The Letters Page: Episode 75
Diving deeply into 6 comic book issues!
Show Notes: 1:20:23
We start off by raving about a game we've been playing a lot lately... you'll just have to listen to find out!
Then, once we get down to brass tacks, as they say, we talk about a bunch of other comic books before we can even get to Dark Watch #1. But then, we do! And wow are there some twists and turns!
Around 47 minutes into the episode, we read your letters to you!
On Thursday of this week, we've got another Extrasode coming your way! We've already recorded it, and it's a weird one, but no Il Alimento, certainly. Whew!
Keep on saving the Multiverse!
- They've been doing a lot of Prime War stuff. Maybe Patrons who are interested in that should submit a Prime War/Mist Storm Universe topic.
- Additionally, they'd like to maybe do another creative behind the scenes one like the one where they wound up creating Oni as Sentinel Comics entities.
- This will be about Dark Watch Volume 1 #1-6, so they've first got to explain some context for where everybody on the team is at this point.
- Expatriette had her own book, Terminal Ballistics, which ran through the early-'90s. After it's first year as her solo book, they added Setback as a supporting character. Within a few months they made him more of a fixture due to audience response. This led to a three-year "will they, won't they" thing between the two leads. The book ends in March of '95 and issue #50 [assuming monthly publication, the start date would then be February '91], when they finally kiss at the end of the issue. They're kind of off the radar for a little while after this - a few cameos here and there, but not series regulars.
- In November '97 to May '98 we have the 7-issue Run of Luck series [Christopher said Nov. '95, but by other context this has to be a misstatement]. "What better way to reintroduce our favorite couple than with one of their exes?" It's a Kismet-focused story (this is the one mentioned way back in her episode that involved her, the Hippo, and Highbrow) and Setback confronting her (although other heroes do show up at various points; Expatriette is there, but the story isn't about her relationship with Setback). This is also where Setback's powers are explained. When first introduced he's just strong and durable as the only successful experiment by RevoCorp who just happened to be lucky/unlucky in turn as part of his character but as things went on they decided to play up him having "luck powers" too. This story is where the wild extremes of luck are explained via a retcon involving Kismet. This is the only really notable appearance of Setback and Expatriette between Terminal Ballistics and the start of Dark Watch.
- Backtracking a bit, Vengeance #2 was back in January '92. While the Vengeance books were all oversized things with a lot of stuff going on, this one has the encounter where NightMist is hit by Regression Darts and loses her powers. She handles the transition by using magic in a more "traditional" spell-casting manner during this time as she can't rely on the mist powers. Her solo book continues through this period.
- In the second issue of the War of Heliopolis story, she shows up and loses a magical duel in the fight with the Ennead. Back in NightMist #128-130 she then turns to the Void as a means of gaining more power (as discussed in her episode). Issue #130 has her make an appearance in what becomes known as her Dark Watch costume, although predating the team by a few years. She goes on to win round 2 vs. Isis.
- Issue #160 of NightMist in September '98 closes out that title and we don't see her again until Dark Watch. These last couple of years of her comic had involved her slowly losing control of her powers (like, almost destroying a city when she was trying to use her powers to protect people). She winds up returning to her home, the Arcanum, and magically locking it away and hiding it with her inside.
- Mr. Fixer's story from the '80s and into the '90s were about him fighting the Organization and Chairman Pike. This comes to a head in the limited series Transmission of Honor, which runs for 6 issues from October '96 through March '97. Enough is enough, he's working his way to the top to take this whole thing down. Issue #6 is the final confrontation where he fights the Operative, but with Pike off to the side as a distraction, which costs Mr. Fixer his life. This blind-sided all the readers.
- The next month starts off the follow-up Engine Block Blues 6 issue series that starts with his death and features flashbacks of his life and how things got to this point. By September '97, when the last issue of this comes out, basically every issue that Sentinel Comics is putting out deals with this in some way (Mystery Comics #289 and FFA #15 are specifically called out as "Death/Life of Mr. Fixer" stories). The publisher is spending these last 6 months convincing you that yes, he really is dead.
Dark Watch #1, July '99 [date here extrapolated from something in the Future section, but confirmed by Christopher]
- Amanda Cohen is walking through a graveyard and having one of those "talking to your dead friend/relative" conversations in her head, directed at Mr. Fixer. Things are tough, but are actually going well. She and Pete are getting on well. Problems crop up, but they deal with them. She values her opportunities to come and "talk to" him here. Yadda yadda. Then she arrives at the grave - the panel is from the grave's perspective with her looking down at it in horror (so readers don't see what she sees) and yelling for Pete to come, quick!
- Pete arrives, you turn the page, splash page showing the headstone of Harry Robert Walker with a perfect cylinder of earth removed from the grave (i.e. it's an unnaturally perfectly circular hole and the missing dirt isn't apparent anywhere). Something unnatural is going on, which is kind of out of their wheelhouse. Expat has an idea for who to talk to, though.
- Cut to NightMist in her house (the first time we've seen here anywhere since the end of her book). We see the house is now in some swamp (where it was usually in the middle of Rook City somewhere - it also looks different on the outside than we normally expect). Some time is spent here establishing that she is practicing her magic - repeating a simple spell over and over to get the hang of it without losing control. Then the doorbell rings, startling her for a few reasons: one, she didn't know she had a doorbell, two, how the heck did anybody find her to use the doorbell.
- She answers the door and it's Expat and Setback. Setback figured they could take a shortcut through this swamp that would get them to Rook City faster so they could find NightMist. Neither of them know the extent to which NightMist had sealed herself away and so how big of a deal it was that they managed to find her. Anyway, no time to explain how they found her, they've got more important things to talk to her about.
- Scene transition to them wrapping up the story and that they need her to come look at this grave. No need to go anywhere - NightMist waves her hand and manifests the grave there in her sitting room. She does some more passes with her hands and the vision turns black and white, except for some red runes and lines that are glowing around the edges of the hole. She knows what this is, but hasn't seen it in some time. "We've got quite the journey ahead of us" (this last is in a caption box on a splash page of the Temple of Zhu Long).
Dark Watch #2, August '99
- Ok, so now they're making their plans for the trip. NightMist handing them some heavy fur coats and tells them to put them on, which confuses them considering how far it is to the Temple. NightMist just opens the door of the house and now they're in a village at the foot of the mountain instead of in a swamp.
- We finally get a bit of explanation - part of the magic of the Arcanum is that she can connect the door to any other door, allowing her to get anywhere from the house and to return to the house from anywhere. This explains why the swamp house didn't look like the house in Rook City. This is a new trick we haven't seen her use before - she's spent the last 2 years productively.
- As they head up the mountain, Setback is visibly cold (NightMist doesn't need a coat and doesn't seem cold) and asks why she doesn't just teleport them up the mountain - it's apparently not safe for her to do so here (and to herself she thinks that she's not sure it's a good idea for her to be doing that anyway - she's still wary of her own control issues, thus the trick with the house rather than relying on her own abilities in the moment).
- They get lost in the snow. Eventually the blizzard clears and there the Temple is in front of them, with Zhu Long out front to greet them, welcome them inside as they're here to see their friend, right? Some wary confusion on their part as they're here because Zhu Long stole his body. Well, they better come in anyway considering the blizzard will start up again any minute now (of course, from the outside the Temple doesn't look like it's very good cover from such weather either, what with all the lattice work and paper walls and whatnot - that's magic for you, though, as the inside is perfectly comfortable to the point where Expat and Setback can take off their coats). Zhu Long beckons them to follow, pointing out various magical doodads as they go.
- As they go, he starts reminiscing about Mr. Fixer and their rivalry over the years. Like, he's got an odd tone that's almost reverent about him - why was this guy so much trouble? They enter a large room with a bunch of pools of bubbling liquid around it, as they approach the big central pool Mr. Fixer strides out of it (as seen on "Rites of Revival" with the mask and scar and looking noticeably younger).
- Expatriette is excited and rushes to him. As she approaches he lays her out with one punch. Uh oh.
- Zhu Long makes his comment here about how there's nothing of their friend left, but he's been wanting to try out his new servant.
- Setback gives it a go, charging Zhu Long rather than Fixer, but the latter intercepts him (like, moving scary fast) and takes him down with a knee to the gut.
- NightMist backs away a bit, Zhu Long tells his servant to come to him when he's done as he leaves the room, and the issue ends with Fixer standing over the downed Setback and Expat looking really scary as NightMist is doing some magic hands stuff as she prepares for a fight.
Dark Watch #3, September '99
- The fight is in progress, Expat and Setback are back up - they're talking to one another about how Fixer isn't responding to them at all, or to their attempts to snap him out of it. Occasionally there are comments about not wanting to hurt him, promptly followed up by whoever said it getting hurt by him. It's unclear how they think they could hurt him.
- A few pages of this later, Expat is down again with Fixer poised with a fist ready to strike. Expat has a gun up, though, pointed at his head and Setback has managed to get behind him and is holding him. This is enough of a stand-off to give NightMist the time she needs. She sends out a spear of magical energy that goes through Fixer. There's a moment where things kind of just hang there like that, then Fixer says "Let go of me" - the first thing he's said since his appearance last issue. Setback lets him go.
- Questions of whether he remembers them and whatnot. "I remember everything." Oh, that's good then... "No, I remember everything." Dying and being forcibly resurrected after being, finally, at peace were not pleasant experiences.
- Then the ninjas attack and they're surrounded. Setback wants NightMist to teleport them out again, but she still can't risk it, and so the team fights their way out. Expat and Setback can coordinate with one another, but in general they aren't fighting as a team at this stage (and Mr. Fixer is still a scary dude here - Christopher uses the verb "breaking" in what he's doing to the ninjas during the fight).
- Eventually, the heroes make it out of the Temple, and once outside NightMist finally opens a portal to get them out of there. This is shown to be a very destructive thing for her to do, explaining her reticence to do it. They emerge down in the village below and energy arcing off of the portal destroys a nearby building with similar destruction visible on the Temple side of things. One last ninja attempts to jump through after them, but is cut in two when the portal closes. Gross stuff.
- This all leaves NightMist exhausted and she falls to the ground with magical energy leaking out of her with the others standing around her. Setback asks "How do we get home?" and the issue ends.
Dark Watch #4, October '99
- Setback's at the house they arrived through slamming a door open and closed trying to get the opening back to the Arcanum to work. This goes on for several panels before the occupant comes to the door and yells at him in some language he doesn't understand before slamming the door in his face.
- The village elder shows up and takes them in, giving them somewhere to put NightMist while she recovers. Mr. Fixer stays outside, though, still shirtless and glowering at anybody who comes near him.
- Setback and Expat get into an argument. Setback wants to go back to the Temple to have that creepy old guy "fix" Mr. Fixer. Expat wants to wait until NightMist recovers to see if she can help. They eventually agree to just sleep on it and reconsider things in the morning. Fixer remains outside being angry.
- Setback gets up in the night, puts on a coat, and heads up the mountain on his own (of course he manages to make it there on his own, through a blizzard, at night... go figure). Nobody's waiting out front so he just heads in. He winds up fighting his way through more ninjas as he works his way further in, calling for Zhu Long to come out. He eventually stumbles and falls into one of the bubbling vats of poisonous liquid around the place. He pulls himself out, sputtering. He rolls over onto his back once he's out and sees Zhu Long standing over him as he loses consciousness.
- And here something odd happens - we start following things from Zhu Long's perspective which might be the first time that's ever happened. It's in service of learning more about Setback, though. The Run of Luck story established that he has "luck powers", but here we have Zhu Long examining him and learning exactly what those powers are and so is the first character in the comics to understand how Setback works, which Zhu Long finds very interesting (insert cackling laughter here).
- Back in the village, NightMist wakes up and is feeling better, Fixer is still growling at people while standing shirtless in the snow, and Expat is frantically searching for Setback ("I'm going to kill him when I find him") and one of the villagers indicates that he went up the mountain. NightMist takes her time and creates a more stable portal and the issue ends with the three of them up by the Temple again as Setback bursts out the front door with glowing red eyes and a spectral red dragon through his chest. He charges through the snow at his friends at the direction of Zhu Long, who's standing behind him.
Dark Watch #5, November '99
- For the second time in such a short run of comics we start in the middle of a fight between heroes. Setback is fighting Mr. Fixer and this is a brutal fight. It would be in general, but there's also some caption exposition from Zhu Long that explains what he's done. Zhu Long couldn't do as complete of a job here as he had done with Mr. Fixer - he's got to concentrate to keep the control of Setback going. Additionally, as long as he's doing so he's also able to manipulate and control Setback's luck (turning the bad luck outward to effect people around him while turning the good luck inward, making him almost constantly lucky). This is also Mr. Fixer at his maximum brutality (like, he's not in there to save his friend Pete, he's just got an opponent and plans on just ruining him and only the Legacy-derived power set allows Setback to take the beating). This is a rough fight with no punches pulled on either side. Oh, and there are ninja and mage minions around to keep the heroes busy as well.
- Setback uses his luck to cause an avalanche and escapes back to the Temple while NightMist and Fixer are buried as Expat is swept away, and the action follows her. The first post-swept-away panel we see her shows her hanging from an icy cliff by one hand as the tail end of the avalanche passes over her. She's lost her coat and is low on resources, lots somewhere in the mountains with just some guns and ammo.
- She finds a cave and manages to get a fire started by using materials from her incendiary rounds, but this attracts the attention of, let's call it an ice bear from deeper in the cave. Think polar bear, only bigger (and in the wrong geographic location), but also with weird ice protrusions. It charges and, while she's not really prepared for this, she's still Expatriette and manages to handle the situation. She gets some shots off, it manages to knock her guns out of her hands, she pulls a knife and smirks morbidly, and when the page turns we see her up on a snowy crest overlooking the Temple while wearing a nice bear pelt to keep warm. She's looking down the sights of a rifle as Setback squares off against Fixer and NightMist again, but nobody knows that Expat is there.
Dark Watch #6, December '99
- Fixer and Setback are fighting while NightMist and Zhu Long are locked in some kind of magical dual over the Setback situation. Expat lines up the shot and shoots Setback! With Shock Rounds. Just like old times (plus she's sure his luck will protect him from the brunt of it - which it does, by shunting most of it into Zhu Long due to the magical connection and being in range of the "bad luck aura" surrounding Setback). Zhu Long is blasted backwards into the Temple and is out of the immediate fight for the moment.
- This gives NightMist the chance to finally undo the stuff that Zhu Long did to Setback, at which point Expat comes down from the mountain as well so they can get out of there again. They start running down the mountain and hear a rumbling behind them. They think it's another avalanche at first, but nope, it's just an incredibly large force of ninjas charging down after them with a big dragon twisting through the air above them.
- Fixer turns to face the advancing wave of ninjas and slowly walks towards them. The others call for him to come on already. "No, I fight" and he proceeds to do just that. Setback joins him and they kick ass together. Expat starts picking off individuals from range. NightMist has an idea, but needs a little time to work it.
- The dragon descends. Things are not looking good for the heroes. At the last moment, NightMist finishes what she's doing and the four heroes "fall" into the ground, landing in the foyer of the Temple they just left. Hey, look doors. She opens the front door and wouldn't you know it, there's the interior of the Arcanum. She remains on the Temple side and reaches in to touch the wall of her house. She draws all of the magical energy she can from the house and all of the magical stuff in it, pulling it all into the Temple. She then calls for the team to jump through and they cross over into the Arcanum and slam the door.
- We then cut back to Zhu Long (still a dragon), he knows something's wrong at the Temple. He flies up as quick as he can, but runs into a magical barrier before reaching it. The Temple succumbs to what NightMist did to it and disappears, at which point Zhu Long reverts to his human form. [It sounds like NightMist has transferred the "locked and hidden" trick she'd done to the Arcanum back at the end of her comic to the Temple.] Zhu Long is mad.
- The heroes are back in the Arcanum, NightMist is losing some coherence into her mist form a bit, and they're glad to have made it, but worry about having made a powerful enemy.
- How well known are "Dark Watch" as a group known to the public? Does the Organization have influence with the RC media to make them seem a menace? How about the Wraith as a Rook City-based hero, but one not affiliated with DW? Dark Watch probably fits in the "urban legend" end of things - Expat, NM, and Fixer don't want to be in the public eye and Setback is just along for the ride with his friends. Wraith will cross over into DW stuff more than a lot of other heroes. Her transition in focus is a part of the editorial decision to create Dark Watch in the first place - by this time she's doing so much high-profile Freedom Five stuff that she just wasn't involved in much of the urban vigilante stuff anymore and they created this new team to fill that narrative/thematic gap as even what investigation-heavy Wraith stories there were had focused more on her leveraging her company's resources to do it rather than being on the ground herself. Dark Watch are different in another way, too, though. The Freedom Five or Prime Wardens will be in a fight and eventually will win the day. Dark Watch often settles for being involved in a fight and surviving - they have much fewer decisive victories even if they manage to accomplish an objective.
- [Letter from "The Dark"] Why are these creeps always watching me? Because the danger comes from within you.
- Where did the name "Dark Watch" come from? With all of the team names they have iterated through ideas so much that it's hard to remember which of them came up with any of them (if it could be pinned on only one of them). Story-internally, it's not like there was a scene where they workshopped the name or something. It's more likely that they just operated without an "in-universe" name under the comic title of Dark Watch until they showed up in some other book and somebody else referred to them by that name, at which point it started being used freely wherever (like, it's never explained where it came from, just at some point people in the comics use it as if they've always been using it).
- Could they become Light Watch? Nope. They're too gritty.
- It was stated earlier that they were a late-formed team, rivaling the Southwest Sentinels as the "newest" team, but in the Behind the Scenes episode it was mentioned that the Sentinels were created in the 2010s, was Dark Watch really that late (since Expat finding Fixer's empty grave was supposed to be within a year of his death, which seems like it should have been farther back than that)? This is a case where they were just wrong about the timeline - this was a case where anything in the semi-recent past was "in the '90s" when in the case of the Sentinels it was much later than that, in the 2010s. It also turns out that it was closer with 2 years from his death to the start of Dark Watch. They also mention that the team formed in '99, although they consider it to be an "oughts" book more than a "nineties" book.
- Setback interacts with Fricton on her card "Blinding Speed", so he was around for Vengeance, but his episode talks about him throwing out his suit and then returning to heroics during a Miss Information event while he was still in that "Freedom Five sidekick" phase, but Miss Info's plot didn't get going until the mid-'00s, so how does the timeline work? Was he helping out the FF for a decade? Yes, he was with the FF for about a decade, but the Miss Info stuff didn't happen until after Dark Watch had been established. By the time of the 2005 Miss Info events, there were a lot of heroes that were involved in one way or another and he was one of them.
- When did Harpy join up? Was NightMist working with her before Dark Watch formed? Harpy shows up in issue #7 (just after the story told in the Overview above). She winds up as a supporting character for NightMist for quite a while (although only actually appearing a handful of times). Her role here is as somebody that NightMist can talk to more honestly about her magic stuff (note that in the above story she's not very forthright with the rest of the team about what she's dealing with in terms of her magic/control). Harpy joins up in Dark Watch Volume 2 #1 starting in 2015 [note that the first few ARG event listings put issues #4-6 around the time of the Progeny events which took place in most of 2014 in the FF and PW titles]. The second volume of the comics starts with them as a 5-person team - this is mostly just a book to wrap up a few Dark Watch story loose ends, do a few weird things real quick, and then have OblivAeon happen.
- If, as per the Urban Settings episode, Setback lives in Megalopolis, how does he get to Rook City for Dark Watch stories (does he trip and fall into a spontaneously-forming wormhole that coincidentally deposits him in Expat's apartment as she's suiting up for crime fighting, or does he just move)? That first thing is definitely something that could happen to him, but he moves to Rook City near the start of Terminal Ballistics (although that doesn't preclude the wormhole apartment thing from happening anyway).
- In Cosmic Contest it was mentioned that when he pulled the Operative's sword from his body again it dripped blood, just how much blood does he have in his body? Does his body generate more? Could he become the first ghost/zombie/vampire hybrid? There is blood in his body, just sort of hanging out in his veins and his body makes more as he's a high-quality, artisanal zombie. It's a "living" body for some very specific definition of "living" - it's "magically living" rather than your ordinary run-of-the-mill living and so is maintained without relying on stuff like metabolism. Adding the vampire template would be too much, why do you ask this of them?
- [Letter from Cult of Gloom] Who makes a super zombie without an off switch? Zhu Long had complete control of him. Who's to say that when Zhu Long reappears as a great foe that he doesn't have plans for how to make use of the mystical hooks he's got in Mr. Fixer?
- What keeps them working together? They all need each other. The Freedom Five and Prime Wardens are teams that the world needs. Dark Watch need each other. Setback and Expat give each other a lot of reasons for doing things, Setback was responsible for getting NightMist back into the world and doing stuff, NightMist severed the hold that Zhu Long had on Fixer, and Fixer needs all of them to help him recover his humanity. Additionally, they also all need a common cause. There's also some outside reasons that C&A just thought that of course this group would make a team, it's obvious (and they have fun with the internal tension that just naturally arises when working out their stories).
- Do we ever get to see "downtime" for this team that would show how and why they connect? They think the "uptime" events show how any why they connect, but there are certainly issues that are not as high stakes (or at least don't start as high-stakes but then spiral out of control) where we see some. These are not people who get downtime in the way that the Freedom Five do (they're not going to go spend time with the family or anything).
- How often was this comic released? How popular was it? Were there "Annual" issues as well? Was the series overshadowed by NightMist as she still seemed to have solo books and was just really powerful? As stated above, NightMist's solo book had ended prior to this one starting. It was monthly and run to around 150-160 issues. There were sporadic Annuals - they got 3 in the first few years, then not again for a while (only around 5 total). It was decently popular, but that fell off eventually (which is why it was cancelled). They knew that they were popular enough that people would want them around and doing stuff for OblivAeon, though.
Future (as seen from the issues 1-6 perspective that this episode covers)
- The title focuses on both urban and magical threats (even though this story was magic-heavy, it wasn't a magic-centric title in general). Zhu Long is a recurring villain. Not like Baron Blade with the Freedom Five where he's frequent. He's a rare occurrence and he's always terrible. After a few years Gloomweaver starts becoming a recurring threat too.
- Through this book we see Expat and Setback become a really good duo to the point where it can almost be looked at as their book along with their two weird friends. In terms of the fandom, the Expat/Setback pair is also the popular one that everybody likes.
- Some immediate story elements: Harpy shows up, Fixer wants to return to the auto shop, NightMist keeps him under supervision and so he stays at her house, NightMist also starts to piece together how Setback's luck works (having been on the receiving end of it being used intentionally as well as countering that control herself) and offers to manipulate it herself, which he declines as he's seen how people messing with him magically works out.
- In November 2008, Dark Watch #113 we have the event where Heartbreaker shows up and stabs Fixer (again) which is where we discover that he's not alive. In the past this was stated to be during Vengeance and a fight with a bunch of Proletariats, they are officially correcting that statement to have it occur in the Vengeance: Returned story (which is actually a Biomancer story, which makes these Flesh-child Proletariats) - we knew it was a Biomancer story by this point, but the fact that it was the real Heartbreaker was a twist. This kicks off a later Chairman story.
- Volume 2 starts up in 2015 and ends at the end of the OblivAeon story.