The Letters Page: Episode 37
Run Time: 86:49
This is a big one, folks. Not a super long one, but a big one, nonetheless.
The first sixteen minutes of the podcast are focused on covering who Fanatic is, how she grew up, how her powers manifested, and a couple of her early notable stories. Then, we give a notable disclaimer that I'm going to reiterate here: if knowing the nitty-gritty truth of Fanatic would in some way ruin the character for you, stop listening after the 16 minute mark. Just call it a day and pick up with another episode. Probably not next week, as that's Apostate, so we'll be going even deeper into divine spoilers territory, but the week after that is The Scholar and then Guise after that, so those are fair game. Anyway, point is, you have to decide for yourself if you want to know Fanatic's truth better than she does, or if you want to keep living by faith alone. Up to you.
I'm keeping the show notes pretty brief today, so as to not put any spoilers in the text for folks that are choosing to skip the rest of the episode.
About half an hour in, we start talking about blood magic and vampires, and end up covering a bit of Court of Blood business as well. Bonus info in this already info-filled episode!
We get into your questions at the 36 minute mark. Lots of great questions this episode! We do our best to not let you down with our answers.
If you have questions about Apostate or The Host, get them in now! We're looking forward to answering them when we record on Friday!
- The Idolater
- The Seer
- Plague Rat
- The Freedom Five
- Argent Adept
- Captain Cosmic
- Prime Wardens
- Grand Warlord Voss
- Citizens Truth or Dare
- Blood Countess Bathory
- La Comodora
- Baron Blade
- Citizen Dawn
- Absolute Zero
- We get a version of Fanatic's bio, although Christopher mentions here that she claimed to be an angel pretty much right away rather than simply knowing that she had a purpose with the "I'm an angel" moment only happening during her confrontation with the convent as an adolescent. Her recovery apparently only took a few days in total, including broken bones. Also, rather than "silence and horrified stares" it sounds like there may have been vocal denial of her status as "angel" at that later point just before she left.
- Of course the Templars had secret missions in, say, Peru. They're sending people on secret missions all over the place. During her year of solitude with the Templar cache she hadn't been using the sword or armor (which didn't fit anyway). That is, she didn't until she woke up one morning to find that she'd reshaped the armor with her bare hands and carved runes into the blade of the sword with her fingertip. This is slightly at odds with the bio that says she'd been training with them, but this might just be them being fast and loose with their description here (like, she maybe wasn't using the sword in that she wasn't going out to fight evil with the sword or anything, but not precluding the training mentioned in the bio... I dunno).
- This begins her time out in the world fighting evil. She doesn't have a book of her own at first, but can pop up pretty much anywhere as her movement is kind of a worldwide pilgrimage. Examples given: she helps in a fight in Rook City against Plague Rat, a few Freedom Five stories in fights against major villains, etc. People start calling her "Fanatic", but she doesn't identify as such, nor does she go by the name Helena, but generally refers to herself as an Angel of the Lord. The "Fanatic" moniker got started by her mentor...
- An early story involved her in a small Midwestern city. She meets a preacher there, the Right Reverend Samuel Humphrey. She apparently travels in disguise, and was impressed by him and his congregation's faith. She reveals herself to him and he immediately recognizes her as the angel she claims to be, offering his service. He teaches her for a while, but she comes to learn over time that he's not as good of a guy as he appeared to be. His whole deal is actually that he's able to siphon off power from his congregation's faith - he's been around since the late 1800s and started his ministry during the Dust Bowl. This cross is a dark artifact that he created in a ritual and is what allows him to draw power from people who are expressing their faith in order to extend his own life. She is furious when she learns this, burns a cross into his face, and burns his church to the ground (see "Brutal Censure" from her deck and the incap art of her base-version foil card). He calls her a Fanatic and she calls him an Idolater during this falling out, giving them the names we'd know them by.
- In her dealings with heroes, her most regular early ally (pre-Prime Wardens) is Ra, with all of the conflicting theological problems that would involve. They still get along well given their temperaments - they're both very passionate people, there's chemistry between them, and they hit it off pretty quickly. An early major story with both of them is the Baptism by Fire arc around the time of the Ennead event where there's even more of these "gods" around - who she largely brushes off as just "people with artifacts of power".
- The Seer is a relatively minor villain, but with some story ramifications. He's a mystic/magician who is able to manipulate people's emotions. She finds what he's doing familiar somehow, but is able to defeat him pretty quickly. He can mess with her emotions a little, but that doesn't do much in his immediate encounter with her. What he does manage is to lay some seeds of doubt in her mind that's more of a slow burn and leads into another story...
- Apostate, her most iconic/notable/dangerous villain. He's a guy with wings and a big sword along with a bunch of demons following him and access to a lot of arcane artifacts. He immediately goes for the "we're the same" shtick because of the whole wings, sword, and power similarities, but he tells her she's not an angel, but something he created. She denies him, he contradicts her, etc. Eventually she runs off and has to "blind herself to him" in order to defeat him [I'm guessing this ties into the Redeemer variant having her eyes covered]. His deal is that he is a deceiver, and all great lies start with a kernel of truth.
- The real story is itself a very late reveal in the comics, but even then it's not something that changes who she is as a character, so keep that in mind.
- So, much like there's The Block, the Realm of Discord where Gloomweaver hangs out, and other dimensions adjacent to "reality" without being separate universes in the Multiverse sense, there is a dimension of "emotions" or "states of being" that is home of The Host. Whenever somebody is feeling a particularly strong emotion, it's because they're being influenced by a member of the Host - it's not necessarily the same as being "possessed" by them, but these spirits do actually inhabit the person. When the young girl was hit by a bus and then died, she was inhabited by one of these spirits - one related to Judgement. The young girl didn't return to life three minutes later, this was the spirit of Judgement taking over the body. It's not aware that this is what happened, it's just the fact that it has happened and now we have a largely blank-slate of a being inhabiting the body. She has memories of this ethereal plane and of these other spiritual entities and knows that her existence is tied up with the concept of Judgement, but that's about it.
- The various religious iconography that she sees and the faith of the people she talks to shapes how she interprets this knowledge and she settles on the Angel of the Lord explanation. In turn, how she thinks about these things winds up shaping the world around her - she thinks that she's an angel and so she grows wings, she feels that the sword should have angelic runes on it and she's able to carve them with her finger, she believed that the sword should manifest holy fire and so it does, etc.
- Idolator's cross actually works due to his ritual capturing a member of the Host, a spirit of Faith, and the presence of this spirit is what drew her in given their affinities as members of the Host (like calling to like). Even though she didn't know anything about the Host or her relationship to this spirit, this kind of explains the rage she felt when she learned that he was a villain. Similarly, the Seer had made a bargain with a spirit of Domination for his power and that's why she thought his power was "familiar".
- Apostate is a spirit of Deceit who realized that the spirit of Judgement had left their home realm and was entertained/annoyed by this. He found a dead body to inhabit/shape to his purpose - this isn't the same as with Fanatic as she's a coherent singular being where Apostate knows about his existence separate from the body he's using to mess with her. His pitch is along the lines of "We are spirits, not of the Lord but of ourselves" and that he created her as if she's his child and they should work together to rule the world. This did not go over well with her, but everything fits together enough to make her doubt.
- She goes off into seclusion in a bell tower for three days (fasting, meditating, etc.), and emerges with a fancy new set of armor that also covers her eyes. She's operating on blind faith now. She's able to defeat him by ignoring his lies and drives him off. Her faith has kind of always been what gives her power, and so focusing just on that is what elevates her here.
- Some time later, Argent Adept gets defeated by Akash'Bhuta and is putting together a team to defeat her. Fanatic winds up on that team along with Haka, Tempest, and Captain Cosmic. The Prime Wardens weren't formed as an intentional organization, they (along with the other heroes present for that fight) were just there to defeat Akash'Bhuta and happened to keep working together afterward. Their bailiwick tends to be major worldwide threats - ancient magical beings like Gloomweaver, alien threats like Voss, the Ennead, Balarian, and the initial Progeny events.
- One of these is a fight involving The Citizens of the Sun. Parse is also there and she claims that there's some weakness involving Citizen Truth whose shields nobody can break. She points out to Fanatic that if she attacks the shield something will break - unfortunately, that something is Fanatic's sword rather than the shield (see Parse's "Critical Modifier"). This doesn't put Fanatic too out of sorts - it was a huge sword and even the piece remaining is a serviceable chopping implement like a hand axe. She's got this broken sword from shortly after the formation of the Prime Wardens up through the middle of the OblivAeon event (more on that later).
- The Court of Blood is a weird castle with blood fountains and blood just generally running through the whole structure. The inhabitants are a bunch of vampires led by Countess Elizabeth Báthory - as has been mentioned previously, vampires are a particular kind of blood mage (but not all blood mages are vampires - see Lifeline and Bugbear for examples of non-vampiric blood magic). They make good recurring opponents for Fanatic - all the way back to her original incap art which takes place in the CoB. There isn't a single major "event" involving the Countess and the Court, but they make for a good place that the heroes might need to infiltrate to get some magical MacGuffin for any given story.
- During OblivAeon, La Comodora shows up with a sword for Fanatic - one from an alternate dimension with a black blade. That Fanatic had apparently allied herself with the Blood Countess - it's not a "blood magic blade", but it is tuned more into that side of things (and which probably won't be a problem later at all). We also see at some point the evil version of her (Hellion) and a good version of Apostate (Seraph) and she teams up with the latter to fight the former. Good times.
- She was interesting to design given that she was so different from all of the other heroes in the core set. They knew they wanted somebody with wings who could fly and had a sword and so they just dropped an angel in there. She kind of worked out as an anti-hero given that she had no problems killing people - Ra might wind up burning people too, but nobody was carrying around a sword that they'd use to just straight up kill an opponent.
- When Apostate claimed to have created her, did she believe him or did it not matter where her powers came from as long as she used them for good? How long was she off thinking about what he'd said before she returned? While she and Apostate really are the "same" in that their origins are the same and neither is really an "angel", she didn't believe him and kept her faith. Her outlook and goals are different from his, and that makes a difference. As mentioned, she was off in seclusion for three days.
- Who were her parents? Literally doesn't matter since the history of that little girl became unimportant once she died. This question is kind of abrogated by the reveal on Fanatic's origins given above.
- Did she really die when she was six? The body did, what came back as Helena/Fanatic is a different "person".
- Why did she recover so quickly/grow wings? Already covered.
- What words did she hear in her vision? Not really words, just the concepts/visions of the spirits.
- Did she really spend a year in the catacombs without food? How did she survive? Yes and because she's not a person.
- How does Absolution manifest flames? Because she wills it to be so. This can take a variety of forms from the blade itself being engulfed in flames, to shooting flames from it, to using it to set other things on fire.
- What did Apostate do/say to make her question her faith? Already covered.
- What's the deal with Fanatic carving runes into things as she sleeps? That's a feature of how she's exerting changes on the world - the sword should have "angelic" runes, so she does so in a "miraculous" way.
- Is Absolution breaking while she fights Citizen Truth related to her fight with Baron Blade (and his Negation Bands) during Vengeance? No, they're unrelated events and the bands didn't weaken the structure of the sword itself.
- How did she handle the breaking of her sword? Shaken at first, but then her obstinate personality takes over and justifies it as "of course it breaks, it's just an earthly sword" and it's obviously just as good as ever in its current form anyway, right?
- Some Vengeance art has her in non-Redeemer outfit, does this mean that the Apostate event was prior to Vengeance? No, Apostate was first. As was mentioned in the very first Interlude, the costume doesn't necessarily tell you what time it is. A lot of the costume choices can vary depending on the comic creators at the time, but other than major physical changes the appearance isn't a good indication of timeline (for example, the state of Baron Blade's scar is a better indication of when we are than what outfit he's wearing). A new outfit is typically a response to some kind of character change/event, but after that it's fair game. Even within the Prime Wardens book, while she's more likely to be in the "team costume", she still shows up in her original and Redeemer outfits occasionally.
- What's the explanation for her first appearance being listed as Mystery Comics #368, while "Holy Nova" lists MC #367 with text from Apostate who's listed as first appearing in Fanatic #25? Another mistake on their end, Fanatic's first appearance should be listed as Mystery Comics #338. This leads us into a nice aside about the publishing history that they didn't go into in the overview:
- She first appears in Mystery Comics and was a runaway hit right away. This resulted in her getting her solo series, Fanatic, within about six months of her introduction. That title ran for quite a while, including the Apostate story (which was always presented as "this is what Apostate is claiming is the truth" rather than "this is actually the truth"), only ending not so much because the book was unpopular but because it was kind of getting overwrought and needed a "soft reboot" to get back to basics. The new book is Absolution, which is back to her doing incredibly metal things like fighting magical baddies with a huge sword, but also deals with defining stuff like her sword and armor and more backstory stuff as her origin hadn't been clearly laid out rather than in bits and pieces.
- Within the imaginary world where Sentinel Comics are published, how did readers respond to her character? Did people who went through incredible healing identify with her? Did people shun or embrace her based on the faith/judgement aspects or ignore her because she's just a comics character? Did people have things like necklaces with her iconic cross emblem? This world is pretty identical to our own, only with the existence of Sentinel Comics as the biggest publisher. The world reacted to the existence of a angelic/crusader/warrior lady in comics about how you would expect. Some Christian groups were scandalized that there was a "Christian" character killing people with a sword, while others appreciated that there was a Christian hero at all, and yet others were like "look guys, it's just a comic character". Her introduction was also around the dawn of heavy metal and the whole satanic panic thing and there were people coming down on either side of that with regards to her. Opinions were decidedly mixed. Sure, people wore the cross necklace, but it's not like Sentinel Comics invented that symbol.
- Is Fanatic the kind of Angel who would destroy the Cult of Gloom or would she try to save them? She's definitely more on the smite end of things. She's a spirit of judgement, but also an entity of faith - by her nature she's pure judgement, but this is tempered by the belief system she's imprinted on to give her the concept of mercy. She judges on the basis of action - and she judges faultlessly - but if the Cult is just kind of moping around as they've realized the pointless nature of reality, she's got no reason to smite them as they're not doing anything wrong. If they've instead settled on doing rituals to bring more darkness into the world of course she's going to go with the smiting option. This makes her interesting in that her approach to people isn't based on their lifestyle (which she may or may not actually agree with), but on their actions.
- She does Radiant damage and her power source is listed as Divine, so is she really an angel? Was she always an angel, even before the accident? A lot of this is already answered. Radiant isn't unique to her (Citizen Dawn for example [this is likely a misstatement as Dawn's SotM deck has no radiant damage, even if it might be logical for her to deal it - however, Zhu Long's True Form, Progeny, the vampire-hunter Fulepet, Scholar, and anybody with an ability to choose from any damage type like Mr. Fixer or Chrono-Ranger also deal it]), but by "Divine" it's meant that it's power from an unknown force out of our understanding in some other realm and in her case (being a spirit of the Host) it's "divine" in nature, but without defining which specific divinity is actually involved.
- Does she do downtime? No, she does not. Unlike most characters who are fully fleshed out people, she's not people. She has some people-like characteristics (and angelic ones - "she's as much a person as she is an angel") - she looks/functions/acts like both of those things, but she's not really either. A lot of her "humanity" is what's imprinted on her by being around people. People are important to to her because of her belief system, but that's all stuff she's picked up from the world, what she brings is justice.
- If she thinks that she's an angel, why not give herself an angelic name (going back to Hebrew, for example, to give a name that exemplifies who she is)? She was given the name Helena by people who are doing the work of the Lord (and it's a strong name, and the name of a saint), so who is she to change that? Later on, when she takes up the name "Fanatic", that's kind of the moment when she is choosing the name that's emblematic of who she is.
- Her deck has self-damage only outclassed by Absolute Zero (whom the very air burns) and Nightmist (who's dealing with forces that man was not meant to know), so what does this model in-setting for her? Her power is taxing to her human form (which she has a reckless disregard for); the way that she fights involves throwing herself into danger and pushing her own limits - she fights beyond what she should be able to do as the spirit sustains her. She also has a serious martyr complex going on.
- What is happening in "Wrathful Retribution"? That's a crossover between her book, the Prime Wardens book, and some of the other members' solo series. This is a fight (but not the first fight) with Akash'Bhuta and the landscape itself is the target for the damage here.
- How frequently does she overreact/use overkill? Does this effect how she works with other heroes? She definitely often argues with other heroes and they in turn have hold her back in some way. You definitely wouldn't want her involved in foiling a simple bank robbery as she'd probably immediately just go into "kick down the door and smite the evildoers" mode, possibly destroying the bank in the process. This is a good example of comics slotting heroes into the appropriate threat levels - you just don't see her operating at "street level" as she's always going to be overkill for such threats. But if you need to kill a thousand aliens, she's your girl. It's also why Prime Wardens is a good fit for her - you need grand mythic threats if you want her to be around. Then you get the occasional issue where she is on hand for these low-level things to remind you of just why you don't want Fanatic to be around all the time.
- What's happening on "End of Days"? Does she always have access to such face-melting power or was it a one-off? Those are Gloomweaver zombies, and lots of them. She can do that level of things pretty routinely, but she cares a lot about collateral damage to other people (herself or buildings are fair game). She might not necessarily be aware that she can just do this whenever, but when the chips are down she might stop to say a quick prayer and then come back with the strength that the Lord has given her to then nuke the site from orbit. She thinks that those steps are necessary, and therefore they are.
- The Gen Con episode mentioned a terrible storyline where Fanatic took a tour through all religions, was this in-continuity or in titles like Disparation that have less impact on the ongoing character? That did happen in the canon timeline, but was a gross misappropriation by some writer who was trying to make some kind of statement (but it wasn't even clear what that statement was) and in doing so wrote something that completely betrayed who the character is. There's probably a story you could do about her changing her mind over time, but that's not what happened here. The story was quickly forgotten and never brought up again in the comics.
- Why is the art of her having defeated Idolator (on her foil character card) on her incapacitated side - is it supposed to represent some emotional defeat? Definitely an emotional thing - she's just burned down a church and burned a cross into the face of a man who she'd trusted and she's sad that her judgement was as off as it was in this case. This is "incapacitating" because this is "a thing that shakes her faith" and that's really the only thing that can really "take her apart".
- What's the character on the Seer's belt buckle? It's just a design - it's not a character from a writing system.
- If Fanatic has met the Judeo-Christian God, how does that jibe with the tangible existence of other belief systems (like Ra, Calypso, or Quetzalcoatl)? She easily explains it away ("They're not really Quetzalcoatl, but just somebody with power claiming to be"). Even the Egyptian deities aren't really deities as they're just myths built up around people with powers who, nowadays, are just called superheroes. The question has a flawed premise, however, as Fanatic never met (nor claimed to have met) God. She's a character of faith, and if she had met and been given a mission by God, she would not be a character of faith at that point. Her faith is in that she "has a holy mission that she is sent on to make the world a better place by defeating evil" and the parameters of that are wide open and require her to make judgement calls. That faith is shaken frequently, but that's a key component: that it withstands testing and "meeting God" kind of negates testing. The guys are of the opinion that none of the facts of her origin (being a spirit of the Host inhabiting a formerly deceased body) prevent there being a God out there who is giving her power and rewarding her faith - and that's kind of the point, they're not making the statement that God does or doesn't exist in Sentinel-verse; it's a matter of faith (and regardless of everything else about her, you can't say that her faith doesn't give Fanatic power).
- One of the lead-ins to the OblivAeon is the death of Ra, and they had a close relationship - his last words to her was that he "always believed in her." She comes out of that strengthened, finally embraces the name of "Fanatic" herself, and is ready to take the fight to OblivAeon, but once that's done there's a time of mourning. She's realized that there was a reason she didn't get close to people before and it was for the better and goes off on her own.
- Tactics - It's been several years and she's more or less gotten over things and is working with heroes again. She's a bit troubled with there being a new Ra, but it's obviously a different person, but she's able to deal.
- RPG - as things get going she's still reeling from everything she's just been through (fighting an evil version of herself, being helped by a good Apostate, the death of Ra, etc.) and is still grieving, embittered, full of rage about things, becoming reclusive, but as the RPG goes on we're likely to see more about her in terms of her being a spirit of Judgement which should be interesting in the future.