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Masqué (bande dessinée, Ch. Lehman) - L'Optimum

Optimum


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

O blasphemy of Art ! O treachery unique !
That body filled with promise, rapturous and rare,
Turns at the top into a double-headed freak !
No, this is but a mask, a decorative snare,
Poor visage lighted by a delicate grimace !


Context

Masqué (Masked) is a series of 4 French graphic novels published in 2012-2013. It takes place in the same universe as the Chimera Brigade graphic novels, but is set in the 2020s rather than in the interbellum  years.

It is an interesting take on a French super-hero operating in Paris. It draws heavily from local history, culture and literature.

This profile assumes that you have read our Colonel A.J. Assan profile, which explains the main points of the backstory and context.

This profiles includes various S P O I L E R S, though to my knowledge the story is only available in French anyway. EDIT – a translation has recently been released, so scratch that.


Background

  • Real Name: Sgt. Frank Braffort (ret.)
  • Other Aliases: “Masked Man”, “Knight Templar”
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Known Relatives: Raphaëlle Braffort (sister), parents (names unrevealed)
  • Group Affiliation: Former NCO with the French Army
  • Base Of Operations: Paris
  • Height: 6’1” Weight: 175 lbs.
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Black
  • Other Distinguishing Features: Scar over his right eye
  • Note: As the Optimum, Braffort is 6’4” and 235 lbs, with black eyes, no hair and chalk-white skin.
  • Etymological note: “Braffort” translates literally as “Armstrong”. “Frank” is the name of an ancient people closely associated with France and countries to the immediate North. Frank also came to mean “honest, free” since the historical Franks were freemen unlike neighbouring peoples.


Powers & Abilities

Braffort is an experienced, competent, observant Non-Commissioned Officer. However as he returns to France he is clearly diminished by anti-depressants and other treatments for his depression and PTSD .

He apparently studied the history of French literature in college. He’s still knowledgeable about such subject as XIXth century poetry (particularly Baudelaire ), and understands Latin.

Man and superman

Braffort can turn into a tall, chalk-white, muscular, hairless manikin-like personnage. This form can also have the costume appear at will.

This body is superhumanly strong, and can fly at high speeds. He also seemed to perceive threats against the Parisian population.

Yet his power level isn’t gigantic. His strength seems to be about “Class 20”, and he doesn’t seem supersonic. He may not be bulletproof at this stage, though he’d qualify as bullet-resistant. Our game stats depict the Optimum at this stage.

Masqué (bande dessinée, Ch. Lehman) - Paris du futur

Click for a large version

Purified and refined

As the story nears a close, Braffort’s psychological integrity is restored. After this point, he can more fully tap Paris’ energy and harness it into superhuman powers. However, his “unlocked” abilities are undocumented.

His level of physical strength and durability may have increased – his flight speed, too. However he chiefly demonstrated different abilities :

  • Teleportation (whilst carrying another person)
  • Telekinetic force waves (once used to push back the stream from a flamethrower, and once used to blast open the thick walls of a prison without harming anyone within)
  • In DC Heroes RPG terms, his Mental and Mystical Attributes seemed significantly higher

The form and potency of the Optimum could thus be almost anything – from a Superman-style set but with energy manipulation in lieu of super-senses, to something akin to a super-strong Doctor Strange.

Given his name and his role as the seed for a super-hero renaissance in Europe, it seems likely that he’s a top-shelf superhuman.


Glossary

Anomalous Energy

A generic name given in this profile to the force capable of creating paranormal manifestations such as super-heroes. It is tied to the sense of urban wonder and possibilities explored by psychogeography . The Nautonniers (q.v.) call it “plasme” instead.

The Anomalous Energy/plasme concentration tends to assemble in a spiral pattern. A small spiral is thus a recurrent symbol of anomalies during the story, and is present on the black and white super-hero costume worn by the Optimum.

Anomalies

Physical manifestations created by Anomalous Energy concentrations. Depending upon energy levels it could range from little oddities to superhumans and giant creatures.

Anomalies are impossible to analyze – the universe conspires against anybody attempting to scientifically examine one, with improbable events and overwhelming feelings gaining in intensity as attempts are made.

Paris-Métropole

An administration overseeing the Greater Paris area, apparently created circa 2020. It is headed by a Special Prefect and operates with a huge budget.

Masqué (bande dessinée, Ch. Lehman) - Montmartre du futur avec Fantomas

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Montmartre

The Quartier Montmartre  is one of Paris’ distinctive area, which features heavily in the history of the arts.

Notre-Dame

Notre Dame  — a huge Gothic cathedral at the center of Paris. It is often a metonymy for Paris as a whole, or even France.

It’s short for Notre-Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”).

BPA

The Parisian Anomalic Brigade, a police task force investigating and neutralising anomalies. It is placed under the authorities of the City of Paris rather than that of Paris-Métropole.

Nautonniers

A mysterious Parisian quasi-mystical organisation that knows a lot of secret history and how plasme works. They bear rings with the heraldry of Paris. Both these and their name is a reference to the merchant guilds carrying goods along the Seine, which were a major power in Paris.

The Nautonniers operate from a stealth submarine in the Seine, and might be tied to a XXth French superhuman, the Nyctalope, who practically ruled Paris during the 1930s.


History

(As previously noted, the series takes place 10 to 15 years in the future – so in the 2020s back when it was published. It also takes place in a world that had a slightly different history, as all sorts of things from European fantasy literature, from HG Wells  and Jules Verne  up to the 1940s, actually took place in reality.)

Frank Braffort is the son of two affluent Parisian hippies, known for their humanitarian work across the world. He studied in France (presumably a Master’s Degree in literature) before enlisting with the military. He eventually became a sergeant.

Braffort served for 6 years. He was deployed in Afghanistan, then in Georgia , after the invasion attempt by Russia. He never took a leave during these years.

Fatal encounter

During a FFSC (French Stabilization Force in the Caucasus) patrol, Braffort and his fire team ran into a buried Russian terror drone. The powerful steampunk  robot completely outmatched their small arms, and the fire team was killed within seconds.

The only two survivors were SGT Braffort (through he was wounded by shrapnel and almost lost an eye) and his lover, PFC Mélissa Taleb. They would have been killed if not for a stroke of luck – Superman flew by and blew up the terror drone with his heat vision.

The incident was doubly problematic. Though well-trained the patrol was blatantly under-equipped and under-supported due to failures higher up the chain of command. Furthermore, it reminded the French military that continental Europe lacked super-heroes ever since the beginnings of World War Two, putting it at a severe military disadvantage.

Wounded warriors

Taleb and Braffort were repatriated and left the military. Taleb promptly ended up in prison after she beat up their former higher-up in his own home. She blamed him for the death of her comrades.

Braffort came back stateside months later, after an hospital stay and a depression. Having some savings and being able to stay at his little sister’s flat in the XIIIth Parisian district, he decided to wait for a bit.

Frank needed to re-accustom himself with Paris and civilian life, and to ride out the end of his depression and PTSD treatments. He also wanted to stay close to Mélissa until she could be judged.

Masqué (bande dessinée, Ch. Lehman) - La Défense du futur méga immeubles

Click for a large version

Anomalies

Frank Braffort was soon approached by Colonel Assan, the Head of Security for the Paris Métropole greater urban area. Assan disapproved of the way the Army had treated Braffort, and wanted to compensate with a job offer.

Assan’s boss, Special Prefect Beauregard, was far into a vast but highly controversial program to re-energize the greater Paris area. This initiative was primarily meant to up the Anomalous Energy levels until major manifestations, and hopefully a super-hero, could take place. See Col. Assan’s profile for more.

When Braffort met Assan, an Anomaly attacked the Special Prefect. It was a sort of gynoid  life form made of mechanical debris. Assan and Braffort responded and destroyed it.

As they did, Beauregard’s scientific expert Ms. Villanova observed a spike in energy readings. Frank Braffort’s presence was heightening Anomalous Energy levels. This seemed tied to his experiences in Georgia, just before the drone attack.

In any case the former sergeant could considerably accelerate Villanova’s timetable.

Aux mains de Fantômas

Villanova had recently discovered the epicenter of Anomalous Energy in Paris. This mysterious giant cavern under Montmartre had been used as a base by heroes, villains and superhumans since the Neolithic. But much of what it held was a complete cypher.

A relatively recent occupant had been the infamous Fantômas , the Genius of Crime, during the early XXth century. His successor was a 1930s Parisian super-hero who fought Nazis in 1940 and perhaps later. No record existed about him, but his black and white costume was found.

The impatient Villanova decided to simply bring Braffort into contact with the Anomalous Energy epicenter, to study how the two interacted. Diminished by his condition and drugs, Braffort couldn’t focus in time to realize what was happening.

The reaction was more violent than expected. The entire room was plunged into a maelstrom, Beauregard was wounded, and Braffort was briefly turned into a sort of muscular chalk-white manikin speaking in tongues.

For a few seconds the anomalous energy concentration reached what was, in Villanova’s model, its optimum level.

Optimum anomalous radiance

This meant that a lot more things suddenly became possible in Paris. Within a day Duroc, a police officer who had served with Braffort in Afghanistan, became a superhuman gaseous monster calling itself the Melter.

He kidnapped Raphaëlle Braffort, Frank’s sister, who had given Duroc lip when they met. Clad in the costume found under Montmartre but still inexperienced with his powers, Braffort engaged the Melter in combat but was nearly drowned.

Rescued by the shadowy Nautonniers, he returned to the fight and trapped the Melter within a diving bell so he could be arrested. However, the situation continued getting out of hand.

Special Prefect Beauregard had been secretly mutated along with Braffort. He started cracking under the strain as his political enemies circled and were about to trigger his downfall. And in Notre-Dame, a chimera — a type of gargoyle — awoke.

The gargoyle demonstrated that it could purge a person’s soul. Soon, a rag-tag group of persons with psychological and behavioural issues congregated in Notre-Dame in the hope that the monster could heal them.

Paris will always remain Paris

Meanwhile the desperate Beauregard used Braffort to spy on his political enemies, particularly the Mayoress of Paris. The Special Prefect still hoped to save his position somehow. However, Braffort rebelled as he sensed that something was going on in Paris.

He flew to Notre-Dame and assaulted the gargoyle, since his anger led him to assume that it was a menace. As he realised his mistake, Braffort called for a truce. However, the BPA police unit captured the masked hero and the chimera with a high-tech weapon.

At this point Beauregard broke down from stress and mutation. He used his newfound hypnotic power to avenge himself against Paris Métropole, triggering massive and bloody riots across the greater urban area.

He also attempted to kill Cléo Villanova, but she survived.

Apotheosis

Braffort escaped from the police trap. He took the gargoyle and Villanova with him to go after Beauregard. However, a meta-anomaly taller than the Eiffel Tower arose from the Seine and intercepted them.

Villanova realised that Paris was attempting to help rather than stop them. The meta-anomaly represented another optimum point in plasme concentration, leeching all available Anomalous Energy. Cléo encouraged Braffort to open up and absorb the additional energy Paris had thus gathered, but the former sergeant couldn’t bring himself to do it.

The chimera then summarily exorcised Braffort – chasing away his PTSD, depression and doubts. Now fully himself and tapping into the heritage of past super-heroes of Paris , Braffort absorbed the meta-anomaly’s power. This and his recovered clarity greatly increased his puissance.

After he and the chimera neutralised Beauregard, Braffort teleported to a prison to leave the former Special Prefect there. Taking the name The Optimum, he announced that superhumans were now back in Europe and would gradually appear in large cities.

The Optimum then blew up part of the prison’s walls, where many were unjustly incarcerated, and flew off with Taleb to help her hide.


Description

The “manikin”’s face always resembled Braffort’s, but the resemblance increased after his exorcism. The manikin body also has a Captain America-like superhuman physique.


Personality

Braffort is an idealist, who wishes to fight for the common good and protect people. This is why he enlisted, and why being used as a scapegoat to protect the Army from embarrassment affected him so.

Though he’s ex-military and liked life in the service, he’s wary about authorities. He knows that their goals and his may end up in stark opposition. Furthermore, as The Optimum, he’s the spiritual successor of a long line of French adventurers, heroes and rebels. These generally were not law and order type and may have been outright criminals, like Arsène Lupin .

As the story opens Braffort isn’t in good shape. Depression and PTSD mean that he has trouble concentrating, that his emotions are too strong, that he is constantly ill-at-ease and that he has no idea of what he wants his life to be. He also has a tendency to obey orders out of sheer military rote, and a poor temper.

His clarity slowly increases as he’s forced into action. He returns within sight of being an experienced soldier with an analytical approach and a good sense of priorities. However, at the same time his frustration over being so diminished while he’s needed also rises, shortening his fuse.

After the chimera exorcises him Braffort seems fully restored and acts in a charismatic, confident manner and with great clarity of thought and purpose. However, little is seen of him in this state.


Quotes

“I was always there. I was asleep, but this is over. I am awake now. And I bring good news. There are other like me. Here and in every city in Europe. This is but the beginning. I am merely the first. The Optimum.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Sgt. Braffort

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03 Motivation: Uphold Good
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Ex-Soldier
Inf: 04 Aur: 04 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 003
Init: 011 HP: 010

Skills:
Military science (Camouflage, cartography): 04, Medicine (First aid): 03, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 04

Advantages
Alter Ego (The Optimum), Familiarity (Military equipment and protocols, French literature and poetry), Language (French, Latin)

Connections:
Colonel Assan (Low, deceased by the story’s end)

Drawbacks:
Creepy Appearance (Facial scarring), Dependants (Mélissa Taleb ; his family), MPR (Shakes and vertigo caused by antidepressants and other drugs – goes away near the end of the story), Psychological Instability (Minor – goes away near the end of the story), Secret Identity

Equipment:
Cell phone


The Optimum (conflicted)

Dex: 05 Str: 10 Bod: 08 Motivation: Uphold Good
Int: 04 Wil: 04 Min: 05 Occupation: Super-Hero
Inf: 06 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: N.A.
Init: 015 HP: 020

Powers:
Awareness: 05, Flight: 08

Bonuses and Limitations:
Awareness is likely limited to Paris

Skills:
Military science (Camouflage, cartography): 04, Medicine (First aid): 02, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 04

Advantages
Alter Ego (Frank Braffort), Familiarity (Military equipment and protocols, French literature and poetry), Insta Change, Language (French, Latin)

Connections:
Colonel Assan (Low, deceased by the story’s end), The Chimera (Low), Cléo Villanova (Low)

Drawbacks:
Creepy Appearance, Dependant (Mélissa Taleb ; his family), Psychological Instability (Minor – goes away at the end of the story)

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Masqué graphic novels

Helper(s): Darci

Writeup completed on the 27th of December, 2015.

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