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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thank You Mr. Hite: The Black Terror Goes Eldritch

Okay. I'm late to the party, again, but this time I've spent a few weeks side-lined with a nasty shoulder injury and the combination of muscle relaxants and pain-killers were almost worse than the persistent, never-subsiding pain itself. Almost. But I'm reasonably better now. Now it's time to get caught-up on a bunch of long-overdue stuff. Like this one.  Please excuse the sub-par illo above--I only had ten minutes to cobble something vaguely relevant togther.  Better stuff is in the works now that I'm back at least part-time.

Ken Hite's Adventures Into Darkness
Written by Kenneth Hite
Published by Ronin Arts
48-page PDF (16.6 MB)
Stock Number HITE003, $9.95
Available all over the Internet or from your local supplier of RPG-madness.
What If H. P. Lovecraft Wrote Comic Books?  Sure it's as unlikely as R. E. Howard writing soap opera scripts, but then if you keep in mind that Hank Williams derived a great deal of song-writing inspiration from Romance Comic Books...well...maybe it's not quite so far fetched as it might sound at first blush.  Besides, HPL really needed the money...and much respected and revered Sci-Fi Great Alfred Bester (amongst quite a few others) did a bit of time writing for the Comics (as in Green Lantern--Bester invented GL's Oath, for example), so why not HPL writing for Nedor comics?

The One and Only Kenneth Hite reveals the long-lost account of H.P. Lovecraft's long suppressed and entirely too obscure comics writing with all the versimilitude of a hoax, just the way the old gent said that such a thing ought to be done.  It's one of those dream-projects where it really ought to have happened, but at least now, thanks to Mr. H, we get to see what it might have been like, kind of...

Adventures Into Darkness includes:
  • A complete historical overview of H.P. Lovecraft's comics career, including a wonderful section on just How It Came To Be...
  • Full Mutants & Masterminds (Second Edition) statistics for 17 of Nedor Comics superheroes and 'super-ified' HPL-derived protagonists, from the Fighting Yank and The Black Terror to Nodens,  "Doc" Strange and on to Randolph Carter, Dream Master...super trippy, yet with a ring of esoteric authenticity few other authors could have pulled off...
  • Eleven supernaturally sinister villains, including that dreamy-witch herself Asenath the Body-Snatcher, the fiendish Nazi sorcerer Baron von Junzt, the eldritch Yellow Lama, and the demi-god Dagon, amongst other favorites...
  • Monster stats for grotesque ghouls, fiendishly ferocious Frog-Men, outrageously ostentatious Outer Ones, tainted tribal Tcho-Tchos, naughty nightgaunts, and the ultra-creeptacular Dark Haunter, all lovingly detailed and ready to rumble right off the bat...
  • An up-to-date Price Guide that details just how much your rare Lovecraft comics will bring today, should you consider parting with such terrifying treasures...
  • A complete section detailing how-to mix together the Golden Age of Comics with the madness of H.P. Lovecraft, and either dragging things kicking and screaming into full-out supernatural terror, or just wild and wooly flights of madness-tinged imagination and oneiric phantasy...
  • Super Sanity rules .. and what HPL-inspired supplement can be complete without talking about SaNiTy in some capacity?  Insane superheroes grappling with soul-shattering Elder Horrors from beyond...it's not just for contemporary comics any more, even the Golden Age can be subverted and retroactively polluted by the toxic genius from Providence...and thank Cthulhu the Stars are Right for this to happen now!
Ken Hite delivers -- really delivers -- a timeless, eldritch mutation of unholy dread and delight as he combines the horrific cosmic-nihilism of H.P. Lovecraft and the daring, dashing and determined Nedor superheroes in Adventures Into Darkness, one of the maddest, most deranged and wonderful mash-ups ever imagined.

The Black Terror is a superhero from the old Nedor Publishing comics line that is in the Public Domain, and he's one of a group of vintage characters that have been revived and re-imagined by Alan Moore (Mr. Moore at Wikipedia) via ABC/America's Best Comics (Terra Obscura), Dynamite Entertainment's Project Super Powers (Highly Recommended), AC/Americomics FemForce, and others.  Ken Hite has expertly and deftly re-imagined the Black Terror, Fighting Yank and other Nedor heroes as if they had been written by H. P. Lovecraft himself and made it all available as a supplement for Mutants & Masterminds.  This is truly Fun stuff!  What Mr. Hite doesn't know about HPL isn't worth knowing, generally, and he displays here a fairly lucid and well-researched grasp of the old Nedor superheroes that does an obscure comics geek's heart proud.  With some effort this stuff could be ported or adapted to quite a few other superhero RPGs, and with some inventive sneakery, one could likewise draw a great deal of inspiration from this supplement for bringing the Golden Age of Comics into HPL-vania via whichever set of rules you prefer for demented Noir-ish romps into spectral weirdness and occult horror.  (I'm still waiting for the official retro-style Hammer Horror RPG...)

Not every tome, folio or book discovered in an investigation need be some moldy old grimoire...and just as was mentioned towards the bottom of the previous post regarding madness-inducing/insanity-inspired works of comics-genius and some obscure, long defunct but possibly reviving comic book publisher specializing in putting out grimoirically-derived four-color fantasies for the kiddies...the mixture of HPL and Comics is a heady cocktail that is just dripping with bizarre gobs of inspiration and untapped, here-to-fore mostly unexplored potential.

Superheroes are the contemporary embodiment and pop culture expression of mythological figures.  Co-mingling them with a manufactured/synthetic mythology such as Lovecraft's opens the door to a host of other methods of re-imaging these trope-heavy characters as long forgotten or often suppressed/censored aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos or even more interestingly, it gets the imaginal ball rolling a bit and gets one to wonder how such characters might fit into other milieus and time periods.  Roll back the faux-contemporary veneer, scrape off the 30s-40s Noir fashions or the Roaring Twenties bombast and take things back a few more decades, past the War to End All wars, past the Civil War, past the Whisky Rebellion and the American Revolution, down the dusty corridors of history, and these characters can easily be made to fit, more or less just about as they are, especially the Black Terror, who makes a great Dread Pirate archetype despite being a nominal good guy.  Of course once you step past the founding of the United States, someone like Fighting Yank needs to be revised, possibly as a loyal-royal British patriot, or French, German or Algonquin.  That's when things like this get truly fascinating.  What would a patriotic superhero who served Imperial Rome have been like?  Or Carthage?  Was Vercingetorix a superhero?  If not, what would he have been like as one? A lot of this territory has been superficially explored in various What-If stories, Elseworlds, alternate time-line tales, and all that, and of course quite a few historical figures have been incorporated into various superheroes' back-stories, lineages, or even family trees (as with the Wold Newton stuff).

The notion of mythic superheroes goes back, way back to Beowulf and Gilgamesh--very likely even before them.  Back when Mr. Gygax was penning the first of the Little Brown Books, he plugged-in the title Superhero for any Fighting Man who reached a total of 120,000 experience points (Men and Magic, p.16).  Implicit in the suggestions outlined by the great and mighty Big G himself in that particular root/core tome of RPG-goodness is the notion that one was not to just take inspiration from John Carter Warlord of Mars, Conan the Barbarian or the other mentioned heroes, superheroes really, but one's characters were to aspire to become like unto those models and templates, those archetypes and mythic forebears. Your Fighting Man (Magic User, Cleric, etc. ) was supposed to evolve into something wonderful, special, unique and intriguing in their own way, through the steady accumulation of merit, minions, material, and magic as codified by the experience point system.

So, aside from Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, Arthur, Bran Mak Morn, Achilles, and the rest, sometimes it is fun, and occasionally illuminating to de-volve popular characters to what they might have been way back when, to figure out what it would be like to have a Travis Morgan-type character develop in the midst of your Pseudo-Medieval setting, or to develop your own take on the time-wornhonored trope of a Robin Hood-style figure, like R. A. Salvatore's Highwayman, for instance.  It's not exactly rocket science, unless you're re-inventing Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, but even then, it can be quite fun and rewarding to mix-and-match various obvious superheroes with the expectations of other genres and to develop analogous versions of Zorro, Sinbad, Sherlock Holmes, etc. that are more than just a knock-off or cheap imitation.  Reed Richards may be the smartest man in the Marvel universe, but who is the smartest guy in your setting?  Hercules is the strongest hero, according to some, but who epitomizes power in your setting?  Are there different kinds of strength that are exemplified besides raw, brute force?  Even Tolkien played this game--look at Aragorn, really look at the guy; he's one of the last descendents of a prehistoric culture destroyed in a great Atlantis-style cataclysm, raised with responsibility and honor ground into his head at every turn, burdened from birth with a sense of destiny, I mean Destiny, and the heir of a forgotten lineage of mythic beings who were orders of magnitude beyond piddly, normal humanity.  He's over seventy years old when the War for the Ring begins.  He's closer to Superman or Doc Savage than he is to any piss-ant faux-medieval groundskeeper. 

In summary, what I'm suggesting is that instead of ripping off and plunking down established characters in your setting ala the old Giants In The Earth feature from the way back days of Dragon magazine, take a look at those characters that you find interesting and spend some time developing your own version of how someone like that might have developed in your world.  Instead of borrowing Tarzan, you might invent your own Zembla, or perhaps you'd prefer to try your hand at a fresh take on Lee Falk's Phantom.  (Here's a hint: the first Ghost Who Walks didn't have matching .45's, so yours wouldn't necessarily require them either...perhaps matching cutlasses, crossbows, or a matched set of tribal throwing irons would be a better fit...that's up to you, after all...)  Who says that Jungle Lords all need to live in Africa, let alone be only 'Jungle' Lords; why not vengeful Tundra Lords (reindeer-riding Schwarz-Peter-style badasses) or Ladies of the Fertile River Valleys (Think Babylon)?  Don't even get me started on why most of them seem to always be magic mighty white guys...but then the world is probably not ready for a female kobold superhero...though yours might be...

2 comments:

  1. I second the recommendation of Hite's Adventures into Darkness. Of course, I like almost everything Hite does.

    I think its generally better, and only marginally more difficult, to make your own icons rather than use others.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Trey,
    Hite is one of the best.

    Icons need to be relevant to the context in which they appear, just lifting and dropping other folks' heroes into your setting can be fun from time to time, but ultimately, it's sterile and unsatisfying, and something of a cheat for the GM/primary author.

    Crossovers are cool, but they are far more intriguing in terms of latter descendents, lineages, bloodlines, dynasties, etc. Like how the Wold Newton stuff builds upon the older characters. A third generation descendent of Tarzan whose grandmother was Alice of Looking Glass fame is more intriguing than just doing a cameo of that guy who resembles Ron Ely or Johnny Weismueller...but if you're going to go to that much effort, why not go the rest of the way and develop your own Iconic characters who you can then develop dynasties, lineages, and so on from? I'd rather have my own Jungle Lady who is distinct and her own character than just borrowing Zembla...and far from being difficult, it's a lot of fun, especially when you get to pick and choose the Easter Eggs you embed in each one, like subtle references to certain recurring tropes and types...like the morally ambiguous avenger with twin hand-weapons, or the nigh immortal genius who cures cancer in his spare time in-between beating alien invaders and nefarious cultists...

    Fun stuff...

    ReplyDelete

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