Thursday, May 23, 2019

Science Comics #1 - pt. 1

This is an exciting day for me; in the past, I have been reading comic books where I was familiar with at least one character from every issue, but now we finally reach Fox's Science Comics, I title I have never sampled before, with forgotten heroes I've never read and, in some cases, never even seen pictures of before!

But, I think I will ultimately wind up feeling disappointed instead of feeling like I've found hidden gems. Because we're starting with the Eagle, a character whose artificial wings make him look more like a hummingbird than an eagle.

Game mechanics: The Eagle's player will not need to keep a running tally of how much anti-gravitation fluid he has left, as I suspect this is just flavor text explaining how his flight powers work.
As I showed an example of a Supporting Cast Member being used well yesterday (emergency evacuation from a hideout), today we have another good use of one, as a plot hook collector/dispenser.
Here is a clear example of a wandering encounter; something uncommon in normally tightly plotted eight-page adventures. I can't even say that's an example of a drunken hoodlum in the car; the situation as a whole, more so than the occupant, is what the Hero can choose to deal with.
Here the Eagle makes an unusual choice. He could have tried just following the car from the air -- unless his flight power is so slow that he cannot keep up with a car in city traffic. Instead, he decides to target just one mobster and force information out of him. Now, perhaps he chooses this method just to get a feel for the opposition first. If the hoodlum blows his morale save immediately, chances are the Eagle is going to be facing some very low Hit Die mobsters. This could be especially important in a "sandbox" campaign setting where the hideouts of various challenge levels are all preset and the players won't know which are which.

I included this page, not to ridicule it (though it may be deserving), but to discuss old school maps and the scale of hideouts. Bear in mind that, to keep the aesthetic of old school D&D maps, many rooms in the hideout are going to be 20' x 20' at the smallest, and many 30' x 30' or even 40' x 40'. These larger rooms give you a lot more leeway to stage encounters in -- as you see here -- even though the room dimensions are not realistic.

And now we move on already to the second feature, Electro! This superhero is tied with Timely Comics' robot Electro, who also debuts this same month, and waayy before the Spider-Man villain. 

Here we quickly get his origin story -- Jim Andrews is electrocuted, but instead of killing him he gets superpowers. Right off the bat, he's lifting heavy machinery that looks heavier than a car -- Raise Elephant power?
And he can do the Light spell too, unless we make a power for that.


Here we find an interesting rationale for why superheroes wear distinctive uniforms -- because they can't live as normal humans anymore, they don't want to dress like them. Doesn't explain why so many maintain secret identities, though.

Of all the fake names for Germany I've seen, Moronia is still my favorite, but Gerlandia might be my second favorite.

Although you don't often hear about FDR's children, Franklin Roosevelt did have a then-33-year-old daughter, Anna. He also had four sons, so it's more than a bit sexist to ignore them and go after the one daughter.


Here Electro is shown how he flies by riding on electric beams -- not that it makes any sense, but hey, you can explain your powers anyway you want as long as you filled one of your power slots with it.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pep Comics #2 - pt. 3

We're still watching Sergeant Boyle's one-man war against the Nazis -- not fictional stand-ins either, mind you, but real deal Nazis. By 1940, more and more comic book creators are going to take a more direct position on the War in Europe.


Game mechanics discussion: I'm less interested in how black eyes are achieved (flavor text) or how Boyle rips down that telephone line pole (wrecking things), but by the double agent's sudden recovery from failing a morale save. I never addressed this before, but should morale results have a random duration? Or did he just get a new morale save when the circumstances changed?
That's a fairly impressive rendering of a battle scene, but it's all flavor text if the Hero is not involved in it. Or is it? Hideouts & Hoodlums does not emulate this sort of large-scale battle well -- I can't think of any RPGs that do -- but what if the game was set aside at this point and the referee and player switched to wargaming to resolve the scenario?

Boyle has until June 14, 1940 to enjoy tranquility in Paris.

Wowee, look at that Mort Meskin half-splash page! You know, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were still a year away from the iconic work they are best known for, so at this early stage it may be Mort who comes in second behind Eisner for most dynamic page layouts!

Although we aren't given an exact time frame, it seems clear that Press Guardian has been undercover with the bund for some time, possibly weeks.

"Moronia" is a great fictionalized name for Nazi Germany.

Although this page superficially looks pretty good, the combat is confusing and hard to follow. Press Guardian was shot on the previous page but is fine now. Was he buffed with a defensive power? Wearing a bulletproof vest? Just took minimal damage and shrugged off the hit point loss?

When he's knocked down, is Press Guardian just playing possum until Von Leo turns around, or was PG really stunned?

PG's leap seems like something a normal person could attempt with a skill check.

Calling in the valet who also happens to be a pilot is an excellent use of Supporting Cast.

This is Manly Wade Wellman's Fu Chang. The art by Lin Streeter is amateurish and the story is not much better, though I am intrigued both by the summoning spell, which seems to require a magic potion...
...but more importantly, the tiger-devil. A tiger-devil has a gaze attack that paralyzes...

...and I think we see here that it can also turn to gaseous form. I'm inclined to give tiger-devils 8 Hit Dice, making them on par with vampires.
Although this fight is said to take seconds in length, in H&H terms it is three turns long, or 90 seconds (in 2nd edition, 180 seconds in 1st edition).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Pep Comics #2 - pt. 2

Next up is Jack Cole's second installment of The Comet. The Comet is on the trail of a master criminal who appears to have magical powers -- he can make his face appear in the clouds at giant size, and he can make armored cars leap into the air and disappear. Spoiler -- all this is going to be explained by the end, as he's actually just another mad scientist.

The adventure takes place in the Everglades -- coincidentally where RT2 Adventures in Fun World, the third published Hideouts & Hoodlums adventure, takes place.

If the armored car companies are keeping the disappearances a secret, then how does The Comet know where each of the cars disappeared, accurately enough to put on a map...?

Usually, when you see 11 x's on a map, you can triangulate to some central point, or see some other pattern involved. In this case, The Comet still has to spend a whole two weeks flying around, just hoping to spot a clue from above.

A phone booth concealed in a tree is a pretty good clue. Wireless communication would have made it a lot harder to follow this clue. Also, had The Comet just kept flying instead of using the boat, he would have missed the hideout altogether. Maybe it's because the duration ran out on his fly power...?

It's unclear if The Comet was hurt and stunned by the whirlpool, or if the two thugs succeeded in winning the initiative and getting their grappling attacks in first.

Noiseless electronic motors might count as a mad science invention by 1940 standards.

Here we get the explanation for the giant face in the sky. I've written before about how much more convincing two-dimensional projections must be in a comic book universe (metaphysical commentary on the two-dimensional nature of their universe?). Projecting onto clouds would fool no one in the real world.

The Comet has a much different idea of what "success" is than I do; I would be much less cavalier about nearly smashing my own eye to a pulp. Just looking at that panel makes me a little woozy!

Oh, one last spoiler -- the armored cars are being lifted into the sky via magnets on cables that no one sees because it's dark.
So now we're moving on to the next feature, which is Rocket and the Queen of Diamonds. Rocket is a Flash Gordon clone, although one who never seems to think it's appropriate to put on a shirt or pants. Maybe he thinks that's okay because his bad guys wear midriffs, cutoffs, and starfish on their heads.

This was written by prolific author Manly Wade Wellman, who will go on to do better things.


A few game mechanics points here: the guy with the baby rattle delivering a knockout headblow just by outflanking Rocket, which I am not comfortable with. I'm going to keep the headblow to just surprise attacks.

I can imagine there are some positions one could chain someone
up in that would limit their ability to use leverage; this doesn't look like one of them. Since Rocket can just push against the floor to break his bonds, I might even give him a bonus in this case.

I don't show you the page where the drugged Rocket attacks the queen because he doesn't know what he's doing, but the injected drug reminds me a lot of the Confusion spell.

Rocket rather cleverly creates a crowbar for himself using his wrecking things, and I could see rewarding that ingenuity with a +1 bonus to his wrecking things roll (and this time he'll need it to get through a stone wall).

Giant water bugs belong in the Mobster Manual, though they do pop apart awfully easy. They look pretty fierce, though...maybe 1+1 Hit Dice?  

I think panel 1 clearly shows giant water-bugs being encountered in a group of eight.

False walls are found the same as secret doors.

This is supposedly by Charles Biro, but if he drew this, it had to be a rush job and far from his best work.


Snipers are statted as assassins in the Mobster Manual.

Here and on the next page we get a rare example -- outside the cowboy genre, anyway -- of using fire to trigger a morale save.

I can't say I ever sympathized with a Nazi guard in a comic book before, but this poor guy who doesn't know how he wound up this way, but just wants to pet a kitten, this guy I wish had at least gotten a fair fight against Boyle.

As per the rules for guards in all fiction, the stolen uniform has to be exactly the right size to fit.

That is a terrible secret code. However, if you want your players to feel like they're deciphering a code, without having to put any real work into it, this might be the code for you.

I like the compass! We almost never get a sense of direction in our comic book panels.

Boyle demonstrates the save vs. missiles and how that applies to guns here.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Pep Comics #2 - pt. 1

We're back to MLJ and my second favorite MLJ superhero, The Shield!

As you can see here, today's adventure is going to take place in (and en route to) "Porto Rico."  Now, this may seem on the face of it to be one of those times where the comic book writers fictionalized a country name by changing it slightly, but it actually was called Porto Rico from 1898 to 1931! (Our author here, Harry Shorten, may have been just nine years behind the times...)
I understand the cabin doors on a boat are pretty thick, so maybe it makes sense that the Shield needs a special device to listen at one. It might make even more sense when you consider that the Shield is wearing a mask with extra ear covering on it. Yet, I am hesitant to introduce too many negative modifiers to skill checks. I would especially hate to penalize someone for coming up with an inventive, but impractical, superhero costume.

Instead of referring to the villains outright as Germans, they are just called "Nordics" here.
We've been seeing superheroes jumping out of planes in movies a lot lately, but the Shield might have been the first. He lands safely, partly because he's landing in water and water landings are almost always safe in comic books...but, just in case, it might help to have a Feather Landing power activated.
I'm sharing this page, not so much because it informs us, so much as because it confuses me. In panel 5, a man yells, "A hit!" but we don't actually see the shell connect. Does the man just think it was a hit, but is mistaken? What does it mean that the Shield "escaped?" Did he dodge, or did the shell bounce off him?

I'm going to have to toss out here now that I'm not really a fan of the earliest Shield stories, and I can't wait for Irv Novick's art to improve (it does, later).
The Shield has the Super-Tough Skin power activated, or his armor grants him the Super-Tough Skin power. We also have examples of Wrecking Things being used (door category, mainly), and possibly a stacking of Extend Missile Range I and Multi-Attack to get that throw that knocks over multiple crew members (should be no more than three, though).
"Done Went McGinty" is a 1889 song written by Joseph Flynn; this is its comic book debut, and possibly only appearance of the song.

Shield is likely protected by one of the higher level defensive buffing powers, at least Imperviousness, to shrug off grenades like that.
I'm not really sure what the Shield's plan is here...but I suspect he buffed himself with Resist Fire, and then figured if he had flaming kerosene all over his body...he would set the enemy ship ablaze and sink it? It seems like it would be a lot easier just to land on the other ship and start wrecking it, but I have to admit this is pretty visually interesting.
That paralysis raygun sure came out of nowhere -- but that's very appropriate for Hideouts & Hoodlums, a game where you might not even know what trophy items are going to come into play until you roll up the encounter. Or, to look at it from the other direction, golden age comic books like this are perfectly emulated through randomness. 

The sharks are encountered in a group of at least four.
Being moist protects you from rays? I'd have an easier time believing that he just made his saving throw this time.

Panel 4 shows off the awkwardness of the Shield's thong-back costume.

Speaking of his costume, where do you suppose the pocket is located where he kept that shield-shaped calling card?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

More Fun Comics #52

After a long time away we return to DC's very first series, just in time for the debut of its first superhero, the Spectre!

Jim Corrigan is a still-living police detective when we first meet him. Single-handedly, with just his fists, he defeats three thieves and a guard (which seems like it must have been some pretty lucky rolling). He's also a bully, mistreating his best friend and fiancee (though maybe not so much by 1940 standards), so it's hard to feel sorry for him when the master criminal "Gat" Benson and two hoodlums stick him in a barrel full of concrete and drop him in the river. 

Jim dies, but his soul ascends to Heaven on a shaft of light. A voice speaks to him from the clouds -- it's all much less detailed than the versions of the Afterlife we've already seen from Will Eisner's Yarko the Great stories.

Returning as a ghost, Jim finds that he is now immune (or at least highly resistant?) to drowning, can fly, turn invisible (though he only knows he turned invisible because he had no shadow...?), and pass through walls.


Game mechanics: It's clear that Jim is now a Magic-User, as the four spells he just cast were Water Breathing, Fly, Invisibility, and Passwall. All of which are way beyond what a 1st-level Magic-User would be able to cast, but if there was ever a good candidate for brevet ranks, it's the Spectre.

Another possibility is that we just assign more special abilities to the ghost race that was introduced in Supplement V: Big Bang.

What remains unclear is, does Jim retain his level in the fighter class from when his campaign started? Or has the Editor allowed his player to start over with essentially a new character with the same name and supporting cast?


In a gag filler called Henrietta, we see a new bicycle selling for $25.

We pick up with Wing Brady where we left off, with him helping the colonists (the bad guys, from our modern perspective) against the natives/nomads (the good guys). Normally, it's the Westerners who are shown having air support in these adventures, but this time the tables are cleverly turned. While Wing and the British are holed up in a desert fort, the nomad besiegers call in an air strike by a light bomber.

The bomber is also a plot device, shaping the scenario by creating gaps in the walls where small-scale combats can take place, as the natives try to pour through.  

(Spectre story read in The Golden Age Spectre Archives vol. 1; started to read the rest at readcomiconline, but then the site started trying some suspicious activity...)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tip Top Comics #42, 46

We'll start again with Hawkshaw the Detective, not because I believe that you could really use a magnet to detect a concealed sword cane (or at least no ordinary-sized magnet), but because this is the first time I've ever seen "corporation" used as a slang term for a fat stomach (apparently that's a real thing).
 Is $15 reasonable for a watchdog in 1940, or is it a bargain?
I think I can relate to Phil Fumble. Maybe not literally, but I've had days that felt like this.

Anyway, it's interesting to see the number of threats you can encounter in a farm setting, from runaway pigs, biting geese, charging bulls, terrorizing hawks, swarming bees, racing dogs, and butting goats. Of them, pigs, bulls, dogs, and goats are statted for the game. I really don't think a goose, a hawk, or a bunch of bees is enough of a threat for Heroes.
This is the first new feature in Tip Top Comics since I started reading these! We know Hal Forrest from Tailspin Tommy, another aviator strip that wasn't very good. I suspect he got so much work in comics because his name was so close to Hal Foster, the legend behind the Prince Valiant comic strip.

Anyway, here we learn that the license number for planes (like VINs on cars) are hidden on the underside of wings and you can check with the Dept. of Commerce to find out who owns them (actually, I think we learned at least most of this from another strip before; I just don't remember the numbers being on the wings).
Two points here: one, if I'm really serious about making half-pints an official H&H Hero race, I need to think about setting more strict encumbrance restrictions on them than for full-grown adults. What's a good weight limit for a 10 year old? 50 lbs.?

And the other issue is the very real issue of child labor that I keep seeing in these strips (I almost brought this up earlier this week, with evidence from another strip). It seems like any unsavory character could get away with charging a kid just $1-2 a week.
I'm even more concerned about this short strip, and the cheap availability of poison in 1940. It might tempt players to go out and buy 50 cents worth of rat poison if it can make hoodlums sick, but this seems very un-Heroic behavior to me and should trigger a save vs. plot to carry out.
And, lastly, Ella Cinders teaches us that balcony seats are just 40 cents. And the robber shows us an uncommon stick-up method (I feel like I've seen that in a movie before, but I can't remember which!).

And that's it! I am done with Tip Top Comics for quite some time!  Woo! Next time, we go back to More Fun Comics and the debut of the Spectre!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Tip Top Comics #32, 35, 42

Almost caught up and going to be done with Tip Top Comics soon!  Woo!

Pricing information: $2 gets you a boy's shirt. Not as high-quality a shirt as Frankie supposed, since it tears so easily, but this ties in with what I was talking about yesterday; keeping starting price points really low, but increasing the price along with quality.
We have recently seen a heroic black lifeguard in the pages of this comic book, but we have perhaps seen no black character as heroic as this racistly-drawn maid who risks her neck to protect Frankie and disciplines the villain in the end.
I included this story because a jewel that can share a preprogrammed phantasmal image showing why the jewel was given as a gift seems like a pretty neat magic item for the game.
I include this one because the Mobster Manual is going to have an entry for sphinxes and I was perplexed by this reference to sphinxes having to do with the number seven. I have done some cursory research and can find no evidence to back this one up -- unless it is an obscure reference to the theory once proposed that the answer to the Sphinx's Riddle ("What has four legs in the morning," etc.) is the philosopher's stone, and the philosopher's stone apparently has some numerical symbolism with seven.
Jumping ahead to March 1939 (vol. 3, no. 11), we rejoin Hawkshaw discovering a gas trap with an unusual -- and a bit unbelievable -- trigger. I would not think the balloons would be able to fall onto even the sharpest arrowheads hard enough to pop them, assuming the arrowheads stayed upright...although, maybe razor-sharp caltrops would work?
I was really expecting there to be something in that barrel before Pastey rolled it at the cops ... glue, oil, razor-sharp caltrops, maybe? I guess it didn't matter because, if a barrel is rolling fast enough and hits your wheel hard enough, maybe it could do this kind of damage...? This will need to be an obstacle in vehicular combat.
If you've ever wondered where monkey sidekicks in comic books come from, you could buy them in pet stores, according to Dick Moores.
For all your 1939 selfie needs, yes, cameras had timers back then.
And we return to Hawkshaw now a few months later (Oct. 1939, vol. 4, no. 6) because he's encountered some traps both mundane and hi-tech. A mundane trap is having trellises appear to be easy access to your hideouts' second story windows, but then rig the trellises so they are easy to push over, or to fall on their own. A hi-tech trap is to rig machinery to the window that passes current through it, shocking anyone who comes in for x amount of damage.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)