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Background information and game materials for my personal Marvel Super Heroes campaign.
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The 1970’s: The Team Era

The chaos and unrest of the 60’s led to a public outcry in the 70’s.  Who were these masked men and women, battling in the streets at great risk to the public?  The media presented heroes in the worst possible light, and politicians debated regulating and restricting them.

It seemed likely that heroes would be driven out of business… until the aliens attacked.  Spacecraft which were purportedly from the star Polaris brought blade-armed warrior aliens who, despite their superior weaponry, seemed to prefer to tear humans apart one at a time in the most up-close and personal fashion.  Superheroes banded together to battle them, joined by some of the villains and even a few of the mad scientists, and the Polarans were driven away in defeat.

This event so changed the views of Americans that Congress passed and the President signed the Superhero Act of 1976.  Under the Act, superheroes who were accepted as members of approved superhero teams would receive liability protection, as well as protection from unmasking without due process.  As the Act was being formulated, a series of articles in the New York Times exposed several secret military projects involving metahumans beginning in the 60’s; several of the projects were more than a bit horrifying, and this led to a clause in the Act that banned federal and state governments from employing “natural” superheroes (those having powers not dependent on devices or powersuits).

After the passing of the Superhero Act, several teams were formed and approved by the government, though not all of them lasted more than a short period.  The first group to survive over the long term was the Western Titans, who made their base of operations in Phoenix, Arizona.

In 1980 the UN ratified the Metahuman Treaty, extending rules similar to the Superhero Act to all signatory nations.

The 1960’s: Revelations and Unrest

The 1960’s brought social changes in the United States, and at the forefront of these changes were Candidates D and F. Candidate D, codenamed Sergeant Thunder, appeared in 1961 in a new costume that revealed his secret: Sergeant Thunder was black. His commanders during the war were unhappy that he received the treatment; only at the insistence of Dr. Ringstrom were black troops tested, and only Candidate D tested positive. Calling himself Black Thunder, he revealed that the Army elected to keep him a sergeant, even though Dynamo Joe received a field promotion from Corporal to First Lieutenant upon successfully being treated. Initially angry and defiant, Black Thunder came to believe in the nonviolent approach advocated by Dr. King, and became his bodyguard. This, unfortunately, did not prevent his assassination; Black Thunder discovered that he was not actually faster than a speeding bullet.

Black Thunder found James Earl Ray within a minute, and in a fit of rage killed him. He then surrendered and was tried and sentenced to twenty years in prison; he was paroled in 1979 and, despite his age, resumed his superhero career. Black Thunder was killed in action in 1983 while fighting against the neo-Nazi supervillain White Lightning. Lieutenant Liberty, long since retired, returned to active duty and apprehended White Lightning, who was subsequently sentenced to death. White Lightning was executed in November 1991.

The 1950’s: Postwar Heroics

At the end of the war the Nazi super-soldiers all went underground; some of them turned up years later in the service of the Soviet Union, while others became free agents or went into hiding in various foreign countries. The American Super-Soldier Corps continued to fight for the U.S. Army, and shortly were deployed to Korea to assist in resolving the conflict there.

It was in Korea that Captain America died, poisoned by a Chinese agent; Dynamo Joe was also poisoned, but survived, and subsequently brought the Chinese agent to justice. Lieutenant Liberty and Sergeant Thunder both chose to resign from the Army when the opportunity arose, but Dynamo Joe continued in service to the Army until he died of unknown (or unrevealed) causes in 1959.

Few new superheroes (and villains) appeared in the 1950’s; it was a time of relative quiet in the metahuman arena.  On the other hand, the 50’s were the heyday of mad science… numerous strange men undertook stranger research, and many experimented on the public, or unleashed their creations on them.  The Chinese and Russians recruited so many of these scientists for military research that, by 1960, there appeared to be none left in circulation in the West.

The 1940’s: Dawn of Heroes

The very first superhero, Avenger, has already been introduced.  His transformation and his first public adventures took place in 1939, the same year that World War II began.  But it was the war that brought metahumans to the forefront of human events.

In late 1940 Dr. August Ringstrom, a renowned scientist working for the US Army, discovered a way to enhance the physical abilities of some people far beyond the normal human limits. The Army was uncertain how to use the technology, as only a few people were compatible with the secret process. It appeared unlikely that even a single platoon of such super-soldiers could be produced.

But even as the first successful subject, called Candidate A, underwent testing, and Dr. Ringstrom developed a blood test to identify potential future candidates, a lowly Private assigned to the project as a guard showed a fateful comic book to his commanding officer: Captain America.

The details of the fictional character’s transformation were too close to the actual secret process, and G-men were dispatched to the offices of Timely Comics to arrest the creators of the character as spies. A young employee of Timely, a man named Stanley Lieber, convinced the investigators that the whole thing was a coincidence. But the success of the comic gave the commander, General Fawcett, an idea.

The Nazis were famous for their propaganda, in particular their claim to be a “super-race” of men, and General Fawcett realized the super-soldiers under his command could be made into a powerful source of propaganda against them. He ordered the creation of a costume for Candidate A, now called Captain America, and he allowed Timely Comics to continue producing their comic. Timely changed the character in the comics to resemble the new Captain America, and the first real superhero was created.

Captain America made several public appearances on behalf of the Army, and they were masterpieces of propaganda and showmanship, with the “hero” promoting patriotic and pro-Army themes. Soon two more candidates, B and C, appeared. Candidate B’s treatment appeared unsuccessful (more about this later), but C made up for it, becoming even more powerful than Captain America. Clad in metal armor to protect him from his own strength, he was called Dynamo Joe.

The attack on Pearl Harbor came just as Candidates D and E were receiving their treatments. Candidate D received enhanced strength, nearly as great as Captain America’s, but in addition became superhumanly fast. He received the codename Sergeant Thunder.

Candidate E developed levels of power similar to Captain America, and acquired a gold-colored costume and the codename Lieutenant Liberty.

Even though the United States was now in the war, the mission of the Super-Soldier Corps (as it was now called) didn’t change for a while. They continued to make public appearances, demonstrating their superhuman abilities and delivering their patriotic message. But this would change…

Candidate F was not revealed to the public until after the war; General Fawcett was unwilling to present a woman as a “super soldier.” She was only identified due to a lab technician’s mistake, as the blood test was supposed to be given to men only. Dr. Ringstrom was curious about the treatment’s effects on a woman, and insisted she be allowed into the program after she volunteered.

It was during Candidate F’s treatment that the truth about Candidate B became clear: rather than receiving physical enhancement from the treatment, he had received enhanced intelligence. Jealous of his “comrades,” he sold out to the Nazis, becoming a double agent. During F’s treatment, B broke into Dr. Ringstrom’s office and stole something, then fled the country. Though he was pursued both by Captain America and by a number of G-men, his enhanced intelligence allowed him to out-think them all and escape.

Whatever he stole was obviously critical to the Super-Soldier Project, since no further American super-soldiers appeared after this point. In 1943, the Nazis fielded their first super-agent, Oberster Soldat (Supreme Soldier); he displayed superior strength and reflexes, and many now believe he received his power from the same source as the American super-soldiers. Of course, the successful theft of technology from the Super-Soldier Project was kept secret as long as possible, but when Oberster Soldat appeared, the Army admitted that “crucial secrets were stolen by a German secret agent.” The real story was kept secret until the 1960’s.

The German super-soldiers, led by Candidate B (called Hauptgemut, which in English is “Mastermind”), began taking direct action in the war, leading several successful attacks against Allied positions. This led to the first change in the mission of the Super-Soldier Corps, as they found themselves deployed to Europe. Travelling in the advanced Hummingbird flyer, Captain America and Dynamo Joe began actively hunting Mastermind and his small team of super-soldiers, while Lieutenant Liberty and Sergeant Thunder were deployed with a variety of regular Army units to assist in combat operations. Despite battling toe-to-toe several times, the American and German super-soldiers were never able to gain a significant victory over each other.

The Origin of Avenger

“I was born in 1922, on a farm in New York. There’s an office building there now. In the spring of 1939, when I was seventeen, I was working in the field by myself; my father was on the other side of the farm. I looked up and saw a ball of fire coming out of the clear blue sky, so I threw myself on the ground and prayed to God it would miss me.

“It did, but it was close. I was badly injured by flying debris when it hit, and I didn’t wake up for more than two weeks. I was in the hospital. The doctors told me they thought I would surely die, but somehow I held on. But then my uncle came in, and told me that Dad was dead.

“Some thugs from the city showed up the same day, looking for whatever it was that crash landed on the farm. Dad argued with them, and they killed him on the spot. Shot him like an animal. They took whatever they wanted and left. Mom was hiding in the house. When she saw them kill Dad, she broke inside somehow. By the time I woke up in the hospital, she was in a sanitarium.

“I got better, much faster than the doctors expected. I healed without scars. Only a couple of days later, I was discharged.

“With Mom committed, I was in charge. My uncle told me, ‘You’re a man now, nephew, you make your own decisions.’

“I was different, though. I kept getting stronger. When I found I could lift a car, and that knives couldn’t cut my skin anymore, I realized there was nothing stopping me from getting revenge.

“I read comics as a kid. Who didn’t, back then? And I listened to the radio shows. I decided to become a man of mystery, striking from the shadows. I sold the farm, and told Dad’s lawyer to see to Mom’s treatment using the money. I moved to the city. I worked at a series of menial jobs, jobs where my great strength would let me excel. I was careful not to let anyone know just how powerful I was; I had to fake tiredness and even injuries sometimes. By night, I put on a trenchcoat, a wide-brimmed hat, driving goggles and a bandanna over my mouth, and I became the Avenger.

“It’s a long story, how I tracked down the thugs who had killed Dad. I got involved with the police a few times. They didn’t approve of me, but what could they do? I could outrun a fast car, and I was bulletproof. Somewhere along the way, I discovered I could fly. That made getting clear of the scene even easier.

“When I finally reached the top of the criminal organization, I found a man, Lenny Verdanza, a small-time hood who had moved himself to the top quickly by making his enemies disappear. I found out that he was arming his personal enforcers with special shotgun shells. Anything that was alive or had every been alive shot with one would just disappear, up to something like three hundred pounds. They could shoot holes in wooden buildings that you could walk through, and a man shot with one was reduced to nothing more than a belt-buckle and pocket change.

“I got shot with one once. Just once, but I’ll never forget it. It was like being on fire all over, and my entire costume was destroyed. Fortunately for me, I was able to get away without anyone seeing my face. It was dark, and I could fly. It took me a day to recover from that, and I lost my civilian job over it, but it wasn’t hard to get another.

“When I went to confront Verdanza at last, I invited the cops to wait outside; I knew they’d find all sorts of interesting evidence in the wreckage after I was done. I used my speed and strength to take the guards by surprise, and I collected all the shotguns as I went. I didn’t want anyone to have that sort of power.

“When I finally got to Lenny, I discovered his secret. He had a backer, a fellow called Mister Green. He was a lizard man. No kidding, a lizard man. And he had a gun that shot lightning, powerful enough to put me on the floor. It would have killed any other man, I’m sure.

“I won’t bore you with the whole fight, even though I still remember it like it was yesterday. In the end, I knocked out Mister Green, then grabbed Lenny by the shirt. He was stupid, like I said, small-time… he taunted me. Told me what a loser my Dad had been. I guess he thought I wouldn’t hurt him.

“I killed him with my own hands.” Avenger hung his head. “Broke his neck.

“I moved away after that, tried to hide from the guilt, tried to pretend I was normal. The newspapers called me a hero. I didn’t think so. I might have done that forever, except for one thing. Pearl Harbor.

“I was drafted in ’42, and went to fight the Nazis. I kept my powers hidden until Normandy. My unit was wiped out in the initial assault. I tore off my insignia, all of them, and I made myself a mask, and I started calling myself Avenger again. I wore the mask almost the entire time I was in Europe fighting. I fought alongside the American super-soldiers sometimes, Captain Victory, Dynamo Joe, and all the rest, and I fought the Nazi supermen. When the war was over, I went back to my regular identity. Told people I’d been in a prison camp. There was a lot of confusion when it was over, and I was able to blend right in.”

The Game and Book Universes

The Guardians Universe is actually two related universes, which I’ll call the Game and the Book universes.  The Game Universe is the universe of my regular super hero game campaign, which I run using the classic TSR Marvel Super Heroes game system.  The Book Universe is the world of my Mystery Woman and the Secrets of the Guardians ebook series.  They differ in several specific ways.

First of all, the Book Universe contains no player character heroes from the Game Universe.  There is one exception: Micron, who was originally an NPC.  As much as possible, the Book Universe version of Micron is based on the NPC version of the character from the Game Universe, with many personal details altered.  (And I just realized… Micron hasn’t actually appeared as yet in the Book Universe, though he has been mentioned.)

The history of the two universes diverges due to this fact.  The Guardians of the Game Universe were founded in 1985 (when my campaign began) while the Book Universe Guardians were founded in 1977, not so long after the passage of the Superhero Act of 1976.  The BU Guardians never had a hiatus; the GU Guardians had two.  In the Book Universe, the technology of the Guardians was acquired from several sources, most recently from Codename Ascent, while the GU Guardians got their technology from Franks International Incorporated, a company founded and controlled by a player character (and thus, not appearing in the Book Universe at all).

There is one other significant difference.  To avoid potentially troublesome issues with Marvel Comics, the character called Captain America in the Game Universe is known as Captain Victory in the Book Universe.

Other than these necessary differences, the two universes are as similar as possible.  All historical events prior to the founding of the Guardians are fundamentally the same; subsequent to 1977, the story is kept as close as possible.

In the following days, I’ll be posting an updated version of the Game Universe history.  I’ll be revealing things not previously explained, and updating previous published information to correct errors and omissions and pull the two universes a bit closer together.  Later I’ll post stats and descriptions for various characters (mostly bad guys, naturally) that might be useful to others running Marvel Super Heroes.

So… see you back here again soon!

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