Mastodon

10 min read


Context

Skyrocket Steele is an obscure Golden AgeSuper-hero comics from the late 1930s to the early 1950s character. He appeared in 1938 at Centaur Publications.

Centaur was an interesting publisher, but also a brief-lived and chaotic one. They never got a real hit. Eventually, much of the staff was absorbed by Timely (who’d become Marvel).

Steele is in the vein of pulpsCheap, often lurid novels in the US during the 1920s and 1930s heroes. He resembled famous 1930s heroes such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

He is chiefly notable for being Bill Everett’s first published character. Mr. Everett would soon become a notable comics creator. He’s chiefly known for being the dad of Namor the Submariner, of Amazing Man (John Aman), and a co-creator of Daredevil (Matt Murdock).

On such a timeless flight

The material… well, it reminds me of an inexperienced Gamemaster improvising. Though the art acquires a certain class as Everett’s craft matures.

The last episode (Amazing Mystery Funnies Vol. 2 #6, according to some listings) also seems lost.

But if you need a 1930s hero for some retrofuture story, he’s not a bad choice. And that the material lacks definition just means you have more room to make stuff up.

Advertisement

Background

  • Real Name: Cpt. Steele Dodge.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: Seemingly commands his own crew.
  • Base of Operations: Merne, Earth.
  • Height: 5’11” (1.80m). Weight: 175 lbs. (80 Kg.).
  • Eyes: Unrevealed. Hair: Light brown.

Powers & Abilities

Captain Dodge seems to be a professional troubleshooter.

He appears to be military or ex-military. Perhaps some sort of fighter pilot.

He also can access military installations, particularly the Army’s aviation bases. He’s qualified to fly military aerospace crafts, and works directly with the King.

Skyrocket Steele has two aides – the moustachioed Peter Muhr and the beautiful Sari Marston. Sari is also Steele’s lover, and Peter commands “the brigade”. These seem to be troops that accompany him in the field.

Cpt. Dodge isn’t seen doing much. He’s more a passenger of the story than its protagonist. And the more the series progresses, the more useless he gets. Since most RPGs assume active and conquering protagonists, this suggests modest game scores.

Skyrocket Steele - Bill Everett - Centaur Comics - Cover art

Gear

As the adventure starts, Cpt. Dodge requests a “range-scope”, a sextant, a “G-2 camera” and “all the arms you can find”. But we only see him using a revolver and a flashlight.

His sidearm looked very much like, well, a 1930s American revolver. On one panel it’s identical to a S&W Registered Magnum (later called the M27) with a 6″-ish barrel. It’s only discharged once (and misses).

However, on other panels and on the covers, the sidearms look more like Flash Gordon rayguns. Yet, when Sari discharges one, it looks just like a normal gunshot.

One closeup on an infantry rifle shows some sort of electric coil in the receiver. But when we see a battle, it has become a melee using rifle butts and bayonets.

(Howbeit, I suspect that this is because it’s more a riot than a formal battle. So let’s not hastily draw conclusions about the rifles’ capabilities.)

Skyrocket Steele - Bill Everett - Centaur Comics - Opening panel

It is the year “X” (about 2500 A.D.)

Skyrocket Steele operates in a setting that evokes the planetary romance genre  . There’s little worldbuilding, but we can make scattered observations.

First story

  • There seems to be a neo-medieval order. King Kurt is the ruler.
  • Big, knee-length, waterproofed capes are common attire. Outdoors, people will also wear a plumed helmet like 1930s Americans would wear hats.
  • The settlements all seem to be village-sized, separated by a bit of pristine countryside. But these are “villages” of skyscrapers, as if trying to reduce the geographical footprint. These seem walled.
  • Every single person is White. Obvs.
  • There is a single, enigmatic mention of “the planet mystery”.
  • The tech is… decopunk  , I guess. It doesn’t seem to perform better than 1940s tech in most respects.

There are exceptions though – for instance (wired) telephones include a mirror where you can see the other person in real time.

The curious “it is the year ‘X’ (2500 AD)” caption might be because it’s Roman numerals. Bill Everett and Roman stuff go well together. So perhaps it is the tenth year of King Kurt’s reign.

Skyrockets !

The story does have space travel. But it’s not obvious at first. It takes a caption to clarify that one outpost isn’t on Earth.

Scattered observations about that :

  • In-atmosphere, I’m not convinced the flying cars perform any better than WWII monoprop fighters. They aren’t quite pressurised, even though the tech already existed in 1938 (yes, I’m thinking of the Lockheed XC-35  ).
  • Therefore, folks have to wear goggles and oxygen masks at high altitudes or in space. Yet they do not wear vacuum suits. This suggests that the skyrockets have… some sort of atmosphere ? My hypothesis would be a gas that protects against cold and vacuum but isn’t quite breathable. Perhaps it’s too dense ?
  • Howbeit this isn’t consistent. One character is seen on a space flight without goggles or a breathing mask.
  • One notes that royal forces wait for “Skyrocket” Steele to launch a space expedition to one of their outposts. This *loosely* suggests that space flight is safer and/or faster if you have an elite pilot. Or maybe an elite navigator ?

Skyrocket Steele - Bill Everett - Centaur Comics - landscapes

Three Earth landscapes in the Year “X”.

Subsequent stories

  • Skyrocket Steele describes Earth as “the only civilised world in the universe”. Of course, in a 1930s context, you might want to take that description with a massive bag of salt.
  • He also mentions “what is left of life on Earth”. What happened is never described. But there are people who want to finish it off.
  • Both Mars and Venus are established to have human populations. The places we see seem terraformed. But there’s a *vague implication* that the locals can breathe non-standard atmospheres. Which would also explain the “that guy without a breathing mask in a space rocket” detail.
  • There’s also “a planetoid” which seems fully terraformed. Maybe one of the larger asteroids, but that doesn’t work if the outpost there was meant to warn Earth against incursions from nearby planets.
  • The solar system is in political turmoil. Steele’s loyalist stance doesn’t seem to be the common one. He and the King expect traitors anywhere, even among the royal ministers.
  • The main rebel force seems to be Vance Roy’s Yellow Star Army. They are active on Venus, on the planetoid, and perhaps elsewhere.
  • Another faction is the Red Men. These apparently hail from Mars, but they also hold turf on Venus. The Red Men oppose the dastardly Vance Roy, but do not seem allied with King Kurt.

We never see any alien, FWIW.

History

Sites on Earth have been subjected to night attacks by small, unseen assailants. These are nicknamed “bats”, though none has been stopped or caught. The dastardly Roy Vance is suspected of being behind these attacks.

Furthermore, the planetoid outpost at Mannin has gone silent. Surveying the site using a Kodacon telescope shows no guards on duty.

Recently released from the hospital, “Skyrocket” Steele reports to King Kurt. He volunteers to fly the King and a guards party to Mannin to investigate.

Everyone in Mannin seems to be dead. The party also finds a sort of model plane, though no-one seems to realise it is a weapon and likely one of the mysterious “bats”.

Wotta revoltin’ development

Within a hidden lab, the King and “Skyrocket” Steele find one Invex. This XXth Century bloke was “revived to life” by an ally of the dastardly Vance Roy. A genius and inventor, Invex has been working for Roy.

Vance and Invex easily defeat Steel and the King. Vance’s forces ambush and kill all the guards (likely including Peter). They also capture Sari.

However, Invex comes to realise that he’s on the wrong side. He convinces Roy (who is dastardly) to keep the King, Steele and Sari alive for ransom.

Allying with Steele, Invex uses complicated techno-subterfuges. His super-inventions allow them not to be detected by Roy’s men.

Eventually, an invisible “Skyrocket” Steele unmasks Vance Roy and holds him at spear point. Howbeit, the dastardly Roy escapes off-panelNot directly shown in the comic. Off-screen..

Invex and the only three survivors of the expedition (Steele, Kurt and Sari) then return to Earth.

Skyrocket Steele - Bill Everett - Centaur Comics - Uniform and Invex

Space wars

Sari steals Invex’s formula, and a spaceship. She leaves for Venus, hunting for Vance Roy.

There presumably are political reasons why she defies royal authority to fight the dastardly Roy. But these aren’t explained.

She is unexpectedly reunited with her brother Paul, an agent of the Red Men. Paul was clandestinely on Earth to procure ammo for the Red Men’s struggle against the Yellow Star Army.

However, Venus is a war zone. The Marstons are intercepted by two Yellow Star crafts. They crash after downing one.

Alarums and excursions

Furthermore, “Skyrocket” Steele comes in to arrest the Marstons for conspiracy. Paul knocks him out – which Sari doesn’t mind as long as Steele isn’t seriously wounded.

Sari’s plan works. They do run into Vance Roy and one of his lieutenants, Neo Nunn. Sari guns down Neo to save Steele, and Paul knocks Vance out. However, they have to leave the dastardly Vance Roy behind to medevac Paul.

Realising that the Marstons weren’t working for Roy, Steele Dodge decides not to arrest them.

Description

Steele’s hair colour changes from issue to issue. This might be a printing problem.

Personality

Dodge comes across more like a tepid detective than a two-fisted daredevil.

He seems to be one of the few people who’s truly loyal to King Kurt. Which suggests that Kurt might not be too swell a feller.

Advertisement

DC Heroes RPG

“Skyrocket” Steele

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03
Int: 03 Wil: 03 Min: 04
Inf: 03 Aur: 03 Spi: 04
Init: 009 HP: 010

Skills:

Charisma: 04, Detective: 04, Military science: 04, Vehicles: 05, Weaponry: 04

Advantages:

Confidantes (Sari & Peter), Credentials (Military, High ; Royalty, Medium)

Connections:

Per Credentials.

Drawbacks:

Dependent (Sari, 0 pts).

Motivation:

Justice.

Occupation:

Troubleshooter.

Wealth:

006

Equipment:

In-atmosphere, the vehicles prolly have stats similar to matching 1940s planes.

For the sidearm I’d go with standard magnum revolver stats. I’m fond of retrofuture settings where the tech is antiquated, with some inexplicable exceptions (such as space travel). And we have little reason to assume higher stats.


Design notes

The modest stats are actually a bit higher than the actually demonstrated performance. He was just… there ?

The blocky Skills are also generous – more so than our usual statting. The Skills are more based on how 1930s comics characters *usually* work, but Steele doesn’t truly match the archetype. If you want him to have narrower Skills, use the stock soldiers article as a guide.

Skyrocket Steele - Bill Everett - Centaur Comics - Sari uniform

Sari in her dashing uniform.


Sari Marston

Dex: 03 Str: 02 Bod: 03
Int: 03 Wil: 03 Min: 04
Inf: 03 Aur: 03 Spi: 04
Init: 009 HP: 015

Skills:

Medicine (First aid): 03, Vehicles: 04, Weaponry: 04

Advantages:

Confidantes (Steele & Peter), Credentials (Military, Medium ; Royalty, Low)

Connections:

Per Credentials.

Drawbacks:

Dependent (Paul, 0 pts).

Motivation:

Justice.

Occupation:

Troubleshooter.

Wealth:

004


Design notes

Sari follows the opposite trajectory as Steele. She starts as a helpless damsel sidekick, but then becomes the more dynamic of the two. And capable-ish.


Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Amazing Mystery Funnies in 1938/39.

Helper(s): Darci.

Writeup completed on the 25th of December, 2019.