The Letters Page: Episode 65
A whole book of creepy crawlies and the evil that lurks in the darkness!
(No, not the book in that picture. A different book.)
Run Time: 1:46:28
Lots of fun stories and mythology in this one!
We start off with where this book shows up in the history of Sentinel Comics.
Pretty quickly, we get to your questions! Just after 6 minutes in, we're already going into the Questions segment, and we use that to guide the stories from the Diamond Book of Monsters.
And then, A bit after the 10 minute mark, we're in on our first long-form story of this episode. Buckle-up!
After wrapping that up, we dive into another long story, starting a bit before the 28 minute mark. Zoom!
Then, we get into more question and answer type stuff, but we do reveal a lot more mythology of the dark corners of the Multiverse!
There is even a future segment in this episode! Starting around an hour and 36 minutes in, we discuss the future of the Diamond Book of Monsters.
We're recording an Episode AND an Extrasode this coming Friday! Get your questions in now for the Supplemental Legacy episode and the Food podcast Extrasode by the end of day Thursday, April 26th!
Thank you as always to all of our listeners and supporters!
- NightMist shows up in the '60s, but is this side-character who shows up in various titles (the majority of appearances being in Tome of the Bizarre, some Mystery Comics), but doesn't get her own title until NightMist debuts in the '80s. Over that time there are plenty of weird monsters in addition to the evil wizards, Cult of Gloom, and other more human threats. Additionally, there was a long history of other monsters going back into the Golden Age (for people like Haka and Ra to fight) and these also get brought back around for NightMist to encounter. Sometime in there we get the introduction of The Diamond Book of Monsters - started by her grandfather, Joe Diamond, and which was part of the collection of his materials that she "inherited" after he disappeared.
- The book has lots of pages of descriptions of various beasties, along with some sketches of them (or related things like footprints). Where they live, what they prey on, etc. Up until the start of the NightMist book, the DBoM was a big part of her stories - the readers would often see her consult this thing. In the NightMist book we see the transition from it being simply a reference text for her as she starts adding to it herself (writers wanted to introduce new creepy-crawlies and having her encounter stuff not already in the book and need to figure stuff out on her own was a good plot hook). Something is going on with the book itself, too - no matter how much she adds to it, it always seems to have a few blank pages left at the end. Despite this oddity of having seemingly infinite pages, it also never seems to take her long to flip through to whatever she's looking for.
- Does NightMist really have a "little black book of monsters"? If so did she compile it herself or was it inherited? Yes, yes, and yes as mentioned above. Even later in the comics she'll still make use of it when appropriate. It really is just for dealing with "monsters", though, and she has other books she'd use when dealing with Gloomweaver or cults. She's got a pretty impressive library.
- What weird creature was the most difficult for her to deal with? Easy answer: "Man" - human wizards and whatnot tend to be the hardest to deal with. It's kind of a running theme for her books: yes there are things that go bump in the night, but humanity is capable of being worse. Ignoring that answer (and Gloomweaver):
- NightMist is investigating this coven of witches that mysteriously disappeared like a thousand years ago and what records they left behind (the records just stop at some point with no indication of something that may have been going on to explain it - there's not even a mundane world explanation like a witch hunt in the historical record). She's finding these works very interesting/useful, but she also finds records of a cache of magical items that they'd hidden away in case of emergency. So she's off to Wales to see if they're still there - which they are. She has to puzzle her way through the entrance, but the cave she winds up in has a bunch of what clearly should be magical objects (given the runes and other carvings they've got going on), but they're all inert.
- One object is a box (about the size of a mailbox) made of yew that was clearly meant to protect something, but it's cracked open and empty except for a little grub/slug thing (dark blue-green, about half an inch long and only about as wide as a pencil eraser). Now, NightMist has some kind of sorcerer's sight that allows her to see if something is magical. All of the objects here that should be magical are just registering as inert, this thing is something else - it's not just non-magical, but it's something like a "black hole of magic", it's the antithesis of magic. She attempts to cast a few spells on it to figure out what its deal is, but any spells that connect to it just dissolve. She winds up collecting it in a glass jar for further study, seals it with magic, and brings it home (along with some of the other gear here - which at least becomes useful in learning a bit more about how magical items are constructed if nothing else).
- Her adventures continue as they generally do, but a few months later she returns home, walks through the door, and finds broken glass all over the place. It's the jar that the grub thing was in - there's no magical trace of her sealing spell, though (if something broke it, there should be traces of it). She eventually finds it, only now it's about the size of a golden retriever. It still looks like a glossy, translucent lump of a thing, with no obvious "top", but it's possible now to see a small (like quarter-inch) hole in one end. She still can't magic at it, and figures it's a bad idea to touch it, so eventually kind of pushes it down into the basement with a chair to deal with later.
- About an issue later we see it again, and this time it's much bigger (like 15 feet long and as big around as a horse) and it comes up the stairs and just bursts through the (again, sealed) door. Now what had been the small hole is a big, toothless maw that it kind of gums things without destroying them. That is, until it comes across a magical artifact of some kind she had on a shelf that it gums for a bit. Afterwards it's still intact physically, but now its inert like the objects in the cave. Now she knows that this thing is a magic eater, which is enough for her to actually start researching it.
- She discovers that these things are called Hudbwyta, and want to consume all magic it can. While she's doing the research (and trying to keep herself - she's got this mist-curse thing that makes her magical after all - and whatever magical objects she can away from it) it eventually goes through an abrupt transformation. As the thing grew, the mouth grew faster, eventually being the same width as the body as a whole at which point it kind of just turned itself inside out. It did have a skeletal structure growing in there, with something like a spine along the top and bottom with ribs connecting them. As it turned inside out, now it has the spines on the outside and the ribs detach on one end and now act as little skittering legs (and making it look like a big creepy centipede) and moves a lot faster and is still very hungry.
- She grabs a sword to attack it, but of course any sword she's got lying around is there because it's a magic sword. As she attacks, the magical sheen of it disappears and the sword physically ages centuries in an instant and crumbles. She retreats outside and the thing follows her as it can tell she's the most magical morsel available. It's continuing to grow and is approaching the size of a bus and is now chasing her down the street in the middle of the night.
- She runs to a gas station, opens a pump and lets it run over the ground, drops a magical item she'd brought with her, and starts running again. The creature stops to consume the magic, but before it can do so NightMist activates it - which causes it to burst into flames, also setting the gas on fire. What she'd learned about these things is that mundane fire could consume them. So ends the Hudbwyta (and the gas station, and a lot of her magical items). This is one of the most difficult monsters for her to deal with because she couldn't use her magic to affect it directly.
- Did she ever encounter some creature and have some preconceived notions about it based on the Book or other knowledge, only to find that she had it pegged wrong? Another story!
- Unlike the previous story that's fairly late in her career (she's got a lot of artifacts and whatnot, for example), this one is from earlier on (but still in the NightMist title). She sees this old house that has some magical lights flickering inside and she goes in to investigate. She finds this little pixie thing that bares its teeth at her and snarls before releasing a burst of some kind of dust at her. After this she finds she's no longer in control of her own body. She turns around, leaves the house, lays facedown on the ground, and falls asleep.
- She wakes up some hours later with somebody standing over her, asking if she's ok (whether she's just taking some kind of weird nap, if somebody knocked her out, or if she got ensorceled by some weird pixie creature). The fact that he asked about the situation she's in is odd - is he in league with it? Nope, our lantern-jawed friend here is Chuck Burnside, Monster Hunter, and he offers to team up. He gives her a magical stick (a few inches long, made of some kind of white wood - very brittle and has little black runes burned into it). If she runs into this pixie she should break the stick, which will catch it in a magical bubble that should turn whatever magic it uses back on itself and otherwise neutralize it.
- They head back into the house and split up to cover more ground. He goes upstairs (where she'd seen it) and she checks out the basement. Once she gets down there the floor collapses, sending her into a cavern where she sees the creature. She breaks the stick and captures the thing in the bubble but we see it with little dagger-like runes surrounding it and obviously in pain.
- The Pixie makes the case that it doesn't want to hurt anybody and is just trying to live here - it controlled NightMist just to get her to go away as a defense. Also it's in a lot of pain, please stop the pain. Does she trust this thing or her new friend Chuck Burnside - at whose name the pixie blanches and changes its tune from "let me out" to "if you're working with that monster, please just kill me now." Apparently he tortures pixies he captures, vivisecting them and harvesting their parts to sell to magical practitioners. She is convinced and releases the pixie just as Chuck shows up, recapturing the pixie and positing that somebody will probably pay for whatever parts he can get from NightMist.
- In response to this horribleness, she puts a magical bubble around Chuck and breaks all of the various magical traps he's got on him - turning their energy back on him. She frees the pixie again and tells it to get all of the others out to safety. She won't kill Chuck, but lets him know that the magical community will now know about him and how terrible he is. He threatens to kill her. "Scarier things than you have tried." And she leaves him there until the spells wear off on their own. The story ends with some foreshadowing that this isn't the last she's seen of Chuck Burnside.
- Does anybody else (say, Harpy) gain ownership of the Book post-OblivAeon? We'll get to that in the Future section.
- What's the most obscure creature from real-world folklore that she encounters (Penanggalan, Nuckelavee, Mokumokuren)? None of those three show up. Most creatures that you're likely to see in comics are going to be very recognizable (likely with a twist of some sort like the Vampires or Werewolves that they've discussed previously), or completely original. There are a few exceptions for our purposes here, though - the Nachtkrapp a large raven-like creature that kidnaps and eats children, and the Water Leaper a kind of giant toad that has bat wings instead of forelegs, no back legs, but has a long lizard-like tail with a stinger on the end (she has to deal with a swarm of these at one point).
- What differences are there between any traditional monsters (again, besides Vampires and Werewolves) and their comics-iterations? Zombies are not George Romero zombies - they're the traditional voodoo zombies. Mummies are generally associated with curses or whatnot in traditional media, but here they're specifically warriors or defenders that Anubis has risen to help defend the entrance to the underworld (and retain something of their personalities, even if they lack a large degree of sentience). A notable one from NightMist's stories specifically are Gorgons.
- In tradition, they're often "ladies with snake-hair" (sometimes also including snake bodies instead of legs) and they've got the whole "turn you to stone if you look directly at them" thing going on. In Sentinel Comics, they're much more insidious - they're a race of people (in the 10s of thousands worldwide) who have snakes for hair, but also hair for hair - the snakes can be concealed by the normal hair and so allow the Gorgans to hide in plain sight. Their eyes are a little snakey too, but they often wear glasses or contacts to help disguise it. This also allows them to not constantly be doing their gaze attack thing - not turning people to stone, but paralyzing people who lock eyes with them for more than a few seconds. This lasts only a few minutes, but it's long enough for them to feed.
- A good place to start this description is to think of them as "psychic vampires", but what that brings to mind immediately is inaccurate. They aren't taking people's life force. The Gorgon will paralyze a victim, and then get around out of sight. Then the snakes come out and latch onto the person's head (but not with fangs or anything that will leave holes) and while they're attached they "drink" the person's thoughts (like the surface thoughts at that moment). This can work out thus: you're walking along and happen to make eye contact with a stranger going the opposite direction, then you lose a few minutes of time, but then continue on your way - you probably don't even notice that something has happened to you.
- This represents an evolution in Gorgon thought/practice, though. In ancient times they'd often paralyze somebody and leave them like that indefinitely, feeding whenever they want until they've consumed the entire mind (resulting in the legends of turning people to stone statues). Modern ones are much more discreet. Note the Gorgon doesn't "read" the thoughts, only consumes them.
- They have to be out of sight because while feeding their minds are connected to the victim's. If the Gorgon is visible to the victim (either if the Gorgon stayed in front of them or if they were visible in a reflection) this sets up a feedback loop which kills the head-snakes that are attached. Gorgons only have so many snakes that they need and they don't grow back, so they have to be careful, although they're still likely to lose some here and there if a reflection is present that they didn't account for.
- Once Gorgons are introduced they show up regularly in the NightMist books, but they're a relatively minor threat and she's really the only one who does anything with them.
- We've learned a bit about Portal Fiends previously, how smart are they? What's a good point of reference for how intelligent they are? Does eye-contact (mentioned on their card's flavor text) do anything? Are they hostile and do they have social structures? They're very neutral creatures. They're not aggressive, and are almost friendly. They're social, but without any kind of structure. The point of reference they use are foxes. They are "native" to the Realm of Discord and there's plenty of oddity that goes along with that. They don't really need shelter as they're well suited to the nonsense there. How they reproduce is kind of a mystery; they're kind of quantum creatures to begin with and they just sort of happen - we know that there are eggs and they come out of them, but nobody knows where the eggs come from (but there's a Portal Fiend queen... it's weird). The primary thing to know about them is that they want you to go through their portals - when a creature goes through their portal, there's some transfer of energy that happens that "feeds" them (they're not feeding off of the creature, it's just the process of using a portal). If they see something that would qualify, they'll run up to it and try to make eye contact (this is unrelated to the Gorgon thing) - as you look into its eyes you'll fee like you're falling into them, then you realize that you're now somewhere else. This would work for other Portal Fiends too, which is why they're not pack animals. As soon as you have 2 of them in one place, they quickly get fed and transported away from one another.
- What are NightMist's "street level" monsters? If a writer doesn't know what to do for a month (or if the story is about something other than fighting and is more about the world around her), the standard thing is "restless spirits" - any number of kinds of ghosts that she's got to deal with in one way or another and there's always plenty more of them.
- Does she have a standard load-out of gear she takes with her on a case? Yes, the things in her deck. Additionally, herbs/reagents/etc. for use in casting her spells - all of the spells in her deck can be assumed to have required whatever material components she's normally got on her for that purpose.
- Do any other Dark Watch members help with monster hunts? If so, how often does Setback screw things up? In the Dark Watch book, there's certainly some arcs that deal with it (including some Gorgon stuff), but in general the team stories are either more "crime" stuff or, if dealing with NightMist's magic stuff, it's something big like Gloomweaver.
- Did NightMist ever take Harpy on training missions? That's a big yes, to the point where that is the training (there's a poltergeist in this house, deal with it while I sit here reading).
- Does she have a special cleaning spell to help deal with whatever gross monster goo gets on her? She's more likely to just throw that outfit away. (Side note about how that's why superheroes have costumes, they know that whatever they're wearing is going to get messed up, so they go for bulk discounts of the same outfit.)
- When will a copy of this book be available for purchase? What does it look like/how many volumes? Well, there's just the one volume with infinite pages. The publishing meta-verse does have a replica of the book as merch. It's expensive (like $80), and is made to look beat up and stained and has all of the entries for creatures that had shown up in the comics to that point, but also some that had not yet been introduced as of when it was first released.
- What were some entries she made after spending her time in the Void? Did she write herself up in the book after her sojourn there? The book is for dealing for monsters in our world and Void creatures showing up is so rare that she didn't bother. If one does break through, she'll add it (and she's often got even more specialized knowledge of them now). The book does have a Void creature "section" (as well as Blood Magic creatures, Discordian creatures, etc.). They want to state for the record that getting to the Void is difficult. Getting to the RoD is difficult, but that trip is easy compared to getting to the Void. The only place more difficult to get to is Outside Time and Space.
- What does the book have to say about Man-Grove and Bugbear? Bugbear is easy; he's got a little footnote on a page about Blood Magic creatures. Man-Grove has a full entry - trees becoming sentient is a really odd thing. It's probably in the Discordian section (although the Pike chemicals, undead, and Nature Magic stuff is mixed in there too). The cross-referencing in this book is terrible as adding stuff at the end chronologically as you encounter it is how it works. The Man-Grove situation is an evolving one and so it gets added to as more info comes to light.
- Is Frankenstein around in-comics? [Insert discussion about Frankenstein, his creation, and who the "real monster" in the story is here.] In Sentinel Comics, we don't really see the creature made by Dr. Frankenstein, but we do see the doctor himself, and he's a monster. He's getting old and is going to die, so he starts using his techniques to stitch new body parts on himself to extend his own life. He's a minor villain for NightMist, but shows up occasionally. The fun thing about him is that rather than being an evil undead wizard, he's an evil undead scientist.
- Are there any monsters/extra-planar entities that NightMist had a... friendly relationship with? Not like you're asking, but there is a story (crossing over into the DW title) involving Gorgons getting more brazen and mind-wiping people in positions of power to take over, etc. and she discovers a Gorgon, called Lydia, working at a nursing home (explaining the high rates of "Alzheimer's" in this place). This Gorgon isn't part of the takeover plot, she's just trying to get by and is trying to mitigate things by taking memories from people already on the decline. It's still a sketchy situation, but better than it might be. Lydia shows up occasionally (generally for different nursing homes in every appearance) and acts as an informant on Gorgon activities for NightMist. As part of this they try to work out more ethical ways for Lydia to feed as well (PTSD patients?). The Gorgons do eventually discover Lydia's activity and kill her as a message.
- Does she interact with creatures from places other than the RoD, Void, and those Host entities we've heard about? There are other realms (like the Egyptian underworld, whatever the Mists of R'lyeh are tied to, etc. and are often not well-defined, especially after the Shattering of Timelines), but most of what she's dealing with are mystical threats from her world. Most of the "defined" places that things might come from are the places that we already know about.
- Does NightMist have any creatures locked up in her house somewhere? She's got a bunch of them locked up somewhere. She's generally trying to banish, dispel, or destroy these things, but if she can't she'll just lock them up until she figures it out. Some examples:
- The ghost of an architect, sealed into an oil painting (of one of the buildings he designed). He designed a lot of buildings, often with mystical stuff going on. She figured out that if she were to destroy this ghost, it would result in all of these buildings destruction as well and other effects. So, by sealing him in a painting of one of his own buildings, he's still "with" his creations and is at peace.
- There's this extra-dimensional insect creature that's essentially "infinite bugs" - they don't come from anywhere, the creature is just a swarm of that will multiply if it's got any purchase in the world at all. She managed to get them down to a small number of bugs at one time, and then traps them within a friction-less box. Because they can't "gain purchase" on the infinitely smooth surface, they can't multiply.
- Final example (but far from the last trapped monster she's got): there's this freestanding full-length mirror. It doesn't appear to show any reflections if you're looking at it from an angle, though, just a flat gray surface. If you walk up to it you will be able to see yourself as you'd expect. As you inspect yourself in the mirror (you know, checking your hair, just generally moving around) you eventually notice that your reflection isn't matching your movements anymore. Its eyes grow wide in fear and reaches towards you (still a reflection, not like, outward beyond the surface of the mirror) and you hear (in your voice, in your mind) it pleading for you to help it escape, and this will continue until you're out of sight of the mirror. The thing in there is a psychic changeling - a being of pure psychic energy with no visual representation of its own, but can perfectly copy somebody (including the mind - which lets it play all sorts of mind games if it copies the person in front of it, causing them to wonder if they're real or not). They're hard to destroy as they have no physical form, but NightMist managed to trap this one in this mirror. She normally keeps a sheet over it.
- Are there other pocket dimensions that spawn monsters into our world or is the RoD the main culprit? Yeah, RoD is the primary source of such things.
- If NightMist's home was destroyed along with all of the magical items/seals, what's the worst that could happen? That would be so bad. Hard to even describe how bad it would be. This house is heavily warded and is one of the safest locations on the planet for that reason.
- Besides Cultists, Zombies, and Ruin, what kinds of minions of Gloomweaver has she had to deal with? Gloomweaver's primary tool is "people" - he'll make use of RoD creatures (or creatures from other dimensions if they're handy), but he has less control over those. His goal isn't to terrorize humanity, that'll happen on its own once his actual goal of getting into normal reality is achieved, and this goal is better furthered by people.
- What are dragons, exactly? We know that Zhu Long isn't one, so what are the real ones? Are they good, bad, either depending on the individual? There were dragons, but not anymore. They all got killed by various heroes/knights/wizards in the past - all of the legends of dragon-slayers were real in this reality, , but they were successful to the point where there aren't dragons now. There were a variety of them ranging from the Chinese long which Zhu Long resembles to the more western-style 4 legs + 2 wings variety, if there is historical precedent of a "dragon legend" it's based in fact and you might be able to find a skeleton.
- How much were Werewolves used in the comics and what was their narrative role? They could range from antagonists to victims of circumstance depending on what kind of story was being told with them. The first time one shows up it was "oh, a monster we have to fight" but a later writer wrote up the setting's mechanics for them and how it was this sad story, etc. [See the Blood Magic episode for more on how they work here.]
- Have the heroes ever caused a race of sentient monsters to wind up with a member at the Enclave of the Endlings? Very few of these are "races" (Vampires, Mummies, Werewovles, are Zombies are all people with some other modification rather than being their own "race"). Gorgons are a race, but there are still enough of them that Jansa hasn't needed to step in. Portal Fiends are a maybe as it's questionable if Jansa would step in given their extra-planar origin (well, they're also closer to animals, so she might not want them for that reason either).
- Does Biomancer have any interest in any of these monsters? Yes. If for no other reason than "can I make this work" he'd like to copy a Werewolf, Vampire, Gorgon (especially), etc.
- Does NightMist become the gate and is lost after OblivAeon due to the fact that she (along with Gloomweaver) was an original creation of Richard Launius rather than GTG (like, legally she can only appear in SotM because of this)? No - while the initial for them was Richard's, the overall design as they exist in SotM was largely a joint effort, but even if Richard owned these characters outright he's still a super nice guy and would probably allow their use in later products. It's not like Gloomweaver won't have stuff going on in the Future. NightMist's sacrifice play was just the right decision both from a character perspective (plus something on the scale of the OblivAeon event needs to have meaningful casualties) and from the publishing meta-narrative as everything related to her was just so complicated and getting a clean slate there was necessary.
- Will there be a magical bestiary sourcebook for the RPG? Has Adam already started drawing stuff for it? There isn't going to be a specific bestiary book (the supplement books they've got planned out aren't as specialized on one type of thing like this - each should have multiple reasons to get it/ways to use it), there will be plenty of beasts in the books that do come out.
- Sentinel Comics Universe - Harpy has it the Book as part of NightMist's library that she inherits.
- Mist Storm Universe - Remember earlier when somebody asked what would happen if NightMist's house got destroyed? Remember what city NightMist's house is in? Remember what happens to that city as part of OblivAeon in this reality? Remember how incredulous people have been in the past about how "The destruction of Rook City" could be a significant enough branch-point of reality to cause the Mist Storm Universe to be so terrible? Think about it. For some inside-baseball here: they started telling Mist Storm narrative with the "Flame of Freedom" content, which is overall kind of positive. That's because they put all of the not-as-bad stuff in that as it was the first of a new product line and didn't know how far they'd wind up getting to go into how terrible everything got.