Not quite a week into Monster May(hem), and I have finally completed my first submission. I present: the Scourge of Planet X: The Ripper Beast!
This miniature from Rattrap Productions has been primed and sitting on my desk since last year’s Monster May(hem). I never got a chance to get to him and moved on to other projects; so I made him my first priority this year. Partially, this is because I’m sick of looking at him; but it’s also because he has been so patient and understanding; two traits not normally associated with Ripper Beasts of Planet X.
The Ripper Beast, as the lore goes, is the most feared predator on Planet X. It loves nothing more than to live up to its name by ripping things, usually into bloody chunks. The Ripper Beast is doubly feared because it seems to regenerate as soon as it is wounded, making it nigh-impossible to put down for good.
Despite its renowned savagery, this Ripper Beast seems to be wearing clothing. It has two spiked wristbands and no dangly unmentionables to speak of. This either makes it smarter than you would think, able to clothe itself and perhaps forge weapons; or just oddly modest. The only picture of the Ripper Beast I could find was the one on the cover, there; so I couldn’t verify this. The only example of a painted Ripper Beast miniature I was able to find was the one inside the book, which doesn’t help because it’s black and white.
So I went with the clothing look, and I tried to get it as close to the cover as possible. It’s a retro sci-fi creature, so perhaps some space-spandex is appropriate after all. While I may never use this miniature as intended, it can sure get some use as a super-villain for games of Super Mission Force!
I have at least two more projects for Monster May(hem) I’m trying to get done by month’s end. Both require a lot of base work, so they’re taking longer than usual. Check back soon, but in the meantime, be sure to stop by and see what everyone else has been up to!
Through the rear-view mirror, Kato regarded the Green Hornet as he checked his equipment.
“Hornet Gun: check,” said the Green Hornet. “Hornet Sting: check. Let’s roll, Kato.”
A few minutes later, Kato steered the Black Beauty up to MaClane’s Shipping Yard. The car was set for silent running. In the darkness, it made no more noise than the faintest whisper as it pulled up to the curb. The Green Hornet and Kato exchanged a quick glance in the mirror. Both men nodded, then quietly exited the car on opposite sides.
Time to go to work.
Turn 1: From their concealed positions, the Green Hornet and Kato split up, each making his way to one side of the shipping yard. Being Observant, the Green Hornet comes close enough to an encounter marker to possibly trigger it; but he fails his Brains test. He’ll have to get closer! Kato, meanwhile, sprints to another container. This gives the guard atop the container a chance to spot him; but Kato keeps to the shadows and the guard fails to do so. This brings Kato in contact with another encounter marker. Unfortunately, it’s bad luck for him! Kato startles a stray cat, which yowls loudly. This gives the guard another chance to spot Kato, but the guard fails miserably and doesn’t react at all. Since the alarm hasn’t been raised, only one guard gets to move. The guard stationed atop a shipping container overlooking the meeting moves to his right, along a makeshift bridge.
Turns 2-3: The Green Hornet begins to climb up the side of the shipping container, trying to get a better vantage point. Once atop it, he activates the encounter marker. He takes a moment to angle a long-range microphone towards the meeting. He lucks out! One of the lieutenants coughs loudly, which is enough to identify him as Louie the Lunger, enforcer for “Lemonface” Bucco, boss of the Bowery district! Meanwhile, Kato moves around his container, while the guard atop it ambles down its length, failing yet again to spot Kato, who begins his own climb up the side of the container. Finally, Another guard heads out towards the center of the yard, halfheartedly scanning the darkness.
Turn 4: The guard atop the container Kato is climbing does an about-face and returns to his original position, which means he walks right by Kato for a second time. The guard is oblivious; once again failing to spot the black-clad Kato clinging to the side of the container. Kato quickly climbs up and attacks the guard from behind, delivering a silent but highly-effective kung-fu chop to the guard’s neck. Down he goes! The Green Hornet drops silently from the top of his container, coming into contact with another encounter marker. It’s a restless guard. One of the guards gets the urge to stretch his legs, so he gets to move out of turn. The guard on the bridge continues in the same direction, scanning the darkness, seeing nothing.
Turn 5: The Green Hornet moves quietly around the side of a nearby car, taking aim at the driver with the Hornet gun. He fires off a gas canister and the driver quickly succumbs to the narcotic effects of the knockout gas! A nearby guard fails to see the driver slump to the ground, unconscious! (These guards are really terrible.)
Meanwhile, from his vantage point atop his own shipping container, Kato has a clear shot at another driver. Not one to miss an opportunity, Kato hurls one of his drugged Hornet-darts at the unsuspecting driver; who is quickly overcome by the knockout venom! The Green Hornet and Kato are like the two pieces of bread in a SANDWICH OF JUSTICE! The guard in the middle of the yard moves back to his position atop the metal platform overlooking the meeting. So far, the Green Hornet and Kato have avoided detection!
Turn 6: The guards seem to realize they’re too close together, so they separate to better keep watch over the yard.
Like flowing water, Kato slips down the side of the shipping container. No longer worried about attracting the driver’s attention, he moves closer to the car, trying to get a better look at the mob lieutenants. The Green Hornet makes a break from cover towards another encounter marker. For a brief moment, he is all too visible to the guard atop the metal platform; but the guard is distracted by something on his shoe, and fails to notice the Emerald Avenger as he gets close enough to note the identity of another mob lieutenant! It’s “Clean-Head Chang”, enforcer for the notorious Chinatown crime boss, Wise Uncle Wei!
Turn 7: The Green Hornet backtracks to his original position. Through his powers of Observation, he activates the encounter marker atop the shipping containers; but it’s a dud. Nothing happens. Kato moves closer to the meeting, for a brief moment fully exposed to two of the guards. Both fail their tests to spot him. (These guards are the WORST.)
Turn 8: One of the guards shifts his facing, giving him another chance to spot Kato. He does not. Kato moves towards another encounter marker, desperately trying to identify the last mob lieutenant; or even catch a glimpse of the mystery man. But before that can happen, the Green Hornet, trying to remain out of sight, moves around the back of the shipping container stack.
He activates an encounter marker. It’s the cops, led to the scene by crusading reporter Mike Axford!
Immediately, the mob lieutenants make a break for their cars, while the Mystery Man slinks away into the shadows. MEETING ADJOURNED!
Turn 9: Although Mike Axford is scanning the yard for the elusive Green Hornet, “Clean-Head” Chang runs out into the open in full view of the cops while making a break for his car, not knowing that his driver has been KO’ed by the Green Hornet’s gas gun. The cops fire, but fail to hit the Tong gangster. Meanwhile, Louie the Lunger runs for his car, also unaware that his driver is down for the count because of Kato’s dart. He comes face-to-face with Kato, and wastes no time pulling his gun and taking his shot. He hits! Kato takes a grazing shot along his rib cage!
In response, Kato screams his Battle Cry, leaping into hand-to-hand combat with Louie the Lunger. To his credit, the mobster doesn’t panic; but he does drop to the ground senseless on the receiving end of Kato’s vicious flying kick!
The Green Hornet tries to head off “Clean-Head” Chang, even going so far as to attack Chang’s car with the Hornet Sting in an attempt to disable it. Unfortunately, the device fails, and Chang’s car is unaffected. Chang reaches his car and speeds away, leaving behind his enforcer. The identity of the third mob lieutenant must remain a mystery, as he manages to reach his car and speed away, leaving his enforcer behind as well!
Turn 10: There are only two criminal models left on the table; these are the two goons left behind by the lieutenants as they made their escape. Mike Axford is obsessed with the Green Hornet and doesn’t care about these small fish. He’s desperately scanning the darkness, looking for the Hornet; but finds Kato instead. He hastily points him out the police, who open fire! Although most of the cops miss, Kato is struck again! He’s down to one wound! This serves to highlight his position to the goon atop the shipping container, who also opens fire at Kato with his tommy gun! Despite leaking like a sieve, Kato manages to leap and roll to safety, easily avoiding the hail of bullets! (Kato rolled two natural 10’s, which are Heroic Saves. The bullets never even came close.) The remaining mobster fires upon the Green Hornet, but only sprays the air as our hero vanishes into the concealing darkness!
Turn 11: Kato needs to get out of here, and fast. He sprints to the edge of the board to join the Green Hornet, spending Hero Points to gain extra movement. The heroes flee the scene with the identity of two of the three mob lieutenants, as the cops collar the remaining gangsters and Mike Axford wrings his hat in frustration. But questions persist: who was the third lieutenant, and who was the mystery man? What did they want?
Analysis: This game was a lot of fun, and it flew by pretty quickly. With two Grade 3 models, you would think the odds were stacked in favor of the heroes; and for a while, that was the case. Once the alarm sounded, though, all bets were off. The fact that the guards couldn’t spot snow in a blizzard helped; but Kato survived by sheer luck alone. I fully expected him to go down in a hail of gunfire from the cops, but they rolled like shit. Then, he pulled off a miraculous dodge when one of the gat men opened up with his tommy gun. Lucky!
I was really pleased with how the two heroes methodically took out the sentries while trying to discover as many clues as possible. The encounter markers weren’t going their way; but they did get seven full turns before the cops showed up, and the identities of 2 of the 3 lieutenants. The final VP tally: Heroes: 7, Gangsters: 1. A pretty decisive (though by no means complete) victory for the heroes!
Epilogue: The Next Day
Britt Reid paced the room, pounding his fist into his palm in frustration. “Blast it, Kato, why does Mike Axford have to be so darn good at his job?”
“Isn’t that what you pay him for?” asked Kato. He was propped up in bed, his ribs bandaged. Despite the pain, he was feeling fortunate that mobsters were such lousy shots.
“The Daily Sentinel is lucky to have a reporter so tenacious. The Green Hornet, not so much. Axford brought the cops down on us before we could find out what was really going on in that storage yard.”
“We know the identities of two of the lieutenants,” said Kato, ” Louie the Lunger and Clean-Head Chang. That’s something.”
“It would have been nice to be able to interrogate at least one of them, and find out the identitiy of the third,” said Reid, “not to mention the mystery man, and what they were doing in the first place. Chang got away, and Louie is cooling his heels in a cell downtown.” Reid sighed in exasperation. “D.A. Scanlon says he isn’t talking.”
“Sorry I got shot, boss,” said Kato.
“That’s ok, my friend,” deadpanned Reid. “Just try to do better next time.” The two men exchanged smiles. “So, what now?” asked Kato.
“Clean-Head Chang is top enforcer for Wise Uncle Wei,” said Reid. “I think it’s time Wei got a visit from the Green Hornet.”
Kato nodded, sliding out of bed; but Reid stopped him. “You need to stay here and rest up, Kato. I’ll handle this one alone.”
Kato shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You worry too much, Kato. I have done this before, you know.” Reid smiled. “I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”
Kato sat back and watched as Britt Reid left. A few minutes later, he slid out of bed, wincing in pain. The Green Hornet needed Kato, and there was no way he wasn’t going to be there.
Scenario: At midnight, three of the most powerful mob lieutenants in the city are meeting with a mysterious figure. Who do these lieutenants work for and what are they discussing? Who is this mystery man? And why wasn’t the Green Hornet invited? The Green Hornet and Kato plan on finding out the answers to these questions; but there’s another problem: Ace Reporter Mike Axford has also learned of the meeting and tipped off the police. It’s only a matter of time before they arrive…can the Green Hornet find his answers before then?
Victory Conditions: The Green Hornet must discover three clues (the identities of the enforcers) and escape the board. The criminals must prevent him from learning everything before the cops arrive and they are forced to make their escape. Victory points are awarded for clues. Each clue discovered by the Green Hornet is worth 1 VP, each clue that goes undiscovered is worth 1 VP for the criminals. In addition, each model that is eliminated is worth one VP equal to his grade (i.e. a Grade 3 model is worth 3 VP, etc.), and each Mob Lieutenant (not including the mystery man) that is able to escape is worth 1VP to the criminals. Whoever has the most VP at the end wins.
Forces: The Hero player controls the Green Hornet (Grade 3 Crimefighter) and Kato (Grade 3 Crimefighter). The Criminal Player starts with 3 Enforcers (Grade 2) and 6 Gat Men (Grade 1). (Each lieutenant brought a driver and a goon.) The lieutenants and the drivers are armed with pistols; the goons are armed with submachine guns. The Police (3 Grade 1 Officers) and Mike Axford (Grade 1 Reporter) are controlled by either player, subject to the conditions below.
Setup: Play is on a 24”x24” surface, representing the yard of MacLane’s Storage Yard. There are shipping containers stacked around the yard, forming a central clearing of sorts. Crates, barrels and oil drums are liberally scattered about the yard, providing cover and spots to hide. There are three cars each facing an unobstructed path through the containers in roughly a Y-shaped pattern. In the center of these cars, the three Mob Lieutenants are deployed, along with the Mystery Man. One Gat Man is deployed next to each car; these are the lieutenants’ drivers and they don’t usually take part in any of the action unless the shooting starts. The remaining 3 Gat Men are deployed on Guard Duty. The guards can be placed among or atop the shipping containers. The Green Hornet and Kato start on one board edge, in cover but at least 8” away from any enemy model.
Stealthy: A hero can attempt to take out a guard in melee without alerting any of the others. If a hero attacks a guard in melee and KO’s him, he does so silently. If the guard doesn’t go down, he immediately sounds the alarm. If a hero attacks a guard with line of sight to another guard, any attempts to spot him are made at +1.
Sounding the Alarm: Any guard who spots a hero model or who survives a round of melee can sound the alarm. This instantly alerts all the guards on the table, who can activate and act normally in subsequent turns. The bosses make a break for it as if The Police Arrive (see below).
The Police Arrive: When this happens (or when the alarm is sounded), all the bosses immediately make a break for their cars, and will reach them in one turn. The drivers can shoot at any of the heroes or the police they can see for one turn, then they speed away with their boss on the following turn. Any of the bosses who get off the board escape. As for the mystery man, he cannot be captured. He vanishes without a trace!
The police choose their targets as follows: first, they fire at any model that fired upon them, otherwise they fire at the closest hero or criminal they can see. Whichever model is the target, the opposing player rolls for the cop’s attacks. The Green Hornet and Kato will not enter combat with the police or with Mike Axford (no matter how much they want to), the one exception being the Green Hornet can use his gas gun if needed.
Pesky Mike Axford: Mike Axford is obsessed with unmasking the Green Hornet, and is constantly pointing out his whereabouts to the cops. By spending a Hero point, the player controlling the mob enforcers can force the police to fire upon either of the heroes, even if there is a closer criminal target. The criminal player cannot do this if any criminals fired upon the police earlier this turn, however. Axford cannot be the target of attacks, nor can he attack any other model.
The Green Hornet (Grade 3): DR 5 Brains 4 Will 3 Brawn 3 Guts 10 Heater 5 Shiv 5 Dodge 4 Speed 5 Brawler +1d10, Pugilist +1, One-Two Punch, Sharpshooter +1, Quick +1, Nerves of Steel +2, Observant, Quick Recovery, Heroic Action
Another challenge for the Green Hornet; his aide, Kato; and their rolling arsenal, the Black Beauty!
Britt Reid, publisher of the Daily Sentinel, sat in his home office, uneasily drumming his fingers on the desk. “Very interesting, Kato.”
“What’s that?” Kato asked, setting a glass in front of his boss and friend. With a flourish,he held aside the sleeve of his white valet jacket and began to fill the glass with orange juice, raising the decanter impossibly high before lowering it at just the right moment to avoid an overflow.
Reid smiled at Kato’s theatrics.“Three of the city’s biggest mob lieutenants have a meeting tonight, Kato– a secret meeting with a mysterious fourth party…and it seems the Green Hornet wasn’t invited!”
“Maybe our invitation got lost in the mail,” Kato said dryly. “What do you think it’s about?”
“I don’t know, my friend. But one thing I do know: this is one soiree the Green Hornet isn’t about to miss!”
Kato nodded. “I’ll get the car ready.”
It’s long past time I played some Pulp. Although my Star Trek skirmishes last year scratched an itch for adventures in spaaaaaace; I wanted to get back to some good old-fashioned two-fisted Pulp action. And who better for that than the Green Hornet and Kato?
I used .45 Adventure 2nd Edition, my favorite rules for Pulp gaming. You can get the PDF here for a measly 10 bucks, and it’s well worth it. That being said, I made a few changes; the same changes I used when playing the Star Trek games using Fantastic Worlds. I’ll repeat them here: .45 Adventure has a detailed combat system that involves wound location and deteriorating statistics based on damage received. For example, you get shot in the arm, your shooting and brawling abilities go down; you get shot in the legs, your movement speed decreases, etc. The better your character, the higher his stats and the more wound boxes he has; therefore wounds have less of an effect on heroic characters and a greater effect on scrubs.
For my taste, this was a bit more bookkeeping than I wanted to deal with. I decided a model has a number of wounds equal to its rank and damage resistance (DR) commensurate with their abilities, and that wound location doesn’t matter. If a character is wounded, he loses a wound. Rank 3 and Rank 2 characters are KOed when they lose their last wound; Rank 1 scrubs aren’t so lucky: they’re dead (unless they are supposed to be KOed). This makes combat a lot faster and more deadly, but requires a lot less effort to keep track of a character round-to-round. Heroic characters (like the Green Hornet) may have access to abilities that allow them to shrug off and/or heal wounds, or to act regardless of them, but goons go down fast. As it should be!
The tradeoff is that a lot of special abilities in .45 Adventure are based around wound location, such as Supreme Effort, which allows a model to use his starting stats for a wound location for a turn (regardless of how badly damaged that location is); or Dead Shot, which improves your chances of hitting a specific location. Since I scrapped wound location, none of the models could use these; which somewhat limited the selection of skills I had access to. Each location also has its own Damage Resistance value. It’s generally easier to wound someone if you hit them in the head as opposed to hitting their arm, for example. I scrapped that too, and just assigned a blanket DR to an entire model. The more important or tough the model is, the more DR it has. This makes the game move a lot faster at the expense of some of the detail of the system; I like it, but YMMV.
That about covers the rules. But, what about the scenario?
It’s simple: At midnight, three of the most powerful mob lieutenants in the city are meeting with a mysterious figure. Who do these lieutenants work for and what are they discussing? Who is this mystery man? And why wasn’t the Green Hornet invited? The Green Hornet and Kato plan on finding out the answers to these questions; but there’s another problem: Ace Reporter Mike Axford has also learned of the meeting, and tipped off the police. It’s only a matter of time before they arrive…can the Green Hornet find his answers before then?
Of all heroes, I didn’t set out to repaint and rebase Aquaman. It came about quite by accident. Recently I had a quick rummage through the bitz box on an unrelated project, and I discovered this Aquaman Heroclix left over from a Forgotten Heroes conversion I did back in 2018. I had popped him off his dial and used the water spout to make the Water Wizard.
(I never throw anything away. That Water Wizard was also made from a Quicksilver body and a Weather Wizard head; the Weather Wizard’s body was used to make the Aquarian. along with a head from a different Aquaman miniature, the hook of which was used on this Pulp Figures conversion. Finally, the Quicklsilver head was used the year before to make Jack Frost, along with a body from a Heroclix Scorpion. As for Scorpion’s head, I have no idea where that ended up.)
The entire time I worked on this conversion, this song was running through my head. It will run through your head too, if you listen to it. It’s insidious, and you will grow to like it. It drove me so nuts I looked up the video on YouTube. It reminded me how much I love this movie, because…Julie Adams. I know, right? What is it with girls named Julie? Adams, Newmar, Christie…it’s a good name, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, I had some “seaweed” and some shells left over from my Under the Sea diorama last month, so that got me thinking of making another underwater base. Since Aquaman is at his coolest in his element (as cool as he can be, anyway), it seemed appropriate to base him underwater. Again, credit to Eons of Battle for the base tutorial.
And here he is. I painted his stupid water hand to look like flesh so he would better resemble the classic, lame-ass Aquaman we all know and mock. (“Go talk to some fish!”)
Here’s my attempt at making Aquaman cool; although if Jason Momoa can’t do it, who am I to think I can? He was a fun little project in the midst of some others, and it’s been a while since repainted some ‘Clix. It’s a bit of an amuse-bouche for June…when Forgotten Heroes comes around again!
“HULK…SMASH…HULK…SMASH…” The robotic Hulk grabs a nearby crate and hurls it at the heroes.
“I’ll say one thing for Machinesmith,” says Hawkeye, ducking, “he really nailed Hulk’s personality.”
“Relax,” says Spider-Man. “It could be worse. We could be fighting the actual Hulk.”
“You fought the…?” asks Power Man, circling the green behemoth, awaiting an opening.
“Yep,” says Spidey. “It was very un-fun.”
“Time to introduce this robotic wannabe to my steel-hard skin…” begins Power Man.
“…and 300 lbs. of solid muscle,” finishes Cyclops, distracting the robot with a full-force optic blast. “Yeah, we know. Go for it.”
Power Man charges the Hulk robot, giving it his best Sunday punch. He connects solidly, knocking it back a full ten feet, splintering crates and dropping it to its knees. Sparks fly from the exposed robotic “brain” as it slowly stands upright. “Nope,” says Hawkeye firing an incendiary arrow. “Definitely not the Hulk.”
Daredevil’s radar sense reveals something odd. “This room is a lot bigger than it looks,” he says.
“One thing at a time,” says Cyclops, firing at the Hulk robot again. The green machine seems to be shrugging off most of the damage, until Spider Man decides to attack the head directly. Unshielded, the delicate mechanisms that animate the robot begin to fail. All five heroes concentrate their attacks on the head, until a few minutes later when the robot suddenly stops moving and falls over stiffly, managing a final “HULK…SMASH…” before falling permanently silent.
With the help of Cyclops’s optic blasts and Power Man’s fists, the heroes break through a series of false walls that lead into what was, until recently, the Machinesmith’s secret lab. Scattered among robotic schematics and diagrams are several unfinished robotic frames and one robotic head bearing the likeness of Machinesmith himself. Hawkeye picks it up and stares at it.
“Alas, poor Machinesmith…” he begins, before Cyclops snatches it from him irritably. “There’s a camera in here, recording everything, ” the X-Man says.
“That explains why they were watching us,” says Power Man. “Machinesmith is making movies. Why would he do that?”
“Someone paid him to, it seems,” Daredevil says. “Stands to reason it would be the same person who hired the Circus of Crime to attack you and Hawkeye. Machinesmith is long gone now. His consciousness could be anywhere, in any robotic body. How are we going to find out who’s really behind this?”
Spider-man, hanging upside-down on his webbing, slowly descends into the midst of the group. “I think I know where to look,” he says, holding up a map of Coney Island, circa 1945.
“Coney Island?” asks Cyclops. “Why there?”
“Because some fool circled a warehouse here with a big, fat, red magic marker,” says Power Man, pointing at the map. “Looks like a clue to me, Scoob.” He turns around, coming face to upside-down face with Spider-Man. The two stare at each other for a moment.
“You want to kiss me, don’t you?” asks Spider Man. “It’s ok. I get that a lot when I’m in this position.”
Cage grins. “It’s gonna hurt real bad when I hit you, wall-crawler.”
“Coney’s not that far away,” Cyclops says. “Let’s go.”
About half an hour later, the heroes arrive at the address in Coney Island to find yet another warehouse, one that was once converted into a factory. It looks to be condemned, but some bricks have crumbled on the facade, revealing an old faded marquee for Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show. Seems the Circus of Crime used the name deliberately.
“Should we knock?: asks Hawkeye. Power Man tries the security door. It opens easily. Inside, all is in darkness. Daredevil senses mostly open space. Hawkeye is about to fire off a flare arrow when the lights suddenly come on, revealing the main factory floor has been converted into a three-ring circus ground! A series of raised catwalks crisscrosses the floor, forming a mazelike upper level.
Cyclops barely has time to notice that his portable Cerebro unit is active; indicating there is a mutant of significant power nearby, before a gravelly voice comes over a hidden loudspeaker. “Hawkeye. Power Man. Good to see you again. I have been watching your performances with great interest, as well as that of your friends. But I have friends too! Meet my star performers!”
One by one, a spotlight illuminates each of the rings, revealing a figure standing within.
“Blacklash! Master of the bullwhip!“
“Huh.” Power Man cracks his knuckles. “I slapped this fool silly once already,” he says.
“I did it first!” says Spider-Man.
Oddball! The deadliest juggler in the world!
“The ‘deadliest juggler in the world’? Seriously?” says Cyclops. “You know I’ve fought Magneto, right?”
“And last, but certainly not least:Trick Shot! The greatest of all archers. But wait…isn’t that supposed to be you, Hawkeye? Ha Ha Ha!”
“Friend of yours?” asks Daredevil. Hawkeye scowls at the sight of his former mentor, but says nothing.
Suddenly, another spotlight illuminates the catwalk network above. Standing high overhead, the skull-visaged face of Taskmaster leers down at the heroes in triumph. “By all means, fools, let us fight,” he says, “as gladiators did in circuses of old. This whole arena has been wired with cameras. Upon your defeat I will be able to study every move you make, so that my photographic reflexes can ensure that your skills become mine!”
“You have to beat us first,” says Hawkeye, nocking an arrow. Before he can fire, however, he is struck by a razor-tipped arrow fired from Trick-Shot’s bow! A few inches to the right, and it would have been curtains for the Avenger! Spider-Man bounds up to the catwalk to face Taskmaster while Power Man charges Oddball!
Daredevil leaps into action, hurling his billy club at Blacklash and following up with an acrobatic flying kick that knocks the villain clear out of the ring and into the darkness beyond. Some would hesitate to pursue; but darkness is no hindrance to a blind man, and so Daredevil follows him as he does all things…without fear!
Power Man doesn’t quite reach Oddball before the evil juggler tosses an explosive ball directly at him. Not missing a beat, Cage catches the ball and hugs it close, containing the blast as best he can. It stings, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. A moment later and he has hold of Oddball, crushing him in a bearhug that robs the juggler of his breath! He collapses, colorful balls falling to the ground around him like…well, like a lot of balls falling to the ground at once.
Spider-Man takes a swing at Taskmaster, but the mutant mercenary easily avoids it. “You forget, Spider-Man…I’ve studied you already. I know your every move. Much like Captain America!” He hurls his steel-alloy shield at the wall-crawler, who manages to catch it. “You can’t possibly beat–ARRRRRGH!” Taskmaster screams as Cyclops opens up with an optic blast from the ground floor. He wasn’t expecting it, and that leaves him vulnerable. Spider-Man promptly smacks Taskmaster with his own shield!
Meanwhile, Hawkeye decides it’s time to put down Trick Shot for good. Unfortunately for him, Trick Shot thinks the same about Hawkeye. The two trade explosive arrows, and both hit! If Hawkeye wasn’t already wounded, he may have been able to withstand the blast; but instead both hero and villain are knocked unconscious! Somewhere in the darkness, Blacklash is trying desperately to see Daredevil. But he can’t whip what he can’t see; and he soon falls beneath the merciless fists of the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen!
That leaves Taskmaster alone, and quite outnumbered. The canny mutant knows he has lost, and knows the time has come to flee. He whips out his sword and lunges at Spider-Man, hoping to force the web-swinger to retreat. It doesn’t work. Spider-Man dodges easily, and, still holding the Taskmaster’s own shield, uses it to knock the villain out cold and off the catwalk in one smashing blow!
Later, after the NYPD has been called and the villains have been carted off, the five heroes regroup outside what was once Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show.
“Not bad for a day’s work,” Hawkeye says, sighing.
“Yeah?” asks Power Man. “I get paid when I work, Avenger. Doesn’t look like anyone’s paying me today. Only one who looks happy is web-head over there.”
“Wealth and fame, he’s ignored,” says Daredevil. “Action is his reward.”
Cage nods. “To him, life is a great big hang-up.”
And wherever there’s a hang-up, True Believers, you’ll find the Spider-Man!
“Ok, fellas,” Spider-Man says, “I’m gonna see if I can get a fix on our bearded, junk-food loving friend. Try to keep up.” Spider-Man leaps a full 30′ straight up, then fires a web at a nearby flagpole, zip-lining across the street.
“Sweet Christmas!” says Power Man. “How are we supposed to keep up with that?”
“Easy,” says Daredevil, grinning. “I’ll follow him, and you can follow me.” Without waiting for an answer, he nimbly scales a nearby fire escape, landing on the roof seconds later.
“I knew I should have brought my skycycle,” Hawkeye sighs.
Meanwhile topside, Spider-Man quickly homes in on the buzzing of his spider-tracer. A few minutes later, he catches sight of his quarry: the same bearded, trenchcoat-wearing man he saw earlier, still holding a stick of what was once ice cream in his hand, now-completely melted. The man is walking away from the CTB Center grounds; not rushing, but definitely moving with purpose. Spider-Man follows for while, keeping out of sight on the rooftops. Daredevil uses his radar sense to keep tabs on Spider-Man while keeping in sight of the other three heroes, who follow along on the ground as fast as they can.
After a few minutes, the man suddenly stops, turns and stares directly at Spider-Man; then takes off at a speed far beyond that of a normal human. Were it not for his spider-tracer, Spider-Man would be left in the dust. The mysterious man makes a beeline southeast, quickly reaching speeds of almost 40mph at a run with no sign of tiring. It’s all Spidey can do to keep up as the man runs parallel to FDR drive, heading through Midtown to the Lower East Side before crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn some 20 minutes later.
“I guess you can travel faster on foot than I thought,” says Spider-Man, coming to a rest on one of the bridge pylons to wait for the others. Once they are all together again, Spider-Man follows the tracer to a warehouse in Red Hook, where the heroes find the man and three others who look just like him awaiting them on the roof of a warehouse that looks to be abandoned. All of the men remove their overcoats and hats, revealing one-piece coveralls underneath.
“Check out those beards. Those are serious facial accessories,” Hawkeye says aloud. Daredevil has no comment. Three of the men spread out in a triangular pattern, each fixating on one of the heroes, while the fourth moves quickly to the rooftop door into the warehouse. “We’ve got a runner!” Cyclops says.
“I’ll head him off at the pass,” Spider-Man replies, bounding off the side of the building.
“I don’t like how they’re just staring at us,” says Power Man. “Gives me the creeps.”
“I’ll lay down some modesty for you, big guy,” says Hawkeye, loosing a smoke arrow.
As the purple vapor begins to billow throughout the area, Daredevil notices something peculiar with his enhanced senses: none of these men have a heartbeat! “They’re not human!” he exclaims. “They’re robots!”
“Then that makes things a lot easier,” says Cyclops, adjusting his visor and letting fly an optic blast.
“Time to introduce these turkeys to my steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle!” says Power Man, moving towards the trio.
Behind his hand, Hawkeye theatrically whispers to Daredevil: “He really needs to work on that battle-cry.”
The battle on the roof is brief, and the heroes pull no punches. Daredevil accounts for one, while Luke Cage and Cyclops both battle the others before Hawkeye puts them both down for good with electro-arrows, short-circuiting their systems. Once again, Daredevil’s senses alert him of danger just in the nick of time; and he exclaims “They’re going to explode!” mere seconds before they do…
Meanwhile, the fourth man rushes into the rooftop entrance to the warehouse and down the stairs, barely having time to reach the second floor catwalk before Spider-Man crashes through a boarded-up window on the side of the building!
“Hiya, Baldy!” Spider-Man says, “Miss me?” Inside, the warehouse looks disused and mostly abandoned; although there are crates and boxes covered with dusty tarpaulins scattered about the ground floor, some of them quite large. Both Spider-Man and the mysterious man face each other on a second-story catwalk that runs the perimeter of the interior. Spider-Man’s spider sense warns him just before the man lunges at him. Spidey evades him easily and gives him a light smack in return, which is when he notices the man’s skin is harder than normal; in fact, it’s completely artificial.
“Heeyyyyy….” he says, “you’re one a them there robots, a’int ya?” Armed with that knowledge, Spider-Man makes quick work of him, putting him out of commission just as a huge explosion blows a whole in the ceiling, tumbling The remaining four heroes inside. Sizing up the situation, Cyclops blasts the prone body of Spider-Man’s opponent, reducing it to debris before it, too, can explode.
The heroes barely have time to catch their breath when a mechanical voice is heard from a hidden loudspeaker:
“Well, well…I must commend your resourcefulness, heroes…I truly didn’t think you’d make it this far. But where others may panic, I see further opportunity for profit!”
“The Machinesmith!” Daredevil exclaims. “I recognize the voice!”
“I remember, now,” says Hawkeye. “He’s in the Avengers’ files. Captain America told me about him. How come you didn’t recognize him from all his robots?”
“I…uh…didn’t get a good look at him,” says Daredevil.
The voice continues. “Unfortunately, I must depart, as my benefactor now has his merchandise. In the meantime, I’ve arranged to broadcast this bonus material to him, so be sure to put on a good show! Mu hu ha ha ha ha ha!”
Suddenly, one of the large crates bursts open to reveal the unmistakable form of the Incredible Hulk! Or it would be unmistakable, if it had an actual head instead of two visual diodes suspended on a robotic frame. Apparently this particular robot is unfinished. A bestial roar erupts from where the green giant’s throat would be as he lunges to attack!
It’s a bright, sunny July day in Manhattan, a good day for a celebration. The Cyrus Theophilus Bartlett Community Center is finally open. Made possible by a grant from the Rand-Meachum corporation, the CBT Center promises opportunities for growth and outreach among those residents of Harlem who most need the services. The CBT will offer adult education classes, child care and social services; as well as a free clinic that will provide the uninsured access to health care and preventative medicine. Nelson and Murdock, PC will also offer pro-bono legal services to those who qualify. The residents of Harlem have turned out in droves for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which features music, free food, entertainment and appearances by prominent community professionals, including Hero-for-Hire Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man; lawyer Matt Murdock; and Daily Bugle editor and Harlem native Joe “Robbie” Robertson; who is the featured keynote speaker.
To keep the crowd contained, an entire city block has been cordoned off; the perimeter manned by NYPD police, some from on horseback from the mounted division. Most of them are holding coffee cups, munching on fried dough and street food. It’s a festive atmosphere, and everyone seems to be having a good time.
Much of the entertainment is being provided by Cheezo the Clown’s Coney Island Circus Show; which has erected a scaffolding and a makeshift Big Top on the main stage. It features aerialists, a fire-breather, a strong man (who seems a bit self-conscious with Power Man here), and, of course, Cheezo the clown himself. But the real main event of the day is an appearance by the Avenging Archer, Hawkeye; who has promised to entertain the crowd with his amazing marksmanship, and even sign autographs afterwards!
Both Luke Cage (in costume) and Matt Murdock (not) share the stage with “Robbie” Robertson and the Reverend Placide Puree of the 138th St. Baptist Church. Robbie is supposed to be the keynote speaker of the event, as he is the only one who actually knew community activist Cyrus Bartlett; but the Reverend Placide Puree and his epic jheri curl has hijacked the dedication for his own self-aggrandizing purposes. Meanwhile, Cheezo the Clown and his Coney Island Circus Show await backstage with Hawkeye, going over their plans for the entertainment soon to follow. Hawkeye will dazzle the crowd with some trick shots, while the aerialists, the cowboy and the strong man all do their thing. Cheezo himself will juggle while riding his unicycle; he’ll throw some bowling pins high in the air so the Avenger can shoot them and make the kiddies laugh.
In the crowd, meanwhile, Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops, regards his portable Cerebro device. Professor Xavier told him there was a good chance Angela Ivers, a teenager who has recently demonstrated some mutant abilities, may attend this event. Professor X knows her newly-manifested powers have frightened her and he wants to be sure she receives some guidance and support from the X-Men. So far, Cerebro has been quiet. (Unbeknownst to Cyclops, Angela got grounded yesterday and has not been allowed to attend the ceremony.)
Peter Parker is also in the crowd, on assignment from the Daily Bugle to get some photos of the opening of the CBT center and his editor Robbie’s speech. A man jostles him, ruining his shot. The man heads off into the crowd with a mumbled apology. Since Peter failed his Intuition roll, he takes no notice of how the man is dressed in an overcoat and hat; odd considering the warm weather; or how he’s holding an ice cream bar that has melted all over his hand, and doesn’t seem to care. He does notice the man’s old-fashioned facial whiskers, but quickly forgets about them.
The Reverend Placide Puree introduces Hawkeye while back-handedly apologizing for the absence of the Human Torch, who was the first choice for the event’s headliner. The Human Torch along with the rest of the Fantastic Four is busy, says the Reverend, but Hawkeye the Avenger will certainly do his best to entertain the crowd.
And entertain them he does; briefly, at least.
Spider-Man’s spider sense barely tingles before suddenly, the cowboy dazzling the crowd with rope tricks loops his lariat over Power Man, pinning his arms to his chest! Power Man has just enough time to chuckle in surprise, thinking it’s all part of the act, before 40,000 volts of electricity surge through the cable. If it wasn’t for his steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle, Luke Cage would be toast! Meanwhile, the twin aerialists leap from the scaffolding and maneuver a huge cannon to point at Power Man, while the clown blows a comically-large horn, discharging a cloud of high-potency knock-out gas directly at Hawkeye! The Avenging Archer begins to sputter and cough; but manages to fight off the effects of the gas as the Strong Man heads towards him with malicious intent and the clown follows up with a weighted tenpin, beaning Hawkeye off the noggin!
Peter Parker’s spider-sense is blaring klaxons now; so he takes the opportunity to duck under the stage to change into his Spider-Man costume. Cyclops likewise finds an out of the way corner; but Matt Murdock, on stage with Power Man; has nowhere to go. Instead he “accidentally” blunders into the cowboy, smacking him with his blind-man’s cane hard enough to hurt!. Power Man is shocked again by the electric lariat; but he soon has bigger problems than that: the cannon booms, and a brightly-costumed man with a bullet-shaped helmet rockets into Power Man with incredible force! Sadly, the Human Cannonball didn’t reckon on steel-hard skin and 300 lbs. of solid muscle. He ricochets off the Hero-for-Hire, barely managing to budge him. but definitely making him mad!
The Strong Man tries to grapple Hawkeye, but the Avenger evades him long enough to put a blunt-tipped arrow directly into the clown’s breadbasket at point-blank range, knocking him clear off his unicycle! Power Man flexes his muscles, loosening the lariat and slipping free! Matt Murdock swings his cane wildly, “accidentally” knocking the cowboy completely out cold as Power Man charges the Human Cannonball and grabs hold of him! The twin aerialists leap once again into the scaffolding above, as Hawkeye fires an explosive arrow at the Strong Man’s feet. The resulting blast puts the Strong Man down for the count! Matt Murdock takes the opportunity to slip offstage, but not before he notices that someone in the crowd is acting strangely: his radar sense picks up one man standing stock still, watching the action; while all around him, a sea of spectators is milling about in excitement and the beginnings of panic as they realize what they’re seeing on stage isn’t mere entertainment!
Luke Cage swings the Human Cannonball like a club, connecting solidly with one of the aerialists. Both villains careen wildly offstage, while the remaining aerialist reaches the rafters. Spider-Man and Cyclops emerge from their hiding places just as a disturbance parts the crowd. A sultry woman throws off her cape, revealing a slinky costume that barely covers enough to keep this event family-friendly. Coiled around her as she undulates towards the stage is an enormous, 20′ long python! Standing next to her, a man in an old-fashioned, vaudeville suit with an oily, handlebar moustache places a large top hat on his head…
“Wallopin’ Websnappers!” exclaims Spider-Man as he leaps into the rafters after the remaining aerialist. “This is no Coney Island Circus Show…it’s the Circus of Crime!”
“The Circus of what, now?” asks Cyclops. At least the villains the X-Men face usually have cooler names, he thinks, as he notices a red-whiskered man in the crowd staring fixedly at him, loosely holding a bag of popcorn, almost as an afterthought. In fact, most of it has spilled on the ground in front of him.
“The Circus of Crime,” says Daredevil, seemingly appearing from nowhere. “Ringmaster, Princess Python…and, uh…the rest of them.”
“Buncha low-life turkeys!” says Power-Man. “Picked the wrong party to crash!”
Hawkeye wastes no time and fires a bola arrow at Princess Python, completely entangling her and her snake; while Cyclops unceremoniously optic-blasts the Ringmaster, blindsiding him and knocking him out before he can even fit the hat on his head. Faced with overwhelming odds the remaining aerialist, Luigi Gambonno, surrenders.
While the NYPD rounds up the Circus of Crime, the five heroes meet in the midst of the trashed stage amidst resounding cheers from the crowd. Before he can protest, Hawkeye is quickly led away on the arm of Reverend Placide Puree to sign autographs. Spider-Man waves to the crowd and begins bowing theatrically, but stops short when he sees that same red-whiskered man in the crowd that jostled him before, still holding a melted ice cream bar, staring directly at him. His spider-sense is quiet. Still, he decides it might be a good idea to see what’s up.
A leap and bound later, and Spider-Man stands in front of him. “Hey, buddy,” Spidey says, “a bit warm for a coat, don’t ya think?” Immediately, the man turns and begins to walk away. Spidey watches him go, but not before he tags him with a spider-tracer. Best to keep an eye on this guy.
Back onstage, the heroes interrogate the Circus of Crime, now handcuffed and awaiting the paddy wagon. A hatless Ringmaster, hands cuffed behind his back, stares with unconcealed hatred at Spider-Man.
“You,” he spits. “Always it’s you, wall-crawler.”
“Oooo,” Spider-Man says, “you really should twirl your moustache when you say that, Ring-o. It’s so villainous! Here,” he says, “lemme get that for you.” He reaches out and twists Ringmaster’s moustache, while Daredevil, casually leaning against the scaffolding nearby, chuckles audibly.
“Curse you!” sputters Ringmaster. “You weren’t even supposed to be here!”
The heroes exchange looks. “Who wasn’t supposed to be here?” asks Cyclops.
Ringmaster stares defiantly at Spider-Man, ignoring Cyclops. “I’ve got nothing else to say.”
Luke Cage steps closer, loudly cracking his knuckles. “Hey, web-head…how many punches does it usually take to get this pigeon talkin’?”
“He’s a stubborn one,” says Spider-Man, sighing. Ringmaster stares at Power Man in abject terror. “Might take a few. Plus, once you start, you just can’t stop.”
Ringmaster slumps in defeat. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, we already know you’re an idiot, Ringmaster,” Daredevil says, ” so you can skip that part. Someone put you and the rest of these clowns (pardon the expression) up to this. Who was it? And don’t lie. I’ll know.”
“I don’t know who he was. We were just supposed to attack Power Man and Hawkeye, then leave after a little while. He never said anything about three more heroes! It’s his good luck we got caught. Now we can’t collect, and I’d demand more money now!” Daredevil listens for the telltale skip in heart rate that would indicate a lie, but there isn’t one. Ringmaster really doesn’t know.
“You mean you ain’t even been paid yet?” Power Man says, laughing aloud. “Man, you’re just sad.” Ringmaster flushes scarlet, but stays silent.
“What did he look like?” asks Cyclops, scanning the crowd.
“Bald. Red whiskers,” says Ringmaster. “But not a full-beard, just side-whiskers. He looked ridiculous.”
“Listen to Oil Can Harry with the handlebar moustache, here, giving out fashion advice,” says Hawkeye, having disengaged himself from Reverend Placide Puree for the moment.
“I saw that guy,” says Cyclops. “He was standing over there, just staring at me. Stared so hard he spilled his popcorn everywhere. Guess I’m an interesting fellow.”
“I saw him too,” says Spider-Man. “But he was over there, and he had ice cream. It was melting all over his hand.”
“The same guy can’t be in two places at once”, says Power Man.
“Make it three,” says Daredevil. “I noticed someone watching me too, but I didn’t get a good look at him.”
“Let me guess,” says Power Man. “Funnel cake?”
Daredevil grins. “I didn’t notice.”
“So someone, probably these guys, hires these idiots to attack me and Power Man,” says Hawkeye. “Why? I never even met you before today.”
“It ain’t like we travel in the same circles, Avenger,” agrees Cage.
“I think we can find out pretty easily,” says Spider-Man. “It looks like the NYPD can handle things from here. I can follow Ice Cream Man’s trail. You all can follow me.”
“That’s if you’re done signing autographs, archer,” Cyclops says with a smirk.
Hawkeye glances apprehensively at Reverend Placide Puree, who is looking in his direction, and nods. “Let’s get out of here.”
As faithful readers of this blog know, during the pandemic, I have been a regular player in a friend’s D&D 5E game over Roll20. I’ve also managed to run some Star Trek Adventures, too. But Star Trek Adventures, while a lot of fun, is a complex game with a lot of moving parts. I love running it, but it takes some preparation to do so. So when my friend unexpectedly said he needed a couple of weeks off from running D&D, we needed something quick and easy to fill the gap. It wasn’t gonna be Star Trek.
I suggested TSR’s old Marvel Super Heroes game. Why, you ask? First of all, I love it. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Second, it takes little preparation to run, as everyone takes the role of an established super hero. Third, even though it was last in print in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it’s quite accessible to everyone. You can get the Basic and Advanced sets, as well as pretty much everything ever published for them, at Classic Marvel Forever for FREEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! Last, we’ve all played it before. Sure, it was decades ago, when we were in high school; but who cares? It’s not a difficult system to learn, or in our case, remember.
It’s not a particularly great system, either; but neither were any of the old TSR percentile-based boxed games. Still, I was eager and willing to jump back into the four-color comics of my youth. I hastily wrote a quick adventure for some low-power heroes (no Thor or Hulk here, sorry). Although I gave them a choice of several heroes including Black Cat, Iron Fist and Dazzler (one of my friends insisted on her, don’t ask); my friends chose to play Spider-Man, Daredevil, Power Man (Luke Cage), Hawkeye and Cyclops.
It’s set in the early 80’s comic book continuity; so Luke Cage is wearing a yellow, open shirt and a chain belt; Peter Parker carries a camera with actual film in it; Hawkeye is just thinking about starting an Avengers team on the West Coast; Matt Murdock is a lawyer and Cyclops is sad that his girlfriend turned into an evil super-powerful cosmic entity and then died; and then he then fell in love with a clone of her that was really a demon queen; and that he has a really shitty relationship with his brother; and that his father would rather jaunt around the galaxy with a bunch of misfits rather than spend one minute with his kids; and that maybe that it would be nice to take his friggin’ visor off every once in a while without blowing big holes in anything he looks at. (He doesn’t know that his own son from an alternate future timeline is a cyborg who is also a colossal douchebag. Not yet, anyway.)
So, gather ’round, True Believers, and get ready for the first Marvel Super Heroes game I have run this millennium, and probably (but hopefully not) the last: Taken to Task! In two days!