mighty marvel minimalism

A brief post because I’m tired after a long but enjoyable game of BrickQuest, run by our man Foner.  (Maybe Charlatan will share pictures and recollections.)

On the heels of yesterday’s post wondering what Marvel Comics would have looked like without Jack Kirby, here’s another probably pointless thought experiment:

What happens if you only used the superheroes featured in the 1984 Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game?

To refresh, that would be . . .

What If . . . 9 (second series), Rich Buckler pencils

  • Spider-Man
  • Wolverine
  • Captain America
  • Captain Marvel
  • Thing
  • Mister Fantastic
  • Invisible Girl
  • Human Torch
  • Thor (mentioned)

And on the villain side:

  • Doctor Octopus
  • Radioactive Man
  • Scorpion
  • Beetle
  • The Fixer

If you wanted to include guys with speaking parts in the rule books:

  • The Watcher
  • Doctor Strange
  • Beast
  • Professor X
  • Jarvis
  • Doctor Doom
  • Arcade

As noted in the Kirby post, it wouldn’t look too different, since most of the Marvel Universe was explored by the Fantastic Four.  There’s some version of the Avengers, and references to the X-Men.  Presumably the line-ups of both of these teams would be wide-freakin’-open for brand-new characters, created either by the Judge or by the players.  To me, it seems to hold just enough of the familiar Marvel Universe to be playable, but also so much is absent that  it’s practically a blank canvas.

Almost all of the villains are technological super-genius types.  The Scorpion, of course, is a lackey mutated into a freakish form by science run amok–presumably he’s out for revenge or dominance against other super villains, as well as against heroes.  And Arcade is, apparently, the deadliest assassin in the world–maybe he wiped out all the other X-Men.  (Ugh, it kills me to write that.  Arcade is a terrible character.)

Presumably Doctor Octopus and Wolverine have something in common in their origins: both are cyborgs.  Doctor Doom, scarred after his college experiment, may have studied sorcery under the tutelage of Doctor Strange.  Spider-Man and the Scorpion were both belted with radiation, possibly linking them to the Radioactive Man somehow.  Professor X and the Fixer may once have been close allies (replacing Magneto and Mentallo, who fulfill reciprocal roles for each character), until the Fixer betrayed him by harvesting DNA from Xavier’s students.

It’s possible that without the Puppet Master, there’d be no Alicia to take the edge off the Thing–meaning he’d still be carrying a torch for the Invisible Girl, and might still be in his raging, hair-trigger mood from early in the series, sort of filling the niche vacated by the Hulk.  And without the Hulk to have epic battles with, maybe the Thing takes his aggression out on Thor from time to time.

I don’t know where I’m going with this.  D&D blogs occasionally ask, “What if we only used monsters from the Fiend Folio” or whatever, so I figured I’d go through an analogous exercise.  I think where I end up is, “Gee, how about that . . . Okay, moving on.”


3 Responses to “mighty marvel minimalism”

  1. May 30, 2011 at 5:01 am

    How about another minimalist question: if you could only have one “origin” for all superpowers in your campaign-setting, what would it be?

  2. May 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm


    It’s a good question! I think what restricting the origin does, is focus on the allegorical elements of the setting. So in the 1960’s, when the audience was gradually understanding that they lived in a Brave New World of thermonuclear destruction and men-on-the-moon yet still saddled with our age-old weaknesses, you see that represented symbolically as ordinary people suddenly getting transformed into super-humans by science run amok.

    As those social concerns became the new normal, the audience moved on to other concerns. Mutants became a symbol of persecuted minorities struggling for equal rights, and the Culture Wars more generally. (You can do this with Altered Humans too – see Drake and Premiani’s Doom Patrol in the ’60s.)

    At the same time, simply having a unified origin story doesn’t always do much for you–I’m thinking of Marvel’s ill-fated New Universe imprint from the mid-80’s, where everyone literally had the same deus ex machina origin story, and nobody did anything interesting with it.

    To answer your question: my main concerns in the world at large these days are the way we’re being changed by technology mediated by extremely large corporations with great political influence. So I’d end up going with a High Tech type of background. But I haven’t considered it greatly.

  3. May 31, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    So heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Vision, etc? Intentional creations of an industrial-military complex? Not a bad theme. The reason I asked is because it’s my belief that the original concept of the superhero was amorphous; in the days of pulp fiction we had pulp heroes like the Shadow (occult origin), Doc Savage (science-training), and Blackstone (outright magic), reflecting an age where the gosh-wow wonder of science existed side by side with an interest in mysticism and spiritualism. This Anything Goes beginning meant that when the first superheroes came along they too could use any origin.

    The Anything Goes approach worked great then, but with a wider, often more adult, audience, I think we’re seeing the field narrowing. Certainly most heroes now are mutants, psis, engineered humans, or aliens–a field that can be defined as “science-fiction origins.” Personally, I don’t think the New Universe failed because of the unified origin-event; I think it failed because of the meta-structure they placed on it and the quality of the writing. Anyway I don’t know where this is going, so I’ll stop now!

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