History of Superhero RPGs (Part Four 2002-2004)
- Lowell Francis(edige23)United States
Indianaexplanation does not equal excuse
THE SUPERHERO’S JOURNEYRecommend
In the last post I described how I see superhero stories divided: Sci-Fi, Pulp, and Mythic. I suspect that last category, Mythic, includes more actual gaming than the other two combined. Yet it may be what gives some gamers as bad taste when they think of supers games. Mythic games can be powerful- at the very least they embrace the idea of powers. They eschew realism in favor of spectacle and cool. That has several consequences, including the hand-waving of repercussions. A battle between titans in an urban metropolis has serious and specific consequences in a Sci-Fi supers game. The decay of infrastructure, shifts in the economy, poisonous fallout. In a Pulp game it focuses on drama: the revelation of the destruction, loss of friends, reactions of horror from the general populace. In a Mythic game someone cleans up afterwards- perhaps with a small comment about rebuilding. Or the horrific destruction gets downplayed (ala Man of Steel). More rarely Mythic stories embrace that catastrophe as a message and a metaphor (ala Kid Miracleman’s assault on London or the Batman NML arc).
That leads to the next part of Mythic: symbolism. Mythic stories rely on archetypes. Characters stand for ideas and beliefs. Heroes might embrace those for a purpose, but those eventually come to define them. Some writers make a more explicit connection to mythology. Consider Grant Morrison’s JLA run or Seven Soldiers mini-series; Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come; and Alan Moore’s Promethea. All of these make heroes into figures in stories that echo Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Kirby and Starlin represent the greatest of these Mythic storytellers- from Thor to the New Gods to Warlock and so on. They brought the cosmic.
That leads to worlds where magic, psychic powers, mutations, alien hybrids, and intelligent robots all exist side by side. And they exist without any attempt to rationalize and explain away how that’s actually happening. The Asgardians aren’t super-aliens- they’re gods. All powers don’t actually derive from a super-virus or a multi-dimensional rift in the Bleed. They’re crazy, mixed up and wild. Anything goes and that’s a double-edged sword. Creators, GMs, and players have all the room they want. But that can feel unreal, unmoored from any connection to the human condition. It can result in power fantasy campaigns and stories without and depth.
Events: Infinity Abyss, Joker: Last Laugh, Identity Crisis, and Avengers Disassembled.
Television: Power Rangers Wild Force, Teamo Supremo, ¡Mucha Lucha!, Ultraman Tiga, Ultimate Muscle, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers: Ninja Storm, Venture Brothers, Spider Man New Animated Series, Teen Titans, Xiaolin Showdown, Jake 2.0, Astro Boy, Danny Phantom, The Batman, Power Rangers SPD, and Ben 10.
Films: Blade II, Spider Man, Daredevil, X-2: X-Men United, Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Spider Man II, The Incredibles, Hellboy, The Punisher, Catwoman, Blade: Trinity, Batman Begin
TIMELINE: VIDEO GAMES
This period sees an explosion of superhero video games. On the PC we get Freedom Force (2002) and the weak tie-in The Incredibles: When Danger Calls. More importantly we get the first superhero MMO, City of Heroes. The consoles end up with many more games- for good or ill. From DC Batman: Dark Tomorrow, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu, Superman: Shadow of Apokolips, Superman: The Man Of Steel, Justice League: Injustice for All, and Justice League: Chronicles among others. Marvel gives the movie tie-ins Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and The Hulk. We also see the well-regarded X-Men Legends, X2: Wolverine's Revenge, X-Men: Next Dimension, and The Invincible Iron Man. Outside of the big two we see a handful of new titles, with the original property Viewtiful Joe and Viewtiful Joe 2 topping the list. Licensed games The Incredibles and Power Rangers: Dino Thunder also show up.
TIMELINE: BOARD GAMES
The board game side also has an 800 pound gorilla- 2002's HeroClix. Beyond that we saw card games like Vs System, UNO: Spider-Man & UNO: Spider-Man 2, Justice League MegaClash, and Strange Synergy and Superman. In more standard board games we got Marvel games like Heroes Incorporated, Spider-Man, Spider-Man vs The Green Goblin, Hulk Busts Loose, Marvel Trivia Game, Spider-Man Web Launch Game, The Incredible Hulk 3-D Rampage Board Game, and Spider-Man Vs. Doc Ock. DC gave us Justice League Hexors Game and Batman: Gotham City Mystery. Which company had more films come out during this time?
These lists cover a smaller slice of time than my past rpg lists. I hope this makes them easier to read. I include mostly core books, but also significant setting or sourcebooks. I list revised editions which significantly changed a line. Generally I only include published material- print or electronic. I leave out freebie or self-published games. I'm sure I've left something off without adequate reason; feel free to add a comment about a line I missed (if published from 2002-2004). I've arranged these in by year and then alphabetically within that year.
History of Superhero RPGs (Part One 1978-1985)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Two: 1986-1996)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Three 1997-2001)
History of Superhero RPGs (Part Four 2002-2004)
- [+] Dice rolls