After posting about my comic book gaming history last week, I got a bit introspective about the three decades of my experience running those sorts of games. Over all that time, my GM style evolved in many ways, reflecting the changes in the comic book industry itself. I thought I would touch on that a bit more.
I grew up with comics. Even by my early teens I had quite a collection. Besides buying the occasional current issue off the racks, my folks would often return from swap meets with a pile of comics to add to my growing stock. These were special treats, because they would more often than not be 10-20 years old, so I was very much in touch with older, pre-Silver Age comics.
I loved the iconic, God-like heroes of DC of course; Batman, Superman, Green Lantern. But I was a Marvel boy tried and true. I could connect at a deeper level with Peter Parker and his personal problems far more than Batman and his Joker-chasing adventures. Homework, girls, and bullies were part of Spider-Man’s life just like mine, and that made him more real to me. So around 1979, when I was fleshing out my comic book world for gaming, Marvel played a huge part.
I decided to set my island nation of New Haven in the Marvel Universe, except 20 years in the future. That gave me something to ground my world with, but the future setting gave me more freedom that Marvel’s modern New York would have. I didn’t really want to use Marvel characters all that much, I just wanted the setting.
Within a year or two, X-Men comics featured the famous “Days of Future Past” storyline, in which mutant-hunting Sentinel robots had rounded-up mutants, killed most of the world’s superheroes, and set-off World War 3. That was perfect for me, as it eliminated most of Marvel’s superhero roster, while leaving enough of it free for me to use in my future Marvel setting. There wasn’t much chance of Spider-Man showing up on the streets of New America City in New Haven, but if a player wanted to have “The Son of Spider-Man” as a character, then no problem. As a matter of fact, a girlfriend of mine in the early 80’s ran the daughter of Wolverine, and low and behold a decade and a half later a daughter of Wolverine showed up in the Marvel universe.
The very first superhero games I ran in the late 70’s, using the Superhero 2044 rules didn’t have any real style. With that system, there wasn’t much more to do than have your powerful hero show up, and lay waste to bank robbers and cause tons of property damage in the process. It was howling mad fun for kids to have men in power armor squash crooks into street pizza, but as we got older we wanted a little bit more than that.
So when I made the transition to Villains and Vigilantes, Silver Age Marvel comics set the tone for the goings on. Angsty heroes and anti-heroes ruled the Marvel landscape of the late 70’s, so our games reflected that. Then in the mid-eighties the X-Men comics were huge, so of course I ran my own campaign of new X-Men in New Haven’s future world. As a matter of fact, the anti-mutant hysteria popular in Marvel for decades entered my game world frequently.
But in the later 80’s two great, ground breaking comics changed the comic book landscape forever. One was The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller gritty new take on the Batman. OK, as a comic geek I know that Miller did not invent this darker Batman. In the 70’s the work of Neil Adams and others had turned Bats from a jokey Adam West dork into a noir detective who had travelled the world after the death of his parents picking up Samurai and Ninja skills. But Miller’s dark future of Gotham City had a profound effect on how I presented destitute parts of New Haven’s metropolis. I began to set more scenarios in the run-down parts of town instead of NH’s gleaming downtown spires. Street criminals became less comic, and more ruthless and dangerous. With the crack epidemic of the 80’s hammering the evening news, more scenarios involving drugs and drug dealers happened in my street-level games. Of course, being a futuristic Sci Fi world, these would more often than not be super-drugs that granted temporary super-powers to junkies.
By the late 80’s, I discovered two more comic properties that changed how I ran games and how I perceived the existence of heroes. First was, of course, The Watchmen. Alan Moore’s take on what the world would be like with real Superheroes had a profound affect on me. Suddenly Supermen were just as subject to darker and malignant human foibles and passions as the rest of us, and were more often than not driven insane by their own hubris and crapulence. This more cynical view of the superhero world was increased in me tenfold when I began reading Marshal Law. Law was a super-powered cop who hunted super-powered gang members, rapists, and killers, and was a total deconstruction of the Superhero myth.
The early to late 90’s was my heyday of superhero gaming (in terms of amount of games and frequency), and many of my players were not only unfamiliar with superhero RPG’s, but with comics themselves. So my own take on superhero deconstruction was greatly received by my players, and often hailed as a unique view on the super-powered world!
With the huge popularity of the Miller-influenced Dark Knight films, and the recent release of a The Watchmen movie, larger audiences have been exposed to the deconstruction of the Superhero myth. But in my games, it was a long-running standard.
It has now been almost 10 years since my last Champions games. With a decent D&D group going strong, I have the occasional hankering to revisit New Haven. But how will it have changed? Have dark heroes continued to violently fight crime in the ally’s and parking lots of the bad side of town? Are super-drugs and violent criminals still a raging problem, or has the possible lack of heroes swinging around the cityscape made a positive difference in New Haven? In my final games around 2000, characters dealt with a world-wide alien invasion that was defeated at tremendous cost. How has New Haven, and the future world, handled all this in the years following? A surge in space exploration? More racism against those who are different or strange? These questions and more will have to be dealt with. But how I go about it, and how my players react to it, will be the real fun. I can’t wait! Just gotta get that pesky D&D campaign over with, then…”It’s clobberin’ time!”
‘Nuff said, true believer.