The Letters Page: Episode 92
It's time for an episode about a pretty new team of villains from another era!
Run Time: 1:22:00
No overview today - it's straight to questions! No dilly-dallying, even! Right down to business!
Our first question is from the creator of the Sentinel Comics Wiki. Hats off to him - that wiki is useful to lots of folks, including us!
We go on after that letter with its many illuminating questions to more great questions from great question writers!
This week is PAX Unplugged, and much of GTG will be there, including Christopher, Trevor, and Maggie! If you're on the Letters Page Patreon, we've got an event going on Saturday evening: learn more here! We hope to see you there!
- So, what is this group exactly? Are they heroes, but from a foreign cultural perspective that makes them villainous from our perspective or more straight villainy? Are they facing hero groups like Daybreak/Sentinels of Freedom directly or do their comic appearances trend more on the Russian interference/hacking/political influence stuff that’s topical these days? They are a villain team of supers led by Mecha-Stalin. They, for one reason or another individually, believe in the old ideals of the Soviet Union, not modern Russia. In fact, while they operate internationally they’re generally based in the US as Mecha-Stalin sees something exploitable in modern American culture. They burst onto the scene here (and are generally opposed by the Sentinels of Freedom) and try to take down government infrastructure/the systems of oppression here. They’re villains, but with a populist message.
- So, “Perestroika” in the context of the Soviet Union was a general economic and political reform that occurred mainly during the ’80s that started mainly as a push for automation and other labor efficiency updates, but generalized into other aspects of the culture as they moved away from central planning - how does this definition factor into the name of this team? Do they use a lot of automation/robots/drones in their plans? So, Stalin died well before the Perestroika policies got started. Mecha-Stalin has seen what happened to the USSR and is taking the term back: “perestroika” means “restructuring” and he’s seen what the last round of restructuring did and is changing things again. He’s trying to restructure things on the world scale to make a Soviet Union that’s better than ever.
- How does Proletariat’s new loose-fitting jacket interact with his cloning powers? It’s still on his person. It’s not all that different from his hammer in terms of how he duplicates it.
- Is Mecha-Stalin coal-fed/steam-powered? Is this a response to the Ironclad project/did he fight alongside G.I. Bunker is WWII? What’s going on here? Ok, so the only organic bits of Mecha-Stalin are most of his head/part of his brain. There are a lot of rumors about who this really is: is it the case that when Stalin died his head was preserved and eventually put on this robotic body and revived? Was he cloned years earlier and what we generally think of in terms of Stalin as the head-of-state for the USSR was this clone? Or was there a clone version of him but that’s what remains as the living bits of Mecha-Stalin? Is it none of those and the organic bits of Mecha-Stalin were artificially created for this purpose and were never part of a separate living being but had false memories of being Joseph Stalin implanted? Something else entirely? The stories are intentionally vague and nobody seems to be sure whether this really was Stalin, or a clone, or an imposter/copy, or something else entirely. The only thing definitively stated is that Mecha-Stalin believes himself to be Stalin (with all of the appropriate memories) and has returned to follow through on the Soviet ideals. The suit is there to keep the head alive/provide mobility and is very cobbled together. It’s got some steam-powered elements, but it’s also intentionally supposed to evoke the industrialization of the era he comes from.
- “Proletariat” and Marxman hearken to the early days of the revolution, but “Iron Curtain” is more of a geo-political thing - were the names chosen to refer to these things specifically or just a collection of cool-sounding Soviet/Cold War names? Proletariat and Marxman (and “Stalin”) were part of the early Cold War era, as was the original Iron Curtain (with this one coming on the scene near the end of it). They refer to that stuff because it’s tied directly to the characters. The guys did a deep dive on Soviet history before doing this and recommend anybody interested to do likewise. There’s just a lot of crazy/interesting stuff to look up. We’ll get to specifics about each character in turn later, but each of the other members are influenced by the “arc” of the Soviet Union and when Mecha-Stalin shows up he has something for each of the others in this new vision.
- [Not related to the topic of this episode] Adam, when you’re doing the Definitive Edition, are you going to do versions of the art from the First Edition that got changed in the Enhanced Edition? Not that much - the basic deal is that with a small number of exceptions, he’s going to be doing the same scene as exists on the current cards, just y’know, so it looks good. He will be doing live-streams of when he’s working on them, so keep en eye out.
- How old is each member of the team (both in terms of character age and publication history)? So, the face on Mecha-Stalin looks like Stalin from the around the early-’40s, before he really started going gray (so when he was in his late 50s or early 60s - not “young”, but still hale). This further confuses the issue of who/what this guy really is. Proletariat is middle-aged, but was cryogenically frozen in his prime - he’d probably appear to be in his mid-to-late 30s if he took the mask off although that doesn’t really represent how long its been since he was born. Iron Curtain is in her early 20s (comparable to Felicia Parsons) and is new on the scene. Marxman is just very old (like, nobody really knows but probably at least in his 80s). In terms of publication history - Proletariat was a Golden Age hero character who reappeared in his “current” villain version in the ’90s. This version of Iron Curtain debuted somewhere in the 500s of ANL [issue #500 where it became Felicia’s book was August ’13 and the title got to #540 by the end of the OblivAeon event]. The original Iron Curtain, for comparison, debuted in the same issue of JC where Paul VIII first took on the Legacy role back in ’48. Both Mecha-Stalin and Marxman are new characters for this team. Marxman’s name is Pavel Vladislavovich Koslovski - which was a name they picked as it was another soldier back in the early Proletariat stories, implying that its the same guy, just still alive after all these years, so technically the guy has been around since the Golden Age, but he wasn’t Marxman back then and is essentially a new character.
- Who is Marxman and what’s his relationship to other heroes/villains? Who would win a shooting competition between him, Heartbreaker, Expatriette, Chrono-Ranger, and Parse? He was a Soviet soldier who went on increasingly covert missions as part of an elite group of secret operatives. He’s an incredibly accomplished sniper. His general orders were to just stay in hiding until he got the appropriate signals for his next mission and one day the signals simply stopped coming. Considering that the USSR collapsed and everything that went with that, he just continued to hang out in Bolivia. Then, as part of Mecha-Stalin’s start-up procedure he sent out signals to all of the old operatives. Now, most of them were long dead by then, but old Pavel was still around. The signals got picked up by some other survivors/their descendants who might join up with the cause, but nobody else as notable as Marxman. As for the shooting contest, they all have their strengths. Parse, for example, isn’t necessarily the best at shooting but she knows exactly what the correct target is. Marxman is specifically a sniper and given the time to line up his shot he will hit what he’s aiming at (he could outperform modern teams with computer-assisted ballistics calculations - a scary combination would be him shooting with Parse as his spotter). Heartbreaker is more about thrown or up-close fighting - improvised weaponry. Of those named, Expat is his closest competition, but they have different strengths. He’s a better shot, but what she lacks she can make up for in terms of “more bullets” and she is better at a “run and gun” scenario than he would be (although he could still manage it).
- Why is there a Mecha-Stalin (even those people out there who like the Soviet Union probably don’t want Stalin back)? Who is he [also insert long and entertaining list of options for what he really is provided by Princess Cool]? So while there’s not likely a lot of people who want Stalin back, there apparently was this secret project to create Mecha-Stalin at some point during his life (more later), so somebody thought it was a good idea. There is intentional ambiguity here (and at least part of that is due to how morally problematic it would be for the guys to just straight up have Stalin as a character considering the 20 million or so deaths that historians pin on him). He was not a good person and they want there to be some space between that fact and their character here, thus the ambiguity (at least for now).
- Do any of the others (or anyone) get along with Mecha-Stalin? Do they others get along with one another? There’s not a lot of clash, but they’re also not “buddies”. Like, the members of Daybreak are buddies as well. Ermine and Fright Train “get along” and have fun. These are people with a soldier’s mentality. They are here for a purpose and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to like their teammates. The one who probably cares the most about that aspect is Iron Curtain as the young person who desires that kind of connection and that enthusiasm rubs the professionals the wrong way somewhat.
- If Proletariat is the leader, how does Mecha-Stalin feel about being a subordinate? Is he about to Trotsky the situation here? Why was Proletariat not wearing that sweet coat the whole time? He didn’t have the coat because he needed to buy it first. Not sure why you think that Proletariat is the leader; the art preview stated that Mecha-Stalin was the leader and a big part of this group’s dynamic is that he, specifically, is giving the other members something to fight for. He’s a leader that has plans that align with what their feelings are, someone they can believe in (although Marxman is there largely because he was activated and Mecha-Stalin is the one with his finger on that button).
- With the historical baggage [acknowledged above] of having a Stalin character, did anybody in the meta-verse complain about him/accuse Sentinel Comics of trivializing Stalin’s legacy? Nobody wants to trivialize Stalin’s actions and nobody is saying that Mecha-Stalin is a “good guy” in the comics either (along with the whole “Is it really him anyway?” aspect in there). That being said, there were definitely people who complained about it - even if having Soviet-themed characters at all was kind of iffy, having a Stalin-based character was a step too far. It was controversial move, but they were also telling specific stories with him (a populist leader doing stuff “for the people”, as he saw it). From the guys’ perspective, it’s also just a really interesting time to bring up Soviet Russia as a thing to bring up and examine without being overtly political about it. They’re not coming out as for or against anything in particular, but they are for thinking about things. They also think that Stalin is close enough to still be relevant to our modern world while simultaneously being far enough removed in time to get “too soon” complaints. This team is probably the most political thing they’ve created, but it’s still just a tool for you to use or not use in your RPG sessions depending on what kind of game you plan on running.
- Why did Proletariat not recognize the utility of having pockets back in Vengeance? Another comment on how great the jacket is. Everybody loves the jacket. In reality, Proletariat has been around since he was “Red Star”, Adam’s character back in a Mutants & Masterminds game that Christopher ran back in their college days. It was a good costume that just stuck around for forever - the jacket was added partly to help update his look to be part of a team (more muted with the red highlights - needed to cover up more of his red outfit).
- Who would win a wrestling match between Iron Curtain or Kaargra Warfang? That would be a brutal fight and it would be close. Kaargra’s more experienced and a much better combatant, but Iron Curtain is made of metal and is just stupidly durable. Gonna go with Kaargra as she’s experienced enough with fighting augmented combatants that she’d likely find some way around Iron Curtain’s powers.
- Is Marxman an old character making a glorious return to comics? Is his rifle a standard-issue model or a highly modified one? It was at one time his standard-issue rifle, but he has personally modified it over the years (rather than it being a custom piece to begin with). He gets various upgrades just during his time as Marxman as well, though.
- Is Mecha-Stalin just a robot made to look like Stalin, or is the glorious mustache all his own? It’s his mustache in that the face you can see is real flesh and blood and that face grew the mustache. They are definitively saying right here that Mecha-Stalin is not a Biomancer creation.
- Why is this team forming now, so long after the Cold War? There were a lot of stories that involved the Soviets back during the Cold War. It’s just that the story being told with Perestroika here is by its nature a post-Cold War one (part of which being, of course, the distance needed before doing a “return of Stalin” kind of gimmick). It’s more about the Soviet Union before the Cold War than about it during.
- Proletariat’s costume now has another star on his chest instead of the sickle, is this indicative of something? Why change from his big sledgehammer to this dual-wielding hammer and sickle combo? He was worried that having the sickle on his chest and holding the hammer wasn’t getting the message across well enough. Adam also just thought it was a cool looking switch - he’s still got the branding he needs, but now he’s got a bit more versatility in fighting style.
- How good a shot is Marxman? Is he ex-RGB? Any earlier appearances or was he retconned in afterwards? They mentioned his origin and how good a shot he was earlier, but if you asked him if he was ex-KGB he’d probably question the “ex” part. As far as he’s concerned he’s all that’s left. In terms of his demeanor he’s a stoic old soldier type.
- What happened to the old Iron Curtain? Why did the new one replace him? They mentioned in the Legacy Supplemental and/or the Young Legacy episode that he got disillusioned by the end and just walked off the job after that last fight with Legacy. When this new one shows up as this young brash character we also get a flashback with her at her father’s last moments. Dimitri Petrov tells his daughter, Barrikada, to find something to fight for - it gave him purpose when he had something, but it’s not even a thing anymore. The message she gets from this is simply “go fight”. She’s very immature. She’s fighting against Legacy, against the establishment, etc. Against, not for. When Mecha-Stalin shows up as a leader with a plan, she quickly gravitates to him as something to fight for instead. She and Proletariat are true believers (although for different reasons). For Iron Curtain he’s something to fight for. For Proletariat he’s something to live for. And for Marxman he’s something to work for.
- How much bronze does the Mecha-Stalin suit need? How well does it hold up compared to the Bunker suits? It’s made of a lot of materials, not just bronze. Going toe-to-toe with Bunker would not go well for Mecha-Stalin. This suit is archaic and is most important as just what gets him around so he can get his plan in motion. It would be good if he could find something better.
- [Unrelated to the topic of this episode] Any place I can get/plans for you to make Sentinel Comics shirts? They’ve done a few shirt things in the past, and they’d like to be able to do more (maybe partner with a print-on-demand shop or something), but it’s just never really worked out or made good business sense. Sorry. It’s just too much of a time sink for something that’s not financially viable (at least the podcast builds community involvement and is constantly resulting in the guys creating story that could then be used at some point). If you know of a way for the shirt thing to happen, maybe get in touch with Maggie.
- On the Gen Con lanyard is the guy with the white helmet and whatnot just an early version of Marxman? No, that’s still him. They mentioned earlier that he gets upgrades over the course of the story and that’s a later version of him than the picture shown in the preview on the Patreon.
- Has Proletariat just gotten better at duplicating “complex” items considering his costume and whatnot seem more complicated now than back in Vengeance? Partly it’s just that Adam’s better at drawing things now. However, when they talk about “complexity” for these purposes it’s more molecular/mechanical complexity than the shape/size of things. Clothes don’t take him any more effort now than they did then. His weapons are still simple ones rather than things that have moving parts.
- Iron Curtain’s outfit makes it hard to tell what’s her skin and what’s clothes - is everything below the fur collar part of the costume or are the silvery bits her skin? The silver is her skin. She registers if the environment is hot or cold or whatever, but she’s not affected by it either way. Her power is “metal skin” and it’s not something that she turns on or off (unlike her father who could swap between flesh and metal). Because of her reduced sensitivity she wants less stuff in the way for when she’s trying to feel things - and that is kind of part of her extreme nature as she’s constantly trying to experience things. Also, Adam wanted to give her kind of a wrestler look.
- Why does only one of Mecha-Stalin’s boots/feet have the bronze toe? Because Adam wanted things to look cobbled together. [General banter here brings up a fun team-move where Mecha-Stalin uses his flamethrower to heat up Iron Curtain to make her even more dangerous to her enemies. Like, this is a specific RPG mechanical Boost they’ve worked out.]
- [Angry Tax-payer letter at about 59 minutes in] Why does this team that seems like old-party hardliners use this latter day policy name? They talked about this already, but thought the letter was too good to pass up. Give it a listen.
- [Continued] Is there some hero group named Glasnost out there too? No, but maybe an idea for your home group.
- [Continued] Did Sentinel Comics every put out a good-old Capitalist product featuring Proletariat (posters, etc.) that would have been purchased by droves of teens trying to be edgy? Yeah, definitely. In the meta-verse Proletariat merch is the equivalent of the Che Guevara shirt.
- In the Young Legacy episode you mentioned that the new Iron Curtain was a recurring threat that she had to be careful around; was she a fellow student at Felicia’s university (given the presence of Antimox as a play on the professor/student dynamic I would assume not, but thought I’d ask)? Are there any particular stories involving these new villains trying to keep their identities secret? The “being careful” bit is just part of the nature of having a recurring villain - any of Young Legacy’s recurring villains were stories that involved her need to keep her identity secret somehow. With Iron Curtain, she was just rebelling against whatever and would show up at protests looking for trouble. She’d grown up in the US (her parents met here), but having some stuff instilled in her by her dad (he died relatively young, in his 60s, broken in spirit as mentioned earlier, but also with his powers having kind of drained him over the years). It’s an interesting question of what the original Iron Curtain would make of this Mecha-Stalin/Perestroika thing. He’d probably be skeptical of it - “This died for a reason.” As for secret identities, Aleksandr Tsarev was a guy who probably should have died a long time ago, there are no records of Pavel due to his age and black-ops secret nature, and Barrikada Dmitriyevna Petrov isn’t in any public records as her dad managed to keep her hidden. Their identities aren’t “secret” mainly because their identities are irrelevant. Then there’s Mecha-Stalin who’s got that whole ambiguity over his true identity thing going on.
- What makes them a villainous team? They’re villains because they’re, essentially, domestic terrorists. Proletariat was tricked by Blade and seems to be a sympathetic enough guy, and he certainly doesn’t see himself as a villain here, but the cause he’s fighting for is a regressive one from our progressive Western perspective. Is he a bit blinded by what Mecha-Stalin is representing? Maybe. He’s a character that the guys, admittedly, jerk around quite a bit, but this is also the cause most closely aligned with his stated positions as we’ve seen him in the modern era.
- What happens in the conclusion of JC #740 [the RPG Starter Kit scenario that features Proletariat] if the heroes are successful? The heroes don’t just leave him there, do they? Right in that time he’s teetering and could be pushed in a number of directions. They intended it to end with him thanking the heroes for the assistance, but needing to go be alone for a while to do more introspection about who he is now. This leads into the conditions that allow Perestoika to happen. He is aware that he’s an experiment - a successful one, sure, but still an experiment and not the only one. He is searching for answers about himself and other lost Soviet experiments out there. He finds a lot of failed experiments, but eventually finds a machine in an old silo containing a tank with the face/brain of Stalin(?) - when he activates it, it assembles itself into Mecha-Stalin (and is also what sends out the beacon that reactivated Marxman). So now he’s got a leader with a plan to restore the Soviet Union and this is a plan that Proletariat can put some faith in. [The question also provided examples of what happened in their game - they guys reiterate again that they’re just giving us building blocks and whatever you come up with for your game is good. The RPG “canon” is even looser than normal.]
- Was Mecha-Stalin inspired by Wolfenstein and Mecha-Hitler? Maybe subconsciously, but not intentionally.
- Sure Stalin was the leader of the USSR, but why is he the leader of this team? As they said, he’s the man with the plan that gives the team a reason to exist in the first place.
- We see the chain-gun and flamethrower, but what other weapons does he have? How strong is the suit and what is it capable of? He’s very strong, but not very precise. It’s a pretty modular setup that can give him different load-outs (like, by going into the shop and physically changing out which arm is attached as opposed to Bunker’s various modes just being transformations of the same suit), but he’s definitely looking for something more stable.
- Is this the real Stalin or a robot implanted with his memories? Regardless, how out of touch is he with the modern day? Is Proletariat able to help with that being a man-out-of-time? He’s actually handling the man-out-of-time bit better than Proletariat is (whether just as an aspect of his personality or if the robot body is part of it or whatever). Proletariat is pretty reactionary and takes whatever he’s told about the world at face value while Mecha-Stalin analyses things and comes to his own conclusions and what he should do about it - that proactive, clear world-view is what makes him a good leader.
- Do we have a ship between any members of this team? They’re all pretty disparate in terms of age ranges. The ships aren’t up to them, what do you think?