.
- So, where could this go? It’s not Justice Comics #728 because that’s the first appearance of Luminary. Cosmic Tales, Arcane Tales, and Tome of the Bizarre are all available this month and those are kind of the go-to for this kind of thing anyway. Adam chooses Arcane Tales since it just seems to be the title they’ve used the least. Ra’s death is in June, but while “Ra stuff” will likely be in the title prior to that as well, there’s room this far out from that to put an unrelated story.
- This is likely a self-contained issue anyway. Lifeline needs to immediately go over to MC to do Skinwalker stuff and Waykeep isn’t a major player in the main event of the year anyway. We can have a longer story end in December, but then in February they start spinning things up to the Ra thing, so we just slot this story into the gap. This means we’re in Arcane Tales volume 2 #613, January 2016.
- We can do some fun “What’s Lifeline’s place in the world?” stuff here. He can be fine with 1) doing ley-line stuff and 2) now with more blood magic! and thinks that everything is fine, but then Waykeep shows up asking what all of this blood is doing in her ley-lines.
- Structure-wise, we should probably start the issue with a foe that Lifeline is battling with both of his magical skill sets. Then Waykeep shows up to fight both of them (or maybe doesn’t even care about whoever it is that Lifeline’s already fighting). Then Waykeep and Lifeline hash out their differences and she helps him grow as a person and then potentially helps him defeat the baddie.
- Maybe, for this era, we don’t just start right out with fighting, but maybe tracking the foe. Who messes with ley-lines in a way that Lifeline is trying to repair them with blood magic? Like, he’s got this new hammer and so all problems look like a nail. There’s something messing with ley-lines and he’s “fixing” things up until Waykeep shows up with a “this isn’t fixing things” attitude.
- So, who can do this? Hermetic can. The Seer might be in the Realm of Discord or the Void or whatever at this point. They already did a Count Barzakh/Waykeep story [[[Podcasts/Episode 233|episode 233]] True Believers!]. It could be something new that isn’t, like, a person. Maybe some kind of force or “anti-ley-beast” thing? Regardless a new thing here is probably the way to go and it can be fun to have a specifically Lifeline foe, whether this is the first appearance or not.
- Christopher begins toying with somebody who thinks that “Deadline did nothing wrong” and was maybe doing something with leftover Endling tech, but then quickly abandons the idea.
- What if ley-lines act as… not a prison, but a shield over the Earth that protects it or keeps some type of thing bound? Might be something there but it’s not that dense of a net.
- How about this being is consuming energy from ley-lines, but in a way that Waykeep herself is vulnerable to. Like, it’s doing a Bad Ley-line Thing™ so she shows up to deal with it, but then it drains power from her and she’s weakened and so retreats. Christopher’s thought here is that when it feeds on a ley-line it’s not destroying it or anything - it’s still there just gray and inert. Lifeline is tracking this thing and is trying to imbue the ley-lines with some power again as he goes. He comes across a “wounded” Waykeep and recognizes her as some kind of ley-line guardian thing. He tries to do the same thing with her, but given that what he’s using to do this is Blood Magic, this is not good and then they wind up fighting.
- Having that described, Adam likes this less as a creature than a person. Christopher doesn’t necessarily think that “person” should mean “human”, though. It could be an alien or some kind of magical person/entity. They don’t want to make an anti-Waykeep, so we need something that is otherwise mortal but has figured out how to do this with ley-lines and is a new thing. Okay, maybe it was a person, but they became whatever they are now during the Deadline event. Let’s put a pin in this and go back to Deadline.
- The Deadline event started in Cosmic Concurrence #13 from October 2010 - that was his first appearance as Deadline.
- Does this villain, as a villain, pre-date Lifeline? Adam thinks so. As such, let’s create them in 2012 or 2013. In thinking of placement, they decide that Tome of the Bizarre is fun since it’s something that Grimm is telling us about. It’s a story about somebody who wants to change the world but in a heavy-handed “be careful what you wish for” way - they find some piece of Deadline’s Endling tech and then becomes this thing. With the framing device we can really just do a villain origin story without any heroes. We put it in TotB volume 4 #38, in January 2013. They take a quick pause to talk names and whatnot. Adam has an idea in his mind for a guy who’s just a black silhouette with “wispies” within, like a walking black hole.
- Now that they’re considering it more directly, this sounds more like a magic thing going on than somebody who found Endling tech. Maybe this guy got hit by a severed ley-line during the Deadline event. Like, it got snapped and proceeded to arc like a cut electrical cable and messed this guy up - it gave him power but it also took something from him and now he hungers.
- They name him Infraction. In that origin issue, we end with him convinced that he’s going to waste away. There’s no way he’s going to be able to sate the hunger within him. The “wish” is that he can make a difference in the world. Once he gets powers he realizes that he can draw energy from the ley-lines and then can use that to do stuff in furtherance of that desire, but then he finds that he’s on a downward spiral. He can draw energy, but he keeps needing more energy and so by the end of the issue he can’t actually spend any time on those other tasks - he’s just drinking from the ley-lines while things fall apart around him (very easy to insert a Drugs allegory in here). It’s very much on-brand for an EC style horror story that Golden Age Grimm stuff would have been.
- Back to today’s issue: Lifeline is tracking Infraction and is trying to repair the drained ley-lines by pumping some blood magic into them and then follow that pulse (pun intended). There’s probably some indications that things aren’t great with this plan. Like, the ley-lines try to pull more power from him but he has to assert control - they want the same thing, but he’s giving the power, they’re not allowed to take it.
- Hmm… Maybe he runs into some ley-beasts and he comments that he’s run into these kinds of things before and they’re not supposed to be like this. A fight starts up and he defeats the first uncharacteristically easily. So, instead of fighting the next one he tries the same imbuing trick like with the ley-lines. As soon as he does, that one merges with the ley-line and zips away. This is what eventually leads him to Waykeep.
- He finds her kind of tangled/half-merged with the ley-line, inert, with three or four of these ley-beasts in a “sad dogs around their master’s grave” kind of mode. Tarogath hasn’t encountered Waykeep before, but he can intuit that this must be some kind of guardian of the ley-lines who has been bested by whatever he’s been tracking (and that the ley-beasts aren’t really separate beings from her). He imbues Waykeep with blood magic (turning her from gray to red) and she (and the ley-beasts) turn on him. Like, there’s not even thought here, she was inert before and this just puts her straight into rage mode and with her in this state the ley-beasts are as well.
- What fixes her? It’s got to involve re-calibrating her to her natural ley-line energy instead of blood magic, but how does that happen? He has to figure out what’s going on. He realizes his mistake and so the fight sequence becomes a chase where he keeps Waykeep and the beasts following him until he can get to an active ley-line. He gets everybody tangled up in that and then draws out the blood magic energies, siphoning in the normal stuff from the lines.
- After she’s recovered they can actually talk. She sent out the ley-beasts, ley-lines were being drained, she ran into Infraction who is just the worst, etc. He talks about how he’s been tracking the drained ley-lines and trying to fix them. Oh, she could tell what he was trying to do. Don’t do that. Ley-line energy is a kind of natural life energy, but not that kind of life energy so cut it out.
- Adam has an idea here that while what Infraction was doing is bad, it wasn’t until Lifeline started adding blood magic to the mix and Infraction started also picking up some of that that he really started getting boosted up to proper villain-hood.
- Lifeline and Waykeep start tracking him together. Waykeep fixing things properly as they go and showing him how to go about doing it.
- They find Infraction and there’s a big fight. Christopher thinks that part of the way they win is to feed the stolen energy back from Infraction into the ley-lines. What if this one ends with Waykeep capturing Infraction and taking him along. Like, this guy is more like Waykeep herself now than the mortal man he once was. She’s going to try to help him find his true purpose. She sees a potential ally/protege in him and that’s where we end up, but there’s no final resolution to that now (does it work? does he break free and become something worse? etc.). There’s a lot of potential places for his story to go, but as much as Waykeep “lives in” the ley-lines she’s keeping him “imprisoned” in there for the time being.
- Is there anything we can set up for Lifeline here knowing that this story leads him directly into Skinwalker GloomWeaver? The important thing is probably that Lifeline understands the costs of doing blood magic as he goes into that conflict. That can also be the spark of what allows him to make Aeon Girl later.
- [Letter intro mentions that Lifeline seems to have a surprisingly small impact on the world, which prompts some discussion.] As Deadline he has a pretty big impact, but just that once. As Lifeline he does some important things, but not necessarily things you’d notice if you weren’t watching. If you were rating somebody based on size of impact they have relative to the number of comics issues they appear in, he may well likely have one of the higher ratings. He’s not “one of the main characters” of the setting, but he’s an influential force where/when he shows up. When he is in a story something is going to happen that has high likelihood of being world/reality-altering. Even today’s one-off, almost filler story is a pretty big deal.
- Do you find it difficult to do potential Lifeline Writers’ Rooms due to his relatively limited publication time as a hero? Is it going to be difficult to showcase things in his card art? Restriction like this can be beneficial for creativity. It actually gets somewhat easier when you have a limited possibility space - take the timing of this issue. Given the constraints, it basically had to go in January 2016. That’s one less thing for them to have to consider. When doing art for the Legacy deck they could choose from basically the entire history of Sentinel Comics. What are the major story beats that we have to hit? They’re not sure they even hit them all for him. For Lifeline, you have the same number of cards to produce, but only having a few years to choose from makes selecting scenes easier. Even so, the very quick storytelling they did today likely created stuff that they can then use in later Lifeline content down the road.
- How much “magic” does Lifeline know before his deal with the Court of Blood? Would he have deep knowledge of magic at an intellectual level like NightMist or Scholar or is it more of an intuitive thing due to his alien nature and so approaches things more like Argent Adept? How much are his abilities “alien biology” and how much is “arcane knowledge”? How related are the concepts of ley-line manipulation and blood magic? They think that those two things are very different - they’re not entirely antithetical, but you shouldn’t mix magics in general (which they’ve said before). Mixing magics is like “crossing the streams” in Ghostbusters - you don’t ever want to do it, until it’s the only possible thing you can do. They think that all Prociters could feel ley-lines, but he was a “mage” among them already. Like, his abilities there are probably 80/20 training vs. biology. They could all do it, but you’ve got to put in the effort to learn how. Blood magic is a later addition to the character as he sought out additional powers to help him stave off the horrible things that were coming. He finds bad solutions to basically every problem he tries to solve. His judgement is highly suspect. Lifeline is their hero that is closest in terms of how he goes about planning things to their villain Baron Blade.
- Is there an in-universe reason for Waykeep to have not fought Deadline? They think that Waykeep likely shows up at least somewhere during that event, but given the way he’s going about just wrecking everything she’s not able to do anything to stop him before he moves on. Like, maybe Scholar runs into her at one point and seeing that her attempts to repair things is the only reason that everything hasn’t fallen apart. She’s busy. Scholar could even warn her off of attacking Deadline as she becomes something of a liability - if she’s taken out in the fight then nobody is around to do the repairs she’s doing and that need to be done. They’re sure that she’s part of the story while being tangential to it.
- How much does Tarogath’s ley-line manipulation interfere with Waykeep on an intrinsic level? Could he theoretically disconnect Waykeep’s host from the ley-line network, thus disabling her? Yes, he probably could. That’s the thing that the Scholar is worried that could happen to her if she confronted Deadline. There’s no reason (well, they don’t have a story offhand that would require) Lifeline would do so.
- Why was Lifeline able to destroy Skinwalker GloomWeaver’s form using blood magic when Blood Countess wasn’t able to during Cosmic Contest? By the time Lifeline is involved, GW’s already been fought within an inch of his “life”. The whole team had to weaken the villain before the off switch would work. A one-on-one match where he’s aware he’s fighting a blood mage is a different enough scenario that he’s ready for it and can prepare.
- [Letter intro posits a parallel between Scholar and Waykeep as being people who are changed into something more and wind up disconnected to who they were before.] They’re going to disagree on that characterization of the Scholar. He’s still basically the same person that he was, even though the nature of his being has changed. Waykeep basically discarded the life they had/person they were before in order to do something important. She’s closer to Ra in that way than the Scholar. Or even more so, Waykeep is like a willing vessel of Apostate.
- Do we get any history of who Waykeep was before her transformation? They don’t think so. Basically all we know is that her life was horrible and she made a choice to become this thing. That she invited it in some way (even if she didn’t know exactly what it was she was signing up for). Figuring out what Waykeep looks like for the cover is going to be interesting. They don’t think she presents as a person in an outfit.
- What is the nature of ley-lines and how do they relate to dimensional barriers (since we’ve been told they can be used to create portals)? They are more like electrical or phone lines than they are like wormholes. They’re conduits of power. Waykeep can traverse the ley-lines and sense things through the network, but that’s more her specific deal than anything involving them being part of dimensional barriers themselves (although one way you can think of them is the “threads of the fabric of reality”). You can use that setup to do something in one place and have it cause something elsewhere.
- Do other planets besides Earth have ley-lines? Other dimensions like the Realm of Discord or the Egyptian “Underworld”? Other planets have them. They don’t think those “pocket dimensions” have them. Since those dimensions are kind of overlaid on top of reality, it’s possible that they are affected by the same set of ley-lines. As such it is probably possible that one could use them to get into the Realm of Discord.
- Could you create a ley-line or alter an existing one? Individual ley-lines can come into and out of existence over time, but purposefully creating one is less likely - not necessarily impossible, though. Altering existing ones can be done; just look at today’s issue. It’s bad. Don’t do that. As an example of new ones appearing: in the RPG era there are absolutely a ton of new ones in Megalopolis that didn’t used to be there due to Akash’Flora. That’s definitely a new nexus of such conduits. You shouldn’t mess with them because there’s a natural order to them, but they themselves are something of an emergent phenomena responding to the world. They can largely “take care of themselves and do their own thing” but part of the way they do that is via things like Waykeep.
- Did you realize that some form of Glamour has been involved with the beginning of every iteration of the Freedom Four/Five in the Multiverse Era? They did know that - it’s part of the reason they landed there.
- What exactly is Jefferson Knight’s past? Does he have combat experience? He has combat experience, but more “government agent” training. He’s leaning a lot on his gear as Freedom Knight in that they’re the comic-booky “gives him combat powers” variety. There’s quite likely some point where he gets frustrated with the whole sword-and-shield thing and just pulls a sidearm to shoot at the problem. The sword and shield are better hero PR, though.
- What caused him to realize that he had to go into the field himself? Well, Legacy’s not around to lead the team and who’s better to replace him than the guy who’s been there in lockstep with him for the entirety of the Freedom Five Initiative? Who. Better. (Legacy would not necessarily characterize things this way.)
- Has he ever had cause to put on the gauntlets again after the return of the main team? He probably did during OblivAeon as at least a cameo with everyone else. There’s probably a low-single-digit number of Freedom Knight appearances over the years following this arc.
- What’s Aminia Twain think of all of this? That’s a good question! She’s probably instrumental in a “guy in the chair” kind of way, but is still very much a side character to all of it.
- Chrono-Ranger and Sky-Scraper being there - absolutely no notes regarding them being on the team. How did Knight convince the more mystical two to join the team (I know it’s going to be very hand-wavy, but I want to see those hands wave)? He asked them. The idea is that these are people who are around frequently anyway and were already allies of the Freedom Five in their own way. Depowered NightMist is probably still supporting cast for FF. Ra’s been around for forever. Man, this is just such a bad team… It’s great. Jefferson Knight’s thoughts were probably that if there’s something going on that’s bad enough that the Freedom Five aren’t around, he needs to get the heaviest hitters he can manage and that’s why he goes to Ra and NightMist. Neatly paralleling the editorial “we need the biggest draws” mandate for why they’re in the book from a meta perspective.
- Is the tone of depowered NightMist’s story appreciably different from her more misty eras? Ironically, her outfit seems more mystical and outlandish now that she’s just a normal human - did she focus more on “monster hunting” in this era? Probably a little bit. It’s more leaning into pulpy adventure in a Tomb Raider style. That’s how her stories go at least. In Freedom Five stories she’s usually solidly in “magical advisor” mode. She’s this iteration of the team’s equivalent to Tachyon, only magic instead of science. During this era she also probably goes into a lot more of the minutia of “how I do magic” because she has to learn how to mage like a mage without the easy access to power that her mist curse represents.
- What was the fan reaction to the depowered NightMist? It’s a mixed bag. Most status quo changes are going to be a mixed bag. The obvious comparison for Christopher is bone-claws-Wolverine. In retrospect, that is a fondly-looked-back-on era for that character, but when it first happened there was quite a variety of responses. This era where NightMist has to “do magic the hard way” is likely similar. They do specifically know that there was “good talent” working on her book through this period. Over time it’s likely more favorable.
- Was there editorial push to return her powers, even so far as to go in the opposite direction and have her become a magical being herself? The cancellation of her book and refitting her into what would become Dark Watch was likely the major point, but there would have been enough demand to “bring her back” at the time anyway. That being said, it’s more interesting to not just go “whoops, now she has powers again” so the method of her gaining them was a further evolution rather than just a reversion to the old standard. They’re getting her back to “normal” while introducing new developments that will lead to other things (sure, she’s got power again, but that comes with costs like drawing more attention, etc.). Having her on the Freedom Five team was also likely either a test bed for or simply the inspiration for her being on a more permanent team. Dark Watch was a team of two Mentor characters and two “could really stand to have a mentor figure” characters. The guys also absolutely feel that the addition of the Harpy to the team was intended from the beginning and so having her be mentored by “NightMist at the height of her powers” was a good move.
- How did Jefferson Knight actually fare as Freedom Knight? Was he a good leader? Did it change how he worked with the normal Freedom Five afterward? Eh… he was an okay leader for his team, but this was a bad team - they had a lot of “do things themselves” types of character on there and so there’s not a lot of Freedom Five-style combos and working-together going on. In that way they’re much more Prime Wardens than Freedom Five. He’s portrayed as a good leader. Whether or not he is… He’s also kind of outclassed here. We have an alien who can get really big or tiny and also has some tech stuff. We have a time-traveling sheriff who also has tech stuff. We have the god of the sun. And we have one of the more accomplished magical practitioners in the world. He’s a guy with a little bit of tech that gives him a sword and shield. Due to being outclassed, he kind of has to fall back into a coordinator role.
- What happened to the gauntlets? Does he still have them after this arc wraps up? Does he ever use them again? Does he occasionally stare longingly at them? They talked about this a little already. They’re probably in the Freedom Five museum. It’s fun to think of them as being an artist Easter egg where artists over the years try to find way to sneak them into the background. Like, you have a scene in Tachyon’s lab, but if you know what you’re looking for you can spot them on a shelf. Some other time you see them in Jefferson’s office. Just, no rhyme or reason to where they show up. They can maybe see him using them again in an issue, but they’re a perpetual Easter egg.
- I want to say that you mentioned that Jefferson Knight eventually gets killed - if that’s accurate, do the gauntlets survive to potentially get used by somebody else? They had talked about Jefferson Knight potentially dying during the Miss Information event, but they killed off Don Vickers instead. They think that he survives the Multiverse era.
- What about intra-team dynamics? Who rankled under Freedom Knight’s by-the-book command? Who was over-keen to be included? How did this team affect the involved heroes’ relationships with one another afterward and with the original Freedom Five? Ra was the one to most have problems with having an authority figure other than himself. The others aren’t super by-the-book types, but they could deal. Ra is not one of those. Sky-Scraper is probably the over-keen one. NightMist and Chrono-Ranger are about equal levels of “tell me the objective and then just let me go about reaching it in my own way.” Telling Ra to do anything is going to be tough. You just sort of point him vaguely in the direction of a problem and hope he doesn’t get mad at you.
- Has Jansa Vi Dero ever been wrong about somebody she collects being an Endling? If discovered, would she kick the non-Endling out? Are there circumstances in which she would allow such a person to remain as a guest anyway? Christopher has an idea for a bad story in the early ’80s where in Cosmic Tales Jansa takes a person from a dying world to the Enclave. There’s a refugee ship from that planet full of people and there’s a moment where Jansa realizes her mistake. Thinks for a moment. Then fires a missile to destroy the ship. That story exists, but the reaction to it was universally negative given that it’s against the spirit of what she’s doing. It gets retconned/backpeddled on hard and there’s some explanation/extenuating circumstances invented to justify it (“oh, there was a plague on that ship and she granted them all a quick death” or something) and everyone just ignores it. Adam has another idea for a story in which she removes somebody from a dying planet, but removing that one person is somehow a catalyst for them turning things around and no longer being a dying planet. When this becomes apparent, she lets them choose if they want to return to their people or stay in the Enclave. Christopher puts his story in Cosmic Tales volume 2 #133 in March 1981.
- We know when you decided to really lean into the metafiction of the Sentinel Comics publishing company (i.e. the Post-It Wall), but why did you do so instead of just focusing on the in-universe stories that the games model? When they started intentionally writing stories for this setting in 2010 (there were stories they’d done before 2010 that wound up being used in Sentinel Comics, but that’s beside the point) they sat down to write the Multiverse. Well, by the end of 2010 they had the Multiverse. When they started, they just wanted/needed to make up a bunch of heroes, but they also made up the publisher for their stories at that time. Sentinel Comics was a thing from the beginning of the process. They did not have nearly the meta layer at that point that they would have even a few years later, but the publishing company for their heroes’ stories was a thing from the outset. When they started out, they were basically picking issue numbers at random just to give a sense of history, but they weren’t yet worrying about continuity. The Post-It Note Wall revealed a bunch of problems. Not to say that everything was a problem. They had a bunch of events and cross-over stories that they wanted to happen and most of those worked as-written. The biggest “problems” were that they needed to add different volumes to a bunch of titles and account for a big gap in publication of Justice Comics. All of the rationalizations they had to make to explain things wind up adding to the verisimilitude of the whole setup, though. The point of all of this was to avoid a problem that other superhero games they’d played had. So many others just had what felt like off-brand versions of “real” superheroes - just taking an existing hero and file off the serial numbers. By adding a layer that included attributions to specific comic book issues, and thinking through the crossovers and whatnot, they made something that felt like it had more of its own identity rather than just being not!Batman and not!Iron Man working together for unknown reasons. Like, sure, people look at Legacy and go “Superman” or “Captain America” or “Superman plus Captain America” and fine, that’s there, but he’s also his own character with his own story that is distinct from those. Even their most tropey, archetypal characters have their own stuff going on and that was very important to them. There wasn’t a conscious doubling-down on the metafiction. That was more of an emergent phenomenon. Even by the Infernal Relics expansion they were considering the Editorial side of things, but it was a gradual process as they worked on more content. Now it’s difficult for them to create anything without a meta layer. Like, when doing Galactic Strike Force Adam’s brain kept trying to figure out where the flavor text quotes were actually being drawn from. That carries through a lot of their games, even non-Sentinel Comics stuff.
- Things potentially on this cover: Lifeline (as Blood Mage), Waykeep and/or Infraction. Christopher’s leaning against Infraction. Adam thinks he’s got to be there because we only have 1 issue for this story. In that case, we have Lifeline and Infraction squaring off with one another with Waykeep looking wasted and lost (showing that she’s at stake here, even if that’s not how the actual confrontation is presented in the story). As such, we’re not getting the real, iconic look for Waykeep here, but hopefully at least a sense of it. Putting ley-beasts in there is probably too much, though.