Podcasts/Episode 56

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The Letters Page: Episode 56

Original Source

Primary Topic

Miss Information

Intro

Lots of Fake News in this episode. Where is it all coming from?

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:42:15

Let's go back to the 50s! This episode starts with story from very early on, and then works its way up through the end, slowly but surely.

After fifteenish minutes of establishing backstory and world stuff and some goofs, we get into the villainous stuff.

Then, we spend a bunch of time in the aughts! I don't want to spoil too much in the show notes - you'll just have to listen to find out what happens!

A bit before the hour mark, we get into your questions!

We get into fan-saltiness around the 1 hour and 25 minute mark. A lot of questions and stories lead up to this, but the fan backlash due to the Sentinel Comics choices resonates with us strongly. We've all been there!

In a couple days, we'll have an Editor's Note with the upcoming schedule for March, as well as more exciting questions, answers, and some exciting news! See you there!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • Freedom Five Annual #3 was published in 1959. It was highly collectible as it established a lot of the look/feel of the Freedom Five books from then on:
    • Absolute Zero was introduced in the previous Annual issue and so this was the first one where the whole Freedom Five was present and acting as a team from the beginning.
    • It solidified the concept of Megalopolis as this "city of the future" that many of the urban stories had taken place in - introducing many setting elements specific to Megalopolis like the monorail and the presence of the Freedom Five HQ on an island just off the coast.
    • Along with the HQ, it also introduces the team's secretary/receptionist/butler/maintenance person/general-assistant-character, Aminia Twain. Much like Tachyon began as a "scientist" and was only specified to be a particle physicist later on, Ms. Twain was an "assistant" and did all of the assisting - while she's not a "hero" she was established as being indispensable to the heroes by keeping things running. (The story of FFA #3 involved Iron Curtain kidnapping the [unnamed] mayor of Megalopolis and the team having to save him. After succeeding and returning to FFHQ, Ms. Twain is ready with a clean set of costumes for the heroes while she gets the battle-stained ones in the wash.)
  • This establishes that the world of Sentinel Comics is similar to the real world, but is it's own thing (as Megalopolis isn't a real place). This fictional locale gives more leeway to how you can treat the world in the stories (it's easier to get away with blowing up big chunks of a fictional place than it would be to say that the same level of destruction is going on in, say, New York).
  • Anyway, Ms. Twain is kind of just around in FF stories. Often in the background of scenes set in the HQ and whatnot - she's rarely given spoken dialogue let alone any kind of action centered on her (although there is one notable FF issue where some low-level villains break into HQ while the team is off dealing with something else and she winds up thwarting them on her own due to her knowledge of the base).
  • This goes on for 40+ years without much changing for her status. The '90s did see a bit of an update to her role after the HQ building was destroyed during Vengeance - in the new Freedom Tower she's got something more like a dispatcher role for the heroes, but is still a side character (at least she's not packing lunches and doing laundry anymore).
  • Following Vengeance, however, we start seeing these anomalies around the place; problems with heroes' gear, inaccuracies in the intel on their enemies, etc. Most of this is shrugged off as coincidence or unfortunate happenstance. At this point we're about 20 years after the Shattered Timelines stuff (an editorial move on the back end to grant writers the ability to do weird stuff in the comics - time-travel events, a story-line involving an evil version of Legacy, etc.) and are in the late-'90s and early-'00s when we start seeing calling cards for/taunts left by Miss Information left around these anomalies. This leads to a lot of in-and-out-of-universe speculation about who this Miss Information person is, but one thing was clear - this person had a great deal of knowledge about the heroes and what they were doing.
  • This leads to a story where the heroes get a distress call from the old HQ (in the 10+ years since the Vengeful Five destroyed it it's been rebuilt as a museum to the heroes). When the team arrives, they split up to cover more ground and the readers follow each in turn:
    • Tachyon - detail on her movement: she's often moving so fast that it's physically impossible to breath while doing so, which means that her movement includes very small interruptions, milliseconds long, during which she slows down to breathe - during her patrol of the building she turns a corner, slows down to breathe and gets a double-lungful of some gas that knocks her out (somebody planned for exactly the point at which she would have slowed down to breathe).
    • As Bunker is patrolling, the suit grinds to a halt. The internal monitors all go blank, then come back on with the Freedom Five logo in flames. Even the emergency escape hatch for the suit isn't working and he's trapped.
    • Wraith is sneaking down some access tunnel in the non-public parts of the museum when a laser grid comes online (she can see it with her infrared eyepiece). She reaches into a pouch to get some piece of gear that would let her deactivate this thing, but she pricks her finger on something in the pouch and she's knocked out by the substance on the needle before she can even really register what's happened.
    • Absolute Zero gets surprised by a trap door that drops him into a vat of water, which freezes instantly around him.
    • Legacy, walking through the Hall of Heroes (with animatronic representations of various major battles), has his Danger Sense activate as he's passing the last exhibit - a Baron Blade bot has started laughing maniacally. When he realizes it's just the animatronic display he's relieved, but then the bot opens its hand to reveal that it's holding some Regression Serum. As he's being incapacitated by that, he's hit by something heavy from behind and knocked out.
    • The heroes all wake up, still groggy, out in front of the building, confronted by a figure they haven't seen before (see the Miss Information card "What Doesn't Kill You..."). She monologues a bit, including a bit about how easy it would be to kill them right now, before dismissing them as not worth it right now, flicking her card at them, and walking off, back into the museum. As the heroes recover, they rush into the museum again to chase her, but find it operating normally again (no sign of the traps from earlier), with no sign of the newly revealed Miss Information.
  • Brief aside for "comic book time" shenanigans that came up while discussing the above story: Legacy ages slowly over the publication timescale from the late-'40s to the present, but he does noticeably age around 20 years (during which time his daughter is born and grows to adulthood - covering the same apparent amount of time, but inconsistently applied over the publishing time) while Wraith maybe ages up around 5 years.
  • This leads into the FFA #21 story mentioned last week when Parse walks into Freedom Tower and immediately recognizes that Aminia Twain is the person behind all of this "Miss Information" business that she's heard about. Kim plays it cool and goes on up to see the heroes where she tries to tell them that their front-desk person is Miss Information, but they all dismiss this possibility because Ms. Twain's been here forever and it makes no sense. She does convince them to at least go back downstairs and talk to her about it, which they do. She's sitting at her desk normally and greets them, "yes, everything is going just fine. Why wouldn't it?" "Parse here says that you're the villain Miss Information." "Well, I am Miss Information, but I'm not the villain. That's you fools." It's a huge bombshell that she's come right out and said this as the readers have grown comfortable with Aminia's presence for decades (she was even in the animated series for crying out loud). She monologues a bit again here (she's one to give Baron Blade a run for his money for the "most likely to monologue" title [they also mention Citizen Dawn in this context, but note she's behind Miss Info and Blade]). The heroes are too shocked to really do anything ("Is she mind-controlled? Can we help her?") and she makes some comment about how they were too busy saving anybody else, but why couldn't they save her? This is followed by a taunt that this was their last chance to stop her and they've failed again. As Wraith steps forward to at least get a hand on her or something she springs a trapdoor, escaping the room which then fills with smoke as the building defense systems come online and try to take out the heroes.
  • This kicks off events across the normal Sentinels titles as well as a limited series, Administrative Assassin. AA is kind of a "double flashback" story as it goes both into what Miss Information's been up to, but also her origin story (which dates back something like 20 years of publication history as it's tied into the Shattered Timelines event by the current writers). In some alternate reality, Aminia Twain is still the assistant to the Freedom Five who works in their HQ building. In that timeline, during a battle in the HQ, the team fails to prevent some major structural damage to the building, which results in a partial collapse, which kills that Aminia Twain. At that instant, while she was feeling the disappointment/fury of the Freedom Five not saving her, the Timelines were Shattered which resulted in her consciousness being torn free of that reality and lodging in the body of Aminia Twain of the main timeline. So, now here she is with the memories of having done all of this work for them for years and then dying as they fail to protect her in return, and so she starts her plotting for revenge and sabotaging things. AA gives readers an expanded look at what was going on in many of the early Miss Information "anomalies" as well as additional things she was up to (not all just dealing with the Freedom Five) that weren't known about prior to this - often a plot from "filler issues" in other titles are now being attributed to her actions. AA doesn't provide any resolution to anything in its 6 issues, it just gets readers up to speed on her actions leading up to the FFHQ plot given above.
  • As that's going on, however, Miss Information is running rampant across a lot of the other ongoing titles and she's essentially the villain of Sentinel Comics for around a year of publishing (with exceptions like Cosmic Tales or Tome of the Bizarre that have a scope that wouldn't include her). While she's no longer "hidden" and is acting overtly, we still don't see much of her in person, just the results of her actions. By the end of this year, though, the heroes are basically jumping at their own shadows because you can't trust anything.
  • This brings us to FFA #22 at the end of this year of stories. While Parse had been present to set all of this in motion in FFA #21, she'd largely been absent from the fallout. FFA #22 opens with Miss Information having bested the Freedom Five once again, this time in Rook City at Pike Industrial (lots of vats everywhere, etc.). It's kind of irrelevant exactly how she defeated them this time (she's done this plenty of times in the last year so it's not even really surprising anymore), but now she's got them trapped in tubes with the chemical vats above them and is monologuing again. The chemicals she's going to subject them to have been harvested from other chronal anomalies - the idea being to destroy their bodies and send their consciousnesses out into the shattered timelines like what happened to her (only without any destination so they'll be trapped in that limbo forever). Before she can do that, she has to attend to some other plots and so leaves them unattended to contemplate their fate.
  • Typically, whenever Miss Info defeats some heroes, monologues, and then either casually walks away or disappears in some flashy you-weren't-expecting-that manner the point of view will stay with the heroes. This time, we follow her and readers are finally given a glimpse into just how broken she is - it's almost like her being is rejecting her consciousness like a body will reject a transplanted organ and her mind is breaking down as a result (she hears voices and talks to herself a lot, etc.). As she rounds a corner she notices a camera that she didn't put there (which has a light on it that goes from red to green as she watches). Thinking that this is no good, she turns around and goes a different way, but this scenario repeats with another camera. She retreats to the control station of the complex, and stops seeing suspicious cameras, but all of the surveillance screens here are blank. When things are rebooted they come up, but she's now locked out of the system and can't get back in. As she's trying to regain access, things go blank again, but this time come up displaying Parse's {} logo (not that Miss Info knows what that means) at which point she just tears the cables out of the wall. She's a character very much about control and now she's on tilt due to the disruptions.
  • She thinks to return to the heroes she left trapped. Once she gets back to the room she finds that the tubes are now empty and the Freedom Five are nowhere to be found. As she turns around she finds that Parse is standing not that far behind her. Readers would normally expect Parse to simply kill her at this point. Parse says nothing. Miss Information says a lot. Parse responds by firing an arrow, not into Miss Information's head as one would expect ("You missed!"), but into the vats behind Miss Information ("I don't miss."), dousing Miss Information in the chemicals and incapacitating her (severe chemical burns over most of her body, etc.). She's also left completely insane and the issue ends with her in a straitjacket, imagining a scenario where she's enslaved the Freedom Five. The chemicals didn't work as intended on her because her mind had already been hurled through realities and so, for her, they caused more of the shattered fragments of realities to crash together in her mind.
  • She's out of commission for a long time. Occasional mentions of her here and there, but otherwise absent from events other than being insane in the asylum. That is, until the day she wakes up, stands, and the straitjacket tears itself off of her and the door tears itself free from the wall and she walks out. The issue closes out with her donning the stone mask to cover the chemical burns on her face (it's not shown where the mask even came from, but she has it now). She's out of sight for a while after this as well - this was the editorial staff deciding to get her back into the mix (plus reality-altering powers now) but no writers really had anything to do with her right away afterwards.
  • In the mid-'10s she shows up again working with other villains (and kind of in a "support" role for them to mirror her old job). She has localized reality warping abilities - she has to concentrate and has to be present otherwise stuff reverts (one example - she makes a moderate threat like Bugbear into one that a whole hero team would need to worry about by making him gigantic - see "Focused Insanity" in her VotM deck). She's kind of lost her "primary villain" flair - no more monologuing and no grand plan on her end. The Reality Defaced miniseries happens in here - it shows a lot of stuff that she can do now, and it causes a fair amount of chaos and destruction, but it also lacks a definitive plot on her part. Originally, she had no powers, but was this mastermind character who knew everything about the heroes and could stay three steps ahead of them, now she has this pretty potent power-set, but doesn't have anything she wants to do with it (the writers' attitude was that with these powers she doesn't need to plan things thoroughly anymore).
  • About halfway through this arc is when Cosmic Contest happens (see that episode for her fight with Baron Blade, the important thing to note is that by the end of that book Blade was lost in the Realm of Discord). Upon returning to her story in RD little changes as it was a weird book and a weird side-story in CC doesn't change that. During these later issues of RD she's opening portals to other realities (see her bringing forth an evil Wraith on "Endless Possibilities") and it's as part of this that she opens a portal to the RoD and Baron Blade is able to escape back into normal reality. He is not impressed with Miss Information as she currently is - she was amazing as her old self, just taking the team that's defeated him so often apart with relative ease on several occasions. His dismissal of her in this way (comparing her to Omnitron or Progeny as unsubtle threats) is kind of the end of her story as Miss Information (and is part of the beginning of his story as Luminary).
  • In the final issue of RD she's dealing with Writhe who's giving her problems and tries to reality-twist Writhe himself (this is a new line for her to cross, altering perceptions, their powers, and whatnot, but to do so on a person...). The backlash of her trying this with his OblivAeon shard turns the power back on herself, incapacitating her. This ends the story and also is the last we see of her in the Multiverse era.

Questions

  • "Insider Knowledge" shows that she has intel on heroes other than the Freedom Five; does she use that information against them? If so, why considering her beef is with the FF specifically? She has no compunction about harming the others and she finds them useful as tools in her campaign against the Freedom Five through her manipulation. For one, as the Freedom Five are the standard "we're heroes and you can be too" kind of team, her taking down the proteges and friends of the team is demoralizing on its own.
  • Did Miss Information ever publicly reveal any heroes' secret identities or other unsavory things from their pasts (like Expatriette's history as an assassin)? That would have been too easy. Her compulsion is to defeat them herself so she would certainly use that knowledge in her planning/manipulation of them, but she wouldn't just, say, leak it to the press.
  • How did she get Mr. Fixer and Tempest into the Oval Office? It wasn't the real Oval Office - they had been informed that there was a fake one set up somewhere in Rook City as a staging place to practice some kind of assassination plot. When they arrived they found that it was just a poorly made set but that there was some ominous ticking coming from that plant.
  • Why "Aminia Twain" - a baby name book says it means "trustworthy; honest" so was that intentional as a play on her later villain turn? No. She really was "trustworthy" for decades before it was decided that she become a villain.
  • Where did the "cat" come from? Pike Industries? It's an alien. Miss Info managed to hack F.I.L.T.E.R. to get it.
  • Did the other reality's Aminia replace the original one or is it a combination of them in her head now? Does the "good" one ever try to regain control? The consciousnesses swapped places. The "good" one died in that other reality.
  • Does she wear her villain costume under her normal clothes? No, because she doesn't need to. She never does a quick-change that would require having it on already. We only ever see her in the costume that one time while we still think that Aminia Twain is good.
  • On Parse's card "Gauge" the "Miss Information" side of the character has red hair, which doesn't appear anywhere else in art depicting her, so what's going on there? She doesn't have red hair, that's an artifact of Parse's "analytical vision" as described last week.
  • Have you, Adam and Christopher, determined who's their Aminia Twain there at GTG HQ? Adam: Jen as she's the one you'd least suspect. Christopher: the question was which was our Aminia Twain, not our Miss Information (and they're already working on the assumption that any of their employees could snap and kill them at any moment).
  • How did Miss Information move between realities? Could she do it again? It's something that happened to her, not something that she has the power to do.
  • Is this all a tragic mistake and she only imagined the tragic backstory? No. After the chemical bath she winds up hallucinating for a while, but the backstory about her dying was real.
  • Given the amount of support a team like the Freedom Five would require, how much staff did Aminia manage to take care of everything? How much was she paid? In the beginning the support staff was pretty much just her. Around the time Freedom Tower got built things got fleshed out a bit more. Montgomery Industries makes a charitable grant to the Freedom Five and Tachyon's patents bring in some money for things too. It's still got a relatively small staff, maybe like another dozen or so people (plus robots - automation cuts down on staffing needs).
  • Can the FF be held up as role models if they're going to let their friends die while they're off helping strangers? What happened to the original Aminia; has their recklessness caused the death of her too? Both Aminias experienced death (the one died before getting swapped over into the new body and the other is the one who wound up actually dead once the swap happened). None of that is really the Freedom Five's fault. They manage to save a lot of people, just not everybody (and, sadly, not Aminia).
  • After being doused with chemicals part of her face got turned to stone, but that doesn't seem to impair her ability to speak; do her lips move? It's a mask, not her face.
  • What are her most clever schemes? What are the limits of her powers? Des she still have reality-altering powers after OblivAeon is defeated? The best-known/most clever was probably that first one taking place at the old HQ. She's really consistent at a narrative level, though. Every time she shows up throughout the Multiverse era it's a big deal. Power limits: prior to the chemical bath she has no powers, after that her reality-altering powers operate locally if she's concentrating on them (leaving or being knocked out would cause her changes to revert) and she hasn't really tried changing a person directly until the Writhe incident. The smaller the change she makes, the more powerful she can make the effect and changing the perception of a thing seems to be easier. As an example, when she changes Freedom Tower to look like an I instead of an F, she's only changing observers' perception of it (by causing certain parts of it to no longer reflect light - this is one change that effects everybody who looks at the thing rather than having to mess with all of the observers themselves individually) as the internal layout of the building isn't getting changed too. Post-OblivAeon, she can no longer open portals to other realities (which wasn't a particularly reliable power for her in the first place - she only really did it by there being a "crack" in realities/timelines present that she could wedge open farther), but the rest of her manipulation of this reality still work just fine.
  • Do the targets in her deck represent people/entities that she contracted out to do bad things or did she just know about them and "forgot" to give the full details to the heroes? Both. She's got a whole campaign of misinformation going on.
  • Did she just "forget" to give the heroes the phone messages from the Shrieker, prompting her villain turn as Glamour? No. She became Glamour well before the timelines got shattered.
  • Are the info folders on "Insider Knowledge" things that she collected or that somebody else made that she just found to exploit? It's actually all stuff that's there on the Freedom Five computers to begin with, nominally so that the info could be used in helpful ways. They were just unaware that she could possibly want to use them for nefarious purposes.
  • After she gets reality-altering powers, why not just use them to fix her face rather than having to use a mask? She could make everybody perceive her as normal-looking again, but not physically fix her face and she would have to actively keep that up (and she's generally got enough other illusions and whatnot going on that it would just be a distraction for her). She also likes the mask from a design/drama angle (and she continues to be a "masked" villain in both future timelines).
  • [Letter from Alex Franklin, the winner of the "Create a Villain" contest - whose creation would become the character Kismet] Miss Information was the runner-up entry in the contest, but I don't remember seeing her creator, Ashley Wagner, on the playtesting forum, so what's up? They didn't even plan on having a "runner-up" winner but they loved this idea too much to pass up (Miss Information just didn't fit as an in-box villain for an expansion which the winner needed to be, but she worked out great as a mini-expansion). Ashley chose not to be involved in the playtesting forum, but was in the loop on things.
  • Was there reader backlash in the publication universe? There were definitely people out there who gave up comics altogether in the mid-'00s when it was revealed that Aminia Twain was Miss Information - the fact that the editors/writers would take this beloved supporting cast member and do this to her just for a cheap "twist" was them going too far, so they quit. There was even build-up to this from the bullpen - the reveal is coming, it'll be a big one, you definitely know the character who's behind all of this stuff but you'll never see it coming! Followed by the readership going through the list of all possible suspects, which would have included her, but just as easily dismissed as the Wraith being behind things would have been. Heck, Wraith's mom was more likely. This is right up there with the "Principal and the Pauper" episode of The Simpsons in terms of people not accepting the character "derailment". As far as things go afterwards, though, she was a successful villain and this particular story arc aged better than many others - readers who were relatively new at the time it happened and others who only started reading after the fact think it's a good story.
  • Were there any attempts to restore the original Aminia or redeem Miss Information? There was a lot of speculation during her time in the asylum that she'd come back around (and there were certainly writers who wanted to do that story, but the editorial mandate was for her to be a villain - which was kind of the reason for her later powered iteration, to solidify her as "still a villain").
  • Does Aminia Twain date? Did anybody try to infiltrate the Freedom Five's base by seducing the secretary? Was she doomed to be a crazy cat lady as the Wraith kind of implied? The comics never really went into her personal life in that way. There were occasional glimpses into the fact that she had a whole life going on outside of work hours, but it was just there in the background rather than any of it showing up on the page (including the odd mention of a date here and there). As Miss Information she's just got too much going on otherwise (with the whole villain thing) to have much of a personal life.
  • We know in the Mist Storm Universe that she becomes the new Glamour, but does that happen in the other timeline too? They fought pretty early in the Cosmic Contest, so did that encounter start her down that path? No, she's not Glamour in both "futures", but more in that section.
  • We know that Madame Mittermeier likes putting "new" Glamours through their paces, how's that work out with Aminia who has real reality-warping powers? They interact in both futures, more in that section.
  • When OblivAeon is defeated the alt-reality heroes get sent home, but since Miss Information is from another reality, why doesn't she get sent back too? The question is based on a faulty premise. When OblivAeon is defeated all of the gates between realities are closed off, but that means nothing for who is where when that happens. If you're not in your home universe when OblivAeon was defeated, you better get comfortable where you are because it's your new home whether you want it to be or not. Notable example: the two Hakas are not in their "native" timelines (although "our" Haka is in one that's only just barely diverged from his own).

Future

  • Mist Storm Universe - This is where she's Glamour and is a member of For Profit. She kills Aislin Allen and takes up the name. She does encounter Madame Mittermeier at one point who, as usual with a new Glamour, messes with her a bit, but Aminia is a bit better-equipped to handle this (and return the favor) than the previous Glamours given her own reality-warping abilities. She's certainly the most powerful Glamour since Mittermeier herself. This is still her taking a step back from her old "big plots" shtick and is just going along with "normal" crime with the group. She's arguably more sane here than we've seen her in a while. While she's formidable as Glamour here, she's not as formidable as...
  • Sentinel Comics Universe - She's still Miss Information here and is kind of the culmination of all of the previous Miss Information stuff. She's taken the disapproval from Baron Blade to heart and is now operating with all of her old "powerless" guile, but now she's got powers too. While that interaction was the last time the two of them interacted in the Multiverse era, when he basically told her that he should feel jealous of her but doesn't because she's squandering her abilities, they do interact with one another later. [Insert plug for the Sentinel Comics RPG Starter Kit here.]