The Letters Page: Episode 76
We go out to explore SPAAAAAAACE!!
Run Time: 1:21:51
Right off the bat, we mention that the day this episode goes live, we're doing another live stream of the Sentinel Comics RPG! Come join us on our Twitch channel!
We then mention that our Patreon Collectors and Contributors can submit topics for August now. Check out this Patreon post about it!
At the two minute and 45 second mark, Adam realizes what we should name this episode. And lo, that is what the episode is now named. Let it be written.
Then, we finally get into space stuff.
The overview is mostly breaking down how space is used across the different eras of comics publication, and also how that all fits together to show the primary purpose of space in storytelling.
After that, we get into your questions just after the 12 minute mark, letting your questions about space shape the order we talk about the variety of space stories.
Questions spark us to talk about:
- Golden Age Captain Cosmic stories
- Captain Cosmic's (Hugh, not Ray) interactions with those stories
- Plants (Space plants, that is)
- Stuff we like making
- A strange story
- Humans compared to aliens
- Cute aliens?
- Humanoid aliens
- Galactic Strike Force races
- Singular Entities (briefly)
- Galactra's race
- Empyreon's race
- Translators/alien languages
- Magic in space
- And more!
Around an hour and 14 minutes in, we talk a little about the future of space in the various worlds of Sentinel Comics.
And then we tease a bit more about Prime War before reading names and signing off.
Join us next week for an episode about love.
- While the submitted title/topic was "Captain Cosmic's Galactic Encyclopedia" which was a nice parallel to the NightMist's monster book topic, there isn't any such encyclopedia and so to simplify things they're just calling this episode "Cosmic Tales".
- In the '40s (as was mentioned in either the Tempest or Grand Warlord Voss espisode), space is this "other place" that's nothing like Earth. It's treated as almost another dimension more than simply other places within this dimension. It's "space opera" kind of fantasy-land throughout the Golden Age of comics. They define the line between the Golden and Silver Ages for Sentinel Comics purposes as the transition of Freedom Five back to Freedom Four with a new lineup in issue #88 in August of '57 [for comparison to our reality - the Silver Age is typically defined to start with Showcase #4 and the introduction of Barry Allen as the new incarnation of the Flash in October '56].
- This continues a little into the Silver Age, but once the Space Race gets going it starts to transition a bit. Things beyond our solar system are still weird and dangerous, but "close" stuff like the Moon and Mars are treated less fantastically (Wagner Mars Base is established in this time). So there's both this "fear of space" thing, but also a new "need to conquer space" aspect.
- In the '70s and '80s the space content is much more focused on exploration and the wonder of space; "Space as a new frontier." [then there's a digression about how we need to explore our own oceans for crying out loud] Lots of first contact scenarios and "space diversity" stories (like, by learning about these aliens we learn something about ourselves, etc.).
- Late-'80s into the '90s we get back to some of the space opera roots, adding some of that fantastical stuff back in, although now aliens that are encountered aren't just "space monsters" but "people" despite being non-human. Lots of fun "science fantasy" stuff happening here and cool space battles.
- Post-'90s we kind of get a mix of all of the above. "Space" is defined enough in-setting to be used in interesting ways, like genre mixing (e.g. "space noir"). It's just a way to take stories that could have just been told on Earth, but spice them up with the exotic setting (crime stories with ray guns, war-torn totally-not-the-middle-east stories set on Dok'Thorath to avoid the politics of actually setting it in the middle east). It's convenient to have "space" stand-ins for whatever the writers are commenting on (a time honored tradition in Sentinel Comics going back to the Thorathian "space Nazis").
- While they took Captain Cosmic out of the title of this episode, he really is their most prominent "space character" (while mentioning Parse, K.N.Y.F.E., and Sky-Scraper as having adventures out there too - Tempest, an alien hero, really spends most of his time on Earth). CC was a character created to be the human point-of-view character interacting with the space setting.
- We've been told that "Captain Cosmic" was originally a Golden Age character and, like Absolute Zero and Jim Brooks, was a concept reintroduced later on; what does this background tell us about his modern incarnation? What was the original Captain Cosmic like? What kind of adventures did he have? Was he an Edgar Rice Burroughs-type where space is a fantasy land where the space ships are basically sailing ships and the hero runs around without a space helmet (or even a shirt), saving alien princesses with the help of an alien pet? Yeah, pretty much nailed it. Here's the background on him and how his general story arc goes:
- The Golden Age Captain Cosmic was named Ray Talbot - a "rocket man" (the one fault with the proposed story type is that the ships aren't sailing ships but classic sci-fi rockets). He was tasked with flying his rocket out beyond the solar system to see what was out there. Not much background given - just a few expository sentences in his first appearance in Cosmic Tales before he crash lands on an alien planet and remains there for a long time. Most of the stories in CT are stand-alone and there's not a lot of organized plotting going on (and it's an anthology book, so there are multiple stories about multiple characters per issue and things jump back and forth). Sure there's "continuity" but not a lot of care is taken to really adhere to it (or even to tell stories in chronological order). Many of these stories are about Ray Talbot and his adventures on Tarvalis.
- Tarvalis is a world of wastelands and jungles with a few shining cities here and there. The first thing Ray gets involved with upon arrival is a fight with some slavers (Tarvalins are 8-9 feet tall, long limbed, but generally look human except for the green skin). Ray can understand them just fine (no explanation given for this). They're after "light skins" (their existing captives are a lighter shade of green than the slavers, so apparently that's a thing) - there's a really unsubtle comment on racism here. There's a fight, Ray frees some slaves, they lead him to this beautiful glowing city of Lustra.
- And that's where he has adventures: in the city, in the jungles or other areas outside, fights with slavers, fights with alien monsters, etc. The people find this short man very interesting. He's meant to be a very action-hero kind of guy, buff but not superhumanly strong, but he's still stronger than most Tarvalins (they're kind of willowy in build). One story has him saving Princess Beliana from some slavers and the obligatory romance happens and he's betrothed to the princess. She becomes a supporting character and they go on adventures together. He befriends a beast called a Korrk (like a horse-sized hairy lizard that he can ride) - it's semi-intelligent so he can give it instructions, but it can't talk. He names it Lincoln, because Freedom.
- This goes on for years and if you're reading every issue things probably get pretty stale as its the same thing over and over. Of course, back then people weren't really collecting these things and it's not like there's a lot of continuity requiring consistent reading - just pick up an issue whenever you've got a spare dime if the fancy takes you. Eventually they do decide to mix up the status quo a bit by finally having the marriage story with the princess in a fancy dress with a bunch of metal decorations and Ray in some weird suit for the wedding (red, blue, and yellow with a sash and a short jacket that only comes down to where the sash is - it's weird and more superhero-costume than we usually see him).
- Right as things get going, however, there's a comet, and not just any, but the one that Marguul the Mad and his Marauders travel on (these space pirates are all basically human looking, but are different aliens - you can tell because they're different colors or have long earlobes or spiky antennae instead of hair or whatever - they still look like stereotypical pirates, though, with eye-patches and bandanas). They tether the comet into orbit and invade on rockets that they ride around on like one would a horse, shooting rayguns and causing trouble. Some crash the wedding and Ray says some hackneyed "Stop, evildoers" kind of thing and the marauder shoots him in response. Beliana dives in the way to take the blast for him and dies in his arms. Ray is pissed and proceeds to beat up all of the pirates.
- Eventually he takes one of the pirate rockets and takes it up to the comet. He finds the control room and confronts Marguul himself as the man responsible for everything that's happened. Ray winds up impaling him on some kind of spiky control structure in the room, but this causes the comet to come untethered from the planet and it rockets out into space, starting a new era of Captain Cosmic stories (starting the next issue with "Captain Cosmic and the Lost Comet"). Ray's still in the remains of the wedding outfit, but the sleeves have been torn off at some point and he's got some kind of metal pauldron on one shoulder. There's no "last time" exposition or anything, but it turns out that by slaying Marguul the Mad, he's become "captain" of this comet and the space pirates. Marguul was called "mad" because he was unhinged enough to understand the comet's path so they could use it to get from planet to planet, using a mechanism to keep it in orbit while they plundered the place - now that mechanism is destroyed and so they don't have the means to keep the comet from moving on. It will arrive at a planet and orbit once before moving on (with the orbit usually being a few days - a nebulous amount of time long enough for story purposes), so they're just traveling randomly from planet to planet now.
- Ray is interested in keeping up their supplies (like food), but the pirates generally care about treasure, so there's some story possibilities there. Additionally, whenever they arrive at a new planet and go to the surface they typically get involved in some local situation (they've got to save somebody or fight somebody or whatever). Over time this kind of transforms the crew into something like "do-gooder pirates" - they're not really a superhero team as there's nothing special about any of them to qualify for "super" - they just go around and wind up solving some problem wherever they wind up.
- Do elements from Ray's iteration show up in the later Lowsley Brothers stories? Do they ever go to a planet with a distinct Golden Age flavor? Hugh does go to Tarvalis (although the readers aren't told that this is where the old Captain Cosmic stories happened up front - there are some clues like seeing the ruins of Lustra or whatnot). It's a more hostile place now and he interacts with some of the remaining populace, there are still slavers around, but now also roving bands of pirates (as there were a bunch of them left behind when the comet abruptly left orbit). The friendly Tarvalins talk about this old creature called "Lincoln", which Hugh finds odd, that the people take care of. It's this old, gray beast, but it seems to like Hugh. Another example is a planet that the comet had visited for a while - Orbo.
- Ray Talbot had visited this weird planet. Well, it seemed mostly like a normal planet, but sometimes things would disappear unexpectedly. They can't find any signs of actual plant or animal life (like specific individual organisms), but seems like it has "life" in it rather than being a barren wasteland. Then they notice the giant tentacles reaching from the planet to the comet in an attempt to consume it. Orbo would go on to show up in later Captain Cosmic stories and eventually join the Enclave.
- Does the Golden Age Captain Cosmic show up in the OblivAeon conflict? Yeah, everyone does. There's not like a triumphant moment where he does something big and important or anything (he's not well-known to modern readers), but does get a cameo. At the end of the run of Captain Cosmic and the Lost Comet stories in Cosmic Tales they had reached some horizon/frontier of a new space and it ended with him looking out into the unknown. That had been the last we'd seen of him.
- Did Captain Cosmic ever bring alien plants back to Earth for the purpose of improving our food supply? If so, any unintended consequences? Captain Cosmic (and from here on if they give no qualifiers they mean Hugh) had gone to a planet, Stiligent, that had seemed like a barren rock except for these fancy, almost utopian cities (some built into caves, some on the surface under domes, etc.) and everybody seems happy and suffer from no maladies living in seemingly endless resources. Turns out that the populace had to leave their home planet when it was attacked and came here - they weren't sure they could survive here until they found this plant. This plant can be used to heal anything, is edible (and delicious), and grows constantly so that it's sustainable. Captain Cosmic wants to take some and they let him (because they have plenty). He returns to Wagner Mars Base to have people run some tests to see if it could be used on Earth. There's a problem: it seems the atmosphere on Stiligent had a much lower oxygen content than humans typically need (like a fraction of a percent [as opposed to the ~21% of Earth]) and the plant will just use up whatever oxygen is available to power its growth, which in a high-oxygen environment means very rapid growth. Within hours it overruns the entire Mars base, up to and including covering sleeping people and consuming them to get at the oxygen in their blood. We get a scene of Captain Cosmic running through the base making construct bubbles around people to protect them and using a construct-machete to hack his way through the growth to an airlock which he opens to release the oxygen and cause the plant to become inert. They destroy most of the plants, but still keep a small amount in a sealed container for further study.
- How many planets that get visited would fall under the Planet of Hats trope (lawyer planet, farmer planet, space Nazi planet, etc.)? Did this change over the publication history? Not a lot, really. The closest is that you might have a "warlike" people or a "peaceful" people, but even with the Thorathians, they were introduced as "space Nazis", but it's not like everybody on Dok'Thorath were in the military just like how not everybody in Germany in the '30s and early '40s were Nazis either (although some of this is due to the early appearances of Thorathians were all in invasion forces and by the time we get to the planet itself the writers started adding nuance). We're only given limited page-counts to look at these cultures, so often we get stereotyped descriptions as a kind of shorthand but it's not meant to imply that literally everybody is a lawyer or whatever. The more time that is given to a given planet/culture the less of the stereotype is treated as universal as we get into the nuance.
- How aware are humanity of aliens and vice versa? By the end of the multiverse era and OblivAeon it's very well-known on Earth that there's a lot of crazy stuff out there, but for the majority of the history of Sentinel Comics there's not a lot known. The Maerynians bring some awareness and the main Voss invasion in the '80s especially is a turning point where everybody knows there's aliens out there. People also know that the planet is protected because of the prominent superheroes operating. The cosmos in general know of Earth, but it's no more important than any number of other inhabited planets out there.
- Are there any diplomatic ties between Earth and other cosmic governments? No. The main individual planet that Earth has dealt with is Dok'Thorath, and that relationship is decidedly non-diplomatic. There are planets that have such ties with each other, just none that involve Earth. The Maerynian situation is kind of close except for the fact that they're "Earthlings" now as well.
- What's the strangest alien that Captain Cosmic has encountered and which was your favorite to create? The most fun to create: Christopher's is a toss up between Thorathian biology (powered vs. unpowered) and the Maerynian reproductive process; Adam's is the Enclave of the Endlings because of the art pastiche and the opportunity to focus on weirdness (Christopher agrees that "everything about them is a blast"). "Too bad they're going away and definitely never coming back" [he said in a way that implies this isn't the case]. For the "strangest":
- Captain Cosmic wakes up in his flat in his hometown of Huntingdon. The last few issues had shown him thinking/feeling that he should return home (he'd been out in space for a while at this point), like a mild arc of homesickness. So here he is back on Earth and ready to go about his day. This is a bit jarring for readers as he ended his last issue still just out in space - is it a flashback maybe? (nope, he thinks about stuff that happened last issue). He's not in costume but gets up (has a cup of tea) and goes around talking with the people in the neighborhood like he knows them really well, goes to visit a friend (has a cup of tea), comes home to enjoy some downtime (while enjoying a cup of tea). Huh... every time he has tea it's always his favorite blend, no matter where he is. That's weird. He goes down to the nearest shop that would have some (cheap, terrible) tea going. Sure enough, it's still the good stuff. He looks up and sees that everybody there is now also him, then looks down to see he's now in his Captain Cosmic outfit (which looks torn/dirty like he's been in a rough fight). Then all of the Hughs Lowsley start attacking him, as does the scenery (streetlights twisting to try to wrap around him, etc.). The more he fights, the more the landscape around him ceases to resemble Huntingdon and looks more like a bare, rocky landscape with "buildings" more like caves than anything. The people also look like lots of different, bizarre aliens but they all have a blank look in there eyes as they attack. Carved into the mountain behind them, there's a giant, pulsing, brain with long purple tentacles (which were what the streetlights and whatnot were disguising). In his mind the brain is shouting for him to "come home". The story is called "Welcome Home" and it's about this mind-parasite creature who makes this kind of simulacrum of wherever "home" is for anybody who arrives on the planet - the longer they're there the more trapped they become. He was lucky that he noticed that while he wanted this kind of tea, not everybody would have that tea and so is able to snap out of it and escape the planet of Home.
- What are the dominant political influences in the universe (Thorathians? Anything the Thorathians won't mess with?)? Space, in the history of Sentinel Comics was kind of like the Old West. There's nothing like "space cops" to keep things in order - anything resembling that would be limited to specific regions (say, an individual solar system). That being said, there are references to such things - Greazer operates "outside the law" which implies that there's a law present in his general area. He also has the adventure on the Roulette, which is a shady casino (again, implying the presence of regulations that it's breaking). There are also indications that at some point in the past there was some kind of Intergalactic Law, but that whatever "space cops" were responsible for that have been gone for a long time. There are places the Thorathians steer clear of, things like parasites or environmental dangers that aren't worth their attention.
- Where does the average human rank? Bottom-tier garbage? Jack-of-all-trades? Humans are kind of "the galactic average". There are some aliens who are bigger and some that are smaller. Some are stronger and smarter and some are weaker and dumber. There's nothing remarkable or special about them.
- How cute were those little fire guys (the Trodcullons) before they became mutants (Gene-bound Firesworn)? [A little after 54 minutes in we get how C&A think they sound - intentionally breaking from the Gruum-like yelling used previously and Adam references this meme that uses Domo.] Grand Warlord Voss actually made them cuter than they were natively. The gene-binding process stripped them down to just the arms, legs, teeth, and fire removing all the other aspects of their appearance that made them distinct from one another or adaptations for life in the world.
- How many species of aliens are "total babes" just waiting for some Earthman to teach them about this concept of love (i.e. how many are basically "humans, but a weird color or something")? A lot. Generally, any given story will have at least one type of alien that's basically this (going all the way back to the Golden Age CC's space pirates or the Tarvalins and then up to Kaargra Warfang, Greazer, Thorathians, and to some extent Maerynians). There's still plenty of weird alien biologies too, though. They suggest that the art in SotM is pretty representative - collect all of the different examples of aliens in the various decks and the ratio of "basically humans" to the alternative is about what you'd expect overall.
- Do any races from Galactic Strike Force show up in the comics, even as just background characters? Yes, they're all there somewhere except for the War Spectres who were supposed to represent what became of a race that died off and became these things. Note that GSF takes place a long time after the era of SotM and all of the races that show up in the comics are like proto-versions of the ones that show up in GSF, but they are still explicitly taken from the pages of Sentinel Comics.
- Are there encounters with Singular Entities out in space (besides OblivAeon)? Who are they and what do they represent? It feels like this should be it's own whole episode, but not one they're going to be able to get to in the near future (at least not until after the OblivAeon episodes finally happen). There's a time and place for everything (except Ur-Space which is outside both those things). They have mentioned ones like Wellspring before and that has to show up in the comics somewhere and that's likely Cosmic Tales or Cosmic Concurrence. Galactra encounters "The Fervor" [which I don't think was named previously, but confirmed by Christopher to be the Entity that empowered her]. Parse encounters a number of them at one point (which is kind of her deal - she's this very "normal" human, but is the best person to be actually interacting with such beings). Plus Wager Master's around.
- What race does Galactra belong to and what can you tell us about them? She's a Narian from Ellona Bohz. Keeping in mind the answer given previously about the "planet of hats" phenomenon, her people are a very coldly logical, dispassionate society (which is the dominant culture on the planet). It's a cold, sterile, brutalist, totalitarian place and she, like many (but still a vast minority) wants to rebel against this in her youth - to be this emotional being - but the entire society is built around molding the people into the right kind of calm, quiet, respectful person (using chemical means if necessary). She's aware enough to see what's coming and nopes right out of that situation, leading to her encounter with the Singular Entity that empowers her.
- How about Empyreon? He's a Krellock (the Krell system has dozens of inhabited planets and he's from Krell 6). He was an insurgent/terrorist and his group abducted some scientists to build a machine that could harvest the life-spark of the planet itself in order to make weapons. The planets and the Krellocks themselves all have this spark - like where we have a heart, they have these (organic) fusion generators that keeps them alive. After the machine was complete he kills the scientists. They go on to make a lot of weapons using this technology, but eventually his fellow insurgents turn on him as he's going too far. They are going to turn him in and have him cornered, backed up to the machine itself. He says something like "You'll never take me alive!" (being a very dramatic character) and hurls himself into the infernal engine. This destroys him, but as his spark gets fused to the planet's that's being harvested, this winds up destroying the planet as well. The whole planet explodes in this blast of energy, but then all contracts down into a single being, that we know as Empyreon with the energy of the planet and everyone else on it within him. Then later we see Captain Cosmic crack him open and the energy starts leaking out. Side note: Krellocks are like 2.5 feet tall and so with all of this power he manifests as a giant, 3-times the normal height! (or, around 7.5 feet tall).
- What is the breach in the Void in space that Void Guard are defending and what are the creatures and what are they trying to do? This is another of those "can't answer it now" questions, but it's something to bring up for the Scions episode because there's one in particular that is related to this thing.
- Do most aliens have some sort of translator so Captain Cosmic can communicate with them? Are there any aliens that the heroes can't understand? Yes to both. Early on it's very hand-wavy in a "everybody just speaks "English" and is understood unless miscommunication is part of the plot in which case they don't" way. As they go on some stories have aliens who are unintelligible until they make a psychic link with you or something or there's an explicit communicator, or there's no way around it and solving the problem despite the lack of communication is the point.
- Are there races created to just as analogies to some real-world social issue? How did these races get used in subsequent stories? All of them, in one way or another. Thorathians were "Space Nazis" but evolved somewhat after Nazis became less of a current cultural issue. Stories are allegory, even if unintentionally so [I'll jump in here to say this is more what Tolkien called "applicability" - when you can apply a story to your life situation rather than an intentional correspondence put there by the author].
- Any prominent stories involving magic-using aliens (say in a Prime Wardens story)? Any completely alien magics unknown on Earth? The most notable is Lifeline (Tarogath has always used magic, but in his Deadline deck he's relying more on technology than the magic end of things). Magic can come in other places, especially in the more "space opera" end of things. There are space sorcerers/cultists and times where we see magic fused with technology (see Lifeline's deck when we get it). Also more in the Scions episode.
- Has there been a "Gloomweaver in space" story? Not in the pages of Sentinel Comics. There are space cultists, but not of Gloom.
- If he managed to get out of the Realm of Discord on Earth, would he have to redo the ritual on other planets or once he's out is he out everywhere? If he got out into normal reality that would be enough. Gloomweaver, if he managed to get fully into this reality without relying on shortcuts like the Skinwalker event, would be nigh-omnipotent.
- Do other species know that the Nexus of the Void is on Earth? Do they care? What about the horde that Akash'Bhuta fought in the distant past? Unfortunately, this is another "wait for the Scions episode" question.
- Sentinel Comics Universe - they have plans for space stories (tentatively slated for a "Void Guard Source Book" that will cover this stuff like the "Dark Watch Source Book" handles the gritty urban stuff).
- Mist Storm Universe (kind of) - the announcement of Prime War that came out last week indicates that "the story of Prime War takes place in Ur-Space, or it takes place outside space and time." They would like to do episodes about both the Mist Storm Universe and Prime War, so keep those in mind.