When I start writing a project, my first step is always to collect a folder full of inspirational images. For Otherverse America, my inspiration file consists of photos of real world abortion clinic protests and clinic defenses, random Deviant Art by pagans and anti-choicers alike, and comic book and anime images of strong and well armed women, not to mention cool mecha and cyborgs. Right now, I’m working on a Psi-Watch book, which means for the last couple of days I’ve been trawling the internet looking for early 1990s image art: classic pieces by Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld.
Back during the 1990s, I mostly read the Wildstorm and Top Cow stuff: WildCATS, Stormwatch and Cyberforce- I’m a sucker for good art and team books. Out of the Extreme Studios/Rob Liefeld side of the house, I actually like Bloodstrike the best: there was something ambitious and unique about it- a bizarre mash-up of testosterone-crazed mens adventure pulps, Tom Clancy novels and zombies. Youngblood actually inspired the APEX faction in Otherverse America- I loved the idea of celebrity/military superheroes working for the US Government, and thought that was a brilliant idea, just the actual execution of the Youngblood comic was seriously lacking.
So in addition to finding tons of art, including the pic of Cabbot here, some of what I recognized, some of which I never saw back in the day, I actually found out a little bit about the backstory of some of the comics I passed on back in the day. To wit: Brigade.
Man, that thing sucked- I remember reading the first issue, tossing it, and never looking back. However, the Wikipedia summary linked above almost sounds interesting: Brigade is the worst superhero team of all time. You’ve got a self-righteous, manipulative zombie “Bloodstone” in the command slot, and the whole 34 issue run seemed to be people zombie-terrorist-guy screwed over coming back to hold him to some kind of account. You’ve got reporters infiltrating the team in the guise of superheroes, just to get dirt, you get manipulation on top of manipulation. If I thought any of this was intentional, Brigade would have been a brilliant comic- the superhero version of The Shield.
So why am I talking about Brigade of all things? Mostly because of the old TSR Marvel RPG and because of GI Joe. Now I know I’ve just raised a few eye brows in confusion. Let me back up a bit and explain. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled on to Classic Marvel Forever, which among other things, has scanned PDF downloads of virtually every book in the TSR Marvel Superheroes RPG line. I’ve been reading this old game and I’m AMAZED at how good it is. (I even statted up a few Otherverse America characters using the FASERIP system, which is a shockingly intuitive and deep system.)
Now normally, I wouldn’t advocate illegal copies of gaming products, but in this case, since this site is scanning and copying books that have been out of print for 20+ years, owned by a now-defunct company, I can’t see the harm. So go check this site out.
Anyway, one of the things I like best about TSR Marvel are the Karma rules. Quick summary: Karma is the game’s XP and dramatic editing system, all rolled into one. You can spend Karma to either boost your powers and skills, or gain an edge on a die roll during play. Your character gains Karma for acting heroically, and can lose Karma for acting out of character. The Karma system is a nice reward mechanic that makes me as a gamer want to play my character like a Silver Age/early Bronze Age Marvel superhero. A neat aside is that players are rewarded, with Karma, for having a life outside superheroics: get small, but regular Karma awards for balancing your civilian job with your secret ID, for romantic entanglements, for family obligations, ect.
One of the biggest differences between classic Marvel and early Image stuff was the lack of an ordinary life. Spider Man went home to his apartment, went to the job as Peter Parker, took MJ to the movies, worried about taking care of an aging parent, and so on. By contrast, you had guys like the Cyberforce team who, between missions, basically just sat around a gun-metal subterranean bunker. There was no indication of a personal life, no real indication of interests outside superheroics, no ordinary supporting NPCs. (And while I’m dogging on Cyberforce, those characters at least had a little bit of personality. I knew, for instance, that Ripclaw wrote poetry, that Velocity liked 90s alt music- the creators took time to show me that much, at least. Compare that to some of the lower-tier Liefeld characters….like the entire cast of Brigade. I know virtually nothing about them, and can’t even remember most of their codenames.)
Okay, lets talk about GI Joe. I’ve been reading that comic religiously since I was 10. I fuckin’ grew up reading GI Joe. On the surface, GI Joe is exactly like an early Image comic- highly trained soldiers, lots of guns, lots of pouches, all living in a gun-metal bunker beneath Staten Island. Rereading some of the classic Marvel stuff alongside my obsessive research into obscure Image titles makes me wonder why nobody at the time twigged to how much influence Hama’s GI Joe run might have had on the Image founders? Uncanny X-Men was an obvious inspiration, but looking back on it now, I think GI Joe might have been almost as influential.
The big difference, of course, seems to be characterization. Even with new characters being shoveled onto him by the dozen, Hama kept the characterization of the core cast VERY solid, and pretty multi-faceted, and was able to give even the 2nd and 3rd string characters a good line or two. (The one exception, as far as I can tell from reading the first few IDW Marvel-era trades, is Short Fuse, from the original cast. That guy got like 2 lines in the first trade and then was never seen again. That poor SOB went nowhere and did nothing.)
Anyway, enough rambling. I’m working on Psi-Watch right now, and hopefully I’ll capture some of the insane energy and violence and color of the early Image comics, but with the relative emotional depth of the other works I mentioned.
Also, I have to confess something somewhat shameful. I broke my 3 week boycott of Marvel and finally saw Avengers. That movie was too damn good. Thoughts on it later,