Monday, January 15, 2018

Feature Comics #27

This issue is the debut of Dollman and, while I prefer The Flame from Lou Fine's ouevre, Dollman seems to be the one who lasted the longest.

Aqua regia is a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid.

Dollman's ability to throw a syringe really far, relative to his size, is not so surprising if shrinking is only flavor text. Then Dollman's throwing range doesn't change at all.

It does seem like he's about to lose two supporting cast members here, though...

Wait, where did this idea that Dollman has the strength of 20 men come from?  Did they do some testing on him between the 2nd and 3rd panels?
Still...if he does have the strength of 20 men, then it sounds like he has access to the Get Tougher power already!

This is Reynolds of the Mounted, that is one weird pillow! I don't think I will ever again see a pillow used in a trap, but placing radium ore inside it is devilishly weird and perfect for Hideouts & Hoodlums. I suppose there is a saving throw vs. science required every hour before the radium gives you amnesia?

This is Rance Keane, and here's an interesting fact: if you want to know if a mine has been played out, you can just call the U.S. State Department and they can tell you over the phone.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Popular Comics #46 - pt. 3

We return to Shark Egan. This is far from the first or the last time we'll see a Hero in a diving suit and, while it doesn't inspire me to race out and craft a pearl-diving scenario, I'm struck by the interesting detail that you can hear the compressors from other divers, making it difficult to gain surprise under these conditions. Maybe everyone's chance for surprise would drop to 1 in 6?

Also, having a mix of lined and line-less diving suits in an underwater combat certainly gives one side a strong advantage over the other.

Okay, old guy....It's hard to take potassium seriously as a rare and valuable element, considering I can go to the pharmacy and pick up potassium pills super-cheap. Was potassium somehow rarer in the past? So far, I can't find any sources that back up why this geezer is so excited to find potassium (unless he just forgot his pills at home...).

The moss in the waterfall, resembling a hangman's noose, is a really nice story touch, and example of outdoor dressing.

The other thing here I would want to address is that Tommy and his pal have climbed 1,000'. How many skill checks would that take (I think it's safe to say, from the 2nd edition skill rules, that this would be basic skill checks, since they have the advantage of climbing with equipment)? The rules are, I think rightly, silent on how far one can climb per check, because there are just too many variables to take into account, like the steepness of the slope, the roughness of the mountainside (does it have good handholds?), whether they have to navigate around overhangs, etc. And then there is personal bias; I personally consider mountain climbing to be really dangerous, so I would think requiring a skill check every 10-60' is not unreasonable.

Then there is the issue of how far to have them fall if they failed. The mountain is not one sheer drop to the bottom; they are likely to land on the mountainside further down below them. If they fell from 500', let's say, I would probably roll percentile dice 5 times, giving a range of 5-500' they fell (which, yes, would likely leave them unconscious unless they were super-lucky).

We haven't seen a goat on this blog in ages! This is a mountain goat, though, which I would probably stat with 1+1 Hit Dice.

"So what? If we miss Jupiter we just sail on past it forever until we die? Is it too late to get off this ship?"

Actually, Jane keeps her skepticism about Tornado's INT score to herself and we're treated to some sketchy science about re-entry (though they did get right that you would need parachutes to break your fall).

I wonder how this mistook another planet for Jupiter. Were they not checking their trajectory en route?

The 1930s was right around the time when scientists started to figure out that Jupiter was not going to look like this.

"By Jupiter! It's Jupiter!" is a great line.

The alien insect looks like a giant wasp with a disturbingly cat-like face. Very rare for Golden Age comics, the insect survives a gunshot and needs more attacks. I would probably have to assign this at least 2 Hit Dice. Giant wasps were statted in 1st edition (Book II, Mobsters and Trophies), but I only gave them 1+1 HD then.

Giant ants have been passed over in H&H so far, though the alien Bandar (statted in an early Trophy Case issue) were certainly ant-like. This page shows us 6' long ants -- which probably have 4 Hit Dice -- and come here in a group of at least 12.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Popular Comics #46 - pt. 2

We return to the Hurricane Kids just in time for a surprising (for them) discovery. Cavemen, on a time-lost island with dinosaurs? I'd be more surprised by how they apparently have access to really good razors or waxing.

I'm amused by that "The high priest, no doubt" from the narrator, based on no evidence other than his white beard.

I do have plans on adding a high priest mobster type in the upcoming Mobster Manual. I'll have to amend the caveman entry to say that there is a chance of a high priest being among them.

This is curious to me...I can't think of any car chase scenes I've ever seen where innocent bystanders decide to chase a driver down. If I ever revisit my chase rules, maybe I'll have to add something about a chance per turn of new participants entering the chase.

A rare use of shotguns by robbers (may need to update their entry to reflect a chance of being armed with them).

These guys are just robbing out of hostility! And always committing their crimes at noon, in the same city? They're just begging to get caught. Makes it easy for the Heroes, though!

This is The Mystery of Mr. Wong Featuring Boris Karloff. The Detective class I debuted in The Trophy Case is still the last un-playtested Hero class, but that doesn't mean I can't make some use of it for non-Heroes, and will probably include details from it in a detective write-up in the Mobster Manual. And maybe it should include a chance to recognize poisons on sight?

Or should this be a skill available to Heroes? If so, it would definitely be an expert skill.

$100 may not seem like much to today's players, but then players seldom need much encouragement to get their Heroes into fights.

More interesting is the idea of a villain taking a dive initially against the Heroes, so he can come back and publicly thrash them later.

Lastly, I don't think we should equate boxing rounds with combat turns. At a guess, I'd say a boxing round should be 5-7 combat turns in length.

This is Masked Pilot. There's a mystery as to why the Black Phantom thinks he's fighting in a war, but what really interests me here are the signs at the gas station -- "6 gallons for $1" and "credit cards honored," showing how experimental credit cards still were in 1939.

The Black Phantom fights with the strength of 10 men and...sounds suspiciously like a superhero buffed with the Get Tough power. Could this be one of the earliest true supervillains in comics?

This is from Shark Egan. In 2nd edition, I gave just example values for treasure items, like gemstones and pearls and left it to the Editor to assign numbers. Had I given a range for determining random values, I would have needed to use a very generous exploding die mechanic (like 1-4 x $10, with every roll of 2-4 triggering another roll) to let pearl values get all the way up to $500,000.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Popular Comics #46 - pt. 1

We rejoin Toby here, and Toby and Oomog are not having fun on a tropical aisle. The appearance of the natives is clearly being played for laughs, but the fact that they're willing to drug their visitors with fruit that makes you doze off to sleep (unless you make a save vs. poison) makes exploring this island a dangerous adventure.

This is all world-building for Martan the Marvel Man. The year is 5000 on the planet Antaclea -- but that's by their calendar, not ours. The people of Antaclea look like Earthlings, but it seems like that's just a coincidence, given the extreme distance between worlds. Antaclea is more advanced than Earth and looks down on Earth, but at least Earth isn't bad like Mars -- those nasty Martians were at war with Antaclea in 3900 AD and wiped out 90% of the Antacleans. Only now has Antaclea rebuilt and is a restored utopia. Antaclea isn't unprotected any longer; those electric guns can wreck like an 11th level superhero with a range of the 40,000 miles, and I presume the flame rayguns are for shorter range, in case some gets past the electrical barrage. The problem with a "utopia" founded on guns, though...guns have a nasty habit of going off accidentally, and I bet a lot of people have been incinerated by planetary defenses just for not displaying their IPASS badges fast enough.

If the Martians did that to Antaclea, in a completely different
solar system, I do wonder how Earth endured. Perhaps Earth was seen as too primitive to bother with?

I'm already having problems with this story philosophically, but now the science starts getting super-shaky too. Antaclea has no oceans? Antaclea is 45 times the size of Earth? Jupiter is only 11 times the size of Earth, which makes Antaclea impossibly large for a non-gaseous planet. And what are "light miles" If the author means miles traveled at the speed of light, then Antaclea is closer than the moon and travel to Earth is near-instantaneous. If he means light years, then Antaclea is almost as far as the Andromeda Galaxy.

Economics-wise, we see that technology seems available to everyone, with interplanetary spacecraft being as common as cars.
There comes a point where the flavor text is so beyond simply wrecking something that you must be dealing with disintegration (save or be destroyed). In 1st edition, item saving throws were still a thing. In 2nd edition, if I really wanted to avoid using the wrecking things mechanic, I might let the pilot roll.

But what's all this nonsense, Martan? Are you saying that Earth would have a stronger gravity, despite being 1/45th Antaclea's size? Are you pulling Vana's leg?

Ah, the ultra-rare jungle-dwelling lions....I'm starting to wonder if this is some alternate Earth...

I like how their rayguns can be set to specific points of damage, with "x003" apparently being the setting for 1 point of damage. The question is, how high do those settings go? And is x999 really 333 points of damage?

At a higher setting, the raygun can even create fire -- a Wall of Fire, to be exact.

Evidence that the "number of appearing" for natives needs to be set pretty high.

This might look like a continuation of the same story, since this is by the same art team, but this is the Hurricane Kids. Here, we see how adventurous going fishing is off a time-lost prehistoric island and that they have to shoot at sharks (they must think they have a lot of bullets to spare) to protect their lunch.

I like the detail of the mud flow from the river, and how the inland river is concealed; the kids have to use their skills (i.e., concealed door check) to spot the river ingress.

That last panel gives us an understandably poor sense of scale, since a 20-ton sauropod tended to be 50' long, tip to tail, and would be hard to squeeze in a panel with the kids' boat.

Like I found with statting other dinosaurs, animals weighing in the range of tons don't stat easily when size and mass figure into Hit Dice. I would have to give this mommy 9 20-sided Hit Dice, which means those kids had better get out of there fast!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Best Comics #2

An early comic (the earliest?) from Better Publications filled with comic strip reprints, this issue begins with The Adventures of the Red Mask, a pretty obvious Phantom rip-off, but with some telling differences. The biggest difference is that the Red Mask, in at least some panels, is colored to look like a native African (though here, on the throne, he's colored as a white man). Also, unlike the Phantom who consorts with the more civilized tribes of Africa, the Red Mask's kingdom is shown here to be a bunch of headhunters.

It's also interesting that the Red Mask's people want to go to a hideout and loot it for treasure, and RM is trying to get them not to.

The party is split -- something some players and game referees really hate, but happens in comic books routinely. Here, Colonel Trent is tired of having to hang out with unnamed supporting cast members; he wants back in on the action! So he slips off from the plot that was offered to him, and finds a labyrinthine cavern complex behind a door. And there are more doors within the cave complex. Very D&D-like!  A stranger in the dungeon -- I mean, cave complex even tries to warn him away from a trap, but Trent is really stubborn and goes through the door anyway.

I'm tempted to point out the lizard in the black abyss, not because it's anything more than dressing in the background, but because "Lizard in the Black Abyss" would be a great title for a story...

The throne-evator that descends with the pull of a cord seemed worth sharing. Also, cavern flooding as a random encounter is highly unusual and bears remembering.

Although we're lead to believe that Robert Fear has somehow seduced this woman into risking her life for him after one meeting, I'd like to think there's some unknown motivation at work here. Regardless, I have no intention of adding seduction game mechanics to Hideouts & Hoodlums and would treat this as simply a very friendly encounter reaction result.

Not that I believe Robert Fear is a hero, but if he were, he could indeed skirt the restrictions on Heroes not being able to use poison by having a Supporting Cast Member administer it...

We're likely to never see The Adventures of Nervy Nerts here again, though I once thought the same thing about Seaweed Sam. Nervy Nerts' adventurers are fantasies and not to be taken serious, but there are elements in them that could definitely play out in an adventure if played serious. An example right off the bat there is giant fish, which we've seen as long ago on this blog as the first Captain Easy story.

I believe this is one of the first, if not the first, traditional mermaid in comic books. The risque toplessness has probably kept most publishers away from them to this point and, perhaps curiously, most mermen we've seen in comic books to this point have looked more like aliens.

Ball games were 50 cents? Seems legit.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Action Comics #19

In the Superman feature, Superman demonstrates a "super-resistance to disease", but could have just been a successful saving throw vs. the "purple plague."

Professor Henry Travers is so worried about the plague killing people in... is this still Cleveland? The headline of The Daily Star says "Purple Plague Grips Metropolis," but that was probably not a proper name yet at this point. Anyway, Travers is so flustered that he accidentally says the plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages was the purple plague, when of course it was the bubonic plague.

The "De Fauvier's study of the Purple Plague" sounded so specific that I wondered if De Fauvier was an actual scientist who had once studied diseases. It seems to be purely fictitious, though.

I don't think I ever made a trophy item out of this, but Ultra-Humanite fools Superman wearing a "false-face mask", despite the fact that rubber masks never would fool anyone in real life.

Superman does not always have the Quick Change power prepared. In this story, he knows Travers has been attacked after hearing it over a phone call, yet curiously takes the time to untie his shoes before removing them so he can go leap off to Travers' apartment.

Thugs are also called "muscle men" in this story, proving to me I was right to give thugs better than average Hit Dice.

Superman halting his fall by catching a ledge is cliche -- and can be supported by game mechanics in several different ways. The Editor could have conveniently put the ledge there and offered the chance to roll "to hit" the ledge (an attack roll). Or, Superman's player could have suggested there might be a ledge nearby to grab, and the Editor gave him a save vs. plot for there to be a ledge to grab. Or, the ledge is actually flavor text for the Feather Landing power being activated.

I'm curious about who Travers' "scientific society" was. The story is three years too early for it to be the Cleveland Technical Societies Council.

Superman is still not a Lawful hero at this point; he steals chemicals for Travers that Travers needs for his research into the plague cure. He does so by uprooting a massive skylight to break in and then walking through a wall to break out -- both examples of wrecking things.

For the second time, the Ultra-Humanite knocks Superman unconscious with electricity. It may be important that Superman is taken by surprise each time, so he is not able to activate any defensive powers first.

In addition to the electric raygun, Ultra uses a mind control helmet on Superman, but it comes with a saving throw vs. science that Superman easily makes. Ultra's "fantastic airship" is propeller-less, and almost surely an early jet plane.

The power 4th level power (in first edition Hideouts & Hoodlums) Turn Gun on Bad Guy comes from the final scene of this story, where Ultra shoots his electric gun at Superman, yet Superman is improbably able to pull Ultra in front of the blast first.

In the Pep Morgan feature, stopping to perform a good deed -- moving a loose rail off the railroad tracks -- leads to an encounter with gangster/robbers (perhaps a mixed group of both mobster types), and demonstrates how good deeds can become plot hooks or be tied to plot hooks.

Pep foils the efforts of the mobsters to jump off the train by reaching the engine and telling the crew to speed up too fast for them to risk jumping off. So how fast is too fast? If we assume 30 MPH = 1-6 points of falling sideways damage, and the train made it up to 90 MPH, that would equate to a brutal 3-18 points of damage -- more than most gangsters and robbers would be able to endure.

It also appears that Pep might have a brother in this story, though there is no text that corroborates this when he is seen with his family.

In the Chuck Dawson feature, Chuck is attacked by roughnecks.  I don't have a mobster type for "roughnecks", but outlaws are the evil version of cowboys and it sounds like these are just some of those, or maybe bandits. Chuck is defeated with lassos -- and in fact 2nd edition H&H now has entangling rules for just this situation. Luckily, he had trained his horse, Blacky, to untie knots, freeing Chuck, and showing just how complex the actions of animal Supporting Cast Members can be.

Later, catching up to the outlaw/bandits, Chuck jumps down off a ledge behind them to attack them. Now, there is little tactical advantage to taking falling damage, losing surprise, and then attacking your opponents. We have already seen lots of comic book characters fall on mobsters from a height, as an attack, which I suspect Chuck was trying to do here -- Chuck was just the first hero to miss!

In the Clip Carson feature, Clip is in "Kenye," which is surely an intentional misspelling of Kenya. In 1939, this would be the British colony of Kenya. The first thing Clip does is go to a bar and get in a fight with a drunken hoodlum...which reminds me of about half the D&D campaigns I've ever played in. The drunken hoodlum holds a grudge and hides a cobra in Clip's room. Later, Clip runs into cannibals -- which I've said before I plan to leave statted as "natives" and not stat them separately -- but chooses not to fight them and bribes them for safe passage instead.

In the Tex Thompson feature, Tex and his sidekick, Bob Daley, meet actor "John Barryless" -- har har -- obviously meant to be John Barrymore. Tex and his associates head to Egypt to find John's missing son, Bart (John Barrymore's son was also named John). One doesn't normally associate the savage native trope with Egypt, nor zombies, but Tex encounters both while there. We also learn that salt can counter the potion that turns living people into zombies.

Gargantua T. Potts, by the way, is a minstrel show-level racist caricature of a sidekick for Tex.

In the Three Aces feature, I learned (or maybe I knew this before and forgot) that the Three Aces ("Fog" Fortune, "Gunner" Bill, and "Whistler" Will) are members of the U.S. Naval Reserves -- which seems an odd choice, as I would have thought the Army had more fliers than the Navy at that time. They have to "solve" a murder mystery, and I use the term loosely because they overhear practically everything and then just have to prove who did it. It can be a useful reminder to Editors not to make mysteries too difficult to solve during game sessions.

In the Zatara feature, Zatara -- who usually throws around high level spells like they were nothing -- solves this scenario where a mad scientist in Mexico is creating an army of gorillas with transplanted human brains (and apparently is shipping the gorillas all the way into Mexico, since they are clearly not indigenous) using only two second-level spells, Invisibility and Hold Person. Of course, you could call the scenario only a partial success because Zatara only frees the scientist's prisoners who still have their brains, leaving all the transplant victims to be blown up along with the scientist after Zatara escapes.
(Superman story read in Action Comics Archives v. 1; select pages from the rest were read at the Babbling about DC ,o;Comics blog and the rest was read in summary at DC Wikia.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Keen Detective Funnies v. 2 #12 - pt. 3

The Eye apparently also can be invisible and use Phantasmal Image, at least once per day each.

This is Dean Denton, the guy who's gimmick is being a scientific ventriloquist. Here, he's investigating murder via poisoned dart, but the real interesting thing here is the "no electric connections; must be one of the new self-energizing units!" Was that a thing in the 1930s?

Although the feature refers to them as both units and "cells," I think what we're talking about is batteries. Batteries have been around forever. Recharging (what I think "self-energizing" means) have been around since 1859, but they used lead instead of sodium. In fact, I can't find any evidence of sodium-based batteries before the 1960s. So where did this idea come from? I'm stumped, gentle reader!
I had to research this. Light that can translate into sounds has come up before in the early comics, but the technology being referenced had always eluded me -- until now. What is being referenced is the technology of the photophone, which Alexander Bell apparently considered his greatest invention. An actual photophone had a short range of 700 feet, but in comic books a photophone seems much more effective than that.

There's some dressing detail for a modern cult temple here, but mainly I'm just liking this page because the layout is great. I was slow to warm up to Dean Denton, but when the ventriloquism angle is underplayed, I'm really enjoying this feature now.

It's disappointing that Dean doesn't use something more scientific to find the light beam, but at least he smartly tests his hypothesis with one of the photophone receivers before barging in on the hideout.

Cultists are now a mobster type in second edition Hideouts & Hoodlums.

That second panel is such good storytelling. "Another illusion shattered" hints at a tragic backstory and makes you feel for that poor woman, even though you're never going to see her in a comic book again for as long as you live.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)