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.)

Friday, December 22, 2017

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

Well...who would have ever expected this trick to actually work? If I were playing State Trooper O'Keefe, I would expect at least a -2 penalty on my save vs. plot to pull off the ol' "fight me with your bare hands" trick.

Despite being knocked out at the same time, these two somehow wake up an hour apart from each other. This not only contradicts H&H healing rules (in both editions), but the hour it takes Shorty to undo his ropes seems unusually long for skill checks to escape bonds (this being a 2nd ed. thing only). Of course, if Shorty is only a supporting cast member, then the Editor can fudge things a little.

It's unclear how jumping off the tables is responsible for knocking the hoodlum out; the height advantage might have given him a +1 advantage to hit, or maybe it just explains how he got his surprise attack. Lighting conditions come up in both editions of H&H, though this instance seems a bit more complicated than most. Being silhouetted with light in the doorway, O'Keefe might have a +1 situational modifier to hit, while being -2 to be hit while partially concealed by dim light and fog (or maybe even -3).

Detective John Degan has skeleton keys (a minor trophy item in both editions) that keeps you from having to make a skill check to unlock doors.

The backstory here is that a museum idol seems to be killing people who went on an expedition to Tibet. Li Wan is apparently able to control the idol when he goes into a trance.

The idol, seen on this previous page, is like a huge bronze golem, only it cannot animate without a "high priest" controlling it with his mind. What constitutes a "high priest" is open to interpretation -- taking a wild stab at it, I'd say any magic-user of 4th level or higher. The golem is strong; it can kill quickly with its claws (2-12 damage?) or by grappling (+2 to hit and damage?). It's tough too; it seems to need magic weapons to harm it and I'd guess it has 10 HD. This one's definitely going in the Mobster Manual!

Steel yourself for some racism here -- we need to talk about yellow peril hoodlums. I put them in 1st edition because I wanted a hoodlum with some cool low-level monk moves. I'm not sure I succeeded at it and, what's worse, the comic books I've read so far don't really support cool oriental fighters. Look how easily Degan takes out these bunglers, who even manage to take out their boss for him (fumble charts for mobsters only, maybe...?).

At last, the debut of The Eye Sees and one of the strangest heroes ever published. The Eye was represented in first edition by the floating eye mobster, and in fact some chroniclers of the Golden Age have described the Eye as precisely that. I think the Eye is really more than that -- some uber-powerful being able to pierce the veil of space-time and look in through the gaps he creates on any situation he chooses to. Of course, the easier explanation for that power is Clairvoyance.

Telepathy is the second power he seems to demonstrate here.

An unusual tidbit -- for some reason the Eye is well-known in Afghanistan?

The mobster calls the Eye's power magnetic -- and first edition did have a Control Magnetism power -- but it could just be Wreck at Range.  Or, since the rest of the Eye's powers seem more like magic, maybe it's just a Lightning Bolt?

It's also worth pointing out that The Eye doesn't seem to be able to Teleport, as he doesn't turn up in the U.S. for weeks after leaving Afghanistan.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Keen Detective Funnies v. 2 #12 - pt. 1

How sad if I wind up having to end out the year on such mediocre fare from Centaur!

Here we have the return of "The Masked Marvel." If some of this art looks familiar, it is because it was featured prominently in Books II and III of 1st edition Hideouts & Hoodlums. We see a master criminal at work with a high number of thugs working for him; I may have to up the "number appearing" range to 1-12 for thugs.

Note how most of them have Tommy guns, except for that one guy who only brought a pistol. Don't bring a pistol to a Tommy gun fight, Muggsy! In hoodlum descriptions, I tend to present a random range of likely weapons. If the Editor has time, he should determine weapons individually instead of having every mobster fight with the same thing.

Or are they all thugs? One or two of them may be gangsters instead, including the lone guy armed with a revolver. Gangsters are a new mobster type in 2nd edition H&H who have a skill for coercing people to get into cars, not unlike what we're seeing in that last panel.

Master criminals are 3+1 HD hoodlums, but I'm wondering if public enemy number one's need to be an even more powerful type of hoodlum. Maybe 4+1?

Here we see how high the bounty can get on a public enemy number one, at least in the comic books. The sum of $100,000 is rather incredible, considering that the bounty on John Dillinger was only $10,000.

I'm also amused by the phrase "that's a lot of sugar," instead of the more familiar to our ears phrase "that's a lot of dough." I wonder how interchangeable these terms were in common parlance of the time.

That Zr, Zy, and Zl can be put in charge of a squad of policemen each, despite having really goofy code names, tells me they must be at least third-level fighters, which makes them the equivalent of sergeants.

It's almost worth mentioning that this story is the first time a sidekick character dies in a comic book. But then, it's just Zl, so no one was ever shaken up over this.

This is Spark O'Leary, Radio Newshawk. The scenario is that he has to prove the Countess is a phony. Now, some players might just choose to beat her up and then frighten a confession out of her, but Spark goes out of his way to collect lots of evidence.

I point out the fingerprint collecting in particular because this is a go-to for my players, despite the limitations on it at the time. They have to remember that there is no national database of fingerprints they can scan for a match in; the local police station can try to match them against the ones they have on file. They can then try contacting other agencies, but it will be a slow process. At best, I would let you have a save vs. plot to try and get results back as fast as Spark gets them here.

What, I wonder, is the origin of the "organ that can create destructive sound"? It's not quite common enough to be a cliche, but it surely didn't originate in this obscure comic book and this Dan Dennis, FBI story. It's worth pointing out that the villain here is called The Fiend.

The organ sure seems versatile; it can not only wreck, but it can "paralize." My first thought that The Fiend was a mad scientist is giving way to a new theory that he is a magic-user and the organ serves as his wand (since he seems to be casting Hold Person here). Too bad The Fiend is such a poor speller...

Players finding trophies may often wish that they were all properly labeled with instructions, like potion bottles clearly (and honestly!) marked with their contents. At least the Editor, in this case, only gave the player a clue as to which button to press on the organ.

Of course, there goes my magic-user theory, as Dan would not be able to use a wand unless he was also a magic-user. It seems the organ is, instead, a powerful trophy item with a range of, at first, random effects Heroes could trigger -- sort of like a Wand of Wonder, until they figure out how to play it.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

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.)