August 9th, 2019

RPGaDay in August - August 9th: Critical

We continue on with #RPGaDay in August.


RPGADay_in_August_2019.jpg


#RPGaDay

Day 9 - Critical.

Only one thing comes to mind with this word for the day.

Many roleplaying games have a mechanic for critical rolls. Both critical success and critical failure. While players don't tend to like critical failures (doh!), the critical success in a roleplaying game session can be one of the things that players cheer about, depending on the outcome of the task at hand. For me, the critical roll, whether it's a success or failure, marks that some unique and extraordinary has just happened in the game. And that's always a good thing if it gets the players feeling some sort of emotion in the moment, regardless of whether the task outcome is great or disastrous.

It's also interesting in game systems that use criticals that a lot of them have a differently coloured die to represent the critical die, regardless of what one calls the die in the game. Makes part of me wish to put up a poll about the favourite colour for a critical die in games, but I suspect red or black would be the commonest two colours. What do you think?

And there you have this ninth post for #RPGaDay for August, 2019. Comments, thoughts, questions, etc. are all welcome, of course.

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #210





Superboy starring The Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #210
August, 1975
“Soljer’s Private War”
Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciller: Mike Grell
Inker: Mike Grell
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: Mike Grell (signed)
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Mission Monitor Board:
Lightning Lad, Phantom Girl, Superboy, Brainiac 5, Princess Projectra, Chameleon Boy.

The story opens as Phantom Girl watches Lighting Lad hit a flying figure with what he calls a “death bolt.” That figure turns out to be Superboy, and the three members of the Legion of Super-Heroes are in an area outside of Metropolis practicing using their powers. Lighting Lad shoots another lightning bolt at Superboy, but the Teen of Steel gets out of the way easily, and the bolt just blasts (seemingly) dirt. A weather controlled scheduled rain shower interrupts the training session, and the three Legionnaires fly off back to Legion HQ, Phantom Girl phasing out so she doesn’t get soaked. Just as the three Legionnaires go out of sight, a body dressed in a military uniform crawls out of the still smouldering crater caused by the powerful lightning blast. The lightning bolt ignited a spark of life in what was once a soldier from 2783 AD, Mike Essad, who was fighting in World War VI. The soldier and his squad were ordered to take Metropolis, but when the enemy spotted them and launched a gamma grenade, Mike Essad dove on the grenade without thinking, absorbing the gamma charge just as a lightning bolt struck him at the same time. His squad buried the still glowing body of Essad right where he lay, the same spot that was struck 200 years later by Lightning Lad’s bolt. His Sergeant called him a “good soldier” and that is what once Private Mike Essad calls himself as he awakens from the grave - Soljer. Not much more than a zombie, Soljer begins to walk stiffly, uncertainly in the direction of a city, when he spots a sign that says “Metropolis 1 mile” - and he remembers his mission of long ago. A little while later the rain has stopped and Lightning Lad and Superboy are all set to go back to practice when Brainiac 5 tells them that they are needed, and the three Legionnaires join Chameleon Boy, Princess Projectra and Phantom Girl near the outskirts of Metropolis. Soljer is firing an unseen pistol and destroying buildings. Brainiac 5's analymeter says that there is nothing in Soljer's hand and that he tells the others that he’s firing an imaginary gun. Superboy races out to stop him, but Soljer pulls out an imaginary rifle and shoots the Boy of Steel. It almost fries him as the weapon fired an anti-matter fusion blast! With Superboy down, Lightning Lad blasts him with a bolt but it has no effect, Brainiaxc 5 telling him that the soldier is already charged with pure energy and that a little bit more won’t faze him. Thinking a physical attack will work, Phantom Girl turns immaterial and approaches Soljer, only to have him knife her with an invisible weapon that stabs her and takes her down. Phantom Girl returns to the physical plane. The team is shocked that Phantom girl was injured while immaterial. With Superboy down and Phantom Girl possibly dying, Brainiac 5 orders the team back to headquarters to regroup. In the medical center, Brainiac 5 diagnoses that Superboy will recover in a day or two, but Phantom Girl is critical and he doesn’t know where to begin treating her. She shows no wound but keeps moaning and clutching her stomach, but there is nothing there that Brainiac 5 can detect. Chameleon Boy enters the room and updates Brainiac 5 on Soljer’s activities; he has reached the heart of the city and is blasting the buildings with his invisible weapons. That gives Brainiac 5 an idea. He instructs Chameleon Boy to use his powers to become a phantom and see if he can locate the source of Phantom Girl's problems. He does as asked and feels a handle of a knife coming out of Phantom Girl's body! Chameleon Boy very carefully removes it and Brainy puts the healing machines on Phantom Girl. The injured heroine starts breathing easier, and they think she will pull through. Chameleon Boy tells Brainiac 5 that the weapon is like a World War VI knife that he has seen in a museum. Brainiac 5 tells him that make sense, given the weapons and uniform that Soljer uses is of the same vintage. Chameleon Boy does not believe him, but Brainiac 5 tells him to get solid and hold on to the knife. He does so, but the knife vanishes. Brainiac 5 concludes that Soljer's body got charged with super-energy and that he creates his own weapons, which is why he could hurt a phantom and take down Superboy. Brainiac 5 tells Chameleon Boy to check the history tapes about the invasion force that attacked Metropolis back in 2783 while he tries to get a first-hand look using the time scanner. Some time later, Soljer is approaching the Presidential Palace of the United Planets, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. He prepares to fire his weapon, but before he can fire he sees Metropolis destroyed, the whole city in ruins, and his Sergeant, Richter, appears and orders him to attention. Sergeant Richter asks him to look around, to see the ruins of Metropolis, and tells Soljer that his mission is complete and that he is a good soldier. Soljer snaps to attention for a moment, pride sweeping through the less than human being, a tear trickles down his cheek, and a great weariness clouds his eyes. Suddenly, his legs buckle and he sags to the ground, his duty done, welcoming finally the arms of death. Brainiac 5 has Projectra drop her illusion while he examines the dead body of Private Essad, and Chameleon Boy shifts back to himself out of his Sergeant Richter disguise. The Legionnaires then all meet up in Phantom Girl's med ward to tell her what has happened, and that Private Essad will be getting a monument to document his dedication and sacrifice by throwing himself on that Gamma Grenade to save his friends.

Commentary:
Some folks would argue that this is a poor story compared to Shooter’s work in the previous issue, but to be honest, this was a highly entertaining story that made good use of some of the Legionnaires’ powers and showed some of their weaknesses as well. The whole basic plot of Soljer waking up from the dead after 200 years, after being energized by Lightning Lad’s electric bolt, had a nice symmetry to it, given Soljer’s origins and how he “died”. Nice touch, the flashback story for readers about Private Mike Essad’s last days adds to the reader's emotional connection to Essad, and shows the reader some of the horror of the days of World War VI. It was also neat to see Legionnaires out practicing their powers, as it’s something that we don’t see that often these days. But Lightning Lad’s “death bolt”? I would have thought that went against the Legion code, despite the fact he was using it against Superboy. Still... I rather liked the phantom knife to take down Phantom Girl, but thought Shooter’s way of resolving that with Chameleon Boy changing to a phantom (a trick he first used in Adventure Comics Vol 1 #326) to remove the invisible knife in Phantom Girl’s abdomen was kind of neat as well. The use of Princess Projectra’s powers to show Mike Essad exactly what he wanted and Cham’s masquerade as Sergeant Richter was a great way to end the story without a fight between the Legionnaires and Soljer. Some would argue that it wasn’t Shooter’s best work, but I’ll say here that it was nice to see the Legion’s conflict with Soljer solved in a more intelligent fashion. As for the artwork, Mike Grell did another superb job here. He’s making the characters his own from Chameleon Boy’s distinctly alien look to Lightning Lad’s long and curly hair. And he draws a sexy, scrumptious Phantom Girl, to be honest! :) I remember reading an interview about this story where Grell said that he intended Soljer to be a black man, but that idea was nixed by editor Murray Boltinoff. Finally, in the letter column of Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #213, a lot of fans had a problem with Chameleon Boy turning into a phantom, but the editor (Murray Boltinoff) explained that his powers would be sufficient to "mimic" Phantom Girl's ability well enough to pull out the anti-energy dagger. And to be honest, it’s not like he hadn’t done it before, as I noted above. Ironically, although Princess Projectra is an integral part of the story and actually saves the day, she is given no lines whatsoever. Shame on you, Jim Shooter.

And the second story of the issue is a Jim Shooter staple.

"The Lair Of the Black Dragon"
Writer: Jim Shooter
Penciller: Mike Grell
Inker: Mike Grell
Letterer: Ben Oda
Colourist: Uncredited
Cover: na
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Mission Monitor Board:
Karate Kid

Guests:
Karate Kid's Sensei (Toshiaki Shiratsuru)

While strolling on the skyways of 30th Century Metropolis, Karate Kid is attacked by black belt wielding goons, set upon him by a man named Sadaharu. Sadaharu wanted to meet and test Karate Kid in order to see if was all he was cracked up to be, and to get him to help kill the man who killed his best friend - Karate Kid's father. Sadaharu then walks off, but Karate Kid, intrigued, trails him to a remote mountainous region of Japan. Aboard the tube-car, Sadahuru’s minion says that all is as planned, as Karate Kid is following exactly as Sadaharu planned. There, Karate Kid learns that someone has holed themselves up in a nullitron dome. Finding a weak spot in the dome that has been repaired at some point, Karate Kid breaks into the dome, only to find his Sensei. The dome is the lair of the Black Dragon, a highly bad person, a notorious criminal and Karate Kid’s father, whom Sensei admits to having killed. The dome was his stronghold, which Sensei has taken over, repaired and used for his own last refuge. In a flashback, Sensei explains to Karate Kid that his father, Kirau Nezumi, was a notorious criminal whom he fought for years. Eventually Sensei killed the Black Dragon in a duel to the death. Only then did Sensei learn about Karate Kid's existence. His mother, Valentina Armorr, was an American who had died shortly after his birth. Back in the present, Sadaharu arrives and tells Sensei to tell him about his role in matters. Sadaharu was the Black Dragon's apprentice, who took over the crime organization when Black Dragon died. He searched in vain for Karate Kid, so as to give him the organization after Sensei had taken him and adopted him. Eventually, Sadaharu found Sensei, but needed Karate Kid to break into the nullitron dome so that he can finally have his revenge. However, in a fight of 6 against 1, Karate Kid beats Sadaharu and his men. He then vows loyalty to the man who raised him and made him a force of good, "my true father,” as he calls Sensei.

Commentary:
Another story from the pen of Jim Shooter, whose favourite character during his original run was his own creation, Karate Kid. This story provides the readers with the "secret origin" of Karate Kid, and establishes once and for all that he is half-Japanese and half-American. This story has a good deal of emotional strength, given that Karate Kid/Val Armorr finally learns the truth of who he is, and Mike Grell’s artwork takes the Kid through the (facial) emotional gamut here. This story also marks Mike Grell’s finally completing the overhaul of Karate Kid’s design from another Caucasian male with brown hair to a half-Asian man, with the look obviously modelled on Bruce Lee. Some things of interest... Sensei's name is not given in this story. He is called Toshiaki White Crane in Secret Origins #47. "White Crane" in Japanese is Shiroi Tsuru, or Shiratsuru, so that is the name I referenced here. Black Dragon's real name is given as Kirau Nezumi, which is Japanese for "Hated Rats" or "I hate rats." Neither one of those words is a Japanese last name, so it is probably a stage name. The cover features the first appearance of the Legionnaires' heads across the top banner. There was another set which was never used, but I don’t have access to that one to reprint here.