Sunday, April 21, 2019

Tip Top Comics #7, 10

Moving through Tip Top Comics quickly...

Hawkshaw the Detective introduces us to the idea of non-classed characters/mobsters being able to "level up" certain skills.

The Captain and the Kids reminds us that stilts could be a good way for Heroes to enter hideouts on an upper level.
Chris Crusty gives us a good idea for a trap; the Hero touches something and a paralyzing electric current keeps him there (on a failed save vs. science, of course).
One does not normally run the risk of having to roll again to see if you hit a random target after missing in melee, but if the Editor wants to run a campaign with the feel of Phil Fumble, he can add that rule.
I think bison are way too cute to be shooting at, but a bison could be a fierce opponent for low-level Heroes, so I'll make sure they're statted in the Mobster Manual.
$2 is a sufficient bribe for a waiter at even the fanciest of restaurants, according to Looy Dot Dope.
If taken seriously, Billy Make Believe would definitely need to be statted as a magic-user -- but note the peculiar effect here, where shrinking Bub ends his invisibility. What that suggests is that spells cannot be stacked, but casting one ends the duration of the previous spell on that person. Luckily for magic-users, I don't intend on making magic work like that in Hideouts & Hoodlums -- unless I see a lot more evidence of this happening...
Peter Pat is going to require more watching, as this dinogator is rather interesting. The lights shining from its eyes reminds me of the blindheim, a monster in the old AD&D Fiend Folio. I'm thinking I would stat a dinogator as a ...6 HD mobster?
From issue #10...I thought this was good, subtle humor.
And, coming full circle back to Hawkshaw the Detective, we learn that laughing gas (nitrous oxide) can be mixed into milkshakes and retain its properties. Who knew? (Actually only works in comic books -- in real life nitrous oxide is a safe food additive and is even used as a propellant in whip cream cans!).

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Tip Top Comics #6

Today we're going to go way, way back to catch something we missed before -- that actually has a pretty good collection of Tip Top Comics, from United Features.  Now we're going to be taking a detour backwards for a while and catch up.

And we'll be starting all the way back to Oct. 1936 for this blast from the past (if some of this gives you deja vu, it's because most of these features were also published in Comics on Parade). And first, I'm just going to show you this page of gag filler because I think half of it (all the left half too) is really funny.

In the middle of this silly page is some interesting problem-solving when it comes to crossing a chasm, or preventing others from crossing a chasm behind you.
I thought I should include this because it's so hard for people today to wrap their minds around how difficult cross-country communication used to be. "Six bits" is 75 cents -- almost the cost of a meal back then -- to make one long distance phone call.
I think I've written before about using "punk" as another name for wimpy hoodlums, the mobstertype at the absolute bottom of that particular hierarchy.

But I'm interested in this notion behind wedding feasts. A spell that would allow you to control someone once you have access to their table scraps? What would you even call that? Charm through Leftovers? But it does bear more thought...
Hideouts & Hoodlums players who come from a D&D tradition often know to listen at doors, but how many of them also sniff at doors? The chances of detecting something would be the same (= basic skill check), but the question here is, should it apply to a smell check coming from two rooms away? Depending on the strength of the odor, I might upgrade it to an expert skill check, or make it ineligible for a check at all.
Price check: $10 dresses.
This is an interesting point. Normally, there is no restriction on movement in combat, but should that always be true while grappling? As a general rule, I like encouraging movement in combat; it keeps things interesting to not be standing in one place the whole battle. So I would say that your opponent has to have at least a partial hold on you to curtail your movement.
We see a surprisingly few giant squids in comic books; most artists seemed to prefer making giant octopi instead.

I really like that design of a diving bell with mechanical arms. Half-robot maybe?
The mushroom is a Consumable of Diminution.

This also makes me want to run the classic D&D module Dungeonland, but for H&H...

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Jungle Comics #2 - pt. 4

I don't think it's right to move on from Jungle Comics without addressing its last and weirdest feature, Fletcher Hanks' Fantomah. While Tabu had already passed into other hands, and the splash page of this story (not shared here) looks like it's by a different artist, Fletcher was still allowed to work his wonky magic on the rest of this story. It interestingly bookends the Tabu story of this same issue, by both being about elephant graveyards. Note the difference between R.L. Golden's technically more proficient drawing of an elephant's graveyard, but with much less ivory, and Hanks' drawing below where the graveyard is awash in a sea of ivory.

Here we also get a sense that Fantomah is some sort of angel for animals, delivering them peacefully to their afterlife. She takes no direct action against the evil humans, but observes the cosmic justice. Well, she might have helped goad them towards cosmic justice, by sealing them in the graveyard...
Perhaps the most bizarre part -- in a strip overflowing with bizarreness -- is the curious incident of the death cries of the dogs. The narration describes the dogs are running away from the arch, the direction that Fantomah wants them to go, so it seems unlikely that she did it. Is it just coincidence? Do they meet a jungle predator off-panel? Is the noise just illusory, made by Fantomah to spook the men?


Game notes: $1 million in ivory is going to create transportation issues, no matter how loosely the Editor enforces encumbrance rules (which are pretty lax in Hideouts & Hoodlums to start with!).

Fantomah's sudden appearance in panel 6 might stem from ending an Invisibility spell on herself. Her ability to transform

from flesh to skeleton and back is likely just a Phantasmal Image spell. Blocking off the arch is a much more impressive spell, though -- Wall of Stone (unless she used the lesser spell Stone Shape to make the walls swell and bulge inwardly?).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jungle Comics #2 - pt. 3

We're still looking at Captain Terry Thunder of the Congo Lancers ("Terry" has been added to the title since last issue). I like that fifth panel; in a RPG scenario, each man's secret could be shared with the player only and, although the published scenario here was all combat, in game everyone could have the secondary goal of trying to figure out everyone else's secret past through roleplaying.
This is Wambi, the Jungle Boy. Wambi has the ability, like most jungle explorers seem to do, of summoning animals. Here, we see nine monkeys encountered at once.

Wambi, forced to choose between the people who raised him and some white guys he just met last issue, chooses to betray his own people. Okay, sure, they turn out to be slavers -- but those slavers wiped your bottom when you are a baby, kid!
Speaking of number appearing, here we see at least 40 natives, and is probably meant to represent much more than that.
"What the devil? How did the elephant get in my blockhouse? And how is there room for him in here? Is he sitting on all my men?"

Of course, in the early days of D&D, you could put 20 orcs in a 10' x 10' room and no one batted an eye, but nowadays you should put a little more sense into spaces than that...
This is from Roy Lance, a feature best remembered for its good sense of geography and ethnography. The Riffians are indeed a real people, also known as Riyafa or Rwafa, and a Berber-speaking people of Northwestern Africa. Everyone has heard of Ethiopia today, but that might have been an obscure country in 1940. The Zulu are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa and the largest ethnic group in South Africa. Not surprisingly, the author cannot name a real cannibal or pygmy people from Africa.
This page is all kinds of wrong -- Joan is being spanked, with a native gleefully watching, for being a free thinker and feeling like she shouldn't have to obey a man. 1940 was a tough time to be a woman.

The map is serviceable, though, with a mix of real locales, like the Congo River and Stanley Falls, with names that I can't verify are real. Twice, upon seeing Wakuna in this story, I thought "Wakanda...?" Probably not intentionally similar.
Now, seeing all the "primitives" running in fear from a film projection might seem racist to you, but bear in mind this trick also works on Scooby Doo. It just seems to be a given of the comic genre that visual and audio trickery is much more compellingly realistic than it would be in real life. So, as the Editor, keep an open mind when your players try nonsense like this.
This is from Simba, King of Beasts. It takes a lot of imagination to picture a water buffalo being the deadly nemesis of a lion, but now I'm just going to have to make sure to stat water buffalo -- and make them nasty!
I included this page because I realized there were actually few examples I had found so far in comics of outdoor tracking. This was the primary ability of the 1st edition explorer class, but maybe that can't be justified by direct emulation after all...

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Jungle Comics #2 - pt. 2

Tabu, not you too! Once-staunch defender of the wilderness, Tabu now slaughters animals willy-nilly to defend any man he sees. This has got to me my absolute least favorite part of the golden age -- this cheerful acceptance of animal death.

On the surface, Tabu drawn by R. L. Golden certainly looks better than by his creator, Fletcher Hanks, but it also looks more normal and mundane -- even when Tabu turns into a tree!

The elephant's graveyard is certainly supposed to be more impressive than it is, as it appears to only be the graveyard of three elephants.

One thing I do really like about this story is how Tabu discourages the youth from seeking revenge, but encourages him to let cosmic justice take its course (which happens, of course, because this is a comic book).


 Some game notes: Tabu uses ordinary grappling attacks on the lions, perhaps buffed by some powers, if Tabu is a magic-user/superhero, as I suspect. For the Advanced Hideouts & Hoodlums Heroes Handbook, I have been working on a mystic class that combines them both.

Evidence of gorillas being encountered in groups as large as five. It's odd that gorillas are actually social animals, but in comic books they are almost always encountered individually. This is also an example of pacing an encounter so the Heroes do not face all the mobsters at once.

There is, interestingly enough, a Tree spell in the original game that inspires H&H. I'll have to see if there's an open license version of that spell, or if I'll have to create something of my own.

This is a really curious story because it is actually a retconned retelling of the story in the previous issue -- something that almost never happens in comic books (except maybe in flashback). The white man's name is altered and the ending is altered so that Camilla lives. Someone may have thought after last issue went to press "Oops -- if we're going to name our feature after Camilla, it might be a good idea if Camilla survives."

I can find no evidence that a city named Kaza ever existed in Africa, but interestingly there is a KAZA now -- the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

That is one curious little rocket ship. Or, at least, it would have seemed strange in 1940 -- today we would call that a drone.
...As you can see here.
There's a very curious thing about these "natives." They look an awful lot like robots, yet they're never referred to as robots (or automatons, or anything but natives), and the narrator even tells us John kills several of them. Now, it's possible that the narrator is speaking from John's perspective, and how he thinks he's killing real people.

It's interesting that flexodium is a ray -- so it's a type of energy -- but it discussed as if it was a metal. Very likely this stems from a lack of understanding about how radiation works, which may have been commonplace in 1940.

Other than wanting to destroy western civilization, Camila doesn't sound so bad. Robbing ivory caravans is something I would be quite comfortable with letting Heroes of any Alignment do in my campaigns, though that is from my modern perspective, of course.
By "torpedo" she must mean rocket, and if her rockets can really reach space, her's beat German's V-2 rockets there by four years.

Once again, the very robot-like people are called nothing but guards.


Game notes: 4 to 1 odds is overwhelming for John -- but if the Editor took a mulligan on their first gaming session, should John get to keep the XP from it?

We've seen so many paralysis rays already in comic books by now, but this time it's called an electric radio beam (which sounds like it would help your radio get good reception rather than paralyze someone).
I'm not crazy about Congo Lancer stories -- but I'm crazy about that map! If I was super-ambitious (I mean, more than I am now), I would try drawing a Editor's map of my campaign area that shows pictures of all the animals in that region and where they can most often be encountered.

That is one weird middle panel, with the crocodile just laying there, minding his business, while the radio waves talk over him.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Jungle Comics #2 - pt. 1

Jungle Comics is what happens when a publisher (Fiction House) has one successful title (Jumbo Comics, packaged by the famous Eisner-Iger studio) and decides to launch another, but on the cheap. When Fletcher Hanks is your best artist (and you'll be seeing his contribution in a day or two)...

I was recently in a Q&A with Don McGregor on Facebook and I asked him about pushing the envelope for violence in comics. His response was that he wasn't trying to push violence so much as show that violence has consequences. Which is relevant here because violence is on display on practically every page of Jungle Comics, but a strangely bloodless violence, even when characters are getting stabbed in the face. I found some of these images too unpleasant for sharing on my blog, so you'll just have to take my word on the face-stabbing incident.

Today we're just looking at the first two stories from this issue, Kaanga and Red Panther (called White Panther last issue).
Kaanga is drawn by Ken Jackson -- often free of the constraints of any backgrounds -- and so stiffly that he can sometimes be mistaken for Fletcher Hanks (in fact, I'm not entirely convinced that Jackson isn't just a pen name for Fletcher, with someone else inking over him).

Compared to Kaanga, Arthur Peddy's work on Red Panther is positively dynamic, though still gory. Later, Arthur will join DC Comics and get to work on the squeaky clean later appearances of the Justice Society of America.

Now, let's talk about the pages! In the first one above, we get possibly the first instance of a stick holding crocodile jaws open in comic books. At least he doesn't kill it!

Ape men often look -- or are blatantly -- racist in nature, but this story skirts that problem by depicting the ape-men as white as they can get. Dr. Wratt may be the first mad scientist in comics who won't wear pants. Or shoes. Or socks. I think we can safely assume he's naked under that long shirt. Dr. Wratt may be evil, but he's not too evil; he operates on Kaanga using an anesthetic gas.


Game mechanic notes: Sticking a stick in a crocodile/aligator's mouth requires a successful attack roll, followed by a failed save vs. science for the animal. The ape man achieves a surprise attack and lands a head blow that stuns -- unless Kaanga was just low on hit points from the crocodile fight, in which case Kaanga has been rendered unconscious at zero hit points."Torn legs" do not require miraculous cures in Hideouts & Hoodlums, just normal rest.

Wratt needs to only establish eye contact with his victim to hypnotize him, but we've had plenty of evidence of how easy it is to hypnotize people in comic books. He does have one limitation, though, he can only hypnotize someone to make them do something they already want to do (like escape the island). To "dominate another's will" he needs that big, stationary machine.
It's unclear if the machine does all the work, or if it only makes his normal hypnotism more effective.

A choke hold is a result on the grappling table in 2nd edition H&H.

Here is a very rare example of tripping two opponents at the same time.


Wait a minute...if the shore was that far from his lab, how did they see the hypnotized guy get torn apart when he "neared" the shore?

The island is in the middle of a lake (I didn't share the page that established that); the long suspension bridge is the only way to the shore of the lake. But couldn't Kaanga swim the lake...?

We see ape men can be encountered in groups as large as eight.

Are the crocodiles in the lake, a lagoon, or both?

Meanwhile, Red Panther is trying to save missionaries from headhunters.


A stunt never seen before, or likely since, in comic books, is swinging from a vine held in one's teeth and scooping up two full-grown people, one in each arm. I have toyed with the notion of restoring the multiple levels to stunts that they had in 1st ed. But how to distinguish 2nd level stunts from 1st edition ones? A thought I've had here is that a stunt should only be able to accomplish one thing, but a 2nd level stunt can accomplish multiple things (2? 3?) at once.

A skill check can discover a hidden trap if the Hero is actively searching for them, though Red Panther seems to just happen to spot one here as if by accident. 
A long established practice in RPGs is to combine traps with something to fight, such as a tiger in a pit trap.


It seems odd that Red Panther chooses to jump into the pit and kill the tiger, rather than simply reach into the pit and pull the man out. He could have even helped the tiger out and sicced it on the headhunters.


Red Panther is able to use a stunt -- cutting his bonds against the sword -- even though combat has already started because he has not yet taken a combat action.

This is not the first time the term "giant" has been used to apply to a combatant who is actually just normal-sized. This is why I was thinking of creating a pseudo-giant mobstertype.

A push attack does not need to be away from you; here it shows a push attack being used to move an opponent behind you.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

700th Post!

Hi. If I just kept chugging along to the next issue, my 700th post would be starting to cover Jungle Comics #2, but that just doesn't seem a fitting topic for such a milestone. But neither do I have something major to declare on this milestone, for I am close to finishing none of my big writing projects (like the Advanced Hideouts & Hoodlums Mobster Manual) any time soon.

So I thought I would take a little time to look back and reflect. Over almost 4 1/2 years, I have exhaustively studied and analyzed every American comic book story I could get my hands on (virtual hands or otherwise) that came out between 1935 and February 1940. For the most part, this has served a practical purpose, making Hideouts & Hoodlums -- quite possibly -- the most thoroughly researched role-playing game on the market. If not, it is clearly the most transparent, as all my notes are laid bare for all to see.

Where do I go from here? I'm going to keep doing this, as I'm still enjoying it. Oh sure, not every story is a gem, and some are just plain awful, but ranting about them is all part of the fun. And when I see something that just amazes me, I always let you know.

What can I do differently, from here on? I'm thinking of separating out the critiques from the game notes; put the game notes at the end for those who share my interest in that, but leave the analysis that might be of broader interest up front. We'll see how well I stick to that.

Tomorrow I start reading Jungle Comics #2. Can hardly wait now!