Sunday, April 22, 2012

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part V -- Superheroes

This two-part graphic novel, along with
the Wold Newton work, helped me
understand the allure of an all-in-one
universe setting.
Here we at the true origins of Hero Universe -- the super-heroic era! After all, the Hero System got its start in a super-hero RPG: Champions. The past four installments can be found here...

Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part I -- Pre-Cataclysm
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part II -- Post-Cataclysm to the Medieval Era
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part III -- Musketeers, Pirates, and Revolutions
Setting Expeditions: The Hero Universe, Part IV -- Cowboys and Victorians 

... and when you look at it now, you can see how much of those prior eras were approached with a view toward being able to present them in a pastiche-y, superhero comic universe. It is very much like the ground breaking History of the DC Universe book by Wolfman & Perez. In terms of presentation, it solidified the entire universe visually for me, as it was all done by Perez, and in terms of breaking down the times and places for all the heroes in their universe, it gave me a solid handle on the time periods and the heroes and villains in each without overwhelming me with too much detail.

And now, as Super-Grover once said: "Yes, on to our story!"

THE MODERN ERA (1910-2020)

Pulp Hero (1920-1940)

The era of the great pulp adventure stories (and the gangster fighting Prohibition era). Masked adventurers, more commonly known as “mystery men,” abound, and the first true "superhumans” manifest toward the end of this period. However, talented humans and driven adventurers constantly embroiled in mysteries and adventures are a staple of this era as well.

Notes: Mystery, adventure, crime fighting, the occult, science fiction, and more. For influence and inspiration, think Indiana Jones, the Shadow, Doc Savage, the Spider, the Avenger, H. P. Lovecraft, and the other great heroes and stories of the pulp magazines. One can also look at the many pulp era RPGs for inspiration, as well as Justice Inc., the original Hero Games pulp era RPG.

Golden Age Champions (1939 to 1945)

One of the two settings that takes place during WWII, this one focuses on the “Golden Age” superheroes helping to fight World War II and stop Hitler.



Notes: This era is brightly-colored, (mostly) lower powered heroes, or normally powered with some crippling weaknesses to common items -- the original Green Lantern had a weakness to wood, for example. They are highly patriotic and noticeably non-politically correct at times, but their hearts are usually in the right place.

For the comics-savvy, this is the place to throw your All Star Squadron, your Invaders, your Liberty Legion, your Justice Society of America. This is the place to create reasons as to why Superman and Captain America and Dr. Fate and the Spectre don't just walk over to the enemies of the Allies and end the gosh-darned war.

War Hero (1939 to 1945)

The second WWII setting, this one focuses on military and espionage action set against the romantic/horrific backdrop of World War II.



Notes: Think Rat Patrol, Kelly’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List. Think Band of Brothers and Sgt. Rock, the Dirty Dozen and the Howling Commandos. You can even toss in things like the Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot for a real Weird War feel.

Danger International (1950 to 1990)

A classic line.
This is the setting for the turbulent, intrigue- and action-filled post-World War II era. Espionage set in the era of the Cold War, the rise of international terrorism, industrial espionage, conspiracies, drug lords, police action adventure, mercenary activities, detectives, and so on.

Note: Think Dangerman and James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy and Mission: Impossible and even The Prisoner. Think Challengers of the Unknown and Task Force X. Think of Mack Bolan and The Destroyer.

One could even make a case for Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu as being part of this genre (considering he rubbed elbows with Clive Reston), and perhaps even Richard Dragon.

Pulling from other media, you can look at a lot of the martial arts flicks set not in the past, but in the modern era.


Silver Age Champions (1965 to 1980)

Superheroes at the dawn of the modern age of comics -- optimistic and bright in general, but with social awareness and responsibility creeping into the tales.

There's an explosion of ideas here, stretching beyond the initial pulp roots and early mystery men roots, and fully embracing and integrating sources from science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. The full flowering of the potential of superhero comics starts here.

Notes: There are many arguments over the definition of Golden Age & Silver Age in comics. You can certainly think of the style of early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and the like. Many comic book history articles and books have been written tackling this era, and many RPG sourcebooks have been done here as well. This is when the concept of a shared, consistent universe began to take shape and solidify, with continuity cops making sure that few contradictions across universes would emerge. For DC, the multiple earths solution arose here, to distinguish between Golden Age heroes and Silver Age heroes with the same secret identities (Superman/Clark Kent, Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, Batman/Bruce Wayne).

Dark Champions (1985 to 2020)

Modern-day cities as an urban battleground between ruthless, heavily-armed criminals who prey upon the innocent and the equally heavily-armed vigilantes determined to stop them. It features no “true” superhumans such as seen in Champions, but some low-powered quasi-superhumans with various powers and abilities that contribute to the feel and flavor of the setting.

Notes: one can think of this as a street-level sort of heroic setting. Martial arts, guns, and gadgets abound. The Punisher, Wild Dog, and The Butcher would be at home here.

Champions (1980 to 2020)

This setting tackles superheroes in the modern-day world. You can include the modern incarnations of all superheroes during this time period, including all the crazy status quo altering / revising / resetting crossovers. You can tackle the grim-and-gritty explosion of WildDarkBloodClawBladeShot named heroes in this era, straddling the line between vigilantism and outright criminal activity, as well as the call for more relevant heroism to return to comics.

At the end of this period, superhumans fade from the scene for centuries due to the concomitant fading of magic (meaning that accidents and discoveries which once created superhumans now have purely mundane outcomes).

Note: A huge volume of material to cover in such short span of time in human history, but with a wealth material to draw from. This is meant to be the modern day superheroic setting, and as such demands a superheroic universe that is relevant to modern technology, socio-political concerns and cultural mores, as well as to the source material itself. For time-traveling heroes, this is often the default time period that they travel from.

Next: the Future

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...