Archive for January 12th, 2012


kirbsday: death is the black racer


Okay, look, here’s the plot of this one, just to get it out of the way:

Orion gets a new pair of clothes from his friends who keep formally introducing themselves all the time, but he feels sad because he’s all ugly and stuff.  He and his pet, Dave “Dave Lincoln” Lincoln, find the members of Inter-Gang who had abducted people to Apokolips.  With the help of Mother Box, Orion and Dave stop their plot to destroy all communication devices in the city.  The End.

Along the way, the Black Racer shows up.  And God almighty, what to say?



In his afterword to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus vol. 1, Kirby’s apprentice Mark Evanier notes that the Black Racer was originally a character who had nothing to do with the Fourth World.  Just some doodle sitting in the pile, maybe to feature in his own series someday.  DC’s then-publisher Carmine Infantino (who illustrated plenty of formative Flash stories) asked Kirby to throw in some brand-new characters in each issue of the Fourth World stuff, thinking it would be good for sales.  So, Kirby re-wrote New Gods #3 to debut the Black Racer.

Therefore running throughout the Orion plot of this issue there’s also a Black Racer plot, which doesn’t intersect especially well.

Just as the Black Racer is about to kill Orion’s friend Lightray, the science-god Metron diverts him to Earth, where he encounters a blaxploitation gunfight between members of Inter-Gang.  Moved by the death-wish of Willie Walker, a totally paralyzed and bedridden Vietnam vet, the Black Racer’s spirit possesses him, and Willie becomes a marauding spirit of doom who chases down and torments one of the gunmen.  The End (Again).

There are at least two things going on here.  One thing is, “This visual makes no sense.”

Many years prior I had learned about the Black Racer from Rovin’s Encyclopedia of Superheroes, which had a text description of the guy but no pictures.  I’m like, “Okay, cool: a guy in an all-black lycra wet-suit type of thing that professional skiers wear, with a big red ski helmet, and some red trim.”  And then I finally picked up a copy of this issue and I’m like, “Armor?!  Cape?!”

Obviously the Silver Surfer is another crazy cosmic dude flying around on something that doesn’t normally fly.  But the Silver Surfer is an extremely elegant design: basically a naked, hairless guy standing on an oval, and all of it sleek and shiny.  The Black Racer is a lot more complex visually–the skis, the ski poles, the cape, the high collar, the kooky helmet, the jarring mix of primary colors.  It kind of reminds me of the early design for the Black Panther.

The other thing is, “This concept makes no sense.”

The idea seems to be that since Walker is trapped in a kind of living prison, he is granted limitless power as an undead grim reaper . . . on skis.

And then it turns out that the Black Racer is some sort of composite entity with many different hosts–sort of like bi-location or something–and is a hit-man, excuse me “messenger,” for the Source, which is usually linked to the benevolent society of New Genesis.  We never see the Source itself, only the weird “moving hand” that writes letters of flame on High-Father’s wall.  The Black Racer, although a proxy, appears to be the Source at its most active.

For a messenger of the all-important Source, the Black Racer doesn’t do a great job of articulating his mandate.  He shows up out of the blue picking on Lightray for reasons we’re never told.  When he arrives on Earth, he does nothing to save the life of a helpless snitch when Sugar-Man, an Inter-Gang hitman, takes him out.  But when Sugar-Man threatens the helpless Willie Walker…

…the Black Racer saves Walker’s life, disfigures Sugar-Man, and then does his whole “take my hand” thing.  Once Willie becomes the Black Racer, he hunts down the half-blind Sugar-Man, activates the bomb Sugar-Man’s carrying with his mystic ski pole, and then sends both Sugar-Man and the bomb careening into the sky to explode.  Why?  As vengeance for killing the snitch, and if so then why not protect the snitch in the first place?  Or is it for attempting to kill Willie, but if so then why wait to kill Sugar-Man?  Or is it for being involved with Inter-Gang in the first place, but if so then why not go after his accomplices?  And if Willie wanted to die in the first place, why did the Black Racer get involved?

At some point you just gotta throw up your hands and say, “Dude, fuck it.  Death is the Black Racer.”  Near as I can figure, there’s something that sets this dude off about fearing death: he will find you and reunite you with the Source.  If you’re at peace with death, or even yearn for it after great suffering, you’ll be recompensed.

should I feel uneasy when a black character is referred to as “Black _______”?

Probably.  Sugar-Man is a pretty bad stereotype.  And when the Black Racer first appears over the city, and observes Sugar-Man’s gunfight in the ghetto, he remarks, “There, below–a place of black men!  Those who fight to live–others who risk my presence!”  That sure sounds pretty racist.  It’s not like any other mainstream comics were any better (“Sweet Christmas!”), but come on.

I will say one thing for the Black Racer, though: for better or worse this is one of the most unique visuals, and most unique concepts, in all of super comics.

what about orion?

yeah, so in this scene Orion is getting dressed in the nice clothes the Earthmen bought for him, and decides to have a soliloquy:

and he’s like, let me sneak a peek at my real face for a second:

Back in New Gods #1 we are told that Orion is the son of Darkseid of Apokolips, but Orion himself doesn’t know that.  In fact, Orion seems to think he’s some hideous, inexplicable New Genesis mutant freak.  That self-loathing is why he’s pissed off all the time, and what makes him their society’s most powerful warrior.  Thanks for not explaining the guy’s origin to himself, High-Father!  I mean sure the guy’s been tormented all his life by questions he cannot answer, but at least your secrecy gives you a berserker warrior to do all of your society’s dirty work.

No wait–God damn it, they just bought you those clothes!  Don’t go vaporizing them the minute someone asks a stupid question!




killa bees

NerdNYC is hosting its semi-annual mini-con, Recess, this coming weekend.  If you’re in the area, you should attend.  I say this because it’s reliably a good time, not just because I’ll be running a B/X adventure, Kill Bargle!, on Sunday night.  Because some players might be young people, or people who only know 4e or whatever, I plan to give my standard introduction to the Old Ways:

This is a game about adventure.  Most of the adventures are going to happen in dungeons, and most of the time you’re hoping to find treasure.  There are monsters in this game too.  Let me tell you about one of them, because it says something important.  Let me tell you about the Killer Bee.

You’re like, “Pfff, the Killer Bee?  That’s not a monster.  Get out of here with your Killer Bee.”  But no, seriously: Killer Bees are the worst monster in the game.  Because they are a sign that God hates you.  Check this out (pull out Moldvay, turn to a well-worn page B37):

You wanna hang out peacefully near the Killer Bee?  Sure thing, stupid–the Killer Bee attacks on sight.  If the Killer Bee hits you, it will kill yousixty percent of the time.  Oh, are you really powerful and high level?  Fine: Killer Bee only kills you thirty percent of the time.  And if you survive, their stinger keeps killing you making it impossible to cast spells.  And they travel in swarms of up to 30.

Want to run away from the Killer Bee?  Yeah right, the Killer Bee flies faster than you can run.  If they exist anywhere near you, just hand in your character sheet.

A formidable opponent!  So what do you get for facing a swarm of Killer Bees and surviving?  Nothing.  You get a potion of healing, but don’t get too excited now: it’s half-strength.

Keep in mind: the Killer Bee is a 1 hit-dice monster.  That means they are among the weakest monsters you will ever fight, and they’ll be just wandering around chillin’ in the safest part of the dungeon.

What does the existence of the Killer Bee tell us about how to play Dungeons & Dragons?

Well, first of all, whoever came up with this stuff was a psychopath.  Life is unfair, and so is this game.  Sadly.

And also, sometimes it is best to just stay the hell away.  Since you can’t run from these guys, try to listen for them.  Watch out for clues.  Live in terror.

But most importantly: this isn’t a fantasy novel where the hero rises from obscurity and goes onto some epic destiny.  It’s a game, where some poor unlucky slob gets stung to death by giant bees and dies horribly as his companions flee in terror.  There will be moments of triumph, but there’s also going to be moments when everything’s gone wrong, and there’s nothing to be done except roll with the punches.  When your character dies, the best response is to sigh deeply, and reach for the dice to start over.

There’s always something to be learned.  And today’s lesson is: watch out for Bees.

much respect to the Honey Badger

I couldn’t find any Wu-Tang clips for Killa Bees that I liked, but writing this reminded me of the Honey Badger video.  So!

Armor Class 4 (half-damage from piercing)
Hit Dice 3
Move 120 (40) (can tunnel at 10′ per turn)
Attacks 3 (at Thac0 18)
Damage 1d4, 1d4, 1d8
No. Appear 1d4 (1-2)

Save As Dw3 (honey badger is surprisingly tough)
Morale 12 (honey badger don’t give a shit)
Treasure Nil
Alignment Neutral
Experience 50

The Giant Honey Badger is an omnivore, about 6 feet long and weighing about 140 pounds.  It is immune to poison, and only takes half-damage from piercing weapons, like arrows, daggers, spears, and short-swords.  Adept at running backwards, it can execute a full retreat without provoking attacks of opportunity or the like.  It can climb with 90% reliability, and can burrow through hard-packed earth (but not stone) at 10′ per turn.

Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2012

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,056 other subscribers