Movie Review-The Winter Soldier.


I have been waiting for this since the first Captain America movie, half-certain I would be disappointed. After all, Thor: The Dark World was better than Thor, but Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 were both a step down from Iron Man (though still good). And Captain America himself is a hard character to pull off; he is the Marvel Universe’s heroic paragon, matched in idealism only by DC’s Superman. So, did Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeed? In a word, yes. In fact I think it’s the best Marvel solo movie to date.


(If you have any intention of seeing it, go. I’ll be here when you get back.)

Where the first CA movie was a war-movie, The Winter Soldier is more of a Tom Clancy military thriller. Steve Rogers is working for S.H.I.E.L.D. but is less and less happy about it. This is in direct contrast to Natasha (the Black Widow); since she knows she’s working for the Good Guys, she is content to follow orders and let her boss worry about the morality of her mission parameters. When Director Fury shows Steve the BIG HAMMER that he is preparing, one that will allow preemptive strikes of surgical precision against any developing threat to world peace, Steve is even less sure that he’s on the side of the angels.

Worse, it is quickly revealed that Something Is Afoot. Director Fury smells something rotten and tells the wrong people about it. Admittedly, he had no choice if he was going to delay the launch of the BIG HAMMER until he found out what was going on. He is betrayed, and assassinated by the Winter Soldier (Steve’s old friend Bucky), but not before delivering a critical piece of the puzzle to Steve and telling him “Trust no-one.”

Of course Steve has to trust somebody, especially after a S.H.I.E.L.D. strike-team tries to take him out in the middle of the Triskelon and he goes on the run, and since Natasha ends up holding the puzzle-piece he decides to trust her. The two of them follow the breadcrumbs to a secret base that looks like it might have been the very first S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, and there they find an incredibly old and huge computer system. It turns out that the system is still operative, it contains an AI copy of the mad scientist who worked for the Red Skull in the first movie (the US recruited a bunch of German scientists at the end of WWII in real history, so, sure why not?), BUT, it turns out that our German scientist/AI is secretly working for…Hydra!

“Cut one head off, and two shall take its place!” Was nobody paying attention? At this point the writers very cleverly gave our nefarious AI the perfect excuse for a ranting, hold-nothing-back, supervillain monologue; it can’t stop Cap and Natasha physically, but it can keep them distracted by its horrific revelations (as S.H.I.E.L.D. grew, Hydra cells grew inside it, responsible for machinations triggering much of the world’s current political instability, and now it is ready to come out into the light by seizing control of the BIG HAMMER and bringing order and peace to the world for the low, low cost of 20,000,000 lives). “Bwa ha ha! And by the way, I’ve been monologuing to keep you here long enough for the recently launched cruise missile to arrive. Goodbye Mr. Bond–I mean Captain America!”

Beautiful. I took notes.

So now you’ve got the setup; Cap, Natasha, and Falcon (didn’t I mention him?), along with help from an unexpected quarter, must break into the Triskelon and sabotage Hydra’s scheme to bring peace to the world through irresistible firepower. And of course Cap has to fight the Winter Soldier. Stuff blows up gloriously, much ass is kicked, Cap give a great speech, etc. I laughed, I cried, I made it part of me.

And Now The Political Commentary.

Kidding. Not much here to say. Hollywood and Marvel actually managed to make a movie about espionage and black-ops that doesn’t paint the USA as the bad guy. It was more than a little on-the-nose in its use of data-mining for domestic surveillance and long-distance remotely targeted Kill Weapons as tools of assassination (drones, anybody?). It also asks you to consider the morality of a policy of preemptive strikes (briefly–this is an action movie after all). But what really struck me as interesting was what the movie showed us about Captain America.

The Soul of a Superhero

One mistake a lot of people make when they talk about Cap’s difference of opinion with Fury, is that they are not taking the time period Cap slept through into account. When Cap went to sleep the world was still locked into WWII, so he missed the whole bit about the US becoming “the world’s policeman.” Most people get this, but for some reason they forget what else he missed; because of that, they think Cap should be uncomfortable with seeing the US in the Supercop role.

But why should he be? Steve Rogers grew up in an America that considered itself the guardian of liberty. Most Americans of his time believed that America was a shining city on a hill, that whatever its flaws its living example of freedom and democracy put it in the vanguard of social and political progress (as opposed to those evil communists who tried to build a better world by killing millions of their own citizens).

More importantly, Steve also slept through the Vietnam War, through the Kennedy Assassination, through Watergate, through the Peace Movement. He slept through the period where the US learned the limits of its power to spread peace and democracy abroad. He slept through the period which taught Americans to distrust their own leaders and “the system.” He woke up just in time to protect the US from another attack.

This is why Steve finds himself so out of step. He is not uncomfortable with the US as the world’s single greatest military power, nor is he uncomfortable with military interventions (he would have been first on the ground in situations like Kuwait and likely Bosnia). Fighting for freedom abroad on behalf of the underdog is what he has been bred to do. He is not comfortable with a world of espionage, lies, and black-ops in peacetime; for him, war has rules and is fought on battlefields against enemies in uniforms.

Steve remains certain of what is right, but he is not certain that his side is playing by the rules anymore. Of course he may also recognize that nobody else is, either, but he still doesn’t fight that way. He is, as Natasha said, “A terrible liar.” And this is part of what makes Cap so effective; in the end, the Good Guys win as much because of Cap’s sincerity and ability to inspire as because of his mad fighting skills. It’s what makes him a hero.




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Updates and First Chapter (The first one’s free…)

Astra-CloseI keep resolving to post more….

For everyone out there who is wondering what is going on:

1.) Book 5 continues apace. A fairly recent development is that I have temporarily shelved the Japan-trip storyline–I still want to do it, but I have also realized that now is not the time for it in Astra’s continuing story. So the working title for Book 5 is Small Town Heroes. But rest assured that while all this has slowed my momentum a bit, I know where I’m going. Really.

2.) My playtesters are not playtesting fast enough for me, but WtC: the RPG is a project I am moving carefully on. My personal deadline being the end of the year, we all have time to get it right. I want to be able to move to Phase 2 (playtesting by gamers who have never previously played with Cortex Plus) by the middle of the year. Meanwhile, some of the superheroes designed using the WtC:RPG rules look amazing.

3.) is now almost completely up and looking good. The cover of Wearing the Cape is available for purchase through Zazzle (just follow the link), in whatever size poster you like–the $31 price tag is for the largest poster size. The other two covers and the Astra character print should be up and available in the next day or so.

And for everyone who has been impatiently awaiting the further adventures of Astra and Company, here is the current draft of Small Town Heroes Chapter One.

Chapter One

You’d think I could have a “normal” superhero career. After all, I might be strong but my powers are as common as dirt. But noooo, apparently I’m a Chosen One, like the Teatime Anarchist hung a glowing neon sign on me for all inscrutable meddlers to see. It makes life way too exciting.

From the journal of Hope Corrigan.

We were doing everything we could, and Mother Nature was still kicking our butts. The high winds, blowing hard enough to weaponize the sleeting rain, kept rescue copters out of the sky unless aerokinetics like Tsuris and Jetstream flew with them to carve out zones of still air. The Ohio River was doing its best to drown Cairo, Mound City, and Paduca, and trying to help the Mississippi laugh at the spillways and floodways to submerge Wickliff and points south.  Even Riptide couldn’t stop that much water; the best he could do was protect rescue boats and find desperate floaters.

Three weeks of heavy rains dumped into the Mississippi and Ohio watersheds, and we were dealing with more destruction than any supervillain had ever caused with the sole exception of Temblor.

Astra, is your load stable? Lei Zi asked through Dispatch. She knew it couldn’t be the wind slowing me down.

“Yes — affirmative,” I responded absently. The US Army engineers had done a good job on the hitches, and I’d turned the 10-ton concrete barrier so it sliced into the wind as I flew. I’d slowed because— There it was again. The pitch-black night and nearly horizontal rain cut even my super-duper vision down to less than thirty feet, but a twinkling flash of red light teased the edge of my sight. No-one was supposed to be down there.

I slowed again and dropped lower, so tired I couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing. The stacked-up storm fronts that had been soaking seven states had put the whole region on alert as aquifers filled and rivers rose. Three states had begun evacuating low ground last week and the flooded ground beneath me, north of Cairo, was supposed to be clear.

There. A sudden wind shift opened a hole in the rain curtain and brought me another red flash.  It moved, flying below me and pulling away now that it had my attention. Lower, I could see the drowned fields where the Mississippi had thrown out a new ribbon across the lower ground, creating a temporary floodway. Someone would get to that, but right now we — the Young Sentinels — were trying to save Cairo.

Astra, Grendel is ready for the next levee section.”

We’d been working on it since early this morning, me flying in the sections as Grendel prepared the foundation — mostly by hammering iron rods down into the collapsed earth levee to anchor the sections as they arrived. But the light below me was bobbing and weaving, trying to keep my attention like Lassie telling me Timmy had fallen down the well and I couldn’t just ignore it.

“I’m minutes out. Investigating signals north of town.”

“… Understood. Be quick.” She didn’t sound happy, but possible civilians in the evacuation zone took precedence over a town that had been completely evacuated two days ago.

Dropping till the wall section beneath me skimmed over the flooded fields, I followed the dancing red light. Could I see wings on it? It certainly moved like a bird working hard to fight through the wind. One minute, two, and I spotted the house. A solid building with no trimmings, it looked ready to shrug off tornadoes. Someone had circled it with a sandbag berm, but the sandbags were just a ring in the water now and the low-slung house sat half submerged.

And the roof was crowded, lit up to my infrared sight.

“You’re kidding, right?” Shell popped in to float beside me, rain sleeting through her virtual projection onto my mind’s eye. “They skipped evacuation to stay here with kids?”

Five adults, seven children, and, yes a dog and a cat in a carrier, huddled together under a tarp between storm lanterns.

I slowed, made sure of my load. “Who are they?”

Shell’s abstraction lasted less than a second.

“Based on head count, property and tax records, and the AR-15s and military gear, I’m betting they’re the Carletons and their neighbors down the road, the Stewarts. County sheriff’s report says they wouldn’t believe the government if it told them Sunday was coming.”

I sighed. “Paladins?”

“Nope, just part of a local citizen’s militia.”

That was something, anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t get shot at. I brought us down, dropping the concrete barrier beside the edge of the roof, which caused a few screams; it must have looked like the piece of emergency levee had just flown out of the night to sit down by their house.

I landed on top of it, which put me at roof level. I was probably a more reassuring sight. Half the reason for the colorful costume was so that bystanders would recognize and trust you in any situation (the other half was marketing), and Andrew was experimenting with textured and reflective fabrics. I’d left my armor at home to try out the patterned blue and white one-piece unitard outfit  he’d come up with, and even in the storm my star crest glowed like a traffic reflector in the light of the lamps.  Of course none of them could see Shell, standing beside me completely unbothered by the storm. She saw no need to cater to reality, so the gusts didn’t stir her wild red hair and the drowning rain didn’t so much as spot her green tank top (which read If you can read this t-shirt you are freaking amazing).

“Hi,” I said.

Shell rolled her eyes. “Great heroic entrance. Way to make a memory.”

“I’m not here to sign autographs, Shell,” I whispered, raised my voice. “Does anyone need a lift? And who does the dragon belong to?”

The shining red “bird” I’d followed turned out to be a fist-sized ruby dragon. It had stopped fighting the storm to perch on a tow-headed boy’s shoulder, and he couldn’t take his eyes off it even to look at me.

“It’s —” Shell started.


One of the moms stepped up, pushing back her hood. She was soaked from boots to waist, and even with the heavy jacket her teeth were chattering.

“It just appeared. Circled the kids and then went away.”

To do its Lassie thing, obviously. I nodded.

“It came and found me. I’m headed to Cairo. It’s evacuated but still dry, and we’re raising the levees to keep it that way. I can give you a ride.” I threw the offer out there, doing my best not to give off any suspicious I’m From The Government And I’m Here To Help You vibes.

They decided fast: Mom One simply told her husband she was taking the kids before they died of hypothermia, and Mom Two seconded her. The men, however paranoid they might have been, caved. Fortunately they had plenty of rope — they’d planned on tying everybody together and escaping on inflatable river rafts if the water covered the roof.  I distributed them on top of the barrier and they tied themselves to the hitches. A moment to balance the load, and I got us out of there. The tiny jeweled dragon flapped around anxiously until we lifted off, circled me twice, then disappeared into the night.

Headed for Cairo.

I focused on bringing us around till Shell’s own glowing virtual targeting caret pointed ahead of us again. Straddling the levee section beneath me, my passengers looked too cold and tired to be terrified — or maybe straddling a concrete barrier two feet wide at the top and steady as a flying mountain was reassuring.

“Shell?” I whispered. “Dragon?”

“Actually it’s a drake.” She floated along on her back, and she was giggling.

“Drake — Shell!”

“Okay, okay. It’s got to be one of Kindrake’s pets. And if she’s in Cairo…”

I still wasn’t getting it, but aside from some Army engineers, weren’t we the only ones in town?

Apparently not.  Sometime during my last flight out someone else (it had to be an Atlas-type or transport-level telekinetic or teleporter) had dropped a passenger frame in the middle of Cairo. Not much more than a steel storage container with seats inside, it had been dropped off in the school bus parking lot kitty-corner to the brick First Presbyterian Church and across the street from the newer City of God In Christ chapel. Guard and Army Corps of Engineers were using the chapel as a relief base, and before heading for the levee I landed the barrier in front and unloaded my shivering passengers so they could run inside.

“Glad you could make it,” Grendel said when I finally set my load down beside him. The water swirled less than a foot below our exposed and sunken stretch of earth wall. This was the last section needed for the collapsed earth levee, then we could sandbag the cracks and call it a night — or at least a few hours.

Grendel didn’t look any fresher than I felt; he’d been shoring up sections as I flew, laying pallets of sandbags, generally putting it all together under the guidance of the engineers. He’d stripped down to shorts and bulked up for raw strength, and looked like a gray and hunchbacked Mr. Universe with fangs. His obsessively styled dreadlocks dripped rainwater down knotted shoulders and arms and off his huge pecks. He could lift more than I could in this configuration, but if he wasn’t careful his feet sank into the waterlogged earth.

As tired as he was, he didn’t sound unhappy, just curious.

“I followed a dragon. Were you okay?”

A stoic shrug. “Just wondering if I should grow gills.” He could, too. I perched on the barrier for a breather and watched as he pounded ten-foot pylons into the earth behind it.

FEMA had moved fast when the flood warnings got serious. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had streamlined its response system after the California quake last January, tying participating Crisis Aid and Intervention teams across the country into a fast-response network and organizing CAI capes with emergency-appropriate powers into specialized teams. What had been a mad scramble after the quake had turned into a much smoother mobilization this time around.

For all the good it did. The problem with floodwater is it has to go somewhere, and obviously staying in the river God had made for it was just boring. Beyond the levee I couldn’t see the river, just an expanse of water that rolled away into the night.

Shell popped back in beside me, looking disgusted. “It’s Powerteam.”



“Oh. That’s…”

“Not good? You think?”

“Every hand helps, Shell.”

Her smirk gave her opinion of that, and I couldn’t say she was wrong. I really should have remembered. Kindrake had been big—a child supercelebrity not much older than Shell and me, her breakthrough had manifested her obsession with the Rainbow Drakes, the cute little spectrum-colored flying lizards of the kid’s cartoon. The producers of the show had rolled with it, given Kindrake her own live-action series showcasing her adorable pets, but that was years ago and Kindrake and her drakes weren’t so cute anymore. And she was running with Powerteam?

A sigh escaped before I could catch it.

“I know, right?” Shell snickered. “Kindrake brought them and their film crew in on that passenger frame.”

“How— Never mind.”

Grendel finished pounding the brace in and I pushed myself to my feet. Rising I felt heavy, dense, not the leaf on the wind I usually was when I flew.  We locked grips, my hold barely halfway round his wrists while his huge hands swallowed my forearms, and I flew us back into town. We’d practiced the move in the months since the Green Man Attack, had it down till a tiny squeeze from me and he’d let go so I could throw him at the target of my choice—three hundred pounds of incoming Grendel was a great opening to any fight. Tonight we just both wanted to get out of the rain.

We weren’t the only ones; Crash, Tsuris, and Ozma had arrived sometime between my last two flights, and were talking with FEMA engineers by the coffeepot, away from Powerteam. The Carletons and the Stewarts had camped on the other side of the recreation hall, wrapped in blankets, the parents between their kids and the heroes while the kids kept trying to see what was going on.

Because there was a show. The production crew was big enough that each member of Powerteam had his own camera-jockey, and they were earning their paychecks filming the drama.

“Shell?” I whispered. The reality show’s team lineup changed fast and wasn’t something I’d ever followed—Kindrake was the only one I recognized, and I only recognized her because of her rainbow swarm of drakes; the raven black hair, deep shadowed eyes, and purple and black goth-cape outfit was totally new to me.

“Spinner.” Shell pointed at the skinny blond boy yelling the loudest. “Team leader. He generates and controls strands of indestructible silver threads, can spin them into entangling traps, barriers, cocoons, armor, really anything until they melt like yesterday’s promises. According to the tabloids, he makes a lot of those, too.”

Her virtual finger targeted a shorter boy, standing quiet and arms folded but smirking. “Boomer. He’s a B Class Ajax-type with the added boost of explosive punches.” A finger-twitch, to the worried-looking kid by Boomer.  “Spaz. Low-level teleporter. He ‘blinks’ in a fight, in and out, likes to use stunners, flash-bangs, whatever will take someone down.” She dropped her hand. “The other looming Ajax-type backing up Kindrake is Slamazon.”

Looming was right; “Slamazon” had to be at least seven feet tall, and what Mom would describe as Junoesque and Tsuris would cheerfully call stacked.

“B or A-Class, all of them except Spaz,” Shell finished. “The show doesn’t stint.”

Grendel had ignored my distraction to head for the coffee. Even if the only one besides me who could see Shell’s virtual presence was Ozma—and that was only when she wore her Seeing Specs—the team all knew the voices in my head were real. Ozma watched me now with arched eyebrow, obviously wondering what I was going to do about the drama.

“—they were our rescue!” Spinner shouted in Kindrake’s face.

Kindrake wasn’t backing down. “Flame went for the closest help! They were freezing!” Behind her, Glamazon folded her arms and scowled, and my super-duper hearing picked up a low but rising hum rising from Boomer. What was going on?

Grendel looked over at the blanket-wrapped rescuees, and changed course to position himself between them and Powerteam. They couldn’t be…

They could. Slamazon easily reached over Kindrake to shove Spinner back.

Oh crap.

I put a smile on and crossed the room fast. “Hi! When did you guys arrive?”

People facing off usually have to work themselves up to a fight, with lots of posturing and escalating verbal confrontation until both sides know neither is backing down and it’s time to commence. I hoped to short-circuit that.

So Spinner whipped around, focusing his lip-curling sneer on me.

“And here’s the Girl Scout. Come to tell us to move on?”


Shell talked fast. “They didn’t get FEMA clearance to join the effort until tonight. Not much emergency training or mission-specific powers, so they got sent down here.”

Where they couldn’t do much to mess things up. Great.

I kept the smile on. “Everyone’s welcome to help, and the town isn’t safe yet. We should—”

“What? Pitch sandbags? We didn’t come all this way to do grunt-work, and now you’re dogging our saves.”

“That’s not—” Kindrake tried to interject as Boomer moved up behind Spinner.

“Shut up! You’re in this, too! Miss Kiddie-Show Star, coming on like you can teach us all about cape-work.” The background hum rose in pitch.

I put out my hands. “I think we all need to—” Boomer swung and the concussive power released from his fist lit up my world.

When you’re clocked hard you don’t feel it, or what happens in the next few seconds, really—your shaken brain-stem isn’t letting any information into your head until it clears. Hearing Shell yelling at me to “get up!” wasn’t unwelcome, and after months of fight-club style training with Watchman and Grendel I bounced back to full wakiness pretty quick. And tasted rain. I was back outside.

Boomer had blasted me through the wall.

We’d just wrecked a church.

“Hope!” Shell gasped when I sat up. “Get back in there! It’s on!”

 Instead, they joined me, Boomer first. He widened the hole on the way out, arriving in a rain of bricks. Whoever had ejected him had practically aimed him at me and I took full advantage, catching him as he skidded on his knees to kick him behind the ear. Ajax-type or not, he dropped without a sound.  Watchman would be proud.

Grendel followed him out in a charge that carried Slamazon with him and I breathed a sigh of relief; not that he was needed out here, but if he’d gone on the offense that meant that the civilians were safe—probably evacced by Crash.

“Shell?” I asked. She’d be getting everyone’s dispatch-cam feeds.

“Ozma used her scepter and magic belt to grow a forest from the wood of the rec room floor and Crash and Spaz are evacuating the bystanders behind it,” she reported. “Tsuris is fighting Spinner, burying the creep under his own weave, and—”

The final bit got cut off by the huge beast that dropped out of the night. That I hadn’t seen before, but it had to be Kindrake’s. The thing’s landing shook the parking lot, its rainbow-colored body making elephants look small as its wings covered us.


“Is it a fusion?” I asked needlessly; the rainbow-patched hide was a big hint. Well, now I know how she flew the passenger frame here. “Where’s Kindrake?” I spotted her before Shell replied, standing in the hole in the wall and pointing at Grendel and Slamazon. She shouted over the storm, and my heart sank as I lunged forward. The dragon’s head darted down, lizard-quick, and Grendel disappeared into its jaws.


“Now that’s something you don’t see every day,” Shell said, wide-eyed. I smacked into the beast’s side and it was like hitting a leather sack full of sand; it bellowed, slammed back against the passenger frame, and I hit it again before Slamazon hard-blocked me. Not braced, I flew backwards. Kindrake’s projection or not, the thing had a sense of self-preservation; it took to the air, the sweep of its wings adding to my tumble. Then the wind hit in a blasting roar. Tsuris.

The column of air wouldn’t have pushed me if I was braced for it, but I didn’t have a hundred foot wingspan for it to grab onto, and it caught the escaping beast—Great Drake?—like a helpless leaf, throwing it back down to crush through the parked FEMA vehicles and roll away into the night. It roared its frustration, getting some height only to get smacked down again, this time right into— No no no…

Oh, shit!” Shell swore.

It hit the nearest wall of raised levee like a ton of—like tons of dragon. Then it exploded into rainbow confetti as Grendel ripped his way out of its stomach. Kindrake screamed in pain and collapsed behind me, caught by Ozma as she stepped through the holed wall wearing a new green fedora.

“Ozma!” I yelled. “If you’re wearing Spinner, I need him now!”


An hour later we’d patched the hole in the levee. It took all of the FEMA team’s reserve sandbags and countless yards of de-hatted Spinner’s threads, but we were able to use the temporary patch to buy time for me to fly more levee sections in and Cairo didn’t get more than a couple of inches of Mississippi floodwater before we finished. Six inches, tops, okay maybe a foot.

By then we were all bone-tired—even I could feel my thoughts drowning in cold black fatigue. Powerteam’s crew manager explained that Kindrake’s feedback-trauma would be fine by morning and that she’d be able to reconstruct Terraflore—nice name for a big rainbow-lizard, and I wondered what it meant—and fly the battered passenger-frame out of Cairo, so I ordered everyone to bed. Spinner yelled some more, until I let him know that, as the senior officer of the Illinois State Militia in an Emergency Zone (officially I’m a 1st lieutenant and nobody finds that funnier than me), I could arrest him for being a complete dumbass.

Half of Powerteam thought that would be a good idea, so the dumbass backed down. He even slapped a patch on the hole we’d made in the church. Ozma couldn’t turn the wall of trees she’d made back into the smooth wood floor it had been, there was enough open space left that we could set up cots and dividers so everyone, capes, rescuees, crews, and engineers, could get some sleep.

The warm grass felt like the memory of a summer day, and the stars above shown as bright as they only could without air or light pollution to dim their glory. The snow of petals from the blooming cherry tree danced across the hill in the warm night breeze, and the silver fox beside me sighed contentedly as I stroked its ears. Together we watched the town below us burn and vanish.

I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, still smelling cherry blossoms.

Nuts. Not again.  

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New Website Up!

Wearing the Cape Page HeaderIt’s not exciting news, but it’s news! We have finally set up the new homepage for my books. We have kept the domain name because, let’s face it, it’s perfect. Although the page is pretty bare right now, with just the pages for the books and a contact page, as promised it will soon include a store site so that fans can buy prints of the awesome cover art as well as art planned for the RPG (in case I haven’t said it before, I love my artists and would like to see them compensated beyond their initial commission fees).

Plus, I must say that the prints look amazing on my wall (I’ve got one of each cover as 20×28 foam-board prints).

In the future I intend to mirror many of my posts here, and will certainly use the site for updates on the next book and on the game, so everyone waiting for news should link there. I’m very excited about this; I really should have had a dedicated site for the books long before now, and it will be interesting to see if it helps spread the word!

Meanwhile, things progress on Book 4. However, I should warn everybody that the Girl’s Night storyline has been shelved for now; Book 4 will be something different than I expected. No I don’t have an operating title yet, but I will say that it is a new Astra story which involves all of the Young Sentinels. I intend to put up a large part of the first chapter soon for all those who have been impatiently waiting! (Nobody more impatiently than I.)

See you at

-M.G. Harmon

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Update and Flash-Fiction


Hey everybody! Just thought I’d drop a line and let everyone know what has been going on. First and most important, I am making progress on the fourth Wearing the Cape book; I’m still not writing as fast as I’d like, but this one has a complex plot with several moving parts and I want to get it right. However, I have decided to return to the single-person POV (Hope) for the next book–as much as I enjoyed writing the scenes for Grendel and Mal in Young Sentinels, upon reflection I feel that the book was not as focused as it could have been otherwise.

News Flash: I have been working with someone on a new website for my books, and it should be up shortly–I’ll post a note when it goes up. It will mainly be an advertizing site, but I will also have a blog page there (duplicating this one), an Author Contact page, and in the not-too distant future a shopping page where prints of the covers and the upcoming interior art from the gamebook will be available–I really hope to be able to reward my excellent artists beyond the straight commission fees I’ve been paying them.

Playtesting on the beta-rules for Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game continues, with positive notes so far but good suggestions are also coming back. And on that subject, here is a little piece of flash-fiction I wrote for the world-background section of the gamebook. Enjoy.

Turning Points

Sam checked his watch for the fifth time in five minutes, and wondered again why he’d thought it was a good idea to use his juice to get a ringside seat to the hearings. Sure, President Kayle had surprised everybody when he stomped on the Containment Act—the guy had been a complete nonentity as a vice president, and watching him grow a backbone after his emergency swearing-in had been like watching a poodle decide it was a Doberman—but watching the new round of Emergency Security meetings, while senators from both parties droned on about what to do now, was turning out to be about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Normally Sam handled the Corruption Beat, but the Senate Ethics Committee hadn’t convened since the day of what everyone was calling The Event. That had been an interesting day, and Sam had missed all the action—he’d been in upstate New York for a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and the other than the weirdness of the Blackout and the tense and wondering wait until the phones and cable came back up, it had been a quiet day for his small hometown. Sam had been a wondering spectator along with the rest of the world, and by the time he’d gotten back to Washington word had already come that Air Force One had made a big hole in the South Dakota prairie; he’d managed to miss Kayle’s emergency swearing-in.

Things had gotten really interesting then, but now…

“Isn’t democracy wonderful?” Linda whispered beside him, suppressing a yawn. He grinned at her echo of his thoughts.

“Shut up, both of you,” Simon hissed. Their fellow Associate Press reporter was usually good for a beer and a laugh, but today he wasn’t giving them any slack; he’d been focused on the speakers with raptor-like intensity since the press had been ushered in. Sam shook his head.

Since Kayle had stamped a big old veto all over the Containment Act and begun sending the Justice Department after state law enforcement agencies who’d started using their new laws to begin indiscriminately rounding up “dangerous breakthroughs,” neither party could decide whether to support him or impeach him. It made for great political theater, but only on the talk-shows; inside the hearings, since neither party had picked a side yet, speaker after speaker grabbed his turn at the mic and droned on about the need for security or the need to protect the public. They huddled with aides and trawled the internet for the latest opinion polls in between speeches, trying get a feel for what their constituents wanted so they could lead the mob the way it already wanted to go.

 “C’mon, Simon.” Sam nodded towards Senator Barker, who was living up to her name but seemed to be winding down. Just one minute left in her time, and the chairman was ruthlessly enforcing the hearing rules. “You think we’re going to get a byline out of any of this? Nothing’s going to get decided here, not even a decision about how to make a decision—you notice nobody is talking solutions, just gassing on that something has to be done. Nobody wants to be caught on the wrong side of their party’s eventual policy, whatever it is.”

Simon scowled, not ready to let it go even though Linda was rolling her eyes and Sam knew he’d been trying to get her to go out with him for weeks.

“You’re both wrong. I think everyone here is talking to their voters, laying the groundwork so they’ll look reasonable when they announce a decision they’ve already made.”

“Which is?”

“They’re going to go after Kayle. They’ve got to, he’s not playing ball. At least half the public thinks he’s standing in the way of even commonsense safety measures, and the other half is split between backing him and only half-agreeing. The half that thinks he’s being a complete dumbass is putting pressure on their congressmen to make them safe, and it’s an election year.  They’ve got to—”

He cut himself off when the hearing room doors opened. Senator Barker had sat down, and now the Capitol Police were ushering some new people in.

“Elvis on a bike—” Linda sat up.

The newcomers who walked through the doors weren’t on the speaker list.

Sam had seen pictures and video—they all had. They knew the names they’d given themselves: Atlas, Ajax, Minuteman, Blackstone, Touches Clouds. Seeing them led into the hearing chamber, watched by Capitol Police, was a different experience, and the room exploded into noise as the chairman pounded his gavel and every reporter and journalist scrambled to take pictures with their phone-cams.

“Holy shit.” Sam added his own commentary.

Pictures really didn’t cover it. Atlas—John somebody—was a kid. Tall and rangy, he’d found a shiny blue racecar driver’s jumpsuit somewhere and stuck a white cape on it. Even under the mask, you could tell he was young, and he led the way but didn’t get more than a step ahead of the big guy at his back. Somewhere since their last Chicago press conference, Ajax had managed to get ahold of an actual suit of Greek armor, helmet and all. He didn’t have his maul—he’d probably set it down outside, and Sam smiled at the quick thought of any of the Capitol Police trying to move it from wherever he’d put it.

Someone had found Minuteman a patriotic-themed red-white-and-blue spandex bodysuit (an Olympics aficionado, Sam thought it looked like the kind of suit worn by speedskaters and the man did have the Stripped and Ripped physique to actually look good in it), and Blackstone, who Sam had heard really was a stage magician, was dressed for his act in a black tux and opera cape. Only Touches Clouds wasn’t in a costume, just a black business suit, but as fine and regal as she looked she could wear anything.    

 “The outfits are new…” Sam trailed off. Simon wasn’t listening and Linda was too busy watching. Damn, Atlas might be a kid, but he didn’t look like walking into a room full of media and some of the most powerful politicians in the country was any kind of a problem for him. The rest didn’t look bothered any, either. The Blackstone guy looked amused at the noise.

And Linda was edging back in her seat, checking the exits. Sam shrugged. Linda had made her opinion of breakthroughs who could ignore anything short of anti-armor artillery, forget about the guns and tasers of the Capitol Police, real plain in her last few articles: “Put them where they can’t hurt normal people” pretty much summed it up.

Sam was still having a hard time believing the things they could do, but maybe being able to do those things explained the confidence he saw.

The chairman welcomed the colorful group as soon as the crowd-noise died, and they took their seats. Everyone waited while aides checked their microphones, dialing one down when a spike of feedback made everyone wince. He thanked them all for accepting the Senate’s invitation while cameras flashed and Simon frantically checked his recorder. Sam had never turned his on; he knew Simon was good for a copy.

“Thank you again for coming,” the chairman concluded. “Now, this is not a formal hearing but could you give us your backgrounds for my colleagues and the press?”

Atlas gave his real name and “codename” in a clear voice and they went around the group. Minuteman was the only one who didn’t give his real name or say what he did, and the face-obscuring bike helmet he wore meant the media was still guessing at it. The chairman’s mouth tightened at the obvious omission—Sam made a note to ask what he thought of “mystery men” if there was a question and answer session afterward—but the senior senator let it pass.

When they finished, he nodded.

“Now, I understand that, agreeing to appear here today, you have asked to have Ajax—Professor Gibbons—speak for you, that is correct?”

“That is, indeed, correct.” The big man took off his Greek helmet, displaying a head-full of tight dark cornrows. He looked more like the kind of guy Sam was used to seeing keeping rowdy club-lines in line than a tenured university professor.

He set the helmet on the table beside his mic, and continued in his cultured but deep bass voice. “Blackstone is a veteran performer, but as a teacher I am much more used to taking questions and clarifying points.”   

 “And what do you teach?”

“For undergraduates, classical and early Western history. For graduate students, political history.”

“You have, of course, been following the current debates?”

“It is history.”

“Certainly. History in the making. A decision about who we are and who we want to be.” The chairman searched the small stack of papers beside him, pulling a sheet. “I believe that, last Thursday, you answered a question from gentlemen of the Chicago press by saying, and I quote, ‘Attempting to regulate or control the new superhuman population through any form of extraordinary measures would be a tragic mistake, for our citizens and our nation.’”


“And this was just after the, let’s see, Diamond Street Caper? A ‘supervillain’ calling himself Rickets had just successfully robbed three of Diamond Street’s jeweler boutiques for half a million in jewelry and stones?”

“That is correct. The police will find him, and the Sentinels will apprehend him.”

“Which will not help the five dead employees or their families. Yet Rickets was a known breakthrough, or at least the police knew about him. Isn’t that true?”

“It is.”

“And Mr. Rickets was already known to be have a questionable  past. Assault. Petty theft. Drug possession. Nations around the world are seeing outbreaks of lawlessness committed by breakthroughs, often with a tragic cost of life. And you suggest that we treat this as merely a police matter? That we wait for the tragedies?”

“Yes, senator, I am. We all are.”

That was all. Sam could see the chairman, the distinguished and long-serving senator from New York, struggling with it. And with Ajax and the rest of them. The big guy wasn’t being rude, or impatient, but they were in a room with some of the most powerful power-players of Washington, and he sounded like he was answering questions from a student. Sam had seen CEOs melt into puddles in this room, or go up in flames, and Ajax wasn’t even sweating, just sitting there like a fricken’ Greek hero—sure one out of Africa but with at least one god in his family tree. The others beside him didn’t look any more worried. Was this what happened when you realized you were strong enough nobody could touch you?

The chairman took a sip of water, tested his smile, and finally gave up waiting for Ajax to elaborate.

“What is the expression, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Can you tell us why you don’t agree?”

Ajax looked at his teammates, faced front again. Sam held his breath. So did the rest of the room.

“Senator, are you familiar with the social theory of force?”

“Excuse me?”

“Karl Marx famously defined the power-relationships in society as dictated by the ownership and control of the means of production. Ownership of the means of production and control over the product generated is the fundamental factor in delineating different economic systems. Capitalism is defined as private ownership and control over the means of production, where the surplus value of the product becomes a source of income, deserved or not, for its owners. Socialism is defined as public ownership and control of the means of production so that the surplus value benefits everybody, not just the capitalist.”

Simon looked like he’d swallowed something sideways, and at least half the room had too. The guy was sitting in the Capitol, in front of a hostile audience, and talking Marxism?

The lecture continued. “However valuable Karl Marx’s social and economic theories might be, his prescriptions were fundamentally flawed. He was also not looking at the true source of power. Mao Tse-tung less famously said, ‘Power is in the barrel of a gun,’ and he was closer to the truth.

“Historically, gentlemen, force—military and police power—has been the defining power of a state. Call it the socialization of force, if you will. The leader of any state is the man or woman who can point most of its guns at someone. This is true whether the state is democratic or despotic, and the modern age has produced military weapons with power far beyond what any merely private citizen can hope to possess or wield. Tanks. Artillery. Missiles. Planes and bombs. Modern industry has given the modern state an almost complete monopoly on force, even in nations where citizens retain the right to keep and bear arms.

“But that was before the Event.”

“I don’t understand.” The chairman spoke for everybody.

“Gentlemen, my new friend Atlas—the young man sitting beside me who can punch through walls, outfly jets, shrug off hits that would drop an elephant—is a tactical weapon capable of matching an armor division. You cannot stop him from going where he wants to go, or doing what he wants to do when he gets there. And he is only one of the more extreme examples of superhuman power we are seeing every day. And you cannot disarm him.

“And that last fact, gentlemen, is what makes this moment so dangerous for all of us. You cannot disarm him. You can only try and contain him, at great cost, or kill him, at greater cost. And although most breakthroughs are not like him, or like myself, many of us are exhibiting powers which make us weapons in one way or another, at least as deadly as a gun.  Many more of us, like Minuteman and Blackstone here, can go where they want to go and do not have to stay anywhere they don’t want to stay, which makes even passive restraint impossible. We are armed and dangerous and you cannot restrain or disarm us—you can only deal with us. On the day of the Event, force was randomly, capriciously, privatized.”

The mic spiked again as at least half the sitting senators erupted and the chairman banged his gavel.

“Order! Order! Be quiet! Mr. Gibbons, you are not reassuring us.”

“With respect, we are not trying to reassure you. We are trying to scare you. Many of you are scared right now, but you are not scared enough to consider anything beyond your political careers. Your constituents want to be safe, gentlemen. Well, so do your newly empowered constituents. Right now, all that we have to deal with are a few criminals among us who are suddenly gifted, a few emboldened by their breakthroughs who think they can take what they want now, do what they want. But their numbers are small, and the Sentinels and the other teams that are forming will show them differently. Working with the law, gentlemen, because we have as much interest as anybody in preserving the law.

“And this, gentlemen, is because we know that the law is the only thing that protects us from bloody necessity, from the need to exercise the force that we have been given to preserve our lives and our liberties. If our government makes us criminal, then our numbers will not be small. If you force us to decide between dying on our feet or living on our knees, then you will destroy this country. Something might survive, but it won’t be an America where the Bill of Rights has any meaning. It will not be the Land of the Free.

“I have named myself for a Greek hero of the Trojan War, but now I would like to play the oracle—hopefully not Cassandra. Many, most, governments around the world have enacted their versions of the Containment Act, and are now implementing them. Some of them will repent of their actions quickly enough to preserve themselves. Many will not. Some of them are otherwise liberal and lawful enough that their new laws will not be so oppressive as to breed immediate and deep opposition. Many are not. Nations who already persecute their religious and ethnic minorities will suddenly find that their victims have powerful champions. Despotic governments will not even try to restrain their impulse to control the breakthroughs they can trust and kill the breakthroughs they cannot, and people already fighting rebellions and civil wars will find that losses will grant power to the losers.

“A few nations may successfully co-opt their breakthroughs, turn them into a new arm of police and military power. Those nations will survive in something like their current forms. America may be one of them, but only if this country keeps the faith and trust of its newly empowered citizens, if it allows us to serve the greater good, or not, as we see fit and within the law, rather than attempting to coerce our obedience. No man or woman will keep faith with a nation that does not keep faith with them.”

Simon’s mouth formed a silent “wow” as the room erupted again. Lisa looked like she was going to be sick, frozen in her chair, and Sam knew Simon, geeky-cute as he was, was going to be looking somewhere else for female company. She didn’t get it. They’d all heard the same speech, but all she’d heard was a declaration of war. A lot of people would, and this bit of hearing testimony was going viral before dark. But Sam had just heard a declaration of allegiance, provisionally. Simon had heard it too, he was nodding. They exchanged looks past Lisa’s head.

They both knew what Lisa’s next byline was going to be like, and if they wanted the people that counted right now—the people who were going to decide what America was going to be—to make the right choice, then those people were going to have to hear what Sam and Simon had just heard. They were going to have to hear it from their constituents, which meant their constituents were going to have to hear it first.

“Beers later?” Simon asked, an invitation meant for one.

“Hell yes. I’m really eloquent when I’m too drunk to drive.”

“Works for me. We’ll spell-check in the morning.”

That’s it for now. Thank you, everyone for your support and your comments!


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Calling All Guinea Pigs!

Astra-CloseFirst look at my new artist.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings.”

It’s funny, what sticks with you. My father wasn’t big on literature for literature’s sake; he read like a fish (whatever that means), but read what he liked. And once in a while on a family night he’d gather us around and read the poetry that mattered to him; Lewis Carol’s stuff was one of his favorites, and those nonsense lines still come back and tickle me when I’m feeling especially whimsical.

Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game is another one of those things that stick. Not that I’ve been planning it for decades–just that RPGs where such a huge part of my creative life for so long that I still find myself thinking in terms of character stats (and I’ve mentioned before how much the “methodical” approach influenced the way I have portrayed breakthrough powers).

Thus I find myself launched in the fascinating and frightening venture of creating an RPG–figuring it out as I’m going along, much as I have done for indie-publishing my stuff. The good news? The picture above is part of the good news; I have found at least one artist willing to work with me in my price-range and timetable, and he is very good. Very shortly I intend to have a new Wearing the Cape site up, where among other things prints of his stuff will be coming available as he completes them (he’s starting with illustrations of all the Sentinels in the first book). Every print sold will pay him over and above what I’m already paying per work–and I hope there will be enough sales to motivate him to do lots, enough to comfortably fill a game-book.

More good news!

I have “finished” the roughest of drafts of The Rules for WtC: the RPG. I am looking for playtesters willing to commit some serious weekend time and prepared to give lots of feedback. However, before everyone who loves the idea of the game jumps aboard, let me explain how I hope to do this.

First, I would like three or four playtest groups who have already played a game using a Cortex Plus System. There are three that I know of: Leverage, Smallville, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. This is important, because the Cortex Plus system uses an interesting and interlocking series of mechanisms (the Dice Pool, the Opposition/Doom/Trouble Pool, and Assets/Complications) which are not simple to grasp if you’ve never seen them. I’ve been over and over the different options available (as laid out in Cortex Plus Hack), but am not sure I’ve gotten it right–so first I want players who can spot my mistakes/omissions and work with me on them.

Second, once I’m confident that the system is working as it should and isn’t broken in ways I can’t see, I’m going to do a thorough rewrite. The second draft will be The Rules explained for players who have never done Cortex Plus–or even played a pencil-and-dice RPG before. They will be the second control group, able to tell me where my explanation of The Rules is…less than clear.

So that’s two layers of playtesters. Now, for anyone daring or foolhardy enough to take me up on this, here’s what you get:

1.) The Rules (as is for now) and Background (also as is). You will get unlimited email-posting time with me–I want to make sure I hear everything that everyone has to say, and I am good at responding. I want to get this right.

2.) All playtesters are becoming part of the Post-Event world. When the game is published, I will be listing all Playtesters (everyone who takes part) and Contributors (anyone who kicks back something neat that I want to add into the game, such as lists, new powers/skills, rules-changes, etc.)–along with their Hero Names and the names of their teams.

Playtesters who ground their games in other cities or run a Chicago-CAI Campaign may find their teams appearing in the Post-Event background section (I intend to include a brief gazette of interesting places/people). The new website is going to include a Google Map of Hope’s world with labeled locations of teams and events.

Major Contributors–I haven’t decided what that means yet, but I’ll know them when I see them–will either get free signed editions, or a picture of their heroes if I can talk my artist into doing them at that point. I can promise no more than five “slots” for this particular Thank You!, but I want to do something.

This is all very exciting. And don’t worry–I haven’t forgotten about Book Five in the process of working on this; if anything, going back over everything to write the world background has given me even more ideas for Astra and Company’s next adventure.


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Merry Christmas!

A_Magic_Christmas_by_DigitalPhenomMerry Christmas, everybody! Progress proceeds with both novel and game, and I intend to have a file of The Rules by Christmas for everyone interested in trying them on for sizeand giving critical feedback. I can’t talk much about the book yet, just that I’m having fun and I hope you will too when you read it. I am now talking to a New York agent (after all the searching I did before self-publishing Wearing the Cape, this one contacted me). No idea where that might lead, but it will be interesting. I hope everyone is having a similarly hopeful end of year, or at least spending this special time with family.

I’ll be busy straight through the New Year, so as a last little treat to everyone (or at least those readers easily amused), here’s a sample character for Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game. I doubt she’ll appear in the finished book, but she’s too fun to leave alone until it’s her turn.



Strengths: D6 Physical, D10 Mental, D8 Social.

Distinctions: “I am the Empress of Oz.”, Disturbingly Beautiful, Powerful Sorceress.

Power Set: Oz Magic

D10+D6 Magic Control.                                         D10+D6 Magical Senses.

D10+D6 Attack Power.                                          D10+D6 Magic Resistance.

SFX: Constructs. Add a D6 and step up your Effect Die by +1 when using Oz Magic to create Assets (i.e., enchant objects or summon things).

SFX: Afflict. Add a D6 and step up your Effect Die by +1 when inflicting the “You’re A Hat.” Complication on a target.

Limit: Conscious Activation. If Stressed Out, asleep, or unconscious, shut down Oz Magic.

Signature Gear: The Magic Belt.

D12+D12 Magic Belt.

SFX: Immunity. Spend one Plot Point to ignore Stress, Trauma, or Complications from magical attacks.

SFX: Second Chance. Spend one Plot Point to reroll your Dice Pool when making any magical attempt.

Limit: Fatigue. Take D6 Physical Stress every time you use The Magic Belt or its SFX.

Limit: Gear. Shutdown Magic Belt and gain one Plot Point. Take an Action vs. Opposition to recover.

Skills: D6 Combat, D6 Mystic/D8 Oz Magic, D8 Psych.

Stress Dice: D12 Physical, D12 Mental, D12 Emotional.

History: Ozma appeared in the middle of a superscience-biological attack that triggered a host of murderous and monstrous breakthroughs–most of them accompanied by psychotic breaks. Authorities believe she is one of the officially missing persons from the attack, physically transformed into her current personae. Regardless, Ozma firmly believes she is the Ozma, the Empress of Oz, and that she was banished to the mortal world and transformed and made to forget her history by the evil witch Mombi (who did it once before). She believes that The Magic Belt found her in the midst of the attack and “awoke” her memories and powers. Naturally, the way things are in the Post-Event world, there is no way to prove or disprove her story. Since her awakening, Ozma has spent her time in a luxurious and superbly equipped lab provided by the Hillwood Academy–basically a bribe for her meekly letting herself be “supervised” while she comes of age.

Personality: Ozma is nice, with steel under the polite sweetness. Although legally seventeen years old (a guess) and physically still obviously a teen, she thinks and acts like someone much older; according to her, she is a centenarian, and she often talks like it. Although highly moral and possessing a strong aversion to violence and especially killing, she thinks like a head-of-state in exile, not a private citizen. She sees nothing wrong with temporarily transforming inconvenient people into items of haberdashery, nor using memory and personality-altering magic on evil people as an alternative to killing or imprisoning them. She is driven to increase her already potent magic powers, reclaim all her scattered “royal treasures,” and use every means at her disposal to reclaim her throne. Combined with the power she can already muster, her goals and the means she may use to obtain them frighten thoughtful people.

Powers: Ozma’s most notable (and disturbing) power is her ability, when wearing the Magic Belt, to turn living targets into hats with a twitch of her wand–such a complete and utter rupture of the Laws of Physics seriously bothers witnessing scientists. On her own she is a B Class Merlin-type; using the Magic Belt, she is an Ultra Class. In theory, the Magic Belt allows her limited control of reality in her vicinity–she has also animated statues, spoken to woodland creatures (and trees), and generally and within certain limits shown the ability to do anything inside the theme of her powers. She prefers, however, to work through enchantments, creating magic objects that are useful to others or which have more permanent effects (like the Powder of Life). Although she received basic self-defense instruction at the Academy, she is not a fighter and prefers to stay out of the field, sending the Army of Oz (currently Grendel) to fetch her treasures for her and do her fighting.

So, that’s it for now. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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So, I Was An Optomist…

Loma Prieta Earthquake, 1989

I Just read this report on the expected Big One in Southern California. It sounds like our infrastructure is becoming more vulnerable, not less.

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WtC: the RPG, Update.

Just thought I’d continue to break my tradition of one-per-month posts by posting an update on WtC: the RPG! I am still awaiting final word from MWP to do the book, but it looks promising so I have been absorbing the Cortex Plus rules as illustrated in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game and the upcoming Firefly game (you can get a peek with a couple of mini-releases already available).

I have also gained the strong interest of an artist for the interior artwork–you can see his stuff here:

The concept for what is and isn’t going to be in WtC: the RPG is also coming together. Since the rules don’t take up much room, most of it will be the history of the Post-Event setting, places of interest, the legal, political, and  social situation, a discussion of breakthrough powers, character pages/descriptions, etc. Players will get everything they need to form their own Crisis Aid and Intervention team or play the Sentinels themselves. It’s going to include a lot of setting information not seen in the books yet, like background on how other countries have dealt with breakthroughs and been changed by them, so there will be a lot of stuff in there that readers have wanted to know.

What it isn’t going to include is characters from Villains Inc. and Young Sentinels. This was a hard decision to make, but WtC alone introduces a couple dozen capes, major and minor, lots of villains, and more supporting characters. The “sample adventure” is likely to be the California quake and the Whittier Base Attack; the players will be able to play the Sentinels, another CAI team, or new breakthroughs from the quake.

If I do all this right, I will follow up with Villains Inc. and Young Sentinels sourcebooks with all their introduced characters and updated Wearing the Cape characters as well as expansions on appropriate themes (organized crime and Hollywood heroes in Villains Inc., and Hillwood Academy and younger breakthroughs in Young Sentinels, for example).

Right now, though, here are the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying hacks I’ve decided on so far. I honestly don’t expect it to change much more than this, so if you have MHR already and want to get a start, you can build your own capes with this and start testing how the action feels. As I work out the Sentinels’ datafiles I will be releasing them to playtesters as well, along with huge blocks of background so they can better create their teams and place them in the Post-Event world.

WtC: the RPG Hacks.

1.)    Affiliations are replaced with Strengths: Physical, Mental, and Social. (Note: this is a change being made in the coming Cortex Plus game Firefly. It was obvious to me as soon as I read MHP, and I guess it was obvious to them, too.)

2.)     Multi-Dice: superhumans have access to multi-dice, two dice treated as one die when used as Action/Reaction Dice and Effect Dice to create higher values. They are always indicated by + signs, and are D8+D6, D10+D6, D12+D6, D12+D8, D12+D10, and D12+D12. Power Traits now range in value from D6 to D12+D12. If you roll a 1 on either of a pair of multi-dice, you remove the 1 (it becomes an Opportunity) but you keep the second die.

3.)    Sudden Death: when a character is Stressed Out and receives Trauma, the Trauma Die does not start at D6. Instead, Trauma builds on the Stress, and is equal to the Effect Die minus the number of steps required to max out the effected character’s Stress.

For example, a SWAT team officer (D8) gets hit by a piece of concrete thrown by a B Class Superhuman (D12+D6). He is Stressed Out, and takes Trauma equal to 12D+D6 reduced by 3 steps (for the 3 “steps” in the D8). Dropping three steps from D12+D6 converts it to D12 Trauma—still higher than the D8 Trauma he can take so he is now dead or dying. If he had already been injured, with D6 Stress, the D12+D6 would only have been reduced 1 step to D10+D6 Trauma.

4.)    Doom Dice Change: Actions not directly opposed by a Major Watcher
Character are not rolled against with the Doom Pool. Instead the Watcher
decides the difficulty of the Action (D4: Very easy, D6: Easy, D8: Challenging,
D10: Hard, D12: Really hard), adds dice for Scene Distinctions, Minor Watcher Characters
etc., and may add dice from the Doom Pool as if he were buffing up a WC’s Dice
Pool. (Note: this is also a change being made in the Cortex Plus game Firefly.)


For reference, D Class Powers are D6 to D10, C Class Powers are D12 and D8+D6, B Class Powers are D10+D6 and D12+D6, A Class Powers are D12+D8 and D12+D10, and Ultra Class Powers are D12+D12. Here are the changed scales for Attack Power, Durability, and Superhuman Strength.

Attack Power:

At D6 to D10, the power is roughly equivalent to small and medium arms fire, including semi-automatic weapons, or dangerous but “normal” close combat weapons.

At D12 and D8+D6, the power is capable of greater injury or harm, roughly equivalent to fully automatic weapons with armor piercing rounds or small explosives (such as grenades).

At D10+D6 and D12+D6, the power is equivalent to heavy explosives, shoulder-launched missiles, or lightning bolts.

At D12+D8 and D12+D10, the power is truly devastating, equal to anti-tank rounds and mobile field artillery, even if the area of effect isn’t widespread.

At D12+D12, the power is equivalent to heavy aerial bombardment, with the kinds of weapon yields used to destroy heavy bunkers and other hardened targets.


At D6 to D10, Durability confers toughened skin and muscle, as well as the ability to withstand most minor blunt trauma or pain and low-level extremes of heat or cold.

At D12 and D8+D6, Durability begins to grant bulletproof skin and resistance to fire, corrosives, and other hazards.

At D10+D6 and D12+D6, Durability means physical immunity to anything short of armor-piercing high caliber rounds, intense fires, and the strongest acids and corrosives.

At D12+D8 and D12+D10, hurting the hero requires military grade weapons capable of penetrating main battle-tank armor. They are virtually immune to all natural physical hazards and resistant to attacks by nerve agents and other lab-made killers.

At D12+D12, forget about anything short of megawatt lasers and hypersonic depleted uranium anti-tank rounds (small nukes at ground zero will work too). They can survive forever in space so long as their oxygen holds out.

Superhuman Strength:

Superhuman Strength D6 to D10 allows you to lift like an Olympic weightlifter on the low end (Olympic Record: 580 lbs.) and pick up compact cars or flip trucks on the high end. You can force open most normal doors and easily punch through lighter interior walls.

Superhuman Strength D12 and D8+D6 allows you to lift trucks, toss small cars, force security doors, break  free of normal police restraints, and go through most interior walls.

Superhuman Strength D10+D8 and D12+D6 allows you to toss trucks, tip busses and fully loaded semi-trucks, knock holes in most exterior walls, escape heavy restraints, and punch through or force heavy security doors.

Superhuman Strength D12+D8 and D12+D10 allow you to rip down telephone poles and power poles if you have the leverage, flip or toss tanks and punch holes in their armor, escape massive restraints, punch through thick concrete or brick-and-mortar walls, and go through any door less massive than a bank vault.

Superhuman Strength D12+D12 confers the power to knock down thick stone walls, rip open bank vaults, toss a tank a city block, escape any restraints and generally destroy anything made by man although large targets may take a while. Battleship armor can stop you. Probably.

Enjoy. Comments Welcome!

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One Of Those Days.

Little Victory, respect_my_authority_by_jollyjack-d6tvso9Not Astra, but oh yeah–this is her life.

Normally I post irresistible art like this on my Facebook page, but I just had to pass it along here. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is Victory, the main character in Mr. Jackson’s Little Victory series. And yeah, it’s good.


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Announcing Wearing the Cape: The RPG.

SJG6017Not the game system I’ll be using.

So I’ve made no secret of my desire to eventually develop or sponsor a roleplaying game  book using the Post-Event setting of the Wearing the Cape stories. Because of course I wasn’t just a sci-fi/fantasy fan and rabid comic book reader in my younger days (a description that, other than “rabid” is still strangely accurate…), I was also a hard core RPG fan. I played Dungeons and Dragons, Runequest, Hero, Champions, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Villains and Vigilantes, The Palladium RPG, and of course GURPS in its many incarnations, and read many many more. It did something to my head, because when I sat down to write Wearing the Cape my mind started spitting out character stats like I was gearing up for a new campaign.

Well, the day has come.

After shopping around, I have decided to build Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game around a game system some of my readers may have heard of: Cortex Plus. An open-license game engine, CP is owned by Margaret Weis Productions, the company responsible for many of today’s media-event RPGs, including Serenity, Supernatural, Smallville, Leverage, and, most importantly, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

The good news; queries to MWP have been positively received. The bad news; now I’m committed to a proposal. The best news; I am now seeking playtesters (and yes, any readers who see this post can apply).

Why Cortex Plus?

First, it is open source; I don’t need to invent a new game engine, and it has already proven its superhero credentials (Marvel Heroic Roleplaying won awards). Second, with the MHP, Cortex Plus showed that it is both capable of fast and fun playing and able to effectively describe superheroes with hugely different power levels within its very simple system. After all, it had to fit both Hawkeye and Thor!


Ironically, MHR won a major award and lost the Marvel contract the same year…

I will admit, this is quite an adjustment for me. Anyone who is familiar with GURPS (The Generic Universal Roleplaying System) will understand when I say that I’m used to “crunchy” rules. The Cortex Plus system, on the other hand, is very freeform, more storytelling with dice involved than lots of rules and precise descriptions. But because the basic system is so, well, basic, it is eminently hackable; all of the above-mentioned games modify it extensively to make it fit the very different styles of the TV series they represent. WtC:RPG will be no different. For example, here is Astra as a Cortex Plus character (with my own specific system hacks).


Strengths: Physical d6, Mental d8, Social, d10.

Distinctions: Protector of the Innocent, Nice Enough But Completely Unintimidating, Little Miss Sunshine. (d4 +1pp, or d8)

Power Sets: Atlas Type

A Class Strength (d12+d8).

A Class Durability (d12+d8), SFX: Take the hit (Spend 1 PP to take the injury intended for a nearby ally or bystander).

A Class Stamina (d12+d8). SFX: Second Wind. SFX: Fight On (You continue to fight if Incapacitated. Each turn you do so, you must spent one Plot Point and step your Trauma up by one die, and your opponent will still use your Stress Dice).

A Class Injury Tolerance (d12+d8)

Supersonic Flight (d12+d6). SFX: Final Strike (Step up or double power die for one action, taking Injury equal to original die).

Superhuman Senses (d12+6). Telescopic/Microscopic Vision, analytical sense of smell.


Vulcan Armor (Durability d12+8). Limitation: Does not protect from Area Attacks or Aimed Attacks.

Ajax’ Maul (Weapon/Attack Power d12+d6). Malleus may be thrown for a ranged attack. Limitation: Expended, must recover after throwing. Limitation: Cannot pull her punch.

Skills: Combat/Unarmed, Competent (d6); Combat/Melee Weapons, Competent (d6); Flying, Competent (d6); Athletics, Competent (d6).

Stress: Injury (physical) d12+8, Strain (mental) d12, Wear (emotional) d12.

And there you have it: little Hope Corrigan in a few easy lines, simple to reference, no charts required and ready to play with a handful of dice.

So, what kind of production time are we talking about? Well, I’m hoping to have a playtestable system ready by the end of November, and I do have a “local” gaming group already committed to helping me kick the tires and test-drive it. I’m looking for interior artists and a graphics artist capable of doing the layout. When finished, Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game will be available in PDF format and as a quality print edition (price unknown at this time), a complete stand-alone game filled with stats for the characters introduced in the books and everything WtC fans need to play the Sentinels or run their own CAI superteams or get really strange.

Beyond that? Well, Cortex Plus is open source, and as the owner of all rights to Wearing the Cape I can always let others play in my sandbox. Fun is for sharing, after all.

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