Friday, August 31, 2018

Action Comics #20 - pt. 2

In Tex Thompson, racist caricature Gargantua T. Potts misses a morale save when he sees five zombies and faints. Text discovers that swallowing salt not only protects them from becoming zombies, but can reverse the zombification process (though this may be only true of "fresh" zombies; it is unclear if being a zombie longer makes it permanent).

After freeing the zombies, Tex forgoes fighting the whole tribe of natives by rushing straight to their chief and challenging him in single combat. Now, normally, the cliche is that this works and the Hero gets to win the scenario with just one fight -- but this time it doesn't work and Tex gets knocked out and put in a deathtrap (tied on a spit over a roaring fire) -- so maybe he tried to save vs. plot to make that happen and failed?

Likewise, the story makes use of the cliche of the chase over the rickety bridge spanning a deep chasm, and this time the natives do pursue across, like in the cliches, even when they see Tex cutting the ropes on the other side. Maybe they missed their saves vs. plot too.

The Three Aces are in the Koyukuk "Valley" in Alaska, which is a real place. Golden Age writers always seem more comfortable using real places if it's in Alaska. Gunner uses semaphore to communicate with the other two aces in their plane -- a rare instance of a language being used that not every Hero necessarily knows.

Gunner rescues a stranded father and daughter. The father is hurt, but Gunner gives him hot broth to "bring a stir of life to him." It is not the first time I have considered allowing healing after eating -- though I'm not there yet.

We learn that Gunner Bill is an orphan, possibly being the closest we ever get to an origin story for one of the Three Aces.

Gunner, the father, and daughter Tony are trapped in a blizzard for an entire week. Only after the week ends do they finally meet a wandering encounter, a pack of at least seven wolves. Very unusual for an adventure strip, the thugs who attacked Tony and her dad and left them stranded are caught and arrested behind the scenes, without the Heroes involved at all (which is what happens when you don't want to continue the scenario next time).

The Zatara story, curiously, takes place earlier in the summer of 1939. The "mist death" strikes in Africa, Asia, and Europe, killing hundreds every time the mist appears. It is not a choking hazard, but burns the skin like acid. The Prime Minister of England (if you squint really hard, it even looks like Neville Chamberlain a little) recruits Zatara to investigate.

Zatara is visited by a moon woman. Moon women are like full-sized Tinkerbells. This one is crazy; she thinks moon people came to Earth thousands of years ago and wiped out most human life. Zatara casts a "Fly" spell so he can accompany her from England to India in a matter of hours. The Fly spell does not allow transportation that fast, so they are more likely teleporting slowly -- unless some more powerful version of the Fly spell exists.

Instead of attacking from the Moon, the moon men are attacking from underwater caves off the coast of India. Unlike moon women, moon men look like 5' tall goblins, with green skin, big, orange, saucer eyes, and lower jaw tusks. It is unclear if the moon men have horns, if they just wear horns attached to the chainmail coifs they all appear to be wearing.

Zatara casts some kind of a spell that turns rays from the moon man's raygun into firecrackers. It seems overly-powerful that Zatara uses a spell powerful enough to transform energy into matter (that's a high-level polymorph spell -- at least 6th level!) to overcome a lone sentry, so perhaps it is a simpler weapon that makes weapons misfire (I could see that as a 4th level spell). Then -- because this is Zatara and he always burns his most powerful spells right away -- he also casts Wall of Stone (another 4th level spell) in front of the moon man as he's running away.  When he meets the moon men's dictator, he uses Telekinesis -- a third 4th level spell! -- to tip his throne over on him.

Zatara is attacked by nitons -- winged snakes (with sail-shaped wings) that have magic resistance and are immune to mind-affecting spells. Very unusual for Zatara, he has to flee from the nitons and uses Wizard Lock on their three remaining cages (maybe Wizard Lock should affect more than one portal?) so more nitons cannot be released. And then he casts Hold Person on the nitons' keeper (though the spell makes it appear that chains have wrapped around him).

The next two spells are confusing. To save Nala, the moon woman, when he finds she's been captured (the moon men view her as a different race, by the way), he casts a spell that makes a glass wall (Wall of Glass -- 2nd level spell?) appear around her. That keeps the moon men from harming her, but it does not explain how it gets her away from them by the next panel. Then Zatara casts a spell that teleports every net (nets are used for catching nitons) located in the moon men's sunken city into one big pile. This has got to be some advanced version of Teleport called Collect, and I would put it at 8th level (it can collect every example of one type of item found within a certain radius, so if you cast it to collect doors, every door in the hideout within a 1,000' radius, or something like that, would appear in a pile by you). Then he tosses a Fireball on the pile of nets, because the nets go up in a cloud of smoke. 

Next, Zatara casts Polymorph Any Object three times to turn the cages of nitons into pearls. He uses Polymorph Self to appear to be a moon man. He uses Charm Person -- a very rare 1st level spell! -- to make one of the moon men scientists his best friend and tell him their whole master plan.

Moon women can turn invisible. Nala claims moon women lived on Earth millions of years ago before migrating to the Moon. Although, bear in mind, she's a fruitcake. Zatara indulges her because he likes how she looks in a bikini.

Earlier, Zatara claimed the moon men were a thousand years more advanced than Earth men. Little bears that out, though the moon men do have a monorail, and they can turn radium into gaseous form (that accounts for the death mist). Zatara plans to kill all the moon men with a combination of the radium gas and the nitons -- though, to be fair, the moon men also plan to end all life on Earth, so it's kind of a kill or be-killed situation.

Zatara either owns a Cloak of Invisibility, or casts an Invisibility spell in the form of a cloak.

Zarara must have some spell cast on himself that protects him from radiation, as he withstands a lot of exposure to it while moving through the mist-filled city, more so than can be explained by his amount of hit points.

In a rare instance of Zatara claiming a trophy item, he takes a moon ray gun, which can wreck at short range.

Moon men and moon women were both statted in Supplement I: National.

(Read at

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Action Comics #20 - pt. 1

And we're back to Superman! This is the first Superman story of 1940 and the last Superman story in DC's Action Comics Archives vol. 1.

Superman starts it off with the Raise Bridge power, then becomes Clark Kent for the main plot. As Clark, he lassos an assassin and pulls him off a high ledge (for 1-6 falling damage). This is the plot hook to get Superman to meet actress Dolores Winters. When he next meets Dolores and she does not recognize him, there is no game mechanic involved in that -- it is a purely role-played situation.

Then something very unusual happens for Superman -- he misses a plot hook. When he sees that Dolores is having a big party on a yacht, he decides not to go. Most players would see that as a plot hook. By passing it up, Superman misses an easy chance to stop the Ultra-Humanite early.

When Superman says Ultra's request for $5 million is the "greatest mass kidnapping ever attempted," I can't find any evidence to prove him wrong.

Superman does a minor leap, wall-climbs up to a high window, and "X-ray visions" a piece of paper inside (though I'm not sure how he would read using X-rays, maybe he is actually using his telescopic vision, which would fall under the Super-Senses power in 2nd edition).

It was never explained how Ultra made the paper materialize in the room. Or why an invention that could do that would not itself be worth $5 million.

Superman is able to stay underwater for over 2 hours. This is the Hold Breath power.

Ultra has a submarine that can fire magnetic ray beams. This invention is also, apparently, not worth $5 million. When assigning $ values to trophy items in 2nd edition, I did hesitate to set them too low, but comics bear out that mad science is never as valuable as crime.

Superman stops Ultra by using the Wreck at Range power to smash a generator at a distance. Then he uses Gust of Wind to blow out Ultra's torch.

Ultra manages to elude Superman by simply jumping into the water. You would think that this would not be much of a stumbling block for someone who can move at super-speed, use telescopic vision, and hold his breath for hours, but clearly Superman's power durations had ended already and he was all out of prepared powers that would help.

And that's the Superman installment.

In Pep Morgan, Pep not only saves the life of racing pilot Jimmy Dee but, recognizing him as a plot hook character, invites him to stay at his house. Jimmy uses some slang, such as the common "crate" for plane, and the uncommon "cop" to mean win (as in "cop that race"). Pep has to climb out onto a plane in flight, later, and climb up to the pilot's seat. In 1st edition, this would have been an aviator stunt called Wing Walking. Now, it's an expert skill check. We know Pep is not a mysteryman (or at best a low-level mysteryman) because he does not have a stunt to burn for an automatic skill check at the end, and he has to wake up Jimmy to get him to land the plane.

Speaking of slang, "Chuck" Dawson uses the phrase "fade out" to refer to his horse not wanting to approach something (so "fade out" must mean "back off" or "back away"). Another cowboy refers to Chuck's gun as his "hardware."

Next is "Clip" Carson, Soldier-of-Fortune. Summarizing his recent adventures, we see he has dealt with a wild lioness, hostile natives, and a "gigantic" serpent (though it does not look like a particularly large constrictor snake). The narrator claims Carson keeps his native porters loyal through "iron will," but actually he threatens to shoot them like a cold-blooded killer any time they talk about deserting him. Carson somehow escapes the stabbing he kinda deserves by "luckily" rolling over in his sleep just in time. It seems like a generous Editor to even require an attack roll in such a situation; I would personally rule it as an automatic hit for maximum damage. Carson gets away with the "last request" stalling tactic when about to be killed by making a successful encounter reaction roll. Carson's trip during the final battle is dramatic, but unsupported by the rules, since it looks like he fumbled (and Hideouts & Hoodlums uses no fumble charts for combat).

(Superman read in Action Comics Archive v. 1; the rest read at


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Feature Comics #28

Phew! Some of the copy of this issue from Quality is of, well, poor quality!

From this page of Joe Palooka that I can read, I see some prices listed. Now, I am highly skeptical of the $3 offer for a used camper -- I suspect Ham Fisher had a really bad experience with campers -- but more interesting to me is Knobby's accepted offer of $10 for car repairs. So much cheaper than today!
I started out thinking that Porto Bello was a joke about mushrooms, but it turns out that Porto Bello is/was a real place in Panama. Panama was controlled by Spain when this took place, but note how not only does everyone there talk in English, but even the signs are written in English.

The phrase "pike ye the dandy" is an unusual one, as I've never seen "pike" used to mean trip before, but it clearly does here.
Ripping right through this issue, we're on Rance Keane already. And speaking of tripping....Even braced, I have trouble believing that Rance could trip a horse like that; surely, the horse's strength and mass would just pull Rance off the roof. In this instance, I would treat it as an opposed grappling attack, even though Rance is not in melee range. If the horse wins, Rance gets pulled off the roof and lands for 1-6 points of damage; if Rance wins, the horse gets pulled over and is prone. I might even give the horse a +2 situational modifier.

I haven't featured The Bungle Family in a while. Here we see George Bungle taking two good smacks to the kisser, each of which should be doing 1-3 points of damage, and walking away from them. He must be a bit of a scrapper; possibly a 1st level fighter with max (or near-max) hit points.

The ineffectiveness of bare knuckle punching in Hideouts & Hoodlums' current edition bothers me. It's realistic, but leads to no one wanting to fight without weapons. I've been thinking about introducing graduated punching damage, so that they do 1-4 points of damage starting at 2nd level, 1-6 points starting at 4th level, 1-8 points starting at 6th level, and so on.

This is The Clock.  We've seen Heroes be able to boss around beat cops before, but never with an excuse this flimsy -- based purely on having been Captain Kane's driver, The Clock is able to wander around the crime scene and pocket evidence.

With little confidence in their new feature Dollman, we find this installment pushed towards the back of the book. The "monsterous machine" is an aquatic tank.

This is why I don't like rats -- you never know when they might have dynamite strapped to them. This would also make for a really dangerous encounter!

This is Reynolds of the Mountains. The bright light blinds them during a surprise attack. Then they lose initiative and receive lucky head blows. Had they won initiative, they could have still tried to attack first, but would have done so at a penalty.

Most of this checks out. The floor board is an improvised club, so that does 1-3 points of damage, but that's enough to trigger a disarm check. More curious is how Reynolds misses Sam. Even assuming Sam is at medium range (that's -2), Sam is wearing no armor, has no cover, and isn't moving fast enough in an accelerating speedboat to get more bonuses -- that gives Sam only slightly worse than 50/50 chances of hitting, better if he's higher level already. I guess he just really got an unlucky die roll!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Keen Detective Funnies v. 3 #1 - pt. 3

This is still Spy Hunters. They may be out in the middle of the Arab world, but I can imagine my players wanting that combat car no matter where they are.

The old man would be called a stool pigeon in an urban campaign. Either way, characters who can share rumors are valuable supporting cast.

Hmm,that's not a very useful map. The markings down in the lower left hand corner look like marsh, but it's highly unlikely there are marshes near this terrain. An oasis, maybe? I also can't find Hardet on a map. I suspect it's a fictional city.

The story isn't very clear on what gave away the ambush. Maybe they were too hasty? Moving at full movement rate is something that might make you lose your surprise turn.

We rejoin The Eye Sees now.  Floating eyes -- based loosely on this feature -- have been in Hideouts & Hoodlums since the beginning. But we can examine those stories more closely now and see what else we can add to them.

The Eye can either use a Disintegrate spell, or can wreck things very thoroughly.

There are several possibilities for this first panel. Floating eyes either have low Armor Class and are hard to hit, have some kind of defensive buffing power, or can use the spell Protection from Normal Missiles.

A car is beyond the limit of the Telekinesis spell for all but high-level magic-users, so this is either proof that they are high-level magic-users, or an example of the Raise Car power, which any low-level superhero can do.

Our last feature is Dean Denton. Doppelgangers were shape-changing mobsters in 1st edition, and were changed in 2nd edition to be the more common archetype of the evil double of one of the Heroes. Here we get the reverse of that -- a good double for one of the villains.

We also get a modified car with a gun slot in the back, and a report of paralytic gas with a remarkable area of effect -- the entire prison!

If you're baffled by how the good double for The Conqueror managed to survive a room pumped full of hydrocyanide gas (hydrocyanide would be hydrogen cyanide, also known as prussic acid), it's because Dean slipped him an antidote in a syringe on the previous page. Dean's antidote seems to deliver immunity for at least 10 minutes.

Dean's list of Supporting Cast Members includes the governor!

And that's it for Keen Detective Funnies. Good bye!

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Keen Detective Funnies v. 3 #1 - pt. 2

No, this isn't a black and white reprint; Centaur was still having financial difficulty at the beginning of 1940 and could not afford to put color on every page.

Dan Dennis shows you that G-Men did not have to observe rules or laws in comic books. Here, rather than getting a warrant for an autopsy in a sterile medical lab, Dan sneaks a complicit medical examiner into a private funeral home and has the examiner perform one in the dark. Interesting verdict on that autopsy -- unless it was skin cancer, there would be no outwardly visible sign of cancer. I wonder how much cutting up the examiner did.

This is Ed Colton. It's interesting how many similarities there are between this scenario and the Masked Marvel story I shared from yesterday, despite that being a mysteryman story and this being a cowboy story.

Ed lays out a good series of clues that can be gathered at a crime scene.

In order to pull off this bluff, Ed took a deliberate 10' fall into a gulch in order to look injured.

I guess there were not too many ranches with plane hangars in the area, so solving the "who done it" part of this mystery was relatively easy. Finding one of them conveniently holding the murder weapon in the hangar certainly helps.

By making it a tripod-mounted weapon, the Editor has made it virtually impossible to use in melee range, to Ed's benefit.

I laughed at first when confronted with the term "liquid oxygen," but it is a real thing and has apparently been used in rocket fuel in the past.

Of course, the caption is way too long, taking up an entire panel, and includes a lot of detail we just do not need to understand the story.

This is Dean Masters, D.A. There are three ways to handle that trick where he sneaks the tear gas grenade out of his pocket. The player could either make a sleight of hand check (basic skill check) to palm the grenade, rely on surprise rolls, or even just rely on initiative rolls to see if he could set it off before Louie could take an action.

Dean tricks Sam into going out into the hallway and getting shot. My first inclination was to say Sam had to save vs. plot to resist fast-talk, but there's not really anything here to resist. Instead, I would say this is an encounter reaction check situation.

Dean wisely doesn't fire into the crowd -- if he rolls low, he runs a risk of hitting a civilian (there's no game mechanic penalty, by the way, for shooting a civilian, but there could be in-game repercussions, like him losing his job.

Sam takes three bullets before he goes down. With those hit points, he must be a master criminal!

Scenario map (though, admittedly, not very detailed).

This is Captain Forsyth & Sergeant Maclean, Spy Hunters -- a title almost longer than its own feature. Here, we see bandits. We are told they are Arab bandits, but counter to typical racism of the day, there are no visual cues to the bandit leader being an Arab, other than a caption telling us.

$50,000 is a fortune in 1940 money.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Keen Detective Funnies v. 3 #1 - pt. 1

We return now to The Masked Marvel, from Centaur. Originally, we had to decide if The Masked Marvel was a mysteryman or a superhero, but by now his skills have grown so mundane that he appears to be just an aviator.

Although, he does display excellent investigation and math skills, which might suggest he is a mysteryman (with their advanced skill checks).
I don't know if I should be sad or glad that my players don't take the time to leave scenarios in progress to go home to their base and check the rifling on bullets recovered for clues. It doesn't even seem to wind up to be that important a clue in this plot.
 "Ach" is our clue that the unnamed saboteur is German.

The way the Masked Marvel really figures out where the killer came from is by tracing the angle of the bullet holes, and this is legitimate forensic science coupled with trigonometry. One could use skill checks for mathematics, but if time is not a big factor, you could just keep making checks until your numbers work out (i.e., you rolled well enough).
That's a big clue to leave behind on the roof (and apparently it never gets too windy up there!). Remember, if you want your players to be able to finish your scenarios, sometimes the clues have to be really big and obvious.

That's a pretty vague and unintimidating silhouette cast on the clouds. Mysterymen are supposed to trigger morale saves when they do stuff like that, but I might give a +1 bonus because I have trouble accepting that is "feared."

That stunt at the end...I would require a to hit roll first to snag the parachute, followed by burning a stunt to make the parachute wrap around the wing like that.

Modern day pirates need a chance to carry firearms as deadly as sub-machine guns.

I'm not a big Spark O'Leary fan, but I have to admit, that's a fairly clever scheme the pirates had to capture a patrol boat. It's also sort of like how H&H play works for players, always trading up one trophy item for a better, more useful one.

Spark's encounter with the half-pints could be a wandering encounter, or could be a fixed encounter planned by the Editor to make sure Spark gets that clue.

Spotting the concealed hinges on those piles was the result of a secret door check (expert skill check).

There is no reason for Spark, a radio news reporter, to be leading a police raid, except that he must be leveling as a fighter and his level title is higher than beat cops' levels.

There is no reason for Spark to have a cold just then, except to stretch out the story -- or to explain a botched surprise roll with flavor text.

A "high-powered car" is a trophy item, the equivalent of a Car +1.

The trap requires the Editor and the players to agree on interpreting the situation -- would a tripwire make a car crash, or would it just drive through it? The situation is somewhat similar to yesterday's post, where The Owl covered a windshield and made bad guys crash, though here I think the chances of a tripwire making a car skid are so low that the save vs. plot to avoid should be at +4.

The drunk is surely a wandering encounter (unless just a freebie from the Editor?).  If the player had wanted to contest the drunk driver getting ahead of him, they could have rolled driving skill checks (basic skill) until one of them failed to see who reached the curve first (or which one came closest to succeeding). It's a simple race and doesn't need a complex mechanical resolution.

Dan Dennis' "danger sense" is not a real thing, in the sense that he has to actively roll for something. If the assassin fails a surprise roll, then Dan's "danger sense" is what warned him of the attack.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Funny Pages v. 4 #1 - pt. 2

We return to Mad Ming. No, that's not Mad Ming at the bottom, though it is pretty crazy to think that Chinese people think in broken English.

No, I included this page because the first panel gives us a great image of a single, multi-level encounter area, plus a reminder to use olfactory clues in describing hideouts to players.

Jinny was revealed on the previous (not shown here) page to be a "safe expert, burglar, and all-round confidence woman" -- in other words, a mysteryman. I had been surprised to learn a while back that the Sandman's companion, Dian Belmont, had an identical criminal background, but apparently this was a pulp fiction trope that both stories drew on.

Jinny uses sleight of hand (a basic skill check) to slip him the mickey while his back is turned, and then lock picking (an expert skill check) on the safe.

I love how this story starts in a library! The big book being carried around in the last three panels is how newspapers used to be bound together for libraries. The [something] Pelican is the name of the newspaper; with an unusual title like that, you might think it was a clue as to where this story takes place. Unfortunately, I can't find a single newspaper called The Pelican before 1949.

Never mind that the cottage is "concealed" behind a gaudy gold-colored boulder and a striped blue and gray boulder -- we can excuse that as careless coloring. But pay attention to the fact that The Owl brought dirt samples back to his geologist father to examine for no particular reason. Your players are really hard up for plot hooks when they start doing things like this.

Here we learn that The Owl's father is completely legless. Cooped up in a remote cabin with nothing else to do, and certainly incapable of going outside for a stroll, Dad fends off cabin fever by endlessly checking his son's soil samples and inventing for him.

The owl costume is able to fly at a Move of 200, which is equal to the Fly IV power. Since that puts the Owl in possession of a very high-level power, I'd like to think this is just a trophy item rather than a class ability.

The big dial-like thing on his chest is a touch-activated radio.

The New York Blade was fictional at the time. Interestingly, a paper would eventually bear that name as of 1997, as a LGBT-oriented newspaper. 

This is when we learn The Owl's real name is Jack.

Jack soothes the irate library patroness with a friendly result on the encounter reaction table.

Covering the windshield just as they take that turn too's another situation that is just about impossible in most game systems to emulate with specific mechanics. Luckily we have the catch-all save vs. plot mechanic here in Hideouts & Hoodlums.  The Editor has to decide if the situation warrants it (I would agree that it does here) and then roll a save vs. plot for the driver, as opposed to the player rolling for his Hero.

Shoily Dimple is almost surely meant to be Shirley Temple.

It's really hard to put a class on The Owl after just one appearance, as he doesn't really do much. I'm inclined to say he's a fighter so far.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Funny Pages v. 4 #1 - pt. 1

We return to Centaur's Funny Pages with a new lead feature. Though signed "Richard Bruce," this is believed to be more early work by Plastic Man's Jack Cole.

Here we see a rare origin story for a magic-user. We get a sense that becoming a magic-user is itself dangerous, perhaps even requiring a save vs. poison!  In Supplement I: National, I used the snake bite panel to illustrate the Snark Charm spell. The snake may have been charmed into biting Mantoka, although snakes don't always need provocation to bite.
Here, seemingly soon thereafter, Mantoka has the ability to Polymorph Self, marking him as at least 7th level.  That a 7th-level magic-user would have to run from four dogs seems unlikely, unless Mantoka simply did not want to engage them and possibly see them hurt.

The electric eye trap is our first indication that this is modern day.
This is a really nice page, with a surprisingly P.C. representation of an Indian as an intelligent, modern man, who doesn't need magic to embarrass a racist.

Then Mantoka seems to use the spell Stoneskin on himself, unless it's a magical variant of the Super-Tough Skin power.

Straining your arm is not linked to any game mechanic, but is flavor text.

Mantoka uses a Gaseous Form spell to escape, then uses Burning Hands (even more literal than the D&D version) on the mine guard.

Mantoka gets felled by a head blow.
Mantoka was only stunned, because no one recovers from full unconsciousness that quickly in Hideouts & Hoodlums.

Being tied up does not hinder his spell-casting, since he seems to have cast Enlargement on himself. Unless, maybe he actually used the wrecking things mechanic on the ropes and enlarging was flavor text.

Mantoka then uses either some new intangibility spell, or maybe an illusion to fool the guards, and then casts a Mass Polymorph spell that turns three men into rats. That's got to be a 6th level spell, meaning Mantoka has ten brevet ranks to cast it! In Supplement I, I used that panel to illustrate the Reincarnate spell, though it does not really match it well.

Freezing the flood was either the work of a Control Water spell or maybe a Cone of Cold spell. In Supplement I, I used that panel to illustrate the spell Ice Storm.
Now we move on to The Arrow.

As illustrated here, movement takes place before combat actions.

We should not be surprised that The Arrow can kill motors and smash guns to bits with his arrows; we have already seen evidence that he should be statted as a superhero, and is using the Wreck at Range power here.
What's puzzling here is the first panel -- what is going on when they hit the blank wall? Did The Arrow teleport out of the way? Project an illusion of himself being in front of that wall? Or is this skill-based, and he hid in shadows?

That the Arrow is able to take out a thug (generally 2 HD in H&H) in one punch suggests that he is buffed with the Get Tough power. Hitting four men in one turn suggests he is also buffed with the Flurry of Blows power.

This is Mad Ming, though you won't see any evidence of Mad Ming on this page. Gene is a G-Man, Jinny is his ...girlfriend? The old man is a plot hook character, possibly also a supporting cast member (we'll have to see if we see more of him after this). The old man fails his loyalty check and refuses to go down into the hideout/haunted cave.

Jinny's response includes the unusual phrase "Not much!" when she means "No way!"

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)