Monday, August 3, 2020

Science Comics #2 - pt. 4

We return now to Dr. Doom, the evil mad scientist who isn't really out to conquer the future so much as just to put small groups of people into weird situations. Case in point, this battle in a cage against "mosquitoes" after being shrunken down to smaller-than-mosquito size. I had to go back two pages and double check to make sure that page really said mosquitoes -- it did! -- but it seems no one told the artist.

Perhaps of more use to us would be a discussion of how to handle breaking a mount, game mechanically, in Hideouts & Hoodlums. One could argue it would be a skill check. It could also be an encounter reaction roll for the animal. Since breaking in a mount shouldn't be easy, I would require both rolls. In terms of skills, I would treat making it rideable as a basic skill, but if you wanted to teach it a trick, an expert skill.
And now even the writer has forgotten what they are! Unless, of course, mosquitoes have mutated into more of a bee-like creature at some point in the future. The thought here in the last panel is that all animals, like the myth about bulls, get angry when they see red. Indeed, the solution on the next panel is to throw all their red clothes into a pile and the "mosquitoes" all kill themselves stinging the floor through the pile. Yeah...
How many fish-men can be in an encounter? The answer is "lots." I'm not sure if that third panel is even countable, but fish-men are clearly very organized and militaristic (Lawful Evil, as they would be known in the AH&H Mobster Manual).
I don't have much to add here, except to say that despite how obviously the fish-men are all traced, the composition is really good.
Navy Jones was already a strange feature, but it runs into overdrive here as Navy encounters a fiendish trap where people strapped onto railway cars are transported into the waiting maws of a gigantic carnivorous plant. Yes, that two-headed thing is supposed to be a plant! I don't know for sure how to stat that thing. It looks gigantic, but being a mostly hollow plant, probably doesn't weigh nearly as much as it looks like it would. Maybe 13 HD, normal 6-sided hit dice, would not be unreasonable.

Those rayguns use a really obtuse-angled ray, able to hit up to  5 targets at short range. I bet their maximum range is not very far, as diffuse as it must be.
If you hurtle out a window, underwater, wouldn't you just float there?

I like sea swine, though. Those are so cute!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Science Comics #2 - pt. 3

For this post, we're going to jump right into the middle of the Perisphere Payne story. All you've missed so far is that Payne and his men are helping to stop raids on the Moon. After successfully repulsing an attack, Payne flies around trying to figure out where the invaders came from -- you know, instead of just questioning prisoners or searching the wreckage of downed ships for clues. No, the twist here is that the attackers were coming from underground instead of in space.

That's just to catch you up. Here, we see how extremely maneuverable spaceships are while flying between mountains. We also see, almost as incredibly, the bad guys only leave a single guard at the entrance to their secret tunnel from which someone can foil their entire "invade from below" plan.
The "huge craft" seems to be more like a trolley car than a spaceship, and it's hard to see how it would launch off those rails and fly around.

If that seems confusing, panels 3-5 and are even more confusing Panels 3 and 5, it seems like Carson just walks in, is assumed to be an underling, is told to bring a fresh uniform, and just shrugs and puts on one. But panels 4 and 5 seem to be tell a different story, where Carson captures a guard and makes him take his uniform off (and his boots too!). Regardless, like almost all guard uniforms, this one fits the Hero exactly!

It is very strange to find a city at the core of the Moon, since at the center is a dense core of iron with a temperature of about 1600–1700 K (1,320-1,420 degrees Celsius). That city is going to need REALLY powerful air conditioning. 
I would love to overhear that villain monologing longer and find out how the Moon controls "the fueling system of the universe." Seeing as how the Moon is close to nothing but Earth, that works out how...?

It's also worth pointing out, I think, how even in a future sci-fi setting, big things still have to be moved by cranes and chains. The amount of thought that went into technology with this future world-building is usually minimal.
Marga is like Tarzan, only raised by black panthers instead of gorillas. This is the first comic book character to be named Ted Grant, to be followed by DC's Wildcat in two years.

Here's another wrinkle on the ray that freezes motors, this one freezes people too. 
Check out the scale on that fortress. That is either a mistake, or that is one huge anti-aircraft gun. It's at least as tall as the towers! The airplane hangar looks small, but it's difficult to say how far away from the fortress it is.

Leopards are unusual guards. Unusual guards, of course, often make for better encounters.

Is the Ethiopian strange because he's an albino? I'm surprised they don't mention that. Maybe he's strange because Uchunko isn't a real Ethiopian name. The closest is probably Urgessa.

The curious wording of that first panel caption could mean that the guards are savages, or just savage fighters. If the first, I would stat them as natives. If the latter, I could maybe stat them as bloodthirsty hoodlums.

I wonder what the poisonous fumes in the poison pit are. Sulfur? Whatever it is, it isn't very fast-acting.
Someone spent more time on that cheesecake shot in panel 2 than any other panel in this feature.

That tigers and leopards roam freely through the fortress is interesting. There must be a lot of open doorways and not many closed doors in the place.
I don't know how "heavy" that heavy cover is; it looks only slightly larger than the average manhole cover and I doubt I would make anyone roll anything to lift it. 

More curious is how exactly she's aiding Ted to reach the top of he pit. Is she pulling him up as she goes? That could require an expert skill check at climbing, or maybe even a stiffer penalty.

That Ted is "almost unconscious" suggests he's been slowly losing hit points to the poison instead of being in a save or die situation.
Now we're going to jump to the next feature, Dr. Doom! No, still not the Marvel Comics' Dr. Doom, and not the international spy Dr. Doom who really came first. This is middle Dr. Doom, the ugly old mad scientist guy who shrinks people down and puts them under glass with giant mosquitoes that look suspiciously more like hornets. The nice thing about shrinking heroes is that you can use the stats for giant animals for ordinary animals, and giant mosquitoes were statted as far back as Supplement I: National.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Science Comics #2 - pt. 2

We're still on Dynamo's story and, if you remember where we left off, Dynamo had just palmed off the entire scenario onto the FBI -- and now they drop it back in his lap where it belonged. There are arguments in gaming circles from both sides on the fudging issue. Is it right for the referee/Dungeon Master/Editor to fudge dice rolls, even if it's just to nudge the story along? Normally I would urge an Editor to fudge rolls sparingly, but when you need people to fail search results just so your player will go back and try, I think the fudging is worth it.
Here's a peculiar power. It looks like Dynamo has cast the magic-user spell version of Hold Person, but in addition, the victim is moved across the room as if under a Telekinesis spell. On one hand, the placement of the victim seems unimportant enough, in this instance, that it could just be flavor text. On the other hand, I could see a more powerful version of Hold Person that let's you choose where the victim is held at could be even more useful, like if you positioned the victim to block a doorway.
Speaking of more powerful versions of Magic-User seems like Dynamo is using the spell Shocking Grasp here, only he can use it more than once per spell.

Hoodlums almost never feel confident enough to make fun of the heroes in Golden Age comics, but here we have an unusual instance of a hoodlum making up a clever nickname for the hero.
Wow, okay, way to rub their failure in the G-Men's faces, Dynamo! do know that you likely just killed all those bad guys you're turning in, right? I mean, if being immersed in molten gold didn't burn them to death, they must have quickly suffocated...
Now we're on Cosmic Carson. Here we have a twist on the "ray that freezes your motor" -- the ray that literally freezes your whole ship -- and I think we've seen this twist only once before (always in sci-fi stories).

We don't know how much time passes between panels 5 and 6, but it seems like Carson has just arrived at the planet and immediately spots the lost rocket. Unless he's locked onto a transponder signal or some such, there's no way it should be possible to visually inspect a planet in less than weeks.

Also curious is that Carson's rocket gets much closer to the planet before being detected than the first ship. Are the aliens relying on visual detection too?
Thermo-rays look an awful lot like acetylene torches. In future settings, you can rename ordinary objects and make them seem futuristic.

It's interesting how they capture Carson, but just leave him trapped for hours, as if the aliens got too busy and didn't have time to take care of him.

Late in the story, we're finally told that the aliens are skull-men. They don't seem to be native to this world, since we only ever see four of them. They must be pretty good in a fight, since it only takes three of them to capture Carson. I'd say they have at least 1+1 Hit Dice.

This is likely the earliest reference to Popeye in a comic book not to feature him. Popeye has been getting stronger by eating spinach since mid-1931.
Clever strategy for convincing the bad guys to destroy their own weapons, but most Heroes simply capture the raygun and turn it against the enemy. Instead, Carson is content to fight with his fists, and the prisoners he rescued have to use clubs.

The reference to skull-men being weak doesn't jive with how they took down Carson earlier.

"No one will miss them, so it's okay that we killed them! Besides, they were weak!"

Hey, Carson, you're free now -- you can put a shirt back on!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Science Comics #2 - pt. 1

Now we come back around to Fox Comics and what was surely their weakest anthology, Science Comics. One look at the Eagle and his comical get-up that makes his antecedent, Black Condor, look positively conservative in comparison should tell you all you need to know about what I think about Science Comics. That said, we can always glean something useful from even the worst of comic stories.

Like on this page, we have a television able to view distant images without any camera in that location. It seems like a lot of heroes and villains have invented these, as impossible as they are (at least until we have Star Trek-level technology), and yet...what if there was a mysterious seller of these items, targeting specific recipients? A time traveler, perhaps? What starts out as just bad science could wind up being an intriguing plot hook!

Don't forget to roll for wandering encounter checks, even if just traveling between points A and B. No need to get them to B too quickly (unless you really don't want that scenario to run more than one session).
It shouldn't be hard to spot what the pilot does wrong here. Had he simply left his cockpit shut, the Eagle would have been powerless to do anything but stand on his wing. The pilot could have gone into a roll, to smack the Eagle with the wing. Or tried to slow down and turn so that the propellers come back and tear him apart.
Sometimes a player is just going to do something really stupid, like dive-bomb the bad guys in clear daylight from a great distance. Then, as Editor of the game, it's up to you to decide -- do you let his hero suffer the consequences and have the mobsters be armed? Or do you let him off easy and say not one of them has a weapon?
Nice bold font on that title!

The unnamed fort where the gold is kept is almost surely Fort Knox.
Now we go from a hero who doesn't wear enough clothing to one who wears too much.

This is also the most elaborate "flavor text" to go along with searching for secret doors I've ever seen. I like behind that giant block is just a little recessed space with an exposed lock.
That's a really long tunnel; I believe the closest stone quarry to Fort Knox is 41 miles away (where Quarry Road is). This is why authors like to use fictitious sites in their stories, so guys like me can't look this stuff up and fact check them.
Traveling on a beam of light is some funky science, but something that is fast becoming a trope in the superhero genre (Steel Sterling rides electromagnetism as well through the air). The important thing is that your flavor text for explaining how your powers work doesn't have to make a lot of sense.

There seems to be a plot inconsistency between pages; in the last page we learned that the gold was being broken into nuggets to conceal in with the quarried stone, but on this page the gold is still in ingot form.
This strikes me as really weird, that a Hero would find out where the villains' hideout is, but then send the authorities to handle the villains instead. I could see, if the player was meta-gaming, and thought the hideout was going to be too tough for him alone to handle, that he would recruit some federal men to come with him. But to then not come with them...?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Monday, July 20, 2020

Champion Comics #5 - pt. 3

Before we quit this issue of Champion Comics and move on, let's visit one last feature. The Adventures of Bill Handy is yet another Terry and the Pirates clone, with the Asian sidekick replaced with a black sidekick.

I had to double check, but there is no country called Palay. It appears to be in the West Indies.

"Wanga," amazingly is a real thing (and I was sure that was the fake one!). It's a magical charm packet found in Haiti, so that explains which country "Palay" really is.
Putting a machine gun nest may have seemed like a really good idea while stocking the castle, and it's definitely a good defensive position that can attack the Heroes at various locations, so long as they're out in the open. The problem is what happens when the Heroes get their hands on that machine gun and that position, and can essentially take over the whole castle at that point. The lesson: don't leave trophy weapons sitting out where Heroes can find them unless you want them to have them.
It's a castle with dungeons! I wish we'd seen more of this place.

Smashing the radio room may seem an odd extra step. Bill must not be certain the dungeon will hold his prisoners.

I wish we got to see the other side of that map where the good stuff is! A map that shows the location of a new hideout is as good as a treasure map.

If you don't look closely at that last panel you'll miss their strategy. Bill pounds on the side of the tower. The Nazi climbs up the tower. At the top, Marco surprises the Nazi and takes him prisoner. I would expect this to work once, maybe twice, before the crew below gets wise and takes other actions. A wiser course of action would just be taking the sub down and making the good guys tread water. 
A wisecracking player might say, "Gee, what good is someone else's medal gonna do me?", but a smart player would know that medals are rewards and rewards are worth XP!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Champion Comics #5 - pt. 2

I'm not as big a fan of any of these other features, so we're going to jump through a bunch of them rather quickly this time.

This is a page of Neptina, the evil queen sub-genre done underwater. Sure, the Krakan just looks like a giant octopus and, to be honest, I would probably just stat it that way. It would be much more terrifying, though, if the guards were right, and krakan's had some kind of death gaze -- save or die if in line of sight of it.

This page illustrates how much fun random encounter reaction rolls are. This scene with the suspicious police chief plays out much more interesting than if the Editor had rolled a friendly reaction and the chief just believed the whole crazy story.

I share this story for the example of how cloth covered in wet clay can serve as a concealed door.
Blood-sucking moths, alone, are not very scary. Find them in their lair, where there are hundreds of them, and...
This is Blazing Scarab, by the guy who goes on to create Green Arrow for DC next! It's pretty goofy fair, but this priestess is pretty powerful, having teleported into their presence on the previous page.

What I didn't know, until I looked it up, was that Ammon was a real place. According to Wikipedia, it "was an ancient Semitic-speaking nation occupying the east of the Jordan River, between the torrent valleys of Arnon and Jabbok, in present-day Jordan."

This is the last appearance of Penny Wright, second best feature in Champion Comics. This chase scene has several London-specific complications in it, including military patrol cars and hedge-placed anti-aircraft batteries. Details help establish a sense of place, even in a chase scene.

The Owl, just one of many comic book characters to have that name, is called that simply for having thick glasses. The wrinkle here is that the Owl is really a woman, dressed as a man, making this one of the first cross-dressing villains.

I have trouble taking Jungleman seriously, not least for being called Jungleman (should Superman be called Cityman for living in a city?). While most jungle heroes would snap the net with their great strength, Jungleman is as helpless as a fish.

Ape people have been in Hideouts & Hoodlums since the beginning, but now we have a new name for them, the Moo-Nang. In the jungle, ape people live in numbers great enough to be village-worthy. So, several hundred?
Further embarrassing Jungleman, two tigers show up to rescue him (actually, it's not clear if Jungleman summoned them or if they are just a wandering encounter), but the ape men are too much for the tigers too.
In the conclusion of Yaqui Gold, a character called the Black Panther is challenged to a duel that goes against him -- surprisingly similar to when Killmonger challenges the Black Panther in the movie Black Panther.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Champion Comics #5 - pt. 1

After a long time away we come back to the first Harvey Comic and the continuing adventures of The Champ. This is a nice first page, with just a little recap, and launches us right into some action where the last chapter left off -- but I'm not sharing this page for any of that. I'm sharing it share with you the unusual word "wetting." It means the act of making something wet, and usually applies to urination, but not always and clearly doesn't here.

The guy with the motorboat is just a handy wandering encounter.
This is the first and, as far as I know, the last mention of La Grange, Illinois in any comic book.Curiously, there was never an airport in La Grange, so why this relatively obscure town got name-dropped, when there were plenty of towns with airports near Chicago, like Evanston, Park Ridge, and Wheeling, that could have been named instead, is a mystery to me.

Hideouts & Hoodlums has no guidelines for learning skills; all Heroes are meant to be naturals in any subject the moment they make their first successful skill check.

I'm amused by this comic book logic. "It's okay that the Army is giving me a fighter plane to use over U.S. soil, because I'll have an Army Reserve pilot with me and I've been deputized by a local police chief." This is so crazy, and yet so perfectly encapsulates the "anything-can-happen" feel of the Golden Age of Comics.

I wish I could identify this fighter plane. It looks realistic enough that it probably based on a photo reference.

We never do get an explanation for why the Champ's hunch turns out to be right. I would have thought that, 24 hours later, the blimp would be miles away instead of sitting there, hoping for a rematch.
Rays that can stop motors are a dime a dozen in these early comics and should have the best chance of being encountered of any mad science invention. But the real icing on the cake here is being able to broadcast onto your enemy's radio to taunt them as you're killing their motor. And then have your men take potshots at them before they plummet to their deaths, just to rub it in!
I particularly like this page. Rescuing people off a mountain in a blizzard might seem like a subplot that takes The Champ in a totally different direction, but put the scientist he needs to talk to in that blizzard and suddenly it becomes an important complication in the main plot. The Editor, just like a good writer, needs to carefully plan the placement of his characters.
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but The Champ is an interesting bridge between the sports genre and the superhero genre. The Champ seems to be able to do anything he sets his mind to, but within the confines of sports (and aviation also, apparently).

Game mechanically, though, the easiest way to explain super-skiing is with the stunts of the Mysteryman class. Another possibility is a Strength check to ski while holding someone, followed by Dexterity check for each crevasse and gully.
Searching for concealed things in the sky is more difficult than you'd think. It seems like they get a new roll to spot the blimp every 1,000 feet.

How does The Champ know the "infernal ray" will set off grenades? Wouldn't they more likely not function, like motors?

Climbing the dangling cable isn't anymore difficult because of how high they are, but it certainly would end the campaign for him if he fell. I do think there needs to be a common sense maximum possible damage limit, if you take this much damage you're dead even if it's not a deathtrap scenario, though rather than having a set amount in the rules I'd rather that be left to the Editor's discretion.
This first panel makes me wonder if it should be an optional rule to let the player decide if he wants to take physical damage or be moved back a number of feet from the combat. I would very rarely allow this, but I could see it being a good thing for keeping a solo game going.

Panel 2 has me confused, though. How exactly is The Champ trapped in the flaming gondola? It looks like the fire is mostly in front of him, licking a little bit at his flanks, but not keeping him from running out onto the catwalk at all.

Should explosives do more damage on a direct hit? Something to consider.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)