Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tommy's Take on the Field Guide to Superheroes! Vol. 1 (ICONS)

The ICONS Field Guide To Super Heroes is an interesting product by Vigilance Press. Normally known for their wonderful World War II stuff, this is a stark change of pace from your typical supers supplement: It's a book of HEROES...not JUST pre-made heroes, but an examination of hero archetypes for players to use as inspiration. It seems that it will ultimately be a four volume series, with this holding the first ten.

The first volume is $7.95, full color and contains 10 archetypes...it also runs 75 pages. The version I have lacks both a table of contents and bookmarks, and seems to lack searchability since I punched several of the archetypes into the search bar and got no results.

First up, we get a classic goodie in the Alien Hero. Dan Houser provides all of the art, and we essentially get 20 character shots as we get a nameless Alien Hero (who mixes some features of a Skrull, the Martian Manhunter in his "true" form and a completely different coloration) as well as a fleshed out sample Alien Hero (the golden skinned Matrix). Every entry gets handled this way.

The first entry cites example Alien Heroes from the comics (such as the aforementioned Martian Manhunter), as well as Challenges and Qualities common to the character type, plus typical powers. Abilities, Specialties and even a tip on making up an all Alien Hero team (citing Guardians of the Galaxy, which I'm reasonably sure has never had an all Alien line-up due to the presence of at least one earthling on each team).

Matrix gets a completely fleshed out character sheet including three pages of background and plot seeds. He's an alien hiding among humans as a mutant, and gets a new power (detailed in this book) called Adaptation - meaning he gets the power that helps him the most against his opponent, but has no control over what power it is.

The Android gets a very nice treatment, with a focus on how Androids can always be rebuilt, after all, and so Android heroes tend to be selfless.

We get the Android hero Victor - who a sidebar does acknowledge is incredibly stacked - who gets rebuilt after every destruction more powerful than the last time.

The Animal Hero gets a very light treatment despite ackowledging that there are two types: Powerless heroes with gadgets and empowered "totem" heroes.

The Eagle's entry boasts what amounts to a utility belt power, and is a bit of an American symbol with wings.

The Armored Wonder covers your Iron Man types, complete with a patriotic sample named...The Patriot (not to be confused with Norman osborn's Iron Patriot). In fact, in a nice twist, The Patriot is a female inside the suit of armor.

The Astronaut is the Adam Strange type Astronaut, and includes Moonshot, who as a brainy, gal-next-door type...just in space.

Avatars are Gods, or close to it. Here we get our Thors as well as New Gods like Orion. The sample here is the Greek Prometheus, cursed with Immortality and fighting as a hero, inspired by the superheroes in the world.

I take issue with the Comic Relief entry, namely with the samples: The art makes me think of Speedball, who isn't listed, and cites Squirrel Girl (Who has defeated DOOM - okay, maybe I'm overthinking this) and Elongated Man (I admit I'm not familiar with his earlier stuff, but in all of the recent stuff I've read, he's FAR more capable than Comic Relief)...I would have accepted Slapstick or Plastic Man, though. Wundermaus has, among his qualities, the humorous "voiced by Samuel L. Jackson".

The Creepy Hero kinda confuses me as well...I guess I'm just not seeing Nightcrawler and Spider-Man as "creepy". We get the Fabulous Frog Girl as our iconic here.

The Dark Avengers entry looks pretty great, other than the questionable addition of Nightwing there among the samples. Again, not an example I would use. It is noted that Dark Avengers tend to not have Powers, and tend to clock in at 6s on at least a couple of abilities. Our sample here is an interesting character called Veil, a dual-gun weilding arab woman.

Finally, we get the Defender, which are heroes who - er - defend...usually specific tracts of land.

The book concludes with a 9 page Lexicon of important names and terms from the setting each of the sample characters belong to, the Worlds of Wonder setting.


At 75 Pages, bookmarks at least would have been great. I like the book, but I don't love it. Honestly, a bunch of hero write-ups as samples are a good idea, but where this book should shine is on the making the archetype stuff...and that's generally a page or two versus a four or so page NPC write-up (none of whom just jump out at me like some of the NPCs in other Vigilance Press products). I won't judge the setting yet, as we're only getting glimpses...but yeah, you can't hang much on that part of the book yet, because there's still (presumably) so much to uncover. I can't even get too excited about the story seeds, because most of those really seem like they will only work with players actually playing the sample heroes, and wouldn't work as well with the samples in an NPC role (though there are exceptions).

Other than a few questionable examples, I generally enjoyed all of the archetype stuff however, and there is some great advice on building and playing each type of hero.

Honestly, I think I would give this a stronger recommendation if the archtype material and the sample heroes/setting material had been seperated and sold in seperate products...as it is, the archetype material is really, really good while the whole idea of laying out the world in characters' backstories over four volumes is...not the way I would have gone.

Recommended, but not a strong recommendation.