The Letters Page: Episode 39
A pharmacist, an apothecary, a teacher, and more! It's The Scholar!
Run Time: 101:36
Everyone should go to Adam's Halloween party. Except Christopher.
There are a lot of rabbit trails in today's episode, but that's mostly because The Scholar's story does a fair bit of wandering. Also, it features some depressing bits, so we wander to keep from getting too down.
Fastest transition to the Questions section ever! We end the Overview segment only 8 minutes in!
At the 11 minute mark, we field a Powerhound question about us messing up published issue numbers again. And! To be fair! We did mess it up. *sad trombone sound* But not entirely! That's worth something, right? Right? Look, we give a slight hint about a Sentinel Comics RPG Starter Kit as a result, so hopefully that makes up for it.
Finally, right around 25 minutes in, we get into the proper tale of The Scholar's backstory. His way-back-story, really. Buckle up!
Just after 34 minutes in, Adam claims that a "soda" is a "tincture". It is not. Oh well. You don't listen to this podcast for medical advice/terminology, do you? Gosh, I hope not.
We finally get back to your questions at the 47 minute mark. Whew! Longest answer ever! Over 20 minutes?! What were we thinking?!
Right after 50 minutes in, we reveal the true origins of the thing that became The Scholar's Philosopher's Stone. Ominous!
Just before the 66 minute mark, we drop the biggest lie of all! Please don't think we were being serious! We definitely weren't!
Right after that, we get into another big story - another progression of The Scholar's story. Bit by bit, we'll get through this whole thing!
A little after 76 minutes in, we get back into the topic of Progeny's head flying through space. Cool: y/n? You decide!
The question we get an hour and a half in reveals a bit of story involving The Scholar, Guise, and even OblivAeon! This is a big story that we don't fully explain... got questions? Sure you do! Ask them here before Friday, October 20th and we'll follow-up in the next episode!
See you next week!
- Absolute Zero
- Wager Master
- La Capitan
- Zhu Long
- Argent Adept
- Blade Battalion
- Mr. Fixer
- Shuen Zhang
- The Dreamer
- Baron Blade
- Citizen Dawn
- Grand Warlord Voss
- Christopher and Adam consider the Scholar's story the saddest of the multiverse (to them). They recognize that game players probably have more of a connection to Nightmist, who just winds up gone at the end, and while we already know some stuff about the later parts of Scholar's story, his is sadder throughout.
- Sounds like his look is pretty consistently bathrobe, sandals, and board shorts while carrying around the bowling-ball-sized Philosopher's Stone, which he uses for his super-power: alchemy. He's able to transmute himself and other things using it, making him very versatile in how he can respond to different situations.
- John Rhodes is one of the earliest characters in Sentinel Comics and he's been part of just about every major conflict, but not as the primary character. He shows up more as a mentor character, doing/saying what's needed and then moving on. This sort of "getting people onto their best path before moving on" role is the majority of what he does in the Multiverse, up until the end where there's some notable exceptions.
- He's probably their most enigmatic character as well, so they've received many good questions about him and are just going to leave the overview at that and get into the meat of his story in the Questions section.
- He uses the Philosopher's Stone as a conduit for his power, but why is it not represented by a card like Absolute Zero's modules, Tachyon's HUD goggles, or Fanatic and Nightmist's various relics? It's so important to him that he always has it - they've mentioned this kind of thing before: it's why Parse doesn't have a separate card to represent her bow and why Chrono-Ranger doesn't have a revolver - they're always assumed to have those items as part of their Character Card, and the Scholar is never without the stone in the same way. The Philosopher's Stone is an intrinsic part of him. We got a little of this during Expatriette's story when he gave it to Wager Master to get him to go away (before summoning it right back to himself). Fanatic is still Fanatic without Absolution, Absolute Zero is always in the suit but the modules only modify the suit and he can have them or not, Tachyon may or may not be using her goggles - the Scholar needs the Philosopher's Stone to be the Scholar in a much more literal sense than the other examples (Jim Brooks could lose his revolver and still be Chrono-Ranger, for example, although his badge is more necessary).
- Scholar of the Infinite's first appearance is listed as Tome of the Bizarre #99, but he's in La Capitan's deck and we know the Skinwalker Gloomweaver event happens in #34, so is this a case where he appears but isn't identified until later or what? Skinwalker Gloomweaver's first appearance is TotB #34, but that isn't the issue with the rotting god event - that's the culmination of a bunch of schemes he's been trying for years - issue #34 is just the first inkling that he's getting this process started. The other is simply a mistake, it shouldn't list issue #99 for the Scholar variant (TotB doesn't even reach that issue number - since the RPG Starter Kit includes a TotB issue as one adventure I guess we'll see how high the numbering gets when that starts shipping), but it should be #59 instead.
- One of his weirder mechanics is that his elemental forms aren't limited, what would multiple forms being in play represent? He can transmute different parts of his body - having multiple Iron cards in play, for example, would be him transmuting progressively more of his body into iron or increasingly dense forms of it.
- Is he based on particular people: Uncle Iroh, The Dude, or Gary Gygax? There's definitely inspiration from them (and others - Van Hohenheim is also called out), but it's not as simple as mashing up the Dude's appearance with Van Hohenheim's powers and Uncle Iroh's hair, it's just that the these characters represent archetypes that then went into the design of the Scholar as well.
- He seems to be an old character, appearing in Mystery Comics #1 (beating out the Wraith who shows up in #27); why are there now only ~500 issues of MC compared to the ~800 of The Freedom Five which has Wraith as a member despite being on hiatus for a decade or more? Was MC also on hiatus or renumbered at some point? Mystery Comics is a golden-age book that ran continuously up into the '70s, but there was a desire to refocus it at that point and they restarted the numbering with a new volume in the mid-'70s. There are a few other comics with multiple volumes in the setting [I believe that Tome of the Bizarre and Prime Wardens have been mentioned in the past], but volume numbers just weren't important enough to justify taking up the extra room on the cards for flavor-text purposes. The higher-numbered issues we see on most cards are from this second volume, but the Scholar's first appearance is from the first one. The concept of Legacy is older than the Scholar in publication terms, as is Sheriff Jim Brooks (but not "Chrono-Ranger"), but he's one of the earliest characters.
- How old is he? Does the Philosopher's Stone make him ageless? How does he contribute to fights with villains given that he seems like a fairly non-violent person? He definitely fights - he's willing to fight, but will try to find the non-violent solution first - at least partially because they're more interesting (he likes uncertainty, and a fight is likely to wind up with only 2 possibilities - his side getting beat up or their opponents getting beat up). He's 58 years old, but he's been 58 for a very long time.
- What's going on on "Proverbs and Axioms" (he and the Wraith in a swamp talking about Legacy and questions of identity)? This is the first interaction between Wraith and Scholar (very early in Wraith's history) and she's still in her "finding who she is" kind of mode. Legacy is the "big hero" that everybody looks up to and she's trying to figure out how you live up to that. Part of what she learns here is that she doesn't want to be that kind of "big hero" or to even be seen - the outcome is more important than the process. They are in a swamp outside of Rook City - she's there to train, he's there because he was drawn to that location as he felt there was something to be done there.
- What was The Vagabond's Tale about? Flavor text from it only appear in his deck and "Bring What You Need" looks like it might be talking about flashbacks as he looks at items he's collected, so where does this happen in his publication history and how much did it reveal about his past? It's the story of who the Scholar is and his story, told through the framing device of him looking at items he has in his houseboat and the stories about where he got them as related to his past. To wit:
Scholar's Origin Story
- Charles Clarke, born in the early 1800s (1807 mentioned in the old-timey newsreel-style way they began this section with) to a couple of explorers on a European expedition through the land that would one day be Alaska. [note: the Aleut-derived Russian name Аляска (the second vowel, я, is palatalized, but is recognizably "Alaska") would have probably been in use by this time. Also, his bio lists his birthplace as Anchorage, which was founded in 1814, and so it's possible that his parents were on an initial survey team or something prior to the actual founding.] They left and moved to New England where he grew up with his family. As he grew up, he could sense this series of "magical lines" (spoiler alert: ley lines) around him that crisscrossed reality - he could tell when he intersected with them and feel where they led. It was subtle, but omnipresent and led him to want to know how the world was put together.
- He studied lots of different scientific fields, and he wanted to use what knowledge he gained to help people. Furthering that goal, he became a pharmacist - studying at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, founded in 1821 as the first such school in America, starting in the 1830s. He then headed out west, taking a wagon from town to town selling his tonics and tinctures and restocking supplies for places that needed them. He wasn't out to make money, but to help people and only sold his wares as a means of recouping the costs of his materials. He continues to feel the pull of the lines, however, and feels more of them and stronger as he spends several years out west.
- In one town, he meets a young woman named Caroline who marries him and goes with him on his journeys. Another 10 or 15 years pass and they have three children (Thomas, Emma, and Albert) but that doesn't stop their travels. The Clarke family even comes to be recognized by people in the various towns they pass through in their big wagon - known for their quality supplies at low prices and generally helping out. Occasionally they'd run into bandits, but they always just let them take the supplies without further trouble - Charles has a very calm demeanor and can defuse trouble. That is, until one day in a town in the Utah territory.
- Charles feels a very strong pull on one of these lines. Once he gets his family set up in town he lets them know he's going to go off into the wilderness (which he often did to find herbs or other things for his tinctures [note: the reason that soft drinks aren't tinctures is that, by definition, they are medicine dissolved in alcohol]). He follows the line to what turns out to be a faintly-glowing dull amber-colored rock - he can tell that the line is being pulled down and anchored to this rock instead of running on as it should.
- To "fix" this (and he can tell that it is indeed something that needs to be fixed) he can tell that he needs to move the rock, so he does (freely, this isn't a compulsion like some other magical MacGuffin situations). When he does so, the essence of his person is absorbed into the stone and he kind of ceases to exist. Both he and the stone are "aligned" with ley lines and this connection is what allowed this to happen - while trapped in the stone, he could tell that the stone was meant to be a conduit for power, but that it was imperfect. He was able to use his own knowledge to rework the stone from the inside, correcting the faults, and when complete his essence was able to flood back into his body - his subjective experience feeling like it could have been seconds or eons in there. Now, holding the Philosopher's Stone, he can see the ley lines and also notes that it's no longer twisting the lines on its own, but through it he could do so intentionally as well as pulling power from it or sending power through it. This is the birth of his understanding of alchemy: the combination of the magical knowledge and abilities that was partly his own and partly provided by the stone and his existing scientific knowledge. This is also the birth of the Scholar - he's no longer Charles Clarke, but he doesn't know that yet.
- He returns to town, but when he arrives nobody recognizes him (and they should given his family's reputation) and his family and the wagon are no longer there. He asks around and learns that the wagon left the day before (after having been there for a few days). He knew what the planned route was, and so heads that way hoping to catch up. He found that he could use the stone to transmute objects, which he used to gain sustenance during the trip. He wasn't sure what was really going on and didn't want to inadvertently cheat somebody if he turned something into "gold" to use to buy a horse (one: he didn't know yet exactly how to do that and two: he didn't know that this would actually work and wouldn't change back or anything). He's comfortable with the wilderness, though, so he doesn't think it's a big hardship. He gets to the next town and nobody there recognizes him or his name either (despite him knowing some of them from previous visits). This continues in town after town and he eventually heads back to his wife's family's ranch. She and the kids are there, but even they don't recognize him. According to them, the kids' father died on the road some time ago (but nobody can provide any detail beyond that - it's more just that their minds have justified the lack of a husband/father by landing on the "fact" that he died). Charles Clarke had been erased from existence when he got trapped in the faulty Philosopher's Stone (kind of, his kids are obviously still there, but nobody can remember him). He remembers everything, though.
- He starts his new life - he hangs around the area with his family at first, but finds it too difficult and so moves on. He takes on the name John Rhodes (John being a very common name, and Rhodes because he's always "on the road") and continues doing the same kind of "moving around and helping people" shtick he'd always been doing, but now he's got his growing abilities with the Philosopher's Stone to back that up. Over the years he also realizes that he's no longer aging.
Back to Questions
- In his bio, were the lines that led him to the Philosopher's Stone ley lines? Was the stone created by a junction of these like the pool in the Temple of Zhu Long? Yes, they were ley lines, and it was kind of like what's going on in Zhu Long's temple. The stone was more a case of it drawing the lines to that point unnaturally rather than Zhu Long just taking advantage of the existing lines. There's definitely a parallel, but not identical situation.
- Where did he find the Philosopher's Stone, who made it, and does it have a connection to famous alchemists through history (like the Comte de Saint Germain or Nicolas Flamel)? Already talked about where he found it. The person who made (an imperfect until completed by the Scholar) Philosopher's Stone was an infamous alchemist, Biomancer. He was out in the world making weird twisted things before moving on. The Philosopher's Stone was his interest for a while, but he couldn't get it to work and so then moved on to darker things. Scholar doesn't know at first who made it, but only finds out during a later conflict.
- How does he use his powers (his bio suggests that he was a powerful alchemist before getting the stone, but he's generally shown performing feats with the stone)? He channels his power through the Philosopher Stone, but it's a mistake if they've given the impression that he was an alchemist before getting the stone. He was a pharmacist and had extensive scientific knowledge in addition to a natural affinity to ley lines, but he wasn't doing alchemy prior to getting the stone. Scholar's knowledge of both science and magic is what gives him "alchemy" and Biomancer's problem is that he fails to integrate the two fields. Scholar could use things like potions and other alchemical contrivances, but he's simply much more likely to pull power directly from the ley line network using the stone, eliminating the need for such intermediaries.
- Scholar always seems to be at the right place at the right time, how does he manage this? He's able to follow the pull of ley lines to see where things are going wrong/confluences of turmoil are occurring. He's also much more aware of what's going on than his casual demeanor suggests - more so than pretty much anybody as his awareness is expanded beyond physical reality. He is also just going around in his day-to-day life trying to do good.
- What is the difference between "alchemy" and "magic" (is the former a subset of the latter)? Could Nightmist or Harpy pick up alchemy if they so chose? Are Biomancer and the Hermetic alchemists or something else? Alchemy is the intersection of magic and science - Nightmist is all magic and Tachyon is all Science, Scholar is in the middle. Tachyon is as likely to become an alchemist as Nightmist is. Hermetic is definitely an alchemist, but isn't as naturally talented as Scholar is, although he does have a much more narrowly-focused goal with his practice of it. Biomancer is an arcanist who's trying to do some alchemy and mostly failing since he's bad at the blending of science and magic that's necessary (and winds up going down a rabbit hole of darker magics in order to kind of duplicate some of the effects he was going for in the first place).
- So, Argent Adept is putting together a magic/cosmic team to take on big threats, and Scholar has shown up enough to be on his radar, so why not recruit John for the Prime Wardens? It's clear to anybody who meets Scholar that he's not really a joiner - he's not the type to stick around on a team because he has too much other stuff going on elsewhere. He's enigmatic (and the Vagabond's Tale story is there so that the readers aren't so in the dark on what his deal is, but the other heroes don't know it), but he definitely gives the impression that he's always on the move and so it's not really even a serious thought to try to get him to join a team. He needs that mobility to go where he's needed to help in ways that are specific to him - like with how he tried to help Apostate.
- He's obviously an old character in Sentinels Comics, but he doesn't really fit into the spandex-clad super heroes - we get the feel that he finds them (or they find him) when he's needed; what makes heroes seek him out, who are some of his students, and what do they learn from him? He helped the Wraith figure out who she is as a hero, he helped bandage up Expatriette and helped her be comfortable with who she was in the face of Wager Master's provocation. In general, he gravitates towards being a mentor to the mentorless - Wraith didn't have anybody to look up to who was doing the kinds of things she was doing (as opposed to Legacy who had generations of family history to look back on), Expat is off on her own and estranged from everybody she knew in her life. Others: Tempest trying to figure out how to interact with these other heroes, Sky-Scraper dealing with life outside of the Colosseum (he met her in there as he was part of the first Colosseum event in the comics) and integrating into an alien society, Argent Adept was kind of lost during his search for instruments (lots of power and responsibility, very little information to work from). The common thread is "how do I find my place in the world?" and he helps people discover their own answers to that question. He and Haka have a connection given their disconnect from their old lives and how Haka could settle down somewhat and make friends with people rather than just wandering constantly - it's after the Vagabond's Tale backstory for the readers, and there was a hint that Scholar was going to open up, but then he backs off at the last moment and moves on as his old enigmatic self and isn't taking his own advice.
- Does he make his own alcoholic beverages? If so what kind? He gets enough "mixing" of things in his normal life and is not into making his own beverages. He's much happier just picking up something that's already done.
- On "Get Out of the Way" were the Blade Battalion members he was addressing fast enough? Mostly. He's not "attacking" them by turning the ground into fire. This is on a Mobile Defense Platform and one of the engines is about to explode. He's using his power to sever it from the rest of the platform before it can do so. He's successful in preventing the explosion itself from hurting anybody, but a few Battalion members do fall off.
- What happened on his foil Incap art? Hermetic is corrupting the Philosopher's Stone - he's taken it from him and has started this process before Scholar manages to summon it and the process continues afterward. Scholar has to use his own power to try to cleanse it because he is connected to the stone. He has to re-enter the stone similar to what happened to him when he first found it to "fight" the corruption from the inside. In doing so, he extends himself into a space that the stone, as a conduit, had been performing for him. Now, the ley lines are no longer running just through the stone, but through him as well. The energy running through him necessarily means that energy is being pulled away from him as fast as it's flowing into him and this process is what begins his change into Scholar of the Infinite as he is being pulled in infinite directions.
- In Mr. Fixer's episode, we hear about his old master Shuen Zhang, who traveled the world on an endless quest to fight suffering - this sounds a lot like John Rhodes' own quest. Are they the same person? No, Shuen Zhang is a very different person, although you're right in pointing out similarities.
- What is his involvement with the Dreamer? He's part of that event, but while most heroes are dealing with projections and fighting closer and closer to her to the point where something is definitely going to harm her. That is the moment when he gets involved, stepping in to protect her from harm. Sure, fighting the projections are all well and good, but somebody has to protect her. Ra, for one, is much more of the opinion that she's the source of the problem so why not remove her to solve it and Scholar comes back with the standard "not killing little girls is kind of an important rule" counterargument. He does, incidentally, wind up helping the other heroes against the projections as well, but his primary focus is protecting the Dreamer herself. It doesn't go onto being a mentor relationship, but she survives in general largely due to his efforts.
- Scholar has the Philosopher's Stone, but Hermetic seems to have one too (or some kind of facsimile) - is it a singular object or a class of objects? Hypothetically, there could be more of them made (Charles Clarke could not have made one, but Scholar probably could). Hermetic tries to make one, but fails - what he has is a bloodstone, a combination of alchemy and blood magic that mimics some of the properties of a Philosopher's Stone but isn't as powerful and has some downsides. He needs a conduit for the power he's dealing with related to ley lines and that's what he's managed to cobble together to do so - he'd love to get a Philosopher's Stone, though.
- Does he know anything about extraterrestrial magic? When he feels Deadline manipulating ley lines, can he tell exactly what's going on or just a general "vibe"? He's a big part of the Deadline event (as a side character) and knows exactly what's going on. He's going around repairing things or working to avoid some of the worst fallout. That's a common theme, he's out there behind the scenes mitigating already bad situations.
- How close is Hermetic's stone to the real deal? Can Hermetic due the same elemental form transmutations? Could Scholar turn the bloodstone into the real thing? Scholar could definitely take the bloodstone and use it as a starting point to create a new Philosopher's Stone. He's not incentivized to do so and it never happens (and it winds up in other hands eventually anyway). In its current state it couldn't be used for the same kind of transformations - if Hermetic would try to transmute himself he'd wind up horribly deformed.
- Given that Progeny is out to wreck everything, why is it only Biomancer who gets the full nemesis status? Biomancer is the one who Covets Scholar's power (and knows really early on that the Philosopher's Stone is his own work). His meddling in events is extensive but not a major part of the overall story being told (why he only gets a Team Villain deck) - he's kind of like Zhu Long that way. Scholar has been around a long time, but Biomancer has been around far longer. He's very dangerous and has a lot of impact on events in general, he just lacks a hugely major confrontation of his own.
- In Expatriette's episode, and the Wager Master card "Not All He Seems", we know that Wager Master wants the Philosopher's Stone but why does he want it? Also, we heard that the Stone is fixed to Scholar's being - what does that entail? They already talked about how the Stone is tied to Scholar. Scholar doesn't know the extent of Wager Master's power, but he knows that the Stone is itself a powerful thing that he uses in the hope to distract WM. What WM sees is 1) the potential downfall of the Scholar (not that he wants that specifically, it's just that he likes messing with everybody) and 2) WM can go anywhere and do anything while there, but he has to be present to do those things and the Stone would give him some ability to effect things without traveling - it wouldn't make him more powerful, just allow him to spread his existing power more widely using the ley line network. The deal struck is that if Wager Master takes the Stone and leaves with it, he has to stay gone. He figures that this Scholar guy is a sucker and accepts, and leaves, but then Scholar just summons the Stone back to himself with Wager Master stuck elsewhere until he can think of a loophole.
- Scholar seems like the kind of guy to enjoy kicking back with some drinks, does he enjoy bar games? How about making things interesting with gambling? - he owes me a glowing rock. Look buddy, the deal didn't specify that Wager Master got to keep it after leaving.
- Scholar of the Infinite is mentioned as being a "gate between reality and the infinite void" but the 'v' there isn't capitalized, so is this something besides the Void and if so, what? It's the same Void - but he's not a living Nexus of the Void or anything. Ley lines don't really have a start or end, but they do all connect to the Void and since the ley lines now run through Scholar, he's now linked to it as well. He now has infinite reach and infinite sight as he is connected, through the Void, to all ley lines. There's a great cost here, though, as the Void cannot just give endless energy, but it also takes. This is the beginning of the end for him.
- How did he come to mentor Guise of all people given their disparate personalities? This starts during the Progeny event. While the Rook City bit is happening Scholar is there helping in the fight and trying to mitigate things. Guise shows up and thinks that he's a hero and can help too - buffing himself up into this big beefy form (like Haka size, not huge Sky-Scraper). He runs up and punches Progeny right in the head, which just kind of flows around Guise's fist, barely registering his presence before backhanding him across the city, through a wall, and knocked out. Eventually, Progeny stops attacking that city and starts moving towards Megalopolis. Most heroes follow, continuing the fight, but Scholar stays behind to help the city. In the process, he also helps Guise get back on his feet. This begins sort of the familiar Scholar relationship, but from a publishing standpoint we have Guise, a very popular character but one without a real place (given that he is almost entirely there for comedy) and Scholar who's also very popular but has never really been a main character with a book of his own, and the writers decide to change things up by having them team up - Scholar becomes a main character in Guise's book for a while (the most "main character" he's ever been) but their duo adventures are about him helping Guise figure out who he is. This is also different given that Guise is kind of all over the place rather than actually paying attention and listening to his advice as most of the other heroes he's helped out did. He sees a lot of potential, and a lot of power, in Guise, but also that he's missing something and hopes that he can help him become what he could be.
- He seems a bit like Haka in that he's mostly around to be helpful and not drag his own baggage into situations, is that why he doesn't have a solo-villain deck nemesis? Biomancer seems super-gross, but doesn't seem to be as dangerous as Baron Blade, Citizen Dawn, or Grand Warlord Voss, for example. Oh, Biomancer is definitely as dangerous as those others, but he's so often operating under the radar that you don't know what he's up to (nobody does).
- On his Scholar of the Infinite incap art he seems to have horribly murdered Guise, what's going on? Do the weird lines on his standard incap side indicate some kind of corruption? Is it a Biomancer clone of Guise? Scholar does not murder Guise - that was OblivAeon who grabbed him and crushed him in his fist - the energies involved destabilize Guise to the point where he's melting. Scholar is on his last legs (the power siphoned to the Void is having an effect after all the power that Scholar's been expending in the fight) and he's on the verge of becoming insubstantial himself. This seems to be the end for both of them, one fading away and the other melting.
- On the Scholar of the Infinite foil incap, we see him pushing the Philosopher's Stone into Guise, seemingly imbuing him with that power, what's going on? Why Guise? How is this even possible? This is that same OblivAeon situation mentioned in the previous question. Scholar just doesn't have enough power left to save Guise (or himself for that matter). So, he instead passes his essence into the Stone (again) and then drives it into Guise, which is enough to stabilize him at the cost of his own existence. He doesn't retain enough power to maintain his own existence within the stone this time, so that's the end of the Scholar. More on what this means for Guise next week.
- There is no future for him as he sacrificed himself to save Guise.