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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

The Libertarian Gamer: Superheroes!

by Ken Newquist / July 1, 2007

Atlas stood crouched on the launch pad, his arms holding up the bulky form of a $250 million, 1.5 ton communications satellite. He shifted the weight easily, adjusting his grip on the titanium handholds mounted on the satellite's protective shroud, then spoke softly into his headset. "Launch Control, this is Atlas. Ready for orbital insertion." A smooth, crisp, feminine voice replied back. "Confirmed Atlas. T-Minus five minutes to launch. Be advised Farstar is in position as well, and ready for geostationary TP in 10."

The president and CEO of FreeSpace Inc. glanced to the neighboring launch pad, and saw the slim, spacesuited form of Jack "Farstar" Morgan sitting next to his own satellite shroud, one hand lightly resting on it, his face obscured by a golden visor. Inside, he knew the marathon runner-turned-teleporter was visualizing the distant black space above him.

A new voice sounded in his ears as a virtual radar display suddenly appeared in Atlas' goggles "Alert. We have unidentified flyers en route to Star Island. Coast Guard reports they're subsonic and appear to be battle-suited. ETA 58 seconds."

Thomas Freeman, the man who was Atlas, cursed softly. "Enron." He did the quick math, and knew there wasn't time for him to place the satellite, battle the incoming attackers, and still make the launch window. Were the new recruits ready to handle the threat posed by the energy tyrant's minions? Only one way to find out. "Titans, Defend Star Island!"

Four Color Philosophy

The superhero genre is rife with libertarian themes, as masked marvels battle villains hell-bent on world domination and vigilantes track down super-criminals the government is helpless to stop. Without even realizing it, people root for Batman or the X-Men despite the lack of an official sanction, and even rally behind the heroes as they stand up against coercive, draconian laws such as the Mutant Registration Act or the more recent Superhero Registration Act.  As such, it's probably easier to create and actually run a libertarian superhero campaign than it is for any other genre.

In fact, that's exactly what I'm preparing to do right now as my gaming group ramps up for our Mutants and Masterminds superhero campaign. I've been wrestling with exactly how I want to run the campaign, who I want the villains to be and how I might work in a few libertarian themes here and there.

To start, I thought about defining the campaign by what it isn't, by having the villains assume all the negative traits I was hoping to critique. This gave rise to the former Soviet supersoldier Dead Red, who died while being administered the super-serum … and then came back as something unstoppable. Dead but still moving, he's survived dissolution of the Soviet Union, and continues his fight by allying himself with all manner of left-wing dictactors.

There was Green Planet, an ardent environmentalist who thought humanity itself was a disease that needed to be wiped out, and who undertook all manner of mad plans to do it and Equalizer, an diehard socialist who believes that everyone should be equal in every possible way … and who does everything in his power to accomplish that goal. His stated enemies are the transnational mega corporations and their political allies, but "equalizing" superheroes pays the bills.

And finally I created Enron, the real reason the energy company collapsed. The initial draft of the supervillain had him absorbing all the energy that the Enron company traded in for the purposes of supercharging his own powers, undermining faith in capitalism, and helping lay the ground work for his own glorious communist revolution.

They were fun character concepts, at least for me, but in creating them I came to two realizations: 1) these villains would probably not be nearly as much for my players, who will most likely not be playing libertarian heroes and 2) I was focusing on the negative aspects of sociopolitical systems I dislike instead of promoting the positive aspects of the ones I agree with.

The idea for libertarian superhero team hit me the moment I saw Superman hurl a mountain into space at the end of Superman Returns. In our world, there's a huge market for launching satellites and spacecraft into orbit, as well as a growing one for private space travel. In a superhero world, there are people capable of getting into orbit under their own power … and taking a hundred-ton satellite with them.

Why not create a Justice League with day jobs spent using their powers to launch satellites and jumpstart the private manned space flight industry?

Atlas Soaring

Thus the rise of FreeSpace Inc. and its CEO, Thomas  "Atlas" Freeman, a brilliant aerospace engineer and former astronaut whose exposure to cosmic radiation in 1990 while aboard the orbiter Atlantis gifted him with super-strength, flight, near-invulnerability to most physical effects and the ability to survive in a vacuum. The storm that granted him his powers also fried most the orbiter's internal systems, and he instantly became an American -- and worldwide -- hero when he single-handedly carried the spaceship back home.

He retired from NASA shortly there after, taking on the superhero identity of Atlas and forming a team known as the Titans. At the same time he founded a new aerospace company named FreeSpace aimed at building affordable orbital launch vehicles and leading the colonization of low-Earth orbit and beyond. It was a startup unlike any other. For one, he refused to accept any government aerospace contracts. For another, while his company did work on developing conventional suborbital and orbital launch vehicles, it also made use of super powers to launch payloads into orbit … and to repair satellites that were already there.

This did not mean that they were immediately able to start tossing satellites into space though; there were still issues to be dealt with, such as shielding the satellites from sudden super-acceleration, building "launch shrouds" to protect them from Earthside elements, and creating special teleport-ready platforms for instant transfer from gravity to microgravity environments.

He attracted an array of the brightest and best heroes, scientists and engineers to help him in his dual-endeavors, including the brilliant astrophysist and extradimensional master  David "Portal" Li, the genius mathematician Sarah Rearden known the world over as Reason the Analytical Sorceress and materials engineer Jack Morgan, aka the teleporter Farstar.  It took every last bit of credit that Freeman and his fellow Titans could muster, but in 1992 they began launching their first super-assisted payloads into orbit from Kennedy Spaceflight Center.

Eight years later Freedom City has become a major space launch facility. FreeSpace played a major role in the construction of a space station for their world's version of the Avengers/Justice League in the early Oughts, and in 2005 began building the first privately owned space station, an experimental orbital factory named the Adam Smith. Realizing that superpowers provide an unstable basis for a company's bottom line, FreeSpace has developed a line of light and medium lift vehicles, and plans to roll out the world's first private spacesplan in 2010.  They also have plans to begin exploration and colonization of the Moon in 2012 under the leadership of special operations director Jason Jacobson.

The Titans continued their superhero activities throughout the years, clashing with everyone from neo-Nazis to super-powered henchmen of rival companies to perhaps Atlas's most daunting foe, the energy absorbing Enron. The original Titans take to the field less and less these days, but they have been training their replacements, a group of upstart heroes who share their passion for freedom and a common belief in humanity's destiny among the stars.

Freedom City Adaptations

My superhero campaign will be taking place in Freedom City, Green Ronin's first campaign setting for the Mutants & Masterminds game. In that setting, the Titans played a major role in repelling the Terminus Invasion (an extraplaner invasion led by a super-villain known as Omega, who is roughly equivalent to Darkseid in the D.C. Comics universe)

After the invasion, the FreeSpace and the Titans moved their base of operations to Freedom City, building a new company headquarters and "launching" payloads from the newly opened Star Island Spaceport. They also played a pivotal role in fighting back the invasion of the shape-shifting extraterrestrials known as the Grue and in the subsequent construction of the Freedom League (the aforementioned Avenger/Justice League equivalents) orbital space station Lighthouse.

They are actively recruiting young heroes of all stripes, and are looking to create a new generation of power suits designed to help those whose powers are more cerebral in nature.

You can learn more about the campaign by visiting its official blog, Infinity Storm

Coming Next: Superheros, Part II: Libertarian Comic Book Inspiration

Comments

Nuke,

As usual, the flavor here sounds pretty cool. And, I like your effort to approach things from the positive, rather than the negative, spin.

As for inspiration, have you read any of The Power Company?

Check it out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_Company

A short-lived DC comic from a few years back, it featured a group of heroes who incorporated themselves as a business. Now, if memory serves, they were heroes for hire, as opposed to astronauts and space-scientists. And, I don't recall the title being particualrly spectacular, but for another take on heroes as businessmen, it may be worth checking out. (I think I may even have the first few issues if you'd like to peruse them...)

Thanks -- I'm glad you liked it. Now I just need to incorporate it into the campaign web site. :)

I'm not expecting the Titans or FreeSpace Inc. to play a major part in Volume 1 or even Volume 2 of Infinity Storm; they'll be there as background, and there might be a tie-in or two (especially depending on how each character's solo adventures evolve) but they will have a role in Volume 3 ... assuming we get that far.

As for Power Company ... no, I never read that one (but then again, I'm not a big DC guy). I'd love to borrow them if you could dig them up.