Friday, November 4, 2011

More Tales of Suspense

Tales of Suspense 40-50

After ToS 39 these cover the first year of Iron Man, circa 1963. Artists are pretty much Don Heck and Jack Kirby depending on the issue.

#40 features Gargantus, a giant Neanderthal Man. A girl doesn't show up for a date with Tony (clearly an indication of trouble) so Iron Man flies over to the town where she was visiting and finds it's cut off from the surrounding countryside by a big stone wall. He burrows under the wall and finds the townspeople hostile, referring to a "Gargantus" who now rules the town. he had them build the wall and they are now building a statue to him in the town square. The buildup here is pretty good.

Now there's no way IM is going to tolerate this state of affairs so he starts damaging stuff and calls the big G out. The traditional caveman with fur briefs and a big club appears (about 10' tall too) and starts fighting IM all over the town. Tony notices something weird about his eyes during the fight, deduces that he has hypnotized the town and that therefore he's more than just a caveman and then uses some kind of magnetic attack to rip Gargantus apart - he's a robot! And he's controlled by a UFO hovering above the town concealed by an artificial cloud! The aliens flee and the people snap out of it, saved by our hero.

Armor: Iron Man is repeatedly told that he is frightening at the begining of this issue so on the advice of a girlfriend he paints the suit gold to give himself more of a shining knight appearance. He's otherwise the same, so this marks the beginning of the original gold suit. Another thing to note is that he really doesn't have a lot of blasting powers at this stage. He's very much like a tech-based Magneto as he is throwing out magnets, reversing charges, and tossing metal around. He is strong and he can fly and he is armored but he is constantly running out of power and struggling to get to an electrical outlet to recharge.

Things you can steal: I think the basic plot looks like a lot of fun, though it makes no sense at all. Sure, have a local town cut off by a big stone wall and have a huge hypnotizing caveman robot controlled by a UFO behind it all! It's awesome! Then when your players tell you it's stupid you can point to the second Iron Man comic ever and say "Stan Lee and Jack Kirby thought it was just fine" and bask in the glow of your superiority!  Seriously, you might need more than one big robotic Neandethal to give your team some real opposition but it can work.

#41 features "Dr. Strange" who is definitely not the Strange we all know. This one is a villain in a purple suit (eventually - see:).

He does use magic, sort of - he's a kind of menatlist. He disappears at the end.

#42 features Red Barbarian who is not literally red (unusual for this time period) nor is he literally a Conan-esque barbarian, nor does he appear to have any actual powers, but he is pretty angry during most of this story. He is a Chinese warlord who plans to steal Stark technology by sending a face-changing agent known as "The Actor" (effective but not very inspirational) over to impersonate Stark. There is some simple skullduggery here and rather than a straight-up fight Iron Man uses his brains to get ahead of Actor and set him up for execution at the hands of Red Barbarian. RB is alive at the end of this one.

#43 features Kala, Queen of the Netherworld who again does not appear to have powers beyond being the queen of an underground kingdom with some advanced technology. Her goal is to conquer the surface world. She uses a device like a Star Trek transporter to kidnap some people, including Tony Stark who is caught without his suit. Feeling a little Deja Vu he promises to build weapons for her if he is left alone in a lab for a while. He promptly builds another suit (gold from the start this time) escapes, makes his way into the throne room, and then convinces the queen to marry her right-hand-man who is against the war anyway. This is another one where Stark talks people into things to resolve the situation instead of just issuing an armored beatdown. Kala ends the issue engaged and dissuaded from attacking us. Note the rather conservative costume, by today's standards anyway.

#44 features a trip back in time where Tony hooks up with Cleopatra and defeats the Mad Pharoah who is rebelling against her. This is an odd side trip story and is the kind of plot you probably cooked up when you were 12. It's kind of funny to see several panels regarding Tony's contemplation of whether he could have scored with Cleopatra - almost as much time as is spent on whether IM could defeat an ancient Egyptian army. Iron Man smashing chariots is cool and all but that's about it.

#45 finally features another super-powered opponent: Jack Frost! He runs around freezing stuff (including Happy Hogan) until IM reverses a polarity somewhere and freezes Frost. He is melted out and taken into custody. A lot of these early plots boil down to "guy attacks Stark Industries, Iron man has to figure out how to stop him in between charging cycles, Iron Man pulls new manuver that defeats bad guy" - this is one of those. Also: Hapy Hogan and Pepper Potts (called "Kitty" in one panel for some reason) make their first appearance. Not sure about that "favorite" comment on the cover but they are a part of the lore.

#46 brings in one of my favorite bad guys and one of IM's oldest (maybe he is the oldest,  looking at the timing here) recurring foes: CRIMSON DYNAMO! A Russian electrical genius builds a battlesuit, gets endorsed by Khruschev, then flies off to America to take out Stark and Iron Man. It's a big bulky red suit against a big bulky yellow suit! Stark eventualy convinces the scientist that the Russian leader is planning to betray him by using a trick voice recording (wasn't that part of 24 Season 2?). The Russian defects to America and all is well by the end of the issue. The funny thing is that the Russian leader WAS planning to betray him. This follows the pattern I mentioned above but it's better because it has communists and the Dynamo.

#47 features a new supervillain named the Melter (again descriptive but not all that imaginitive). He has a ray gun strapped to his chest that melts things when fired. This again follows the usual pattern but it has Tony running around worried about his secret identity being revealed if his maks gets melted off. Personally I would be worried about having molten metal dripping down my face but that's not really an issue here as the melted armor seems to run off without burning the exposed skin beneath. There is an extended running fight and the Melter ends up fleeing into the sewers, surely to return another day.

#48 introduces a brand new red and gold suit, the one with the "double-peaked" yellow mask It also introduces "Mister Doll" (wow that is bad, even for 1964) who uses a small voodoo doll he stole from an African witch doctor to cause harm. He uses it on several millionaires to get them to sign their fortunes over to him (on threat of voodoo-torure, not because of mind control) and then comes after Tony Stark. The odd thing is that he shapes the doll to look like Iron Man and makes Tony hurt...then he makes it look like Stark and hurts him again - I'm not sure that should work that way but it's magic anyway so who cares? Iron Man saves the day by reversing the whip - he makes a sudden move and changes the doll to look like its owner just as he drops it from a height, seriously harming the villain. He is taken away by the police.

#49 is the first IM crossover featuring Angel from the X-Men, who gets caught in a nuclear blast which scrambles his brain and makes him a bad guy. He and Iron Man get into a scrap, he quits the X-Men, then spends a bunch of time doing bad things to get the attention of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants until Iron Man comes back and sorts him out by ... falling. He puts himself into a lethal situation which forces the good side of Angel to act and snaps him out of the evilness. This seems a little out of character for what we know about Tony so far and it also seems to me to be more like something a sidekick would do to save his hero, not something Iron Man does to save an X-Man he just met the same day! Gaming note: If your players can handle it then having one of them "turn bad" for a session could be a lot of fun.

#50 features the first appearance of The Mandarin, a recurring Iron Man enemy. He has a big old fortress somewhere near China and is a bad enough dude that Chinese generals go to him begging for help and fearing for their lives. The Pentagon asks Iron Man to do something so he flies out and pretty much gets his lunch eaten by the Mandarin. He ... sort of defeeats the Mandarin, then while he is recovering IM escapes ... and flies back home. This is the first time we see IM not really coming out completely victoroius - instead it feels like he was lucky to get away! This is kind of an odd way to go but it does set the big M up as a formidable opponent. It also reverses the typical plots we have been seeing which is kind of neat.

One funny note: despite being Chinese the Mandarin's costume features a big "M" in the middle of his chest. It's one of those Silver Age things you don't see as much anymore and I love it.

So by the end of Iron Man Year One (1963 edition):

- We know his origin

- We've met Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, two major supporting characters

- We've met Crimson Dynamo and The Mandarin, two major recurring villains

- His powers are more like Batman plus Magneto than the later versions of the character

- We've seen him build a suit, repaint a suit, build another suit, and build a new version of the suit much closer to the iconic version

 Oh and ...

Yeah, that dreamy Rock Hudson...guessing it would be Clooney today.

Yeah. Anyway that's not a bad first year. More to come...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tales of Suspense

If I'm about to start a campaign I like to dig back into some of the things that inspire it. For DD that might be Howard, Leiber, Tolkien, some newer writers, and maybe a viewing of the LOTR movies or some Conan or Sword and the Sorcerer. For the Greek campaign I kicked it off with Clash of the Titans and re-reading some of the myths. For Star Wars there is the obvious material. For Champions, DC, Marvel, M&M, ICONS, BASH, etc. I think comic books are the true original source. I know some people try to run super campaigns even though the only inspirational material they see is the occasional summer movie but to me that's a pretty limited set of material, even after the last 11 years of annual super-releases. The animated series for these things are more plentiful and often more true to the comics and I think they're a fine way to go and I've done that, but I want more. So I've been going back to the beginning on some source material and I decided to start with old school Iron Man.

Iron Man makes his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #39

This is his origin story and it's very similar to the first part of the movie if you swap out Middle East for Southeast Asia. I originally read this years ago in a big hardback full-color compilation from the local library called "Origins of Marvel Heroes" and I thought it was pretty cool then. Seeing it up on the big screen was a particular thrill for me as IM has long been my favorite. For a very long time the only comic long boxes in my house were Iron Man, eventually covering from about issue #100 up to about #300 or so when I got busy with other things. This drew me into the Avengers and West Coast so I was always more about that branch of the Marvel family than the X-branch, but I was at least aware of them too.

Anyway, back to this book: It's very simple and it's a very linear story. Injured > Captured > Building> Breaking Out> Free. The villain is "Wong Chu" who is a martial arts expert and local warlord. We don't learn much about him other than that - he is clearly there to be defeated - and by the end he's presumably dead when Iron Man detonates the ammo dump Wong Chu just ran into.

Things you could steal: Not a lot since it's an origin story and a fairly well-known one at that. You could use the tail-kicking warlord with soldiers who is taking over a small country as part of an adventure, but for an international run it seems pretty limited. Maybe reset it in Mexico and make him a drug lord who's stirring up trouble. I think a Wolverine or Batman type character dropped into this scenario could have a ton of fun. Give the warlord some mental defenses if you have a mentalist so that one die roll doesn;t cure your whole scenario. Better yet, give him a rival warlord who moves in if the original one goes peaceful and double the trouble.

Armor: The Gray Armor, the Mark I of all Mark I's. It looks clunkier than the one in the movie if that's possible, but this is where it all began.

One other note - these early Tales have a few extra stories added in after the Iron Man material and some of them are kind of cool. They are all modern to futuristic in setting and very much in the Twilight Zone school of science fiction where there is a big twist at the end. There's not much you would use in a campaign sense, but they did push the old-school science fiction button for me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 29: Dead Man's Party

After resting overnight at the temple ruins, the party sets forth across the swamp. As they approach the ancient keep the swamp quiets down. A single tower looms in the darkness, broken off twenty feet above the ground. The rest of the keep is in similar shape, ground down over the centuries by weather and war. A once-gated arch hangs open, inviting the adventurers in.

They enter and see a barren courtyard surrounded by broken and partially collapsed walls with a single inner gate in the opposite corner. As they look around, the ruined forms of might once have been men begin to emerge from the ground. With squelching and clanking noises the undead things move forward, evil intent in their eyes.

The experienced champions stand unshaken - they have fought the undead before. Kordan and Uthal charge the largest concentration as the arcane members of the party unleash various blasts and bolts, dropping several enemies in their tracks. One of the undead issues a wail that stops the fighting man and the barbarian in their tracks, allowing some of the lesser undead to sweep past them. Mikal is the focus of their efforts and the warlock moves backward as rapidly as he can while keeping up a steady fire on his attackers.

Enraged, Uthal explodes in fury raining blows all around him and stopping the general encirclement of the party. The other heroes also step up and deal out devastation in their own way. Despite effort this a pair of fast ghouls weave through the lines and assault the wizard and the bard back near the gate. As the rest of the creatures succumb, the party converges near the gate to finish off these last few opponents, ending a nasty little fight where every member of the party was hit and injured in some way.

Pausing for breath inside the gate they attempt to recover, then a booming crash echoes through the ruin as dust cascades down over the inner gate. As heads turn to see what new terror awaits inside, Uthal's trained senses notice frost creeping down the stones at the top of the ruined tower, and it is in no way cold enough to be a natural event. Just then another boom crashes out and the heroes gather themselves up for another fight.

DM Notes: This session was shorter than some but we still managed to get the party to the keep, only to find out it was not exactly the dreamhouse they had been hoping for. The main part of the session was an 8 round fight against a variety of ghouls some of which I pulled from the 4E Open Grave - still handy despite being one of the earlier books in the 4E run. Several daily powers and action points were burned as the quality of quantity proved to be somewhat effective against the group on a relatively open battlefield. It was a good fight and brought in some more of the lore about the keep, its origins,  and its ancient inhabitants the Knights of the Silver Star. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in Session 30...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More Qualities for Icons That You May Recognize

A different take this time. You may scoff at the source but slogans are driven into people's brain and millions of dollars are spent to do it because they work! If some of the players and the DM already have some pictures in their heads tied to a catchy phrase, why not use that for our own purposes?

Engineered Like No Other Car in the World - change "Car" to "Battlesuit" or "Robot" or "Clay Golem" or anything else you can think of and I would tag this one anytime I took a serious beating - DM: "You're armor fails and you're uconscious" - Titanium Titan: "but wait, it's Engineered Like No Other Armor in the World!" - Ta daaaaa! Thank you, thank you. You could have a lot of fun playing this up too - "Wow that's some really nice plating there" or "Triple-redundancy in the power relays eh?" and that kind of thing. It gives you superiority when the monthly armored heroes club meeting rolls around. Unless somebody else takes...

The Ultimate Driving Machine - change "Driving" to "Armored" or "Fighting" or "Speed" and you have some bragging rights with this one too. To keep them separated conceptually I would look at ELNOCITW as more defensive/materials type superiority and TUDM as more of performance or functional superiority. Titan's suit may be tougher, but Ironhead's suit just works and it's faster/shootier/better in some way than any other. I think as long as there is a mechanical element to the character then either of these works well. It's a versatile Quality too as more than just functional superiority it implies a reputaiton as well! When Karateka Robotika cuts loose the thugs may have to make a Willpower check because he is widely known as the Ultimate Fighting Machine.

The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection - You are a techie hero. You suffer a setback or are even defeated because of some weakness in your tech. Tag RPOP for a point to overcome this problem as you would "never stand for leaving that kind of flaw unattended to". The DM might have you make a roll to overcome this - bargain and see if he'll give you two points for it - remember you are Relentless - it says so right there on your sheet. This might even work for non-tech heroes if it was redirected at an over-planning type - "where did my plan go wrong?" and that kind of thing.

We Build Excitement - Some heroes are natural celebrities, justified or not. For a hero with this quality, wherever he goes, whatever he does, people are interested. Reporters show up whenever he is in public - crowds gather, vid is taken, twitter is abuzz. This implies a very public persona. There's a lot of old school Tony Stark here, and a lot of Fantastic Four movie Johnny Storm here too. Rock Star/Reality Star is a good real-world model to follow here. Lord forbid multiple characters with this quality get together...Uses: It's basically impossible to become lost or stranded with this quality. It's incredibly easy to publicize any kind of information imaginable as even the outlandish or implausible will at the very least be repeated/reported. Getting in touch with another celebirty is as easy as mentioning it to a fan or reporter or blogger. One downside is that any super-fights will probably have to happen near some bystanders. They may scatter but they WILL return - that's just how it works.

Interlude: I would submit that the Iron Man movies' Tony Stark has all 4 of the above qualities. Discuss, then continue:

The Heartbeat of America - this character embodies the qualities associated with "America" in a traditional patriotic sense, the hero is in tune with those qualities and is known for them. Tagging this one could involve patriotic symbols, "doing the right thing", and "The American  Way". It's probably best for a high-profile character.

Quality is Job 1 - You are all about quality, in this case getting it right the first time. Fail a talent roll? Tag this and roll again! I would direct it towards talents and attributes more than straight-up powers as it's hard to have a focus on quality with your teleport or energy blast but it makes sense with a science skill, detective work, or inventing things.

The Standard of the World - this one comes with a lot of baggage and there's not much room for multiples. For a DC example it's Superman. For marvel we might focus it a bit and say Doctor Doom on the bad side and maybe Reed Richards on the good side. For heroes it means you are the one they all count on when things get as bad as they can get, the last hope. For villains it means that if you're involved then it's a Big Deal. To tag this the stakes need to be high and everything should be on the line and you're responsibility, your place in the world, your history - all of that should be coming to the fore.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


My posting of late has been interrupted a bit by, among other things, this:

I don't watch a ton of regular season baseball but after nearly 30 years of futility when they get to the postseason I start watching like a true fan. It didn't work out for them this year (or last year) but having them in the Series is a huge advance from past efforts, and two runs in a row shows that they may have finally taken a step up into the ranks of the serious contenders - finally!

Now that it's over and I don't have 3-hour games distracting me 5 out of 7 nights a week, things should settle down here.