The Letters Page: Episode 67
Delving back into Disparation stories!
Run Time: 1:15:06
Who are these people? Where do they come from? What is their story? Listen on to find out!
After a few minutes of goofs and introductions, we get into the actual content of Disparation, Vol. 1, Issue 24!
Just before the 38 minute mark, we get to your questions!
This Friday, we'll be recording our "Behind the Scenes" episode, which will release next Tuesday. But for those of you on our Patreon, you'll get the video of the experience by the end of day Friday! And if you're a Contributor-level supporter of the Patreon, you'll get to watch and participate LIVE!
- See Episode 62 for general information on Disparation in general. Important for this Episode, the original run of Disparation were quarterly (which we knew) but were also always self-contained, extra-long books (no multi-issue arcs, but they had larger page counts). Today we're hearing about vol. 1 #24, the next-to-last issue [from January '93 - extrapolating quarterly publication from what we know of the start date].
- The issue opens with a several pages of backstory for this team to set the stage:
- There hadn't been a Virtuoso of the Void for a long time as the last was imprisoned in her instrument by a group of druids who worshiped Akash'Bhuta. In modern day, Angela Drake finds this old pan flute hidden in a trunk in her grandfather's attic. When she touches it she hears the voice from within the instrument calling out to her: her great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother [counting the how many times Christopher says "great" in the mock dialog], Abigail Grey, the last Virtuoso. Unlike our Anthony, Abigail had been taught to be a Virtuoso properly (by a previous one) and had been waiting for another to find the flute so she could teach them in turn, and that's going to be Angela. It's not just straightforward mentoring, though. Abigail can stop possessing the flute and start possessing Angela for a while - which is when Angela's hair becomes the glowing green mist and her clothes become desaturated in color - together they're the Ashen Heir. There is a subplot under this that Abigail hopes that, eventually, Angela can become a Virtuoso on her own and put Abigail's soul at peace (the seal on the flute could be removed to free her, but they both know that Angela isn't ready yet).
- The Unity character had just recently made the transition from the '90s animated series over to the comics, long enough to have been in a few FFA issues [so, given that she's a '90s character first appearing in FFA #11 and we're currently in January '93, it seems like that issue was in '91 and #12 was in '92]. Getting into the backstory of this issue's setting, Omnitron here was not only a rampaging kill bot, but had been capturing, isolating, and caging people to prevent uprisings and to harvest power from them. It was eventually defeated by a government-funded hero in a mech suit (somewhere in size between Absolute Zero and Bunker) called The Steel Sentinel, piloted by Jack Steel. In the aftermath, the scientist Meredith Stinson was working with the remains of Omnitron and developed a robot to kind of do the opposite: to protect people and bring them together. This is named Unity. Stinson used her own brain as a kind of template for this thing, so it's got a lot of Stinson's own knowledge and skills along with the Omnitron AI that's been broken from its destructive cycle. Stuff it can do: self-repair, much stronger and faster than a person, can fire energy beams from its hands, and can fly.
- Moris Dugal is a big-game hunter ("more mercenary than evil" as for why he does it, but he's not really a good guy) and he's brought in to take care of a really big tiger that's causing problems in a region of north-east India. He's having trouble tracking this thing, but eventually manages to at least get a shot off at it, wounding it. He follows the blood trail into a system of caves and while finding his way through it he runs into this absolutely gigantic bear (easily over 14 feet tall) which attacks him, injuring his arm. He does manage to get several shots off himself, though, killing it. As the bear is dying, however, it transforms back into a man. Distraught (he's never killed a person before) he attempts to pick the person up to carry him out, but in handling him some of the man's blood mixes with his own via his wounded arm and as this happens he passes out. When he awakens he feels weird - he looks at his hands, finding instead that he's a tiger; whatever curse had afflicted the other man has transferred to him through the blood. He's trapped as an animal for a while, but as we advance through time here he eventually finds he can change back into a person with enough focus - if his focus lapses he'll revert back into an animal form. He tries to find a way to break the curse and eventually encounters other heroes and joins up in the fight against evil - as long as he's got this curse he may as well use it to make the world a better place as the hero Apex.
- The Dreamer event was only a year or two prior to this. The backstory here is simply that it happened here too and Vanessa Long is trying to use her powers for good now. She makes Projections to fight for her much like the Dreamer did subconsciously. Her hero name is Plaything.
- The last member of the team is Infinitor. The twist from what we know is that he wasn't corrupted by the OblivAeon shard - Hugh got "external" powers and can make energy constructs, Nigel got "internal" powers and can augment his own abilities (making himself faster or stronger, generating an energy blast, or making himself impervious to bullets). The brothers were a hero duo for a short time, but eventually get on each others' nerves, as brothers do, and so stop working together. They'll still team up when a situation warrants it as they still work together well as heroes, they just don't do so day-to-day. Captain Cosmic joins the Prime Wardens and Infinitor joins the Freedom Five. His outfit is similar to what you'd expect with the green and black color scheme, but with the team logo (not the "Heroic Infinitor" look - that's much later in the normal timeline). Instead of the mask it's more of a headband with parts that come down on the sides - you can see his face.
- So, that all being covered as quickly as possible, we jump right into the meat of the story (no "how did they become a team?" nonsense). Empyreon has come to Earth. He's recognizable in this setting, but he's hundreds of feet tall and is going around consuming the energy from stars. There's a little detail given with him doing so elsewhere despite the best efforts of Captain Cosmic and the Prime Wardens, who are forced to retreat, but now he's here. Infinitor knows this is bad news from his brother, so he powers himself up as much as he can, flied up into the chest cavity of Empyreon and overcharges himself until he explodes, taking down Empyreon with him at which point he crashes to Earth.
- The remaining heroes investigate the crater and find a much smaller (only around 20 feet tall) Empyreon, but one that now seems to be powered by a big green gem in his chest - feeding on that rather than the cosmic energy we normally associate with him. A fight ensues, but the heroes are unable to make much headway against him - he's casually shrugging off whatever they try. Being unable to feed on our sun, he's going to settle for feeding on the planet in the meantime - he fires a beam of green energy at the ground to try to start burrowing to the core.
- As he's doing this, Unity eventually manages to get her arm down into Empyreon's chest and pulls the gem out (damaging her greatly in the meantime). Now, without its power, he's no longer got enough energy to make it to the core to tap into that source and is kind of out of luck for sustenance. He tries to pull energy from wherever he can in desperation (power lines, car engines, etc.). The Ashen Heir is hanging back and shutting down his access to every additional source he attempts to tap into. As he expends the last of his energy stores, he continues to shrink (now down to around 10 feet) - when he identifies that AH is what's cutting him off he tries a last-ditch charge to try to take her out. As he approaches (still towering over her) he's snatched up in the jaws of a big green Allosaurus. Apex closes his jaws and crunches Empyreon into pieces.
- Some wrap-up in the remaining few pages with the heroes lamenting the loss of their friend, Infinitor (Unity is still pretty messed up too, but is in the process of repairing). Plaything can feel something of him in the gem, though. She winds up making her most common Projection, the one she can most reliably and clearly make, a big ape. She pushes what's left of the gem into its forehead which makes it solid and permanent. The ape becomes animated with the mind of Infinitor and speaks with his voice (and continues to have his abilities to empower himself with the green energy). And so that's the team we see in Time Flies #6 facing off against the alternate Dark Watch team.
- Is [Unity] smarter than Tachyon and Omnitron? What's the opinion on AIs in this universe? To be clear, Unity is kind of a combination of the knowledge of Tachyon with the programming of Omnitron, but winds up as its own personality/being. There isn't the same stigma attached to AI in this setting as opposed to the core setting as Omnitron was just a one-time thing that was "fixed" in the creation of Unity. They don't put a lot of time in this single issue getting into how we think of AI, though ("Does Tachyon feel that this is a robot that she invented or a kind of 'person' she created?" - although Christopher opines that he thinks this Tachyon would think of herself more as a parent to this thing and would be proud to see it going out on its own).
- Is [Ashen Heir's] misty hair an indication that she had a run-in with the mist curse like NightMist? We've been told that mixing Void energy with other kinds of magic is bad, so does she keep them separate or what? The magic that was used to capture Abigail Grey had a "mist spell" aspect to it, which is why it manifests this way for AH - it's not the Mists of R'lyeh. This character is much more Argent Adept than NightMist, but still has "mist curse" as a motif. This Virtuoso of the Void is much less field-experienced than AA is, but much more practiced at the Void Magic aspect in particular as a result of getting the proper training from a prior Virtuoso instead of having to cobble together knowledge as he goes and doesn't really mix it with other types of magic as a result. Abigail can't really do anything on her own and Angela is a bit in over her head, but when they're manifesting as the combined Ashen Heir, they're pretty solid as a Virtuoso. The implications are that Angela will eventually get good enough to be a Virtuoso on her own and will likely take up a new name at that time.
- Stuff on the Void and Void Magic: Mixing it with other types of magic is dangerous for the user, but also to the fabric of reality. You've got to be accomplished in multiple disciplines to even start. Sure, we hear about a lot of people accessing the Void for various reasons/purposes, but it's really hard to do at all and we basically know about every time it's happened. Don't do it.
- What other forms does [Apex] have? They're all apex predators. The least-such we see is the one actually seen on the card "¿Quando? ¡Ahora!", but while a raven isn't really a predator, it does feed on other animals and nothing preys on it.
- How did [Plaything's] powers manifest differently from the Dreamer's? Is her personality similar to the Idealist? Not similar to Idealist - she's more timid and is scared of what she can do (this world's Dreamer event being recent memory) and she's working to atone. In the Sentinel Comics Universe we'll be seeing Muse (the Dreamer becoming a hero), but she's had more time to grow up slightly and distance herself from the Dreamer event so she'll have some of that, but will have forgiven herself - in neither case is she as upbeat as Idealist is. Her powers are very similar to the Dreamer's, only more under her control - granted she's not using them to get into people's heads and mess with them, rather more just manifesting minions to fight for her.
- Is the Ape still one of Vanessa's projections based on a stuffed toy? Is the gem in its head an OblivAeon shard and, if so, what's its source? The ape is based on her stuffed toy and is used for the same reason that it showed up in the Dreamer event - it's something very familiar to her that she can picture very clearly [they evoke Calvin & Hobbes in the description]. The gem only comes into play at the end of the issue and is meant to be crystal that empowered Infinitor (or, rather, the original crystal was "used up" in empowering the brothers and this crystal is the coalescence of that half of the power that Nigel got back into crystalline form), but "OblivAeon shards" as concepts didn't exist at the time of writing.
- Why does the team allow a child to join? Until relatively recently children on teams (like "teen sidekicks") were just sort of there and not really questioned (although there are outliers like Seduction of the Innocent [editor's note: the parts dealing with child characters like Robin was actually a very small part, just one that's easily referenced these days due to familiarity with the character - depictions of crime in comics was a much bigger target of the book]). This being a one-shot story spends even less time on the question.
- Where are the heroes who make up the canonical Freedom Five? Nowhere. The only one we know specifically about is Dr. Stinson, she's an inventor/scientist but has no powers. We see some stuff labeled Montgomery Industries, so in theory Maia's out there, but we don't know if the Wraith is. Tyler Vance is probably still in the military. Ryan Frost likely didn't have a cryo-explosion and might still just be a janitor. You can just imagine the characters non-hero lives continuing. You can't do that with Paul Parsons, though - there is no Legacy here. Maybe a previous Legacy died before having children. It's just not gone into here.
- Was there an alternate Vengeful Five? Who comprised it? Not that we know about given the one-off nature of the characters/story here (as was usual for Disparation vol. 1 stories).
- Is [Ashen Heir] the leader? How does she compare with other leaders? She's kind of the leader the way that Legacy leads the standard FF crossed with Argent Adept in the Prime Wardens in that she's going to be the inspirational member while others are doing their own thing (although nobody is as straight-up inspirational as Legacy), boosting her teammates with her magic, and preventing the really bad stuff from happening. The members who're the bruisers who rush in to take the brunt of the fight, freeing up the other members to do their more specialized tasks are Unity and Infinitor.
- When will we get a full comic line following this team? Do they make a cameo in OblivAeon? We won't get a comic, sorry. They'd love to make this comic, but they're even more like to make up even more Disparation type stories. Much like in the Animated Series and alt-Dark Watch stories, the OblivAeon comics had cameos galore, but often just in the backgrounds as the artists were given leeway to drop whoever they wanted in as filler. It's not like they were doing important on-panel stuff which was mostly limited to the main teams and the stuff we'll see in the Missions deck (although they were certainly doing important stuff because everyone everywhere/when had to be doing important stuff).
- Has Maria Helena visited this world? What did she do there? She knew enough about it to pull this viewing of collapsing realities together to show the heroes. We don't have any specific story involving her being there.
- Were the teams depicted on the card invented for the card or were they prior inventions from an IHOP conversation or something that you could draw from when the opportunity arose? Invented for the card - they did not exist as characters until after the art was done. The only notes were to have teams that were clearly Dark Watch and the Freedom Five, but also very different from the normal versions. The stories came later.
- Next week is the "Behind the Scenes" episode. On Friday this week they'll be recording (live for Patreon Contributors) the episode. Every week they do a few hours of episode prep, getting the stories fleshed out a bit as they're often just an outline prior to that (getting into the Mainstay/Stuntman "Road Warriors" story was a lot of fun, but it wasn't nearly as detailed until they did this prep work). The Patreon suggestion was for them to explain how they go about making one of these stories. What they're actually doing is to go through the process live - just come up with a story that they haven't told before.
- What this means is that there isn't really anything we can ask about the story as it'll be new as of when they tell it. What you should do is ask questions about their process, and get them in by the end of Thursday (May 10).