Thursday, July 23, 2015

Robot Dummies

There's an episode of the old series Challenge of the Superfriends called R.I.P. Superfriends in which, over the course of the show, the Legion of Doom manages to kill off every member of the Justice League with a potent doomsday weapon in the form of a fairly portable crystal/blasting weapon. The episode opens on a fairly somber note with the Superfriends gathered around the grave of Batman in a cemetery, before doing a flashback sequence to show what happened, and then proceeding with all the 'friends getting hunted down and gaffled.

Of course, good triumphs in the the end of the show it is revealed that the heroes killed were all just robot dummies that had been manufactured to fool the Doom-dudes into thinking they'd killed the Superfriends so they'd get rid of their killer crystal.

[never mind that the imitations exhibited the exact same powers, abilities, and personalities as the real deal counterparts. If one can manufacture Superman clones, do you really need a Justice League?]

For my four year old, this has been particularly fertile ground for his imagination. Over the last several months (since first observing the show), we've played plenty of adventures involving the deaths of superheroes and villains, with the deceased individuals invariably coming back to life upon discovery that the corpses all belonged to "robot dummies."

And it's not a terribly unique "twist" when it comes to cartoon action. We just watched the old (1982) animated film Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All (a cool little gem that needs its own post), in which the defeated (and "killed") Ming the Merciless is shown, at the end, to be a robot dummy. In more recent media, we've been binging on episodes of The Avenger's: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010) and there's an early episode where Nick Fury is crushed to death by a raging Graviton only to find it was, again, a robot dummy.

[people probably think I'm a terrible human being and father for showing my young child such violent cartoons. It's even worse than that: last week, I taught my child to play poker (five card draw) and it's now become his favorite game. "Let's play cards, Papa!" is an oft-heard refrain in the household. I am a terrible, terrible person...]

[we play for plastic pirate "Jake the Pirate" doubloons and Mardi Gras beads (which are worth two coins each). My home is a den of iniquity...]

Apply face and power set.
*Ahem* ANYway...the existence (and destruction) of robot dummies in the super-heroic genre, improbable as it might be, serves a practical purpose: it keeps the heroes (and the favorite recurring villain...Doctor Doom anyone?) alive and well. Which is important in an episodic, serial medium where you hope to keep your (cash-paying) audience coming back on a weekly or monthly basis. The reduction of character death to an absurd non-happening is a necessity...if you want your fans hanging around for the long haul.

But for how long should that "long haul" be? Is it cool for a specific comic book character to have a thousand issues under his or her belt? For the company producing the comic (and for the employment of writers and artists and editors) it's a good thing...comics have always been a "for profit" enterprise even before the days of expanded media and merchandising. But is that an appropriate model for an RPG campaign? If each weekly game session is the equivalent of an "issue," than a character like Captain America (with more than 600 self-titled issues) has been "played" for more than 11 years. Which I could imagine for an RPG like D&D where characters are in a constant state of development (moving from dungeon to wilderness to court intrigue and barony management)...but for a genre that's not known for much more than finding creative ways of punching out new bad guys, well...

Maybe Will was right...maybe the superhero genre is just too simplistic for an RPG. At least, in the way that it's been imagined by the major (American) comic book companies [gosh, reading old Jim Shooter blog posts are rather enlightening with regard to that industry]. Anyway, something I'm hashing out in my mind right now (in my limited free time).

Okay...back to the grind (my kid's up). Just a couple things: looking at a very, very old version of my "superhero" RPG for possible re-vamp (the reasons will need to be discussed later), but I've come to the conclusion that (even if the genre is worth doing) one needs a very good mechanic for doing it, even (perhaps) a "gimmicky" one. Otherwise, why not simply use one of the many systems already on the market. Supers! is plenty good enough, for example, or MSH (if you don't need much granularity) or HU (if you like a lot of granularity). My "old school" supers game doesn't "have it" as it's currently written. It's serviceable, but that doesn't make it worthy of publication, you know?

Ok, okay! Kid wants to watch The to go!


  1. I'm not sure why you need a Justice League with even ONE Superman.

  2. it's perfectly "normal" for a four year old to see death as something temporary and approaching the issue like that in play. i don't see how superhero cartoons could cause any harm, as long as he has an adult to talk to about them.

    preferring dc over marvel, on the other hand...