Okay, that’s a joke, since all I seem to say is how strange these episodes are. But there is some truth to it. Length aside, this episode has so many Jared Quirks it could open a Jared Quirks Shop.
Let’s go down the list, shall we? There’s coping with loss, detectives as metaphor, the mutability of the human body, queerness, Anglophillia, the meaning of heroism, the power of community, the limits of control, and most tellingly, superheroes. There’s a character who manages to simultaneously be a reference the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alex Raymond and Jorge Luis Borges, another who has no patience for me or my shenanigans, and a third who has several lines in an almost impenetrable slang favored by British gay men in 30s.
Also, jokes at the expense of eugenics and Nazis. Because, obviously.
Beyond the absolute joy of writing such a thing, I was able to work with an absolutely astound collection of talented actors: Len Webb of The Black Tribbles, Isa St. Clair, Phil Thomas and Andy Holman of West Phillians, and Sonia Williams all gave their A-Game to this bizarre script, which, quite frankly, asked a lot of them as performers. They had to be comfortable playing cartoons in the beginning only to have their characters slowly gain three dimensions by the show’s end. Not easy to do, and the fact that they are so successful is a tribute to their amazing talent.
Also? Because it was a live show, we had to rehearse with everyone together, which was an absolute dream for me. I can’t do every episode that way—for scheduling reasons and because some of my favorite actors are not in this city—but did I start to have fantasies of every episode of VFPX being a live show with those five performers?
Yes. yes I did.
There’s a lot to unpack in this script (Jared Quirk Shop, remember) so I might as well break it down. Skip this part if you haven’t listened to episode yet, you can pick back up when you see the photo of the cast:
The Wake Of The Lacuna – You have no idea how overjoyed I was when Erin, a friend and a fan of VFPX who came to live show, told me she got all the wordplay in this title.
A lacuna is a missing element, and the fact that The Lacuna as her “nom de magnifying glass” puts her in the same category of detectives as that faceless wonder, The Question. But a lacuna is also an underwater cave, and it can have a wake of its own that is dangerously difficult to get caught in. The End of Time Club are at the Lacuna’s wake, but are also caught in the current her movement created.
The End of Time Club – The End of Time Club gets its name from “The End of the Earth Club,” a group of amateur and professional explorers who included in their ranks Mark Twain and Robert Peary, and was presided over by Rudyard Kipling (another thing they had in common? An astounding amount of racism). Also an influence is Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Justice League of pulp heroes from PLANETARY, which has analogues of Doc Savage, The Shadow, James Bond and an all-purpose “aviator,” just as the End of Time Club does.
But a far more direct origin is a Saturday morning cartoon “Defenders of the Earth,” which has Flash Gordon lead a group of other newspaper comics action heroes, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician and Lothar. I loved this show as child—had the Phantom and the Mandrake action figures, as well as a Ming the Merciless for them to fight. I’ve watched it recently and, well, let’s be charitable and say it does not hold up well. Though there is considerably more gay subtext between Mandrake and Lothar than I thought.
Tom Brayve – Tom Brayve is Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars, the man from earth who got taken to space and became a hero. Due to the influence of Defenders of the Earth at a young age, it was natural for a Flash Gordon analogue to lead the team, and to be the fountain of wisdom. Flash Gordon and John Carter succeed due to their unique perspective, their distance from the conflicts at hand. So, then, is Tom Brayve able to distance himself.
Tom Brayve traveled to the other side of the galaxy via an Aleph, which is stolen…I mean, is an homage to Borges’s story “The Aleph.” Borges’s Aleph was a point in which you could see every moment throughout space and time—in typical Borges fashion, it was in a shitty poet’s basement—while mine is one you can actually step through. Is a portal to anywhere going to show up again? You better believe it.
Doc Cosmos – A blatant Doc Savage rip, with a little of PLANETARY’s version, Axel Brass, for good measure. One thing about Doc Savage that stuck with me was that he always seemed incredibly lonely; raised from birth to be a crime-fighting adventurer, Savage was always trying to cobble a makeshift family around himself. So that became Cosmos’s defining trait.
Well, that and his hamminess. What’s the point of having pulp heroes if you can’t have them make bold pronouncements about being “The Ultimate Man” and thundering “By science!”
Rachnae – Rachnae comes from a whole host of dark vigilantes—she lists them, in fact—but the primary sources are The Spider, The Shadow, The Phantom and The Avenger. The Spider is where she get’s her name, the Avenger was a man whom people thought was a walking corpse due to his paralyzed face and deathly pallor, the Phantom is “the Ghost Who Walks,” and the Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
The best Shadow stories always gave him some gallows humor to match his omnipresent laugh, and so Rachnae gets some of the best jokes in the show.
Can you believe I’ve been doing audio dramas for over ten years and this is the first time I’ve done a Shadow riff? How did I miss that?
Operative 7 – Equal parts James Bond and Dashiel Hamnet’s Continental Op. Only, you know, queer.
Op. 7 speaks in Polari, a British gay slang used from the 30s through the 70s. Back when being gay could get you arrested, having a code to not only talk about your life with no one being the wiser, but also have a recognition point for anyone nearby who was in the know.
The idea of making a James Bond pastiche a closeted gay man was something that was too good to let go of. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Honestly, it maybe the only way to reconcile Bond’s rampant misogyny: he either treats women that way because he hates them or treats women that way because he’s overcompensating to hide his true desires. Which would you prefer?
Andy wanted to do the whole show in a Sean Connery impression, but I didn’t want the reference to be that direct. He did get to slip it in when he quotes MACBETH, though, so we all win.
“Night’s black agents,” by the by, is a reference to literal predators. One of the fascinating things about the pulps is that while the characters are heroic, they are also often horrible people.
Abigail Airheart – The aviator is a classic pulp trope, as is the excitable kid, and Abigail gets to be both. She’s essentially the Rocketeer. As much as I fancy myself a detached spaceman like Tom Brayve, Abigail is probably the character who is the closest to who I am. I take in a lot at once, and sometimes miss the details until it’s too late.
It’s Abigail who reveals the most about the Lacuna, due to their relationship. Abigail isn’t closeted like Op. 7, she’s a free spirit. I’ve said in the past that whenever I need characters to reference a relationship, I make it queer one, because if I don’t explicitly state the characters are queer they will be assumed to be straight. Eventually, we’re going to reach the point where everyone just assumes everyone in my show is queer.
What a great day that will be.
Anyway, Abigail knows the Lacuna’s secret identity, Ximena Kondo, and that she came from a line of Chilean poets and Japanese shrine maidens. Ximena was just a great name to use, but Kondo is a direct reference to Marie Kondo, former shrine maiden turned tidying-up guru. Kondo believes if something does not give you joy when you hold it, you should get rid of it. A lesson most of the End of Timers should take to heart.
Let’s see….anything else? A lot of the themes—and the title!—of this episode where taken wholesale from Barbra Kingslover’s The Lacuna. Its a fantastic book and you should read it.
It’s nothing like this episode.
I asked the cast to show up in full costume for the performance, and as you can see, they did not disappoint. I made some Pinterest boards to guide them. You can look at them here:
And here’s a gallery of all the amazing photos my wife J.R. Blackwell took of the cast and the show.
If you’re a Patreon backer, you can watch a video of the performance. Which, as you can see from these clips, was pretty incredible.
The other day, a cashier wished me “Good luck with the dragon” as I walked away.
I’m going to start using that as a farewell. I know I’ve got the “I’ll think of something” sign-off, here. But I think this is better. After all, we could all use a little luck with the dragon, right? Whatever your dragon may be.
Good luck with the dragon.