The Letters Page: Episode 97
Let's talk about Ra... and friends!
Run Time: 45:11
After breaking down the plot to some movie or other, we actually do an Overview section! Bringing it back! Telling you what happens in Baptism by Fire, since you've already heard what happens in the War of Heliopolis limited series, as well as the Horus of Two Horizons one-shot.
Then, after a lot of issue-by-issue storytelling, we get to your questions just before the 25 minute mark.
Thanks to everyone, including our Patreon supporters, our producer Trevor, our interim editor Zach, and most especially listeners like you!
We hope to see you all on the Letters Page Patreon this coming Friday - January 18th - for the live recording of this month's Editor's Note, including announcing the Listeners' Choice Awards!
Everybody, everybody cut footloose!
- So, they talked about some of this stuff already in the Ra and Ennead episodes, and corrected the timing stuff in the Multiverse Recap. To repeat it here for context: the Baptism by Fire limited series started off in July 1995 for 6 issues which led immediately into the War of Heliopolis limited series in January 1996 and the Horus of Two Horizons one-shot in April '96 (so before the WoH story actually ended). These stories were done by a couple of new-ish to Sentinel Comics writers who were brought in to try to revitalize things a bit (the late '90s were not good years for the comics industry). This arc was the first foray into Sentinel Comics by this pair of writers and is where we get a lot of details about the Ennead and most of what we know about the relationship between Ra and Fanatic.
- They specifically wanted to revisit this really neat idea (other Egyptian gods opposed to Ra) that was just botched in the execution the first time around [in 1980] to the point where nobody had wanted to even reuse these other characters since then. They wanted a better lead-in for the story than just "The Ennead, again", so they built up this story that was going to be based on Ra and Fanatic. They were characters that people cared about and had already had a heated [heh] antagonistic relationship for years. A lot of the "unresolved sexual tension" that fans had seen in this relationship to this point was just projection - it wasn't present in the text of the comics.
Baptism by Fire
- Issue #1 opens with Ra being contacted by the Ennead. They state that they are also gods of Egypt, but recognize him as the rightful leader. He should come join them to take a leadership position. This plays right into Ra's opinions of himself, so he figures this is on the up and up. He shows up and they show him around the Shrine of the Ennead. Here's the throne room, take your seat and have a drink. Again, Ra's arrogance prevents him from being wary at all and so drinks what he's offered without a second thought. That was a bad idea. The issue ends with him drinking this magical tincture that drains away his power, leaving him unable to summon his staff, and the Ennead reveal their duplicity and how they're not subservient to him. So, the book was kind of a bait-and-switch as this thing was being marketed as a cool story about Ra and Fanatic (she was on the cover of this issue for crying out loud), but this is just about the Ennead (and if anybody remembered them in the first place it wasn't positively).
- Issue #2 is Ra vs. the Ennead. Sure, he's drained a bit and lacks his staff, but he's still powerful and so puts up a good fight. This also serves as a good introduction to the Ennead as individuals (not that we get backstory for them, but we see what each can do; in the old story they were just a group of nine characters that kind of had the same vague "Egyptian magic powers" and just acted as a unit rather than as independent characters). The magic continues to do its work over the fight, though, and Ra eventually goes down and Atum takes his headdress from him.
- Issue #3 opens with Ra tied to this big chunk of wood (like, crucified in the more usual way rather than being nailed there) in the Shrine. The individual members come to taunt him over the course of the issue and this is used as an opportunity to give their backstories (a little about the person they were before finding their relics, but more about how previous incarnations of Ra defeated their previous incarnation and locked away their relics to prevent their return). This issue ends with a proclamation the Ennead spread over television worldwide (using magic? sure, yeah, totally a magic thing) that the gods of Egypt are no longer content with being limited to that land and are laying claim to the world. This proclamation shows the Ennead, but they're being led by Ra (or a guy in his headdress that looks an awful lot like him and is still doing fire things, but without the Staff of Ra) - oh, he introduces himself as Atum-Ra. That explains it. This is a kind of a hijacking of Ra's reputation as well - people were aware of Ra due to his various adventures, but he'd never demanded worship before like this guy is doing now, but nobody knows who the Ennead are, so this was them using Ra's notoriety for their own purposes. The issue ends with Fanatic watching this proclamation, obviously furious and with Absolution in hand. "No more false gods."
- Issue #4 Fanatic shows up and fights her way through 6 members of the Ennead (starting with Geb who's guarding the door of the shrine who starts off with him declaring his/the Ennead's might etc. before just getting demolished by Fanatic). They are 1) not prepared for such an assault so quickly and 2) not really a match for her individually. She eventually reaches the central room where Ra, Atum-Ra, and Set are. She's been yelling her standard Fanatic stuff (heavy on the "false gods" stuff) this whole time, so Atum know's by now what her beef with them is. He says something to the effect of "Sure you can calls us 'false gods', but whatever god you worship [Atum not having been around for Christianity and Roderick Ward either just letting that slide or being intentionally dismissive of her obvious Christian iconography] isn't here now." She boasts that she's just cut down 6 of his so-called "gods". He retorts that they're just there behind her, so it makes little difference (Nuit had gone around healing them during this face-off). So, she's there bristling with righteous anger surrounded by all nine of the Ennead when Ra croaks out a feeble "This isn't your fight. Save yourself," kind of thing. Her response (eyes aglow) is to say "Have a little faith." She then flies forward, seemingly charging Atum-Ra, but she dodges around him to grab Ra, smash the thing he's tied to, and then blasting their way out through the ceiling and into the night. Isis offers to follow and defeat them, but Atum says that "They're already defeated."
- Issue #5 opens with Ra and Fanatic wandering through the Temple of Ra. Ra's in better shape than he was at the end of the previous issue. Things are fine and he knows what he has to do. This is where he found the Staff of Ra the first time around. He's unable to summon it, so it assumes it's back here again. As they're going along the two of them are talking about how things used to be (with flashbacks to older comics where they interacted - bringing everybody up to speed on what their relationship/interactions have been like prior to this story). When they reach the central chamber of the Temple, where Blake Washington Jr. found the staff. We see a flashback to that time and then a cut to the present where we see that the place has been trashed (statues of Ra broken, hieroglyphic graffiti all over the place, etc.). Up until this point in this issue Ra has been really confident about knowing that this was the course of action to take and that it would lead to his return to power. Seeing the actual state of his Temple leaves him utterly dejected and he falls to his knees in defeat. Fanatic is unimpressed at this display and starts giving him a hard time about how he's always talked a good game about being this fancy all-powerful sun god and here he is whinging about his temple being trashed. Boo hoo. There's some yelling back and forth, he counters with a question of why she bothered saving him at all if she's against all of these "false gods" - why not just kill all 10 of them and be done with it. "Because I care about you!" That brings them both up short as neither of them expected that to be where this went. Things had been really heated and their faces were only inches apart at this point. Then they smooch. Then the perspective shifts to the outside of the temple, leaving us room to fill in what happened next in our imaginations.
- Issue #6 - Ra and Fanatic are flying to the nearby(ish) city of Alexandria. Sure, Ra lacks a big chunk of his power without his staff, but there's still stuff he can do and he's planning on doing what he can. The Ennead have taken over by now (the events of this issue of BbF crosses over with the first issue of The War of Heliopolis which would be published a few weeks later). The city is being patrolled by big stone golems under the control of the Ennead - Ra is trying to come up with plans to join the "underground" or whatever resistance has sprung up in response and how to start fighting as one of the people. Fanatic all but rolls her eyes at this - he isn't "one of the people", he's Ra: God of the Sun, right? Act like it - I don't know what that entails, but figure it out! In the meantime, she's going to go get the Prime Wardens to help out with this situation. She flies off (quick montage of her finding and rejoining the rest of the team, currently locked in battle with some Blade Battalion members). The book ends with Ra walking through the desert, towards the Tomb of Anubis. That's the last we see of him for several months.
War of Heliopolis
- This limited series picks up the next month and is another 6-issue arc. As mentioned earlier, the story here picks up shortly before the last issue of Baptism by Fire even though the actual comic comes out a few weeks after that. For the story of what happens here, see the Ennead episode, but we don't see Ra again until issue #5 when he returns in his Horus of Two Horizons aspect. Also that month is the Horus of Two Horizons one-shot issue that details his deal with Ammit after Anubis refuses to help (as described in the Ra Episode).
- Judging by the cards that refer to Baptism by Fire, it seems to be a Ra/Fanatic team-up book: what brought them together? Did Ra get beat up by the Ennead early on and she came to help out? Just how crazy was Fanatic being for Ra to call her a lunatic? Yes, Ra got beat up and Fanatic came to save him, but she didn't come to save him, but to defeat all of these false gods - saving him was incidental after she realized that it wasn't actually him that was leading the Ennead. The book was heavily marketed as being a team-up book, though, even though she doesn't really do anything in the series until issue #4 and at that point she's there to kill him and the other gods. They're introducing an official SotM retcon here, the card that has the dialog where she claims to be invincible and he calls her a lunatic [this is on her card "Undaunted"] currently says it's issue #1, but is really in issue #5 - it's while they're going through the Temple. She's beat up from the fight and Ra tells her to wait and rest while he goes on to get the staff. She's not being crazy (well, no more than usual for her), and he's being dismissive.
- Ra's "Imbued Fire" flavortext is from BbF #5 and shows Legacy - what's going on there? This is part of the flashbacks in that issue.
- The Ra Horus of Two Horizons title is only referred to on one card (The Ennead's "Ancient Magicks") and lacks a number, is this a one-shot issue that wraps up the story or something? How does Ra get out of that magic circle? It is a one-shot, but is more of a "meanwhile, here's what Ra has been up to" thing more than a wrap-up. The magic circle was a trap that Isis had left in case he returned. He has more magical power than he's ever had previously, though, and is able to break free easily.
- Did the Ennead get more personality in this arc to make them more individual characters? Yes. In fact, pretty much everything that makes them individual characters happens here rather than in the prior appearance.
- How was life in Egypt under the Ennead's reign? We can see some statues being made in some cards, were there other stimulus projects to lower unemployment and boost GDP? You're assuming that those people are building statues by their own free will and that they're getting paid for the work. They're not looking to rule in terms of, like, improving infrastructure and other boring stuff like that. They're here to be in control (i.e. do whatever they want) and to be worshiped.
- How did the whole incident affect Ra's personality? He's not just a "fire god" after this, but also takes on more of a mystical aspect. He's more serious ("not so much 'set things on fire and laugh about it'"). They draw comparisons to Robert E. Howard's Conan stories - the young Conan was just this fighter guy having adventures, the older Conan the King era had him more contemplative. Ra is more humble than he had been, but that still leaves plenty of room for him to be more arrogant than pretty much everybody. Both he and Fanatic learn things from this experience and have lasting character changes as a result.
- [This letter ends with a bit about how the avatars of Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and John Henry will someday rule America. This gets the guys off on a short tangent about how their relics are obviously Paul's Axe, Johnny's bag of endless apple seeds, and John's hammer and that Paul can summon a spectral Babe, the blue ox, Johnny's seeds sprout quickly giving him area-control abilities, and that John Henry is a striker guy. They could really get behind this.]
- We have heard in several places about the "bad" and "good" versions of the Ennead stories - did they use the same comic titles? No, the first one just happened in a few issues of Ra: God of the Sun [in late 1980].
- What made the first version "bad" and what changed in the latter telling? A lot. The Ennead weren't important or fleshed out characters, just "Egypt-themed opponents for Ra" who didn't even have differentiated powers or personalities. More than anything, it was bad because it was uninspired. It was like the writer just found some other mythological names and plopped them down into the story without anything there to make them interesting. What made the latter version better was giving them personalities and motivations and a reason to be involved in the plot/have connections to the Ra character we actually care about.
- Was the original story line still a thing that happened or did the latter one act as a complete retcon? That second one. The original story is retconned out of continuity.
- Did the Horus of Two Horizons aspect grant Ra any additional powers, maybe something related to the sky or the moon? The additional power referred to earlier was just a more innate understanding of magic. He's a magical being now and his attunement with magic waxes and wanes with the moon.
- What made the writers decide to have Ra lose that sweet beard? Were they fired for that decision? Y'know what, they should have been. Yes, the writers who did that were summarily fired for that reason and never recovered professionally. Left destitute and homeless. Anyway, he did have that beard for a good while before kind of reverting back to his more usual look. Most characters have costume changes that happen periodically, they just aren't shown in the game, and so there was a period where he still had the beard but wasn't in his tattered rags.
- The Ra episode mentioned that once he returned in his Horus aspect he defeated the Ennead by facing them one-on-one; how did he arrange these solo fights without interference from the rest of the group? By this time, the individual members are off doing their own pet projects rather than being grouped up and he tracks them down individually at this time.
- The Ennead episode mentioned that Set ran off and eventually wound up in the Block after the Sentinels defeated him, but if the prison riot that freed him happened before Vengeance, how does this timeline work out? "Everything happened in the '90s" problem - the Sentinels didn't actually show up until much later. They can get around this somewhat in that there isn't just one prison riot at the Block, so the earlier pre-Vengeance one isn't the one that we see Set during. It's largely accurate to say that if something is shown happening in an Environment deck, it's probably not a unique event.