Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1980 (part 1)

Continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around January 10, 1980.

Batman #322: Captain Boomerang shows up and pretends to be a real threat. I'm of course, biased by Boomerang's portrayal in the 80s Suicide Squad and later. Still, he doesn't do himself any favors of tying Batman to a giant boomerang as a death trap--a repeat of something he did to the Flash. Catwoman getting a terminal diagnosis from a doctor who neither names the conditions and suggests that some ancient Egyptian herbs (also unnamed) are the cure is also pretty silly.

DC Comics Presents #20: This story by O'Neil isn't really much of a team-up. Green Arrow pursues a oil tycoon, Bo Force, who's looking to get an exotic energy rich flood emerging from a geyser, and Superman just shows up to save the day in the end. The art by Garcia-Lopez looks good though!

Flash #284: I got to give it to Cary Bates. I have never been much of a Flash fan, and I would have not pegged this era to the place I'd get turned on to it...and well, I haven't exactly, but it's better than I expected! Last issue ended with Zoom and the Flash heading unstoppably into the distance past in the time bubble, but Flash jumps out, preferring to take his changes than spend eternity with Zoom. He winds up in a domain ruled by the Lord of Limbo, but other prisoners help him make his escape. The issue is very specific in its 1980 setting, and implies Barry Allen is "about 30" years old, and that he's been the Flash for about 10 years. Heck's art gives it a Marvel vibe, but the lack of direct confrontation between hero and villain feels un-Marvel.

G.I. Combat #219: Despite my previous griping about the Haunted Tank strip, the first story here by Kanigher and Glanzman is pretty good. Jeb plans to shoot it out with one of those honorable German officers whose path he's crossed twice before across different fronts of the war and two continents. A passing American patrol picks off the officer, before we get to see who would come out the victor. It's followed by a goofy but amusing O.S.S. story where an assassin uses trick shoes to take out his target. The other stories are typical war stuff.

Ghosts #87: The horror titles are lackluster this month. This one has a distasteful tale involving a freakshow that was likely inspired by Browning's Freaks. The other stories are merely forgettable.

Jonah Hex #35: Fleisher reveals an important part of Jonah's backstory, telling us why he quit the Confederate Army (due the the Emancipation Proclamation). Just about everything that could go wrong for him does so after that point, and his hunted as a traitor by his former allies and countrymen. There's some amusing stuff at the beginning with Hex taking down a group of outlaws.

Justice League of America #177: Conway and Dillin are mostly doing set-up here in that classic "each hero gets their own story" sort of JLA way. The reveal at end gives us the return of Martian Manhunter, who hadn't appeared since '77 and hadn't appeared in JLA since 1974.

Secrets of Haunted House #23: This issues "highlight" is a story by Wessler and Frank Redondo about a man saving his grandkids from fire ants. I recognize invasive fire ants were more of a "hot" (heh) topic in the '70s, but c'mon, Destiny! Is there nothing better in that weighty tome of yours?

Superman #346: Lois investigates a crooked game show and discovers Amos Fortune (a villain I only knew from the Who's Who) behind it. He uses his "Murphy Machine" to cause people to have bad luck. Unusual premise by Conway but still a bland story.

Weird War Tales #86: Two World War II yarns, one with a giant monster, and the other by Zilber and Sparling with a Twilight Zone-esque premise: a young soldier can make anyone disappear by willing it. Nothing special.

Wonder Woman #266: Continuing that story of Diana's time with NASA. It's okay. It's got another installment of the Wonder Girl story, too.

World's Finest Comics #262: The lead story here by O'Neil and Staton, where Superman and Batman battle a one-shot villain called the Pi-Meson Man, is probably the weakest--but at least it doesn't have an old lady with gravity control powers as a villain like the finale of the Green Arrow/Black Canary story. This time around, the old woman does look like an old woman, thanks to Tanghal and Colletta. The Aquaman story by Rozakis and Newton leaves me with a couple of questions: How does Aquaman's computer work underwater? And, does this story which mentions Barbara Gordon as a Congresswoman take place prior to the stories from the last couple of months mentioning she lost re-election? The Hawkman story by DeMatteis and Landgraf also references some recent DC events. I'd forgotten what it was like to have comics that came out on a consistent enough schedule they could actually have a shared universe! The last story, a Captain Marvel tale by Bridwell and Newton, gives backstory to the wizard Shazam, which I was unaware of. Fun stuff, if nothing groundbreaking.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Chicken, Fried

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the party prepared to confront the chicken mutant who was in the reactor room of the Gander chicken plant. They were uncertain what these strange suits were they found or the "radiometers" so they went back to consult the computer. It explained, but the explanations weren't of much help. It did elucidate why their keycards could open the door: you had to have a priority keycard of some color. 

Waylon went back and looted the bodies of chicken mutants they had killed to find a keycard. With a stack, they were able to find one that worked and entered the reactor room. 

The reactor room was really loud, so they were able to get the jump on the mutant. Even impaired in their movements in the bulk radiation suits, they made short work of him. It turned out to be a good thing, too, as he was apparently trying to cause a meltdown, according to the computer.

The party let the only surviving chicken mutant leave with his life and some money. He didn't seem happy, but he did it. Then, they negotiated a deal for the citizenry of Falgo which got them jobs in the factory in exchange for food. How the simple folk of Falgo were going to adapt to working in a mechanized factory the party left to the people and the computer to figure out.

With that good deed behind them, they were once again on the road to the Virid Country.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Cinematic Superhero Rpg Universes

While we may be past the era of "peak television," we seem to be entering the era of peak superhero TV. The CW and HBOMax have got new DC shows, and Disney+ has the latest Marvel offerings. Then there's a few other things on Amazon Prime like The Boys and Invincible. The superhero dominance of the box office got put on hiatus by the pandemic, but it has gone on long enough now to get backlash.

All of this makes me wonder when we'll get a superhero rpg with more of a cinematic vibe, much in the the same way we got a number of rpgs with a "animated series" aesthetic (some of that could be pragmatic, though. There may be more artists able to do a cartoony style willing to work at rpg rates). Of course, you don't have to want for a new game to run a cinematic style campaign. You could even reboot an old campaign in a cinematic version.

What would "cinematic superhero universe" mean in a rpg context? I haven't really fully formulated an answer to that but their are some traits I can think of:

  • Fewer superhumans (though they are getting more all the time!), particularly villains
  • Lower power levels (in general), but...
  • Fewer "skilled normal" masked heroes. (Captain America seems super-strong in the CMU; Falcon as more gadgets)
  • Fewer secret identities, fewer masks
  • Less colorful costumes
  • A smaller array of possible origins
  • Heroes more likely to engage in potentially lethal action
In general, cinematic universe changes seem similar to "ultimate universe" changes. They are more "realistic" versions of the characters.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Flashback: DC at Marvel Collected Edition

The original version of this post appeared in 2018...

In case you missed the previous installments, here's a collated list of the posts I've done so far based on the idea that the staff at Marvel in the late 50s early 60s got to revamp DC's Golden Age characters (except for those that never stopped being published). The idea was introduced here.

All the characters presented so far are statted for the TSR Marvel Superheroes rpg:

The Atom The Nuclear Man!
Green Lantern Most Cosmic Hero of Them All!
Hawkman Master of Flight!
And a couple of villains Silver Scarab, the nemesis of Hawkman, and Star Sapphire--is she Green Lantern's lover or his enemy--or both?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, March 1980 (part 2)

Continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around December 20,1979.

Action Comics #505:
Bates and Swan bring us a tale of a puppy-eyed, hairy hominid from space, who charms children and can wallop Superman. In a twist I did not expect, the creature turns out to be a synthetic being from Krypton. The story is continued to next issue. I kind of dug this one.

Adventure Comics #469: The Starman story here has a bit more of classic space opera vibe than the previous installments, which is a welcome change of pace. The Plastic Man story is the same old stuff. I can't say I'm really excited about either of these features.

Brave & the Bold #160: With Superman and Batgirl teaming up early this month, now it's Batman's and Supergirl's turn. Burkett and Aparo have Batman do some mentoring with Supergirl, which works well. The story suffers from a bland villain who doesn't seem like he'd be a challenge for Batman, much less Batman and Supergirl.

Green Lantern #126: O'Neil and Staton ended last issue with an impending Qwardian invasion of Earth, and now...well, we get the Shark. Sure, it turns out the Qwardians are employing the Shark, but it seems unclear why they would need to do so. It seems like it's just stalling before the main event.

House of Mystery #278: The cover story by Jay Zilber and Rubeny goes out of its way to make the parents of a kid with the power to pull things (weapons mostly) from out of the TV the bad guys, when anyone would be sensibly worried about the kid. The other two stories have sort of dumb morals: truth-telling isn't always good, and old people can be bad, too!

Legion of Super-Heroes #261:
Conway and Estrada complete this LSH undercover circus mystery. Doesn't seem like it really warranted a two-parter. The basic idea was good, but the story is lacking.

New Adventures of Superboy #3: A nerd jealous of Superboy and Clark Kent, uses a device to project back his mental energy to make himself cool in the past. What's interesting about this one to me is that it clearly sets the present of Metropolis in "winter 70-80," with this story in Clark's high school years prior.

Sgt. Rock #338: Rock and the boys from Easy try to take a few days R&R at a ski lodge, only to be menaced by ski Nazis. We get the almost obligatory, semi-honorable German commander, though that doesn't mean he makes it out alive. There's more continuity than I remembered: Kanigher has this issue pick up directly after the events of last issue.

Super Friends #30: Grodd and Giganta are employing a ray to change humans into gorillas as a bid for world conquest. Fradon's art is charming as always.

Unexpected #196: The first there stories in this are nonsense, but Mike Barr and Vic Catan Jr. present a somewhat clever twist on the sell your soul to the Devil plot in a story about a doctor willing to do anything to stop a deadly, global pandemic.

Unknown Soldier #237:
A rabbi, a black guy, and the Unknown Soldier cross German lines dressed as the Magi. It's not a joke; it's a Bob Haney Christmas story! Like many war stories of this period, it tackles racism, but also has a extra bit of "all men are brothers" holiday oomph to it. It's silly in ways, I guess, but one of my favorite war stories since I started this project. The second feature is pretty good too. I liked the art by Tenny Henson.

Warlord #31: I talked about this issue here.

Weird Western Tales #65: An anti-war story is unexpected in a Western book, but it works reasonably well. Conway's story also picks up right after Scalphunter bids farewell to Bat Lash following their team-up last issue.

This month, we also had two digest books: Best of DC #4 was a quartet of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stories (who knew DC had so many?), and  DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #1, which featured four reprints staring the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Sentinel Comics RPG Session 1: "Itsy Bitsy Spiderbots"

Roll Call:

Action Jack: Man of Action--Man Out of Time!
Fibbit: Manic Pixie Extradimensional Dream Girl!
Infranaut: IR-Powered Celebrity Hero!
Il Masso: The Rock-Solid Hero of Little Italy!
Space Racer: Cosmic Speedster!

Supporting Characters: Zauber the Magnificent (flashback only)

Villains: Spiderbots (first appearance)

Synopsis: Individually, enjoying a day in Empire Park, our heroes are startled by an attacked of spider-shaped robots emerging from the sewers, which seem to be particularly targeting them. Our heroes destroy the robots, and join forces. During the melee, Fibbit catches gets images of a peculiar industrial building and a man dressed as a magician, who ages before her eyes. Space Racer had a flashback to a vague memory of a dead world, somehow displaced in time.

Action Jack recognizes Fibbit magician as Zauber the Magnificent, a magician and crime fighter from the war years.

Fibbit also warns the others that she also sensed a malevolent force in the direction of the spiderbots' origin--and it seemed to sense her back!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Again, The Giants! Collated

Art by Jason Sholtis

Back in 2017, I did a series posts doing adventure sketches re-imaging Against the Giants. Here's the complete list:

Wedding of the Hill Giant Chief

Sanctum of the Stone Giant Space God

Glacial Gallery of the Frost Giant Artist

Thursday, March 18, 2021

What I Want in A Superhero Rpg

When it comes to superhero rpgs, I've played and enjoyed a few of them over the years starting with Villains & Vigilantes and going through the Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying Game, DC Heroes rpg, Champions, GURPS Supers, and Mutants & Masterminds. I've owned and read numerous others, including Heroes Unlimited, Wild Talents, Silver Age Sentinels and ICONS. I'm about to give the Sentinel Comics rpg a whirl.

I don't think I've ever found the perfect supers game for me, though. At least, not perfect for what the 2021 version of me wants out of one. These are the things I think I'm looking for:

Low to Medium crunch. I'm not interested in rules heavier games like Champions or GURPS currently. I would suspect medium crunch games would probably give the best balance between covering what needs to be covered, but not doing too much.

Emulates comics. I'm interested in something that supports creating the sort of thing we see in comic books (or superhero film) not "a world with superheroes." Some of my following points sort of flow from this one.

"Every member of the Justice League gets to do something important." Older superhero games, to me, make the mistake of wanting to tailor attributes/power levels to benchmarks, winding up with disparate power levels. Sure, things like Karma/Hero Points address some of this, but in comics it mostly seems that power levels wind up being more about how characters tackle problems than whether they can tackle them. The Fantastic Four beats Dr. Doom, but so does the Punisher (or close enough). They just do it in different ways.

Heroic Normals are viable. Because of the ability score benchmarks, guys like Nick Fury or the Challengers of the Unknown tend to come out pretty samey in abilities because the normal end of the scale gets shortened. A system that gave them more variation would be nice. Of course, if you wanted a campaign of these folks, one could just play a nonsuperhero game, so this perhaps isn't as important to me as other points.

Variable Villains. Ever noticed how villains tend to be tougher or weaker depending on the hero or heroes their dealing with? I suppose it could be argued the heroes change and the villains stay the same, but anyway it might be nice if supers rpgs had mechanics for this difference.

Powers not overly detailed, but not quite freeform. Honestly, I lean toward more of a "just tell me what is does take", but you need to certain mechanics attached to powers to use them in the game, and you also need suggestions for people modeling powers, so for that it seems like completely freeform isn't the way to go. 

Supreme effort. This is one supers games seem to consistently pick up, but it bears repeating. There should be a means of a hero giving it that extra oomph in a dramatic moment.

There's probably something else I'm not thinking of, but that's all I've got now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, March 1980 (part 1)

I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around December 6,1979.

All-Out War #4: I'm still not impressed with the Viking Commando, but otherwise this is better than last issue, with a decent Black Eagle story, and a good Force 3 tale by Kanigher and Grandenetti. The non-series tales are better, to with the Korean War story "Road to Sunchon" by Archie Goodwin and evocative art by Ernesto Patricio tackling the common war comic theme of racism. Goodwin reaches for a little too much in the last panel, but it's otherwise solid.

Batman #321: This one starts off promising with a cover by José Luis García-López, and delivers a solid tale of the Joker's birthday by Wein and Walt Simonson. The best issue of Batman yet in the 1980s cover dates.

DC Comics Presents #19: O'Neil and Staton offers up a goofy yarn of a hawk-headed mutant psychically causing a violent reaction at a dinner party. Good thing Superman and Batgirl are there! O'Neil's script keeps referring to Batgirl as the "dominoed daredoll." I wonder if it bothered him that nickname never caught on?

Flash #283: Cary Bates is making each issue better than the last, I think, and Don Heck is supporting that. Not a lot has happened these 3 issues, admittedly, but they aren't decompressed, more like movie serial cliffhanger installments. Anyway, Reverse Flash tries to kill the Flash just as Flash is returning from the future with knowledge of Iris' killer. The Flash doesn't die of course, and lays into Reverse Flash who, in fact, is the murder. Of course, he gets away in the end, so everything is continued/

Ghosts #86: More ghostly tales with the conceit of being true. The most "high concept" (heh) tale has to be the one by Kashdan and Henson about a murderous stunt pilot who gets his comeuppeance when his dead partner's body drops into his airplane's cockpit decades later.

Jonah Hex #34: Our first Christmas story of the month! Fleischer and Dan Spiegle serve up and unusually humorous tale for the normally fairly grim world of Jonah Hex, where Hex is on the trail of some murderous robbers, and finds his father acting as sheriff in a haven for outlaws. He forces his no-account, abusive father to play Santa Claus for the kids at the orphanage.

Justice League of America #176: The whole JLA takes on Doctor Destiny in a classic "split in pairs and collect something" plot. Not terrible, but nothing special.

Men of War #26: Harris and Ayers give us a crossover. Gravedigger leads the combat-happy joes of Easy (minus Sgt. Rock) on a mission. Harris does a pretty good Kanigher imitation, but it's lightweight, late era, DC war stuff. This is the last issue of Men of War and the last appearance of Gravedigger until Who's Who.

Secrets of Haunted House #22: Destiny narrates two tales. The most unusual of the two is by Kashdan and Ruben "Rubeny" Yandoc and is like Fantastic Voyage if the blood clot was a witch doctor.

Superboy Spectacular #1: This is mostly reprints, but it does include a map of Krypton, and a cutaway view of Superboy's house. The only new story is a "solve-it-yourself mystery" by Bridwell and Swan, which I won't spoil.

Superman #345: Time on Earth gets reversed due to the action of aliens. Conway and Swan serve up  a fairly Silver Age "puzzle" yarn.

Superman Family #200: This is a high-concept entry anthology, tales of the future at the "turn of the 21st Century" when Lois and Clark have a 16 year-old kid, and Linda "Superwoman" Danvers is governor of Florida. All the stories take place on the Kent's anniversary. Conway writes all of these stories but a number of artists appear.

Weird War Tales #85: J.M. DeMatteis and Tenny Henson deliver tale of alternate realities, where the enemy is various alternate United States. An interesting departure from the usual stuff from this comic.

Wonder Woman #265: An "untold tale" of Diana Prince's time with NASA, featuring a shuttle crash, aliens and dinosaurs by Conway and Delbo. The Wonder Girl backup has nice art by Ric Estrada.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Star Trek Ranger: Here Be Dragons (part 2 & 3)

Player Characters: The Crew of the USS Ranger, Federation scout ship:
Aaron as Lt.(jg.) Cayson Randolph
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Dennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman

Synposis: While posing as travelers from a distant land, the Ranger away team manages enter the grounds of Count Angmox's castle and discover where the draconic Ksang ambassador is being held. They pass him a communicator hoping it will be of use later. The transporters are still having trouble with the strange energy fields, though. Ranger's sensors, however, are able to pinpoint a local source of the disturbance in the Count's keep.

Mohan pretends to be a wizard from a foreign land--a ploy that appears unusually succssful as they are admitted to the keep and given an audience with the court wizard, Nilras. Unfortunately, it's a ruse. Nilras strikes them down with a strange energy from his wand.

Nilras realizes the Ranger crew is from somewhere else and just wants them to leave his world. He's willing for them to take the ambassador with them, but doesn't wish to embarass the Count. The Ranger crew makes a pretense of trying to solve this dilemma, but under the guise of a test of Nilras's ability to lower the transporter-blocking field, they just beam themselves and the ambassador out.

Mohan accompanied by Ensign O'Carroll heads back to the planet in a shuttlecraft to retrieve the shuttle they left behind and destroy the Ksang shuttle. The energy fluctuations are even fiercer now and their shuttle is damaged. They are forced to take the initial shuttle back to the ship and destroy the other two, creating a larger than they would have hoped for explosion. 

Commentary: General Order One (The Prime Directive) was bent pretty far this adventure, but probably not broken. The Ranger crew recognized that the wizard was actually employing advanced technology, and noted that he was of a group genetically distinct from the general populous, but not alien, but they never discovered the wizards' secret.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, Frebruary 1980 (part 2)

I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 20,1979.

Action Comics #504
: Another overly complicated Cary Bates story, but at least this one uses it (maybe!) to better purpose than last month's. Superman encounters a mysterious armored foe, then Clark Kent is saved by a man with "prana-power" gifted to him by his father who has an origin not unlike Iron Fist, but with powers of the mind as the ancient Eastern secret rather than martial arts. It turns out the armored criminal is really the guy's girlfriend who's been hypnotizing him to make him imbue her with prana-power for criminal misdeeds. 

Adventure Comics #468: I've never thought about it before, but the Levitz/Ditko Starman almost reads like a comic book tie-in to an 80s toyline, and the Wein/Staton Plastic Man could sort of be an "all ages" approach. The combination gives this book a more kid-aimed feel.

Brave & the Bold #159: O'Neil and Aparo have Batman team-up with his greatest 70s nemesis, Ra's al-Ghul to find a scientist who has developed the formula capable of turning any substance into crystal--I feel like this was inspired by ice-nine in Cat's Cradle. Anyway, an average story.

Green Lantern #125
: I think this is my first story with pre-Crisis Qward. I had seen pictures of their warriors with the lighting bolt weapons, but never the Weaponers or their world. Anyway, the O'Neil and Staton story is another confrontation with Sinestro and the prelude to a Qwardian invasion of Earth. This feels most like a Marvel Comic of the era than any other this month.

House of Mystery #277: The lead story here by Kanigher/Pasko and Chaykin/Milgrom about an actor who gets too into his roles after a deal with dark powers isn't very good. There's a short one about a vampire in a crypt getting the upper hand on a would-be vampire slayer that's a decent one-off joke. It has nice art by Mar Amongo, who I've never heard of before. The last story is a Cinderella riff by Kashdan, made better by interesting art by Nards Cruz and Joe Matucenio.

Legion of Super-Heroes #260
: Conway and Staton have the Legion going undercover to solve a murder in a 30th Century circus. This one feels like a bit of a throwback, but it's fun.

Sgt. Rock #337: "A Bridge Called Charlie." Standard Kanigher Sgt. Rock tale about a doomed,  heroic stand, in this case, even recognized by the enemy who pins an iron cross on his corpse. 

Super Friends #29: Bridwell and Fradon present a story that feels very Silver Age in its goofy/trippiness. With aliens set on using radiation to destroy all life on Earth, Wonder Woman using her spinning lasso, vibrating at a certain frequency, to move the Super Friends partially into another dimension, so they look like costumes walking around with no person inside. The Wonder Twins backup continues the Silver Age silliness.

Time Warp #3
: These stories really nail the vibe of EC titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, albeit with updated artistic sensibilities. It's nice to see Steve Ditko bring a bit of his Dr. Strange/Shade the Changing-Man trippiness to the tales he draws.

Unknown Soldier #236: This story by Haney and Ayers has the Unknown Soldier freeing a Japanese American from an interment camp to go undercover with him. The Nisei is ambivalent in his role and betrays the Unknown Soldier, but then changes his mind again and helps him. Haney makes an effort, but his story doesn't deal with these topics with the depth or subtlety they deserve.

Warlord #30: See an in-depth commentary here.

Weird Western Tales #64
: Conway and Ayers continued the Scalphunter/Bat Lash team-up from last issue, with Bat Lash explaining to Scalphunter why he betrayed him. I like to see the DC Western characters team-up, but otherwise this story is forgettable.

World's Finest Comics #261: All of these stories are pretty goofy, though some are goofy and enjoyable, others less so. Conway's Green Arrow/Black Canary story about an elderly lady given superpowers by toxic exposure to become "Auntie Gravity" is in the "less so" category, and made worse by Saviuk's inability to draw an old woman. O'Neil and Buckler's Superman/Batman team-up involving the Penguin and Terra-Man hypnotizing some actor into thinking he's the real Butch Cassidy is just too much of a puzzler to accurately assess. The Bridwell/Newton Mary Marvel story is about what you expect from 70s Marvel Family stuff. The Black Lightning story by O'Neil and Tanghal is the most serious but still has clowns on a boat.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Bob Haney's Marvel Universe, A Comics Counterfactual

I've previously speculated in a couple of different ways about DC done in a Marvel manner, but it seemed like a good time to think about things in the other direction: what if somehow DC had managed to take over Marvel just as the Marvel Age was getting off the ground?

Talking about this with my friend and occasionally fellow blogger, Jim Shelley, we came up with several ideas, but since several came down to "Bob Haney," I figured that was worth a post in and of itself. This, of course, is just idle speculation, but I could see it informing a very interesting supers rpg campaign. Maybe it will look that way to you, too.

The Hulk
In this timeline, the "hero and villain in one man!" dynamic that Haney brought to Eclipso (first appearing in May of 1963) will instead get applied to Marvel's Jekyll and Hyde character, the Hulk. The Hulk would retain his more villainous "gray hulk" persona through the entirety of his short run, and Banner would be his antagonist. Just like in the real world, this series doesn't last long, so in Tales to Astonish in 1964, Haney and artist Ramona Fradon bring the camp and whimsy they would have brought to Metamorpho to the Hulk. Bruce Banner becomes stuck in Hulk form, but still tries to woo Betty Ross, while being under the thumb of her father who ostensibly has Banner on a short lease "for his own good," but doesn't hesitate to exploit his abilities.

The X-Men
"Dig this crazy teen scene!" The X-men had a rocky start, so Haney was given title, along with a new artist, Nick Cardy--the original Teen Titans team in our history. Haney made the X-Men "hip" teens and gave them new foes like the Mad Mod, and more than one motorcycle gang. The male X-Men often refer to Marvel Girl as "Marvel-chick" as a term of endearment.

The Haney/Cardy team kept the X-Men from going all reprints, though the title wouldn't really catch on until the arrival of the New X-Men, same as in the history we know.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Weird Revisited: Four Sinister Sorcerers

From the world of the City, here are five wielders of magic to challenge any party of adventurers:

The Algophilist: He’s older than current civilization, and he wants to make you hurt. His mistress is a goddess of pain, dead since the sinking of Meropis. Every tear evoked by her devoted servant, every scream and anguished cry he draws forth from his victims, brings his goddess incrementally closer to raising. Having learned (and suffered) at his goddess’ several hands for seven times seven years, the Algophilist knows numerous and varied ways to get his sacrifices. He can be met anywhere where the shadows make it easier for him to find victims, but he’s discovered a “backdoor” in and out of the alien city that overlaps with Hoborxen and often strikes from there, taking whoever mets his fancy to his sadist’s dungeon demiplane.

Hieronymus Gaunt: Lich and bon vivant (bon mourant?) currently on a world tour of debauchery and mayhem with a gang of followers in a stolen elephant-shaped hotel. In addition to his own sorcery, he's got a store of stolen magic items from all over the world.

: Croaker (medicine man) and mugwump of a large hobogoblin tribe in the Steel League. He holds court in a large dump outside of Sunderland where he nightly incites the ‘goblins to ever greater crimes against humans. He wears a worn tophat which has the power to animate anything it is set upon (as long as it stays on it)--and Cheroot can command the animate to his service. The trash heap where he makes his throne is actually a garbage golem which will rise and fight for the shaman if needed.

The Unpleasant Woman in the Basement: What she lacks in looks, she doubly lacks in personality.  She squats like a gigantic toad amid the packages, correspondence, and pneumatic tubes in the basement mailroom of a midtown office building in the City. She's been there for fifty years and three building owners.  Those who displease her die in bizarre accidents or by suicide.  Nightgaunts fly at her whim. Scorpions will grow from her shed blood.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Twilight: XXXX

With Twilight: 2000 on it's way back in a new edition, it seemed like a good time to think about retro-apocalyptic alternate histories other than the official one.

Twilight: 1945
Germany gets the bomb, but it isn't enough to save the Third Reich, just enough to take basically everyone else down with them. The players are allied troops stranded in Europe, just trying to make it it back home.

Twilight: 1984
The worst fears of the early 80s are realized and there's a limited nuclear exchange, but enough to send everything crashing down. Here the action might be stateside, in the fractured United States (much like the state of the U.S. envisioned in the regular game).

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1980 (part 1)

 I'm continuing my read through of DC Comics output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis. This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 8,1979.

Batman #320: O'Neil suggests that when there isn't enough crime in Gotham, Batman scans the international papers for international crimes to solve. He's off to Italy to deal with murders of priests. This is sort of a giallo in the confines of the comics code.

DC Comics Presents #18
: I've always liked this 70s Zatanna costume. It's a shame they've never done an updated version. This team-up with Superman, Zatanna, and her dad by Conway and Dillin, again emphasizes Superman's vulnerability to magic, and suggests its due to his nonearthly origin and therefore complete lack of Homo magi genes. However, Superman recalibrates his a spectrometer device he has to detect magic "at the far end of the spectrum" with smaller wavelengths even that cosmic rays.

Detective Comics #448: This is the inheritor of the Batman Family setup. The Batman story by Burkett and Newton features the Spook, a character I only knew from the Who's Who. Batgirl actually helps out a street gang while lamenting her recent failed bid at Congressional re-election in a story by Harris and Delbo. Harris aided by unexpected but welcome art by Schaffenberger has Robin taking down kidnappers targeting his college's campus. The other two features are more humorous tales of a Gotham City cop on the day of his retirement and a Elongated Man yarn. This may be the best issue this week.

Flash #282: Continues from last issue, Bates and Heck have the Flash escaping form the deathtrap Reverse Flash left him in. Meanwhile, Reverse Flash is toying with Green Lantern back in 20th Century Central City. Somehow, the yellow of Zoom's costume is such that Green Lantern can't catch him even when he is dressed as the Flash, which makes Green Lantern seem pretty weak.

G.I. Combat #218
: These three Haunted Tank stories make me feel like I don't like the Haunted Tank very much. Not any worse than the other war comics this month, I suppose, but some variety might have helped.

Ghosts #85: This issue has a conceit of all of it's stories being based on true events which was absent from the last issue. The stories are a bit better this time around too, with more creative use of the ghost conceit: a murder is run down by a ghost car in a junkyard, a fiery ghost of a man pushed into a volcano comes for his murder and his faithless wife.

Jonah Hex #33: Hex is witness to a family tragedy while trying to take out some outlaws in this tale by Fleisher and Eufronio Reyes Cruz. Both the father and son make some boneheaded decisions, so it seems like tragedy was inevitable, honestly.

Justice League of America #175
: Conway and Dillin are channeling Marvel and Roy Thomas' Vision stories with "But Can an Android Dream?" Red Tornado frets about his lack of humanity and reconnects with his sort of foster daughter and former girlfriend to form a family. Doctor Destiny provides some menace. A solid issue for the time.

Men of War #25: Continuing from last issue, Gravedigger gets to save FDR, then for his trouble gets given another deadly mission that would have otherwise gone to the Unknown Soldier. I guess that's a win? We got more of Rosa's origin, but also the indication he might not be truthful. This character piqued my interest, and I like Grandenetti's art. It's a shame there wasn't more of it.

Secrets of Haunted House #21: More EC-esque yarns. The first is a perplexing yarn about a ghost that isn't. I would say it was dumb, but the plot-twists indicate Carl Wessler put some thought into it, for better or worse. The second is a cautionary tale about the the highstakes world of rural scorpion fighting. The last is sort of the Island of Doctor Moreau, but not quite. 

Superman #344: Superman stories of this era like to throw magic at him a lot. Maybe it's the presumed vulnerability? In this Wein/Levitz story drawn by Swan, Superman combats Dracula and Frankenstein for the life of a young medium. Superman uses heat vision and super-pressure to turn a hydrogen balloon into a miniature sun to get read of Dracula, but not before Frankenstein robs a bakery delivery truck.

Weird War Tales #84:
The goofiest tale this issue is by Mike Barr and Charles Nicholas wherein the ghost of Woodrow Wilson prevents the assassination of DeGaulle by Nazi saboteurs. In the other two stories a Russian general sells his soul for victory in WWI, only to get killed in the Revolution, and American troops from WWII getting transport to Camelot to loosen up the sword in the stone with explosives. 

Wonder Woman #264: Conway and Delbo have the Gaucho employing robotic rheas (roborhea) to bedevil Wonder Woman. I think that says it all, really.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Colonel Gander's Mutant Recipe

This is a session report for two Land of Azurth 5e games: January 31st and last night. 

The party was still exploring the weird chicken factory complex in the deserts of Sang. Exploration had led them to discovery of both the birthing area of the mutant chicken folk, and a living mutant. Trying to find out something of the history of the place, they interrogated him, and he pointed them in the directions of the communication center. There they were able to play some sort of hologram off something like looked suspiciously like a super-VHS tape (it was, of course, not recognizable as such to the party). 

The hologram was of one Colonel John Harcourt Gander, foundered of Gander Foods. He revealed that his Civil War veteran grandfather, John Gander, had been whisked away by some magical doorway to Sang from a place called America. In Sang he had won the love of a princess and founded a kingdom. He also discovered that something made animals grow large in Sang, and exotic Sang spices tasted really good on chicken. These insights and a stable gate back to Earth allowed his descendants to create a poultry empire based on commerce between the worlds.

These revelations made the party more sympathetic to the mutant chicken who had otherwise been acting completely murderous and so were responded to in kind. 

Then, they discovered the master computer running the facility, who offered to store the factory to functioning if only the mutants were exterminated. The party was noncommittal but did follow the computer's directions to the surviving mutants. They found the chickens supervising a robot's attempt at surgery on one of their wounded fellows.

Dagmar healed the injured chicken, earning the party the chickens' attention for parley. The chicken were receptive to being given the factory as a homeland, but when the party suggested they might still grow nonmutant chickens for human consumption, things took a turn, and Dagmar the Cleric decided they might as well attack. Soon, the chicken's were slaughtered and the party had thrown their lot in with the computer.

They did let the chicken Dagmar had healed live, but left him to figure out exactly what to do with him later.

In exploration, Waylon opened a safe containing fuel pellets and apparently exposed himself to radiation, but he was sure his hardy frogling constitution would save him. The computer directed them to the only other surviving mutant who was in the control room of the station's atomic reactor.

The party went to get him too, but wound up tangling with a beef security bot in the mutant's control.  Once the robot was destroyed, they prepared to enter the reactor room.