The Letters Page: Episode 62
We're talking about these so familiar and yet so different heroes!
Run Time: 1:21:26
Welcome to April, and a whole new format! The next 3 months will feature different types of episodes than what you're used to, but they're going to be great! Interested in having input in what we talk about? Check out our Patreon! That's the best way to get involved in what we're doing here with the Letters Page.
We jump around in time a bit to start off, but then! We actually lay out the history of a book we've only hinted at before and never directly quoted or defined: Disparation! Disparation Volumes 1 and 2, at that!
Then, after telling all that backstory and even going briefly over a few other Disparation issues, we finally get into the story of this alternate reality Dark Watch.
Just a minute before the one hour mark, we get into your questions!
Thanks so much for listening!
Also, the Sentinels of Freedom video game is live on Kickstarter now! Go check it out - we're seriously excited about all of the storytelling we get to do with this project!
Get your questions in for the Animated Series and NightMist's book of monsters!
- La Capitan/Comodora
- The Freedom Five
- Dark Watch
- Grand Warlord Voss/Officer Kel-Voss
- Baron Blade
- Prime Wardens
- Lucky Strike
- Sifu Walker
- Lady Luck
- Rat Beast
- Amy Knight/Night Terror
- The Citizens of the Night
- Chairman Dawn
- Zhu Long
- Plague Rat
- Argent Adept
Setting the Stage with "¿Quando? ¡Ahora!"
- In Time Flies #6 (a 2015 issue) we have the end of a story involving La Comodora, Chrono-Ranger and their attempts to deal with the younger La Capitan (one of the youngest appearances of her, ironically in one of the last stories involving her). Part of which involves her opening portals into other realities and we see realities colliding (on the path to OblivAeon as that's his primary m.o. - the writers know where things are going at this point).
- As part of that, we see this alternate version of the Freedom Five facing off against an alternate version of Dark Watch for some reason. While the characters don't know who these weird people are, the readers do, assuming that they're also readers of Disparation, since both teams have appeared in stories in that book (although not the same stories - the DW and FF teams featured are from different realities).
Disparation in General
- Back in 1985 we had the shattering of the timelines. In late 1986 Mystery Comics stops being twice-a-month. Due to that expansion of story types and cutting the creative team at MC in half, a lot of stuff on the back-end got shuffled around. During that period of flux we see the emergence of this weird little book about alternate realities/timelines called Disparation in April of 1987.
- It's a quarterly book where the cover is always evocative of however things have gone wrong/different in this reality (with some boilerplate text on the first page explaining what the deal is with this title and a short explanation of what in particular is up with this issue - this latter part is dropped eventually as figuring out what the point of departure was for this universe is part of the fun) and the first few issues aren't going that far afield into the hypothetical. Issue #1 is a story where Voss was victorious on Earth (largely coinciding with the end of that story in the main books). Issue #2 is one where Spite managed to kill the Wraith and is still at large.
- Issue #3 is more interesting - showing a world where Visionary, still a new character, is evil. Her solo title, Mind Over Matter doesn't even begin until the next month, but she's already getting some prominent story stuff here. We're at a point where Dark Visionary isn't even a concept yet - she's more or less invented about a year later in response to the reader reaction to this Disparation story. As a result, the title even becomes something of a proving ground for writers to float ideas to see what the readership thinks before incorporating them into the main continuity.
- In 1993 and issue #25, we have the end of Disparation vol. 1. It's a story where Baron Blade's Vengeance plan (the canonical Vengeance story was a few years prior) is going rather well for him. That is, right up until he's about to land the killing stroke against the heroes. At this point Mark Benedetto, Revenant, betrays him and kills Baron Blade, taking the power for himself (with a nice mashup Vengeance and RevoCorp logo - "Revengeance"). RevoCorp kind of runs the world now.
- In September 2002 (shortly after the "Fall of the Prime Wardens" story), we have the relaunch of Disparation with a second volume, now monthly - this new issue #1 tells a story where that didn't happen, where the Prime Wardens stayed together. It's not a great story, and they continue to be a bit lackluster and a disappointment for readers who were initially excited to see more Disparation stories.
- Series highlights, however, are various stories mentioned in the La Capitan episode where she kind of becomes a regular feature in Disparation as she deals with her various incarnations across realities/timelines, now also doing multi-issue arcs (often bringing in ringer creative teams for the publicity and just letting them go to town for however long they need) as well as one-off stories. One of these 5-issue stories was...
Disparation Dark Watch
- June 2003 and issue #10 brings us back to the story of this alternate version of Dark Watch. The issue opens with two characters, Lucky Strike and Lady Luck. This would be Peter Riske, a mild-mannered and generally nice guy, but very focused (a lot of his story from the Setback episode - testing at RevoCorp, etc. - happened, but he was also, from a young age, a dedicated student of Sifu Walker who ran a kung fu school in Crook City; the major departure here is that he's got the same power-set as Setback, but he's also a disciplined martial artist rather than just a well-meaning klutz) and Gabrielle Adhin who didn't steal from her family, but rather stayed with them and learned from them before striking out on her own to make the world a better place (and as a result also has a greater intentionality behind the use of her own powers). They make a good team as she can channel his powers to their advantage (turning his bad luck away from them and harnessing the turns of good luck when they happen). Her ability to observe the flow of luck is much greater - she has fun going to casinos and just watching.
- The background is all covered pretty quickly to get us oriented, but then the readers get to watch them operate as a duo, investigating a series of grisly murders where the victims seem like they've been torn apart by some large animal. The team enters to sewers to track down whatever is doing this. They eventually encounter this huge rat beast. A fight ensues, but eventually the rat thing starts talking, claiming to not be the murderer, just hiding in the sewers for years. This stops the fight pretty quick.
- The rat used to be Eduardo López, a Crook City cop (the one good one) who was investigating Pike Industrial Waste and their illegal dumping practices. He was making a big show of going about this, despite warnings from the other cops to not mess around with Pike, but he was a crusader. Until one night when some people (who sound strangely like his fellow officers - weird, right?) break into his apartment, bundle him up in a sack to abduct him, and dump him in a vat of chemical waste before being flushed out into the sewers along with whatever (dead) rats fell in there. He's mutated into this Rat Beast and is ashamed of what he's become. He joins up with Lucky Strike and Lady Luck to try to track down the killer, though.
- Issue #11 opens with them still searching, with Rat Beast in the lead. They round a corner and see somebody with electrical arcs all around them. This weird little person with blue-green skin wearing a cloak with weird head-tentacles visible. This reality's Earth hadn't seen any space aliens before, but this is Shockwave, a grim and gritty bounty hunter who's been chasing this huge slavering beast who's come to this planet (he doesn't care about the danger it poses to the people of Earth - he's just in it for the alien dollars). This beast has a deafening and mind-shattering roar that sounds an awful lot like "BLOOOOOGO!"
- So, the four-person team is now on the hunt. Eventually they're ambushed by this beast with claws and teeth (this is a very different Bloogo) and impales Rat Beast in the chest with its horn, which looks somewhat serrated. The fight goes on, eventually Lady Luck manages to trap it with some weird energy effect at which point Shockwave creates a lightning blade and decapitates it (turns out that it's a dead-or-alive bounty). He collects the head and leaves.
- Lucky Strike and Lady Luck invite Rat Beast to come back to their safe-house with them - he can just wear a trench coat and a big hat and nobody will give him a second look in Crook City (people are pretty used to ignoring scary things which are likely to just be Spites). So he joins them. Readers would think that this was just a fun two-issue story, but then things continue!
- Issue #12 picks up a year later with this (explicitly named) Dark Watch team and they're well-established at this point and the first half or so is showcasing their dynamic with a fight against this undead witch from the Coven of Gloom, the Wraith. She's sticking to the shadows and flinging spells at them and whatnot. As they've finally got her on the ropes she summons this great big brute of a creature from the earth - as it pulls itself up to its full height of ~8 feet it also reaches up to its forehead and tears the skin off - leaving just a bloody mask - and its arm turns into this mass of tentacles and it's got this creepy white undead hair. It's a Spite! The fight goes on, the heroes can't seem to harm it, and they're now the ones on the ropes. That is, until a bolt of lightning comes in from the sky, frying it at which point it crumbles back to dust. Wraith does her vanish-in-a-puff-of-blue-smoke trick and is out of there, but Shockwave is back!
- As they head to the hideout, they find out that Shockwave is in a bit of trouble with the law (taking bounties from shady space folks isn't the best idea) and he's got this space marshal after him, Officer Kel-Voss, and he wants some help laying low. The heroes are a bit leery of this considering they're ostensibly heroes (and Rat Beast was a cop in the first place), but he can come to their base and work with them to take out monsters and whatnot, but they can't promise that they'll help against the space police if/when they show up (which Shockwave claims is unlikely, Earth is this lousy backwater that nobody ever comes to if they even know about it).
- Turns out the safe-house isn't so safe - it's been destroyed (and upon closer inspection seems to have been melted somehow with this black/purple ichor in addition to more traditional explosion wreckage). Rat Beast wonders aloud what could have done this and if they're in danger. Lucky Strike responds with a resigned "No, that's just my ex." Their building is at the apex of a cone of destruction reaching several blocks - seen from above, this is shown to be an inverted Citizens of the Sun insignia.
- Issue #13 starts with a flashback, to the teenage years of Peter Riske and his friend Amy Knight. Peter's this straight-laced kid, good grades, etc. [an aside about how 4-H is 5-H in this reality - for those who for some strange reason don't know what the H's are, they're Head, Heart, Hands, Health, and Helicopters]. Amy is a bad seed - she's a bit of a rebel, doesn't respect her adopted parents or other authority figures, she's got piercings and black and purple hair (and while she doesn't have actual tattoos she's not above using Sharpies to fake it) and is constantly getting suspended. Peter likes the bad girl they're kind of an item - Pete's got that whole "we'll get married and she'll settle down" kind of thing going and she kind of takes advantage of his attraction to her and gets him into trouble.
- She eventually gets this idea to break into this upstanding, cutting-edge genetics company working on curing all sorts of diseases (even prenatal abnormalities) and making the world a better place - you know, that shining example of utopian optimism, RevoCorp. Amy is convinced that there's no way that they're on the up and up. She goes into their local branch with smoke bombs and spray paint, just making a mess of everything and knocking stuff over. One thing knocked over is this canister of gas that starts leaking into the room. After about an hour of this petty vandalism, she pulls a clove cigarette out to enjoy for a job well done. Lighting this up sets off the gas, causing an explosion and the whole building goes up.
- Which brings us to Amy's funeral with Peter and her adopted family very sad. Peter grows up, goes through some accident thing that gives him his powers, continues studying with Sifu Walker (not just about how to fight, but how to be more focused and disciplined) and goes from being a good, but kind of dweeby kid into a good man. Even without Lady Luck he's able to use his powers effectively to make the world a better place.
- Eventually he starts having to deal with crimes committed by this new group/gang of anarchists - the Citizens of the Night (established here a a primary antagonist group for Lucky Strike's solo heroics). Eventually he meets their leader, Amy - or as she now styles herself, Night Terror. She's got burn scars and wears an eye-patch over her left eye, but also now sports this weird black and purple ichor/energy power - rather than just putting a hand forward and blasting, her power manifests as her generating a gun and firing the energy from that (so in a fight she's constantly generating guns from nowhere). She also represents a kind of temptation for him - she wants him to join with her to take down this corrupt system. This worldview doesn't appeal to him at all, but she does at least as much as he missed his friend. He resists and takes her down, but there's a following montage establishing that she's a recurring foe.
- Back to the present. The guys describe now that during these last several issues of Disparation, there's been a running thread of background activity for the readers to pick up on - tv and radio snippets, a newspaper headline, etc. that point to a rash of crimes. Munitions being stolen, incendiary chemicals, a RevoCorp facility raided by some hoodlums, and whatnot. The heroes put stuff together and wonder what they need to do now. Lucky Strike: "Go back to school."
- Issue #14 opens with an establishing shot of the old (abandoned) high school that Peter and Amy attended. They go in (luckily, the gate was unlocked) and once they get past the obvious exterior areas it becomes clear that it's been converted into some combination of fortress, dump, and trashed playground (like a cross between Mad Max, the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, and a military encampment). The heroes fight their way in (most of the Citizens are unpowered, and those that have powers are real low-level ones, but they have weapons) and make it to the center of the base, what used to be the basketball court where Night Terror is.
- She greets "L'il Petey", taunts that he can't stop her plans, and recognizes that he's got himself a new girlfriend (Lady Luck is unimpressed). Anyway, the Citizens have a big tank of gas set up here, much like the one that Amy blew up when she got her powers - she's planning on recreating that accident on a city-wide scale to see what will happen. More fighting, ultimately having to make the decision between stopping the bomb or catching Amy and they choose the former. It's a victory, but not a really triumphant one since the lead baddie got away.
- They head out, making plans to set up a new headquarters. Of course Shockwave can stay with them if he's scared of that space cop ("You would be too. He's really good at his job"), but then there's an epilogue. Night Terror, in an elevator going to the top of a very tall, foreboding building. She enters the office there, where there's a silhouetted figure behind a desk, but turned away. She addresses the back of the chair: "Reporting in, Chairman. Sorry I wasn't able to detonate the device. There were some dweebs that stopped me before I could get it done." The chair swivels, and there is a very recognizable Dawn Cohen, who waves it off - "It'll go into your monthly report. But I've got another task for you." The screen she was looking at shows a jungle-covered island. End of issue, end of arc. Next month moves on to another reality.
- This gets at an annoyance Adam has with the book; they introduce this stuff, tell an interesting story, and then just move on. The stories work as stand-alone vignettes, but the payoff is obviously better if you're familiar with all of the players. Adam would like to spend more time on this stuff. Anyway, this story was the setup for the "¿Quando? ¡Ahora!" panel as, while that was from the later Time Flies book, it's more interesting if you're already familiar with the characters from this run of Disparation. They're particularly happy with the name Shockwave as an alternate name for Tempest. Slight spoilers - the alternate Freedom Five team is from a volume 1 story.
- How many different versions of heroes did Adam go through before arriving on the ones pictured on "¿Quando? ¡Ahora!"? Any designs that showed more than two teams? It was always going to be alternate FF and DW teams, and they had a brief discussion about who the characters were and they invented short, quick backstories at the time, but then the design he did was what wound up on the card. They wanted "weird and different stuff" and as long as that is what they managed, there was no real "wrong" way to do the card. This goes into how this episode wound up having longer-than-usual prep work; they had a framework for who the characters were and why they were doing what they were doing, but they needed to flesh it out for this episode to have the fine detail it has on the stories. This is a good indication of what Disparation episodes are going to be like. As for having more than two teams... even having the 9 characters on the card is already crowded and ridiculous, so no, the plan was for these and no more. Looking back on it now, Adam might put some more work into the Lady Luck design, though. Christopher's favorite character design on the card is Nightmist and Adam's is Lucky Strike.
- What does the rogues gallery for these heroes look like? Is Maia now a crime lord? Is Zhu Long involved in the story? Without Nightmist is there less of a supernatural element to the stories? We got to hear about a few of the villains earlier - we only see these characters in those five issues of Disparation and the one page of Time Flies, though, so it's not like there's a lot more of that world fleshed out. "The Wraith" who's a member of the Coven of Gloom isn't Maia Montgomery, though. It's true that the lack of Nightmist on the team and the addition of an alien bounty hunter and mutated rat monster would change up the kinds of stories told (although Lady Luck does bring in some supernatural stuff, but it's not up to the level of having an actual magic user on the team).
- Does OblivAeon and the new status quo afterwards regarding the multiverse result in the cancellation of Disparation? Not only Disparation - every book gets cancelled in the wake of the OblivAeon story with new titles beginning in their place. The SCRPG Starter Kit issues represent the final issues of the relevant books (so Freedom Five ends after issue #803). [They do mention at the end of the episode that Disparation does make a comeback again later, though.]
- Are the hybrid characters also hybrid personalities (Tachyon/Omnitron, Setback/Mr. Fixer, etc.)? How do their personalities interact? Did Setback and Kismet also have a breakup in this universe or did she lift/alter the curse to work more reliably? Did this version of Naturalist have more forms than just the bird? Is Plague Rat less feral? Other than somewhat with Argent Adept/Nightmist, none of them are straight-up hybrid characters. The closest of the ones discussed today is Lucky Strike, but that's just a Peter Riske who trained with Mr. Fixer. The idea wasn't to fuse characters, but just to mix things up a bit. That being said, Lucky Strike is sort of a personality mix of Setback and Mr. Fixer in that he's still the plucky do-gooder Pete Riske, but with Fixer's discipline (and Sifu Walker hasn't gone through the whole death/resurrection thing, so he's still not the bitter DW Fixer mentality either). Something to note here that was kind of just glossed over earlier - Peter got his luck powers a lot earlier in this timeline. He was a kid growing up in Crook City and one day he was playing baseball with other kids on the street in Chinatown. He gets a solid hit and sent the ball through a window in the creepy building where this old man lives that nobody wants to go near. He volunteers to go in to get it because it's their only ball. Inside there's lots of jade statues and other Chinese design stuff. He finds the ball, but just as he gets it he's grabbed by a wizened old hand and lifted up: "What are you doing in the home of Zhu Long?" He admits to breaking the window and the old man says something about breaking windows being bad luck ("Isn't that mirrors?") and as Peter leaves the building the old man calls out something in some old language (older than Mandarin) and that memory forever haunts Peter. He straightens up and becomes less of a troublemaker, but he's also very unlucky from then on, although he also meets and starts training with Sifu Walker in that same neighborhood. Rat Beast being less feral was covered, but while he's not timid, he's apologetic and generally worried about hurting people - he's not comfortable in his new form, either in terms of being somewhat clumsy with things like his tail and in terms of him having been a straight-arrow cop and now he's this horrible disgusting monster. He'll generally hang back from a fight at first as he doesn't want to hurt people, but if it's discovered, say, that the opponent is some undead monster or once he or his friends are hurt, he's dangerous as he'll go a bit savage (which he doesn't like/is worried about). Not going to talk about Naturalist in this episode as it's detail for the other team.
- What was La Capitan trying to achieve by showing these alternate realities to the heroes? Nothing - the VotM La Capitan deck represents her being extremely reckless and is just doing stuff. She's not specifically out to accomplish something by going "Hey, look at these two hero teams!". She's a lot like Amy Knight in the story told above, just doing whatever she wants for herself (although Amy turns out to have been operating on somebody's orders as Night Terror). La Capitan is just doing stuff with rifts in time and, as a result, we see these hero teams.
- Only four letters this week; the plan going forward is to have the voting for topics far enough in advance of recording so that they can avoid the short turn-around like this in the future.