Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Planet Comics #2 - pt. 1

If this issue looks familiar, it's because I reviewed Fox's Science Comics not too long ago, and both were farmed out to the Eisner/Iger shop -- and both done on the cheap. Although four-panel pages are not so rare nowadays, in 1940, this was purely a cost-saving measure to stretch out stories to fill more pages. You'll see much more of that on the pages to follow. Indeed, much of this post will be more of a rant than any constructive discussion of how to emulate golden age comic books with Hideouts & Hoodlums.

For instance, it's impossible to ignore the blatant plagiarism in these early comic books, particularly when it comes to swiping from successful comic strips. Here we have hawkmen, straight out of Flash Gordon. 
This feature is a new one, by the way, Planet Payson. Is Planet his first name, I wonder? I doubt we'll ever know.

Despite my rantings, there are interesting fantasy elements here -- the completely impossible castles in the clouds, and the mythological aspect of explaining how thunder and lightning happen.
The artist here is George Tuska, practically the Sal Buscema of 1940, given how prolific his work was. You can see he was fast by how much empty space he leaves, giant panels he uses, and sometimes appalling lack of detail. Like panel 2, with the nearly empty spaceship. Planet is standing behind the steering column, with no seat. There's a door, some...air vents over the door? ...and that weird row of rivets that runs down the wall and into the floor (and that was clearly a mistake left in, since there's no change in perspective for the rivets on the floor). And yet, George still found time to draw Planet's personal masseuse giving him a shoulder rub...
The proportions look all off on that one-man tank, like there is only a head inside it (maybe there is...?), but a one-man tank should be a good trophy item. Unfortunately, it's slow to turn at corners, so corners must be the best place to ambush them from.

It's never mentioned what race Buzzlark's people are. It's tempting to say the buzzard-men vs. the hawk-men, but the "buzzard-men" have no birdlike features.

Roland has never heard of honor in combat; although the guard is running up to him unarmed, Roland still shoots him in the face at point blank range with his rifle (it looks like the helmet is melting from it -- heat ray?). At least Planet turns his gun around to use as a clubbing weapon.

Four-to-one odds are too much for Planet, which makes sense, with him being a 1st-level fighter/beat cop.

At first it seems odd that the "buzzard-men" stripped Planet and Roland down to their underwear before putting them in the "electro tubes." But then, when I think about how often good guys have managed to escape with concealed gadgets, maybe this makes a lot of sense.

Electricity doesn't, technically, dissolve things. I wonder why they aren't just in acid tubes if they wanted to do that.

A sting ray gun is a curious thing. Does the ray somehow project poison into the target? 

This is from inside the next feature, Flint Baker. Flint is an Earth man on Mars, having to deal with problems like this four-armed giant. Although not white, the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs' white apes is unmistakable, and the size of this thing oddly presages the white apes in the 2012 John Carter movie more closely than the book versions do.


White apes are 4 Hit Dice. If we applied the large/huge/giant structure to that, then giant white apes would be 16 HD, which is indeed pretty fearsome.

10 miles per minute is 600 MPH. A car won't go this fast until 1970, and of course most cars still don't go this fast today.

I'm going to spare you the gruesome page of how they kill the giant "white" ape...but you may be able to guess it by the trajectory of the spaceship...
This page highlights some of Flint's equipment, including "rocket-propelled degravitation rods" that look suspiciously like pogo sticks. Or maybe they operate more like vertical witches' broomsticks?


The rayguns seem to allow to wreck at range, which we've seen before. Being able to crumble the ground, even if the ground was thin at that point, should require being able to wreck as a 4th-level superhero, at least. Of course, this could be the Dig power instead (and might make more sense to be).

This page poses an interesting game mechanics problem. If you're trying to move a giant object -- like a dead hand -- what do you roll for that? It can't be grappling, because the dead hand can't grapple you back. It *could* be pushing, moving the hand 1' per point of damage, but that rule assumes your opponent is roughly your size or smaller. Although I'm not a big fan of ability score checks, I think a Strength check -- rolling your STR or less on 1d20 -- is the best way to go with this.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Friday, July 26, 2019

Adventure Comics #47 - pt. 3

Rusty and His Pals is worth mentioning for its setting; the old mansion with suits of armor, the graveyard, and the old-style inn back in the village all feel like they could have stepped out of a D&D module.

Anchors Aweigh still pleases sometimes, even though Fred Guardineer hasn't worked on it in eight months. In this installment, Lt. Commander Kerry is captured by Capt. Skinner. Skinner isn't your typical villain; he'd rather bribe Kerry than kill him and is willing to offer a cool million. I'm not sure how many players I've ever had who would turn that down as quickly as Kerry does.

In an unexpected twist, Skinner explains how modern day zombies are made, with witch doctors using drugs that leaves someone "mentally dead."In typical racist fashion, the Caribbean natives are not shown wearing normal clothes, but wear shorts and fight with spiked clubs. The witch doctor gives Kerry an antidote to get Skinner back for trying to get out of paying him.

Cotton Carver disarms a group of spear-wielding natives (The First Ones - this is stolen right out of Warlords of Mars and the Black Martians) by flying low and hitting their spears with his one-man flyer. As long-time blog readers know, I'm not comfortable with allowing multiple attacks in the same turn as often as it happens in the comics for the sake of brevity.

Oddly, although the flyer clearly has a wheel on it, it's turned around by use of a lever.

Cotton is knocked out from behind by a head blow.

The First Ones live in caves high up on cliffs that can only be reached by tall ladders, or by being pulled up on what look like swings. The First Ones put Cotton in the worst deathtrap ever; they leave him sitting out with his hands tied, waiting for vultures to eat him, though the vultures won't touch him until he dies of starvation several days from now. In retaliation for being minorly inconvenienced by this "death"trap, Cotton throws their leader off the cliff, and shoots two of his guards.

(Read at readcomiconline.to.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Adventure Comics #47 - pt. 2

Moving on to Jerry Siegel's Federal Men...so often, it's senators or generals being bumped off in comic books that it's novel when a government employee with a distinctly different job title is going to be killed. This one is particularly novel, because the position of "Commissioner of National Functions" seems entirely fictional. Even the "Eastern Exposition" is fake, which is weird because it almost surely refers to the New York World's Fair, and DC has already had plenty of stories referring to the New York World's Fair by name.

The plot is a little strange; Steve Carson is knocked out and left in a house with a dying man. Normally, in a story, this is to frame someone for the murder, but the story never goes there.


Another wrinkle is that the murderer isn't a spy, but an anarchist (which have been statted for the game since Supplement I).

At one point, Steve appears to get two completely different actions, taking a warning shot to alert the commissioner and then attacking the murderer/anarchist before the m/a gets to act. Normally, if the bad guy knows you're there, you don't get a surprise attack. I believe, even though the m/a clearly knows Steve is there, Steve still gets a surprise action because the warning shot is so unexpected. Then Steve wins initiative on his first turn of regular combat.


Socko Strong is in Hollywood starring in a boxing movie. The director is Solly Lloyd and the rival star is Monte Swift, neither of which sounds familiar and are likely not stand-ins for any particular real life people. Monte is able to bribe someone on set to put Socko in danger for just $100. Later, Solly throws a party at his castle -- that's right, he's one of those eccentric rich people who have medieval castles built for them in the U.S., and he's even had deathtraps built into it, purely for his own amusement. Monte traps Socko in a pit with a locked cover that he can fill up with water.

Captain Desmo's enemy, Vasili Gerke, has taken a precaution that few game referees use because in most uses it would seem anticlimactic, but he has guards stationed outside his hideout, tasked with shooting at anyone escaping. One exit has a single sniper watching it, while another exit has a machine gun nest stationed over it.

Having escaped via swimming, and his sidekick Gabby having taken on too much water, Desmo has to perform artificial respiration, which in 1940 still means tipping someone face down and holding them by the ribs.

Desmo uses some unusual dialogue, once saying "We're one rifle to the good," which is either poorly written dialogue or maybe an archaic way of saying "We're one rifle better off than we were." He also uses the phrase "bite the dust," being the first time I've encountered this in a comic book.

Desmo can be a jerk, blaming the two guards that he knocks off a cliff to their deaths for "getting so close to the edge."


Does using a gun grant a bonus to a wrecking things roll? Perhaps it should, to justify why Heroes would go the trouble when the noise can so clearly alert the entire hideout (as it does in this story).

Steve Conrad is back after a long break. Steve Conrad's adventure is a bit risque, with him trying to rescue a woman who is grabbed off the street and dragged into a brothel. How do Steve and his sidekick Chang know it's a brothel from outside...? Steve, like a player who's being too cautious for his Editor's plot hooks to work, backs down when the brothel's side entrance is guarded by six yellow peril hoodlums. Only when he reads later in the paper that the girl is the police commissioner's daughter is he shamed into investigating further.

Maybe it's understandable that Steve chickened out earlier; when he comes back, he is bonked over the head and captured immediately. The Editor scales down the scenario to make it less challenging, but goes too far; after Chang rescues Steve, they find all the bad guys are on opium highs and easily tied up.

(Read at readcomiconline.to.)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Adventure Comics #47 - pt. 1

It's been nine months since I've last covered the early adventures of the Sandman! This is what happens when I cover so many titles, in such detail...

This story opens with a newspaper article detailing a murder the Sandman is about to investigate. The article is signed by Ogden Whitney, who's been drawing this feature since last issue. Ogden is good, but Bert Christman and Craig Flessel were just that much better...

I'm not surprised that Wesley Dodds was friends with the dead man, as Wesley has one of the richest backstories of early comic book heroes and knows practically everyone. Gardner Fox is starting to tinker with that backstory, though, changing Dodds from a billionaire to a millionaire. And this is the issue where he gives Wesley is his first partner. Being big on strong, equal female partners, it is hardly surprise that Dian Ware is an expert safecracker and resourceful enough to have learned or deduced the Sandman's secret identity (though it's never revealed how). Known as "The Lady in Evening Clothes," Dian even sounds like a mysteryman (or a Victorian one).

The murder weapon is a Corson repeater. I can't find any evidence that's a real thing, but I'm fine with that. I was way too specific about firearms in 1st edition Hideouts & Hoodlums and pulled back from that in 2nd ed.

Sandman still shows some willingness to act in a Chaotic manner, gassing the District Attorney when he won't cooperate and give the evidence back that Sandman already gave to him.

In a firefight with two mobsters armed with sub-machine guns, we see simultaneous initiative, with Sandman gassing them just as one of them shoots Sandman in the shoulder. We also see that Sandman has no control over who is knocked out within the area of effect of the gas, as Dian goes down too. Sandman is weakened by his injury, gradually losing consciousness, which is not a condition covered by the rules, and it takes him a week to recover (players can thank me ignoring this in the rules later!).

Trigger, the killer, is held on $1,000 bond, but for breaking and entering (the police haven't nailed him on murder yet). 

When Sandman confronts Black Bill, Trigger's boss, he mentions Bill isn't as fast as he used to be (more of that backstory I enjoy so much).

Sandman is still not widely recognized on sight; District Attorney Belmont's butler doesn't recognize Sandman by costume until Dian introduces him.

Belmont has three detectives on guard duty in his house, all armed with sub-machine guns. Surely they are not there full-time, but I don't know how Belmont anticipated Sandman coming.

In a nice twist, Dian turns out to be D.A. Belmont's daughter. Unfortunately, as soon as this happens she is "domesticated" and never shows her safecracking skills again. That Wesley falls for her is evident in that he lets her take off his mask and kiss him where her father might see.

Moving on to Barry O'Neill...I'm not sure when Barry went from assisting the French police to working with French espionage, but it seems to have been a gradual transition.  Of course it starts in Paris, because all adventures in France feature Paris. The Village of Vereux is misspelled as Veraux (intentionally?), while Polmere seems entirely fictional.

Barry is able to win initiative against the fake Inspector Le Grand, despite the fact that the doppelganger has a gun trained on Barry's back already; more proof that facing is of little importance for Hideouts & Hoodlums. The doppelganger must have had only a superficial resemblance to Le Grand, as he had to wear a partial face mask to conceal the rest. That the doppelganger is known as Number 37 by his fellow spies suggest that there are at least 37 spies in this spy ring.

Barry scores a direct hit with a grenade and blows up a building. Area of effect damage does not normally need a direct hit, and certainly doesn't for damaging structures. This may be only flavor text, describing how Barry rolled really well for damage.

The spies' car has a concealed radio transmitter in it, which is something good to add to the add-ons list for transport trophies.

(Sandman story read in Golden Age Sandman Archives vol. 1, the rest read at readcomiconline.to.)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fight Comics #2 - pt. 3

If you've been worried about poor Kinks Mason and how he's going to get out of this pickle since my last post, you can see that he still has his hands full. The seaweed men turn out to be quite the challenge, with fist attacks seemingly having little effect on them. Now, it's also possible that Kink's punch just "missed" and did no damage, but to make the seaweed men more challenging, I'd like to make blunt attacks do half-damage to them.
The Navy would be shocked to learn that submarines can be run with one-man crews. Who knew? Now, I'm not sure what the minimum number of crew members required to pilot a submarine actually is, but I'm pretty sure it's higher. High enough that even an expert skill check shouldn't make this possible...

Also, we see Kinks loading a vacuum cleaner into a firing tube. Oops -- I guess that's actually supposed to be a torpedo?

Only here at the very end do we get the cool name of binding weed for this environmental threat.

Chlorophyll is super-effective on binding weed and seaweed men; more of it makes the former grow super-fast and lack of it kills the latter almost instantly.
This is Fletcher Hanks' Big Red McLane, King of the Northwoods. I include it because fighting fires sometimes comes up in scenarios and it's good to know how wide you need to dig your trenches to keep a forest fire from spreading.
Red is quite the high-kicker! I'm not sure, though, if using his feet should really give him any advantage at disarming opponents.

Heavyweights might qualify for a mobster entry, but I already have one for boxers in the Mobster Manual (it's coming -- someday!). Perhaps a note about heavyweights in their entry would suffice, rather than their own entry. Heavyweights might have +1 hit point and do +1 damage punching.

The term "palooka" predates the character Joe Palooka by at least a decade.
This is Oran of the Jungle. Oran is still a bizarre character, combining the urban prize fighter with the jungle hero. What concerns me here is whether Oran should be able to drag two people at once. I've previously talked about how a drag attack would work, mechanically, like a push attack, but in reverse. It's also in the rules that, if your opponents are also unarmed, you can make two unarmed attacks per turn. So yes, it is feasible to drag two opponents at once...

However, given the distance involved here, and that Oran needs to drag them over obstacles (the ropes), I might rule that Oran has to also succeed at grappling checks first, to make sure he can hold them long enough to drag them that far.
This is Terry O'Brien, Gang Smasher, though you wouldn't know he was a gang smasher since he seems to be a fairly ordinary boxer here.

There's something interesting in here, about how the Killer gains the upper hand by "craftily clinching" with Terry. For the Hideouts & Hoodlums rules to reflect this, there would need to be a space rule, where weapons need a minimum amount of space to be effective, allowing opponents to close into that space. It does require more preciseness to combat than H&H normally requires (even facing is rarely considered, except for back attacks). If you close so tight that your opponent can't get in a cross, can you only jab (a punch with a shorter space, but does lower damage?).

If we did institute this rule, we'd have to consider how to counter it. Does your opponent have to use the rest of his turn taking a 5' step back? 
This is "Strut" Warren of the U.S. Marines. Klaus Nordling is the artist and I enjoy his cartoony style here.

Here he battles a sumo wrestler, who I may need to stat as a mobster type. It hurts to punch a sumo wrestler (1 point of damage to self?), but other forms of unarmed combat, like kicking, work fine. In fact, sumos might be extra vulnerable to kicking (+1 damage?).

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Fight Comics #2 - pt. 2

I really expected Saber to be a one-shot, but he's back -- and wearing more than his underwear this time!

Yes, while other Heroes are gathering information and following leads to uncover spies, Saber just has to walk into a room and immediately senses them. I wonder if we need a Detect Spy power, and not just Detect Evil...
So often the term "freeze" is not literal when applied to paralysis, so it's somewhat novel to learn that the paralyzation raygun the Antarticans are using is actually a freeze ray.

Saber doesn't even have to fill out paperwork to requisition an electro-heat ray gun. He just asks for it and he gets it!
You can tell the filler strips by how they stretch out a story by enlarging the panels. There is little here that warrants a three-panel page -- though I do like the visual of the fore-mounted ray guns on the submarines, all firing in the reader's direction...
No one knew about climate change in 1940. Imagine, expecting there to be ice around Antarctica in the future!

Although called a ray gun, the "electro-heat" seems more like a protective feature of the submarine. Resistance to Cold?
Remarkably, the crews of these submarines are still alive, despite being underwater for who knows how long in paralyzed submarines.

Yes, it seems like a strategic victory, blowing up the munitions plants and air bases...but if the Antarcticans put those things within their city, and you blow up the city...war crimes? A far more satisfying story would have been Saber infiltrating the city and sabotaging the munitions plants and air bases from within.
What a drop in art quality poor Kayo Kirby endured this month! William Willis does us no favors on this sketchy, near background-less work. The story is surprisingly deep, with Kayo almost losing the will to live after his career tanks, but making a comeback after a new manager shows he believes in him.

I wonder what drug this is, that a little drop mixed in water can make a boxer this much. At the end of the story, when Kirby realizes what had happened and catches someone trying to drug his water again, he forces that man to drink it and that man drops on the spot. Powerful stuff!
This is Kinks Mason. A ketch is a two-masted sailboat.

Sargasso is a legitimate problem for sailing ships, but this seaweed seems intentionally grabbing the board. I can't decide, though, if I would stat Slimy Seaweed as a mobster, or treat it as an environmental hazard...
Seaweed Men seem like an unique spin on mermen. These creatures are half-plant, half-animal, with their heads in a literally vegetative state to varying degrees. They must be tough too -- three of them are able to overpower Kinks before Kinks can even draw that knife at his side!

Hmm...whirlpools acting as underwater solar panels? Underwater chlorophyll factories? Ah, comic book science...
Men can be transmuted into Seaweed Men, leaving me to wonder if any seaweed men evolved naturally, and if not, who created the first ones? We also see what a fully transformed seaweed man looks like. We might call the queen a Half-Seaweed Man and stat her at 3 Hit Dice, while a full Seaweed Man would maybe be 5 Hit Dice...?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Fight Comics #2 - pt. 1

Ah, George Tuska...how much better I like his 1970s work. With Young George, you can almost see the Eisner influence there, but the figures are so stiff in almost every panel...

There is no Lolaii Island, but from the spelling it seems clearly a stand-in for a Hawaiian island.
Popeye's love for spinach, clearly the reference here, goes all the way back to 1932.
A rare use of "birds," sometimes used for crackpots and oddballs, but here sarcastically used for obviously bad people.

Manoa is not an island, but a valley on the island of Oahu, near Honolulu. Now, it would make more sense for this story to start near a major city like Honolulu, and move away from there to a more isolated island, but apparently these were lazy pirates.

Oahu does have coves, like the map does, which makes it even likelier to be the location.

I'm a bit surprised that both Shark and the girl are so eager to shoot the whipper while Daddy is right on the other side of him. I mean, it almost makes sense for Shark because he has no personal stake in this, in case he misses and hits Daddy, but the daughter too? She must be really confident...
Since Shark would still be a 1st-level fighter (beat cop), being beaten by four-to-one odds seems, statistically, extremely likely.
Now, Shark could have rushed Skinny at any time, except that he clearly missed his save vs. plot and had to fight his way through the underlings first.

Koa is the Hawaiian word for warrior.
Pre-modern Hawaiian hunters used bows, but Hawaiian soldiers used slings. Of course, this is 1940, so they'd actually be wearing modern clothes and carrying guns in real life.
I can find no evidence that Hawaiian soldiers ever used poison.
Shared for the prize purse after five months of professional fighting, which is good news for Heroes who want some side money between adventures.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Detective Comics #36 - pt. 3

It's a little hard to believe that, three years into Detective Comics, Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise still has a berth here. This month, Cosmo, who undoubtedly got that nickname because he's so cosmopolitan, has to visit a cowboy ranch. Interestingly, Cosmo admits that acting like a cowboy is outside his wheelhouse and has to visit under other pretense. This is more realistic, but actually contradicts the Hideouts & Hoodlums skill system, where everyone has the same chance of performing any skill, based just on class and level (and possibly modified by race).

The ranch has mortgage payments of $7,000 (monthly? Annually?) and someone makes an offer of $60,000 for the entire ranch, which is apparently low but not entirely unreasonable.

A neat trick Cosmo uses (though I'm not sure this would actually work) to fool some rustlers into thinking he's still hiding behind a boulder is to tie strips of his shirt around bullet cartridges and lit them like fuses. The bullets go off, convincing them that he's still shooting from behind there.

Do I need to stat rustlers? I think I'll just treat them as outlaws.

The disappearing cattle are being herded through a secret door made of stone (or made to look like stone).

Bruce Nelson is skiing in the White Mountains. I was sure this was a generic fictional name, but there really is a White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. Bruce is staying at a ski lodge with a bunch of "famous celebrities," but they don't seem to be based on real ones in either name or appearance.

Bruce shows expert-level tracking skills when he looks at all the tracks in the snow outside the lodge -- by moonlight! -- and manages to spot finger-tracks, where someone's hand was dragged through the snow. I'd say that would normally be a 1 in 10 chance of success at best.

Slam Bradley and Shorty are surprised when an intruder enters their bedroom and leaves a small box with $10,000 in it -- though I was more surprised to see Slam and Shorty sleep in the same bed. The money is a retainer from someone who wishes to hire them anonymous, which wouldn't have lasted long had they caught the intruder. To collect, they have to go to Shanghai, which takes them out of the country on a very long sea voyage (the only thing we know about the trip is that Shorty learns how Chop Suey is not a traditional Chinese dish).

The scenario is fairly interesting; Slam has been hired because of his reputation. He's supposed to procure something, but they refuse to tell him upfront. Instead, a female guide is to be sent with him who will reveal what it is at the "proper time." I think this would scream "trap" to my players and they would never touch this plot hook.

Slam was always a tough scrapper, but in this adventure he needs to be rescued from five yellow peril hoodlums, and then gets knocked out by a head blow later. Slam is tortured for information (that he doesn't have) on a strange rack that pulls sideways instead of up and down. Shorty is hung off the floor by his wrists (at least it wasn't his thumbs).

There's a curious plot hole in the story where Slam and Shorty's caravan through China is attacked, the men who tortured them save them (because they are following Slam to the Macguffin) by mowing down the new attackers (and I'm not sure who they are, other than a random encounter) with machine guns. Slam acts like he didn't even notice and is surprised later that they're being followed, even though there's no way he didn't witness the machine gun fire.

The Macguffin is an idol that will give whoever owns it the ability to command people (not a magical ability, I don't think). It is poorly guarded by a single sword-wielding guard and a pit, though the real protection, I suppose, is the trap on the idol -- mess with it and a dagger springs out of the base of it and stabs you (killing the main villain, Chong, incidentally. Poisoned, perhaps?).

Although Slam gets paid in the end, he didn't actually do much, except he scares off Chong's men with a machine gun he steals from them in the end.

(Read at readcomiconline.to)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Detective Comics #36 - pt. 2

Back in time for the tail end of the Batman's first encounter with Hugo Strange! Having escaped Strange's deathtrap/S&M session, the two of them grapple. Remember that Strange is about 6' tall and physically imposing, so it's not an unequal match-up (if Strange is an ultra-mad scientist, then they even have equal Hit Dice!). Strange has an early advantage, establishing a choke hold, but the Batman reverses it; both are perfectly emulated in Hideouts & Hoodlums' grappling rules.

After defeating Strange, the Batman does something that most players don't do in any RPG -- after defeating the main bad guy, he still methodically searches the hideout. In this way he finds a prisoner (that he claims to have always known about, though this is the readers' first time hearing about it), and learns how Strange was inducing fog around the robberies -- with a stolen lightning gun! Now, why he used the lightning gun to make fog and not turn it into a weapon...

No mention is made of what happens to the lightning gun (which looks like a planetarium projector, by the way). It doesn't seem to make it into the Batman's trophy room, and certainly doesn't become part of its arsenal. The Editor of that game session, perhaps just not feeling generous, made it a mad science trophy with very limited charges/uses.

Next up is Bart Regan, Spy. When Jerry Siegel was still drawing this it was my favorite feature, but now....Bart is up against more spies, now from the fictional nation of Tortania. I haven't a clue what country "Tortania" is meant to represent; it could just be a truly generic foreign power. Bart's big clue as to who the spy is, is overhearing him curse in Tortanian, which might be the first time cursing is demonstrated as a series of symbols in a DC comic.

The hunchbacked spy gets the drop on Bart, from behind, but Bart is somehow able to spin around and shoot first. H&H's simple initiative system allows for a lot of leeway like this, though circumstances almost cry out for a common sense adjudication and hand-waving the dice rolls. Perhaps the spy missed on his surprise roll so badly that the Editor said he hadn't even managed to get his shot off yet.

The hunchbacked spy turns out to be a pretty nifty threat; he's wearing a vest lined with dynamite under his coat, making him the first suicide bomber in comicbook history. It's a challenging threat, normally, but this adventure takes place on a boat, so Bart simply pushes the man into the water in time (though, if Bart had lost initiative...). The spy also has a poison pill on him that is confiscated.

Bart administers truth serum to the spy to learn where his hideout is. The hideout appears to be empty, but a secret door opens like a shutter sliding down.

Steve Malone, District Attorney, is hunting down a mobster on the lam, and figures out who the disguised mobster is by the clue of the hairs in his comb. In the ensuing fight, Steve uses a table for a club and the mobster's vamp girlfriend uses this really big candle holder, so vamps are sometimes armed with clubs. Steve doesn't start out the encounter with a gun, but he lifts one off a mobster. In a rare instance, both gunman run out of bullets in the same firefight.

I normally like Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator more than this installment. Speed is on the trail of a jewel thief who calls himself The Spider and leaves toy spiders behind as a calling card. There's even a nice spin where The Spider doesn't break into homes, he convinces rich people to rent from him, unaware of the secret doors he's built into his properties. But the story has some serious flaws. One, The Spider tries a drive-by shooting against Speed, but from his own car licensed in his own name. Two, Speed slaps the man's wife around while The Spider isn't home, and then she still obediently obeys him. Now, there's a nice twist on that, where the wife turns out to be The Spider, dressed as a man, the whole time, and there never was a husband...but I'm not sure Speed knew that when he slapped her...

(Batman story read in The Batman Archives vol. 1; the rest read at readcomiconline)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Detective Comics #36 - pt. 1

It's been awhile since we last checked in on The Batman. This is still the pre-Robin Batman that I'm not particularly fond of. Bill Finger's The Batman, probably at Bob Kane's insistence, is a dark, menacing figure who is not opposed to killing by any means at hand.

Like many a Superman adventure of the time, this scenario starts with a wandering encounter -- a dying plot hook character escapes from a speeding car within sight of the Batman.  Batman's player is smart and has him search the body for clues!

True to the tropes of the Mysteryman class, the police catch him standing over the body and assume the Batman is a murderer. They even try to shoot him down without even bothering to tell him to surrender first!

Later, as Bruce Wayne, the Batman solves a clue and figures out that Professor Hugo Strange is up to something. The description that Bruce gives to himself of Hugo Strange resembles Sherlock Holmes' Moriarty.

Now, some people feel that, since the Batman already knows of Hugo Strange, that means this story was published out of order with the next Hugo Strange tale in Batman #1, but another possibility is that readers were supposed to understand from this that Hugo's first true appearance, in the 1934 Doc Savage novel, The Monsters, was canon for Batman's world.

The Batman, aware from the G-Man's notebook where Strange's first robbery will be, takes a big risk by disguising himself as the night watchman. Had the plan been to kill the night watchman, we wouldn't have a Batman today. But it does work out perfectly for him, as the robbers relax their guard and leave only one armed while the rest move boxes -- a perfect time for the Batman to attack and get one free turn of action while the mobsters would drop their boxes and go for their weapons. Better, he gets a surprise turn, on which he decks the guard and drops him, and then wins initiative on the first regular turn and takes out two mobsters (with low hit points) with his punches (two attacks because they are unarmed). It appears he is taking out four at once, but this must be turn-compression and showing his attacks on subsequent turns as well.

After the battle ends, the Batman shoots a gun into the air to bring the police, but it is not clear if it is his gun, or if he just picked up a mobster's gun.

The next night, Hugo thinks nine-to-one odds will be enough to stop the Batman, and it almost isn't. It appears that a single lucky head blow takes him out, but it could have been a gradual reduction of hit points throughout the battle.

Bucking villain tradition, Hugo does not put the Batman in a deathtrap, but plans to torture him with a whip while chained up instead. I suppose, eventually, that could kill him, so maybe it's just not a particularly efficient deathtrap. The Batman escapes by wrecking the chains. The Batman is a perplexing man (4th level Mysteryman) by now, so for him to wreck the category of machines (for chains), he needs to only roll a 4 or higher on 2 dice. I would also rule that he only gets one chance before Strange figures out what he's trying and stops fooling around with him.

The Batman is shown keeping a vial of sleeping gas in his utility belt.

(Read in Batman Archives vol. 1.)