The Letters Page: Episode 53
Run Time: 1:12:59
New intro on today's episode! Trevor's trying out something different! What do you think? Tweet at us and let us know: @SCLettersPage
After some light silliness, we get right into her not-very-light backstory.
We reference two other episodes a few times in this episode: the Mister Fixer episode, and The Chairman episode. They're both important to this one, so worth giving a quick listen to, though we do rehash a lot of the important points from both of those episodes.
Lots of things to talk about with this lady. She's had quite a few twists and turns in her story. The overview in total is under half an hour, but it's jam packed with story and action! Plus, there's even more story that we saved for some juicy questions in the Q&A portion of the show.
Speaking of which, just after the 27 minute mark we dive into your questions.
Fun bit of Stuntman story a bit before the hour mark. Just so you know.
We start the future segment right after the 1:04 mark. We have more Mist Storm Universe stuff than usual for her, as she plays some important roles and for reasons we've never publicly discussed before!
Then, we go on to actually reveal some Sentinel Comics Universe story stuff that is also brand new information. We must be feeling generous.
Next week is the Supernatural Settings episode, featuring such bizarre environments as Madame Mittermeier's Fantastical Festival of Conundrums and Curiosities, Tomb of Anubis, Realm of Discord, Nexus of the Void, and (relevant to this episode) the Temple of Zhu Long. Get your questions in now!
- Her parents immigrated from the Philippines to Rook City. Who knows why? This story was told in comics in the late-'80s when she was in her "late teens" and so maybe Rook City didn't seem as bad back in the '60s or '70s and her parents didn't know any better? The early '80s was when the comics got gritty and full of guns and blood. In any event, within a year her parents were dead (because Rook City) and she grew up in orphanages.
- The orphanage she found herself in at the age of 6 or 7 had a program where the children could take martial arts lessons from this Harry Robert Walker guy. She did that for a few years until Walker Sensei shut it down when a few of his teenage students got killed in some gang violence. See the Mr. Fixer episode for more information on that incident.
- Sophie liked the martial arts lessons - she resented people stronger than her and the training gave her an outlet and a leg up (she wasn't necessarily taking the right lessons from the classes). Shortly after the school closed, she sneaked out of the orphanage and started making her way on her own at the ripe old age of 10. At first she appeared to be an easy mark for anybody to take advantage of, but she quickly demonstrated that this wasn't the case - her response to being bullied was to become a bully herself. She was good at this and by the time she was 15 had managed to establish her own street gang and successfully adding to its ranks by absorbing the membership of other gangs whose leadership she defeated.
- Eventually, she picked on a few of the wrong gangs and word got sent up the chain of command, resulting in her eventually meeting with the Chairman himself (which few got a chance to - and even fewer would later; he used his Operative for most of this stuff, but The Bear was out by now - see the Chairman episode). He reveals that he knows a lot about her already, but that he's impressed with her and that he could use somebody with her talents in his Organization. She's aware of the Organization, but had been trying to stay beneath their notice/concern, but was now being recruited for a leadership position in it as the new Operative.
- This was all laid out quickly in Mystery Comics - sort of a "You, the reader, know about Rook City, The Organization, The Chairman, and Mr. Fixer - here's a story to tie all of that stuff together with this 'new' character who we're saying has been around for a while." Letters Page Retcon: as part of the timeline project mentioned in last week's Editor's Note, we now know that her first appearance wasn't in the '90s as mentioned in the Mr. Fixer episode, but was in an issue from 1989, which then leads up to a 1990 story "Built in a Day" which kind of revamped the Organization (which has been around a long time - Chairman Pike being a Golden Age character introduced in Justice Comics #84) from kind of a generic street-level crime thing into something that could legitimately be a threat to superheroes with the introduction of the Underboss branches and how integrated into the city it was.
- This brings us to Mr. Fixer's main one-man war on the Organization arc. This, of course, brings him into conflict with the Operative occasionally. He wins these fights easily (he's able to disarm/shut her down without harming her) and recognizes her as one of his old students - but one who's grown hard and bitter. He tries to talk her away from her current life-path.
- This only serves to enrage her. She feels that her current place in the world is the best her life has ever been - she's the master of her own destiny. No old man is going to tell her how she should be living her life. At their next meeting, she goes all-out to kill him (not fighting smart, just viciously). Again, this doesn't go well as Mr. Fixer can still outfight her, but not as harmlessly as he would like - he winds up having to injure her to stop her, breaking her left arm in several places as well as some ribs in the process until she is rendered physically unable to continue to fight through the pain. He does not see this as a "victory" as he really hates that he had to do this to his former student.
- The Chairman retrieves her and takes her to Zhu Long - the damage to her arm would be crippling under normal circumstances, but Zhu Long is able to fix her. Pike follows this up with exposing her to the serum vats that he's developed to speed her recovery and further augment her abilities (as implied by "Perfect Human Specimens"). She's gone from the action for a while (undergoing all of this stuff), but when we next see her on the streets she's faster, stronger, and tougher (and harder, colder, etc.) than ever - also sporting this cool dragon tattoo on her left arm.
- She's just going after Mr. Fixer now and we eventually get a really good confrontation between them on a bridge. He starts with his standard opening of trying to talk her down and goes for a disarming move, which she easily counters and hits him. It's clear that this is a much more even fight now. He eventually manages to knock her off the bridge and so "wins" the fight, but its not a clear skill-based victory like previous matches.
- The next time we see them fight is the climactic fight on the roof of Pike Industries mentioned several times. The Chairman is present, but not taking part, but it's just a brutal fight that eventually ends with Mr. Fixer's death.
- Info on the books all of this stuff takes place in: Transmission of Honor is the series dealing with Fixer's war in general, with concurrent action in Mystery Comics, and a limited series Engine Block Blues that starts with the death of Mr. Fixer and then runs with 6 issues of flashbacks and non-chronological storytelling to fit all of this stuff together (the guys imply that we see the death-blow in MC as well) and the structure of EBB was a fake-out - he gets stabbed in issue #1, but there's all of these other issues so he's not really dead, right? Then the last issue ends with him definitely being dead - a big shock as Harry Walker is this important character who's been around for a long time. Other issues coinciding with the publication of the last issue of EBB: Freedom Five Annual #15 showing the funeral of Mr. Fixer with a retrospective on his life, other heroes' memories of him, as well as what having a hero die means and that month's issue of Mystery Comics which is showing the street-level contemporaries of Mr. Fixer and what Rook City itself is like without him. This includes what the Chairman thinks this will mean, and he's almost melancholy about having actually achieved a final victory over his nemesis. It's while he's musing on this when Zhu Long walks in to collect on his debt, which, as mentioned in the Chairman episode, Pike denies the need to pay but Zhu Long says that no, payment has been taken already which then cuts across town to a warehouse where we see Operative's original incapacitated art (with all of the arrows in her) as she's killed.
- The start of the Dark Watch story involving Mr. Fixer's return at the hands of Zhu Long comes and goes without any sign of the Operative. It's been like 7 years of publication at this point and she's still just presumed to be dead for good.
- In the mid-to-late aughts, there's a new title, Master Dragon, which is set up to deal with Zhu Long stuff (he's been this enigmatic character who's been around forever and so readers were looking forward to more about him). It turns out it's still not about him, or at least only tangentially about him. It's about the Operative - it opens with her waking up with him greeting her to her new home. She wants to leave and go back to Rook City, but he won't let her; there's no going back, she's his disciple now, her life belongs to him, and she will be "the right hand of the dragon". He's not nice, one might go so far as to say "overbearing" or "exacting". Or straight up "mean". What is it with people in positions of power wanting her taking orders from them?
- More training: weapons, stealth, poisons, etc. Zhu Long's no dummy, though. One night she sneaks into his chambers to kill him and finds that she's physically unable to strike him. Her tattoos (of which she now has a lot, not just the arm one) begin to glow when she tries, indicating something mystical going on - they're part of the healing process, but also symbolize his control over her. When he said that her life was his, he kind of meant it literally. She submits and becomes his Operative (although she's still always on the lookout for a way out of her situation). This is the state we see her in for the remainder of the Multiverse era.
- Who were her parents? Did she have siblings? How old was she when they were taken out of the picture? Filipino immigrants who had no other children and were barely part of her life (as they died by the time she was a year old). There's no more backstory for them.
- How has her fighting style evolved over time (thuggish under Pike to more refined under Zhu Long)? Her style was never really "thuggish" since her early training was under Mr. Fixer, and so her style was laid on a foundation of kung-fu. Street fighting after that started there, but probably got a bit "dirtier" as she picked things up. And then she was molded into the "perfect warrior" by Zhu Long. She collects and blends styles as she goes to become more effective - she's not a "master" of any one style, but is good enough at a large enough number, and with a variety of weapons, to adapt to the situation as required (which process continues into the Future).
- What specific chemical enhancements has she undergone? Any downsides? What's the red streak across her face in Vengeance for? Why so many chemical baths? Well, baths are the most efficient way to ensure even coverage. They don't know the specifics of what the chemicals are, but the initial batch is the culmination of Pike's combination of his science with the mystical stuff he got from Zhu Long. The next round, at the Temple, are more her being exposed to the poisons she works with so that she becomes immune. There aren't any real downsides - Pike's serum makes her the peak of human potential, then she dies and is brought back and has more done to sustain her, improve her further, and make her immune to poisons. The red mark is mostly cosmetic, but has some meaning related to her place in Zhu Long's organization.
- Does she have any friends or hobbies? What are her relationships like with other members of the Organization/Zhu Long's disciples? No friends. She probably tries to get close to somebody at Zhu Long's temple to try to figure out what's going on, but everybody there is even more in his thrall than she is and can't get anywhere. Her life is "Training or Missions" - not a lot of downtime; what little downtime she has in the temple is given over to gaining more power herself or figuring out how to extricate herself from the situation she's in.
- Does she work for both the Organization and Pike Industries? Yes. A lot of people high up in the Organization have some level of "employment" with Pike and she is officially listed as the CFO there although she's never done a lick of accounting in her life. It doesn't need to be that strong of a cover considering the situation in Rook City - it's mostly just for federal tax reasons.
- It's been stated that "Slim" Walker is the best at hitting and that she's never really gotten the best of him in a fair fight (only succeeding after a ludicrous power boost with another potential combatant lurking around as a distraction - even in Cosmic Contest when she stabbed him again she didn't win due to his undead nature at the time); is her biggest enemy herself? That is, if she could just get over the fact that he's her old teacher and that he's defeated her so often, would she stand a chance? There could be a bit of that early on, but she's not wrong - he's really good. Beyond that, she doesn't care whether or not she thinks she can beat him, she just knows that she needs to beat him - that's why they had the fight that required him to physically disable her to prevent her from continuing the fight. She's not really one to get in her own head about this stuff - she really gets into the flow of fighting and is likely the second-best at hitting.
- How did Zhu Long manage to take the Operative as "payment" from Pike? Ninja goons knocking her out or what, convincing her that she was Pike's pawn and she came willingly, some kind of mind-control? Mentioned a bit above: he had her killed and took the body. This was accomplished by an attack by a bunch of ninjas from the Temple, and while she's good at this point, so are they and there's a lot of them and they have the drop on her (even cloaked by Zhu Long's magic - it's just not fair). The first indication that she's even in a fight is that she's got half a dozen arrows in her back.
- Did she learn any actual magic from Zhu Long? Her training is exclusively in combat/assassination, but she's been paying very close attention to everything that gets done around her (given that she knows that she's magically bound to him). Zhu Long would be a fool to actually train her in this stuff, and he knows that, but he'd also be a fool to underestimate her awareness. They kind of deserve each other at this point.
- For somebody whose initial training is in (Chinese) kung-fu, why do we see her using so many Japanese and Okinawan weapons? Chairman-deck weapons are pretty much just a stick and a bent piece of metal (Adam says that he drew inspiration from Polynesian weapons when designing them, though) and this is a reflection of her rough-and-tumble street fighting era - she wouldn't have had any weapons training from Walker Sensei (as she would have been doing that from age 7 to 9). These are just a heavy, blunt thing and something to hack away at people with. Inelegant. The katana and shuriken were things she picked up in the Temple of Zhu Long. As stated above, however, she collects disciplines and weapons as she goes.
- When she's killed and taken by Zhu Long does she become a being like Mr. Fixer ("healthy zombie" haunted by his own ghost) or something else? Zhu Long can raise people from the dead somewhat regularly (it's not something he does casually - think "complicated but not difficult" for him) and he's good at it. He tries to do this with Mr. Fixer, to make him into a tool like he does with the Operative, but he cannot. Mr. Fixer's soul (or whatever) is at peace and can't be called back in the normal way. Zhu Long gets frustrated at this and so goes about it differently - he animates the body as a zombie-like thing and then tears the soul/spirit/whatever from where it was at rest and forces it into this thing, which explains the whole bitterness thing that he has after that. Operative was just raised "normally" in the standard ritual (involving the bloodletting from many of his followers).
- Does she get any supernatural abilities from this process? Not really - the poison immunity thing is pretty much it other than a general "empowerment" boost.
- Does she ever escape Zhu Long, possibly going through a redemption arc and becoming a hero? Nope. She is not able to break Zhu Long's control and will always be a thrall to his power.
- Has she ever been to Insula Primalis and/or ridden a raptor? No to the raptor-riding. It's possible that she's been to IP, but they can't think of any specific stories that would have placed her there. The types of stories you get there aren't the type that she's generally involved in and she never really gets involved with the Citizens of the Sun in general (although some crossovers with Hammer and Anvil in their adventuring arc, but that's not connected to IP).
- Why does she still refer to herself as the Operative once she strikes out on her own? Does she consider herself the Operative of Zhu Long (despite being nemeses of one another too)? She is not on her own - she'd like to be, but she's tied to Zhu Long, as mentioned (and they definitely have a relationship such that being each other's nemesis is appropriate).
- Did she ever get disrespect from members of the Organization due to her young age when she was brought in? Somebody gave her some lip once. Once. She murdered that guy and it wasn't a problem after that.
- Way back in the Wraith episode it was mentioned that she had returned to Rook City to cut some ties (and the associated necks) - who was a target besides Mayor Overbrook? Would Pike have been a target if the Wraith hadn't stopped her? She intended to kill the mayor and would have without Wraith's interference. Pike wasn't a specific target. She killed a bunch of Organization people prior to being stopped (mostly in the Chinatown district to "make some room").
- Where does she get the poisons? From the poisoners in Zhu Long's Temple - they are mixed and brewed there in large quantities.
- What story does she appear in that involves Professor Pollution? In the same story mentioned a few questions back, while she's clearing out some Organization stuff in Chinatown, she gets Professor Pollution to disrupt things at Pike Industries.
- She seems to be building her own Organization in the Mist Storm Universe - is she no longer working for Zhu Long? She is, more on that in the Future section.
- She seems more like a victim of circumstance more than an actual Evil person, was she considered for an (anti-)hero deck for OblivAeon? She was on the long list of potential decks, but didn't make the cut as she didn't do a lot during that event. They eliminated her from the running around the same time they did Citizen Dawn, fairly early in the process although she was discussed.
- She's listed as having had "genetic tampering", what's the source of that? It's a result of the chemical/serum baths she takes while working for the Chairman.
- Is she aware that Zhu Long is the one who had her killed and does she hold a grudge against Pike for his role in her death? She is aware, she definitely dislikes Zhu Long because of it, but a "grudge" is maybe not the best way to define how she feels about Pike. She resents him, certainly, but she doesn't hate him.
- Outside of Cosmic Contest, do we get to see any other match-ups between Mr. Fixer and the Operative in these latter iterations? Not as eventful, but it does happen. There's one story back at the Temple well after the initial Dark Watch formation story where they fight out in the snow outside the temple and he just lets her have it(he's his bitter self, and she's fairly recently back on the scene - it reestablishes the "must get stronger to defeat Mr. Fixer" motivation for her). The Cosmic Contest encounter is much more eventful, and she did a good job, but it would have gone better for her if she wasn't fighting somebody who couldn't die. Mr. Fixer has also kind of plateaued at this point until something notable happens, so while it is a very high plateau, she has a chance of getting better than him.
- According to the Wraith episode we hear that she's planning on killing Mayor Overbrook, so why is his card in her deck? Prior to that story, he's still a contact she has in Rook City and his presence in her deck is a representation of that relationship - he was very surprised to learn that she planned to kill him.
- How does she come across the Idolater and Professor Pollution? The Professor was already mentioned. The Idolater is from a story from her Rook City time where he was setting up a parish in Rook City and she came to collect. He was fine with greasing palms and whatnot and so the connection was made then.
- On "Student of Many Masters" the text implies that all of her masters have failed her - we can see how Mr. Fixer and the Chairman fit that, but how did Zhu Long fail her? The quote came from that Master Dragon book and is fairly early on there - she's only really talking about Fixer and Pike at this point (but she is telling it to herself to keep in mind in her dealings with this new master).
- How is Wraith able to take down a martial arts master on par with Mr. Fixer? There are two stories involving the Wraith defeating her. The first was in the Iron Legacy reality where Wraith killed her in the process of taking over the reins of the Organization - this would specifically be a murderous, ends-justify-the-means Wraith against a pre-Zhu Long Operative. The latter story where Wraith was protecting Mayor Overbrook, sure, they're in Rook City doing rooftop combat stuff, but this is the Wraith's home - she knows its ins-and-outs better. Wraith has terrain advantage if they're sticking to the rooftops and Wraith is just generally a better long-term strategist. Wraith also has a bunch of gadgets that would work on the Operative which wouldn't work on Fixer.
- There's a Stuntman card ("No Time to Bleed" or something) showing him having taken several arrows from the Operative, what's the story there? Before Stuntman's meeting up with Mainstay, he didn't really have a focus. He was kind of taking a tour of places where he'd been famous or done movie shoots. As part of that he goes back to Japan and gets drunk in some dive sake bar. At some point, while he's telling some story about how great he was or something, a bar fight breaks out and he interposes himself. He takes a few punches from both belligerents before knocking them both out himself. The bartender, having witnessed this drunk guy just take out some unruly patrons, offers him a bouncer job. This is about two pages of setup for "some time later" when the Operative walks into the bar, slashes a couple of dudes, and steals this jade gong from the back wall (it's a relic or something that Zhu Long wants). Stuntman gets into a fight with her, including a big chase scene (bamboo grove, cherry trees, you know how it goes) to set up this big set-piece fight that was the whole point of this issue. Part of that involves her pulling a bow and shooting him a few times before he closes with her. If there's one thing Stuntman is good at, though, it's taking a beating and not quitting. He manages to get the gong back from her and he returns it to the bar, but she gets away.
- Mist Storm Universe - She's the focus of the Uprising expansion of Sentinel Tactics (and is related to another that never got released), so we've seen quite a bit of her here. Three notable things happen with her, but they need some setup. She's still doing missions for Zhu Long (and she's been killed at least once more in there given how extensive her tattoos are now - she was present when Rook City became Broken City and the only reason she's still around is Zhu Long). Zhu Long sees her desire for a bit of freedom and, in recognition of the good work she's done for him over the years, he's willing to grant her some if she can prove herself. She is sent out to carve out something for herself somewhere without his aid - if she can manage to do so, he'll let her continue to run it on her own and won't interfere with her goals except where they would be at odds with his. Her strategy is to fall back on her experience with the Organization - she's returning to what was Rook City to try to put a new Organization together from elements/personnel remaining there and make a play to establish herself in Megalopolis (which is, honestly, biting off a bit more than she can chew considering the heroes present there). Following that failure, she starts working for Revo-Corp and its shady new leader - trying to worm her way into that organization and accumulating OblivAeon shards (but here she's still doing others' bidding). So, she then starts a new team of unsavory types that she then lets loose to see how things go - For Profit. By this time her fighting style has developed further and we see her using even more types of weapons.
- Sentinel Comics Universe - She's still working under Zhu Long, but is no longer called the Operative, now she's Dragonclaw. Now she's fully on-board with the whole Zhu Long team thing. She's got even more tattoos which aren't just the healing types, she's got some legit magical powers now that they've imbued her with. She's also got a mystic blade made of green stone of some variety. She's still, deep down, still looking for a way out, though.