Sarcastic Voyage - Radio Plays - Tales of the OddPenny Lawson has been granted super-human powers, but will he give in to the temptation that so many others have in the “city of a thousand supervillains”?
Tales of the Odd is based on a comic that I self-published for six issues in 2004-2006. This version of it bears little resemblance to its original form — it was my hope to strip it down to the essential philosophical question of that book ("why must great power come with great responsibility?"), and recontextualize it in the late "Silver Age" period. The story drew on a number of Marvel stories from 1965-1968, particularly the Galactus saga in Fantastic Four and Jim Steranko's groundbreaking work with Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
• I had wanted to channel that urgent "everything is a horrible powder keg" vibe from classic comics like Frank Miller's TheDark Knight Returns — hence, the "jumble of assorted media" device I used here. Production-wise, I think it came together pretty well. I'm always reluctant to use well-worn devices like this because I guess I think I can come up with entirely original production elements every time? It's kind of a silly notion when I actually say it out loud.
• How can a city where it's perpetually night be experiencing a heatwave? Hey, I'm not a meteorologist.
• A lot of this story serves as connective tissue between existing stories and a few that we're planning to do in the near future. And one of the central figures in SV history is, apparently, Champs McGovern. He interned with Mary Madison in Citizen Crotch, he was doing TV newsbreaks when Agent Dottie aired, and he'll go on to be the respected newsman for SVFM.
• Herbert Weiss (here given a last name for the first time) was, of course, Mary Madison's editor in Bury the Lead and Kill the Front Page. Here, he continues his tradition of being the completely calm anti-Perry White/J. Jonah Jameson, even in the face of serious danger.
• Fort Burr was the setting of the original Tales of the Odd comic, and it's essentially the same here as it was there — a city overrun with supervillains, where it simply never occurred to anyone to use their superhuman abilities for anything but personal gain. The backstory involved Aaron Burr being "America's first supervillain," but I feel like this historical character has been addressed elsewhere in pop culture since then, so I didn't really want to get into that here. Canonically, this is the city where Mary Madison is based. A werewhale once ran for mayor there (Bury the Lead), and the streets are arranged in a vaguely sinister Lovecraftian way that we briefly discussed in Kill the Front Page. It's crawling with supernatural elements thanks to the efforts of Dorothy Rosseau (detailed in Citizen Crotch). And Gart Champson (aka the Botsmith) would frequent supervillain estate sales there in season 2 of Contentment Corner.
• The reference to a 400-story building called The Napoleon Complex is admittedly a bit clumsy, but I really liked that stupid joke from my comic and really wanted to work it in someplace.
• Penny Lawson was actually a woman in the original comic. Back in those days, I had a vague notion that representation was important, but I had no real idea how to actually pull it off. So I started with a character based on myself and then changed the character to a woman. Which... I guess is better than writing a horrible stereotype woman character, but only just. In the meantime, with projects like the Mary Madison radio plays and Contentment Corner, I think I've gotten a little better at writing women who are actually women. (Probably because I have women actually helping me get it right.) So when I dusted off this project to adapt as an audio play, I realized that there was nothing inherently feminine about Penny and that she could just as easily be a dude. I'd also been looking for a project where Duncan could play the lead (he's been an excellent supporting player for us for five years now), and this ended up being a great fit for him.
• I've been wanting to work my "caffeine is responsible for most of humankind's greatest achievements" theory for awhile now. I'm sure it would completely collapse under the weight of even the most superficial historical scrutiny, but in a silly fictional story it makes perfect sense.
• In the comic version, Penny received her powers from a giant can of Jolt cola, which was my go-to beverage until I literally gave myself diabetes by drinking too much of it. I actually got permission from the company that made Jolt to use their product images in the book, and they even send me some high-res images for reference. So that was pretty cool.
• The Colonel is, of course, further connective tissue to other stories in our universe. He made appearances in Citizen Crotch, as well as Nick and Willikins series 2 and The Omce and Future Nick. The adopted son he references here is, of course, Willikins.
• Agent Bevilaqua (Italian for "drink water") continues the tradition of M.U.C.U.S. agents whose surnames reference water in some way (see also: Agents Poole, Fontaine and Waters from Contentment Corner). As an added bonus, I made her first name "Brooke," which naturally led to the "babbling Brooke" joke here. That was a total accident. I love when that sort of thing happens.
• Kristy's direction for Agent Bevilaqua was "she's been ordered to act like Scully, but inside she's totally Mulder." She did a great job with that, I think.
• The Super Human Intelligence Team does, indeed, have a worse acronym than M.U.C.U.S.
• The tailor-to-the-supervillains, whose name was never actually spoken out loud (it's Mr. Mann) is based on a number of similar characters in comics. I always enjoy stories that explore how a fictional world actually works. Where do guys buy their matching gauntlets and helmets? Who mends their capes when they get ripped? In our world, it turns out it's Mr. Mann! (Which is terrible wordplay on classic gameshow host outfitter Mr. Guy.)
• The only two examples of heroes that Mr. Mann can think of are The Crotch (from Citizen Crotch) and a passing reference to the Fort Burr-based point-and-click game Brain Hotel from 2004. That story was clearly set in the early years of the twenty-first century, so I guess that implies that Mr. Mann is either a time traveler or he has some kind of meta-awareness that transcends time? Mostly I just wanted to throw in a reference to a video game I wrote once.
• Bees are funny. There's really no further reason for Penny to be enveloped in a cloud of bees.
• The Royal Swarm, and specifically the overthrow of the scientific-minded King Wasp in favor of a more occult-based philosophy, was referenced heavily in Contentment Corner season 2. Acting Mayor Gart Champson actually joined forces with the toy robot that contained the consciousness of King Wasp.
• I always wanted to write a sequence where a character tripped out to William Shatner's rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." So much so that I violated my own "don't use copyrighted music" rule. (It's not like I make money on these things anyway — it's more to get myself in the habit of producing self-sustaining projects.)
• The Colonel showing up sans shirt is a reference to those Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. comics I mentioned before. Dude ended up naked from the waist up more often than Captain Kirk.
• I really wanted to get into the philosophical essence of this story more: "why would anyone put themselves through the hell of being a superhero if they got powers?" I'm not sure I entirely succeeded here, probably because I tried to cram a lot of story into a small space and ended up doing that thing I hate the most about my writing: a bunch of boring exposition. I don't completely hate this story or anything, but I do feel like it needed another draft or two to get where I wanted it. Sometimes I am faced with the classic argument of "polish it till it's perfect vs. just get something out there and learn from the mistakes for next time" and I always always choose the latter. In the bigger picture, I stand by this choice. But sometimes it results in individual stories that I'm not completely happy with. (To be clear: I don't think I'm capable of objectively judging my own work. I judge it solely on the merits of "did this accomplish what I wanted to accomplish with it?" And in this case, the answer may be more "no" than "yes." I can't say if it's good, though. Not really.)
Duncan Boszko - Penrose “Penny” Lawson
Mark Boszko - Mr. Mann, Announcer 1
Kristy Brannon - Agent Bevilaqua, Talking Head
Brian Lynch - The Colonel, Herbert
Amanda Smith - Homewrecker, Queen of the Royal Swarm, Announcer 3
Jason Wallace - Champs
Ron “AAlgar” Watt - Caffeine, Announcer 2
Written & directed by Ron “AAlgar” Watt with Amanda Smith
© 2017 AAlgar Productions