Since X-Men came out in 2000, there has been a new superhero movie every summer. Some would argue that this has brought greater awareness of the comic books they’re based on. I would argue that it has instead brought greater awareness of the superhero tropes that everyone was already aware of anyway.
There is a certain kind of person who cannot see a forest for the trees with a given medium. If you mention a beautiful performance of Die Fledermaus you saw once, they assume you spent an evening watching morbidly obese lady Vikings shrieking in German. If you mention some powerful scene in a video game, like the death of Aerith or something similarly heartbreaking, their brain cuts straight to PAC-MAN FEVER!
These are the people who still associate superhero comics with POW! BAM! OOF!
Every year as you come out of that summer’s superhero blockbuster, you will hear the same conversation: LOL SUPERHEROES. Dude, I’d be Beerman! No, I’d be, like, the Human Bong! Cherise and Melissa would totally be Jailbait and Cocktease, am I right? WHOOO!
With Champions, these people can make their stupid joke characters a reality. Here are ten examples.
#10. Power Crusher
“Your strength makes me stronger, fool!”
Power Crusher is a violent, not-too-bright bully who grew up to be a villain-for-hire for VIPER, Champions’ answer to Cobra. This is what’s known as ’second-party’ villainy; it’s like being a sidekick, except more expendable.
What are Power Crusher’s abilities? He wears mechanical gauntlets that enable him to– I know what you’re thinking, CRUSH stuff, right? No, they let him sap other people’s energy! …So shouldn’t he be Sapper or Siphon or Bleeder or something like that? You’re not going to “crush” power by using it yourself, are you?
Not only is he a really boring character, and his name makes no sense, but he has probably the second dumbest-looking costume in the book. It looks bad enough rendered in black and white, with that sort of Masked Muscle / El Santo vibe that has never worked for wrestlers nor superfolk, but take special note of the coloration detail:
As Power Crusher, he wears a jet-black hood. His tunic is orange above, dark blue below with a purple stripe charged with a red gauntlet. His actual gauntlets are also red and crackle with yellow power. He wears brown trunks and boots, and light brown pants with white side stripes.
Count the colors in there; red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, light brown, dark brown, black, and white. Is BLINDING people also part of your superpower, Crusher? Why didn’t you call yourself ‘Roy G. Biv’? Or maybe ‘Beating Rainbow’? Or ‘Visible Fight Spectrum’!
#9: King Cobra
In the last one I mentioned VIPER, Champions’ prefabricated terrorism group. They’re led by the Supreme Serpent, have members with names like Copperhead and Asp… so they have a sort of snake theme going on. Then there’s King Cobra, who is the leader… of a rival group known as The Coil. One group of snake flavored bad guys wasn’t enough for Iron Crown Enterprises, I guess.
While we’re on the subject, another quick digression about my brother’s campaign: rather than use either of these properties in their game, the Vogue Vigilantes were instead faced with threats from ‘Black Flag,’ a shadowy terrorist organization who were so dangerous that they, and I quote, “made Cobra look like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon– and made VIPER look like something ripped off of some role-playing game.”
King Cobra is an extremely dangerous villain. He seeks world domination, and the transformation of all of humanity into monsters like himself. He has no regard for human life and sees all the world as not a stage, but an experimental lab. He is an arrogant megalomaniac with delusions of godhood, but for all his arrogance, he is neither stupid, nor blindly overconfident. He is a brilliant madman; there is nothing funny about King Cobra, and those who make jokes about him are grossly underestimating him.
“Nothing funny about King Cobra”? I got one word for you, book: loincloth.
That has to be the most defensively toned passage from this whole book. King Cobra is serious, you guys! Deadly serious! Stop laughing! He gets really mean when you laugh! You are SO underestimating my character! All right, that’s it, I’m giving him the power to tear up character sheets!
HAHAHAHA oh wait, wow, you were serious.
Griffin is yet another pimp serving out his time in prison who volunteered to be a lab rat in exchange for early parole. It’s really hard out there for a pimp.
The experiment was led by a rather unstable scientist who had an overly affectionate view of the Paleozoic epoch. He wanted to investigate human evolution by stripping away layers of genetic development, using drugs, radiation patterns, and the embryos of a baby bald eagle, which have a strong genetic resemblance to dinosaurs.
A scientist who believed humans evolved from dinosaurs? Where did he get his evolutionary biology degree, Bob Jones University?
Carlos emerged from the experiment as a functional birdman, a fierce and violent killer.
This is one of those origins that hints that something even cooler could have happened. Sure, he’s an eagleman and a raging killer, but he could have been a dinosaur man! Stupid scientist!
The Griffin is 6′ tall, 120 lbs (hollow boned) and has a twenty-five foot wingspan. He is covered in moderately short golden fur, his wings are a bright gold and his eyes are yellow.
Wait wait wait back up. FUR? You regress a man to an avian state and he gets covered in fur? And he grows a long lion’s tail too? Your origin completely fails to account for your leonine characteristics, Carlos. And this is Champions, it’s not like it would be hard. Just throw in something about using golden lion tamarin DNA as a stepping stone backward for human evolution or something– there, I did it for you.
“What’s the matter little man? Bad luck? Guess there must be a Gremlin around here.”
For some reason, the female villains in Classic Enemies have a really dumb habit of dropping their own names in their quotes. There’s another one in this book called Ladybug (who escaped the lame list because she’s a Canadian supremacist, which is awesome), whose extremely forced-sounding quote is, “Don’t you know it’s bad luck to try to crush a Ladybug?” This doesn’t work in real comic book situations. “Did someone just fart, or is there an Invisible Woman around here?”
Anyway. The bio doesn’t really have a whole lot to say about Gremlin, instead going into detail about WITCH, the group she works for:
The WITCH organization is a loose alliance of a few radicals. They believe that it is morally just for violence to be used against the enemies of the women’s movement, be it bombing video stores that stock pornography, terrorizing prominent politicians that are seen as anti-women’s movement, etc. Legitimate women’s groups unanimously condemn WITCH, but WITCH doesn’t care. WITCH doesn’t employ magic; the name represents what its members believe is the pinnacle of radical feminism; witches are persecuted (as they believe they are) and are powerful enough to need no one but themselves (WITCH condemns anyone who doesn’t agree with everything they believe).
I was hesitant to quote that, because now I’m afraid I’ll get trackbacks from political blogs. Seriously, it sounds like someone from Fox News posting about the Hillary Clinton movement back in April.
As for Gremlin herself, take a good look at the artwork. It’s probably not immediately apparent to you, as it wasn’t to me, that she’s not wearing a costume; she’s actually supposed to have reptilian skin and horns and things. Apparently she can change at will into a slightly larger lizardlike form. That’s all well and good, but what power does it give her? Armor-piercing claws, extra endurance and damage resistance, stronger willpower(?) and flight. So… how does she use this in a campaign?
In combat, she likes to lure her opponent into an area laced with booby traps designed to impede as well as humiliate.
Wow, All that mutation and backstory and buildup, and it all leads up to “The Riddler, but a lady.”
Also I just realized she probably got the name from the movie Gremlins. She should have been a space down the list.
Quote: None. Thok’s communication is a chitinous series of clicks. The Universal Translator talent might be used to understand him, but it would require telepathy to speak to him.
Thok here is an alien prince, of the “First Order of the Together,” who escaped from NASA and is running around on Earth trying to steal parts to build a spacecraft to get himself home. Gremlin, Thok, are any of these villains not based on Spielberg movies? Is there going to be an aquatic supervillain called The Great White whose taunt is “You’re going to need a bigger boat!”? A truck-themed guy named Duelist?
Thok’s real problem is laid out in a quote from the Game Mastering Champions campaign book:
For example, it would be difficult to run a satisfying hostage scene with characters who were designed as Saturday morning cartoon characters.
See, Thok is a pretty good character– for a science fiction campaign. Why is he in a supervillains book, though? How does a stranded alien who happens to have claws count as a supervillain? Does simply not knowing your way around the world qualify you for supervillainy now? And he can’t speak, so how do you start him monologuing about how he’s finally going to get home and leave this accursed mudball behind once and for all?
My theory is that this character may have originally been in a Sci-Fi Adventures campaign book, but he somehow got lumped into this one as padding. If I’m right, that’s pretty weak. If the Hero System is as malleable as you say and allows for this kind of character tradeoff, you should really give the players credit to come up with stranded alien stories on their own. Unless the Sci-Fi Hero campaign book had some sort of cultural exchange thing with a supervillain stranded in space and trying to get home… that’d actually be kind of cute.
Hey, looks like Hawkeye/Goliath decided to merge his two superhero identities, and also suck. This guy’s assness can be summed up in two quotes from his bio.
“When you’re the best, you can get away with murder.”
He has absolute contempt for most superheroes and supervillains, viewing them as “weirdos who don’t know how to put on their underwear.”
Mechassassin combines two of my least favorite things: Rob Liefield style characters of the 90s, and Anonymous. Here is someone who goes out to commit crimes, wearing an outfit that covers him in padding, belts, pouches, holsters, shields, armor, goggles, and God knows what’s underneath it all to keep him from chafing– and yet he mocks people who are wearing much more practical outfits, who frequently don’t need said outfits at all to do amazing things. Unlike him.
Mechassassin is a furry who goes to Something Awful to laugh at furries. Yiff in hell, Mechassassin.
Shamrock is a supervillain who supports the Irish Republican Army. He has the proverbial luck o’ the Irish, and bare-knuckle boxing talents that can knock most common heroes cold. OK, we can build a character around that.
Now let’s have him operating in the United States… as a thief…?
He will usually return to Ireland to visit his mother on her birthday, and will try to steal a large present for her before he goes back home.
Hey, moron, if you’re trying to get support for the Cause, why don’t you try being a super hero? How is beating people up and taking their stuff going to make anyone more sympathetic to your nation’s problems? I never saw anyone get their purse snatched and say, “Oh, that poor minority, forced to steal to survive… I’m going to donate to his United College Fund.”
Much like Thok, I suspect that Shamrock was actually a player character that got shoehorned into a villain role– no one who was truly evil would wear an outfit that stupid.
#3: The Whip
“Feel my lash, you fools!”
Oh my god. Where to start?
The Whip is a highly skilled Gypsy whippersnapper. He’s actually a member of Eurostar, the same group Fiacho and Mentalla are in, but why they let him in is beyond me. Maybe they needed a buttmonkey.
Shamrock had a shamrock symbol on his chest. It looked dumb. The Whip… has a drawing of a whip on his costume that goes from his right hip to his chest. And it has a little cartoon whipcrack at the end. It looks like a happy snake wagging its tail. Plus there’s those jagged boots and gloves that seem to suggest shark fins or something. And the two-toned mask. And that freaky off-center cummerbund. NONE of it goes together. The Whip would be the first person to benefit from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy: Superpowered Terrorist Edition.
The book does not actually say what color his costume is. I’m going to assume it’s a day-glo pink and glossy navy blue, with a puke orange whip symbol.
To their credit, ICE recognized how dumb this character is, and in Champions 5th Edition he was completely overhauled, starting with his doofy name. Now he’s called Scourge. Better, I guess! Maybe Shamrock will be lucky and start dressing like a normal person too. Maybe he could call himself Shillelagh?
#1 and #2: Panda and Raccoon
I’ll bet you weren’t ready to see that.
Panda and Raccoon are a husband and wife villain team who… uh… You know what, I think this warrants the full backstory from the book.
Background: Two people. Two totally different backrounds. Opposites do attract. Panda and Raccoon.
Ginger Hobart (nee Bosworth) was born to a poor British family. They rejected her because of her mutated appearance, and left her at an orphanage. At least she’d be happy here, they thought, but she wasn’t. The other children taunted her endlessly because of her looks. As they got older, their attacks became more violent. One day she was physically beaten by a group of children, and her latent mental powers came to the surface. She lashed out and left her attackers motionless on the ground. Terrified by what she had done, Ginger fled.
She had good reason to flee. Her ununsual appearance had already brought her to the attention of PSI, the Parapsychological Studies Institute, an organization dedicated to gaining control of all of the world’s mental mutants. Unfortunately, they caught up with her. They took her in and trained her mentally and physically. She became one of their most effective agents, and called herself Panda, and for the first time in her life, Ginger was happy. Even if she had lost her free will …
PSI assigned Panda to travel to America and eliminate the newly discovered mutant Raccoon, who was helping VIPER destroy PSI’s Midwest operations. Panda tracked Raccoon down, but instead of killing him, she fell in love. Raccoon told her his life story while their romance blossomed.
Robin Hobart was born to a wealthy family. They gave their unusual son what love and attention they could, but they hid him from all contact with the outside world. Eventually, the prospect of lifelong confinement became too much for young Robin, and he ran away from home. VIPER found him and trained him to use the full capabilities of his mutant body, and he became one of their best operatives. Naturally, given his physical appearance, he called himself Raccoon.
Then VIPER found them together, and VIPER tried to eliminate Panda. Raccoon went berserk and slew many VIPER agents while Panda made her escape. Raccoon followed her, and they were married. The constant pursuit by VIPER and PSI has deepened their dependence on each other, and this dependence makes them a very effective team.
Ain’t love grand?
All right, let’s go down the list.
- Panda and Raccoon. Now there’s two intimidating animals to build villains around. Maybe they’ll have a baby and name it Tapir.
- “Opposites do attract.” Opposites? They’re both kemonomimi mutants, who else were they going to date? Is one a mannequin or something?
- “The other children teased her endlessly because of her looks.” And yet she has a COM (comeliness) value of 20, equal to that of Mentalla, who was described as being exceedingly beautiful.
- “…her latent mental powers came to the surface.” Because giant pandas are known for their skill at telekinesis.
- “Even if she had lost her free will…” OOH, good use of the dramatic ellipsis there!
- “They hid him from all contact with the outside world.” He has a TAIL. Those can easily be excised at a young age and usually are!
- “Naturally, given his physical appearance, he called himself Raccoon.” Also, his half of the story is almost completely implied rather than told. I think we know who the author was more concerned with out of these two.
- “Raccoon followed her, and they were married.” Because obviously a legal ceremony is the first thing that two fugitive members of terrorist organizations would be concerned with. And she took his name!
- “This dependence makes them a very effective team.” Or maybe it simply makes them CODEPENDENT.
- “Ain’t love grand?” Duh.
So what we’re left with is a pair of villains, who aren’t really villains, just victims who don’t play by the rules, and they successfully escaped, and… um… lived happily ever after.
On the Christmas morning that I received this book, I happened to open it to the Panda and Raccoon page, and my brother told me, “I swear to God I’ll kill you if you use those characters in your campaign.” A noble sentiment, to be sure, but how do you even work these characters into your campaign? Their story is all told! You can’t even retell it in your own words because the actual stats include stuff about their marriage! Why was this even in the book to begin with?
Oh. Nepotism. But of course.
That’s exactly what it felt like: either trying to get the wife in on the game, or her asking to be included because she feels left out when the boys have Champions night, but girls didn’t read superhero comics when Stacy Thain was a kid. Now I feel bad; why should I expect her to have an intrinsic knowledge of the elements that make successful entries in the superhero genre? She did her best, bless her heart, she was just trying to help make a fun game for everyone! It’s not her fault that the famous Glenn “Icestar” Thain is already so great at making up characters (like Shamrock) and she’s on her first try!
We forgive you, Stacy. Just please, before you make another Classic Enemy, pick up an issue of Thunderbolts or something, Like the book said, it’s hard to do a satisfying scene with characters designed for Saturday morning cartoons, and this duo looks like they popped right out of Inspector Gadget.