Sunday, September 25, 2016

To Kill a Superhero

When Superman debuted in June 1938, we were informed that "nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin". While his powers of resistance grew substantially over the next few years, even his initial description put him at the pinnacle of superheroic toughness in that point in time.

So lets say you're a dastardly villain, looking to protect your "legitimate business" or "diplomatic investigations" from some meddling do-gooder. Maybe it's not even Superman, maybe it's the Blue Beetle with his bullet-resistant mesh costume. Maybe it's Wonder Woman or Namor or Captain America with his annoying shield. What are your options?

Well, outside of mad-science death rays or superpowers of your own, they're surprisingly limited. American military research seems to have stagnated pretty hard in the 1930s. A bunch of America's iconic World War 2 weapons were only developed when we entered the war, or maybe a year earlier. Bazookas, Sherman tanks, flamethrowers, dedicated antitank guns... none of those existed in the United States in 1938. So let's see what was around.

(Note: this is just my own brainstorming, not an exhaustive technical analysis.)

minis from Pulp Figures

First off, the small arms. M1 Garand and other rifles, M1911 and other pistols, and various shotguns. This is pretty basic stuff, unlikely to take down an opponent with even a slightly superhuman resistance to damage.

Pulp Figures

Sometimes, a hundred bullets might do the job where one or two couldn't. You're not going to slow Captain Marvel with a spray from a "Chicago typewriter", but with enough bullets you might get one past Cap's shield, or have better odds against Batman's smoke and mirrors. The BAR also fits in here, with a smaller magazine but better range compared to the Thompson. If the BAR's 20-round magazine doesn't do it for you, the tripod-mounted M1917 Browning gives over ten times as many .30-06 shots. But let's be honest... if your foes are dropping to these, were they really super to begin with?

Warlord Games

The M2 Browning heavy machine gun was designed around the end of World War 1, and first issued in 1933. Apparently quite well designed, it is still used by the United Stated military. With twice the RoF of a tommy gun and ten times the range, and a bigger cartridge to boot, this .50 cal can definitely penetrate defenses that would be considered "bulletproof" in other contexts. Blue Beetle should take care!

Wargames Factory

Mk 2 "frag" and Mk 3 "concussion" grenades - now we're getting to the proverbial "bursting shells" that would even give Superman pause. While the Mk 2 "pineapple" is the iconic image of a grenade, the fragmentation might not do so much to a hero who laughs at bullets, so the Mk 3 might be the more relevant one, since it's the blast itself that has to do the job. But while a grenade could theoretically do some damage to Superman, if you're within throwing distance of the Big Blue Boy Scout you've probably already lost. Not to mention that he's probably quick enough to catch it and throw it away (or throw it back, if he's feeling feisty)...

Warlord Games

The M116 howitzer, a 75mm "mountain gun", was first produced in 1927, and it's probably the heaviest artillery I would care to feature in a skirmish wargame/rpg setting. It was meant to be easily portable in rough terrain, so it could be disassembled into six mule loads, or a probably one or two civilian vehicle loads, so it could potentially show up anywhere. While designed for indirect fire, I don't see why it couldn't be jerry-rigged for direct fire, but either way it can threaten Superman at far greater range and reliability than the grenades covered above.

tank by Trenchworx, captain by Pulp Figures

The Renault FT was the first tank with the engine in the back and the main weapon in a revolving turret. Designed by France in WW1, this "first modern tank" was widely licensed during and after that conflict. While considered obsolete by the mid/late 1930s, it was hardly worse off than the American tanks being developed at the time, in terms of either armor or armament. Most tanks of the 30s had armor only proof against small arms, and often only machineguns for offense (sometimes in goofy-looking multi-turret configurations). The FT could match the armor, and was often fielded with a 37mm gun that could threaten most contemporary tanks and superhumans alike. While a French design, the FT was licensed by the United States, and a handful saw "action" dispersing the Bonus Army in 1932.

Also it was adorable. Really just the cutest little tank.

I'll probably do some more To Kill a Superhero posts as I continue to develop this campaign, perhaps branching out into foreign sources, or unconventional weapons (gas? poison?), or even advancing the timeline once we get into actual play.

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