The Letters Page: Episode 93
From morally grey to just straight-up evil - what could go wrong?!
Run Time: 1:21:27
After the usual goofing around at the beginning, in a shocking change of pace, we bring back the Overview! There, we do some setting explanation to help place what's going on here, both in the world - or Multiverse, rather - of Sentinel Comics and in the metaverse, as well. We also talk about both Rook Cities. Two? Yes, two. But more about one than the other.
Then, we get to your questions right after the 12 minute mark. And, as has been the case with some recent episodes, we let the story happen bit by bit in the answers to your questions! Good questions, everyone.
Right after the 1 hour and 2 minute mark, Christopher's voice changes to a much more gravelly version. Here's a peek behind the curtain: we lost about 10 minutes of audio from the original recording of this episode. Something weird happened and it was gone. Fortunately, we had very good notes, and as soon as we got back from PAX Unplugged, Christopher and Adam re-recorded that section, and we're actually way happier with the way it turned out this time. Honestly, if we could just re-record every episode 3-5 times before putting the audio live, they'd be even better... but that's ridiculous. Anyway! Christopher's voice was pretty wrecked from the convention, as per usual, but you only have to hear it sounding so rough until around the 1 hour and 13 minute mark.
Thanks for listening, everyone! As ever, check out our Patreon for even more stuff!
- Dark Watch
- La Comodora
- Mayor Pike
- Police Chief DeLeon
- Legacy of Destruction
- Iron Legacy
- Jack Steel, Steel Soldier/Chairman
- Citizen Dawn
- Expatriette, Ambrose Cohen/Insurgent
- Setback, Penelope Riske/Bad Penny
- Mr. Fixer, "Slim" Walker/The Master
- NightMist, Haze
- Mark Benedetto
- Greazer Clutch
- The inverted Dark Watch story is from Disparation vol. 2 #111-116 (November 2011 through April 2012). While this is from the era of the title where the Inversiverse would typically have back-up story status, these issues were dedicated to this story in their entirety. In the meta-verse they were toying around with what Disparation was going to be - kind of throw this longer story out there to see the readers’ reactions. By November 2012 the title would transition to being the La Comodora/Chrono-Ranger thing.
- There are two places we can equate with Rook City in the Inversiverse that we’ve been told about so far. One is the idyllic small town of Overbrook City (with Mayor Pike and Police Chief DeLeon) that was mentioned in Episode 69 - the first Inversiverse-specific episode with the story involving Luminary and the Legacy of Destruction. The other is the Rook City that was named after the chess piece (with the connotation of a castle) that was mentioned in Episode 57 which was about Iron Legacy and alternate realities in general, which touched on the Inversiverse. This one is a shining beacon of a city - a lawful utopia of a place (which only existed in comics with a handwavy non-explanation for how such a place runs without tending towards “police state” while keeping out all the crime). Rook City had shown up occasionally in these stories and reader questions about it leading to an actual explanation for it was part of why this particular arc happened in the first place.
- The first issue starts off going into the history of the city and how it started out as a more normal place with the expected levels of crime and whatnot and that needed a change. That comes in the form of one Jack Steel, a man who had had a decorated military career before moving into the private sector as the leader of a mercenary group, the Steel Soldiers. This was a group of a few dozen other former soldiers that Jack had worked with and they go about doing their mercenary thing. Eventually some of them realize that the pay has been good enough that they could retire now, they’re just going through the motions as they don’t have anything else to do. On top of that, they get the greatest satisfaction not from the jobs that have the highest payouts or the ones with the most risk, but the ones where they’re helping people and actually making a difference for them. They start looking for jobs to specifically scratch that altruistic itch. During one mission, though, Jack Steel is gravely injured in an explosion that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. The group keeps operating, but he winds up back in his hometown of Rook City. The police are ineffectual here and he puts the call out for any Steel Soldiers who want to leave that group to come work with him as something of a privatized police force here. He lobbies the city to make this change and he eventually winds up in charge of everything - overseeing the activities of his new organization from his wheelchair (his men call him the chairman - first as a good-natured bit of teasing, but he thinks this is a fitting description and so it kind of becomes his nominal title). The members of his new policing force in the city become known as “operatives”. They’re all highly-skilled veterans, but they are also very adept at deescalation tactics and have a variety of non-lethal options available to subdue belligerents. That mentality is pretty strongly built-in to the culture of the Operatives as well - anybody who’s there to get paid to hurt people get weeded out in short order. This group is what allows the city to be this bastion of order.
- [This first letter asks a bunch of specific questions about each member of the team, but the guys use this as a jumping off point to kind of just tell the story. This whole Questions section is structured oddly in that they will take a question, answer it and then continue the story regardless of how well the question acted as a prompt for that section of the story.]
- First just to get it out of the way, Harpy isn’t really part of the current story under discussion. She does show up in Rook City stories occasionally [and appeared in the story told in the original Inversiverse episode], but not this Dark Watch arc.
- As mentioned in the first Inversiverse episode, Citizen Dawn is one of the foremost heroes of this universe - not so much in a going out to fight evil sense, but as a guardian as she’s set up a haven for people at the Sanctuary of the Sun. In this universe, however, she has a teenage son named Ambrose Cohen who doesn’t have any powers. This irks him as he feels like his mom cares more for these other powered people she’s protecting more than she does him. She tries to assure him that this isn’t the case, but his insecurities eat away at him. In his youthful rebellion he dyes his naturally purple hair black and joins the military, eventually winding up in this paramilitary group called the Steel Soldiers.
- He’s one of those people who’s here to do violence for money and when the group pivots to being the Operatives in Rook City, he reins it in to go along with things there. Over the course of his work with them he runs across a criminal who had managed to give the Operatives the slip time and again - a young woman named Penelope “Penny” Riske. She’s a thief who seems to have wild swings of luck, but always managing to get away somehow. Like, she’ll get caught, but then the patrol car she’s being transported in will crash and she gets out or the handcuffs will malfunction or something (and they have to use the “special” cuffs for her because as a teen she was hanging out behind of that obviously shady RevoCorp place, like you do, and fell in some chemicals - she got sick for a while, but when she recovered she was super strong/durable/etc.). They meet when she’s finally brought in by some other Operatives while Ambrose is at the booking desk. There’s a brief montage of them talking and looking into each others’ eyes, and then a smash cut to them waking up in his apartment with him wondering how that just happened [there’s a pretty good “aided and abetted” joke that Christopher makes in here]. Ambrose is having a bit of a crisis of conscious here and Penelope knows just what he needs - he needs to talk to Slim.
- She takes him to this auto shop, along the way they have discussions where he talks about the stuff he’s supposed to be doing and she counters that he’s too uptight and needs to learn to “go with the flow” and not worry about right and wrong (which he says is the sort of thing that people say to justify doing the wrong thing, and so on). When they arrive we meet this old man in mechanics overalls and thick sunglasses (that he was even wearing while under a car, in the relative dark - he’s blind as we’d expect). Slim immediately pegs Ambrose as a law-man, despite being in plainclothes, but they talk. Penny seems at home here while Slim seems disappointed that she’s back as they’re “not doing stuff right now.” More backstory!
- Before the Chairman and Operatives showed up, Slim was in charge of a gang of child thieves [think Fagin from Oliver Twist]. Penny was one of these thieves. When the Operatives showed up, he put the whole operation on hold so that the operation wasn’t traced back to him. He makes a case here that the Operatives aren’t a good thing for Freedom here in the city and seeds doubt in Ambrose about his work with them. Ambrose has to go back to work and is worried about what he’s going to tell them about what happened to the suspect he was supposed to book the night before. As he and Penny leave, the action stays with Slim for now.
- Slim goes to the concealed basement of his shop where we see his other hobby - the basement is some kind of arcane laboratory. He’s not just this old auto-mechanic/thief-trainer, but an ancient mage who’s even older than he looks and has been influencing events behind the scenes for a long time. Down here we see another figure with some blackish-purple fog/smoke coming off her hair. He tells her that he thinks he’s finally found their “in”. In addition to all of the “crime” stuff we heard about earlier, he’s also been training up a legion of magical apprentices. One of Slim’s opponents/rivals in years gone by was one Thomas Diamond. During one of their clashes years ago Thomas’s teenage daughter intervened. She had been trained at the pace her father deemed appropriate, which she thought was too slow. So, when the opportunity arose, she betrayed her father and took him down while he was distracted by Slim Walker, claiming his power for her own. She was not prepared for this and the backlash of power is what caused her whole shadowy mist thing. Slim saw the ambition there and offered her a place at his side, so Faye Diamond takes up the name Haze as his pupil with him as Master.
- The main Dark Watch team seems to have a “family” dynamic, disparate people who complete each other in some ways, does the Inverted version maintain something like this? There isn’t a “Dark Watch” team here - the equivalents of that team’s members are all here, but the dynamic is that of Slim Walker/The Master at the top of the hierarchy with various servants beneath him with different perceived relationship to him. “He’s got his hands in the roots of Rook City more than people realize.”
- And as Ambrose goes back to work, he’s got Slim’s words rattling around in his head about how the Operatives aren’t the people he knew - a lot of the old Steel Soldiers weren’t on board with the direction the Chairman when with the Operatives or got ousted eventually, it’s all new blood and he’s felt displaced there for quite some time without it registering with him why. Then we have this new influence in his life (Penny) who’s pushing him in another direction, away from the “law and order” shtick but also in a direction that’s resonating as being more true to himself. Meanwhile, the plan that the Master and Haze are enacting is in the form of a magical plague, one that needs a willing transmission vector to come into direct contact with the intended targets (spoiler: the targets are the Operatives). They need to tune the spell for Ambrose and convince him to take part.
- It seems unlikely that Dark Watch operates as a team as villains, but that’s a good thing, right (considering how dangerous they’d probably be if they didn’t care about casualties)? Yeah, that’s pretty spot on. They’re bad news. A lot of the appeal of Dark Watch as heroes isn’t just that they fight evil (as most heroes do, naturally), but that they’re fighting against the darkness in themselves as well. These inverted versions are, in large part, seeking that darkness. Haze was already interested in it and the Master is cultivating that. Ambrose has been a complacent “light” person, but Penny is prodding him in the other direction that he was already inclined to.
- Later, when Ambrose goes back to the shop Slim continues on this theme of “breaking free of the shackles” and whatnot. The Operatives no longer existing would free him. Ambrose is convinced to go along with the plan - the plague won’t affect him as long as he’s not there with the other Operatives at the end. He does his rounds at HQ and passes the plague on to just about everybody - he doesn’t reach the Chairman directly, but he does get to his guard detail. He returns to the shop to report back and say that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with whatever is going to go down at HQ, but Haze says that’s fine, the Master has plenty of other jobs for him (this whole “Master” stuff gets Ambrose’s back up, but Slim tries to smooth things over, in part by talking about how wrong it is for this “police” force with no oversight to keep people in prison - so he and Penelope are off to take down this jail). He’s a bit in over his head now, but he’s gone this far (and it’s exhilarating too) so he goes along with it.
- They start using code-names to use over the radio to coordinate. He takes the name Insurgent as his call-sign and when he asks what he should call her she says “Penelope” as that’s her name. No, really, you need some kind of code name. Penny? Yeah, Bad Penny. So “Bad Penny” she is. She sneaks in while Insurgent guards the exit - she’s going to take down the grid to open the locks and prevent anybody from sending an alarm from inside, but he needs to stop anybody from rushing out to find a way to send out the alarm. So, while Bad Penny is inside breaking the system (it’s really easy for somebody that strong and that unlucky to break an electronics system) Haze is simultaneously activating the plague - which results in anyone affected by it to just explode. Due to the density of those affected, the Operative HQ itself is blown up. Between these two events, the controls for the cells fail and the prisoners get out, resulting in a riot.
- Some guards try to quell the riot, but are quickly brought down and the rest of the guards try to just get out of there. Insurgent is waiting for them with his rifle and starts taking them down, but there’s enough of them that he can’t get them all before they pile on him with their stun batons. That’s when the other three all show up and finish the guards off. The Master is pleased, the prisoners can go, but this building will make a fine headquarters/fortress. Insurgent also has a bit of a demeanor change at this point - he feels better about this than he’s felt about anything in a long time. He’s giving in to the things that make him him. The issue ends with the four of them overseeing this chaos in an almost “team” setup.
- What is RevoCorp doing in this universe? It was established in Rook City and have kind of been this big faceless corporation in the city that nobody really trusts or likes. The CEO, Mark Benedetto, stays out of the spotlight and nobody really knows anything about him. The public reputation the company has is negative if anything at all. They’ve got a bunch of R&D going on in various fields. This is because an analyst, Ramond Mantey, noticed some patterns and had a meeting with Mark years ago - the way things are going in the world, they’re going to need to be ready to deal with powerful opposition. The systems in the city maintained by the Operatives are a house of cards that will fail eventually because somebody dangerous finds a way to take them down. Mark is convinced in the course of this conversation and sets up a clandestine operation in the company that a lot of funds are diverted to: the Revenants Program. This program takes people who have been altered in various experiments or accidents (not necessarily just within RevoCorp) and offers them the chance to be a part of something bigger - those who accept are brought to a secure facility where they’re trained in how to deal with their new lives. Some people are in accidents or experiments, get powers, and become heroes. Then there are the people who are in accidents and just have their lives ruined. RevoCorp is mostly interested in people in the middle somewhere - people who have been augmented by their experiences, but who still need help adjusting or otherwise have been left “not quite whole” by the process. It’s entirely possible that a lot of these people would have gone on to become villains if RevoCorp hadn’t stepped in (getting powers but have a bone to pick with somebody for what happened to you).
- In response to the elimination of the Operatives, RevoCorp releases three of its more capable Revenants. Amp was a victim of carelessness on the part of Conteh Energy and has the electrical impulses within his body become electrical impulses outside his body - to the point where he can’t touch other people without electrocuting them and even the electrical field around him causes problems with people and electronics. His special training lets him use this to either dampen or amp up the powers of others around him. Fission was trapped at the core of a nuclear plant during a meltdown - he absorbed all of the radiation into himself which saved everyone else, but really deformed him. RevoCorp figured out a way to stabilize him and they make him something like a reinforced hazmat suit (to keep the radiation in rather than keeping it out). The reason for him to be involved in anything is because the accident also made him incredibly strong. Last we have Hazard, a scientist who had been doing research on toxic waste dumps - one site was much more toxic than regulations said it should have been. A support for a walkway was corroded and broke as she walked across it, dropping her into the waste. Again, she adapted to it rather than dying immediately and so now, essentially, has toxic waste running through her veins. She needs needs frequent injections of additional toxins to keep going - her body tries to break this stuff down, but now she needs it to survive. The power she derives from this is the ability to produce blasts of corrosive energy. These three Revenants are sent to take on the “Dark Watch” team in the prison.
- The Revenants arrive and start dealing with some of the escaped prisoners (the riot has died down, but nobody likes the heroes telling them to return to their cells). While that’s going on Haze shows up. We haven’t actually seen a lot of what she can do yet, we know she does magic stuff and that she’s got this weird shadow mist/hair thing going on, but that’s about it. Now we get to see her doing stuff like absorbing energy attacks and redirecting the physical ones, using shadow powers to bind them and use some kind of dark energy blasts, etc. Amp is the key here as he brings his power to bear on her in order to interfere with her powers. As the fight is going on Insurgent and Bad Penny show up, working well together as a duo. Insurgent has a pair of custom handguns that are inscribed with magical runes/sigils - additionally his shoulder holsters also have these sigils. He can press the sigil on a gun to a sigil on his holster and it creates magical ammunition (so he can do the sort of thing that Expat’s different ammo types allow with magic instead of science). [They also mention "gun kata" here, which is a reference to the not at all cheesy film Equilibrium for anybody not already familiar with the concept.] Bad Penny, meanwhile, rips a piece of rebar out of the ground (along with whatever chunk of concrete it was attached to underground) and uses it like a big hammer. It’s a pretty cool fight and eventually Hazard hits Insurgent in the eye with one of her corrosive blasts and the results are pretty gross.
- Bad Penny and Fission are having a big ol’ brawl when the Master comes out. That’s the moment when Bad Penny’s bad luck kicks in, though. Fission knocks the rebar out of her hands and it tumbles through the air before impaling the Master through the chest, killing him. Haze does not take this well and lets out a primal, shadow scream as she almost completely disintegrates into the shadowy mist and flows across the scene to his body. The rebar dissolves in a burst of energy and she flows into him. He rises, his eyes no longer the milky white of blindness but now are tinged with purple energy and the purple-black haze is kind of flowing off of his body. He says “You think this is the first time that I’ve been killed?” (complete with creepy looking word balloon to match the Hazy motif he’s got going on now).
- He jumps down and proceeds to take down the Revenants in short order. The fight had been pretty well-balanced up to this point, but it’s not even fair now (skilled fighter, master mage, now powered up by Haze’s energy). Amp tries using his electrical stuff on him, but the Master catches the arc in the air and tugs on it. This rips all of the electrical energy from Amp and he slumps to the ground (what with essentially having his nervous system ripped out of him). He then swings the arc around to strike the other two heroes in an attack and then while they’re distracted he imbues the shadow energy around him with the remainder, and the shadow kind of separates from him (they draw parallels here to Peter Pan) as Haze reforms, using Amp’s energy to give her a new form (if still not a physical one). So, Amp is at least dead (maybe worse) and the other two heroes are on the ground in spasms from the shock. Then a bunch of drones that are shaped like manta rays swoop in and recover the fallen heroes. We’re left with the four villains, victorious but a bit worse for wear (Insurgent has lost an eye in gruesome fashion, the Master has died and come back with a giant hole through his chest and relying on magic to keep going, and Haze is in this incorporeal shadow form with electricity arcing through it, and Bad Penny is still in ok shape but is shaken by the fact that she inadvertently killed Slim). And that’s the end.
- Except for an epilogue. Back in RevoCorp Ray is working on the fallen Revenants (with Amp floating in some tube, not sure what he hopes to do there) and is debriefing Mark Benedetto. The Operatives are gone and these villains are running things from the prison. They’ve got to pull out all the stops. Mark didn’t want to have to do this, but they’ve got to turn to some resources they hoped they wouldn’t have to use. They have to reactivate Project Cocoon.
- So, that’s really the end of this arc. They were looking to see what they could do with Disparation and this experiment was to have the story about these people who were heroes the readers know, but now as villains that you don’t want to win, but you kind of do because of your connection to the regular versions of them. They set up things like whether Ambrose and Penelope will fall farther down the path of Evil and stuff like Project Cocoon, but there’s never any payoff. This just didn’t do well enough and they next switch Disparation over to being the La Comodora book that’s been mentioned several times in the past. It does very well, and so that’s what they stick with.
- Does Action Hero Stuntman ever become a villain in this universe? In the normal publication timeline Ambuscade has not yet become the hero Stuntman, so no that wouldn’t have happened yet as there’s no “real” event to inspire the Inversiverse version. Given infinite time and if the title had continued in the manner it had up to this point, he likely would have, but the publication schedule just doesn’t match up for it.
- Does a heroic version of the Slaughter-House Six exist? Several members were mentioned already, so there’s not an equivalent team, but the individuals do show up here and there.
- What’s Bugbear doing here? He doesn’t show up in the Dark Watch stories, but he does appear in one of the one-off Inversiverse stories where he’s fighting an evil version of Naturalist.
- Are there any stand-out members of the Cult of Gloom in this universe? Not really. The Cult of Gloom is almost like a monastic order that has a strong “giving up of the self” attitude which doesn’t lend itself to having strong characterizations. While stories might have individual members that you see in that story, it doesn’t really go beyond that.
- What is Greazer Clutch doing in this universe? He’s out and about doing stuff, but there’s enough space-centric stuff to cover for the Inversiverse that they’ll just wait for an episode about it before getting into details.
- So, this Disparation story ended on a cliffhanger. Part of this experiment was due to the fact that there was enough content taking place there that there was actual continuity that people could know and care about and they wanted to see if they could lean into that - actually start writing longer plots in that setting. The answer is no, and so, like so many series cut short before being resolved, the events in this story and the tease of Inversiverse Project Cocoon are dropped and never resolved.