Re: Animated • Avengers “Panther’s Quest”

avengers11Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the Avengers episode in the post. If, for some reason, you’re interested in the show and this blog and have not seen the show, go and do that first. The blog will make much more sense, and you won’t have your enjoyment of the show spoiled. You Have Been Warned.

“Panther’s Quest”

Okay, I admit, I wasn’t a big Black Panther fan when I first started reading Avengers and Fantastic Four as a kid. Recent interpretations of the characters have done a lot to make him more interesting, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does a nice job of taking different elements of the Black Panther mythos and combining them for the series.

  • We pick up from the end of “Living Legend” with the Avengers investigating the identity of the mysterious guy in black who helped Cap against Zemo. They don’t have to wait for long, since Black Panther shows up at their doorstep and attacks! We get a quick classic hero vs. hero(es) fight as the Black Panther looks to test the Avengers’ mettle and then asks for their help.
  • This Black Panther is beefed up from the ‘60s acrobat: vibranium-lined suit (capable of absorbing Wasp’s stings), energy “knives” (for close or ranged fighting), claws able to cut Iron Man’s armor, wall-crawling, and a vibrational effect able to throw off Ant-Man’s swarm and send the tiny Avengers flying. Like Iron Man says, he’s got some “okay tech”. Some game systems would require enumeration of every trick shown here and then some, while others might sum it up as “Vibranium Suit” or some similar trait (or somewhere in between with standard traits and sometime stunts).
  • The hits Panther uses to take down Giant Man suggest maybe some nerve strikes or the like that bypass his increased toughness.
  • T’Challa and Stark’s “tech waving” contest starts off right away. It’s a fun element to their relationship (not really seen in the Silver Age comics).
  • Indeed, it’s interesting to note that in this episode, both Hank Pym and T’Challa come off as smarter than Tony Stark, who is supposed to be a big brain. Of course, Stark is busy trying to lead the team and prove he knows what he’s doing, while the others don’t have such distractions. Also, Pym is clearly much more of a theoretical scientist compared to Stark’s prowess as an engineer.
  • Captain America follows orders like a good soldier. Also an interesting character element, given Cap’s well-known comics role as regular leader of the Avengers, something we’ll see develop in later episodes. Right now, it’s interesting to see how he follows Iron Man’s established lead.
  • The interlude in the vibranium mine with the villains: This is another framing element that could be included in the narrative of an RPG, provided it’s kept brief so the players aren’t sitting around listening to the GM read dialog for too long. Another potential approach is to assign roles to the players and let them play out the scene, although that has the potential to throw the adventure off course if they improv too much or in an unexpected direction.
  • Aside: Grim Reaper and Man-Ape know each other in the comics, too: They were teammates in the first incarnation of the Lethal Legion in Avengers.
  • We get a version of the origin of Klaw in the vibranium mine, although the Black Panther is not so directly involved in this case. Indeed, it’s the Grim Reaper who is responsible for his transformation.
  • In the Black Panther vs. Man-Ape fight, note that Panther’s energy daggers appear non-lethal (they don’t inflict any visible wounds but instead seem to stun or paralyze). Either that, or they are an instance of the “invisible cuts” trope  discussed in Episode 2.
  • It’s kind of odd that the Black Panther’s vibranium suit absorbs a broad spectrum of energy, but is vulnerable to the sonic weapon Klaw gave Man-Ape, given that sound (vibration) is supposed to be the thing vibranium deals with best. On the other hand, given that the device was designed to take out the Black Panther, one must assume Klaw fine-tuned it to take vibranium shielding into account in some fashion.
  • T’Challa gets to do the super-cool “I. Won’t. Give. UP!” schtick, walking upstream against the disbelieving Man-Ape’s sonic device to take him down with a single punch.
  • The plan to deal with sonic monster Klaw is another lateral win for the heroes: they don’t try beating Klaw into submission (partly because he seems pretty invulnerable and partly because of the energy building up in the Vibranium Mound). Instead, they come up with a plan to contain his energy that defeats him in one fell swoop. Once again, note how Iron Man turns to Ant-Man for a plan; Hank’s expertise is greater, but we again get the impression that even by Stark’s standards, Pym is smart.
  • We wrap with a touch of foreshadowing of the Leader’s plan and what’s going on at the Cube, a good opportunity for GMs looking to end an adventure with a teaser to keep the players eager to come back to the table next time.

Lessons Learned

What does this episode teach us about superhero game design?

Hero vs. Hero: The “I just showed up to fight you and now want to ask for your help” schtick is a tricky one to play out, depending on how much your players groove on this particular trope of the comics. On the one hand, various scenarios pitting the player characters against each other for a quick fight can be a lot of fun. On the other, gamers can be quite competitive, and these sorts of match-ups can turn into an exercise solely in winning and end in bruised feelings. As with many things in the superhero genre, they work best when players all “buy-in” to the concept and how it is supposed to work.

Playing for the Moment: The Torg RPG had a term known as “playing for the moment” which was a one-time instance where a player could bypass the normal card play and bonus rules to use all those bonuses in one go for some really important action, like Black Panther finally getting to take down the man who killed his father in this episode. A system that allows players to designate an action as both dramatic and important to the character builds those elements into the narrative and encourages players to look for those moments. It might be interesting if such a system also restricted the number of such moments in a particular adventure or story, forcing the players to cooperate and choose who gets the “spotlight” moment(s) in any given game.

We Need a Plan: The plan to take down Klaw, from Ant-Man’s initial theory through the Wasp keeping him busy to Iron Man executing it, needs to be as fun and exciting in play as just flat-out fighting Klaw, otherwise it’s kind of mean to make players resort to such tactics and difficult to encourage approaches other than direct confrontation. Game systems like the skill challenges from D&D 4e are one example (the current edition of Mutants & Masterminds also uses a challenge mechanic). Some games handle “challenges” the same whether they are combat-related or not. Others might offer approaches like Savage Worlds’ Dramatic Tasks rules or the Dramatic Skill Resolution from Torg. 

Next Up: Gamma World, Part 1