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Fugue - DC Comics - Batgirl of Burnside enemy - Creepy face smile eye

Fugue

(Vinton Burwell)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

The Fugue was the main villain in the final story arcs of the “Batgirl of Burnside” run, which ran from 2015 to mid-2016. He has the power of manipulating memories. Which felt ironic in an era when DC Comics was a smörgåsbord of retcons .

His abilities would be difficult to use in a RPG, though. In a comic book or movie you can get around the abstract nature of these using inner dialogue/thought balloons. Plus surreal visuals (à la Inception) to represent warpings of personal reality. And Batgirl benefited from already having visual metaphors to represent Babs’ total recall.

The Fugue seems intended as a metaphor for cognitive manipulation techniques such as gaslighting  or DARVO strategies .


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Background

  • Real Name: Vinton Burwell.
  • Other Aliases: Greg.
  • Marital Status: Unrevealed.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base of Operations: Gotham area.
  • Height: 5’9″ Weight: 150 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Blond.


Powers & Abilities

Burwell is an experienced criminal. However he’s also something of a one-trick pony, specialised in a specific scenario of bank heist.

As the Fugue, he wears a costume that seems lightly armoured. The helmet is hard metal, disguises his voice, and comes with a sort of screen allowing the Fugue to project images as his “face”.

Burwell was familiar with an abandoned underground transportation network under Burnside. It in turn connected to abandoned fallout bunkers, and even abandoned pneumatic tubes  with capsules large enough to carry a person.


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Turn your face to the moonlight

The Fugue tech allows for manipulating memories with a touch. The gloves’ palms have a device which can, at very short range, hack cybernetic implants.

From there the operator can enter the person’s memories in a sort of VR projection, and manipulate them. Memories can be added, subtracted, or altered. The effect was powerful enough to vanquish even Barbara Gordon’s mind.

A less powerful version relies on a device looking like a set-top box. It can emit a subsonic signal that makes people highly susceptible to suggestion. However, the Fugue has to prime the target so they know which fake memory they are supposed to “remember”. A person with above-average willpower can also resist the suggestion.

This subsonic effect can also be deployed from large pylons, but that requires an extraordinary power source. Still, a network of pylons could affect tens of thousands in an entire neighbourhood.


Soundtrack

I’m in the mood to add music to stuff, so for this entry here’s a striking and appropriate cover of Jarryd James by the Wombats.

 

Not available for download on Amazon, but you can get the CD (Like A Version volume 11) .


History

Vinton Burwell developed a bank heist scenario. Though the specifics aren’t known, it involved passing himself for a plumber and left little evidence. He was thus able to repeat his trick on multiple occasions over the years.

However, he got unlucky. An early heist of his in Happy Harbor had been accidentally witnessed by Barbara Gordon, then a tween. She had seen Burwell-as-a-plumber enter a local bank whilst whistling Yankee Doodle.

Years later, this allowed Batgirl to deduce the truth about a recent heist in Gotham. Burwell was still using the same plumber clothes and van, and still whistling Yankee Doodle. Her perfect memory brought up the similarities with the old Happy Harbor heist, and she arrested Burwell.

When the flabbergasted Burwell asked how she knew, Batgirl boasted that she remembered everything.

(This arrest seems to have taken place early during the 2012 Batgirl run – the Simone era. Ironically, it is a retcon.)

You never remember the beginnings of your dreams, do you ?

Burwell spent more than three years in prison. While locked up, he realised that if Batgirl remembered everything, then reading her mind would yield incredible treasures and secrets. He contacted an unscrupulous engineer, whom he paid using hidden stashes from previous heists.

Fugue - DC Comics - Batgirl of Burnside enemy - The hand that takes

After leaving prison, the Fugue managed to make contact with Batgirl. Using his new tech, he determined that she was Barbara Gordon. From there he made minor alterations to her memories, to weaken her sanity. He mostly worked when she was asleep and thus vulnerable.

This move was more effective than planned. In prior months, Batgirl had been fighting an A.I. version of herself – a computer replica of her mind. At points the A.I. had impersonated Babs in phone calls, text messages, etc. to gaslight her. Gordon’s mental resistance was thus weakened, and she wrongly suspected a return of the A.I. when she noticed discrepancies.

Brain function in the dream will be about 20 times to normal

Burwell implanted Gordon with a memory of him being “Greg”, her best bud back in middle-school. “Greg” had never existed, but Babs thought that they had stayed in touch and that he remained a trusted friend. She now also remembered that she had promised Greg to let him couch-surf at her place for a while.

“Greg” thus had direct physical access to Barbara Gordon and her stuff. This allowed for more direct brainwashing.

(The initial breach of GBG’s mind isn’t explained. My suggestion would be that the Fugue found her when she was weakened, and had her tell him about her cybernetic implant and passwords. The Fugue’s plan would have been impossible in this form had Barbara not had a hackable direct access to her brain.)

(In this suggested scenario, the Fugue tech only consists in the subsonic emitter. The gloves and cybernetic interface were actually designed by Barbara whilst hypnotised by the Fugue. They are specifically conceived to access Batgirl’s brain, explaining how successful the Fugue was.)

Alternative facts

Batgirl remembered having nightmares about the Fugue. And “Greg” was twice caught rummaging in Gordon’s stuff. But the fake memories held. The Fugue also warped Barbara’s memories so she and Luke Fox would start a venture building the secret negahedron power generator tech.

Fugue - DC Comics - Batgirl of Burnside enemy - Inception style

Mindscape defenses left behind by the Fugue.

However, Barbara’s friend Operator (Frankie Charles) found evidence of tampering within Bab’s cybernetic implant. She worked with cellphone metadata to determine that Gordon had made a visit to the long-since-closed municipal hall of records.

Batgirl and Black Canary (Dinah Drake Lance) invaded a hidden underground facility under the hall of records, and found Fugue. But Batgirl was too frazzled, and the Fugue briefly turned her against Black Canary using fake memories. He narrowly escaped from Canary, but Batgirl was left stupefied.

Operator plugged into Barbara’s cybernetic implant to decontaminate her friend’s memories. She brought along the A.I. version of Barbara as virtual muscle. However, their VR-like incursion into Babs’ mindscape ran into defenses left by the Fugue.

The defenses also activated a contingency measure. The unconscious Barbara now remembered having been belittled and rejected by Batman (Bruce Wayne), and having accidentally killed her father. Furthermore, the Gordon AI went rogue, again wanting to take over Babs’ body and be the real Barbara Gordon.

Post-factual crimes

However, Operator managed to forcibly fuse the A.I. with the actual Barbara. The program held the correct version of Barbara Gordon’s memories up to a few months ago. With most traumatic fake memories removed, Batgirl was able both to wake up and remember what the Fugue had ordered her to forget.

But by that point, the Fugue’s plan was near completion. He associated with recent foes of Batgirl, manipulating their memories when necessary to ensure compliance. These were the Jawbreakers, Dagger Type, Velvet Tiger (Lani Gilbert), the Killer Moth and Corporal Punishment.

Batgirl’s crew (Black Canary, Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), Operator, Bluebird (Harper Row)) derailed the efforts at brainwashing most of the population of Burnside. It relied on installing subsonic emitter pylons underground, powered by the revolutionary power generation tech from Gordon and Fox’s startup.

Still, thousands congregated on Burnside’s main bridge on the basis of fake memories. The Fugue’s plot was to kill them all with a bomb, and have it look like a catastrophic failure of Gordon’s power technology. This too was derailed, and Batgirl et al. determined that the Fugue was at the main Burnside bank.

Bat got your tongue

Facing the Fugue alone at the bank, Batgirl realised the role played by her cybernetic implant. Using a batarang, she damaged the circuitry on her spine to deny the Fugue access.

Fugue - DC Comics - Batgirl of Burnside enemy - Mental defenses warped

Though she was quickly losing control of her legs, she still was able to knock Burwell out. She then used his own tech on him, erasing from his mind all pilfered secrets – Batgirl’s identity, Batman (Bruce Wayne) and Robin (Richard Grayson)’s identities, Birds of Prey information, Batwing (Luke Fox)’s identity, GCPD information, etc..

She also presumably made him forget about his Fugue technology.

Burwell was then arrested by the GCPD.


Description

Burwell presumably looks younger than he is. Since he could pretend he was about Barbara’s age despite being about a decade older.

The Fugue’s faceplate usually projects a sort of “Eye of Sauron ” nightmarish visual. This seems to have minor hypnotic qualities.


Personality

Burwell is petty, cruel, revenge-prone and none too imaginative.

He loved acting like the love child of Darth Vader and Sauron, and being an all-powerful figure of shadowy evil. But in the end, all he did was lash out at Batgirl for arresting him once. Then rob yet another bank.

Like many Batgirl enemies during that era (such as Riot Black or Velvet Tiger) he’s a narcissist and a user. He doesn’t care about the harm and suffering he inflicts to any number of people. All that counts is that he looks masterful. And to make sure that nobody messes with him without incurring a ridiculously overblown, cackling revenge.

He seems to be an intelligent, methodical planner – just not an innovative one. If our suggested scenarios above are correct, he’s also adept at turning his targets’ security against themselves.


Quotes

“Three. One. Zero. One. Zero. Four. We shall begin again. Reveal yourself to me. Give me everything.”

“It’s true. You really do remember everything. I thought a lot about all the valuables you’d have locked up in that memory bank of yours. And you know me and banks… I just have to make a withdrawal.”

“You wanna know the best part ? I’m living in *your apartment*. Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and we’ll eat breakfast together. Old buddies.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

The Fugue

Dex: 04 Str: 03 Bod: 03 Motivation: Criminal
Int: 05 Wil: 05 Min: 04 Occupation: Bank robber
Inf: 03 Aur: 03 Spi: 04 Wealth: 006
Init: 012 HP: 025

Skills:
Gadgetry: 03, Military science (Demolitions): 05, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Firearms): 03

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (Burnside).

Connections:
Street (Low), Underworld (Low).

Drawbacks:
SIA toward Revenge.

Equipment:

  • FUGUE COSTUME [/BODY/ 04, Enhance (Structural RV): 03 (cap is 09), Enhance (RV against Unarmed, Critical, Devastation and doubles): 04 (cap is 09), Enhance (Facial attacks RV): 04 (cap is 09), Shade (Visual & audial): 02].
  • Subsonic projector [BODY 01, Charisma (Persuasion): 09, Medicine (Brainwashing): 08, R#03, Note: Medicine cannot alter the Motivation, but it can instead alter memories].

Rappelle-toi Barbara, il pleuvait sans cesse…

The most powerful effects the Fugue achieved are apparently only possible on somebody with a cybernetic implant wired directly onto their brain. Other people could shake them – Velvet Tiger did. And the Fugue’s suggestions would fade away over time.

Thus, the stats do not model what he did to Batgirl, since it’s so context-specific. And she had no defense – the Fugue would perform his manipulations whilst she was asleep then order her to forget what had happened. He could also weaken her sanity almost at will.

The Fugue could also leave autonomous defenses in her mind, monitor her and cause her to hallucinate. The last two are Eye of the Cat and Mental Illusion. For the first, see Avi Barak’s character profile for inspiration.


Rappelle-toi Barbara, toi que je ne connaissais pas…

We debated whether the Fugue needed the Hypnotism Power, since what he does is akin to that. But Hypnotism isn’t quite Occam-legal. From this discussion :

We never see him do something that would clearly be within Hypnotism. The one clear example with the subsonics is keeping Velvet Tiger on his staff, which went :
– VT: I don’t want to be part of this plan.
– Fugue: That’s weird, you said you were fine with it before. (Use subsonics)
– VT: Uh yeah, I guess I said that. OK then.

Which boils down to Persuading her to go along with a plan she doesn’t like, with a small special effect.

Even with the pylons in place, all the Fugue did was convince people that they wanted to go at the Gordon Clean Energy free party on the bridge. There was a flourish that they remembered having wanted to do so for weeks. But in the end it’s just Persuading people to attend a party.

Velvet Tiger breaks the “mind control” as soon as is convenient for her to do so.

  • She never liked that plan and was bamboozled into accepting it. And she doesn’t need the money.
  • She realises that Dinah is too tough for her to handle and she’s going to get beaten up.
  • There’s some sort of mind control tech right beside her for her lawyers to make a case that she can’t be held responsible. And she has information to prove willingness to collaborate with.

And so she goes “screw it” and drops out the Fugue’s scheme, cutting her losses. From the flow of the scene, I don’t think she even had to make a roll to break any sort of influence. It just was a sensible decision for her to take.

FWIW, implanting false memories into people is done all the time in the real world, without Powers. One classic is the “he wore a red scarf” setup , to show criminology students how unreliable eyewitnesses are. But a Medicine (Brainwashing) variation on top of Persuasion would make that clearer/better implemented.


Design Notes

As discussed in the History section, I’m assuming that most of the fine work was actually done by Barbara Gordon, hypnotised into designing the means of controlling her own mind.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Batgirl comics.

Helper(s): Darci, Interrobang75.

Writeup completed on the 20th of December, 2018.

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We chat and work at the DC Heroes Yahoo! group .