Monday, June 19, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Seven: Badlands and Bad Men

Buck Rogers strip 60-69.

Well Buck is drifting along over the Rockies when he discovers he dropped a little too much ballast from those shirts he made into a sack. It happens. Using a knife he discovers he can easily cut the inertron the jumping belts are made of to save himself from flying into space. I guess the Navajo Boss let him keep a survival knife. Again the Navajo were pretty decent folks in all their appearances.

Buck lands, catches a rabbit somehow and is making dinner over a campfire when he is accosted by a cowboy with a rocket pistol! This is a pulp tradition. When things slow down have a guy with a gun errr rocket pistol step into the room.

Buck has met a new friend, Two Gun Pete. Pete susses out that Rogers is an outlaw, which is fine as Pete is also an outlaw and part of a whole outlaw org. He offers to take Buck back with him to meet the gang. Buck tries to interest Pete in one of his spare jumping belts but Pete would rather stick with his horse. Once safe (?) with the outlaws one roughneck says Buck has to be initiated, with his dukes.

The fight is a doozy with the outlaw giving as good as he gets and for once Rogers might be in over his head when his sparring partner calls a halt. A plane (one a' them durn mechanical buzzards!) is flying overhead and in some sort of difficulty. It makes a hard landing nearby. The outlaws and Rogers find the pilot dead and the plane in working order. Buck takes off in it to check it out.

Yeah, I know. Something killed that guy. It might be something to do with the plane but with a cursory once over Buck hops in. But the plane is fine and the pilot's cause of death is listed as an overdose of plot device.

Meanwhile Wilma lands at the Navajo Org and she and Nunah have some straight talk. Nunah takes no shit from Deering. Wilma soon learns Buck doesn't love Nunah, Buck doesn't know Lanlu is breathing, Buck loves Wilma, and Wilma was being a d--k.

Getting Wilma to do a reality check happens several times. She is impetuous (!) but means well. If Rogers ever learnt how to do it he kept it a secret. then again they got a lot of strips out of him following her around while she was trying to give him the brush.

Wilma is about to leave in search of Rogers when Killer Kane arrives. He again professes his love for Deering, who makes him about as welcome as a case of the clap.

At this point we get an idea just how dark a character  Kane is. He mutters to himself that if he can't have her (Wilma) no one will. Stalkers in the modern day are no laughing matter. Imagine one with a jumping belt and an airplane who designs medieval melee weapons in his spare time.

Nunah refuels Kane's plane with water while he's trying his moves on Wilma, then she tells Derring to cheeze it! Wilma takes off and Kane and his plane are left sputtering on the landing strip. Nunah apologizes for her goof further pissing off Kane.

As Buck is flying about he spots two planes making like mating butterflies. As he investigates there is a collision. One plane is fine, the other goes down. Fortunately Buck trails a line to the pilot who has a jumping belt. It's Wilma. Their joyful reunion is cut short by Kane who still has a plane thank you and an armed one at that. He begins blazing away and Rogers uses every trick he learned in the Army Air Corps finally pulling a fancy turn that Kane 'needs a sky hook' to match. You wonder just how much practice the average Org man or even an accomplished rat is great standing like Kane had with a biplane by now. Buck was a pilot in the Great War and likely saw his share of combat. He handily out flies Kane and was even in command of a squadron at one point so he must be a great pilot.

Kane begins broadcasting a message to the surrounding orgs asking for help apprehending Rogers and Deering (the big snitch!) Planes from Vancouver, Seattle, Columbus, Minneapolis and Oakland scramble. But Rogers manages to break off the engagement and land back at the outlaws. The Orgs do set up an air cordon around the area to keep his outlaw plane on the ground.

Rogers quickly introduces Wilma to Two Gun Pete and Pete brings the couple home to dinner with him and the wife, Missus Pete. Missus Pete informs Buck that women are scarce and he may have to fight for her as a peeping Tom looks on. That first fight comes in the next panel as the peeping Tom is revealed as -the Cyclone Kid, from Dead Man's Gulch. He demands Rogers fork over Wilma.

Being a decent sort Buck decides to fight the Kid. Handing Wilma over to him would just be too cruel (to the Kid that is.) Buck beats the crap out of him and teaches him to stick to murdering the English language. Feeling cocky, Buck asks "If there anyone else?" An outlaw named Lariat Luke offers to oblige Buck and snakes a rope at the man out of time!

Where to start? Buck is very inventive with his inertron, mores than the natives of the era. this may be because it is a relatively new substance. Still there should be releases to let part of your belt drift away in an emergency. Maybe it's just too complicated. Then people will want weight belts too to release in an emergency etc. They'd operate like old style airships, venting lift gas or ballast as necessary.

One also gets the impression inertron is still pretty hard to come by. You might want to conserve it. The outlaws don't seem to be familiar with it. In fact Pete would rather stick with his 'hoss.' the outlaws have all adapted old west dress. This makes sense as they are living in the south western deserts and mountains without many modern conveniences. The clothes of the Old West are very practical for living and working in such lands. Many do tote rocket pistols and they may have bits and pieces of other technologies handy, scrounged or robbed from Org men.

Kane is using an open cockpit biplane for his hijinks now. Possibly the previous plane was too slow to catch up to Wilma's plane. This plane mounts what looks like a machine gun and Kane is pretty intent on killing the lovers this time.

If the planes were built along the lines of a Jenny (JN-4) then they had a cruising speed of ~60 mph/100 kph and a top speed of 75 mph/120 kph with a minimum speed or 45 mph/72 kph. A JN-4 had an operating range of 140 miles/225 km. The planes here don't seem all that dissimilar from the planes rogers flew in the Army Air Corps so I'm going out on a limb by saying their chief improvements were in durability and range. After all, Wilma seems to fly hers direct from Pennsylvania to the Navajo Nation, a trip of ~1900 -2000 miles. Even if she refueled at Columbus (which is the only Org between the Allegheny Org and Navajo Org mentioned, she still has to make a trip of about 400 miles/650 km before fueling and 1600 miles/2600 km afterwards. My claim of durability is based on that poor deceased pilot who's plane survived a hard landing with no damage.

The planes also had some form of automatic pilot. Buck's squadron set theirs up to circle while they bailed out and jumped those Mongols. For that matter the deceased pilot's plane might have landed automatically, following instructions before the pilot died.

So we know the planes are superior in performance to the biplanes from history. They just look like antiques. It's like Mal's pistol in Firefly. The planes are also still way faster than a jumping belt. We know this because Lone Wolf can keep up with Nunah and Buck in their escape. He's apparently captain of the Navajo Org runs ing team and in terrific shape. An 'average' trained runner can make about 12 mph cross country. A jumping belt can let you do that all day.

The Org pilot who dies of no obvious causes remains a mystery. The plane as we see is an important resource for any Org at this time. You'd think they'd sent another up to look for the guy. The cause of death remains unknown and not even mentioned after that strip. To me it seems pretty creepy, like the story of the Orang Medan. I know it was made up but so was the strip.

You wonder if the poor nameless pilot ran across a Mongol death ray. We never hear of a weapon that kills and leaves a body behind. The Mongols use disintegrator beams that clean up after executions. they are masters of super science however and a death ray doesn't seem unlikely for them.

As we will see later at least one Org was wiped out by the Han and buildings were left standing and intact. You wouldn't expect that from a disintegrator. So maybe there are 'death rays', something electric that induces a seizure or stroke or arrests the heart at a distance. That could be even more unnerving than a disintegrator. Wiping out people without a trace is creepy. Leaving people dead without any visible cause is at least as creepy and lets you pick over their effects for intelligence.

The Columbus Org also seems very unconcerned with the Mongol raid on their hospital in earlier strips. I'd be. That means the Mongols have a man inside the Org (three guesses who). It also means the Han could easily send a raider or a whole squadron over to level the entire area. Even assuming the hospital is some distance from the rest of the Org structures, that hospital probably had to be abandoned and cleaned out of any sensitive information.

The Org might have just moved the hospital. It had some above ground structure. If that structure could be detached from the foundation then inertron could neutralize its weight and let it be moved elsewhere. Admittedly inertron was not exactly a household item but a little goes a long way towards replacing cranes. In fact most structures above ground might be only semi permanent and moved around to avoid Han air raids.

The outlaws seem unconcerned with Mongol raiders. They build small wooden structures above the ground. Oddly enough their neighbors, the Navajo Org, is very much on the defensive. They lose planes and people to the raiders with some regularity. The outlaws might simply be classified as not worth the trouble.

The outlaws may also have a reason for not collecting a lot of high tech gear. The Han might notice their new electronics and decide yes, they are worth a raid. The outlaws are a likeable bunch of knuckleheads with too much testosterone. Once you got initiated, that is. Like the Navajo they are a good group to have at your back in a scrape. I got to wondering just what they did to be outlawed.

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