I was perusing the public domain super hero sites and naturally started thinking about using these characters in gaming. Here's my thoughts on running a mystery men style game.
When you're dealing with Golden Age characters background and continuity were not foremost in the minds of their creators. I've often written a page or two of background for a character I've run. I doubt Bob Kane could have written a hundred words about Batman's personality when he first drew him. Most of these guys just threw on a dyed tights and started fighting crime. that was their origin. If they were supers they found a pill, elixir, ray, magic spell that gave them their powers and then they just threw on tights and started fighting crime.
So, say you pick a character out of the public domain what makes this character stand out? The answer is probably not a lot! After all if they were in public domain they probably lacked a certain staying power. Not always, sometimes companies went under due to economics etc but created some memorable characters. On the other hand most of the Nedor super heroes were pretty interchangeable: super strong, could make fantastic leaps, were bulletproof (and could still get cold cocked with a blow to the head for some reason.) In fact you could probably get away with using the same stats for several characters in the same group with just a few tweaks.
It sounds like heresy, but on the other hand each player will individualize the character they play anyway. If it sounds like I'm rushing to set up people with characters yes I am. The Golden Age heroes and their stories borrowed heavily from the pulp magazines of their day: action, action, and more action. If a hero had a personality it could probably be summed up as wise ass (maybe patriotic wise ass if the war was on.) This isn't Shakespearean tragedy I want to emulate, it's comic books written for youngsters. If you want something deeper and angst ridden buy Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.
Next up: some game mechanics.