My First Crush

The first AF issue I ever bought, at a 7-Eleven

Sometimes, you discover your own history in strange ways – things you forgot you knew or did until something jogs your memory. Recently, my family and I spent some time in Boulder City checking out antique stores. Boulder City is not far away from Las Vegas, and is the anti-Vegas in many ways. The locals are anti-development, and thus B.C. has a small town atmosphere.

One of these aforementioned antique stores had a few shelves stacked with old comic books, and they were cheap so I was bound to buy a few. I started digging in and found a bunch of old Kamandis, Ka-Zars, Battlestar Gallacticas, John Carter Warlord of Mars, Shogun Warriors … groovy stuff from the ’70s and ’80s. I grabbed quite a few of those titles, and I also grabbed a couple old Alpha Flights.

When I first got into comic books in the ’80s (after playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG, because I always get into things ass-backwards), the first two titles I grabbed onto were West Coast Avengers and Alpha Flight. So, I’m reading Alpha Flight #12, wherein Guardian dies a horrible fiery death, and it suddenly hits me … Heather Hudson (later to be Guardian and then Vindicator) was my first comic book crush (with Mockingbird a close second).

[Quick aside – I was thinking about that era in comic books, when I first started collecting them, and something struck me. The West Coast Avengers were led by Mockingbird, the Avengers by Captain Marvel (this lady), the X-Men by Storm (in her cool costume), and Alpha Flight by Vindicator. Four women leading super hero teams at the House of Ideas, and two of them black women. Has that happened since?]

So, Nodians – who was your first comic book crush?

(And keep it clean … there may be children present).

Non-over-sexualized women are sexier. Or is that just me?


Comic Mockery – Cave Girl

Honestly, this is probably the last jungle comic I can handle. Great art by Bob Powell, written by Gardner Fox … but the comic book jungles are thick with the danger of unkind stereotypes. Still, we’ll press on through this one and see if there’s anything worth while.

As always, this one was found at the Comic Book Catacombs!

I dig the term “morass country” – I’ll have to steal that one for the Pwenet/Kush hexcrawl (coming soon!). That bit at the end is what a saving throw looks like – or maybe just a missed attack roll. The art is by Bob Powell, who was known for his “good girl” art. Good indeed. Nice action shots as well – he could draw more than just a pretty face.

“Fat One” – nice. I suppose the elephant was trying to kill them, but is it really necessary to hurt the beast’s self esteem. We’ve gone a couple pages so far and no unkind stereotypes yet, so it’s looking pretty good.

Ah, spoke too soon. Well, if Eisner’s Spirit can be forgiven, maybe Cave Girl can as well. Impressive display of super powers from the kid though (invulnerability III, perhaps).

Wild time in the old town tonight, though, isn’t it. First an explosion, then a crazy guy with a knife. One question, though – is that guy rabid, or did he just go berserk while he was shaving. Or, in the words of a half-dozen Marvel comic book covers … “Is he both?”

Wonderful stroke of luck, those two shriners with outrageous English accents showing up to help. Still, this does diffuse the stereotype problem a little.

Here, Cave Girl makes a case for being a druid (or my beastlord variation thereof) – speak with animals, calm animals, etc. The chick in the last panel looks like she’s trying to pass a brick.

Nice action here – knee to the chin ranks right up there with face kicking. And a real waaa-waaa-waaaaaaa moment at the end. The woman who brought Cave Girl into town looks like an oompa loompa at the end.

I dig the art in this one, and the story isn’t any worse than was typical for the genre/time period. Cave Girl almost made the cut into the Mystery Men! rulebook, but I decided to stick with the more classic concept of superheroes. Here are some stats, though, for those who want to do a little knee-to-the-chin action themselves …

CAVE GIRL, Adventurer 14 (Jungle Girl)
STR 7 (+2) | DEX 7 (+2) | CON 7 (+2) | INT 3 (+0) | WIL 7 (+2) | CHA 7 (+2)
HP 88 | DC 16 | ATK +11 (+13 melee, +13 ranged) | SPD 2 | XP 29,500

Ability Boosts: Str +1, Dex +5, Con +5, Int +2, Wil +2, Cha +3

Powers: Calm Emotions (Animals Only), Catfall, Invulnerability I, Jump, Speak With Animals

Gear: Leopard skin, flower in hair

Will Kaanga Rue the Day He Met Bwana Black-Jaw?

See what I did there? Kaanga. Rue. Yeah – spent more time on the title than the rest of the post. As always, a hearty thanks to the Comic Book Catacombs for posting this story. Away we go …

Right off the bat, I defy you to figure out what the @#$#%$ is going on. The story reads like they removed every other panel. We start off with the finest jungle comic book poetry ever written (“Devil-Devil Wind”, because the benighted love using the same word twice in a row to provide emphasis).

First, Ann watches Kaanga spear a panther in the chest. Fair enough – the predator might have had is coming. Next, she asks why they are stopping while Kaanga seemingly glues his canoe back together. Stopping when … why … where are they … what? Finally, Kaanga smells a guy in the forest, gets pissed and picks up his bola. [Note, Kaanga has a bola, so he’s officially playing by the Companion rules].

The story doesn’t get much clearer here. Because a man riding an antelope* doesn’t see Kaanga hiding behind a plant, his guilt is proven. In response, Kaanga does the only responsible thing – he throws a bola at him and then threatens him. M’bala now mutters something incoherent about white men, fire-eaters and demons (could be the blow to the skull he just received from those rocks) and Kaanga responds that, yes, he knew it all along. Knew what all along?

* Yeah, even my favorite thing – people riding animals that God and nature have deemed un-ride-able doesn’t rescue this stinker. Alas!

Kaanga and Ann now mount their zebras (awesome, but, no, still not enough) and head to the village, where the villagers send them to the Valley of Leopards (probably because they don’t want the Aryan with the itchy finger and doped eyes anywhere near their kids).

We close with a very lost toucan – perhaps on his own search for colorful, fruity breakfast cereal.

“Bones of a lost temple” is good, I’ll admit that. Might use it myself one of these days. As a long-time fan of Jonny Quest, I have to nod approvingly at “AI-EEE!” being used not once, but twice on the same page.

Ah, the plot thickens. Blackie Rawls wants to screw up Capt. Clyde Ankers contract with European zoos! The fiend! In the last panel, Kaanga’s hurry to save Ann from the arrow causes him to inadvertently snap her neck. Oh well – time to find a new henchwoman!

See – tribesmen mounted on antelopes and zebras killing in the name of Flame God. This really should be something wonderful. Pity. One thing does inspire me though …

Drum of Command: This item looks like a large bongo. When struck, all who can hear the drum must pass a (Will) saving throw or be whipped into a frenzy (per the barbarian’s rage) and attack whomever the drummer indicates for 1d6 rounds. Fear effects counter the effect of the magic drum.

The giant flaming bird-glider is a nice touch. Those contracts are as good as broken! Oh Blackie, you scoundrel!

See “Then the flame-kite crashing as M’bala’s treachery saw a chance –” is not a sentence. Damn close, but not a sentence.

Nevertheless, Kaanga takes one to the dome and out he goes. The kite explodes, the panther escapes back into the jungle (plot point, I’m thinking) and Ann and Capt. Clyde are taken prisoner.

So, is Blackie freeing the animals out of a sense of kindness?

So, Blackie has given his minions a false sense of confidence in themselves while ruining zoo contracts. I just don’t know …

“A savage surge of bull-ape’s might …” is another fantastic line. We now finally know what the heck was happening in the first panel (it was a preview!). We also now know that Kaanga’s war cry is “Haa-Ree!”. Please work that one into your next game for me. Thanks!

Kaanga uses a signal-smoke (or, if you’re 99% of English speakers, a smoke signal) to signal the lancers and heads off on the trail of the bad guys. Spider-Man shows up in panel two, chasing a monkey, and then we’re looking at the lost temple of the fire gods, one of whom must be called Zom. Again, I really should be enjoying this more than I am.

Blackie brags about the fact that his plan is so intricate and clever that they’ll never pin it on him. Pin what on him? Who the $%@#$% hell knows, though it is worth mentioning that everyone involved in the story is already 100% aware that he’s behind it all. I guess the lack of evidence will be important in the Superior Court of Jungle Law.

And then we find out just what Blackie Rawls is after. He wants Capt. Clyde’s contract. That’s it. That’s the whole dang caper. Tribal war, murder, etc. for a zoo contract. No diamonds, no King Solomon’s Mines. A zoo contract. The stuff legends are made of.

“Your head is mine!” Really sums it all up, doesn’t it. I take it back. Forget the war cry. In your next game (this week, this weekend, whenever), please make sure you yell “Your head is mine!” while attacking at least once. Maybe twice.

I like the last panel.

Angry Dude: “They betray us! KILL!”

M’bala: “No! The fire-thrower is a wizard – strike!”

Apparently M’bala is still aiming for better working conditions and a pension plan.

And so we come to the end of our tale. Kaanga punches M’bala in the face, the fire gods ride off on zebras, only to be killed by the lancers (who ride bog-standard horses – how boring), Ann is released from her bonds (say what you will about the comic, Riddell could draw one heck of an Ann), and Kaanga throws a patronizing parting shot to the natives. We can only pray they’ll kill him in his sleep one night.

And what did we learn from all this? Absolutely nothing! Thanks boys and girls … more inanity from the Land of Nod tomorrow.

Planet Stories … Greatest Covers in Comic History?

Maybe. Maybe not. But this one is a humdinger …

Visit the Comic Book Catacombs and read about Aura, Lord of Jupiter, won’t you?

You couldn’t get this much awesome for 1 slim dime in the modern day, I can assure you.

Princess Vara, despite getting a smaller font than Reef Ryan, appears to get the cover (I can’t imagine why), if in fact those aliens getting slapped around are the Green Legions of Xalan. She’s wearing her gold-plated titanium Venusian lady-parts armor (protection where you need it, when you need it – AC +1) and wielding a short sword while riding something that came out of a random monster generator.

Let’s tick off the alien parts on that beast – lower body of a horse, feet of a camel, talons of an eagle, neck of a hairy lizard, ears of an Elfquest elf, horn of a … I have no idea … and beak of abject, eye-poking horror. It needs some stats (S&W and Space Princess this time):

AREMIHC: HD 4; AC 6 [13]; Atk 2 talons (1d4), beak (1d6) and gore (1d6); Move 18; Save 13; CL/XP 5/240; Special: Run x5, only surprised on 1 on 1d8.

AREMIHC: HD 4; DEF 17; FIGHT 11 (Beak/Gore 1d8, Talons 1d4); MOVE F; STR 7; DEX 5; KNO 0; MEN 3; Special: None.

 The Green Legions are somewhere in the kobold-goblin-orc continuum – I’d go with goblin stats, since they’re clearly pretty easy to pick up and hurl. I dig the polearms and golden shields with the suns. They also have a sweet ride in the background – you can’t beat old school starship design, I always say.

I also dig the “Slaver-Hordes of Neptune” – good name for a Space Princess module – maybe a sci-fi version of the classic Slavers series for AD&D.

Thun’da, King of the Conga/Congo

It’s time for another look into the wonders of old jungle comics with a Thunda story posted at The Comic Book Catacombs (for all your old jungle comic needs, one convenient location on the world wide web).

OK, first and foremost, Thun’da is a dude. Name ends with a vowel, immediately I’m thinking a jungle girl, but no, it’s a jungle boy. Naturally, he has a jungle girl (every Tarzan needs a Jane). This episode is about Jungle Killers (i.e. killers in the jungle, as opposed to people who kill jungles).

I wonder what the berber’s “% in Lare” is?

This scene, killing an elephant with one blast of a gun, does bring up a shortcoming of D&D combat, namely that for a single gun shot to take down an 11 HD elephant, it needs to do about 11 dice of damage (or maybe 6, if we’re allowing for double damage on some sort of critical hit). You could make 10d6 damage elephant guns in D&D, but if you let the monsters have them, the players are going to be pissed.

Well, maybe that last elephant just rolled shitty for hit points, because Muka is only annoyed at the little lead pellets, an annoyance he demonstrates by tossing around the Arabs.

What the heck is Pha doing in that middle panel? She’s either distressed at the sound of gunshots or swooning over that dreamy Thun’da, the Frank Sinatra of the Conga.

“Drops like a falling stone” does not really paint Thun’da’s dexterity score in the brightest light.

You know how great it would have been if they misspelled “Flee” in that last panel?

The adventures of Thun’da, Jungle Veterinarian. “That mud will draw out the pain, and introduce a host of bacteria into the wound.”

Meanwhile … Pha Pha Pha Phooom. Thun’da done alright for himself in the jungle. Ain’t it just like a female sidekick, though – you tell them to stay, and they always wander in just in time to be attacked by the one bad guy that got away from you. Sheesh.

Ooo! Ooo! Gold pieces! He said gold pieces! At least we’re dealing with an economy I can understand.

Also … SMATTT? Nice sound effect. Not exactly up to Batman quality.

Hours after days, Thun’da makes his Tracking check and finds the caravan. He then fails his Spot check and is apparently unable to see the guns they’re carrying – those same guns they were carrying on the last page (hours and days ago).

Now Thun’da goes into guerrilla mode – the picture of the impaled dude is actually pretty badass. This brings up a though … how often have your players ever used guerrilla tactics against goblin and orc tribes?

Of course, then Thun’da decides to pick on the African bearers, who are already being whipped and beaten by the Arabs and I lose all respect for the jungle douche.

Oh, I take that back. By jumping on his back from a tree, Thun’da only meant to warn him, not hurt him. It’s like the time a warned a friend about the dangers of bricks by throwing one at his head.

So he gets rid of the bearers, leaving the Arabs with useless ivory (not sure why it’s useless … they may have to carry it themselves, but it will still fetch a pretty penny … er, gold piece … in Djibouti.

Oh, and for those who don’t get the geography involved …

These knuckle heads are traveling 4,300 miles to grab ivory and slaves in the Congo (or Conga, depending on the page) and deliver them to the markets of Djibouti. No, the map’s not perfectly accurate, but close enough for government work. Given the terrain involved, this could be a 2 year trip on foot. Methinks the writer was not acquainted with the immensity of Africa.

I like the last panel. Just in case being shot in the head and tied to a post had taken Thun’da mind off the problem at hand, Pha provides some helpful exposition.

Just when things look their darkest, Thun’da remembers an old trick he learned watching Tarzan movies, and summons his faithful elephant and sabretooth tiger to kill everyone. Which, of course, begs the question … why not summon those two to begin with?

So after saving Muka from the Berbers, he sends Muka to his death against the Berbers. Nice. But it’s not a total loss, as Thun’da finds an alternate route home. You know, for when the jungle is crowded around rush hour. Interesting that the Elephant Graveyard appears to be within sight of the city of Shareen, and yet its existence was a complete surprise to the King of the Congo.

Oh – and love the look on the one guy’s face in the upper right hand panel. Looks like he has a serious noogie coming.

Time for stats!

Thun’da will use have levels in the beastmaster, a variant druid class in Blood & Treasure (yes, I’ll release it pretty soon – give me a break, one guy working on a 400 page RPG book in his spare time). The beastmaster is a druid who loses the shapechange abilities and armor use of a druid, but gains the unarmored AC bonus and speed bonus of a monk and the favored enemy and tracking ability of a ranger. I’m going to be a bit on the brutal side with this guy, given that he’s kind of an ass.

9th level Beastmaster
Neutral (cause he just ain’t that good)

STR 16 (+2 bonus)
DEX 10 (would have been higher, but the whole “fell like a stone” thing didn’t help him)
CON 16 (+2 bonus)
INT 7 (-1 bonus)
WIS 13 (+1 bonus, and only because he needs it to qualify)

Hit Points: 36 (9d6+18)
Armor Class: 14 (10 + 4 for unarmored AC bonus)
Saving Throws: Fortitude 7, Reflex 12, Will 8

Skills: Survival [8], Tracking [8]

Special Abilities: Druid spells (6/5/4/3/2/1), move through undergrowth (Lvl 2), leaves no trail (Lvl 3), +2 save vs. spells of the fey (Lvl 4), immune to poison (Lvl 9), establish stronghold (Lvl 9; we’ll say his city of Shareen is his stronghold), armor class bonus (+4 at Lvl 9), speed bonus (+20 ft. at Lvl 9), favored enemy (double damage vs. Berbers)

Gear: Short bow, 20 arrows, spear

Henchmen: Sabre (smilodon), Pha (total babe)

Camilla, Queen of the Secret Empire

Shouldn’t it be empress?

Okay – off to a bad start. Today I’m reviewing Camilla, Queen of the Lost Empire, which I found over at the excellent Comic Book Catacombs.

Knuten and Caredodo – names to conjure with! We have a hunchback living in the sewers (nice sewer entrance, by the way – nothing but class in the lost empire) who’s going to kill Camilla.

Into the salt mines. If you’ve ever checked out some of the ancient salt works that still exist, you’ll find nothing on Earth more like an actual mega-dungeon … you know, except for the monsters and treasure and stuff.

And just like, she has a henchman. If I were statting her up for Blood & Treasure (and I guess I am), I’d probably use the variant bard class in the game – the Aristocrat.

Queen Camilla, 9th level Aristocrat
Str 13, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 11, Cha 14
HP 56, AC 14, MV 30, SAVE Fort 11, Ref 7, Will 9
Special: +1 on reaction checks, legend lore (9), fascinate (4 creatures, 90-ft range), suggestion (one fascinated creature)
Gear: Longsword (+5 attack, 1d8+1), cloak of protection +2

And monkey men! Nice touch.

There’s a bounty of greatness here. First, we see the queen run the monkey man through in one shot – we can guess the monkey men have a single Hit Dice. Love the shot of the dead monkey-man’s feet in the fifth frame – and check out Camilla’s pose. Very cool.

Monkey Man: HD 1; AC 13; ATK 2 slams (1d4); MV 30 (C20); SAVE Fort 13, Ref 15, Will 16; XP 50 (Basic); Special: None.

Then we have some men-at-arms mounted on zebras – always a favorite of mine for some reason. And they have ray guns to boot. Zebra-mounted ray gun troops!

Camilla’s hunchman, I mean henchback, I mean Caredodo ain’t no slouch when it comes to combat. He was hired as an assassin, and the next page features a nice stab in the back. We’ll go assassin for him.

Caredodo, 4th level Assassin
Str 16, Dex 8, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 6
HP 13, AC 10, MV 30, SAVE Fort 13, Ref 12, Will 14
Special: Sneak attack (double damage)
Skills: Climb (12), Decipher Script (10), Escape Bonds (13), Hide (13), Listen at Doors (10), Move Silently (13), Trickery (12)
Gear: Dagger (+4 attack, 1d4+2 damage, double on sneak attack)

The monkey men, I have to admit, seem like half-hearted villains. No ambition – no verve.

Hmmm – the plot thickens. As basic as this story was, I liked it and wouldn’t mind reading the next story. I think when you do introduce plots into role playing games, you might want to focus on keeping them about as simple as these old comic book stories. More complex plots work well in stories, where the old deus ex machine is there to help the investigators, but they can be pretty tricky in tabletop games where the players can’t actually see and hear anything, and only know what they’re told. Something to think about.

Happy Birthday Mr. Eisner

Hopefully I’m not too late for this one, since I only just found out that today (I’ll keep that term vague so as not to incriminate myself) is Will Eisner’s birthday. Eisner certainly elevated the comic book medium and he produced some truly wonderful art. His most famous creation is probably The Spirit. The Spirit is a noir detective in a domino mask (Eisner’s boss wanted a costume, and Eisner was sick of costumes, so he gave him a mask). Put in suspended animation by Dr Cobra, he was buried but managed to escape his internment. He decides to abandon his old identity and, with the blessings of Police Commissioner Dolan, an old friend, becomes a vigilante.

The Spirit holes up in a secret hideout underneath his own grave. Over the course of his adventures he tangles with femme fatales, a mad scientist or two and The Octopus, his arch-enemy and a master of disguise. His primary sidekick is one Ebony White, an unfortunate racist caricature in appearance and speech, who otherwise proves to be well loved by his allies and a true friend and helper to the Spirit.

As a Mystery Men! character, the Spirit is a good example of a non-powered adventurer, thus the low starting XP. Despite not technically having any powers, he certainly manages to survive some rough scrapes and shows some keen detective skills, thus the heroic attributes.

An Early "Gamma World" For Your Perusal

Found this comic book scanned on Golden Age Comic Book Stories (I highly recommend the site).

Makes for an interesting early version of the “Gamma World”. Here, we have an alien invasion instead of nuclear war – even better, an alien invasion after everybody disarmed. The volta men are ragged looking aliens sporting pickelhauben, talking like Yoda and fretting over another group of aliens from Venus – the sponge people (no, not this guy). If I’m being completely honest, I think I prefer this to nuclear apocalypse-land.

Speaking of the Hulk …

Which I kinda sorta did a few posts ago … Diversions of the Groovy Kind, my go-to blog for silver age masterpieces, posted some scans from the Rampaging Hulk black and white magazine. I found these two members of the green goliath’s rogues gallery particularly inspiring …

Transient toad men with cosmic vacuum cleaners just plain hits the spot. I mean, if your going to score a TPK, wouldn’t you like to, just once in a while, do it with a monster your players will be truly embarrassed to talk about.