The Letters Page: Episode 49
To celebrate Boxing Day, let's talk about the fighters in the cosmic arena! (Yes, yes, we know that Boxing Day has nothing to do with the pugilistic sport of boxing.)
Run Time: 1:07:06
After only a couple minutes of jawing about the holidays, your intrepid hosts get right into the history of the Bloodsworn Colosseum in the pages of Sentinel Comics.
Around the twelve minute mark, we finally tell an integral part of the Tony Taurus story.
Then, on to more and different tales of the Bloodsworn!
We start in on your questions a few minutes before the half hour mark. And we start off with a true and proper backstory!
And then, around the 34 minute mark, we talk about a thing we messed up.
A few minutes before the hour mark, we tell the backstory of a character you've seen before, but never heard of! She's a piece of Sentinel Comics history!
Next week is Sky-Scraper, so get your questions in now! See you Thursday for an Editor's Note all about the Cosmic Contest.
- The Bloodsworn Colosseum started showing up in early Freedom Five stories as a handy method for the writers to introduce "space stuff" to the comics as, since the Colosseum can move, it can bring those elements to Earth rather than requiring the heroes to get there on their own (also, once we started seeing more stories set in space, it was a familiar thing they could bring back periodically).
- We get an indication that its "random" appearances are preceded by a beacon that's sent out - once that arrives the rest of the Colosseum pops into existence in that location.
- Kaargra Warfang is the (absolute) leader of the Colosseum from the beginning (and her appearance is meant to evoke a shark - somewhat aquatic, predatory/combative, and always on the move). As for the crowd, buying a ticket lets you travel around with the Colosseum for a time, so they all come with it rather than needing to get to it on their own once it shows up. It's kind of like a cruise ship, only for fighting. Between the crowd and the gladiators, they could make up whatever kind of weird looking aliens they wanted to fill out the ranks. The point of the Colosseum was never really explained, though - the contestants are forced to fight to win the crowd's favor, success means they're free to leave, failure means they remain there as gladiators.
- That goes on for a while - there aren't stories that are moved forward by events in the Colosseum, it's just a convenient cosmic-flavored "filler" story they could throw in from time to time.
- Shortly after Vengeance we get an actual big, multi-issue story rather than just filler. The Colosseum arrives outside Rook City and a bunch of heroes (and other people) are brought in as combatants. This is the first time we see the concept of titles that the combatants can win that grant additional effects.
- This is where the Tempest vs. Tachyon fights wind up happening as mentioned in the Tachyon and Biomancer episodes. Her initial betrayal of Tempest is what got Tachyon the Chaos Lord title.
- There's also an Expatriette/Setback team-up (prior to the formation of Dark Watch) that involves them fighting off just waves of aliens led by "leader" gladiators - Setback is dealing with the hoards while Expat takes up a sniper position to take out the commanders, this is what earns her the Seeker title.
- K.N.Y.F.E. is there in a big brawl with a mob of large aliens that she wins by using a lot of energy spikes from all over her body, hurting herself in the process, but winning as a result. This earns her the Reckless title.
- Char (an old standby of a villain who can be dropped into just about any story; he's an arsonist and can generate flames with his arms - he's a "high power, but low interest" character) got picked up alongside the heroes. Kaargra puts him in a team fight with other gladiators, but when his fight starts he just sets everything on fire, including his teammates. Kaargra loves this, so he gets the title of Indiscriminate.
- Tony Taurus gets the other main story result of this whole thing (alongside the Tachyon/Tempest stuff and the fallout from that). He's been around a long time now, first as a cop and then as a private investigator (having quit the police force given the Rook City PD's level of corruption), but he gets picked up when the Colosseum appears. He tries to keep out of things since he's just a normal guy, but eventually winds up in a fight with Ashclaw R'velos [they don't name the gladiator, but this is who's on the card with Tony with the weapon they describe] (who's, honestly, kind of a low-level gladiator to begin with considering that Kaargra tries to make the fights interesting). Ashclaw eventually catches Tony, drops his weapon in order to just pound Tony with his fists, and then turns to the crowd in his "victory". Tony isn't down for the count, though. He picks himself up and, despite his severe injuries, retrieves the dropped sickle weapon and stabs Ashclaw through the back with it, winning the match and earning the Stonejaw title. This whole experience kind of sets Tony on the dark path towards becoming the villain Heartbreaker.
- Eventually, Kaargra announces that everybody's done well enough to escape and the Colosseum leaves - it's all still the same vague setup as other Colosseum stories, just that this one had stuff happen during it that actually matters going forward.
- More minor events in other books (a Prime Wardens event, a Captain Cosmic event, etc.) - the more "cosmic" heroes get introduced, the more frequently they can have them encounter the Colosseum wherever they happen to be. The tone has changed somewhat, though. Back in the Silver Age [which, again, kind of implies that those "early" appearances were with the first iteration of the Freedom Five with Haka rather than the later one, but it's all still kind of squishy what the definitions of these Ages are] these stories were "fun" romps with fighting weird aliens, but now they're much more serious "fight for your life" kinds of things.
- This culminates in a limited series about the Colosseum itself: The Hero in the Arena. This features the return of the Colosseum to Earth, but also the introduction of the hero Sky-Scraper. Usually we get episodes of a hero before we get the one about their primary villain, but her story is so bound up with the Colosseum itself that the latter's story needed to be told first. More about that event next week, but there's still some non-Sky-Scraper stuff to talk about. Parse is there for this one, it's an early appearance of Benchmark (prior to the "RevoCorp is evil" fallout), Prime Wardens, Guise and Scholar, the Freedom Five, Chrono-Ranger shows up, it's just bringing in people from all over.
- First off, to grab readers' attention, we see this pink-skinned Thorathian who steps forward and calls out Kaargra herself. This is the first time we're seeing the option for gladiators to fight Kaargra for their freedom, and so this is the first time we've seen Kaargra herself take the field. Sky-Scraper loses hard and the story looks like it's going to be normal, familiar Colosseum stuff from there on - Haka gets mauled by the Tryragon-Rex to little effect (earning him Unbreakable), Scholar steps in to take a bunch of hits from a gang of gladiators to save Guise and unleashes a wave of alchemical energy (earning Mindbreaker).
- Meanwhile, we get the side-story dealing with this former freedom fighter from Dok'Thorath, now known as Sky-Scraper, and this is the first time we're really seeing conversations and non-combat stuff in a Bloodsworn Colosseum story or that the gladiators are slaves and (most) don't want to be there, but there's some power that keeps them there until released.
- Not all of the action is happening in the main Hero in the Arena book, there are lots of tie-in issues across titles at this time (they briefly indicate that that's where Chrono-Ranger's Living Weapon title comes in), but the main story is in the HitA book where Sky-Scraper's making deals with the heroes to gain enough favor to leave in exchange for aid in the fight against Kaargra herself. Ultimately, the fight with several heroes and SS against Kaargra (which is a much tougher fight than they thought it would be) is won and Sky-Scraper earns her freedom.
- Meanwhile, in another comic we have a story about the (recently returned from being Biomancer's captive) Tempest, who's back in the arena and is fighting to win. While all of the rest of the stuff is happening, he's out there winning the overall "tournament" or whatever the structure of the proceedings is, and is crowned as Champion. As he's busy with that, he doesn't really interact with Sky-Scraper at this time, but they're definitely going to be at odds when they do.
- Finally, the last major Colosseum event (that's not overshadowed by something else), is when Void Guard gets picked up while they're out doing their space stuff. This is where we finally get some indication of how Kaargra is actually choosing Bloodsworn, as Writhe almost gets pressed into service. We'd seen that they're present there, and we see in the previous story how one can get out, but finally we see how one becomes a gladiator. Void Guard are being put in some pretty unbalanced matches, and are consistently winning the crowd's favor while actually losing the battles. Kaargra gives the crowd the choice, does the loser get killed or do they become Bloodsworn. It's just before the Void Guard are about to be made Bloodsworn that Lifeline shows up (as mentioned in his episode). He needs a way to prove himself to the heroes of Earth so that they'll trust him, and so he offers to fight as champion on behalf of the Void Guard for their freedom. Kaargra loves this guy - he's defeating his opponents, and is great at getting the crowd behind him, but at the cost of burning himself out. Lifeline also learns a bunch about how the Colosseum actually works (which comes up in OblivAeon). Anyway, he helps Void Guard escape and they return to Earth where they "vouch for him a bit".
- Lifeline enlists Writhe's help to come up with some tech that can channel Lifeline's magic in such a way as to summon the Colosseum to the OblivAeon fight. The crowd loves a fight, and this is the main event of the Multiverse. Kaargra and the gladiators wind up taking part in the fights with Aeon Men and Scions and whatnot.
- Is a definitive backstory given for Kaargra herself or the Colosseum itself? There are hints and rumors and backstage discussions about how long this has been going on or where it started, but there's never a definitive story given about the Colosseum. Kaargra even kind of cultivates any rumors or tall-tales about her origins to expand her own legend. So, there's no canonical story. However, there is a Disparation story about Kaargra, so it's a backstory for her, but it's never clear if this is the backstory for the canonical Kaargra as well, although when details are needed in the main setting writers tend to acknowledge events from this one. Anyway...
- Centuries ago, Kaargra Warfang comes from Beroniun Seven, a planet of conflict and turmoil where combat is the way of life. Meanwhile, an ancient entity known as the Bloodsworn Champion is going from planet to planet, calling on each planet's champion to fight it in single combat to the death (with, apparently no further consequences beyond that individual's life) - by rumor this has been going on for thousands of years. Kaargra comes forward to be her planet's champion and after an hours-long battle, comes out victorious. She then interacts with this nebulous cosmic force, which calls itself the Bloodsworn, which indicates that the "Bloodsworn Champion" mantle gets passed on like this and that it hasn't been the same person the whole time, but now she must start her travels as Champion. She objects to this setup - she has a vision of not only going around to fight one at a time, but to leave a mark on every world she visits and create a number of champions, if she's granted the power to do so. This sounds good to the entity she's dealing with, and so rather than getting any personal power in herself, she's given control of what becomes the Bloodsworn Colosseum and the ability to bind the gladiators to her service using her own blood.
- Does she make any provisions for the Colosseum's survival of the OblivAeon event? No, because she didn't really know it was happening until Lifeline summons it as described above.
- Sky-Scraper's bio lists her first appearance as Hero in the Arena #1 while Kaargra's is listed as Freedom Five #708, so why did Kaargra show up so long after SS considering the latter's deck has quotes taken from FF issues in the 500s? That's a mistake, the first appearance for Kaargra should be FF #70 (although there were some Colosseum appearances in the early 700s as well).
- Can a combatant/gladiator get out by any means other than death (citing Tempest getting thrown out)? Challenging Kaargra to personal combat and winning gets you out.
- Is the Colosseum alive in some way? It's the physical embodiment of the power bestowed on Kaargra Warfang and the entity that grants that power is intelligent and demands glory, but isn't really "alive" itself.
- Kaargra's bio doesn't list her as having a power besides her alien physiology and combat experience, but she seems to have a power over the gladiators - if one were to sever that connection between them, what would happen? She doesn't get any additional power from the Colosseum or the Bloodsworn entity (her combat abilities are her own rather than being augmented in some way), but the Bloodsworn allows the Colosseum to exist, for it to travel around, and for her to bind the gladiators to it/her. If one were to break the Bloodsworn connection to Kaargra, all of the gladiators would be free. Even when Sky-Scraper is freed from the Colosseum, that doesn't do anything to the Bloodsworn and Kaargra. The Bloodsworn being bound to Kaargra isn't even any longer tied to her inability to be defeated like other Champions in the past, but to her ability to generate near-infinite amounts of glory for it via the Colosseum.
- Is the binding of the Bloodsworn gladiators a form of Blood Magic? There's blood and binding involved in the process of becoming Bloodsworn, but it's more of a cosmic effect than blood magic specifically - it's confusing since the latter seems like an obvious means to accomplish this, but it's different, honest.
- How lethal are the title fights (considering what we know of the Tachyon/Tempest fights)? Some deaths happen in the course of the fights, and some end in death if the crowd demands it, but more commonly it's just until a combatant is defeated. Death doesn't inherently provide any additional glory for the Bloodsworn and is counter-productive as you run out of gladiators that way and remove the possibilities for grudge-matches. More happen unintentionally than on purpose.
- Is every gladiator a slave? Pretty much, yeah. Some have come to enjoy their lives here more than others (and the types of people who gravitate towards becoming such to begin with tend to be ones who have an aptitude for it), but that doesn't change the fact that they can't leave whenever they want. There are a lot of them over the years and there's turnover - the ones we see in the card game are only a sampling of the roster that's appeared at one point or another.
- How did the titles win the titles - especially Death-Caller for Argent Adept? Most were discussed above. Argent Adept's was from an early story - after titles were introduced, but before the Hero in the Arena arc. AA was fighting in the arena, but not really fighting - he's boosting allies and shielding, but not really fighting himself. Kaargra announces a title for whomever can bring him into the fight. Many gladiators rush him, but AA opens portals to the Void and ethereal hands of Void force come out, grab the gladiators, and pull them into the Void. Kaargra's impressed by this and, as he's called on death itself to fight for him, that's the title he receives.
- Is the point system as annoying for the heroes as it is for us in the card game? There aren't points in the comic - it's an abstraction of things like the crowd really cheering for something they've done and whatnot before Kaargra determines that what they've done is good enough. It is annoying, though, as it's a lot of stuff they have to do to get to that point.
- Given the ability to transport a giant arena across the universe as well as hold powerful characters like AA captive, it seems wasteful to just use it for gladiator battles (and brings to mind the antics of a certain blue imp), so is the Bloodsworn Colosseum connected to a Singular Entity - one of Battle or Strife, for example? Not a Singular Entity - the Bloodsworn entity mentioned previously is closer to the Host in scope, but hard to define.
- How does Orrim Hiveminded work? Is the hivemind created by Orrim himself or by the green stuff on the figures on the card? The green stuff is the source of the hive mind (they have eyes if you look closely) and can take over just about anything with a nervous system.
- Is Orrim the controlling agent and/or does he ever link up with characters from Earth? Does anyone take him up on the offer of hugs, say Setback? None of the heroes accept a hug - nobody's that dumb. It's very clearly some kind of neural parasite. These things have taken over, like, a whole planet. The card has two alien dog things and a handler - the hivemind is between the green creatures around their necks that have taken them over, "Orrim" was just the handler, not the hivemind entity. These three have been separated from the overall hivemind, however, and are operating on their own here and have become a bit weird (well, weird for an already weird thing).
- How much effort does Kaargra put into getting the crowd riled up? Is there entrance music for the gladiators? Is there live commentary? Vendors selling cheap t-shirts out of the back of their space van? Yes, yes, and yes - there's a lot of fanfare in this giant conglomeration of ancient Roman gladiatorial events and modern professional wrestling with all of this cosmic nonsense. In the early appearances it started out closer in tone to the former but has drifted ever closer to the latter over the years.
- How big is the production staff? Are they also slaves to the Colosseum? Due to the nature of the Colosseum being a creation of the Bloodsworn entity, all of the extra functions you'd think would need additional staff (cleaning and whatnot) are taken care of automatically. A lot of the promotional fanfare and whatnot are taken from Kaargra's creativity. What jobs actually exist (vendors, for example) are generally people who are working there just so that they can see the fights too - tickets aren't cheap. Greazer was created as a gladiator initially, but it was decided he was just too good to keep there - so canonically he would have been one of those guys selling shirts out of his space van before he got this sweet bounty-hunter gig.
- Does pro-wrestling exist in the world of Sentinel Comics? Crossover appearances between the publishing universe and the comics? Yes to all of that. As the publishing meta-verse is very similar to our world, pro-wrestling is a thing there too. It was a very common thing in comics from the '60s on even a little into the '90s for celebrities to show up in comics just because, and pro-wrestlers would have been part of that (probably more in the '80s - earlier would have been entertainers like Bob Hope while by the '90s it would have shifted more towards basketball players).
- "Get back in there" implies that Kaargra doesn't treat the gladiators very well, and we know that Sky-Scraper wanted out, but do the other gladiators want to leave too? Many of them do. A lot have given up and accepted their new life, but many would like out - the trick is that they have to defeat Kaargra to do so, and that ain't easy.
- How do the gladiators feel about each other? Some probably feel like comrades-in-arms and others are standoffish since any of them could die at any time so it's best not to get attached. It runs the gamut of interpersonal relationships.
- How does Kaargra decide who will fight when the Colosseum arrives in a new location? She takes those whom the Colosseum (and therefore the Bloodsworn) has identified as champions or as particularly strong. She can use some judgement in there, but it's largely an automated process.
- We see Writhe getting marked in one of his incap art appearances, who else has been branded? Is it painful? What does one have to do to earn it? It is painful (as it's tying your life force to the Bloodsworn), but none of the heroes of Earth are so bound in the pages of Sentinel Comics except for one, very early on. Time for a story about a minor character! She predates most of Sentinel Comics, back into the '20s and '30s - they were essentially romance comics aimed at young girls used mostly as marketing tools. Several publishers of these got bought up by the company that would eventually be Sentinel Comics (this is similar to how Sheriff Jim Brooks appeared in Western comics before being brought back in the superhero era, although without the successful arc that he had). There was a book titled Stylin' Shirley starring Shirley Shane who was a model, the most popular girl with all the best clothes and boy trouble. Once she got rolled into Sentinel Comics, she'd been reintroduced a few years before Kaargra's first appearance. Now she's also an inventor in addition to a model, now called "Fashion" - she's got all these great clothes that also can turn into whatever she happens to need in her crimefighting ("her inventions are also her outfits"). She's not a bad character - the more the guys talked about her and how stupid the setup was the more they decided they liked her (Adam then explains the joke about why "fashion" is a good name for an inventor/model, much to Christopher's exasperation). Unfortunately, the readers didn't like her as much as C&A do. They used the Bloodsworn Colosseum as an excuse to write her out of the comics - she's forced to fight, she loses, and when it leaves Earth it takes her with it. She's not seen again until the next major Colosseum event where she's now barely recognizable (and is a deep cut for careful readers) - she's S'Sdari the Bloody and has developed a much different personality.
- What channel can I watch this on? Is it pay-per-view? How often does it air (more like boxing or wrestling)? <joke>It's on all the time, but you've got to get the special space cable package with the requisite special receiver.</joke> She's not broadcasting it anywhere as she needs to harvest all the glory locally, you might be able to find some bootleg footage that somebody filmed with their cellphone and uploaded to SpaceTube.
- How does Kaargra feel about Cosmic Contest running its own huge battle event? She seemed eager to participate, so does she not have any ill-will towards Jansa or does she just love fighting? She really does love fighting and doesn't get enough opportunity to do so given her position in the Colosseum, but plunked down in a situation where she has to fight? She's into that. She doesn't really care about Cosmic Contest since it doesn't really interfere with what she has going on in the Colosseum (although she wound up being pretty judgemental during her post-loss time watching - snarking that she could have set this whole thing up better).
- So, at the end of the Multiverse era the Colosseum is destroyed by OblivAeon - breaking the connection between the Bloodsworn entity and Kaargra. That informs what comes after.
- Mist Storm Universe - Kaargra's not around and it's not apparent what happened to her. The Bloodsworn entity is still around and is looking for a new opportunity (having seen what Kaargra managed to do with it, it's no longer interested in the old "make a champion travel from planet to planet getting into one-off fights" strategy). But without Kaargra, it's now looking for something even bigger and better.
- Sentinel Comics Universe - Kaargra is around, and is still powerful, but is looking for a new shtick since she no longer has the backing of the Bloodsworn entity.