30 August 2010

My Top 10 Comics #3: Enter the Batman!!!

Well, are we up to #3 already? Excellent!

Number 3 has a special place in my heart; it's 
Detective Comics #450, August, 1975.

Why is a pretty mediocre issue in my top ten? Well, glad you asked. That's because it's the first comic I ever bought myself.

It was summer and my grandmother took me to the grocery store with her. Next door to the grocery was a drug store (Louis-Morgan, to be precise, on the corner of Marshall Ave. and Alpine, Longview, TX). She gave me a quarter and told me to "go and buy a funny book." Really? All by myself? Cool! (I was only 5!)

Well, I went in and looked and saw...Batman! Now, even as kid, Supes was my favorite, but Bats was "ok." (As I got older and more "mature," Bats would win out. The circle is now complete and I'm more of a Supes fan these days. Smiley )

Well, I went to the counter where a teenage girl was working to pay for my "funny book." "26 cents," she said, after ringing it up.

26? I only had a quarter (sales tax was beyond me at the time). I must have looked crestfallen, because she laughed and said that the quarter would be fine. Ecstatic, I took my purchase outside to read on the curb while granny finished shopping.

I still have that comic. It's not as good as the one in the picture, probably fair to good. A lot of my comics didn't survive over the years--they were scribbled in, lost covers, had pictures cut out. But, somehow, this particular one has made it with me, to the army and now in my own home. It's the pride of my collection.

Louis-Morgan Drugs is no more. There are a couple left around East Texas (it was a chain), but that store was tore down in the early 90s to make way for a bigger and better "super market." My grandmother died last year. But I have my memories of her and the comic she gave me a quarter to buy.

Batman's history is practically as long as Supes' or Cap's. I think that the reason I shied away from Bats as a kid is well, Adam West. "Batman '66" was in syndication and West was still voicing Bats in the cartoons. It's not that I dislike West's portrayal; his Bat's is a "Nice Guy" sort of like Supes. The campiness and the hilarity are fun but it's...forced for want of a better word. It wasn't true to the essence and character of the Batman. Michale Keaton is a Nice Guy himself, but his Bats in the 1989 movie mad it clear from the get-go that he wasn't a Nice Guy: "Who are you?!!" "I'm BATMAN!" ~smack~

West portrayal was a result of the Comics Code Authority and the backlash of the anti-violence movements and concern "for the children." Batman became this almost Boy Scout like figure who's job and purpose was to be a role model. That's not the purpose of the Batman. the Batman's job is to strike fear and terror into the hearts of criminals and bring them to justice. If Batman is a role model, it's more because of his refusal to use lethal force. Lately, that has turned into an anti-gun platform (cf., Batman: The Seduction of the Gun), but that's another debate.

The point is that, although West was true to the character as written, that character was not true to the Spirit of the Bat.

But about this issue specifically. The mid 70s was an interesting time for comics. they were trying to get rid of the CCA and tell relevant stories again (there's that 'R-word' again!)--you know things that reflected society as it was like assassinations, drug use, promiscuity, etc. One comic that handled that from DC was Green Lantern-Green Arrow #65.

That issue didn't make my cut, but it was close. This issue of Detective Comics touches on some of those issues. The antagonist isn't some campy, zany, costumed psychopath. No, Wormwood is a mercenary who kills for money flat out and simple. He's hired to get Batman's cape and cowl. Of course, it's all an elaborate plot by Batman to obtain evidence about the murder of a U.S. Congressman. There's a wonderful shot of Bruce Wayne drinking scotch or brandy while wearing a smoking jacket...he almost looks like a young Hugh Hefner!

This Batman is, in some ways, transitional. Note the elaborate plot to get the evidence: he's pretending to be someone who wants Batman's cape and cowl. But he strikes terror into the Wormwood's heart by disappearing without a trace after the cops put the cuffs on him. "He's not human!" Wormwood shouts.

On a side note, this issue was later adapted for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series as the "Cape and Cowl Conspiracy." There are some minor changes in the story...Wormwood becomes the 'Interrogator' and his look changes although he still doesn't wear a costume. Such is inevitable after 20 years, I guess.

29 August 2010

My Top 10 Comics #2: Captain America! (Do we sense a trend?)


Well, for my second choice in my top ten, I have to go with Captain America, March, 1941. By now, you all probably sense that I love the Golden Age. Mostly. Hopefully some of my other posts will prove otherwise.

This is in my favorites less because of the story but more because of the cover.Yes, they did redo this one for Captain America Reborn (#2), but the original is sooo Golden Age....smacking Hitler down with a strong right hook. So much more satisfying than choking the bejesus out of him. 

I say that because in the modern rendition, it looks like Cap has a bit of a struggle on his hands. In the 1941 version, it's clear that der Fuhrer has been PWNED!!!! Heck, he's not even concerned about the Nazi soldiers gunning for him! It's all about Adi. 

Much of what I mentioned about Superman holds true for Cap as well, but even more so. One can divorce the patriotism from Supes fairly easily. This doesn't mean that I like that especially, but it can be done. Cap on the other hand...well, his identity is framed by his patriotism. Supes is an alien from Krypton who grew up in the Midwest; Cap was a frail young New Yorker who wanted to serve his country and fight the Nazi menace. Cap even drapes himself in the colors of the American flag.

When Cap died a couple of years ago, there were people who were ecstatic on the news reports. Basically, some people saw it as putting a dinosaur to rest once and for, questioning whether his "jingoism" was even relevant in a post-9-11 world. Again, I use a magic word: POPPYCOCK!

Cap would be the first to say that just because he is ultra-American, it does not make anyone else's country or patriotism wrong or inferior. Cap embodies the ideal that love of country and  
personal sacrifice are laudable goals regardless of where one is from. He embodies this ideal even more so than Supes because Cap doesn't really have any powers. Oh, he's the peak of human conditioning but there is nothing "inhuman" or "superhuman" in his abilities.

I think, for me the scene that best exemplifies this idea is in the Secret Wars series. In issue #1, Wolverine questions why Cap should be the leader of the heroes because, "He's the least of us! He can't do anything!" Thor steps forward, however, and proclaims, "I am a prince of the gods...This man I will follow through the gates of Hades!"

In the same issue, we see Cap's mercy as well. When Doctor Doom is shot down by Kang,  Captain America offers to help Doom. Doom of course refuses, but that does not make Cap's offer any less sincere or noble.

One final thought for the day. Last year,over on YouTube, Just Some Random Guy did a tribute to Cap for the Fourth of July. [I seem to be referencing his work quite a bit; what can I say? He (and Random Gal!) are brilliant!] I'm going to leave you with that for now, True Believers. Excelsior!


28 August 2010

Ah, what direction to go?


Well, I have been floundering around with the idea of running a Supers RPG for several months now. The question is, what ruleset?

1. Heroes Unlimited (Palladium Books).  For me, this one is tried and true. It's very old school in feel. It uses d20 and the "Megaversal System" that some love and some loathe. It uses experience points, but classes in this game are more of a "power origin" than anything else.  And I like Kevin Siembieda; odd, yes, but I do, so there is a lot of personal loyalty there as well.

The Pluses. I have run this bad boy in one form or another since the Teenaged Mutant Turtles RPG was published by Palladium back in the mid 1980s. I even ran this at a con this year, and I can wing this one in my sleep.

The Minuses. There's not much in the way of advancement. Oh, combat levels do improve as do skills and you gain some new skills occasionally. However, powers are pretty much locked in at first level and, generally, do not change at all.  On the flip side, your character will pretty much be the way one envisions him at first level.

2. DC Adventures RPG/Mutants & Masterminds 3E (Green Ronin). This is the game that really started the supers genre back up in the RPG world. True, Heroes Unlimited and Champions stayed in print (mostly as far as Champions/Hero is concerned), but it was very niche. Still is, but M&M was
the one that made Superhero RPGs "kewl" again (funny to use that phrase where geeks like us are concerned :D).

The beginning for this game is awesome in my humble opinion. Green Ronin came to Steve Kenson and asked, "Can you design a d20 Supers game for us?" Steve said, "Yes, I can, BUT I want to use my campaign for the default setting." You see, back in the 90s, Steve had designed a city for Champions but, with all the upheaval with that game line, it got tossed to the curb. Steve kept on it, though, because it was his baby in many respects. So, when opportunity knocked, he jumped on it.

Recently, GR obtained the DC license, a much coveted piece of paper since Mayfair lost it so long ago. (We won't mention WEG at all. Oh, wait, I did.) This also gives GR a chance to update the M&M engine and make some minor changes to the rules.

Pluses. M&M2E is a joy to run. It has a lot of neat ideas (GM fiat, for instance) and powers are built much easier than in Champions. Unlike HU, powers can be customized. The Freedom City 
setting is rich and vibrant; comic fans can glean homages to their favorite heroes and teams all through the book. There is also a lot of original thought and care put into the setting. Centurion is my favorite hero (a Superman homage) and even spawned the idea for my main toon in City of Heroes, Tribunus. Alternatively, there is the whole DC Universe top play with; a campaign centered the premise of the DC Universe MMO (new heroes have arisen to aid the "regulars" and prevent a future cataclysm) is very plausible.

Minuses. The pluses. Seriously. One can get very involved in the number crunching for characters although nowhere in the league of Champions. It does take some getting used to, however. Also, the setting (both of them). I know, I know, I can create my own, but it's hard not to use the premade ones, especially seeing as how vibrant they both are. Also, M&M3E is not out yet, although that is essentially the engine that DC Heroes uses. I'm a bit of a completist, when  it comes to games. I could just use 2E, however.

3. Bash RPG! (Basic Action Games). One of the newer super games, but a good one. This game harkens back to a mechanic superficially similar to the old TSR Marvel RPG of the 1980s. 
I say superficial because it's not quite the same thing. it is a color chart and you roll dice to find not an effect level, but just success. The character creation is simple and quick. When I first skimmed through the book, I thought, "Too simple." But it's not. There's a hidden layer of complexity in the rules and yet, it retains a certain level of simplicity at the same time. Combat is not done in rounds or melees, but in panels and pages. It's a system that works well with supers.

Pluses. Simplicity. It's quick and easy to create characters and run combats. No getting mired down in the fighting like in Champions. [We once spent an hour on a single SEGMENT (phase) of a round in Champions!] It's has an easy mechanic that apes that of the genre quite well.

Minuses. The only real minus is the fact that I've yet to actually run this game. Now, I've been gaming since 1982 (egad, I'm getting older!), so one would think that that wouldn't cause any apprehension, but it does.

4. Villains and Vigilantes RPG (Monkey House Games).  Last, but by no means the least, is V&V. If M&M rekindled the flames of supers genre, V&V was the first...EVAH! Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have reasserted their claim the trademark and taken it back from FGU (a debate for another time and place). Unfortunately, V&V is not sold on Amazon (yet?) but here's a link to MHG's Lulu store. It can also be bought in pdf form here.

I recently got the "new" 2.1 version of the rules from Lulu. 55 pages. 55 PAGES!!! That's not a lot. Unlike many of the games that FGU published back in the 1980s, this one had a lack of crunch...which is good, because sometimes I felt like getting out the calculators and slide rules when playing Space Opera or Aftermath! To be so brief, there is a certain attraction for the rules as they are. I said that Heroes Unlimited is old school, but so is V&V. How so, you ask? Well, if HU is analogous to AD&D (1E), then V&V is analogous to original D&D (0E, or "whitebox"). It leaves a lot in the hands of the GM. And admittedly, the older I get the more I like simple systems that just allow me to roll some dice and go with the action. Gary still preferred original D&D when he died.

Pluses. This game would leave a lot of the detail up to me, which is fine. There is a lot of support out there in the way of fan sites and even a great fan forum. Heck, there are even metal minis still in production! (That's not so good for original heroes, but if I use their villains....)  And see above for my thoughts on simplicity.

Minuses. Well, am I looking at the game with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia? Admittedly, I didn't play a lot of V&V back in the day. I was more of a Champions guy back then and well into the 90s.

Well, there you have it. I'll probably run HU at home with the kids. We alternate between AD&D (1E) and Palladium Fantasy, so crunch is fine. It gives them structure. :) But, I would like to run an alternate supers game for my adult group to give Ramsey a break occasionally. I am definite leaning more to #2, 3, or 4. If anybody actually reads this, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

My Top 10 Comics #1: Where it all began....


Over at the Villains and Vigilantes Forum, 8675309 Jenni started a thread for members to list their top ten comic issues of all time, "not bound editions of multiple issues...not...graphic novels..." Just single issues.

Top Ten Comics thread

Well, I decided that over the course of the next week and a half or so to post one a day. Then the idea struck me (since my blog has been languishing again) to expand my posts there here on my blog. So, without any further adieu, post the first.

This is it, the one that started it all. The first appearance of Superman. As I stated on the V&V Forum, it is Superman from which all the others flow. Yes, there were the early "mystery men" in the pulps, but it was Superman that started the Golden Age and four-color comics. It is hard to picture a world without Superman, although some have dared.


Sometimes it feels like Superman has become outdated, outmoded, that the world has passed him by and left his morals and ideals back somewhere before the assassination of JFK. People question his relevance, mock his politeness and his stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. At best he is seen as quaint, at worst as naive. To all this negativity I say: BALDERDASH!!!

As the movie Superman Returns shows, there is a need for Superman in the world. I would like to think that there is a little bit of Supes in each of us, that he reflects the kinder, gentler part of our natures. Like the knights of old who tried (and quite frequently failed) to live up to the tenets of chivalry, we can look up to Superman and try to go his way; each of us can make a difference in this world. Personally, I think this is the lesson of Superman and, t a lesser extent, all of those who have followed him.

Of course, there are always those who can say things way better than me. So, here's a clip from Just Some Random Guy on YouTube. The relevant section is from ~1:55 to 4:35 and 7:20-8:20.

So, go out there and make a difference!