Re: Animated • Justice League “The Brave and the Bold” – Part 1

jl14This blog takes a look at episodes from the Justice League animated series from a tabletop roleplaying game perspective, both in terms of game design and game play.

Obligatory Spoiler Warning: I will be discussing the events of the 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.

“The Brave and the Bold” – Part 1

Long-time DC editor Julie Schwartz, in his autobiography “Man of Two Worlds,” describes the pedigree of gorillas in comics. So profound was the effect of having an ape on the cover on the sales of a comic book that DC editorial had to institute a limit on the number of gorillas appearing in any given month to stop everyone from doing it! So it’s no surprise that ape characters are a comic book staple. As the staff at Green Ronin Publishing is fond of saying, “Everything is better with monkeys!”

Two of the interesting “casting” choices for Justice League are Wally West as the Flash and John Stewart as Green Lantern, neither “traditional” for the seven founding members of the League. Certainly, the brash and somewhat immature Wally adds a very different element to the mix compared to the bookish and straight-laced Barry Allen; indeed, in some regards, Flash and Green Lantern’s roles are reversed in the animated series. Hal Jordan was the brash and hot-headed womanizer to Barry’s bow-tie wearing police scientist. Now John is the by-the-book ex-marine dealing with Wally’s impulsiveness.

We kick things right off with a chase/challenge scene with some interesting elements. The most noteworthy is that it’s not a strict contest of speed. Even though the animated series Flash is generally slower than his classic comic book counterpart, we know he’s faster and more maneuverable than a delivery truck! So why is it so difficult for him to catch these guys? Ultimately, it’s not that it’s too difficult, but that it’s difficult enough to be dramatic and interesting, which is often the reason to limit what heroes can do narratively.

Note in the “there’s a gorilla on the loose” scene, Flash immediately rushes off without thinking (good roleplaying and use of character defining traits) and that a decent amount of Solovar evading the police takes place before Flash steps in. The rake Flash grabs to take out the convertible’s tires might have been a player-created detail (using in-game resources or just GM permission). The Planet of the Apes reference from Solovar is also a nice touch.

Flash getting ambushed by the mind-zap is a definite complication: he pretty much has no chance to avoid or resist it. The various hallucinatory transformations are a nice homage to the classic Silver Age Flash stories.

Again, once Solovar fills Green Lantern and Flash in on the details, Flash is off to stop Grodd without stopping to think, or get the benefits of Solovar’s precautions. The mind-controlled Flash KOs Solovar in one hit, but can’t do much to affect Green Lantern through his force field. GL manages to disarm Flash, but can’t really hit or catch him. Flash brings the roof down, a maneuver that manages to stun Green Lantern momentarily, but he recovers before Flash can take advantage of it (note the action economy: even the supremely fast Flash doesn’t act “fast enough” in this instance). When Flash makes a head-on run at him, Green Lantern is able to knock the speedster out. Flash’s player has likely been racking up points from complications, but they may well be going into a “team pool” of resources GL can draw upon as well.

Grodd’s force field provides him with a convenient means of escape as the energy field from his device expands to engulf the heroes, and then all of Central City, which disappears!

Lessons Learned

What does this episode teach us about superhero RPGs?

It’s Not Always About Power: As the initial chase scene in this episode shows, it’s not always about who is more powerful or higher rated in something. In particular, the Flash is fast, but speed isn’t always the solution to a challenge. We see that in the Flash/Green Lantern fight, and in the next episode with Flash vs. Grodd. Often, it is about innovation or the particular maneuvers or approaches to challenges that heroes (via the players) choose to take.

Some Things Just Are: It’s fair to say that a number of things in this episode are instances of what might be called “GM Fiat” in that they just are: Grodd’s mind control is irresistible, at least for Flash (who, admittedly, has limited defenses in that area), the gorilla mastermind’s force field is likewise invulnerable (even to GL’s power ring). A lot of the give-and-take in the story is about finding ways around these problems rather than trying to push through them with brute force (as Green Lantern learns when he fails to overcome Grodd’s force field or stop the expanding energy dome).

Heroes Fight: Whether it’s misunderstandings or mind control, sooner or later, superheroes fight each other. A superhero system needs to be able to handle hero vs. hero (player character) conflicts as well as it does fights between heroes and non-player characters. Players should also get comfortable with the idea that their heroes will occasionally get mind-controlled or otherwise forced into conflicts and be able to roll with it. Hero fights can be problematic for groups with overly competitive players who forget that it’s all in good fun out of a desire to win at all costs.

Next Up: More monkey business (and super-villain heckling) in Part 2 of “The Brave and the Bold”

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