The Letters Page: Episode 45
A creepy podcast about a creepy fellow, indeed!
Run Time: 1:04:32
"We make things up and then are surprised when you like them."
We start off with the first appearance of Biomancer in Sentinel Comics, and then get into the deeper truth behind who Biomancer really was. The truth is out there! And it's in this episode, too.
We cover Biomancer's overview in under fifteen minutes. It's your questions (starting about 14 minutes in) that bring out all the really interesting stuff. This episode is on the shorter side, but that makes sense, given how little time Biomancer spends in the spotlight.
Right after the 32 minute mark, we get into a MAJOR story reveal. One of the things we've been sitting on forever. You'll know what episode to ask your follow-up questions in when you hear what we're talking about.
Around 43 minutes in, we get a question that leads into a Tachyon story that we greatly enjoy. Time for another "Christopher and Adam talk through a comic book page by page" type story!
Then, around the 50 minute mark, we talk about the crossover with the Widow's Walk expansion to the game Betrayal at House on the Hill. Some creepiness ensues.
And then weird stuff happens at the end of the episode! I don't remember any of this.
Editor's Note in two days! If you have a burning desire to ask questions, ask them about Captain Cosmic and/or Infinitor!
- An early Silver Age story involved the Freedom Five ["early Silver Age" implies that this was the original Freedom Five with the Shrieker and Haka, but nothing else the guys say necessarily make this the case] encountering evil versions of themselves. It was eventually revealed that they weren't real people, but were made of clay-like flesh on metal skeletons and were created by the Biomancer, whom the heroes defeat, but fail to capture.
- He wasn't given a lot of backstory at first, although there was a story where the heroes tracked him down as a normal guy with a family named Daniel Markenstein (spoilers: the family were all his creations too). He'd show up periodically and there would be an evil clone of a hero etc. as that was kind of his entire shtick. That is, until...
- In the late-'70s the writers decided that they could do something much more interesting with him than just have him be this kind of goofy guy who made fake people for the heroes to fight. The reveal is that everything we "knew" about him was lies on top of lies (Daniel Markenstein wasn't really his name, etc.) - he's actually been around for centuries. He was Zosimos of Panopolis in 3rd century Egypt, the first "known" alchemist. Using that and necromancy, he was able to preserve his own flesh (although not his bones, which he had to replace over the centuries using other materials: wood, copper, etc.) and can thereby sustain himself indefinitely. He's on a search for knowledge - to understand the basic building blocks of reality and how everything works. With the advent of the age of superheroes, he's also beginning to understand how to replicate their powers in his fleshchildren.
- So, he'd kind of been this minor villain who'd been around forever, but now (given his new backstory), they made him more of a behind-the-scenes schemer/mastermind type of villain. He'd often show up in other stories with a general "Just as planned" comment or something to show that he's been in the background pulling strings for a lot of events for purposes that never really materialize on the page. This even becomes something of a gag in its own right that he takes credit for everything.
- That being said, he has a few notable stories. A copy of Tachyon assumes her place for a while and manages to get a lot of inside info on heroes (and ruin her reputation a bit - "Is Tachyon a Villain?") before actually fighting the heroes. The main story modeled by his VotM deck is the "Return of Vengeance" story told many years after the main Vengeance event.
- Comic stories seem to be hinting at another Vengeance event, lots of villains teaming up and getting involved in fights with the heroes, and at first it's not known that it's a Biomancer story. After a few issues of the proceedings, Legacy confronts Baron Blade and discovers that it's really a fleshchild. Now that the heroes know that they're all fakes and what they're really dealing with they take out the "villains" fairly quickly. Then all of the fake heroes show up with all of the abilities that the real ones had. By the end of the story we get a few major reveals (to be addressed in the Questions) and the destruction of Biomancer (actually a fleshchild version of himself).
- He's been described as creepy and gross, but he's got a really colorful character design; why the incongruity? It's a case of his costume dating back to the Silver Age and simply never getting updated (although there are plans for the Future) - the idea being that he's this ancient, immutable being, so why would he change? He's also just never seen very frequently, so he needs to have a really consistent, iconic look so that he's always recognizable for the audience.
- Are the fleshchildren sapient/do they have free will? It's complicated. Biomancer has created some that don't know that they're fleshchildren and who simulate "free will", but they are following the parameters or set of instructions that was set by him. We get into the weeds when we have to start making the distinction between "has free will" and "has been programmed to act in such a way as it appears that they have free will to the extent that they can fool real people". Does free will even exist in the first place?
- Does Biomancer use the names for his creations that are on the cards (e.g. Duplexpatriette)? No, it's a convention of the card game and/or nicknames that get used in the text of the comics (Unity, Setback, and Guise called out as being silly enough to actually come up with these names for the bad guys).
- What is the extent to which he can replicate powers? He's remade a lot of them. Unity's was tricky (see her episode for the story there) given that her power is actually magical and moving that connection to a new body is difficult. He's better at replicating powers that are genetic in nature than magic (the necromancy is there to animate the flesh more than anything to do with the powers). For the Carbon Adept, the power isn't coming from the baton as the Virtuoso instruments don't grant power, but it is able to fake what Argent Adept does. He can do a lot of different types of powers, but they're often either not as powerful as the real deal or are just cobbled together effects that look like the same thing, often well enough for the impersonation to be effective.
- A lot of the fleshchildren shown are of characters with a disability of some sort (Baron Blade with the eye injuries, Expatriette missing an eye, Mr. Fixer is blind, and Chrono-Ranger is missing an arm) - is part of his shtick to "correct" these issues? Is this some kind of comment about ableism? This "drive for perfection" is definitely something that comes across in the comics stories. The tone of the stories isn't really appropriate as a PSA kind of thing, but it's there in the subtext. Also, the ways in which the "fixed" versions of characters are different is often part of what ruins the impersonation - example: making a copy of Mr. Fixer who moves like him is difficult in the first place, but one who can see is going to necessarily move entirely differently than he normally does.
- Does the combination of flesh/clay on a metal skeleton intrinsically matter or could he make a duplicate out of just metal or clay? Could he make, say, an Omnitron-X duplicate with a metal exterior but a fleshy interior? To be clear, the metal skeleton is just there as the support structure - the motive force of the fleshchildren is the necromantically generated fleshy parts (that is, these aren't Terminator-style robots that could move on their own without the exterior). He uses metal for the skeleton because it's sturdy and you can shape it pretty much however you want (that is, there's nothing special about the metal - over the years he's used ceramics or wood too).
- Could he make an army of robots where he couldn't, say, make a multitude of Carbon Adepts because he only had the one instrument for the latter? No army of robots given the statement above, but he could make many Adepts. Again, the baton doesn't grant powers - he could just go out and grab a bunch of instruments for them and say that they're Virtuoso instruments as the powers of his copies are just faking what AA does in the first place. It just happened that the one he made had a genuine instrument (which, granted, would make it somewhat more connected to the Void, even though that's not what was being used for the powers displayed).
- Could he create an army of Tempersonations? Yup, that's within his ability, but not really how he does things to make an army - the Return of Vengeance collection of villain and hero copies all at once was what was notable about it.
- What was Tempersonation doing in/to Omnitron IV? Omnitron IV has a fusion reactor and Tempersonation had gotten in there near the end of the Return of Vengeance story to blow it up.
- Has Biomancer ever fought the heroes directly? Is the original even still alive? Yes, but not much. The majority of the times we see him when he's actually interacting with anybody else, it's not him. If he's alone (claiming everything is going to plan or making fleshchildren), that's him. He's one of the most difficult to bring to justice.
- What's the longest he's successfully replaced somebody without the other characters or the readers knowing? Any retcons by writers making somebody turn out to be a fleshchild for a time when they hadn't been initially? A non-retcon replacement that was secret from both characters and readers was after the Bloodsworn Colosseum event where Tachyon defeated Tempest. Following that match, Tempest had just been tossed out of the arena and Biomancer secretly captured him. At the end of the event and the Colosseum went away, there was Tempest who had been "trying to get back in". He knew what Tempest knew and behaved like him and the impersonation went on for years - still a part of the Prime Wardens and all the major events you'd expect him to be around for and is only revealed during the Return of Vengeance event when he betrays the other heroes ("sucker punching" them with lightning from behind) before going into Omnitron IV as mentioned above (with the real one found in Biomancer's lair afterward). There were clues all along the way - dialog inconsistencies or other things that would be out of character for him. Tempest had been a really popular character and this reveal angered a lot of readers.
- Can the fleshchildren be freed from Biomancer? This is still trickier than the question of whether Omnitron X/U is a person (they're on the side that it is a person), but it's still the case that his creations, while they might even think that they have free will, are ultimately dependent on his "programming". The consistent opinion expressed by the guys here is that no, the flesh children aren't "real people" but it's always couched in a way that makes it clear that this is a guess since it's a really hard line to draw with any certainty.
- How could we tell for sure that, say, Christopher hadn't been replaced by a duplicate? Usually, a fleshchild just acts a little bit out of character and so it requires observation over time. So, for example, if Christopher were to pose to show of his physique or claim to be "a giver".
- What's the story behind the art on Tachyon's card "Sucker Punch" where she's zoomed around behind Biomancer and is about to hit him with a club? It's a metal pipe and it wasn't as simple as just moving from in front of him to behind him. Story Time! It's at the end of the story mentioned earlier where she'd been replaced by an "evil Tachyon" and the story from the Chrono-Ranger and Ambuscade episodes involving Wagner Mars Base. Due to Biomancer's meddling, she can hear the broadcasts (on the Hero Communication Band) from the rest of the team back on Earth about her doing bad stuff, but can't respond as she takes the trip back from Mars (via comic book spaceships and so much faster than in real life, but still excruciatingly slow for her). Biomancer knew she was going to be on Mars and just took this opportunity to get his scheme going. As soon as she steps off the spaceship, there's a fleshchild of himself that he's set up to grab her. She didn't even notice it, but just zoomed off and we get her "Day in the Life" issue that has some interesting storytelling features due to the discrepancy between the speeds of light and sound (sound effects happening on different pages than the images of events they correspond to, etc.). She's going around solving all of the problems that she heard about on the communications system on the way in (necessarily pushing her limits to go fast enough) and picks up a pipe along the way, eventually returning to the spaceport and, seeing Biomancer there, knocks him out with it. This is sort of an infamous issue that people either loved or hated the experimental storytelling style.
- Does Franz Vogel, the Crimson Conductor, become Biomancer? No, good theory, but no. Biomancer is much older and the lineup of magic systems don't mesh. There could be a Disparation story where that's the case, but he just acquired the Baton after Vogel's death rather than them being the same person.
- The Widow’s Walk expansion to the game Betrayal at House on the Hill includes scenarios written by guest creators, including Christopher; one scenario includes a haunt that involves a fleshchild, is that scenario canonical in Sentinel Comics? If so, does that mean that Biomancer is really Zosimos Alchemista? Avalon Hill asked Christopher to do a scenario and he could have just written up some horror story stuff, but instead he decided to go with a really deep cut Sentinels connection that didn't require any knowledge of Sentinel Comics characters or stories and who is the creepiest, best option for a horror story in that vein but Biomancer? The gimmick of the game is that the players are people investigating this spooky house and, eventually, their actions trigger the actual plot and changing the gameplay from simple exploration to a specific scenario with goals for the "traitor" and the other players that are only revealed at that time - in this case, the traitor discovers that they aren't a real person, but a fleshchild with fake memories and who only thought they were real and that if they collect a pound of flesh from the other people in the house, Zosimos Alchemista can make more friends like them. If the other players win the flavor text talks about them destroying the traitor and discovering the clay flesh over a metal skeleton. Apparently the in-house playtesting at Avalon Hill sufficiently creeped them all out. This and other tie-in stuff they do for other games slot into continuity as Disparation stories (just like how Nightmist, and the rest of the SotM material, isn't part of the Arkham Horror canon).
- The XTREME Prime Wardens aren't familiar with Biomancer, does he not exist in their reality, does he simply keep a lower profile, or is this a meta joke about how he didn't exist in the '90s? He did exist in the '90s. The XTREMEverse has very bombastic characters and Biomancer has a different name and a different shtick there, which is why they're not familiar with him.
- The Clone-Ranger card implies that he's infiltrated CON's bunker, but as Jim is time traveling, this seems like a difficult feat to accomplish, what's the story here? How did Biomancer even find out about CON and what's his interest in it? Biomancer is interested in knowledge, having an outside view of time could be helpful in that, and he's been around long enough to have noticed the weird events that correspond to Jim's trips. He determines that this has to be somebody time traveling and that it's got to be from in the far future. He builds a "sleeper agent" based on the reported appearance of the traveler and puts it in stasis in a secure location to ride out the centuries until the time is right, to then have it infiltrate the base of operations and tamper with things to his benefit. The point was to get information from the future for Biomancer, but that doesn't work (time getting all weird due to OblivAeon and simple mistakes being made), so all the Clone-Ranger actually knows to do is to disrupt CON's operation. This is what causes the change in the kinds of bounties that Jim gets sent on over time (going after people that Biomancer was already watching). This has knock-on effects all the way until the Time-Slinger era when the "reset" that happens as CON is pulled back through time corrects these negative changes.
- Mist Storm Universe (Tactics) - Still up to more of the same. Laying low, plotting, and sending out his copies. We see a duplicate Legacy at one point. He's still trying to get his bearings in this new, more dangerous world and determining how to make his mark.
- Sentinel Comics Universe (RPG) - He shows up right away and is a more active player moving forward. Look forward to more things from him.