Saturday, November 7, 2015

Action Comics #1

And this is the moment all this has been leading up to. Although I started this blog looking further back, all the way back to More Fun Comics #1 in 1935, Action Comics #1, in June 1938, is often considered the proper start of the Golden Age of Comics.

I have to say, I thought I'd get here sooner. When I counted the number of comic books I had access to, I figured I would reach Action Comics #1 sometime in June. It's taken me almost twice that long because of some issues I spread out over two days, plus other days I just took off from posting.

But here we are, with the issue that is, in many ways, both the impetus of the Golden Age and the game Hideouts & Hoodlums itself. When I started working on H&H back in 2008, it started as this mental exercise: is there a role-playing game out there that does a really good job at emulating comic books, specifically as they were back when Superman started, and if not, could I build one?

Now, of course, Superman was only one feature in the anthology title, Action Comics.  There was also Chuck Dawson, Zatara the Master Magician, Pep Morgan, Scoop Scanlon, Tex Thompson, "The Adventures of Marco Polo", and filler by Russell "Alger" Cole ("Sticky-Mitt Stimpson"). In fact, there are more pages done by Fred Guardineer in this issue (he drew both Zatara and Pep) than there are by Siegel and Shuster. I have only bits and pieces of these features accessible to me, but I really want to concentrate on Superman anyway.

The Superhero power Raise Car comes from the cover (and again on page 9). The powers Leap I and Outrun Train come from page 1 of the story (the origin page). Superman busting down the door on page 2 -- as we've seen on this blog -- is not the first instance of wrecking things -- but is obviously the first time it is used by a Superhero. Nigh-Invulnerable Skin is demonstrated by the bullet ricocheting "off Superman's tough skin" on page 4 (though this could, admittedly, just be a miss explained with flavor text).

The "wife-beating" plot hook on page 5 might be an instance of a random encounter, but all three of the newspaper people featured in this story are classic examples of plot hook characters -- the unnamed reporter who clues Superman in on the wife beater, the unnamed chief (who is later named as George Taylor) who tells him to go to "San Monte" and report on the war there, and Lois Lane, who gets into trouble by spurning a hoodlum.

Superman throwing the wife-beater into the wall, I didn't treat as a new power; rather, Superman is using the stationary wall as a clubbing weapon by throwing the man into it. I was this close to making wife-beater a mobster type....

Because page 6 starts with the second instance of Superman's "tough skin" saving him, I made this the first 2nd level power, Super-Tough Skin.  The power Quick Change is based on how quickly Superman is able to change to look like Clark Kent before the policeman arrives (note that Superman did not come in carrying his clothes, so he either had them on under his costume, had them stashed elsewhere in the building, or is wearing some of the wife-beater's clothes and was only carrying his Clark Kent glasses with him).

Senator Barrows is an example of the corrupt politician mobster type.

As to the other features...

Cowboy Chuck Dawson's adventure starts off with a wandering encounter, a henchman who just happens to walk out of a dance hall spoiling for a fight. I also learned new cowboy slang -- a jigger is the boss' second-in-command. While in jail, Chuck tricks a deputy into coming to the door by saying he has something important to whisper to him. A deputy would have to be pretty dumb to fall for that, but the Editor should still give it a chance to work, either by rolling an encounter reaction check or maybe a save vs. plot to see if Chuck gets lucky.

Zatara has a magic crystal ball that shows future events -- definitely more powerful than the Magic-User spell Crystal Ball, and potentially a campaign-breakingly powerful item unless it cannot be controlled and only shows plot hooks.

In terms of spells, Zatara: summons a first aid kit out of thin air (Cure Wounds I?), uses Feather Fall to save himself when he's pushed off the roof of a train, Zatara encounters three thugs (2 HD mobsters, according to Book II) and casts a hypnosis spell on all three of them (this spell does not yet exist in H&H),  he casts a spell that seems to be teleportation limited to his SCMs (SCM Summoning?), the text says he casts hypnosis again (though the use of the spell here more resembles Hold Person), he can, at least temporarily, polymorph an object (a gun into a banana, unless he used an illusion spell to make it seem like that happened). 

Zatara fires a gun, breaking the rule about what weapons Magic-Users are limited to. He has no trouble freeing himself from knots tying his hands together behind his back, but since this occurs off-panel, it's impossible to say if he used magic or some sort of escape artist stunt. Zatara is at least a 4thd-level Magic-User here, and probably higher.

The "Scoop" Scanlon, Five-Star Reporter feature has constant narration throughout. When Scoop shoots at a speeding getaway car with a trophy sub-machine gun, the narrator says Scoop "completely disables the car". Perhaps I've been going about car chases all wrong! What if cars were assigned hit points, and you won the chase by reducing the opposing car to zero hit points? It does seem only slightly more abstract than the current combat sytem...

It's also worth noting that Tex Thompson identifies himself as a cowboy. While the character was later converted into more of a superhero, his initial appearances should be statted as a Cowboy, if you're using that class from Supplement III: Better Quality. The interesting wrinkle to Tex Thompson is that he was rich and became a globe-trotting cowboy, a concept that might have won him more attention had he not been always in the shadow of Superman.

(My copy of the Superman story was courtesy of Superman: The Action Comics Archives vol. 1, but the entirety of the issue can be read at Comic Book Archives).

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