A Modest Proposal: Saving Mr. LaFong
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
“Bonjour, Lieutenant. You are called PRANKSTER, non? I am called Angel.” - Captain Jeanette “Angel” Devereaux, TCS Tiger’s Claw
SEIZE THAT MAN! No, not because he intends to disrupt a plot to start a war with the Border Worlds… but because he is an imposter! The dashing, young blue-haired pilot chatting with Angel about statistics and Shotglass about space drinks (or for Super Nintendo veterans, space desserts) is not future destroyer of worlds Christopher “Maverick” Blair at all… he is Carl “Prankster” LaFong! For too long, the Wing Community has wilfully ignored the great crisis of our age, the multi-Blair issue (aka the Blairadox.) With this post, that all changes.
It is an established fact that the player character in the original Wing Commander did not initially have a name and that because of this fact later adaptations and updates that might need to refer to him took many different and seemingly irreconcilable tacts for referring to him before Wing Commander III introduced us to Christopher Blair in the form of Mark Hamill. Today, we propose that the hero of Wing Commander I, The Secret Missions and The Secret Missions 2: Crusade is not and was not ever Christopher Blair.
We propose that the hero of Wing Commander I and the two addons is and always must be Carl LaFong. LaFong is the author of the first two sections of the Ultimate Strategy Guide and he is the man who flew missions like Enyo 1 and Kurasawa 2. Christopher Blair, then, is the character introduced in “Red and Blue” and the 1999 movie. He is a fellow Tiger’s Claw pilot, he attended the same class as Maniac and Prankster at the Academy and he was present for the Vega Campaign. But his early adventures are told exclusively in the movie and on Wing Commander Academy.
Why is all of this a problem?
The biggest issue caused by the Blair retcon is that it invalidates Mike Harrison’s seminal Wing Commander I & II: The Ultimate Strategy Guide. As was common for top tier hint books of the day, the Ultimate Strategy Guide (henceforth referred to as USG) adapted the games it was discussing as a prose story. In a very real sense, the USG is the first Wing Commander novel. But it isn’t a story about the exploits of Maverick Blair… it’s the memoirs, written well after the war, of one Carl T. LaFong. The guide covers LaFong’s early years at the Academy and then his combat missions.
More than any other Wing Commander volume, the guide has informed later material. Much of it was printed wholesale in Origin’s licensor bible and as a result it is referred to throughout supporting material, from obscure references in the Customizable Card Game (“The Maniac Solution” and many others) to helping form the conceptual basis for the Academy animated series and even the Maniac/Blair relationship that formed the heart of the 1999 film. In short, the book is a massive part of Wing Commander’s canon and history, a major influencer on the series… and it is not something we should delete because later stories needed to specify more about the era!
This solution is not just about preserving a historical artifact, it is about correcting the history of the Wing Commander Universe itself. Later stories, like the TV show and movie, did not believe they needed to respect Wing Commander I as a strict story at all, and instead they gave the character a new backstory and new relationships with the Tiger’s Claw pilots. One of the most significant criticisms of the movie is that Blair and Angel are too close, that Blair should know Paladin was a spy in Wing Commander I, that the original characters should continue to rag on him for his later-established heritage and the like. But none of that matters if you aren’t Blair in the game! Carl LaFong isn’t a Pilgrim, he didn’t have a relationship with Angel and he has no idea Paladin is secretly with Naval Intelligence.
The timeline, too, matters. Even though it does not feature a direct linear story like later games, Wing Commander I has a fairly well established timeline. With the additional context of the UCG, Claw Marks and other sources, the 40 missions exist relative to one another in a fairly established story that happens at a specific time. Here again, later sources have provided disruption. Especially: the movie novel Pilgrim Stars, which puts Blair and company in captivity aboard a Pilgrim supercruiser for weeks in the middle of the game. That’s okay, we can now state, because Carl LaFong was still flying off the Tiger’s Claw and fighting the Vega Campaign at that time!
Let us continue by walking through a list of the ‘other Blairs’ that have appeared over time.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
- $R $C $N aka Bluehair (1990): GAME OVER. At least, so begins our saga: following a failed attempt at the trainsim, our hero is prompted to enter his name for a high score. And in 1990 that name was your own. There could certainly be an argument that the original intend to the character was that he had to be ‘you’; $N was a near-silent protagonist intended to connect you to the game world and nothing else. To this, I would say only that the development of LaFong was necessary for telling the history of the world after the fact… but that we should also encourage anyone to imagine that THEY (be they Mark “Big Dog” Minasi or or Rolf “Snake” Muesel or Ben “Loaf” Lesnick) are part of the Tiger’s Claw’s 104-pilot complement. (STATUS: NON-CANON DEVELOPMENT BLAIR)
- Captain “Dipstick” Dipstick (1990): Looking ‘under the hood’ reveals something interesting about the developers INTENT for the player character. Wing Commaner I features a ‘mouth script’ that tells the game what sounds the talking heads’ should be mouthing for each piece of text they read. The system does not take into effect variables, so they mouth the same thing for every rank, callsign and name. And the script reads? You are always a Captain… and always a Dipstick. (STATUS: NON-CANON DEVELOPMENT BLAIR)
- Arturo “Bluehair” Blair (1990): Soon after the original game’s launch, it became well known (via Compuserv interactions with the dev team) that the character was informally referred to by the team as BLUEHAIR because of his beautiful blue locks The fan community picked up on this and immediately took it to heart. The inaugural issue of Point of Origin (Origin’s internal newsletter) further reveals that he has been dubbed “Arturo Blair,’ shorthand for Our Hero Blue Hair. Most interesting of all, the context of the mention in Point of Origin was that the company was holding a contest to decide the ‘real’ Blair for the strategy guide… who would, of course, be Carl LaFong! (STATUS: NON-CANON DEVELOPMENT BLAIR)
- Carl “Prankster” LaFong (1991): Discussed above. Carl LaFong is the protagonist of the Wing Commander I & II Ultimate Strategy Guide, theoretically the author of the book and the character whose life story the in-lore Wing Commander games were based on. He is named after a joke from a W.C. (HAH) Fields movie (“It’s a Gift”) in which one character is always looking for Mr. LaFong (who, Godot-style, never appears.) (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
- “Falcon”/“Phoenix” (1992): The Wing Commander series bible originates this odd pair of names, claiming that the player character was initially ‘Falcon’ and then after the events of Wing Commander II he changed his callsign to Phoenix. This would all be development history except that the novel End Run actually referenced the name Phoenix intending to refer to the early events of Wing Commander II. Luckily, the intent here must already be ignored as it causes another continuity error: Jason Bondarevsky “remembers” the event despite not having been on the Concordia at the time. It must refer to a different pilot named Phoenix who saved the Concordia (it WAS always getting into trouble) (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
- Jack A. Lombard (1993): Jack Lombard is the first of several ‘near Blairs’ introduced for Wing Commander spinoff games. Wing Commander Academy (the 1992 game) needed a voice familiar to players who would have some connection to the wingmen and ships available in the mission builder… and so the manual invents Jack Lombard, anohther Confederation fighter pilot who served with Angel, Maniac, Hobbes and the like. Lombard ends up disabled and unable to fly, so he couldn’t have ever completely BEEN Blair… but he’s written to imply that he is. (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
- Lyle “Eagle” Starbuck (1994): There’s no easy way to say this, so we’ll come right out: the Wing Commander port for the Japanese MegaCD console names the character Lyle “Eagle” Starbuck. We’re sorry. We’re so sorry. (STATUS: ??????????)
- “Hotshot” (1994): The English language release, then, is much kinder: it simply replaces all references to the name and callsign of the character with ‘Hotshot.’ We can assume here that it’s simply a nickname. (STATUS: NICKNAME FOR CARL LAFONG)
- Jacorski? (1994): The second major ‘near Blair’ is the potentially unnamed commander of the TCS Lexington’s mission in Wing Commander Armada. Like Blair, he was a Concordia pilot who made an enemy of Admiral Tolwyn. That was all, again, to connect us to the unseen character and the nature of the game’s suicide mission. (The character’s logs are unsigned, but another element of Voices of War refers to “Jacorski” as ‘the big man,’ implying that might be the commander.) (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
- Chris “Maverick” Roberts (1994): Perliminary sketches for Wing Commander III (concept art, costume plans, etc.) use series creator Chris Roberts’ name. There was never a plan to use this as the official name, but there are a number of drawings of the character with ‘Roberts’ as his nametag. (STATUS: NON-CANON DEVELOPMENT BLAIR)
- Christopher “Maverick” Blair (1994) The big man! Blair was first mentioned by name in Wing Commander Freedom Flight, a nod to the internal Arturo Blair name. This reference did not necessarily connect back to the player (he’s just a Tiger’s Claw pilot said to be lucky), though it was intended. Blair earned his full name (but did not lock down his callsign) in Wing Commander III in 1994 and then became ‘Maverick’ (and later Pilgrim for a time) starting with Wing Commander Academy (the show.) (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
- “Maverick” Armstrong (1995) The Super Wing Commander remake of the original game names the character ‘Maverick’... but changes the last name to Armstrong! Later sources retcon Armstrong to be a fellow Tiger’s Claw pilot who flew the ‘Secret Missions 1.5’ storyline. (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
- Colonel Hart (1995) - Another simple ‘near Blair’; Colonel Hart was the voice of the Wing Commander III Authorized Combat Guide. He is never explicitly said to be Blair, but he seems to be able to reference everything Blair has experienced very readily (ie, he is implied to also have been serving as a Colonel on the Victory.) (STATUS: CANON CHARACTER)
Is there any other evidence that supports this theory?
- Later sources consider Blair, Armstrong and LaFong separate (but similar) characters. The review blurb for Maniac’s book in Star*Soldier mentions all three in the same breath.
- The idea of creating ‘near Blair’ characters for Armada, Academy and the Wing Commander III Authorized Combat Guide tells us that there is no real issue having ‘other pilots’ who are Tiger’s Claw veterans with the shared history. Similarly, we note the pains stories like Freedom Flight went through to AVOID stepping on the history of the WC1 player (such as introducing Hunter as a sort of alternative protagonist.)
- Wing Commander Academy was intended to reboot Wing Commander I and replace Blair’s story with a new telling of Secret Missions 2. Note the redesign of the character to look like Mark Hamill (while Maniac stays similar.) The original pitch was also explicitly set in 2655 and involved the Firekkan crisis. Carl LaFong isn’t dead. His book is written in the 2700s long after the Kilrathi War has ended.. and long after Blair seemingly died in the Nephilim wormhole! Origin continued to assign the WC1 story to other character (Armstrong) AFTER Wing Commander III was developed and Blair was established to be the name of the player.
- Wing Commander Prophecy introduces a new player character to the ‘main’ series of games, suggesting that there does not need to be ‘one’ character from game to game.
- Existing published Wing Commander timelines explicitly avoid mentioning Blair in their entries for the Vega Campaign.
- The final full biography of Blair, published in the Wing Commander Prophecy guide DOES NOT MENTION the destruction of the Sivar, the victory at Venice or Firekka. Later sources are entirely consistent in NOT referencing the events of Wing Commander I in Blair’s history, only that he was on the Tiger’s Claw.
- … Blair’s appearance in Wing Commander II. He looks like an older version of the Wing Commander I character, right? WRONG! The first scenes of Wing Commander II take place in 2656… and when Blair faces Tolwyn in his office, he looks just like he does a decade later!
- … the Wing Commander II section of the Ultimate Strategy Guide. We propose that the ‘Wing Commander II’ section is BLAIR’s autobiography rather than saying that LaFong was also a traitor who had a relationship with Angel. (Later material does establish pretty clearly that Blair IS the character in WC2; his treason is referenced constantly in novels and later stories… his victory in the Vega Campaign is not.) Supporting this idea is the coincidence that the Wing Commander 2 section is written very differently, the name LaFong is never mentioned and he is only called “Prankster” twice by a drugged Maniac!
What doesn’t work?
- The introduction to the Wing Commander I & II Guide is still problematic as it features one paragraph in which LaFong mentions being blamed for the Tiger’s Claw’s destruction. It can be worked around, but it should be noted as it does suggest an intent counter to this retcon.
- The Kilrathi Saga names - Kilrathi Saga ‘slugs’ in Blair and Maverick as the high score options in its update of Wing Commander I. You have to delete them to set your own name, if you so desire. This seems like a minor issue, since it isn’t locked down in any way.
- Lyle Starbuck still exists.
Now, my beloved countrymen, the decision falls to you. Carl LaFong’s achievements have been wrongfully supplanted and ignored by history. It’s time to make this right, once and for all. Please vote in today’s poll and decide the fate of who we consider the protagonist of Wing Commander I. LaFong vs. Blair, the ultimate showdown. It is time to decide whether or not the Wing Commander Combat Information Center triggers BLAIRXIT.
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