The Letters Page: Extrasode 6
The most ill-advised episode ever.
Run Time: 1:28:25
As we quickly realize, us formulating and planning out ways to destroy the world or take over all the people or anything along those lines... makes for a pretty dark episode. We're definitely going on some watch lists now.
That said, a lot of the episode is caught up in arguing semantics and logistics. This is why supervillains frequently work alone. If they did work together, they'd be more likely to make a podcast or a bunch of games.
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- Probably not part of their actual list, but they start off with a conversation about how they could include “transponder molecules” in caffeinated beverages so that when the caffeine got into the brain and started doing it’s thing, the transponders could be in there monitoring activity and transmitting your thoughts back to them. Then they figured that this is what Google and Facebook are already doing, so they’ll give it a pass as they don’t want to get into such a crowded marketplace.
- They try to decide on how to break these things down into categories. Like, destruction on a city, state/nation, and world scale. There is a brief discussion on that middle area - Adam posits that if you’re going to destroy a state you’re not likely to be destroying more than one “important city” anyway, so why not just bump it up to the national level. Christopher disagrees strongly, saying that most states have at least two such cities. After saying that Topeka, KS was a Podunk town (Kansas City would be the “important” city in Kansas, even though it’s split with Missouri) Adam goes on to say that there are really only a dozen "viable targets* in the US, so Christopher challenges him to lay them out:
- New York, NY [2017 estimated city/metro populations: 8,622,698/20,320,876 city/metro population #1/#1 in US]
- Los Angeles, CA [3,999,759/13,353,907 #2/#2]
- Chicago, IL (he comes up with these three easily, then has to consider a bit) [2,716,450/9,533,040 #3/#3]
- San Francisco, CA [884,363/4,727,357 #13/#12]
- Seattle, WA [724,745/3,867,046 #18/#16]
- Any of the big cities in Texas are interchangeable - you start getting “diminishing returns” after destroying one. While Houston, Dallas, and Austin have different cultures/demographics, Adam doesn’t feel that destroying any of them would have as emotional an impact as destroying New York or LA would. The death toll isn’t the only thing - the drama of the event is a big part of this. [Houston, Dallas, and Austin are numbers 4, 9, and 11 in individual population and 5, 4, and 31 in metro populations respectively.]
- Miami, FL [463,347/6,158,824 #42/#7]
- Atlanta, GA [486,290/5,884,736 #38/#9]
- Washington, DC [693,972/6,216,589 #20/#6] Christopher had really hoped that Adam would have forgotten about this by the end of the list as it’s not something like Albuquerque, NM [558,545/913,113 #32/#60] where his Drama argument wouldn’t apply - Albuquerque being destroyed would be a “tragedy” but not a “doomsday”.
- At the suggestion of Boston, MA [685,094/4,836,531 #21/#10], if you’ve worked your way down to Boston you may as well do the entire eastern seaboard (like, if you’re looking at Boston, why not just go to NY or DC?). The only reason to “subvert expectations” and go after the less dramatic cities is if you’re doing a bunch of them at once, at which point we’re looking at a different scale again and are doing a coordinated thing. Like, the cities are picked at random and at any moment one of the “important” cities could be next so we better do what the villain demands.
- Christopher suggests Las Vegas, NV as it’s a very cinematic city to destroy, even if it’s relatively small [641,676/2,204,079 #28/#28]. This brings up the importance of landmarks (destroying Mount Rushmore is good for the cinematics of it, but there’s nobody there [Keystone, SD is the nearby tourist town with a population of under 400 residents] - this also gets to the logistics of “destroying” the Grand Canyon, which they suppose means filling it in, or filling it with acid).
- In all of this discussion, they decide that “landmark” needs to be included in the target breakdown, so Landmarks, City, Country.
- The White House (with the Pentagon close behind).
- Golden Gate Bridge
- They don’t think that the Grand Canyon would actually make a good target, but they joke more about filling it in with “infinite dump trucks”. [Looking up some quick figures, it’s estimated as being around 5.45 Trillion cubic yards in volume, and the average commercial dump truck is rated for 14 cubic yards of soil, so that would take 389,285,714,286 dump trucks to fill.] This gets to an interesting question of when does a prank get large enough to cross the line to become a “pretty innocuous doomsday plot”? Like, destroying Mount Rushmore seems like it’d be a pretty solid doomsday plot, but just changing the faces on it becomes more of a giant prank.
- Statue of Liberty (suggested by chat, probably better than the White House, honestly)
- The Vatican
- The Pyramids - but even better would be to build your doomsday device inside them, so they open up to do whatever thing they’re going to do.
- The Great Wall isn’t great because it’s so long, but Christopher comes up with a suggestion of like having a display where you’ve marked out the whole length of it, and then you see it just getting blown up all at once - not disrupting the countryside all around it either, just the wall itself. That would be impressive in the precision.
- Eiffel Tower
- Burj Khalifa
- International Space Station
- the flags left on the moon by the Apollo astronauts, like the symbolic gesture of knocking them over, kicking some dust on them, and planting your own flag.
- “the big Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro” [aka Christ the Redeemer].
- In general, for stuff at this scale a bomb (or in the Great Wall’s case, a series of bombs in a clever/impressive arrangement) is sufficient, but to make it an interesting bomb is what might make it “doomsday” worthy. You want people not just wondering “how could they…?” but “how did they…?”
- Jeysie asks in the chat if this means that stage magicians would then make the best doomsday villains, to which the guys ask where would the line be?).
- Another comment brings up what chat would be like in a Twitch stream for a supervillain.
- Somebody claims that I, WalkingTarget, don’t summarize non-canon stuff. That’s generally been true, but it’s more that I haven’t been doing stuff that isn’t applicable to Sentinel Comics - Christopher and Adam coming up with villainous doomsday plots seems to be something that could be applied to a comic-book universe, though, so I’ve been doing this one as kind of a “inspiration for RPG plots” if nothing else. Interesting to get a shout-out. This was in reference to them staying off of watch lists, but as they point out even if I wasn’t doing this the podcast itself and the YouTube video of the live recording still exist.
- In order to try to keep off any number of watch lists, before getting into a plan on how to do these things they’re going to come up with a fictional monument to plan the destruction of. They decide that it’s a United Nations monument in Geneva. It’s made of 5 figures representing the permanent member nations of the Security Council (with smaller pillars interspersed that change to reflect current temporary members), each with an arm outstretched to the center, where (through clever use of magnets or something) a globe is suspended without touching anything. This is all hundreds of feet tall.
- The first idea is to replace the statues with robots that, during a big media event (like the ribbon-cutting for the monument itself), they activate. First they crush the globe between them (which explodes, naturally), and then after the dust settles they take off like rockets, actually as missiles that are attacking the countries that they represented in the monument. The heroes of this world [see, justified in doing my summary] would then have to stop them.
- So, at the first opportunity they’ve moved from monument/landmark-scale to world-scale. Because if it’s not that big of a deal, it’s not a doomsday plot. It’s not “pull the moon into the earth” destruction, but more of a “See how weak you are; I’m taking over” kind of thing. Christopher likes it when the doomsday plot is thematically appropriate to the character - Baron Blade has his moon imagery (plus he’s a “lunatic”). Christopher also posits that the Voss invasion is a “doomsday plot” in effect, but not from his perspective - Adam responds a bit later in the episode that a Voss-scale doomsday plot would be like destroying a sun and there’s an interesting bit about what would constitute one against him - would he see the destruction of Dok'Thorath as one? Maybe, maybe not - but his flagship getting shifted into the Realm of Discord, you better believe it.
- From there they get into a discussion on what actually constitutes a “doomsday plot” - the earlier example of destroying random cities overall would count, but not the specific destruction of Albuquerque. Do they have to include the possibility of the villain’s own death? Baron Blade’s certainly do, but then again everything he does is pretty self-destructive. Is it tied to the destruction of the world or merely the human race? What if the world is physically destroyed, but 99% of the population managed to escape somehow? After consulting with the oracle they seem to arrive at a working definition of “it ends (or would end) life as we know it” which could include that scenario where the population escaped, but the way of life has to change as earth isn’t there anymore. They still argue with whether continent-level destruction (with successful evacuation) would count with Adam coming down with “no” if it’s done in a way that doesn’t actually disrupt the physical planet too much (exploding it entirely would, irradiating it so that it’s just uninhabitable would not), but Christopher thinks it would. At this point Christopher comes down on the opinion that the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in World War II would count as Doomsday Devices even if there hadn’t been any casualties, especially considering the proliferation of them afterwards. The “easiest” doomsday plot is somebody getting their hands on a nuke (then there’s the question on if simply alerting the target nation of the breach of security/Y2K-style computer error would be enough to ward off a retaliation).
- So, that Y2K comment prompted the idea for a doomsday plot that doesn’t involve blowing stuff up - destroying the internet/computers would radically change life as we know it. We’re dependent on it too much at this point (planes crash, life support systems fail, the power grid goes down, etc.). They start working out who would do this and why, but Christopher’s brain automatically goes into the “how” and arrives at nanites. Adam posits an EMP as well figuring that you don’t need to introduce something that would permanently destroy the system (like nanites taking the power grid apart at the molecular level) to cause permanent harm - of course, the “easiest” way to create an EMP is to explode a nuke in the upper atmosphere, but we’re also talking a global-scale EMP here (Jeysie mentions, so I don’t have to, that a villain could launch something into the sun to create a giant CME that could hit the earth to cause an EMP at such a scale). So, you can hold the world hostage with this sort of thing, so maybe some Neo-luddite villain wanting to take us back to a pre-electronic post-apocalyptic age (they bring up some parts of the Extremeverse as operating this way). Christopher likes the idea of the “post-apocalypse” as a setting, especially those settings where we get some of the “how we got here” explanation. Adam likes this bit from Fight Club.
- They kind of touched on irradiating/poisoning a place, but Adam brings up “destruction of food supply” as a possible plot. Like even as simple as introducing a “plague of locusts”.
- Other suggestions from the chat: supercharging the earth’s own magnetic field to make the whole world the EMP or igniting the atmosphere somehow (but who would use such a plot for what purpose) - Adam thinks that sort of thing could work for somebody like Spite on a planetary scale - who just wants everybody to die (Christopher doubts that somebody with that mentality could get things organized well enough to accomplish it, though). [This brings up an interesting point that that’s kind of like what OblivAeon is doing and the tidbit that destroying all realities doesn’t have the end goal of having him left hanging out in Ur-Space, if there aren’t any realities to anchor it, Ur-Space is done too (“no one would survive that”).]
- The angle of “I think humanity is a blight on the world” and wanting to eliminate everybody as an eco-terrorist thing could fit in, like Professor Pollution (although they’d need to be working with other people - an individual refusing to work with other people would have trouble managing it). Akash'Bhuta fits in with this too, but that’s above the level of a “person” doing things - although every time Akash'Bhuta wakes up and wrecks things it’s a “doomsday-level” event in potential. There’s discussion of a disease accomplishing this, but they figure it’d be too hard to get everybody with it - unless you do a double-whammy and get the disease out there and then EMP to hamper attempts to counter it. Another way to go to do this could just be to convince people of a threat that requires planetary evacuation (say a giant asteroid coming) and lets say this is in Sentinel Comics where the space-travel/habitat thing is workable. Once everybody is on the ships, then release the disease.
- Sonvar in the chat: would a situation like in The Walking Dead count as a doomsday plot? Only if there was somebody who purposefully caused it. It’s a “doomsday scenario”, which may even be solvable to some extent, but it’s not necessarily a “plot”. Adam brings up Cat’s Cradle as another such example.
- In all of this, the one they actually like the most is the one involving the UN Monument - they like a Doomsday Plot that’s unsuccessful because there’s opportunity for the heroes to counter it. When you’re coming up with these things for a story, you should start with where you want things to actually end up and work backwards to that. Even better if there’s some “statement” being made by the plot that the villain can monologue about for a while.
Questions (well, more than were in the earlier parts)
- Can you every have too many doomsday devices? Adam: You really only need one. Christopher: Two is the optimal number - you want one big flashy one to draw the heroes’ attention (like the statue/robot/missiles) while you have another that’s less visible (like tunneling devices that can flood cities with lava). [Conversely, there’s the Professor’s take on them.] That being said, they really like the very first scenario in SotM - Baron Blade has the doomsday plot to pull the moon into the earth, but he has a backup plan.
- What would the two of you consider the worst way to die? Christopher (morosely): Alone. Adam: drowning. Christopher then more seriously suggests death-of-a-thousand-cuts/torture. To reverse the question: the best way is any way in which you’re not aware of it happening. Christopher comes up with a scenario to be the actual worst: he and people he cares about are in a submersible that’s slowly filling with water and sinking - he, Christopher, possibly has the ability to save them, but he tries and fails, slowly watching the others drown before he does himself. That’s the worst, the failure added onto it.
- Would “Skullcrusher Mountain” be the theme song of those deploying doomsday devices? It’s not a song about doomsday devices - it’s definitely about a villain, but it’s a love song (a terrible, misguided long song, but a love song nonetheless).
- What would be the best song then? Some Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff always play well due to their grand, sweeping nature. Ride of the Valkyries or Thus Spake Zarathustra are a few instantly recognizable options. Adam would actually like something a bit more modern, say Back in Black. Christopher could make the case for certain Led Zepplin or Rush songs - something fun as juxtaposition. For that Christopher suggests maybe pulling out something by Elliott Smith or Iron and Wine. Adam comes back with this which then wins the question.
- What is your favorite comic doomsday device that you didn’t create? Does Mr. Fantastic have too many doomsday devices? He has contingency doomsday devices (does he still have the Ultimate Nullifier?). The doomsday devices that show up in comics aren’t themselves interesting and are, themselves, just storytelling devices to get the plot where the writer wants it to get. For a certain metric, the Sentinels from the X-Men comics can be pretty good. Also, Ultron as a self-perpetuating doomsday device.
- Are there any heroes from doomsday-plot alternate realities in Sentinel Comics that you’d like to have (other than the Freedom Six and Supply-and-Demand Benchmark)? They like the Extremeverse stuff and they have a large bias towards it. It was written to be “what’s the coolest we can make this?”, though, so that might not be fair. To the extent that everything in Sentinel Comics operates on their rule-of-cool, the Extremeverse is the, well, extreme end of that tendency. They also like the Omniverse (where Omnitron has taken over everything).
- How much does the average citizen fear a Baron Blade (or Citizen Dawn) announcement? He’s very much a known entity and would cause a panic. Dawn very rarely makes announcements - she’s not the type to take over TVs to make her announcement, though. She’s the type to roll up to the actual center of power and try to take over. The population finding out about this is assumed.
- Are you members of the National Ray Gun Association? Adam isn’t, but he’s heard that they will help you get your “concealed inside the pyramids license” and so might consider it. Some discussion ensues about why the (presumably American) NRGA would help you conceal things in Egypt, but that they just want you to be licensed so that your plots don’t interfere with other villains’.
- Would Zhu Long be a doomsday plot-type villain? You could probably consider that most of the plots that make it out of his Temple would qualify (say the Oni stuff). It’s quiet for the most part, but he’s definitely trying to change the world as we know it.
- If you could promote one of the minor villains to doomsday-plot level, who would it be and what plot? Christopher: Night Snake, works with scientists to figure out what happened to him to try to save himself. This fails and he smashes up the lab, injuring the scientists, some of whom then become snake people - thus he plans to make everybody like himself. The plot then involves finding a way to get the chemical into people’s bloodstream (just ingesting it won’t work, it has to be direct - maybe mosquitoes?). Adam: Ray Manta is a huge conspiracy theorist and wants to take out all of the world governments - some kind of mind control device (first he suggested robot copies, but Ray specifically isn’t good with robots).
- What hero other than Dr. Medico or Writhe (who kind of already do) could become doomsday plot villains? Legacy did in one timeline. Deadline was one before turning hero. Naturalist could become that eco-terrorist guy. Wraith sort of did in the Iron Legacy timeline. Tachyon is the easy option in the main timeline - she’s already close to being a mad scientist and could cross the line easily.