Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Source Files: LSH #285 - Night Never Falls on Nullport

This was my jumping on point for collecting the Legion of Super-Heroes (LSH). I'd encountered them before, in something known in the Philippines as National Bookstore reprints -- an interesting Philippine artifact that I'll tackle in another post.

I suppose it was time -- I was reading the comics of my classmates, began dabbling in Marvel & DC comics, and this cover jumped out at me.

Now, the Legion wasn't new to me. My Superman / Superboy fandom had brought me to various anthologies, compilations, and trivia books and had prepared me for most of the cast of this book.

However, the ongoing plotlines and the visually arresting cover and contents of this book really hooked me, and sustained my interest for many issues to come. This cover, in particular, promised action and the use of a rarely used superpower (even to this day) among super-heroes, along with some great space opera action (assaulting the bridge of a space ship)!

The story starts with a handful of members from the Legion of Super-Heroes (Shadow Lass, Mon-El, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, and Shrinking Violet), sent to Nullport -- a key spaceship drydock of the United Planets -- to pick up their Legion starcruisers.

After some expository captions, dialogue, and good-natured ribbing between the teammates, there is an accident. A starcruiser undergoing work suddenly begins to topple -- Mon-El manages to save the workers, but Colossal Boy (as seen to the right) misjudges the effect of reduced gravity on Nullport, and is unable to prevent damage to the afflicted ship.

RPG Comments: This is a great little scene, allowing a GM to establish the setting and situation, and the initial goal of the team, while immediately bringing the overall conflict into play right away with a related inciting incident.

In FATE (and FATE-like systems), this would be an incident where Colossal Boy's player gets a FATE point for his failure. In more physics-emulation systems, the low gravity effect would be reflected as a penalty to an attempt, especially during the initial acclimatization period.


MEANWHILE, on Orando:

This cut to Karate Kid and Princess Projectra on Orando -- a world considered incredibly backwater by the United Planets (a sword & sorcery world in a science fiction setting) -- may seem a bit odd.

While it does help to establish for new readers the breadth and variety of worlds in the the United Planets and the overall setting, it really just sets up a plotline that gets resolved in a later issue.

Of additional note is the artwork of Pat Broderick, who seems to be quite fond of this 'stop-motion' effect used to show the sudden collapse of Orando's reigning monarch. He used it several times earlier to depict Colossal Boy shrinking to normal size, Star Boy performing some acrobatics, and Colossal Boy growing to giant-size once more. I also liked much of his panel-to-panel storytelling in this issue.

This was also part of the appeal of the LSH comic book. While one team was doing some thing in one corner of the United Planets, others were doing other things elsewhere, some were back at base, others were back at home -- lots of interesting locations and mostly interesting plot threads, back in the days before decompressed storytelling became popular in comics.

RPG Comments: You may consider this as an approach for troupe-style play in a supers RPG. This scene could've been run by a different GM, using all the same players + the GM for the main storyline, allowing everyone a chance to play and a chance to run. I believe some similar ideas were broached in the ICONS Team-Up sourcebook.

Back on Nullport: I really enjoyed this one-off alien with an interesting personality who was in charge of running Nullport. H'hrnath, a horse-headed creature with hands, hooves, and tentacles, with a very strong concern over costs and profit.

It really drove home the alien, far-future setting of the LSH, in a pretty matter-of-fact way.

RPG Comments: This scene shows a way that a GM can establish an interesting-- but not that insurmountable -- obstacle, to PC investigations. H'hrnath is a foil, a person of authority who isn't necessarily a power-mad control freak, but has legitimate reasons not to let well-meaning, unknown quantities (the Legionnaires) investigate supposed sabotage taking place at Nullport.

It's also a great opportunity to drop clues or setting-building exposition in a non-boring way (through a colorful, opinionated character), letting the PCs pick up on any interesting tidbits that may catch their attention.

With the Legionnaires finally allowed to investigate, after another 'accident' on Nullport, the heroes get to use their powers to investigate (it's not all about combat, folks!) and get to the causes of the sabotage once and for all.

Mon-El gets to use his microscopic vision to keep track of Violet's progress in the circuitry. While there are communication devices, it's nice to have this kind of investigative teamwork between super-powered individuals. Especially with Mon-El being the heavy hitter that he is, normally trading blows with the toughest creatures in the galaxy.
Shrinking Violet discovers, after some exploration of the circuitry, the source of the remote controlled accidents on Nullport, and vaporizes it -- presumably with some handy equipment from the local authorities.

But this is a temporary solution to a specific problem. Having identified that the culprits must be the Khunds, and that Nullport is a target due to its strategic importance to the military capability of the United Planets on this border, the Legionnaires struggle to come up with a way to prevent this type of thing (or something worse) from happening in the short to medium term.

Star Boy -- at home with a costume sporting a plunging neckline (Legionnaires don't care about your 21st Century fashion sense!) -- carefully explores their options, finally coming to the conclusion that there must be a nearby base or ship controlling the devices that they can knock out of commission.

RPG  Comments: This is where the comic book for me really shifted away from mere superheroics, into a sort of space opera procedural with superpowers. And it really reminds me of players sitting around, strategizing about how to resolve a situation with finality -- beyond merely barreling through obstacle after obstacle.

And a good thing he does, too.

Because, like any good Klingo -- Khunds, the espionage / sabotage team near Nullport has just decided to launch an all out attack. And that team is located on the flagship of a fleet of Khund ships!

What a Khundish thing to do -- death for failure, even if it's your son. Very brutal (and wasteful) warrior culture that is unlike anything we've ever seen before in Science Fiction (ahem). They also clearly disdain hiding from their opponents, as evidenced by the bright red and yellow military uniforms, and the green hue of their flagship. Ah, what the heck, they're great villains.

The look of the Khunds changes after this issue, by the way, when Keith Giffen takes over as artist for the Legion of Super-Heroes.

This was a great little bit for me, Mon-El using his superstrength to hurl a giant-sized Colossal Boy at the Khund flagship. Colossal Boy wreaking havoc from inside the ship. And Mon-El and Star Boy generally disabling the various ships of the fleet with their respective powers.

How'd Mon-El find the fleet? Telescopic vision, man! Yeah, in a procedural type of show or comic, folks with the powers of Superman are pretty handy to have around, even if you discount the sheer firepower at their disposal. It just goes to show that, sometimes, non-combat abilities are just as useful as combat abilities.

Speaking of non-combat abilities, Shadow Lass uses hers on a pretty large scale -- enveloping the entirety of Nullport in shadow stuff! This will allow the Legionnaires to essentially move Nullport to a different location while the Khund fleet is otherwise preoccupied. It's not a permanent solution, but it'll buy some time, we assume, for the United Planets to ready a better plan to defend this oh-so-vulnerable drydock.

I always loved team stories like this, where everyone has a chance to shine -- or at least perform one critical action relevant to the resolution of the plot.

As a kid, I didn't think that much about Shady's rather racy attire. Super-heroines all had pretty tight outfits, like many of their male counterparts. In Legion of Super-Heroes comics, I was more perturbed by Cosmic Boy's famous black bustier outfit. But that all changed when I grew into my teens, of course.

Star Boy increases the mass of Nullport to allow it to generate its own gravity! Wasn't sure about the science of this, but gleefully accepted this as a kid because of how superheroic teamwork resolved a key problem in the story. And it wasn't even combat related! By this time, of course, they'd incapacitated the Khund fleet and had turned their attentions to fixing the Nullport problem.

And what a solution by Pre-Crisis Mon-El! Moving the entire drydock to a different location using flight and strength alone.

Again, a non-combat use of superpowers.

For their efforts, the Legionnaires get a fantastic reward.

The miserly H'hrnath gives them five Mark 494 starcruisers for the price of one + a trade in on their old ship!

The Legionnaires muse about him and his heart of gold, talk about their patron R.J. Brande, and generally establish threads for future stories.

But on Orando, all is not well. The King has died, and Projectra stands to inherit the throne of Orando!

RPG Comments: This would make a great resolution to a well-played adventure. A generous reward, a friendly (but perhaps not so generous in the future) ally on a drydock, and some brownie points with the United Planets for resolving a stick situation. Something to keep in mind for any future adventures!

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