The Letters Page: Episode 41
An episode about a nonsensical character who has too much power for anyone's good!
Run Time: 103:16
Right off the bat, we talk about Cosmic Contest - want more info? Listen to last week's Editor's Note!
Then, right off the bat, we hit the ground running with the story told in Wager Master's first appearance in Sentinel Comics!
From there, we cover many other Wager Master stories. He's such a scamp! Also, terribly evil, mostly through forcing people to play his dangerous and destructive games.
We begin considering your questions about 44 minutes into the episode, starting off with us getting an issue number wrong, once again. Can you trust anything we say? Unlikely!
And then we're back to even more long stories. That's what we do! This may be our most "stories and stories and stories" episode so far.
The future section begins a bit after the 95 minute mark, and in it, we finally reveal the names our two primary post-Multiverse realities!
Next week is the long-overdue Spite episode. Happy Halloween!
(Did anyone catch the two-word cameo early on in the episode?)
- In the early 1970s, the Comics Code Authority rules were revised, lessening restrictions formerly placed on things like corrupt authority figures, sympathetic criminals, and horror elements that had sufficient literary background (so vampires in the Dracula vein were ok, but zombies still weren't). In response, major publishers began pushing the new limits almost immediately. Mystery Comics, for example, started featuring drug dealers and gang violence overtly instead of requiring a lot of it to be implied or otherwise off-panel to meet the Code requirements. Arcane Tales started being able to feature things like human cultists rather than inhuman monsters. The Freedom Five started having more human villains with sympathetic motivations. All in all, this was a positive step in that it allowed for more three-dimensional characters. However, it also had something of a backlash from fans who just wanted their fun comics. These latter fans got some of their cartoony wackiness back with the introduction of Wager Master in the early-to-mid '70s.
- He's this little blue alien-looking cartoon of a character, who's really ill-defined but seemingly omnipotent powers are given no explanation. He just shows up to mess with the Freedom Five. "I've got all these games, and if you complete my challenges I'll go away. If you fail I'll blow up the world. OK, maybe not blow it up, but take over and change things and you'll probably wish that I'd just blown it up." He proceeds to bully them into "playing" since if they don't he'll just find somebody less competent to make the same offer to.
- The setup he teleports them to is a strangely-colored/proportioned room with five doors with the following labels: America the Beautiful, Robo Ring, A Poet's Soul, Rat Race, and The Speed of Plight. Each hero gets to choose a room, but they're not explicitly labeled for one in particular (should Tachyon choose Rat Race or The Speed of Plight?).
- Legacy chooses the America one, naturally, and winds up in the middle of a Senate hearing. All of the senators have a weird blue glow in their eyes. They all immediately turn on Legacy with random powers (eye lasers, fire blasts, etc.) with Wager Master off to one side as a stenographer, taking the minutes.
- Tachyon chose the Speed of Plight and seems to be back in FFHQ. Wager Master is there with a travel brochure that he's reading: it seems to be mostly about seeing all the features of the building (cafeteria, dormitory, etc.) "with a bomb in it". The gimmick being that however fast she goes, if she slows down at all they'll all go off. So, she walks briskly to the first one, thinking that it's better to not jump right to top speed. She finds the first one and it's got a timer showing less than a minute remaining, so she's going to have to go fast anyway.
- Wraith goes into Rat Race (assuming something to do with business). Nope, she's in a big maze with Wager Master looming over her ominously and encouraging her to find the cheese ball at the end. She begins and finds that the maze shifts behind her as she progresses, so a "normal" maze-solving algorithm isn't going to do her any good.
- Bunker chooses Robo Ring (it's a bigger door for one thing, even though Tyler isn't actually in the suit at this point). As he goes through the door he's now in the suit, but in an over-sized boxing ring (oversized even for the Bunker suit) facing off against an even bigger Rockem Sockem Robot.
- Absolute Zero seems like a good fit for A Poet's Soul, but keep in mind that this is really early on in his existence as a character and this aspect of his personality hasn't been spelled out yet (he's a grumpy, sarcastic downer who makes cold puns at this point). He steps into a pitch black room, which is totally dark until he's hit with a spotlight. He's on stage facing a crowd of beatnik Wager Masters and he has to perform some beat poetry for them. Pause for a few beat panels while he processes this request (even funnier due to his expressionless mask). Then he launches into some great, well-executed poetry about the human condition. There's another beat panel on the audience before we see their reaction: lots of appreciative finger-snapping from all of the Wager Masters except the one in the middle who's not in a beatnik outfit ("You weren't supposed to be good at poetry. Nobody's good at poetry."). We then cut back to the other heroes in reverse order:
- Bunker's solution to fighting a giant robot is to superheat the exterior of his own suit, melting the other robot whenever it punches him. Wraith (who has to ignore the unhelpful "advice" that WM is yelling to her), deploys a bunch of smoke bombs so that WM can no longer see her. He shrinks down to "normal" size and turns into a fan to blow the smoke away. He tries to follow her and turns a corner whereupon she grabs him and claims to have found the "cheese ball" - fair enough. Tachyon has increased to high speed, but just can't manage to make much headway as she runs by the bombs and so just starts collecting them to carry. She brings them all back to the lobby, hands them all to WM, and stops (and then runs off to outrun the resulting explosion). Legacy, rather than being a chaotic fight scene when we return, has managed to instead actually calm things down and is running an actual session (for which WM has to take the minutes, bo-ring).
- Wager Master teleports everybody back to the real FFHQ, claims that all they've done is proven what they "really are", and summons up a creature that's an amalgamation of the five of them (which he names after them, "Misguided Fool") that they then have to fight. They win handily and Wager Master leaves as promised.
- He shows up in a lot of other books too after this, although rarely. He's always kind of a jerk and pulling this standard trickster/game-playing shtick. He's generally creating some amount of chaos, but also not typically life-threatening stuff. He's more of an annoyance and everybody kind of gets to be familiar with his existence over the course of years.
- In one late-'80s story, he shows up in Megalopolis to mess with the Freedom Five again. This time they just refuse from the outset to play his dumb games, citing the lack of stakes if they don't (considering nothing he's ever done has shown any potential harm to actual people). This denial enrages him, prompting him to become this towering lizard monster with laser eyes that begins a rampage through the city because they won't play right. He's much more of a toddler character than Guise is. Thank you. [No, not this again.]
- So, they fight him and it's a big protracted thing. After a while the heroes are all exhausted and are preparing one last big strike to defeat the monster. That's when Wager Master turns back to his usual self, pops down to where the heroes are, and offers to just go back to doing his games again. The heroes are fed up with him and just start yelling at/insulting him - he's a lonely little jerk who's just doing this for attention. "Fine, I can tell when I'm not appreciated" and he disappears.
- This is when his stint in Guise's story (discussed last episode) when they're roommates. He really is lonely and wants attention (although this doesn't make him any less of a jerk).
- His next appearance is in The Southwest Sentinels, late enough in the run of that book that it's more connected to events in other books. This is when the wind-up Wageling robots show up. The Sentinels smash a bunch of them that are flooding the streets. They eventually find their way to the warehouse where WM is setting them off from. It's another standard "series of challenges for the heroes" Wager Master plot, but also a standard "facing off against a powerful opponent, overcoming early failures before triumphing" Sentinels story. WM has captured a number of other heroes and has "trapped" them in playing cards (Haka, Nightmist, and Tachyon are called out in particular) and the Sentinels have to play his games to free them.
- So, the Sentinels spring into action to take on his challenges. They fail a bunch, which is frustrating to Wager Master as they're not doing it right ("Like a frustrated GM."). So he has to come up with additional games. Eventually, the heroes stop and suggest instead that Wager Master play their game. This gets his attention. This turns out to be a night of poker. Mainstay is a good player, Idealist gets lucky a few times (and is good at bluffing), and Wager Master is slowly bled of chips. Down to the last hand, heads-up between Idealist and Wager Master and he is out of chips and has to bet the cards that has the other heroes trapped in it to call her bluff (he thinks he's learned her tells). He's got three aces. She has four sixes. The day is saved and he leaves.
- So far they've not really been discussing Wager Master's powers. That's mostly because he can pretty much do whatever he wants. The distinguishing feature is that he sets his own limitations and the heroes defeat him by finding a clever way to twist his wording/conditions back in an unexpected way.
- We get a 6-issue limited series called Endgame. Up until this point, there hasn't really been a story where he gets the better of anybody. There's some level of mayhem and/or destruction sometimes, but he's generally taken care of with very low-level repercussions. This book showcases a lot of him succeeding. Setback gets stuck on a deadly game show "Know or Die". Sky-Scraper gets trapped in her mind that she's back in the Colosseum. Wraith and Bunker are made to think they're in love (with Wager Master playing a literal Cupid for them) during a story in Champion Studios and they're too distracted with dealing with that to focus on the actual plot. Argent Adept is challenged to a fiddle contest, which AA wins handily (because WM doesn't know how to play), but once he receives the golden fiddle he finds that he cannot stop playing. We also see the scenario from the Expatriette episode where he shows her what she would be like with powers.
- After this whole event ended, all of those effects eventually went away. Wraith and Bunker, however, talk through everything that happened with them and realize that they actually do have feelings for one another (although not the head-over-heels melodrama way that he made them feel).
- So, Endgame kind of ends with all of these heroes still trapped in some way. This leads directly into Freedom Five Annual #23 which involves a lot of the side-characters coming together to help out the major heroes who he's incapacitated in some way. The major one of these, of course, being the Scholar offering up the Philosopher's Stone to get him to leave (as discussed in the Expat and Scholar episodes). While the Scholar is doing that, however, there's a big fight involving a new version of Misguided Fool incorporating even more heroes than last time.
- In the lead-up to OblivAeon while the heroes are trying to figure out what all of these clues left by a scion attempting to communicate with them mean, he shows up at Freedom Tower to supply a riddle. This happens to be during some weird spacetime anomaly with Legacy where he's been replaced with a version of himself that's really good at puzzles, so they solve the riddle in no time and so he leaves.
- He shows up during the OblivAeon fight itself, showcasing once again his need for attention. In the middle of this big reality-ending fight, he puts Mr. Fixer and Harpy and puts them in a game show (and can win a prize). It's even obvious that this is a low-effort, slapped-together scenario that he just did for the attention because everybody was focused on OblivAeon. The heroes win his game and get a prize, but you'll find out what it is in the OblivAeon game set [I'm assuming this is a Mission/Reward]. [Note From the Future: It is, it's "A Last Wager".]
- In the AZ episode, we hear that WM appeared to him and showed him that he could exist without his suit after a fight with Proletariat (and so occurs during Vengeance), but the flavor text on the card showing this indicates that this happens much earlier, in FF #176, so what's the correct timeline here? Another mistake, the first encounter with him was in that issue range and they mistakenly applied that to all of his card art that featured the FF, even events that took place much later, like this AZ encounter which would have been in #551 instead.
- If Wager Master can only affect reality where he is, how does he maintain that effect on AZ? It's more that he can't act without being present (sidestepping the issue that he can make copies of himself or make himself invisible) - he can make a permanent change that lingers after he leaves. Once he alters reality it stays altered, but he can only do that alteration while present.
- If the goal was to have AZ turn on the team, what was his actual plot? Did he have any other offers out to the team? No other offers were extended; he knew that AZ was the only one he could lean on. The plot was the team was evacuating the Mars Base before the self-destruct goes off. Once all of the civilians were safe, WM shows up to get AZ to freeze the rest of the team in place there before escaping himself. Instead, AZ creates a wall of ice between the FF and WM, with the latter right next to an airlock, which AZ then opens. Wager Master is then blown out into space.
- How was such a silly villain such an early villain? Comics were (by necessity) lighter and sillier in the '50s and '60s. He's not from that era, but was a reaction towards that silliness prompted by the darker trend that started in the '70s.
- What question did Setback get right on Unanswerable Question? Did he continue to get lucky in subsequent rounds? He did manage to pull of a lucky streak in answering, but we don't know what the question was. Probably something like some super specific finance question down to a really fine decimal point that he just guessed random digits and got right. He did have to keep answering questions until the heroes won, but he kept lucking his way into right answers.
- Did the Scholar/Guise team ever encounter him? They do, but we'll see how that plays out in some future product.
- Are his alterations to time/space ever permanent or do they fade once he's defeated or otherwise leaves? He could make things that would be permanent, but at the end of the stories they go away because that resetting to "normal" is part of his bargains. If he ever "won" there would definitely be repercussions.
- What are some of the most important/biggest bets he's won (or lost) and the effects on the Multiverse? Is he involved in OblivAeon? They've already discussed a lot of failures. That's because he's never had much luck in the canon timeline (which feeds his fixation with this reality). In other realities (like we'd see in Disparation) we see where he's won and just wrecks things. One notable example: he makes a bet with Unity that she can't make a robot that can beat Omnitron at chess (Omnitron still being a major force here and Unity being more on the building/programming end of things than just "making robots with her mind" stuff). She makes a boxy bot with a lot of deep-learning ability (Augustus in this reality) and pits it against Omnitron. She fails and WM's "prize" is that he lets Omnitron keep Augustus, and incorporating its impressive abilities into itself and in short order takes over that reality (more hints that we'll see this reality at some point). [Note From the Future: We do, it's the universe Omni-Unity is from.]
- His (relatively low) HP count seems odd - is he really that fragile? The HP count for him indicates things like his emotional and mental health as well as physical endurance and the things that happen during the course of a game against him wear away at that (this is also represented by the alternate win conditions given that "punching" isn't always the best way to get rid of him, but it's primarily a combat game, so the HP is there too).
- Why can you sometimes not win by just punching him? The abstraction of a Wager Master encounter into the SotM mechanics are some of the strangest things you can do with the game, so the alternate win and loss conditions are a way to try to do that. Who's to say that if you're punching Wager Master that it's actually him? Maybe the HP represents some physical challenge that he's set for the heroes in some cases, but in others he's set ones lacking that aspect.
- It's possible in SotM (given a combination of Wagelings and "Losing to the Odds" with the right set of heroes) for Wager Master to lose the game during setup, prior to any hero actions, is this kind of "he shows up and loses immediately" encounter representative of an event in the comics? A Scholar/Guise encounter on Dok'Thorath right at the beginning of the OblivAeon event is one such. Scholar is trying to get Guise to focus and not be so random. Wager Master shows up and says he's going to send them on a quest for three items or else he'll launch them into space: the waters from the fountain of youth, a stone from a far-off planet, and a rune of transportation. Guise has this anti-aging lotion with him, does that count? Oh, and this Megalopolis subway token from before the monorail got built. And, since we're not on Earth does my pet rock work? Wager Master then pops out of existence again in disbelief at this collection of random junk. Scholar: "yes, yes, this time your collection of random nonsense was helpful, but that's probably a once in a lifetime situation. It's really important to focus." Wager Master comes back: "But do you have any hair?" Guise: Does this tuft of fur from the abominable snowman count?" It turns out that Guise's torso is about 2/3 random junk.
- Does Wager Master break the 4th wall like Guise? Nope. Even Guise only thinks that he's in a comic or game or whatever.
- Can he refer to trademarked material? He can do whatever he wants (except break the 4th wall). He doesn't want to, though.
- Assuming that he can/does, is he the only villain who's identical in the RPG and Tactics timelines and aware of that dichotomy - maybe commenting that a dark event should happen in the Tactics one instead, for example? He can't break the 4th wall, but he is aware of the differences between realities because he's in all realities.
- On "Who Are You Fighting" we see Misguided Fool made up as a mashup of lots of different heroes, were those all of the heroes he knew about at the time, the ones he was fighting at the time, or what? How did the heroes fare against him? Do creations like this have a life of their own or do they fade away when he leaves? We see two appearances of Misguided Fool, the first time it's just against the Freedom Five with their attributes, but the second the parts are from the "most popular heroes" pretty much just to give him a lot of powers to fight them with. It's not a sentient creature that he's given life to, it's "barely more than a wageling" and with less personality than one of Unity's golems. Once WM leaves there aren't really and remnants of any of these things left over, only rarely pieces of WM himself and even that's only had a notable repercussions once.
- [At around 1:07:53 we get an in-character letter, of which Adam asks "Is that lilac?" of its scent, that's got some good post effects put in by Trevor when they get to the end of its segment a few minutes later] Is he more powerful than a scion of OblivAeon or just a trickster imp? Definitely more powerful than a scion and a trickster imp.
- Is there just one of him across every reality or many copies of him? There's just one. The term they use internally is that he's a "singular being".
- Is his moral compass comprehensible from a human standpoint? What rules is he forced to follow? Can he not do "repeat performances" (citing that rather than move the painted line in the apartment with Guise a second time he did something flashier that wound up being a problem for him)? He has to follow his own rules/deals/etc. and often sets up these rules that the heroes then subvert to defeat him. It's not necessarily that his moral compass is unknowable, it's just that his chaotic nature makes it difficult to pin anything down. He's definitely a bad person and is willing to harm or allow harm to befall people as part of his games - he just doesn't care about them. He's not prevented from doing "repeat performances" but that's boring.
- Is blue-gnome-alien-man his true form or something he just presents himself as? It's the form he takes all the time as the "default" - but is that his "true" form? Dunno - but that's just it, his true form is simply "unknown" rather than "unknowable".
- He seems to know a lot about stuff that the heroes may not, what kind of unknowable mysteries is he privy to? He knows a bit about the Void, but he hasn't been to and wouldn't want to go there (it's somewhat antithetical to what he is). He knows Gloomweaver's original form, but he's not the type to care to keep that in mind. He knows about the shadow creatures that Akash'Bhuta fought against. He knows that Maia Montgomery is the Wraith. He's not all-knowing, but he's been around long enough to have knowledge of a lot of things. However, he's also very much a moment-to-moment kind of being and so doesn't really bother keeping all of this stuff in mind.
- What's his favorite game (and what's your favorite game that he hosted)? His is Dice with the Cosmos, but really anything with stakes (and in particular playing for stakes beyond his means). Their favorite is "Know or Die".
- How does Wager Master know what Expat would be like with powers, does he show up in other realities and make appearances in Disparation? Yes. Very much so.
- Given his immense power, why does he not just blow everything up out of spite when he loses? As stated, he is constrained by his own rules and he likes playing games (and breaking the rules isn't as fun). He's also really lonely (he's a jerk, so that's not surprising), and that's partly why he keeps coming back.
- Is his name "Wager Master" or should we call him "The Wager Master"? He is the Wager Master, but he's also just called "Wager Master". Now is that his name? That's tricky. It's not not his name, but he's not coming down and talking to you in English (or whatever your language is), he's just talking and your brain interprets it (as opposed to Apostate's strategy of actually speaking to people in whatever their native language is).
- In what ways are his and OblivAeon's abilities and power sources similar? We've also been told that he's occasionally hosted other cosmic beings; what are these and why do they not work against the end of everything? He and OblivAeon are both "Singular Entities" and it's incorrect to think that he's not on OblivAeon's level (a big difference being OblivAeon having focus and a goal). The other cosmic beings (that he brought the Crackjaw Crew in for party entertainment) are not necessarily other Singular Entities, but if he invites you to a party it's just easier to attend so even if you're not one to enjoy (and some do enjoy them, which might tell you something about those that do) you do. Getting into what they are would be telling at this point. More on some of them later.
- It's been implied that he's this cosmic force of the universe and he's been around for a very long time, does he have a relation to other cosmic entities that have been mentioned (OblivAeon and the being that became Faultless for example)? If crossing realities is only possible due to OblivAeon's actions, how much of WM's weirdness is reliant on that? They've kind of been dancing around this, but WM, OblivAeon, and the pre-Faultless entity are all very similar Singular Entities. Their origins is a bit farther than they want to go into right now, but they will say that none of them pre-date the Multiverse.
- Do he and OblivAeon play well together? It seems weird that he'd be OK with the end of all realities, but does he just sit out the OblivAeon events? No they definitely don't play well together. He thinks that OblivAeon is boring because he never does anything (he's really setting things up over eons) and once the OblivAeon events start he's mad that everybody is now paying attention to OblivAeon instead of him (the whiny baby that he is). WM doesn't want the Multiverse to be destroyed, but at the point that OblivAeon gets things in motion there's nothing he can do to stop it. He figures there's still going to be something around afterwards and that he'll still exist, but he'd be sad to lose the realities that have been completely reshaped as a result of him "winning" there.
- In the Scholar episode, it's said that the deal struck when he took the Philosopher's Stone was that he'd leave Earth and never return; what kind of loophole did he find that allowed him to come back? The next time we see him is on Dok'Thorath rather than Earth. We eventually see him back on Earth, but that's after the Scholar is no more. He makes deals with people and once the other party is gone there's nothing binding him to previous agreements. That's a big reason why he plays games with mortals rather than immortal cosmic entities.
- [ridiculous set of nonsense questions at around 1:33:17 - it's a fun bit, but I'm not going to try to do it justice here]
- Because he's a Singular Entity, he exists simultaneously in all realities and so his future is the same in both Tactics and RPG timelines. Let's take this opportunity to reveal the names they've come up with for these things.
- Card Game Timeline - "The Multiverse" or "The Sentinels Multiverse", even within the editorial staff of the Sentinel Comics company the setting during this time period was referred to as this kind of thing. The complicated nature of all of this is what led to the decision to have the OblivAeon event to collapse things down to a single universe.
- RPG - as the single universe that resulted from the OblivAeon event, this became simply "The Sentinel Comics Universe".
- Tactics - as a later development by a group of writers who wanted to take things in a grittier direction ("What if OblivAeon was even worse, in events and fallout later?"). They named this after the largest notable event that was a part of this new re-imagining, the Mist Storm, and so this became "The Mist Storm Universe".
- Wager Master is consistent between these two "futures" (and indeed any future since the defeat of OblivAeon doesn't effect his status as a Singular Entity).