Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Action Comics #3

Superman is only three stories old at this point and, so far, his power level is holding pretty steady. We are told Superman can run "at a pace that not even the fastest auto or airplane could duplicate" and, in 1938 this is pretty much true of anyone able to move "faster than a speeding bullet" (though planes in a dive could approach bullet speeds).  This is probably the third level power Race the Bullet. If Superman is just trying to get from point A to point B with no time crunch, though, his player doesn't even really need to use a power -- it's just flavor text how he gets there.

When Superman resists the poison gas, that is the first level power Different Physical Structure.

When Superman is carrying three people all under the same arm, that's the second level power No Encumbrance.

When Superman is clearing the rubble in the mine, that could be the first level power, Raise Car -- but, since the panel specifically says demolishing the barrier, one could make an argument this is his wrecking things ability in play.

Superman exhibits some sort of super-climbing power when he climbs an elevator cable, hand over hand, while holding an unconscious man balanced over his shoulder. I neglected to give Hideouts & Hoodlums a super-climbing power, though I admitted in Supplement IV: Captains, Magicians, & Incredible Men that the game needed one.

Given the powers he has available to him, Superman is probably 4th level by this story.

Superman demonstrates his super-leaping alien ability when he vaults the wall around the mansion.

I wanted Superheroes to have to wear a costume, so I came up with the rule that they only gain XP as Superheroes and can only use their powers when in costume. In doing so I, conveniently, neglected to consider the prominent instance of Superman wrecking the wooden tunnel supports right here in this issue.

Though one could make an argument that the Superman story in Action Comics #2 was the prototype for this type of story, this issue marks the first of the Superman morality plays. This subset of Superman mythos consists of stories where there is no antagonist, but only a character who needs to learn a valuable lesson.

The Tex Thompson serial continues with Tex and Bob in the Sealed City, dealing with the Gorrah of the Sealed City. It's clear in this story that "Gorrah" is a title, but the Gorrah is starting to also look like a mad scientist-type. He has three servants who seem to be invulnerable, even to bullets to the chest, but maybe they just have really, really good Armor Class. Once Tex discovers their weak spot later (the tops of their heads), he knocks them out with a wooden club.

The central theme of the story is containment. The city is contained in a volcano. The main building in the city is a fortress within a fortress (with a dry moat and drawbridge separating the inner keep from the fortress surrounding it).  The Gorrah tries to contain Tex and Bob in a pit trap (it dumps into an underground stream, but since the water is not deep, it's unclear how lethal this trap was supposed to be). They find the true Gorrah contained in his own deathtrap (buried in sand, surrounded by red ants).

The Tex feature doesn't take itself particularly seriously, with two of the Gorrah's servants named Scharem and Hawntem. The scenario is also...well, pretty impossible. As mentioned above, the previous issue seemed to indicate that the Sealed City was inside a giant volcano, but Tex and Bob fall into an underground stream and follow it for what "seems like days", only to still emerge in the Sealed City. Is the volcano, like a TARDIS, bigger on the inside?  Or, more likely, this type of H&H adventure is an example of a stream-of-consciousness storytelling, only accidentally making any kind of sense.

"Chuck" Dawson's story includes a rare instance of the Hero tripping his opponent. Though one would think tripping would be the easiest grappling maneuver, it's neither very heroic-looking nor as visually impressive as others, so it's often ignored in the comics. Because of this, I would not give it a better chance at success than other grappling results.

In the Mythic West "Chuck" Dawson inhabits, $500 is a fair reward for a murderer.

Does this installment of Zatara, Master Magician include a clue as to where it takes place? Zatara is staying at the Hotel Hilaire. Could that be a hotel in Mont-St-Hilaire, Quebec? Of course, if Zatara is a globetrotting magic-user, why not?

Zatara uses a new spell, Spirit Form Projection, in this story. It is similar to clairvoyance, but he is seeing from the eyes of his own invisible presence. The range is very good (maybe a mile?), but anyone above 1 HD has a chance of sensing the caster observing them.  This spell could be 3rd or 4th level.

The next spell is very difficult to explain, as Zatara creates a single-pilot fighter plane with just a glance, so Tong can learn how to fly it. I highly recommend that Magic-Users not be allowed to create extremely powerful/elaborate trophy items with spells (maybe minor ones, temporarily). My suggestion is that Zatara has just made a visual illusion of a plane for Tong to study before practicing with a real plane.

Interestingly, instead of conjuring a phantasmal date, Zatara visits a female escort company to hire a date to a party. Could escort services have been more innocent back in the '30s? We may never know, because Zatara hypnotizes (Charm Person?) his date and makes her go home with no memory of how she got there (should Charm Person be allowed to make people forget things?). He also might be using Charm Person to give Tong more confidence in his piloting skills. Zatara does cast Phantasmal Force to prevent a killing, and later to convince a hoodlum that he has a cannon pointed at the Tigress' hideout. He also casts Polymorph on Tong, to turn him into a bird, and Transmute Flesh to Stone on a hoodlum.

Zatara must be at least a 9th level Magic-User at this point. I'm okay with making Magic-Users advance through levels faster, but this seems a little too fast. Or Zatara has a LOT of untold tales.

(You can read this issue at Comic Book Archives)


  1. At first I thought this was a random comment, but then something occurred to me -- how many cats have I seen in all these comic books so far? Lots of lions, tigers, and panthers -- even a few mountain lions -- but a surprising lack of domestic cats. I'll be keeping an eye out for those and let people know when I first start seeing more.

  2. D'oh! There's the comic strip, Cicero's Cat! I forgot all about that one, since I don't like it...