The Letters Page: Episode 90
Two of our favorite magical friends!
Run Time: 50:20
Hey folks! We're into the new format, and we're still having fun and revealing things that we haven't said before, so that's great!
After some nonsense times at the beginning, we get right into talking about where the stories we've told of these two land in the history of Sentinel Comics, plus also some other high-speed recapping!
That goes right up until it's time for your questions, about 8 minutes into the episode.
After many delightful questions, we actually do a now-rare future section just after the 45 minute mark. And there's a notable reveal there!
We've already done some restructuring over on The Letters Page Patreon, but there are more tweaks to come over the course of this month. It's easier than ever to jump into our community now, and we're excited to see folks join the Discord every day! Hope to see you there (but if you can't no worries - we still love you)!
- See Episodes 12 and 15 for the character-specific episodes for NightMist and Harpy/Matriarch respectively. They do want to cover some more material here with regards to their relationship with each other and how their stories line up, though.
- Lillian Corvus predates "NightMist" by quite a while - the Matriarch first appears in FFA #2 in August '58 (which also introduced Absolute Zero) whereas NM first shows up in FFA #6 in August '62 (which also introduced GloomWeaver). Unlike Matriarch, who was in that one story and then wasn't really used again for decades, NightMist (and GloomWeaver and AZ) become standard parts of the Sentinel Comics roster.
- In May of '73, we get the limited series The Curse which kind of revamps/updates NM's backstory by adding elements like Xian Niu, the Master. This sets her up as a much more important/prominent feature in the comics, culminating in her solo series NightMist launching in June of '85 and running for over a decade. When it ends we don't see NightMist for the better part of a year.
- During all of this, Matriarch is basically forgotten. Tachyon might occasionally visit her cousin in jail, but it's generally always just kind of a "oh, right, that happened" thing. Until in October '98 [ironically for this episode's purposes, the month following the finale of the NightMist title] we have the Night's Plutonian Shore one-shot. This is a modern retelling of her origin story - it's more from her perspective rather than the Freedom Four/Five and is about her as a person and her getting the powers rather than the heroes' reaction to her.
- The Dark Watch book starts up in July '99. This brings NightMist back into comics, but also introduces The Harpy in #7. She's not really a hero yet, but is kind of a potential hero-in-training. She's lost control of her powers and NightMist is helping to train her to regain control. It's even almost a kind of therapy for Harpy. Anyway, it's after that issue in January 2000 that we can have stories with both NightMist and Harpy together as a kind of duo. Within Dark Watch, Expatriette and Setback are definitely a duo, but while Mr. Fixer is part of the team, he's almost more of a "tool" for the team to use on problems because he's not in a mental state to really be a "teammate" which also leaves NightMist as another almost-loner within the team until Harpy shows up to be mentored. Another aspect of the NightMist/Harpy work is to actually try to tame that darkness within Fixer. Unlike the Freedom Five and Prime War team books which are all about the team getting together to do a thing, the Dark Watch book was more willing to follow a subset of the team doing whatever they were working on at the time.
- Lillian Corvus seems at first to have "bird powers", but it's really more that she has magic powers, but the bird stuff is what happens when she starts to lose control of it. Like, if she needs to do a thing and attempts to do so with magic, if she fails to exert sufficient control over the magic it kind of just defaults to "BIRDS!". That's what her deck's tokens are there to model - whether or not she's able to prevent the bird thing from happening and do more NightMisty stuff (of course, there are sometimes you can just get fed up with things and really lean into the birds).
- What is NightMist's teaching style like? Hands-on with examples or giving instruction and leaving Harpy to fill in the blanks on her own? Is it just magical knowledge or does she offer more moral and personal guidance too? For the last - "moral" and "personal" guidance are pretty synonymous when it comes to magic. As was alluded to above, NightMist's tutelage kind of works out as a kind of therapy for Harpy - getting her into a good headspace and figuring out who she is as much as teaching her the magic stuff. This is important when dealing with magical entities as if you don't know who you are, they'll tell you who you are. For Harpy that's being herself and not birds. You can be into birds, but it should be a choice rather than that ground-state. All of that being said, NightMist is the type to set some challenge for her student who then has to fill in the blanks herself, especially later on in their relationship. That is, at least after an initial period where they establish a base-line of control.
- What kind of student is Harpy (studious and well-behaved or the type to sneak off and do stuff on her own)? Kind of everything, but her rebelliousness against NightMist is less the "sneaking off to do magic" type and more belligerence when she gets frustrated (the unfairness of NightMist's attunement for magic making it easier for her) or just up and stating that she'll just not use magic and give up (NightMist would point out here that it's gonna happen regardless - now that Harpy's got it you can't get rid of it that easily).
- What was their biggest fight about and how was it resolved? The closest thing to that's more of a slow-burn thing throughout their training. NightMist is always going on about how a big part of The Job is dealing with magical artifacts, which need to be handled in the right way and are also inherently more dangerous for magic users (e.g. the mask that the Harpy uses). Sometimes a regular person can get an effect out of an artifact, but for somebody who's magically attuned the artifact may be able to draw on their power and so caution must be used. Ok, great, good lesson. Then later there's a story where the two of them are fighting some bad guy who's got a bunch of artifacts. The heroes win, but part of the process involved Harpy reaching out to the artifacts to use them against the guy, but she does this the "easy" way like she had with her mask originally. In doing so, she's opened herself to some darkness in these things and so winds up having to deal with the physical and magical toll this takes. She hides this from NightMist and spends the better part of a year of comics issues dealing with this fallout until NightMist discovers what's going on. Harpy has excuses but NightMist's first thought is to solve the problem. NightMist isn't angry at her and wasn't trying to give the impression that doing things the bad way would get her in trouble with her teacher. She's just been through all of this stuff herself and was trying to prevent her student from having to go through it. If there's ever a problem, just talk to her. After this gets resolved (which takes Harpy out of commission for a few months) their relationship is closer and they work together even better.
- The Shipping Episode mentioned that a fan-favorite ship was HarpMist, but what stories in the comics prompted people to consider it? Well, the story they just told is a pretty good one: one character is magically sick with the other nursing them back to health and the main lesson being "talk to each other about important stuff". They're also just generally close to one another and proximity + particularly emotionally open or closed = ship. Especially by the later stages of their relationship (so like the late '00s and early '10s) they were as common a duo as Setback and Expatriette, and they're in a relationship so... [waggles eyebrows suggestively].
- Did the Dark Watch show touch on that ship at all? They're much less close in the cartoon - there's much less time for any possible relationship to develop between her as a villain and her as a hero. However, the fandom would ship them even more here (or even Pinion and Mr. Fixer). The show also didn't bother acknowledging Pinion's familial connection to Tachyon (it just never came up).
- Did writers try to sneak this into comics as their personal ship? There is no instance in Sentinel Comics where a writer put in a Harpy/NightMist ship. There's enough fodder there for the people who wants something to be there (and it's not like there's an explicit "We're not dating" statement or other canonical romantic interests for either of them to counter it). Since it's not canonical, either nobody tried to insert this element into the comics or, if they did, an editor nixed it.
- Were there any single defining moments during her training that Harpy gave into the power of the flock when control was critical? That's kind of a defining trait of the character. Any time she's in a situation with people you have to protect or something fragile you can't just go all birds. That's what her tokens represent - if she's all magic, then she's all cognition and control. If she's all birds, then she's gone to this primal state with no control. As a result, there's a lot of events that happen in an urban environment where this kind of thing comes up.
- How about when she handily reined in her darker instincts to pull things off without a hitch? "Without a hitch" would be almost never. That's basically true of Dark Watch stories, let alone Harpy in particular. The story about Apostate hiding stuff in the Realm of Discord and her going in to deal with that and GloomWeaver is about her shining moment in regards to this - dealing with two major "corruption"-themed baddies and shutting them down. Of particular note is how her controlled, considered response to dealing with GloomWeaver was to go all birds. Like, she finally knew the right time and place to do so (considering that GW could take advantage of any magic she used).
- How about when she was on the verge of giving in to the birds, and then turning things around? In Dark Watch vs. Operative fight, the Operative managed to poison Harpy without anybody (DW members or the readers) noticing. This was a slow-working mind-altering substance, and so over the next few issues she was growing more harsh and more likely to go full birds on a foe. Even getting to the point of a "The Return of the Matriarch?!" issue title as things went along. Ultimately, Harpy herself is who manages to center herself (going back to that "know who you are" lesson during training) and bring herself back around to the point where she has enough control to isolate and purge the poison from her system magically.
- Why "Pinion" in the DW TV show in  when that name wasn't used in the comics until something like 2021 if I'm following things right? That's pretty close. The show was the first time the name Pinioned was used - just a choice made to change things up. However, they want to bring this up as well - Christopher and Adam decided to change how her story plays out. It doesn't contradict what's already been said, but they decided that OblivAeon had left her a changed person. As a result, she takes a new name and becomes Pinion in both the Sentinel Comics Universe and Mist Storm Universe [so the name shows up in comics in 2017 in the post-OblivAeon era rather than waiting for Vertex to start up]. They waffled back and forth on what they wanted to happen to the character much like they did for Void Guard, and eventually just decided to pull the trigger and have it happen. They initially thought of having several years pass in the RPG materials before she changed, but not everything has to have this super-drawn-out timeline. Just do it already.
- How old is Lillian when OblivAeon attacks? Does she age more like Legacy or Wraith? The rate she ages is in between those two, but much closer to Wraith than to Legacy. She's in her late teens when she first shows up and is like 20 when she first becomes Harpy and ages up maybe a few more years into her early 20s by OblivAeon. So maybe aging like 5 years over the decades of comics publishing.
- Does Harpy have any signature foes/nemeses? Does she acquire her own antagonists or more inherit NightMists? During the Multiverse era, her opponents fall into the categories of "Dark Watch opponents" and "NightMist opponents". She doesn't really get "Harpy foes" and by the time she's Pinion she's kind of got to stand on her own (she's still got a mentor figure in the post-Faultless version of Mr. Fixer - who also chooses a new hero name, Mantra - but he's useful for the centering/knowing yourself part of it and not a mentor for the magical end of things). It's at that point that her position in the story is such that she can actually start building up her own roster of nemeses. Up until that point she's kind of got a relationship to NightMist/Dark Watch as Unity had to Tachyon/The Freedom Five.
- Does Harpy inherit the responsibility for keeping GloomWeaver locked away? Well, GloomWeaver is currently stuck inside the OblivAeon Shard that Dr. Medico is schlepping around space, so that's a solved problem that will certainly never become problematic. She does take on NightMist's position as the designated "magical guardian" character re: all of the relics and other responsibilities that NightMist had. There was a moment when NightMist was preparing herself to be the gate that Pinion could look back on later to see that she took this on and has responsibility now. She has big shoes to fill, but she's doing the job.
- Considering how long Harpy has been around, why wait until the very last game release to make her playable as a hero? Why not include her in Vengeance, VotM, or something? It's because this is when she steps up to full Hero status. Also, the Vengeance heroes are supposed to have that '90s vibe (with special dispensation given for the Sentinels and that whole "the '90s were just a few years ago" problem) and Harpy was a trainee in the '00s and only really gets to the hero level in the '10s. If VotM had had heroes in them, they would have to be heroes that related to the stories being told with those decks. On a meta level from a game design angle, the gimmick of the heroes in OblivAeon is that they're the ones who were once villains (to say nothing of the important plot stuff she has to do in that event at the story level).
- NightMist: no future. However, while she may be gone, the effects of her actions are persistent and far-reaching. Whether that's the after effects of the Mist Gates or just her various writings and other magical activities.
- Harpy: Takes up the name Pinion to do the stuff mentioned above.