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Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill and her father gas station

Cristal O’Neil

(Streamliner 2/2)


Sequence

This, motor sports enthusiasts, is the second half of the article.

If you haven’t yet, it’s there.

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Background

  • Real Name: Cristal O’Neil.
  • Note: Her first name might be the standard English spelling — “Crystal” — but rendered with a French spelling — and thus an “i” — since I’m working with the original, French version. However, we see it spelled with an “i” on some English-language signage, so it’s prolly an “i” in-universe.
  • Known Relatives: Evel O’Neil (father, deceased), Mrs. O’Neil (mother, deceased), unnamed maternal grandmother (likely deceased), Billie (adoptive daughter).
  • Group Affiliation: None in 1963, leader of a gang in 1973.
  • Base of Operations: Lisa Dora station on the O’Neil plot, in the Continental Desert near Route 666.
  • Height: 5’5″ (1.64m). Weight: 115 lbs. (52 Kg.).
  • Eyes: Dark brown. Hair: Black.

Powers & Abilities

Cristal has been dabbling in auto mechanics since she was 12 or so. She’s not a master of the art, but she knows what she’s doing.

This also means that she can monitor and manage 1950s racing cars. No electronics yet, so you have to understand how engines behave – and interpret the dashboard.

Though she has no racing experience when the story starts, she was taught racing tactics by *the* champ. She quickly learns how to actually use them, including executing overtaking feints in dangerous conditions.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - arguing with Billy-Joe

Other assets

During the race, she also demonstrates solid endurance, nerves and reflexes.

She recovers from physical damage unusually quickly.

(Now, that one wasn’t quite intended. The artist had a black eye recede at an accelerated pace because he belatedly realised he couldn’t draw clear facial expressions otherwise. But heh, that’s in the story).

Since she followed her father on the drag racing circuit, Cristal didn’t regularly attend a school. However she’s fairly well-read, thanks to the familial books collection.

Cristal usually drives what seems to be a battered, mid-1930s Chevrolet half-ton pickup truck. But in a race, she’s behind the wheel of the famous Black Widow supercar.

Pale little spider (part 1)

The Black Widow streamliner is thought to have six to eight gears. The chassis is wooden (plywood ?), and the body is aluminium. The wheels have distinctive individual fairings.

It resembles the real-world Stutz Motor Black Hawk Special streamliner  , which racing legend Frank Lockhart  was driving when he died in 1928.

There are two main hypotheses as to her engine :

  1. A custom-designed, supercharged V12 block with twin compressors.
  2. Paired, supercharged V8 Duesenberg engines  forming a U16. This guess seems to be the correct one.

The Black Widow is markedly larger and heavier than the real-world Stutz Black Hawk Special.

Its engine architecture is therefore presumably a bigger version of the Stutz’s, which had two 91 cu in (1,500 cm3) Miller inline-eight engines. These were set 30° apart on a common crankcase, with both crankshafts driving a central gear.

It is mentioned that Evel O’Neil used what he learned in the Continental Air Force to design his supercar. This implies that the Widow’s propulsion draws from aero engines. Such engines were used by the first real-world supercar to hit 500km/h (310 mph), the Thunderbolt  (no relation).

The historical Stutz supercar had 36kg (80 lbs.) of ice stored close to the engine, for heat management. The Black Widow may have something similar. Cristal also once mentions overdriving the engine fans to blow out excess heat.

(The Black Hawk Special may have been the first car designed using a wind tunnel. So in a sense, its body was the ultimate streamliner shape of its day.)

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - Black Widow car flashback

Pale little spider (part 2)

Part of the “secret sauce” is that the Widow essentially has an afterburner.

A solenoid fuel intake valve automatically opens when shifting into fifth gear. If done before the car is in overdrive — about 11,000 RPM — this would likely blow the entire transmission up.

Once this additional fuel intake valve opens, the Widow behaves much like a jet fighter. A person not expecting the resulting G force might well black out. Operating the gears becomes difficult as the acceleration pushes limbs back.

The Black Widow is unlikely to suffer serious damage from the fuel influx and acceleration, if done correctly. But she’ll need thorough maintenance after the race.

With the afterburner on, the Widow likely can hit 500 km/h (310 mph). So even a relatively short afterburner burst can dramatically change a race.

This and the slow ramping up through the gears means that she’ll likely fall behind during the early stages of the race… until she hits 11K RPM and the driver shifts into fifth.

Soundtrack

Link Wray’s Black Widow feels necessary here.

History — Evel O’Neil

Evel O’Neil served during the war aboard a B-17 Continental Air Force bomber, the Lisa Dora. He was mobilised in 1941, at age 21 or 22.

His daughter Cristal was born in 1943. However, Mrs. O’Neil was killed by bombardments when Cristal was 7. The kid had to move in with her grandmother.

Crash

During the closing months of the war, a bombing run went wrong. The fighter escort for the return flight never showed up, and Evel’s B-17 came under Messerschmitt fire.

The Lisa Dora lost an engine and her tailgunner . She also took too much fuselage damage to remain high enough for cloud cover.

The captain decided to crash as close to friendly territory as he could, and have his crew parachute out as he did so. But after the Messerschmitts came back, O’Neil was the only survivor.

Lisa Dora

Miraculously, the captain had landed the Lisa Dora in the desert as he died. O’Neil ended up finding her.

He then waited a week for rescuers to locate the wreck, and buried his comrades as he did.

O’Neil was left traumatised and obsessive. But at this point he could still function fine and hide the damage.

Once the war ended, he was hired at a garage, and entered amateur auto races with a Ford hot iron.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - air war B17 bomber

The golden age of streamliners

In 1951, a new mechanical sport emerged. Big supercars called streamliners would race each other.

This usually was done in a straight line across a salt lake, given the extreme speeds streamliners could achieve.

Streamliner races were hugely popular among a dissatisfied population suffering under authoritarian control. Following the sport was more excitement than they could get in their actual life.

Streamliners were normally built by large auto manufacturers, or deep-pocketed corporations – like with Formula One.

Sir Duke

Evel O’Neil entered these races with his custom-built streamliner, the Black Widow.

Even though O’Neil had no budget, his genius design and mechanical talent meant that the Widow was a speed monster. He started consistently winning.

His fans called him “The Duke”. He was a celebrated hero, with enthusiastic press coverage.

Among his tiny crew was his kid daughter Cristal. She grew up in garages, and helped with maintenance and optimisation.

But in 1955 the Black Widow crashed at 478km/h (about 300 mph). Evel O’Neil was believed dead, and his speed record couldn’t be accredited.

(In our world, the 300mph threshold was beaten in 1935, by the Blue Bird supercar  driving over the Bonneville Salt Flats. This reinforces the theme that, on this Earth, technological innovation was a bit behind ours.)

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - flashback girlhood engine

The Duke has left the building

The 1956 streamliners championship edition had a spiced up, dangerous circuit to fan interest back after the Duke’s apparent death.

Predictably, this killed 6 drivers and 10 onlookers.

In 1957 the streamliner races were forbidden. Due both to this death toll and to concerns over riots.

The Duke and his Black Widow remained cultural touchstones. Especially among some non-conforming subcultures, such as the Red Noses.

Return to the Lisa Dora

Back when the government started selling Continental Desert land, the now wealthy O’Neil had immediately purchased a plot. The one where the Lisa Dora had landed after her last flight.

The bomber was still there. Too badly shot up to ever fly again, and too far from everything to be recovered for scrap.

O’Neil’s desert plot was reportedly the largest one.

Re-return to the Lisa Dora

O’Neil had narrowly survived his 1955 crash – and in one piece. But he chose anonymity, let everyone but Cristal assume that he was dead, and retired to his Continental Desert plot.

There, he opened a gas station. But as it turned out there never was much traffic, and the station was barely viable.

By 1957, Route 666 was largely abandoned. It seems possible that it never was actually completed.

The O’Neils repaired the Lisa Dora’s fuselage. The old bomber was craned to rest over the station’s roof. It became a sort of attic, and apparently the O’Neils’ living quarters.

As time passed, Evel O’Neil sunk deeper and deeper into alcoholism. The bulk of the drudge work in running the station thus fell on young Cristal’s shoulders.

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History — Billy-Joe

The Red Noses gang invented a tradition not long after their founding. Each year, they organised a no-holds-barred auto race. The winner would be the gang’s chief – as long as he kept winning.

A lever-action carbine materialised the Red Noses’ chief position. Each new owner carved his name in turn on the stock.

The races were illegal, and meant to be discreet. But with every year they grew a bit bigger. It was mostly marginal, subculture types who attended.

After 1956, these often hoped to recapture the magic of the streamliner races.

Lever action

One Billy-Joe won the carbine in 1959… and kept winning.

By the 1963 edition, he needed a new place to run the race. It was getting too big, and the risks of police interference too severe.

The O’Neil plot seemed ideal. Nobody had jurisdiction over it, there was ample room for a good circuit, and there even was gas. Billy-Joe also wondered if there was a tie between the O’Neil station and the Duke.

After Billy-Joe deemed the place suitable, Red Noses started coming in to set the race up.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - hot irons racing

Set-up

Cristal was furious about this – and the place being invaded by Red Noses put her in clear danger. However, Billy-Joe put her and the station under his personal protection, ordering his gang to behave and leave Cristal untouched.

A weird number of people started flowing in. Part of it was that a senior Red Noses member, Nikki the Head, was convinced that he would win against Billy-Joe. He wanted his triumph to be seen.

Black Panties bikers then joined the fun. Though the event was 100% men and 100% cars, they wanted to challenge the Red Noses and race them with their hogs.

While there was a lot of grumbling among his lieutenants, Billy-Joe allowed the Panties and their motorbikes to register.

As time went by, dozens, then hundreds of misfits showed up. Word was on the grapevine, and many subculture types who heard about this were excited to see an illegal hot rods race.

It was unexpectedly becoming a Woodstock  sort of thing.

There would eventually be at least 5,000 persons on site, in a sort of proto-Burning-Man  camp. Some estimates go as high as 10,000, but this seems unlikely.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - crowded bar

This isn’t going to end well

One of the newcomers was William “Billy the Kid” Boney, an unstable killer on the run.

Since the police had no jurisdiction, the Federal Bureau sent in a pair of police hitmen to join the race undercover. They were to discreetly murder Boney during the brutal race.

The Bureau hated to see such a large concentration of non-compliant types. Their director therefore asked a large television channel to send in a full reporting team.

The idea was to turn the race into a big media event, as viewership would likely be huge. And once the race was just a TV show, manipulating its image as a media product would allow for syphoning out all of its outlaw mystique.

Meanwhile, Evel O’Neil ended up drinking with Nikki the Head. Once he was drunk, O’Neil was easily provoked into unreasonable betting. He put his entire gas station on the line, and drunkenly revealed that he was indeed the supposedly dead Duke.

Winning the race now meant :

  1. Red Noses leadership.
  2. Unique outlaw real estate with a prestigious history.
  3. Underground and mainstream fame.
  4. Establishing a new pecking order against other motorised gangs.

A prize worth killing for.

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History — Cristal O’Neil

Evel O’Neil clearly wasn’t in any shape to run the race.

However he had, over the years, rebuilt the Black Widow. Though it was just a nostalgia thing, it was still a records-beating car. And it could be prepped to race again.

The one behind the wheel

Cristal considered that she had no choice but to enter the race at the Widow’s wheel. Tension had been rising badly, and it seemed that the rules-less race would see a lot of brutal, dirty tricks done at 150+ mph. But she could either win, or lose everything that the O’Neils owned.

To pass qualifications, every vehicle had to clear the circuit at 200+ km/h (125 mph). This was trivial for the Black Widow.

After Cristal qualified, she and Billy-Joe started shagging. They shared a physical chemistry, though that mostly stopped there.

Sue, the Black Panties’ leader, also had an interest in Cristal. She didn’t push the point beyond light flirting, but made it clear that the O’Neils were also under Black Panties protection.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - talking Sue Ferguson

This really isn’t gonna end well

An underground rock star then reached the O’Neil station. Calamity Jane, a punk-like figure, had once been in a relationship with Billy-Joe. But he had treated her badly, and Jane sought to have her revenge by humiliating him.

Calamity Jane’s presence meant that her rowdy public *also* converged toward O’Neil Station. Especially once they knew their unhinged idol would both give free concerts and enter the race.

By this point, the cops blocked Route 666, turning hundreds away. The airship from the Continental Vision TV network was allowed to enter, though, since it had been cleared by the Bureau.

But it was clear that, when the time to leave would come, things would get ugly with the police.

Quickly commodifying the chaotic counter-culture event, Continental Vision reporters christened the race the “Triple R”, for “Runaway Rebel Race”. They laid it thick with overdramatic storytelling about the racers, akin to modern reality TV.

Last night before the run

A brawl finally erupted during the evening before the race. Calamity Jane’s fans had become aggressive, perhaps due to drugs.

As the fight began Cristal got punched, resulting in a nasty shiner. But the Red Noses and Black Panties then likely beat the Calamity Jane fans into quiescence.

Billy-Joe was the clear favourite, having already won an unprecedented three races. Therefore, Calamity Jane spitefully punctured his Ford’s tyres just before the race. But it was more like harassment, since she knew that the Red Noses could quickly change the tyres.

On her end, Cristal drugged Billy-Joe’s coffee. She needed the favourite out, and she didn’t want to end up in a situation where they’d try to have each other crash to win.

The ploy nearly worked. But Billy-Joe ransacked Calamity Jane’s trailer to steal her cocaine. The coke beat back the sedatives’ effects, though by that point he was two minutes behind the others.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - bomber gas station

The race of the century

(There are S P O I L E R S from there on).

The race was a long straight run, then a tangled and treacherous loop between mesas, then back onto the straight to return to the starting point. It had to take place at dawn, to avoid engines overheating.

At first, Cristal remained in the middle of the pack. As her dad had drilled into her, the Widow’s unique engine had to stay at or under 7,000 rpm until she could shift into third gear.

Would-be Red Noses leader Nikki the Head took the lead. Then he side-rammed a Red Noses roadster catching up with him, sending it crashing. This triggered a horrifying pile-up, killing several competitors.

Cristal dodged this. Applying her father’s strategy, she had been pulling outside of the pack laterally, to get elbow room. While she was now behind, this meant that she wasn’t in danger.

By then she could shift into fourth gear. And there was enough road left to engage the fifth well before hitting the canyon.

Aftermaths

The race was a carnage. Out of the 50-ish vehicles taking part, only two finished. Most racers were killed or wounded, with a few having the sense to give up.

Most of the massacre was caused by the sociopathic Nikki the Head. Followed by rock star Calamity Jane being high on a mix of cocaine and other uppers.

Having had a late start likely saved Billy-Joe’s life. He even caught up with the only other car left, a badly damaged Black Widow, and rammed her from behind.

However, he only ended up pushing Cristal across the finish line. It is unclear whether he didn’t find it in him to kill O’Neil, or his 1930 Ford A Roadster with a lowered front axle got stuck under the Widow’s rear.

Evel O’Neil died of a stroke early during the race. Due to the huge dust cloud behind the racers, he thought that Cristal had been caught into the initial pile-up and killed.

Officially, the event left 34 dead and led to 150 arrests. It also triggered riots and protests throughout the country.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - all-in target

Aftershocks

Having won the race, Cristal O’Neil retained the deed to her plot – and was now the leader of the Red Noses. The first and last order she gave them was to sod off.

Though the Red Noses disbanded, most managed to escape. This was mostly thanks to the large convoys of beatniks and hanger-ons overwhelming the police.

Footage emerged of the Bureau’s agents discreetly murdering The Kid during the race. This triggered a scandal, and yanked the carpet from under the attempt at commodifying the Triple R race.

The brutal, one-off event thus kept its rebellious and liberating mystique.

Having lost their leaders during the race, the Black Panties also dispersed.

Later on

The government offered a large sum to Cristal O’Neil to buy back the desert plot – plus college money. Bereaved by the loss of her father, she took the moolah.

Billie-Joe remained on the run for several years, but was eventually sent to prison.

The country became more liberal over the years. A romanticised view of the gangs at the Triple R accelerated this, but resentment over a conformist and authoritarian society had been brewing for years.

The explosion of violence at the race may also have made it clear to all where their society was headed.

It is also possible that ties forged during the events among beatniks allowed for the emergence of a more structured political force.

There’s a loose implication that, like Evel before her, Cristal rebuilt the Black Widow as a hidden, personal nostalgia piece.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - racing mesa supercar

Later still

Cristal studied an unspecified area of law. She therefore realised that the sale of the desert plot was legally flawed.

After a lengthy procedure and trial, she recovered her land in 1973.

In the meanwhile, she formed a new gang. In many ways, it resembled the Red Noses. As the leader, Cristal carried the Red Noses’ Winchester, and the members were car racing enthusiasts.

However it was an all-women gang, quite possibly including Black Panties alumnæ.

(The gang’s colours are stonewashed jeans (or jorts) and a plain white top – usually a T-shirt. Though a name isn’t given, my guess would be the Black Widows).

O’Neil’s lasses mostly drove classic, late 1960s American muscle cars. Such as Dodge Chargers or Pontiac GTOs.

Cristal drove what seems to be a modified second-gen Chevy Camaro  , presumably with the 360 hp Special Performance V8.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - 1973 camaro and gang

Cristal with her Camaro in 1973, with her gang prepping the race.

You can never go home again

O’Neil and her girls repaired the station, bomber and all.

They then organised a new version of the Triple R – still freeform and out-of-jurisdiction, but less actively dangerous.

Given the mythic glow around the 1963 Triple R and Cristal O’Neil, the gang had little difficulties in rounding up sponsors and media coverage for their race.

O’Neil also negotiated with motor sports federations to have her race be one step of a broader racing championship.

The Triple R likely became a major annual sports event, a bit like the Super Bowl.

Closing

As O’Neil and her gang were preparing the 1973 Triple R, Billy-Joe briefly resurfaced. He had spent years in prison.

Before being arrested, he had fathered a little girl with a hapless waitress. The mother soon had to abandon her kid, but Billy Joe “recovered” (likely meaning kidnapped) his young daughter.

He told little Billie that her real mum was the famous and beautiful Cristal O’Neil.

When Billy-Joe showed up at the O’Neil station, Cristal wanted him out immediately. She didn’t believe a word he said, especially after she realised that poor Billie thought that she was her mother.

Though the former Red Noses leader was kicked out, it is likely that Cristal ended up adopting Billie. Since the alternatives seemed even less acceptable.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - 1973 badass look

Cristal in 1973.

Description

In 1963, Cristal usually wears 1950s, big-hemmed blue jeans ; Chuck Taylors (these’ve been around since the 1920s, you know) ; and a plain T-shirt or spaghetti straps top.

During the 1963 events, she’s 20.

Her hair shows dark violet hues. But this is a part of the GN’s stylised palette. Much like Superman (Clark Kent)’s black hair is often coloured with blue highlights.

Living in the desert, she’s well-tanned.

During the race, she wore some 1930s driver duds. Complete with aviation-style leather goggles, a mechanic’s jumpsuit and a non-integral helmet. She also hacked off her hair to shoulder-length, so she could wear her diminutive dad’s old helmet.

Her 1973 look was of course more, well, early 1970s. Boot-cut denim jeans (but again with an anachronistically low-rise cut), cowgirl boots, leather bracelets and aviators.

Personality

Cristal is a confrontational, anxious, perpetually-frustrated ball of anger.

Her life is chores-filled crap, she has little power over anything, she’s trapped by the tragedies in her beloved dad’s life, and there’s no better future in sight.

So she kinda hates everything. But when things are going well and she’s making money, she seems markedly happier and more relaxed.

Part of her bitterness is that she had a great slice of childhood once the war was over. Until she saw her dad crash at 300 mph.

She liked Billy-Joe. He was handsome and charismatic, and Cristal otherwise had little to no shots at sexual action. But she never harboured any illusions about his worth as a human being.

Or him being reliable in any way, shape or form.

Streamliner graphic novels - Cristal O'Neill - Black Panties biker hurling nuts

DC Heroes RPG

Cristal O’Neil (1963)

Dex: 02 Str: 02 Bod: 02
Int: 03 Wil: 03 Min: 03
Inf: 02 Aur: 03 Spi: 03
Init: 007 HP: 020

Powers:

Enhanced initiative: 03, Regeneration: 01

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Enhanced Initiative only while behind the wheel of a muscle car.
  • Regeneration cannot restore tissues beyond the human norm.

Skills:

Gadgetry: 03, Vehicles (Land): 04

Bonuses and Limitations:

Gadgetry only for realistic auto mechanics.

Advantages:

Familiarity (Motorcar racing).

Connections:

None at this point.

Drawbacks:

Dependent (Evel O’Neil).

Motivation:

Take control of her life.

Occupation:

Bartender, gas pumper.

Wealth:

002

Equipment:

BLACK WIDOW [STR 05 BODY 06, Running: 08, R#3. If engaging the top AP of Running, the WIDOW is limited to going in a straight line and becomes vulnerable to defects in the pavement].


Design notes

Streamliners is a low-scores, zero-to-low-Hero Points milieu. So Cristal’s 20 HPs is a big deal compared to even the other namedA character with more narrative immunity than nameless extras. characters.

It’s one of those stories that use a Real Genre, but with HP expenditures being done on an Action scale. So burning HPs has a dramatic effect, even with the modest amounts involved.


Later on

Cristal later gains :

  • INF 03.
  • Detective (Law): 03 with an Expertise in an undisclosed area of law.
  • Possibly APs of Charisma (Persuasion).
  • Her Wealth increases to an unknown level.
  • She gets Rank (Sergeant) to represent her gang (about 15 to 20 members).
  • She gains headquarters (Expansive) to represent the O’Neill plot.
  • Her Familiarity becomes an Expertise.
  • She may have the Local Hero Advantage with racing enthusiasts.
  • She likely also has 3 APs in Weaponry (Firearms).


Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Streamliners graphic novels.

Helper(s): Oldmachinepress.com  , Comixtrip.fr  , Darci, Kevin Berger.

Writeup completed on the 16th of May, 2021.