Tuesday, September 25, 2018

More Fun Comics #49 - pt. 1

I have a little catching up to do on on More Fun Comics!

I last left off on issue #48, so we pick up again in #49 with the first feature, Wing Brady. For one thing, if he thought he was on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, then he was wrong -- this is the fictional city of Majoca in the Middle East. Second, he quickly faces the indignity of being disarmed by a monkey. Wing is surprised that the bandit leader, Ali Pascha, takes more punches than his average foe and keeps fighting, since Ali is a higher-level fighter and has more hit points.

Wing is trying to escape when he runs into Ali's first lieutenant, and level titles tell us that lieutenants are 4th level fighters. Instead of punching him for damage, though, Wing converts his damage roll into feet pushed and sends the Lt. falling off a 15' tall wall.

Wing is not the vicious, murdering type of hero. He triggers a morale check for the bandits by shooting a machine gun over their heads instead of at them, then scoops up a grenade and uses it on the gates so his reinforcements can get in, rather than use it on the bandits. Grenade explosions can wreck things, just like Heroes.

Wing refers to himself as a lieutenant in the Foreign Legion, which may be the first time we've heard his rank. He has roughly 18,000 xp so far by my page count (I figure 100 xp per page), and that would actually make him a captain by Hideouts & Hoodlums levels.

Biff Bronson accidentally gets a sandwich and soda delivered to him, and the sandwich contains a cryptically written note about a rendezvous and password. More interestingly, we see that meal deliveries used to be in plain brown paper bags, with the soda arriving in a bottle. When they arrive they are told to put in white hoods -- no, not that kind of white hoods! It's a meeting of industrial spies, bent on stopping a new wonder fiber from upsetting the silk industry. Now that's a plot you don't see recycled often! 

This story is also my first confirmation from a comic book that there were "open all night" drug stores around in the 1940s. Biff disguises someone as a corpse by splashing him with mercurochrome (misspelled without the first 'r') to look like blood. Mercurochrome was a topical antiseptic, no longer in use because -- obviously -- it contains mercury. Biff further uses sleeping pills more like a Potion of Feign Death.

The head spy is called The Master-Mind repeatedly in this story and even escapes to come back, making him one of the earliest recurring villains in comic books.

King Carter is a new Hero, one of those features that takes the cowboy out of the West and puts him in exotic locales, in this case China. And the story begins with shades of North by Northwest, with a plane chasing King while he runs on foot! But it's not a villain chasing him, it's a plot hook character. Red Rogers is one of those "old friends" we've never seen before, who invites King on a special mission to photograph a secret Japanese air-base (it is not specified as a Japanese base, but it was pretty clear who most of our war allies were, even as early as late 1939).

King does some wing walking, a surprisingly aviator-specific stunt for a cowboy, before the plane is shot down. Neither King nor Red have parachutes; when the Aviator class debuted, one of its stunts was Find Parachute. Now (in 2nd edition) that would translate into a skill check, which they both must have missed. Somehow they survive the crash unharmed, despite landing between boulders and a tree.

King and Red are overwhelmed by Japanese soldiers. The art isn't very good, but there appears to be no more than six soldiers present. The Japanese are not depicted well, being given names like Ah-Choo and Yee-Poo, and they are made to be stupid, taking King and Red to their leader without tying them up first, or doing anything but put them in a car with a single gunman watching them. 

(Read at comiconline.me)


Friday, September 21, 2018

Popular Comics #47 - pt. 3

This is The Hurricane Kids, though you're only seeing one of the kids here with his new caveman supporting cast member. And we also see some weirdly drawn giant bats -- giant bats being surprisingly rare in early comics (though ordinary bats, not so much).

This is also a good depiction of what the "underworld" would look like in a Hideouts & Hoodlums world -- like it was part of a natural cave system. They got lost -- guess no one was mapping!
Partially flooding hideouts make for an added level of challenge in them.

1,000' tall waterfalls look dangerous and should be dangerous, despite the cliche of heroes always surviving them. The first time I talked about waterfalls, I suggested a save vs. science at +1 for half damage -- but that would still be 50d6 damage. We need something even safer, like save for no damage, and 1 point per 10' if you fail the save (so, 100 points of damage, almost surely automatic unconsciousness).

Should there be a chance of dropping items while climbing? It particularly makes sense if you're trying to hold something in your hands while climbing.
A rare sighting of a cave bear in comics.

How much falling damage gets added to the big rock? I would not add more than 1d6 for that. If you allowed full falling damage to be added, Heroes would be chomping at the bit to fly over every combat (the fallacy of the lethal falling coin long ago infected a D&D campaign I played in).
Here we see cavemen encountered in groups as large as nine.

A rare adventure in the North Sea, this begins a new serial.

I had to look up what the elevation record was by 1940 and these planes are nowhere near it; a record of 56,000' was set in 1939.
 Here we see two old aviator stunts, Power Dive and Hide in Clouds. When I get to the Advanced Hideouts & Hoodlums Heroes Handbook, I'll include many more examples of specific stunts Heroes can try.
This is Penguin Pete and His Pal Pudgie, and this is an unusual wrinkle on the "help, I'm sick" ruse for getting out of jail.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Popular Comics #47 - pt. 2

This is the end of Between Two Fires. Last time I was talking about how hard a scenario would be if the goal was not to get in a fight in a war zone, but here we see the secret is to carry a white flag around with you.

It also helps when the Editor throws you a bone and lets you come across an unguarded motorcyle and sidecar.

Here's a new look for The Masked Pilot, and I'm liking the black domino mask more than the white handkerchief that his nose is clearly visible through.

Here's a map! It looks like a pretty believable map of an airplane factory to me, though it would be nice to see it closer.
The Masked Pilot lands his plane on the road, but you'll note how he lands at an angle to the road, drastically shortening his runway. That's an expert-level skill check -- or a burned stunt -- for sure.
It's somewhat remarkable that we're only up to January 1940, and rayguns that can stop planes from working are already a worn-out cliche.

I'm more interested in Tom, so generic a sidekick that he doesn't even seem to have a last name, but seems to be really good in a fight. Or is he? Although it appears that he's kicking that guy right into the gunman so the gun will go off in his back, the more rules-focused explanation for this is that the gunman tried shooting into a melee, which gave him a chance of hitting a random target.

This is a sound use of tactics, baiting the bad guys out into the open. And, sounder yet, The Masked Pilot uses their own weapons on them. What usually doesn't happen -- and I suspect we'll see the same this time -- is the raygun ever turning up again in future installments. Maybe it had a set number of charges and (conveniently) runs out after this adventure.

This is from Gangbusters, and it's interesting evidence that grappling damage maybe cannot cause unconsciousness, but only stuns. I had not thought of this before, but I can't actually think of examples of grappling causing long-term unconsciousness in comics I've read, and if I continue to not see examples of this, this aspect of the grappling rules might need to be changed.

The more difficult issue is, do we need game mechanics to determine when and how cars can push each other off their trajectories? We sort of already do -- the 2nd edition Basic book includes lots of examples of ramming damage for various vehicles -- and if we apply the same rule for pushing to vehicular combat -- that points of damage can be transferred 1:1 into feet moved -- then a car can push another car pretty far off its path.

This page is troubling, in that the cliche about cover is that any old object between you and a shooter can stop a bullet. I mean, if even walls serve no protection from bullets, then you might as well throw Armor Class out the window when firearms are in play. I am not prepared to make guns even more attractive to my players, so I'm going to be ignoring the evidence on this page.

Also, this story supposedly takes place in Cleveland, Ohio. You'd think Superman would show up! ;)

It's interesting to see someone shot in the hand and be told that took "all the fight out of him." Essentially, Carlson had so few hit points that one hit took him out of the fight and it didn't matter where the shot hit him to do that.

Herky sure hasn't graced this blog in a long time! The toddler with the strength of Hercules tries to wreck through a brick wall and hurts himself trying. I have actually long toyed with the notion of having failed wrecking things attempts hurt the person trying them and, while it remains not an official rule, I have used this in my personal games on occasion when a Hero keeps trying and gets four or more failures in a row.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Popular Comics #47 - pt. 1

Thinking this was their answer to Superman, Martan the Marvel Man is now the lead feature in Popular Comics.  Here we find them still joyriding around Earth before their first big scenario, and we see their ship has a cruising speed of 12,000 MPH, or Mach 15.

There is interesting moral philosophizing going on here, reminiscent of a future Silver Surfer.
Given how powerful Martan and Vana's tech is, let's not kid ourselves -- this protective forcefield is probably as powerful as the Wall of Force 5th level spell.

There is something here at the beginning about Martan's commands making the soldiers stop, and this is because non-Hero characters can recognize the level of a Hero and respect that authority.

Or maybe they're just surprised at how well Martan wears a skirt.
How a superhero wrecks things has always been flavor text for the player to decide. In this case, instead of wrecking with his bare hands, Martan can shoot a ray that melts things into the ground.
That Martan can melt/wreck tanks means that he functions as at least a 4th level superhero, and probably several levels higher because of how easily he wrecks the tank.

Also it's worth noting that the soldiers are obviously drawn to be Japanese, meaning the unnamed war Martan is stopping is the Japanese invasion of China.

This is from Shark Egan. I had to look this up, as I didn't think acetylene torches would work underwater, but sure enough they do!

This is Captain Tornado, still dealing with giant ants. There are at least a dozen giant ants here.

There are at least 21 giant white ants here, but there's no reason yet to assign white ants different game mechanics from red ants, or even different Alignments.

Jane has every reason to be smarting after that landslide. Wearing shorts, I can't imagine how she's not bruised all over her legs. But that's realism; in comic book terms, sliding does no damage like falling does.

The giant ants are shown to be intelligent. At this point, there is no reason not to stat them as ant men.

This is Between Two Fires, and it's an unusual scenario because the boys are actively resisting getting involved in the combat going on around them. They are able to for almost three whole pages, when the Editor has to chuck a grenade at them and leave them no alternative but to act. In that way the scenario is already a failure, if their goal was really to avoid fighting for the whole session.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Smash Comics #6 - pt. 3

Long-time readers would know that I've been a fan of John Law, Scientective, since I first discovered him. This installment has a great opening scene with a challenge Heroes seldom have to face -- get someone to the other side of an angry mob, without hurting anyone. Luckily, John has useful contacts all over, including an autogyro owner at the local airport.
It's interesting that June's jitters isn't a character trait, but a valuable clue.

By "cyclatron," John means a cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator invented in 1932. I'm not sure if a cyclotron big enough to fit in your room would be strong enough to stop your watch...but it's just the sort of plausible science that this feature was so good at.

That the murder weapon is a phonograph is a great idea, no matter how shaky the science behind it is.

Sure, John could have just hopped over to the clock and knocked it over to break it, but taking the bigger risk of relying on the cyclotron to stop it is more science-y!

Lastly, before being critical of how lame The Avenger looks with a white hood over his face, just think of what other bad guys wear white hoods...
Another Hero rendered unconscious overnight, and perhaps the first one ever knocked out by a self-inflicted head blow.

Like I said, the science may be iffy, but it's a situation created by science that can be solved with science.

Too bad we get such an abrupt cliffhanger!

Because next thing we know, we're already in the Invisible Hood feature. IH is just tagging along on top of the truck and watching all this, but I wonder what players would do when confronted with the cliche of the fallen man in the road -- just drive over him and go faster?

And it's stolen helium again!

It's worth being reminded how primitive communication technology still was compared to today. Public telephone conversations could be overheard, radio signals could be intercepted, so carrier pigeon is actually still a reasonable alternative circa 1940.

This is Wun Cloo, and while a racial caricature, it's not making up the $1,000 bill -- they were really printed until 1934.

Here's a rare early appearance of FDR and the "conquest-mad dictator" looks more like Hitler than even Eisner has been drawing him so far. Vernon Henkel is on the cutting edge of how the war will soon be treated in all comic books.

Wings seems to have bitten off more than he can chew when he flies over a shipload of smugglers. He stays out of range of their autocannon by staying near the aft end of the ship, but there's a machine gun there and his plane goes down after complications from all those bullets.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Smash Comics #6 - pt. 2

Bozo, the name of the robot, doesn't even appear in this story.

It's interesting that the New York port is not named. The Daily Mail was a long-running newspaper in the Catskills, so it's possible that New York City is actually not where this takes place.
The entry for large iron robots has, since the Basic book, included more specific references to the Iron Man (indeed, they will be called Iron Men in the Mobster Manual), including having pilots able to ride around inside the robot. It does make me think that Hugh might be a midget, and that any time we see him side-by-side another person, he's standing on top of something.
The telescopic eye is an example of the telescopic vision power from both 1st and 2nd edition Hideouts & Hoodlums. Bozo also lets Hugh use the Fly I power. Lastly, he wrecks his way through an outer wall, which is something superheroes don't even have a chance to smash through until 3rd level. So Bozo is at least a 3rd level superhero here.
Bizarrely, Hugh leaves his robot standing on his roof, concealed only by an awning. I find this remarkable enough to share because a) it shows how Golden Age heroes are not all obsessed with protecting secret identities, and b) it's a good reminder for players not to be so careless with where they leave their valuable trophy items.

But maybe the real issue highlighted here is -- can Hugh be a superhero if the robot can be stolen from him? Does the robot exist except as flavor text? 
Note how, on this page, the mobsters don't even try to take Bozo with them, but put Hugh right back into it. It's a bizarre decision -- even if they can't figure out how to work it, surely they could try and sell it -- that only makes sense if they can't take it away from him.
Now we return to some real artwork, with Eisner's Archie O'Toole. The map is not particularly useful, but it sure is pretty! Unlike most fictional countries that have obvious real world analogues, there's still nothing concrete we can hook Pyromania and Spatoonia to.
The issue here is, during the car chase, does slamming on the brakes make the thrown bomb miss? It actually is not just flavor text here, as relative speed differences present an Armor Class adjustment. By braking first, Cook's driver changes his car's AC. But since this isn't ordinary combat, how to determine if the braking comes before the throw? We don't need to introduce initiative rolls into chase scenes if we remember the order of play of combat -- with movement coming before missile attacks.
Cook was knocked out on the previous page. Here is an somewhat rare example of the Hero not being able to recover from unconsciousness until the next day.

This is not our first story where helium is seen as a valuable commodity worth stealing, and I suspect it will not be the last.
This is a page from Abdul the Arab. Abdul was framed because some men were attacked and heard the name "Abdul" being yelled -- which is lousy evidence to frame someone with, since there can't possibly be just one Abdul in the region.

So, sentenced to die on the flimsiest circumstantial evidence possible, Abdul is only freed after everyone hears a forced confession. Amazingly, Abdul still wants to be friends with the British after this.

But most importantly, that remarkable shot, from behind the cover of a wall, that splits the rope, was either a 1 in 20 lucky break, or a Mysteryman stunt. Even though a weapon was used, because it was not being used for combat, a stunt can still be burned for something like that.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Smash Comics #6 - pt. 1

Oops! Almost passed over this issue!

I love Will Eisner's early Espionage stories so much, I'm half-tempted just to post the whole thing...but I'll be strong and just post the relevant pages here.

This time, we're treated to yet another obvious stand-in name for Germany -- Govania.  Thalga is obviously Hitler. You might think Stadt represented Himmler, but Hitler made Himmler, not the other way around. Stadt better represents Franz von Papen, an ex-chancellor who helped Hitler rise to power so von Papen could get his office back. But, was this common knowledge in the U.S. in 1939...?
The last gold rush was 1896, but I'm sure in 1940 people were still hoping for another one. I could spend my whole blog, or start a new one, talking about how good Eisner's art was, but note how panel 7 represents the swirl of activity around the discovery of gold, represented by water-like ripples around the upraised hand, as if it was the Lady of the Lake offering up that gold nugget...

I've nothing to say here, because I'm completely stumped by the reference to an "East Rush." I have no idea what event that is referring to and can't find anything on such a thing having happened.

This page is great for the tidbits of backstory we finally get on Black X.  It's a shame Kadu-Kan is an entirely throwaway reference and never comes back in a story. Google Translate detects Kadu-Kan as Malaysian for some reason, but can't give me a translation. I suspect Kan is Khan misspelled.

Black X's technique, of drawing out his opponents by making himself a big target, happens to be one of my own personal favorite strategies in RPGs.

As mentioned in Black X's write-up in Supplement IV: Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men, Black X seems to have remarkable ability to request trophy items from Espionage Division at short notice, including this fighter plane that just happens to also be packing a torpedo.  Spoiler alert to my future players: I don't usually give out trophy items this cool.

Chic Carter spends a lot of his time reporting from Moravia. The last time I wrote about Chic Carter, I thought Moravia was fictitious. And, since I write in what seems like a vacuum here, no one corrected me that Moravia is a real place in the then-Czech Republic. Now, Krasnow, that could be fictional city.

This would be a difficult scenario to actually play, because so much is happening around Chic, but he doesn't really have to do anything but observe. He gets the opportunities to do good deeds, or to take over fighting for others, but he has to decide very quickly if he is going to take those opportunities. And if he decides not to live dangerously, this is going to be a very boring series of the Editor just describing exciting stuff going on around him the whole time.

I think this is a weakness of the newsman genre as a whole and why it will be difficult to emulate in Hideouts & Hoodlums game play...though, that said, I haven't actually tried one of these scenarios yet to test that theory.
Speaking of the newsmen genre, Chic gets followed immediately by Flash Fulton, the Ace of Cameramen. Here's a perfect example of Flash not taking any active steps to fight the fire, even though the opportunity to do so is right there. He's just doing his job and filming the situation. Of course, danger still finds him even though he's not actively looking for it.

He also gets to wear a trophy item asbestos suit (though I don't think he gets to keep it).

The game mechanic issue on this page is subtle and not immediately evident. When Tony shouts out and warns Flash about the boom, does that make the boom miss? H&H has no active dodge skill -- if the attacker missed, it's just assumed you dodged (or something else happened that saved you). Now, what did likely happen here is that the shout did not make the boom miss, but took away the surprise attack it would have had and made the attack roll happen during the first (and only) turn of combat.
Splashing water in unconscious people's faces does not wake them up in H&H. Rather, the two mobsters were only stunned and the duration of the stun just happened to wear off while they were being hosed down.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)