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Grapplers - Marvel Comics - 1970s

Grapplers

(Part #1)


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

Context

The Grapplers were a team of female costumed wrestlers, first seen in 1979 Marvel Comics.

They primarily appeared as a team in adventures of the Thing (Benjamin Jacob Grimm).

Back during the 1980s, the Thing had solo stories that came to include a career as a super-wrestler. These capitalised :

  • On the similarities between super-hero comics and professional wrestling.
  • On the 1984+ skyrocketing popularity of pro wrestling in the US. It was the Hulk Hogan era.

The four core members of the Grapplers all had colourful careers as wrestlers, super-agents, mercenaries, criminals, super-heroines, convicts, undead monsters, security guards, etc..


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Shine on

As it happens, 2017-2019 had three seasons of a TV show about 1980s lady wrestlers.

GLOW — a fictionalised version of an actual 1980s wrestling promotion — had, well, glowing reviews. But it became a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It had 80s music, 80s day-glo leg warmers, 80s cringey ring personas, 80s big hair, etc..

So if you want that plus crime and super-strength, Marvel Comics has had you covered for decades.

Sequence

This article is *just* at our “too long for some to read in one gulp, especially on a smartphone” threshold. So it’s presented in two parts for y’all busy go-getters.

The second half of the Grapplers article is there.

(If you had told me beforehand my article about the Grapplers would have to be a two-parter due to length, I’d have laughed. And yet, here we are.)

Once you’re done with this “base camp” article, you can read the individual profiles. And that’s the bottom line.


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Profile

Organisation

Full Name:
The Grapplers.

Purpose:
Primarily the moolah. But the Grapplers were also often seeking fame, excitement and to have their skills recognised.

Modus Operandi:
As wrestlers, the Grapplers appeared as part of a wrestling promotion’s events. They were repped by their trainer, Ann Fraley.

As mercenaries, the Grapplers worked much like mob enforcers.

Extent of operations:
Primarily the USA.

Early on, appearances in Japan are likely. We don’t see these in comics, but Japan’s joshi puro promotions were a good place for US wrestlers to make money during those years.

Bases of Operations:
Originally New York City, later on Los Angeles as it became the hot spot for wrestling promotions.

Major Funding:
None as such. But during their time with the UCWF, the Grapplers were making good money.

The Grapplers vintage group shot

Known Enemies:

Known allies:


Membership

Organizational structure:
Ann “Auntie Freeze” Fraley managed and trained the team until it disbanded during the 1980s.

Titania tends to be the field leader, but it’s informal and low-key.

For a while, the Grapplers were trained and managed by one Kowalski, owner of Kowalski’s Gym.

By 1985, the Grapplers had become a division of the UCWF promotion.

Roster (original Grapplers):

This roster seemed to be a visual homage to the Female Furies of Apokolips.

Roster (additional UCWF Grapplers):

  • Battleaxe (Anita Ehren).
  • Capriole.
  • Butterball (Vivian Dolan).
  • Cowgirl (Deb Lowry).
  • Gladiatrix (Robin Braxton).
  • Magilla (Sandy Stalmaster).
  • Sushi (Susan Hayakawa).
  • Vavavoom (Dawn Middlebury).

Membership requirements:
Recruitment by Auntie Freeze.


Equipment

See individual profiles.


Soundtrack

Let’s go with Bad reputation. From Joan Jett & The Blackhearts first, 1980 album. It was a self-released, lo-fi punk rock mess – but an interesting one.

This tune was also used as WWE entrance music.

Available for download on Amazon .


Powers & Abilities

The Grapplers are shoot wrestlers. That is, they have robust martial skills that work in actual fights as well as shows.

They also seem to have extensive street fighting/brawling experience.

One caption assures us that they are capable acrobats. Meaning in-ring athletics such as dive-bomb attacks from the ropes.

Tactics

Despite the name, the core Grapplers are chiefly strikers . They have a solid wrestling game, but they don’t particularly seek to turn fights into ground work.

The Grapplers are trained to fight as a wrestling duo, and presumably as a quartet.

But in practice, they tend to just charge in. And to switch to actual tactics and teamwork when it’s too late.

On the few occasions where they did bother to use paired fighting techniques, the results were pretty good. In DC Heroes RPG terms, they can occasionally do Team Attacks. Which is rare for such minor characters.

Their best asset was Screaming Mimi’s sonic power. It clearly was a tier above what they could otherwise field.


Powers & Abilities – stages

The original Grappler went through discrete stages of power.

Stage #1 – before 1978-ish

No special powers or equipment.


Grapplers - Marvel Comics - Earliest appearance Kowalsky

Earliest appearance, with Kowalsky.


Stage #2 – late 1970s to mid-1980s

The gals receive enhancements from Roxxon Oil. Originally, these were described as “energy elements” in their costumes.

This is later retconned  to cybernetic enhancements. Likely because it makes more sense to explain Screaming Mimi’s abilities, who has the clearest super-powers.

From what we can *tentatively* tell, these implants :

  • Provide them with peak human strength for their mass.
  • Increase their speed and agility, but not to superhuman levels. They now can credibly engage beefy, cinematically  skilled hand-to-hand fighters such as Quasar and Black Goliath.

Prior to their 1979 arrest they also have access to specialised Roxxon Oil equipment. See the individual writeups for these weapons.

Stage #2 (cont.)

Back in ’79, a reasonable reading was that the “energy elements” in the Grapplers’ costume gave them “Class 8” or so strength. And that they had been destroying machinery with their bare hands.

This doesn’t align well with the Stage #3 events (below).

So our proposed, Occam-legal  reading is that they were destroying machinery using weapons (which only get mentioned years later, in the OHOTMU). And had enhanced, but not truly superhuman strength.

The cybernetic implants likely can be neutralised in some fashion. The Grapplers weren’t too impressive back on Ryker’s Island. Having the cybernetics switched off may in fact have slowed them down from their Stage #1 baseline.

Grapplers - Marvel Comics - Letha and Screaming Mimi vs Quasar

Stage #3 – mid-1980s

Letha and Titania no longer have access to their Roxxon equipment – they likely used up all ammunition.

Mimi and Poundcakes only retain their key gear (sonic amplifier harness and seismic boots).

However, their strength gets increased to superhuman levels using the Power Broker treatment.

We can observe that :

  • The strength level listed in secondary sources  for Titania and Letha — “Class 2” — is uncharacteristically low for the Power Broker.
  • (Secondary sources listings are important here, due to lack of material).
  • Their durability and stamina levels seem increased, but not to genuinely superhuman levels.
  • All four original Grapplers make it through the treatment without being physically or mentally warped. The Power Broker having a 50% rate of severe side effects, this had a ½4 chance of occurring (that’s 6.25%).
  • Screaming Mimi is a “grazing hit”. Her strength level was even lower and then steadily diminished.
  • By 2017, Letha and Poundcakes no longer have clearly superhuman strength.

Proposed No-Prize Hypothesis :

  1. The Grapplers received a variant Power Broker treatment.
  2. This version conferred lower strength. And that would fade at an unpredictable rate.
  3. However, it was much less risky than the normal 50% odds.
  4. Access to this treatment may have been negotiated by Auntie Freeze, since she could then bring in a lot more customers.
  5. Going with this version may have been because the Grapplers weren’t comfortable with the odds. And/or because their cybernetic implants would have interfered with the normal Power Broker treatment.

One discrepancy is that Poundcakes is listed in the Master Edition of the OHOTMU  as being “Class 25”. Since neither Letha nor Titania had Master Edition entries, it’s impossible to say if Poundcakes was an outlier, or if it was a revision about the Grapplers’ official strength level.

Grapplers - Marvel Comics - Titania and Poundcakes vs Black Goliath

Stage #4

In 1995 or 1996, the Fixer (Norbert Ebersol) makes Screaming Mimi’s equipment and cyber-implants markedly more powerful and versatile.

In 2009, both Letha and Titania are resurrected using Dormammu magic. The Hood (Parker Robbins) seems to have directed more demonic energy toward them, making them more powerful. They both get :

  • Superhuman strength. Feliciano in particular was much stronger – Class 40.
  • Superhuman regenerative durability. DeVito in particular could regenerate efficiently.
  • A specific magical ability to control feelings (lust for DeVito, rage for Feliciano).
  • Stage #4 (cont.)

    My No-Prize Hypothesis is that Lascivious and Letha’s additional, Dormammu-granted powers also faded away.

    In 2011, when they confront Songbird, the other three Grapplers are easily handled using sonic bonds. Which should have been much more difficult if, say, Letha still had “Class 40” strength.

    Likewise, Lascivious’s attempt at mind control whiffs resoundingly. Even though Mel isn’t *that* resistant to telepathy.

    In 2010, a Marvel sourcebook lists Poundcakes as being “Class 5”. Which fits well with the hypothesis that the Grapplers’ Power Broker strength decayed over the decades.

    Stage #5 – 2010s

    At this point, both Letha and Poundcakes no longer seemed to have superhuman powers.

    Both seemed to be powerful brawlers, though. So it is likely that the Roxxon Oil cybernetics are still operational, as in the Grapplers’ stage #2 days. But that all Stage #3 and #4 enhancements have faded away.


    Continued !

    Stay tuned, wrestling fans ! The second half of the article — with the History and some collective Personality notes — is about to enter the ring !

    Whatcha gonna do… when the Grapplemania runs wild all over you !

    By Sébastien Andrivet.

    Source of Character: Marvel Comics.

    Helper(s): Darci, Ericeick, Adam Fuqua.

    Writeup completed on the 13th of June, 2021.

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