Saturday, December 16, 2017

Funny Pages v. 3 #10

As another year of comic book reviewing draws towards its close, we come around to Centaur again. This feature is "Diana Deane in Hollywood" by Tarpe Mills. There's an interesting, albeit sexist set-up for a scenario here. Diana is a gender-reversed Tarzan in this story; being a woman, she "naturally" needs to be saved from the apes instead of becoming lord of the apes. The intriguing part here is, how do you rescue someone from a mobster without harming the rescuee? This page offers no solutions, but it does remind me that natives need to have a chance of carrying poisoned weapons.


This page of "Block and Tackle" is not the first time I've seen someone being shown to grapple and punch at the same time, but I still think that overly complicates unarmed combat and it is best to keep those attack forms separately. Of course, if I continue to see more evidence of this, perhaps allowing the two to combine would encourage more Heroes to go gun-less and attack with their bare hands...


Huh...after a lengthy absence, "Abdallah" returns, but not even on the same adventure it left off on! Here we see an ogre. Specifically, an Arabian ogre, but so far I see no reason to stat it any differently. Perhaps I should mention in the (next year's?) Mobster Manual that ogres can live in caves for very long periods of time with very little food.


Bats, piles of skulls, and roaring fires can all be hideout dressing, even though these things are normally associated with fantasy dungeons.


Here, we see an unintelligent mobster not taking advantage of its hostage. Editors must keep the relative intelligence of the mobsters they use in mind.




The ogre is making successful grappling attacks each turn. According to my rules on grappling, once you're grappled you can only attack back with grappling in that turn, but here Abdallah is winning initiative each turn and attacking with his sword -- and missing -- before being drawn back into a new grappling contest. When the ogre wins each time, he just throws Abdallah prone on the floor, as if toying with him.


Throwing a torch is no big deal; anyone can toss an improvised club weapon as a missile attack. What is somewhat inexplicable here is how the cave suddenly becomes a "roaring inferno." Clearly the torch did not set the stone walls on fire. Perhaps this ogre should be statted as a 1st level evil superhero/supervillain/bad man, which would give it the Blast I power. In that case, the thrown torch is now flavor text for what triggers the Blast power.


Nowhere in the rules will you find swords being able to do extra damage as the result of a charge. It really seems like it should be a lance Ab is using in this scene anyway.


We also see evidence (which I had always presumed to be true anyway) that ogres cannot move as fast as horses.


Bank robberies in comic books are as old as comic books, but the new wrinkle here is that the robbers are robbing the post office. At least, the text tells us it's a post office; it looks suspiciously bank-like inside, down to the on-duty armed guard. Perhaps the guard came with the special delivery.


Note the unique weapon: the shoulder-mounted machine gun. A trophy item, or just badly drawn? You decide!


Law enforcement works in mysterious ways in comic books, like this instance, where a man in his cell still happens to have $1,000 in un-confiscated money on his person.




This is peculiar. Note how The Arrow is on the rooftop above them, yet is able to reach down way over the edge of the roof and grapple people. I have previously changed my ruling on The Arrow -- that, upon closer inspection, he's a superhero and not a fighter, class-wise. Here, we might be seeing a new power that would be called Extended Range, allowing you to make melee attacks somewhere common sense tells you that you would not be able to reach.


(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum -- and yes, black and white scans seem to be the only ones there are.)













Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Wonderworld Comics #8 - pt. 4

Mob Buster Robinson is in a pickle of a death trap here. The Editor gives him a sharp rail and one turn to use it to cut himself free. He then has to beat the train in initiative in order to move first, or he's run over and killed (a train can be assumed to do enough damage to automatically kill anyone not being buffed by a defensive power).



I have written before about how level title is a soft game mechanic that essentially acts as a guideline for how much the hero can boss around non-hero characters. At this point, with only four 4-5 page long adventures under his belt, Robinson should be only a 2nd level fighter, also known as a detective. It seems a little convenient, to me, to have a beat cop surrender his motorcycle and gun to a detective just on his say-so, so something else may be going on here. Maybe he rolled a 12 on his encounter reaction check?

The chase scene is also ended conveniently fast. My new chase mechanics in 2nd edition slow it down somewhat, though they still play fast (I've had cause to use them twice now in my current campaign). Nothing in my rules allows for shooting a tire to make it skid off the road, though -- unless you treat the bullet as a halting obstacle (which is a bit of a stress).

This (page from "Spark" Stevens) is one of the first times a blow to the solar plexus has any kind of special effect on someone in comics. Second edition has no hit location system, though I did introduce an optional one once in The Trophy Case. More likely, I think, this little man is classed as a mysteryman and poking with his cane is his signature move!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

 


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wonderworld Comics #8 - pt. 3

Dr. Fung finds it extra hard to find the trickster Scorpio (the trickster class, designed for mediums and psychics, debuted in The Trophy Case v. 1 #4) in his weirdly-shaped mansion. The first room is concealed behind curtains, but behind the room is a secret door keeping the blackmail files safe. The Editor can double up on tricks and traps as well if it keeps the hideouts challenging.


Weapons concealed in canes are so cliche that they'll never fool your players, but a spring-loaded arrow-launcher concealed in a magician's wand? That's a trophy item that will surprise them (though I question the penetrating power of such a weapon -- maybe it would only do 1-4 points of damage?).



Tex Maxon is good in a fight, but not as good as Timmons!  Check out how he kicks a rock with the back of his foot and manages to get enough lift to strike Tex in the head. I'm not sure even professional soccer players could pull off that stunt. It certainly makes me question if Hideouts & Hoodlums needs any facing rules.


It is not unfeasible for someone to fall 150' and survive, as there have been lots of examples of people falling even further and living. The H&H rules are unforgiving , with a fall from that height doing 15-90 points of damage. Now, it's possible that Jon Pulski had 16 hit points and got really lucky, or the Editor set a lower minimum damage (which he could always do, at his discretion).

Fake skulls seems like it could be interesting hideout dressing.


This is K-51, though the influence of Will Eisner makes it seem an awful lot like a Black X story. This takes place in the Philippines, which was an U.S. territory at the time. The rabble-rouser Mussoni is obviously based on Mussolini, though what he'd be doing in the Philippines isn't clear.

Notice how, in fiction, no one ever gets stabbed during a grappling fight. This is borne out in the 2nd edition grappling rules, where if you grapple someone, that opponent can't make any attack back at you that turn except for grappling.

The typhoon is either a wandering event or something the Editor just tossed in, at his discretion, to shake up the plot (it had been a standoff before this). The typhoon is strong and wrecks as if a high-level superhero. X-51 and his fellow agent Claire (she does have a codename, but it's not used past the first page) both make their saving throws vs. science (or maybe plot, or whichever was worse?) to survive the storm, with the Editor rolling for the major antagonists on the ship, while likely hand-waving the rest of the rolls and just saying the crew all died.


The bad guy here is called both a bandit and a robber, but by the way he gets from the side door of the train to the ropes hanging above the train, he must be a mysteryman.



The "chief" is a master criminal; you can tell he is by the bald head. A thug (another mobster type) robs the train this time, using less acrobatics.





The car is full of a mixture of gangsters and thugs. One of the thugs recovers quickly, having made his save vs. plot to recover quickly from unconsciousness (a new 2nd ed. rule). This indicates that even small-fry mobsters are eligible for the recovery rule...though, if there was no such rule, this could perhaps be explained away as a special ability of the thug mobster-type.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Wonderworld Comics #8 - pt. 2

It seems that Yarko the Great has cast two spells here; the first seems to be a Telepathy spell, allowing two people to contact each other over distances, and the second seems like a Read Curse spell, that allows him to identity the curse on the dead woman.

I am going to do some limb-climbing, though, and suggest that we don't really need either new spell. We can assign "curse identifying" to Detect Magic. And the telepathy used here could have been as easily accomplished using two telephones, so I suggest that this instance of telepathy could be flavor text, created at the Editor's discretion, to get the plot rolling. Now, does this set a precedent for Yarko being able to use telepathy in the future? Not necessarily, particularly in a game system where powers and spells are chosen from day to day and not set in stone. And comic books themselves were always being inconsistent.

I ran a scenario in my JSA campaign based on this story (the Atom was killed by a cursed item, but the Spectre got them permission to go to the Valley of Death and retrieve his soul), so I'm particularly excited to get to it on the blog finally.

Here we see Yarko laying down some powerful spells, starting with Teleport and ending with Planar Shift. In the middle, he seems to rely on Enlargement for the intimidation factor. It's unclear if Yarko is commanding her with just the force of his words, or with a Charm Person spell.

For the boatman, I planned to use the stats of a Charonadaemon from the old Monster Manual II (luckily the JSA didn't choose to fight him). The little flying creatures over the river I statted as spined devils and vargouilles from the same book. I had to do this appropriation because I had not created anything too close to these yet in Hideouts & Hoodlums and, since they don't actually do anything in the story, I would have had to make stuff up from scratch anyway.

Burning Pain is actually covered by the yaksha demon in Supplement III: Better Quality. Lucky coincidence?

The JSA managed to avoid Fear by slaying Burning Pain with missile weapons and not exploring the ledge where Pain was. Fear I had planned to stat at the time as an apparition from the Fiend Folio, but in 2nd ed. H&H, I plan to have a new undead mobster type called the spectral killer.





Horror was evaded the same way. Because of the wailing shriek, I planned to stat Horror as a banshee/groaning spirit.


I skipped this scene, replacing it with The Atom and some other souls being found on a beach, guarded by an angel/deva that had to be persuaded to let him go. I was fearful of the players choosing to run down the hall of time and all de-aging themselves into babies, or encountering Death, choosing to fight him, and wind up getting all killed.

Why isn't Yarko de-aged? I guess he made his saving throw.

Will Eisner's moral lesson about vanity makes this heavy stuff for a 1939 comic book.

And then, on the opposite side of heavy, we have Shorty Shortcake. The poisonous snake in the bed was already an old enough cliche by 1939 to poke fun at it here.

Shorty is right on the border, with Seaweed Sam and Archie O'Toole, between being too ridiculous to consider running a H&H game based on it, but having just enough interesting ideas in it to make it impossible to ignore. Should snakes have to make morale saves if they see two reflections? Nope. Should people be able to tie snakes into lassos? Probably not. Should sailors be able to make blinding spit attacks with chewing tobacco? That's just interesting and plausible enough to consider -- and would be a special attack that makes a sailor mobster type more interesting.

But Mr. Mizzen is no ordinary sailor-mobster; he must be of the superhero class. Here he demonstrates nigh-invulnerable skin and, if the fourth panel can be taken seriously, the high-level power Super Punch. Mizzen must be high enough in level that the 20 to 1 odds by the end of page must not be too great (and I would probably have a superhero be at least 4th level, a remarkable man, before taking on odds like that alone).


Okay, if you ignore the overpowered notion of being able to punch people forward through time, and the subtle racism suggesting all Latinos are lazy, panel 3 suggests that the superhero class should have some disadvantage to it (like powers only being able to work in the morning). Right now, in second edition, disadvantages are only tied to race -- the thinking being that classes already have a balancing mechanism tied to experience point progression, and the only real unbalancing danger is when you combine the alien race and the superhero class together.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)













Saturday, October 28, 2017

Wonderworld Comics #8 - pt. 1

Ah, Fox in the early days -- when the quality was so good! 


This month's installment of The Flame begins with a little history lesson. It seems to me to be a common misbelief that no one knew about atomic energy until the atom bomb was invented. It was 1932, though, when science first discovered that splitting protons off an atom would release huge amounts of energy, 10 years before the Manhattan Project began. So any early comic book adventures with atomic energy as their Macguffin, like this one, are historically plausible.


I also just think it's funny that a water cooler with a bell on top is what they're using as a proton accelerator...unless that's a miniature accelerator inside the cooler, and the water is just there to keep the temperature low, in which case it now seems scarily prescient.


I think our scientist, in his excitement, has mixed up volts with watts.

The artwork is confusing in this story. These early pages look like Lou Fine to my eyes, but by the last page it looks like a Will Eisner page. Perhaps they worked on it together.




According to this, the going rate for atomic energy secrets is $100,000 in 1939.



It's going to be challenging to stat this machine. Despite being piloted, it seems very robot-like and should probably be statted as one. The implication seems to be that the robots are atomic-powered, which should make them stronger than the average robot. And, size-wise, it looks like we're already going to be statting these as huge robots. But...those long, spider-like legs are going to make the robots ridiculously top-heavy and unbalanced, lowering their Hit Dice potential. So...for now, let's say 8 HD. It looks like the robot is armed with two machine guns, fired by gunners inside and attack at the level of the gunner. The attack of the feet would be by the HD of the robot.

Yeah, let's just try to ignore that black woman caricature.

We can hand-wave The Flame's surprise roll in this situation, since this is just flavor text and not a potential combat situation.

The Flame fights 3 thugs here. It looks like he won initiative, if not surprise. The thugs choose to grapple. Because none of them establish holds that keep The Flame from attacking back, he leads with punching. Then they must have succeeded in a grappling attack, because he pauses to reverse the hold. In the final panel, he throws a bad guy into other bad guys. Although you see this all the time in comics, I'm still opposed to allowing this as a regular combat tactic, as it cheats the rules and allows multiple attacks -- unless this is treated as flavor text for a multi-attack power, perhaps.

Our thugs are well-equipped, having an atomic-powered plane. It is unclear if the plane goes faster than normal (it is, after all, still a propeller-driven plane and not a jet) or if it is special for not needing refueling. And I do have to wonder how the Flame's plane keeps up while needing to stop for refueling.

The desert hideout is already starting to take shape. We can tell that the hangar is concealed in the cliff side (a common cliche), but those two storage tank on the surface were likely housing the robots until they were needed and then popped out.
The range on mad science devices tends to be a little ridiculous sometimes. Anywhere in the world? Really? At least the device seems to just shut down atomic engines that follow Dr. Harvey's specific design and not just any atomic power (much more powerful in a post-1945 campaign). Also note that the rifles, surely much too small to have atomic engines inside them, must be receiving broadcast power from an outside source -- a technological idea I don't think we'll see much of in the Golden Age. I'm not sure how much damage an atomic rifle would do, but 5-50 points of damage does not seem unreasonable.

The Flame beats up four bad guys and there are five bad guys remaining, who all miss their morale saves and surrender -- evidence that you don't have to wait until at least half the enemy forces are gone before checking for morale (which I often see as a house rule in That Other Game).

Speaking of powerful trophy items...an amulet that lets you give commands to Death himself is ridiculously powerful, like being able to cast Death spells with (again) unlimited range. I think the closest to this I would allow in a campaign would be an amulet that lets you cast a limited number of Finger of Death spells with normal range.

Hags are a statted mobster type in second edition. I'm hesitant to assign stats to Death, but you just know he's got to be (there's that term again) ridiculously powerful -- a magic-user of at least 25th level.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)











Monday, October 2, 2017

Top-Notch Comics #1 - pt. 2

As I move deeper into this issue past The Wizard's feature, it becomes clear that this issue was prepared by the same packager (Chesler?) that produced a lot of the early Centaur books...and has that same level of quality. Still, I found some things worth commenting on.

This feature is Scott Rand in the World of Time and, as a campaign idea, the focus would be on traveling through time and trying to pick up the most unusual supporting cast throughout history you can get. Here, we see Scott and his boss picking up a high-level Viking Fighter. On the following pages, they also recruit a very un-Egyptian-looking Egyptian princess.

In Hideouts & Hoodlums, language is not an issue -- except when the Editor chooses to make it one. In 2nd edition, there's a note about how the Editor can require a Hero to spend one month's time learning a new language, but these Heroes have a work around for that thanks to the timeless limbo their time ship can reach. This limbo also opens up all kinds of other possibilities for breaking the downplay parts of the game, like unlimited time for inventing things.




I think it's interesting to point out that the time ship has to move forward in physical space before it can time jump; it isn't a one or the other deal.

The Doctor Who parallels should also be pretty obvious and need no elaboration.
From Air Patrol, we see the Aviator stunt Find Blind Spot. Also the stunt Find Origin Story?




Interesting, that the dog fight takes almost an hour of game time to resolve. In second edition H&H, an hour is 120 combat turns!  Maybe aerial combat needs to be run at a different speed?






A rare example of "splash" damage from a comic book (I mean the fire "splashing", not the splashing from hitting the water).




This is from The Mystic.  I find it interesting because, despite the trappings of a magic-user, The Mystic appears to only have skills like escape artistry, which makes him more of a Mysteryman. Never be fooled by the trappings.



This is from Manhunters, showing the true crime genre being a poor fit for Jack Cole.

So how hard should it be to vault a 6-foot fence?  The world record for pole vaulting was almost 15' circa 1939, and that's the closest comparison I can think of. If we rounded down to something divisible by 6 and split the feet between pips on a 6-sided die, that would give us: a 1 in 6 chance to vault 11-12', a 2 in 6 chance to vault 9-10', a 3 in 6 chance to vault 7-8', a 4 in 6 chance to vault 5-6', a 5 in 6 chance to vault 3-4', and vaulting 1-2' would be automatic successes.

And that's all assuming the Editor has time to break things down like that. On the fly, I probably would have ruled a 2 in 6 chance, but might have compromised with a 3 or even a 4 in 6 chance depending on how good a case the players made I was wrong.


Okay, there's no way a belt buckle counts as armor, so using it to explain the miss is just flavor text. I think I've used this example, or something like it, from a comic book story before, though. The real reason I like this page is because Sukup is such a comically ridiculous name, as is the line "Alright, Sukup, come along!"

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)
























Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top-Notch Comics #1 - pt. 1

We're now up to the third of the MLJ titles and still about two years away from their superhero zenith.

Here we get the first of their superheroes, The Wizard. He's not a magic-user wizard, but a hi-tech wizard. We'll observe him carefully and see what class he best fits shortly.

First a historical note -- there was no historical General Steven Whitney in the Revolutionary War. The actual Chief of the Naval Intelligence Service in late 1939 was Vice-Admiral John Godfrey, not Grover Whitney.

Telephone scrambling was already in development in 1939, but was not practical until 1943.

Somewhat famously, Pearl Harbor would be later attacked almost exactly as it's laid out in this issue.

The Wizard is one of the earliest characters we can pin down to an exact age, having been born in 1904. It was certainly not uncommon for comic book heroes to be grown men in their 30s.

The phone scrambling computer must be a trophy item, but we can't be as sure about this steel-burning chemical. Hi-tech potion -- or wrecking things power?

Woodrow Wilson is the first historically real character in this story, as well as this being the first time President Wilson had ever appeared in a comic book.

That's some mystery chemical -- even in 2017 we don't have a chemical that will burn 1,000 times hotter than acetylene.


In 1939, the land speed record was 369 MPH; it would not exceed 500 MPH until 1964.




The Wizard's invisible car, occurring in flashback, makes it chronologically older than the Ultra-Humanite's invisible car in Action Comics #13. An invisibility field generator that can fit in a car was a trophy item since first edition.



That The Wizard's prop plane can go from New York to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 45 minutes is suspicious -- even today the flight takes almost twice that long. Despite appearing to be a prop plane, it must be a jet.




Now here's where we start to get into guessing what class The Wizard is. First, he appears to be using magic -- maybe some powerful divination spell -- to figure out both what his objective is and where to find it. Then he dresses like a Mysteryman. Then he tears fish nets apart with his bare hands -- strong, but not quite wrecking things strong; a Mysteryman could accomplish this with a stunt.

"Jatsonian" must mean Japanese.


But, here, we see The Wizard using Leap, he leaps unharmed through gunfire as if buffed with Nigh-Invulnerable Skin, and it sure looks like he's using wrecking things on that submarine portal. Further, his high velocity propulsion pistol could be another hi-tech trophy item, or it could be flavor text for one of the Blast powers.

It's also curious just what a high velocity propulsion pistol is. Just about any gun works by propelling ammunition at high velocity. If there is no ammunition, it sounds like an air gun.

Here, again, is the Wizard wrecking his way through that door or using an actual vial of some sort of super-acid?

So, in just his first story, we've already seen what appears to be three different classes represented -- basically, all the core classes other than Fighter (unless the 3rd panel of that previous page counts as that too!).

I'm wondering if I should develop a sort of "bard" class for H&H...a jack of all trades class that can switch back and forth between classes, possibly from turn to turn...

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)