This article covers some basics about modern firearms – stuff available from the 1930s onward.
As always with Weapons Locker articles, we are interested in fiction, with an emphasis on comic books – but also on action movies and video games, since those media do the heavy lifting in shaping perception of firearms.
Though the lead writer does happen to have military training, we’re not here to discuss real-world firearms and their use. Furthermore, it is centred on American fiction, since this is the one that floods the world over – and feeds on conventions developed elsewhere, such as Hong Kong action movies of the 1990s.
The illustrations in this article mostly come from the Internet Movies Firearms Database , and we own the copyrights to absolutely none of it. If you like the photos, hit the IMFBD, there are many more and they’re larger.
Quick note about the game stats
This article is dual-statted for both DC Heroes 3rd Edition and Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition. Neither of these systems is oriented toward fine-grained distinctions. Thus a set of stats can easily cover an entire category of weapons.
We’re not going to draw any distinctions between, say a 9x19mm and .40 S&W round, because the game systems simply do not support it. People interested in finer distinctions are better-served by more details-oriented games (my favourite is GURPS 4th edition ).
This also means that this article isn’t about long lists of guns. They’d all have the same stats !
Return of the caveat
As heavily emphasised through the article, this text is about firearms as depicted in comics books, action movies and video games plus some related genres like pulp novels. This is all about fictional things. It’s not meant to cover anything like real world weapons, which behave differently, and makes no claim whatsoever about realism.
The article does provide some useful facts and figure about how these things work. But this is all intended for verisimilitude, not realism. When the common depiction fiction is very different from the real world we’ll mention it, but the goal is not explain how it works in real life.
The tone and content of the article are probably clear enough that this disclaimer isn’t necessary, but many people have a rigid stance on the subject. Better safe than sorry, heh ?
How this article is organised
Since a lot of handguns we are going to cover are rare and unusual — this is about firearms in fiction, after all — we’re going to make two rounds through the categories of guns covered in this article.
The first round will cover the most common types of weapons in each category, the ones that represent the vast majority of models. Then the second round will cover the “special application” firearms in each category, which are much rarer.
Many firearms reference special rules — for instance Long Reload or Autofire in DCH, or Armour-Piercing or Shotgun Blast in DCA. See our technical RPG articles for more.
Concealed handguns – the basics
These are tiny pistols that can fit in the palm of the hand, and in most pockets. The archetypal one has two barrels, one on top of each other, each holding one bullet.
These weapons fire weak ammunition that is only useful at very close ranges – say, .41 rimfire or .22 long rifle. The stats below assume a calibre that isn’t actively terrible ; a derringer used by a mook could easily have one less AP/Rank of EV/Damage.
In fiction these weapons tend to be associated with Old West gamblers, women (as a garter gun or purse gun) and people carrying backup weapons for their holdout weapons. It’s not uncommon to carry two derringers given their small size and limited capabilities.
DCH Derringer [BODY 02, Projectile weapons (Diminishing): 03, Ammo: 02, Miniaturisation: 02, R#03, Drawback: Long Reload]]
M&M Derringer [Ranged Ballistic Damage 2, Diminished Range 3, Limited 1 (Two shots), Feature 1 (Tiny size)]
Below is a 1866 Remington. Designs have not changed much since that classic and they’re usually too tiny to be identified anyway.
A small, flat pistol in a compact calibre, that can be easily concealed within clothing. These weapons are intended as backup weapons if the handgun of the user jams, runs dry, etc.. Police officers in countries with violent crime issues often carry those.
They are sometimes known as “ankle guns”, since it’s not uncommon to have them holstered there. The user drops to a crouch, lift their pant’s leg and draws. In the US, drawing your holdout pistol rather than reloading your main handgun is sometimes called the “New York reload”.
Holdout weapons can also be the main weapon for a person who needs to look unarmed. Say, a spy or a bodyguard.
Previous generations of holdout pistols — during the early XXth century — were chambered for anaemic rounds such as .25 ACP or .22 Short. This lowered the APs (DCH) or Rank (DCA) by one. Rounds such as .32 ACP are the lower bound for the stats given below.
DCH Holdout pistol [BODY 02, Projectile weapons: 03, Ammo: 06, Miniaturisation: 01, R#04]
M&M Holdout pistol [Ranged Ballistic Damage 2, Diminished Range 1]
Here are three examples. The snubnosed Colt Cobra is a typical subcompact .38 revolver that is iconic of such weapons from the 1950s to the 1970s, the sort of thing the hard-boiled undercover New York City detective will likely pack. This specific model is the Agent variant of the Cobra.
The Star Firestar M43 subcompact was once marketed as the smallest 9mm in the world. With its Colt M1911-like appearance, it is a good stand-in for a generic holdout semi-automatic of the mid-to-late XXth century.
The Pistolet Makarova (usually called “Makarov”) was a common Soviet compact handgun of the Cold War era.
Medium-sized handguns – the basics
Peashooters are compact or medium-sized handguns used by folks who aren’t much of a threat in combat. Whether a pistol is a peashooter is entirely determined by *who* uses it.
The exact same .38 Special revolver would be a peashooter if used by a 1970s NYPD beat cop shooting fruitlessly at Spider-Man as he swings away on a web line. But it would become a .38 Special as per the stats below if used by a manly private detective played by John Wayne.
In decades past, “Saturday Night Special” short-barrelled revolvers fell in this category. More recently it has been cheap .380 semi-automatics of dismal quality. It can be safely assumed that these weapons are not well-maintained. A professional cannot by definition carry a peashooter, and the quality is so poor that maintaining those is difficult in any case.
These weaker stats help maintain the distinction between mooks and actual gunmen. They are less likely to hit (they jam easily in DCH, they are less accurate in DCA) and if a mook gets a lucky dice roll, the low damage means that the consequences are not likely to be deadly. It’ll be a grazing hit.
DCH Peashooter [BODY 01, Projectile weapons: 03, Ammo: 06, R#05]
M&M Peashooter [Ranged Ballistic Damage 2, Inaccurate]
The example below is a .380 Lorcin, which was ubiquitous in the USA during the early 1990s. There were hundreds of thousands of these things nationwide, and they were terrible.
.38 Special Revolver
For most of the XXth century, the .38 Special Revolver was the standard law enforcement sidearm. It was wielded by beat cops, police detectives, private dicks, etc. It’s the defining weapon of the hardboiled detective, carried in a leather shoulder holster over a tired white shirt.
The .38 Special calibre was indeed special. It was considerably more powerful than its predecessor the .38 Long Colt, and as such carried a mystique until the 1980s. Being a revolver, it also benefited from the image of reliability that wheelguns have in fiction. In real life, it has been decades since revolvers were more reliable than semi-autos.
Even in fiction, though, these weapons started being phased out by the mid-1980s. From then on, a .38 was likely to be considered a peashooter rather than the powerful and reliable combat-grade piece of the disillusioned NYPD detective interrogating punk informants in the neon squalor of 1970s Times Square.
DCH .38 Special Revolver [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 06, R#02, Drawback: Long Reload]
M&M .38 Special Revolver [Ranged Ballistic Damage 3]
The good old Smith & Wesson Model 10 Military And Police, or the Colt Police Positive, are the two main exemplars of this category. The one below is the S&W, but these two revolvers look almost the same. They both debuted during the turn of the century.
Classic Medium Calibre Semi-Automatic Pistol
These are semi-automatic pistols that generally appeared during the early XXth century. This “generation” of handguns dominated the entire century, with the two landmark calibres being .45 ACP and 9x19mm Parabellum. They were originally associated with military sidearms, but slowly became the standard in law enforcement as well.
Thus, soldiers from the 1910s to the 1980s will likely have a weapon in this category, as will most adventurers, police, etc. who eschew revolvers.
DCH Medium Calibre Semi-Auto [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 08, R#03]
M&M Medium Calibre Semi-Auto [Ranged Ballistic Damage 3]
These stats assume that the characters is used one of the time-tested handguns in this category. Historically, there were of course a lot of crappy and under-powered semi-auto pistols during the XXth century. But with time they have been forgotten, and people only remember the good ones. Such as :
The Colt M1911 is the iconic American semi-auto handgun of the XXth century, and many people still swear by this design. It has its own mythology, so an exaggerated version of this pistol will be presented in the next part of this article.
The Luger P08 was another landmark pistol, and a key step in having the 9mm Parabellum round becoming the standard. Since it was a standard sidearm in the German military, it is often remembered as “the Nazi pistol”. Thus it features in many WWII movies, and in the hands of Nazi villains. But its distinctive silhouette meant that it was everywhere in comic books and movies during the XXth century. Sarge Steel had a modified one.
The Mauser C96 was one of the most prestigious handguns in the world during the first half of the XXth century. Its distinctive and elegant look meant that it was spotted in the pages of comic books even after that (for instance, Manhunter) or in Frank Miller art on Daredevil. Han Solo’s heavy blaster pistol in Star Wars used a C96 as the base for the prop. It has its own mythology, so an exaggerated version of this pistol will be presented in the next part of this article.
(The Mauser 96 also appears in our Guns of the Old West article).
And lastly, the Walther P38 (and its predecessors and successors). It was the archetypal European pistol from the beginning of World War Two until the end of the Cold War, especially in fiction. You see a *lot* of P38s in Cold War espionage stories. Velvet Templeton often uses one, as do Christine St. Clair (in Manhunter) or B.J. Blazkowicz (in Wolfenstein).
Hi-Cap Medium Calibre Semi-Automatic Pistol
High Capacity handguns came later during the XXth century. Of course nowadays they’re no longer “high capacity” – they’re the standard. The classic models relied on the 9mm Parabellum round’s size to make double-stack magazines that could still fit into a pistol’s grip. This essentially doubled the ammunition capacity.
Action heroes usually rake the slide of their pistol before a firefight erupts, to signify resolve and create tension. In practice, modern safeties are good enough that having an extra bullet in the chamber is okay, and raking the slide would just serve to eject a perfectly good round.
In European stories, hi-cap pistols appear as early as the 1930s, with the Browning Hi-Power. In US fiction, the bulk of their impact can reasonably be traced to 1987’s Lethal Weapon movie.
DCH Hi-Cap Medium Calibre Semi-Auto [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 15, R#03]
M&M Hi-Cap Medium Calibre Semi-Auto [Ranged Ballistic Damage 3]
The Beretta 92 (adopted by the US Army as the M9) is iconic in this category. Lots and lots of movie and gaming handgunners have used the “big black gun”, including Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon and many of Chow Yun Fat’s characters.
High-capacity Glock handguns have become a standard in US security and law enforcement applications. Their fictional footprint started in earnest in the 1990s, and from the 2000s on generic pistols will often be drawn in comics with the distinctive Glock lines. Here is a fairly modern one, the .40 Glock 22. It is the FBI’s standard sidearm.
The H&K Universal Service Pistol is a good example of a modern, well-regarded pistol that appears in innumerable movies and video games. Jack Bauer often has one, and so do Lara Croft or Gordon Freeman (in HL2).
And finally, here’s an early example – the Browning Grande Puissance (“High Power”) from… 1935, after a 1926 design. It is still produced, though of course it has evolved. Another archetypal European gun, it often appeared in stories in the hands of elite Cold War gunfighters. Elite British commandos such as the SAS or SBS often used it.
Large handguns – the basics
These children of the late 1950s fire very powerful cartridges. They developed a strong mystique as “the most powerful handguns in the world” – particularly after the Dirty Harry movie. They’re generally chambered in .357 magnum or .44 magnum.
These weapons are usually pictured as large ones – a .357 with a short barrel will probably have the .38 Special stats listed prior. In the 1960s comics often had those cripple engine blocks and the like. And of course, if any handgun sends targets flying in fiction, it’ll be a magnum !
Tough policemen and detectives in the 1980s usually had a .357 magnum – Marvel’s Misty Knight, David Soul’s Hutch in Starsky and Hutch, Iron Man’s bodyguard Bethany Cabe, Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon… but, confusingly enough, TV series hero Magnum, P.I. actually uses a .45 M1911A1 as described above.
The stats are also informed by common video game depictions of magnums. In games they are usually much more powerful than basic handguns, though they usually fire more slowly.
DCH Magnum revolver [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 06, R#02, Rec. STR 02, Drawback: Long Reload]
M&M Magnum revolver [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4]
The two models with the strongest mystique were the Colt Python and the Smith & Wesson Model 29 (used by the aforementioned Dirty Harry).
A third quick example is a much rarer weapon, a Mateba Unica. Beyond its unique action (it’s one of the very few semi-auto revolvers ever designed), it managed to look like a futuristic revolver, which is no mean feat. Part of the unique look is because the barrel is aligned with the bottom chamber, not the top one, to lower felt recoil. One of the Section 9 agents in Ghost in the Shell prefers to use Matebas, and Vash the Stampede’s gun in Trigun is built more or less like a Mateba.
These guns started making a strong showing in fiction in the late 1980s, with the Desert Eagle. It is a semi-auto available in a variety of a calibres including a custom .50 handgun round, .44 magnum, etc. This huge, powerful Israeli gun became a recurrent figure in movies, video games, role-playing games and the like, though it’s not used by any military or law-enforcement organisation.
Similar guns are produced by small gunsmithing companies — one random example would be the LAR Grizzly — but the Desert Eagle clearly dominates this category.
Note that most mooks who are armed with Desert Eagles actually use standard semi-auto stats, in much the same way that a mid-calibre gun used by a mook will have peashooter gun stats.
DCH High-Power Semi-Auto [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 09, Rec. STR 02, R#03]
M&M High-Power Semi-Auto [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4]
One of the visual qualities of the Desert Eagle is not visible on the photo below. The barrel is not rectangular like with most semi-autos, but triangular – giving it a very distinctive and powerful-looking shape from the point of view of the person it’s pointed at.
To go beyond the Desert Eagle we’ll include an illustration for a 1970s handgun that also garnered a mystique – the Automag, which some thought was the future of handguns. The name straightforwardly describes what it does.
Machine pistols – the basics
A firearm slightly larger than a big pistol, built from the ground up for automatic fire. It can efficiently be fired one-handed – at least in fiction and video games.
Such weapons do not quite fit a military or law-enforcement need — except for tank crews and the like — but they look cool and impressive. Starting in the 1980s, machine pistols featured prominently in action movies.
They were often mook weapons, but a memorable example is the MAC-10 used by Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken in Escape from New York .
Machine pistols often have a very high rate of fire, and going long on the trigger means running dry in seconds.
One of the earliest examples of machine pistols were the weapons used by Doc Savage’s crew (but not Doc himself). These “super-machine pistols” or “superfirers” were extra-large pistols with a drum magazine.
DCH Machine Pistol [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 06, R#03, Advantage : Autofire]
M&M Machine Pistol [Ranged Multiattack Ballistic Damage 3]
The category-defining weapon was the Ingram MAC-10 machine pistol, featured in many Hollywood movies and guns-rich video game. Another example is the Micro-Uzi, which as its name indicates is a very small version of the famous sub-machinegun.
Lastly, we’ll illustrate this category with the Skorpion, a Warsaw Pact machine pistol for tankers. Though chambered in a weak calibre, during the Cold War the Skorpion was routinely presented as the dream weapon for terrorists, insurgents and other Communists, giving it a strong mystique.
The links to follow us and/or subscribe to our monthly newsletter are at the bottom of this page.
Special applications weapons
Part 2 of this article covers each category again, in the same order. But now that we’ve done the basics, we’ll cover much rarer, specialised weapons.
Part 2 is now a separate web page, to facilitate reading on slow connections and less powerful devices.
Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Chris Cottingham, Eric Langendorff, Azraelfl, Max, Blindswordsman, Darci, Pawsplay and (allegedly) Angelina Jolie.