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April 13, 2006

Golden Age Design Journal: Author Spotlight on... Christopher McGlothlin

For our first Golden Age design journal, we have an interview with the book's author, Christopher McGlothlin. Christopher wrote Time of Crisis and Noir for the first edition of M&M and we're pleased to have him on board for this (literally) historical sourcebook. Given that Mr. McGlothlin's day-job involves teaching history, it's no surprise that he has a strong interest in the Golden Age era.

Golden AgeHow did you research background material for Golden Age?

The military and comics history both came pretty much from memory. I've been interested in military studies my entire life and passionate about Golden Age comics since college, so most of the actual work was just fact checking what I'd written.

(Amazingly, my memory seems to be holding up fairly well, at least regarding those two subjects. Now I'm afraid that when I get older, I won't be able to remember my home address, but I'll still be able to name all Seven Soldiers of Victory.)

The incomparable Mr. Roy Thomas (writer of The Invaders and All-Star Squadron) was kind enough to help me with filling up the list of Golden Age creators on the dedication page. He was a great help, and a super-nice gentleman to boot.

Who is your favorite Golden Age hero, and why?

I fell in love with Golden Age heroes as a kid after reading that amazing three-part story in Justice League of America #100-102 (the one where the JLA and JSA team up to rescue the Seven Soldiers of Victory). That story must have something like 40 or 50 heroes in it, but the one that stood out to me was the Golden Age Sandman. I liked how he contrasted with the other heroes—no superpowers, and fighting crime in a business suit instead of a costume. Also, I loved how he totally committed he was to his particular schtick. He had a sleeping gas gun, dumped sand on criminals, and gave them nightmares... Great stuff!

Later on, I discovered Sandman Mystery Theatre and fell in love with the book and the new Vertigo take on the character (as an aside, SMT wound up being the prime inspiration for the Noir book for M&M). SMT solidified the Sandman as my all-time favorite Golden Age hero. Good to know I was right about his being cool all along, going back to when I was 7 years old.

What's your favorite Golden Age comic book story?

I love "The Injustice Society of the World!" in All Star Comics #37 and "The Case of the Patriotic Crimes" in All Star Comics #41. You just flat-out can't go wrong with the JSA-Injustice Society clashes. Great, great stuff that showed off how wonderful a shared comic-book universe can be for storytelling if handled right.

Do you know the Blackhawks' fight-song (included in Chapter 1 of the book) by heart, or did you have to look it up?

I thought I had it down from memory, but when I Googled it to make sure I hadn't missed a "Hawkah" anywhere, I found all these other verses! It's like The Star Spangled Bannner—who knew there were other verses?!

What was the most fun part of the book to write? What was the most challenging?

The Golden Age entertainment section was a joy to work on, especially the research. I love classic movies, radio, and TV, so I relished the opportunity to work everyone from Bob Hope to Uncle Miltie to Clarence "Pine Top" Smith into an RPG book.

The Golden Age sourcebook talks about handling real-world issues of the time like prejudice or gender-inequality. How do you deal with those issues in your own historical RPG campaigns?

I've learned the key is having a mature group of players who know what they're getting into, and who aren't shy about communicating what they like and don't like. Gamemasters should be clear and up front about how they intend to deal with elements such as the very real bigotry of that era. By the same token, players should be clear about what they expect the tone of the campaign to be, and ready and willing to let the GM know when and how those expectations aren't met. Different people like different amounts of real in their fantasy—better to know the precise limits ahead of time.

Apart from Golden Age itself, what's the #1 resource you would recommend to M&M Gamemasters looking to run a Golden Age campaign?

For the standard, slightly modern-ish, four-color Nazi-smashing superhero campaign, grab as many issues of All-Star Squadron as possible, because that's where Roy Thomas showed exactly how that approach to the genre works. The best postmodern takes on the era are James Robinson's miniseries The Golden Age and (surprise!) Sandman Mystery Theatre. For a military-oriented campaign, I'd get the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and watch it start to finish. If the real "Golden Age as it really was" is what they crave, they should load up on DC Golden Age Archive Editions, particularly the All Star Comics volumes.

Thanks very much for your time, Christopher.

My pleasure! I hope the readers enjoy Golden Age. It was definitely a labor of love for me, and I hope that shows, especially to all the people who cherish the original comic-book heroes as much as I do.