Developing a Superhero Campaign: Silver from the Wreckage of Gold
Among the things I've learned is to make certain the campaign has an easy springboard for ideas. With that in mind, I've been thinking about the history of the world. The characters will be in the lead of the late-1950s second wave of superheroes in the world, after the Golden Age. I'm not planning for a full Silver Age feel in terms of mimicking the Comics Code Authority, but communist menaces, lost worlds, and super-science are all up for grabs.
I've been giving some thought to how in this campaign world the "Golden Age" came to an end. I'm picturing the disgrace of the two primary Golden Age superheroes in the world.
My idea is the first true superhero in this setting was Thor. Not the Marvel Thor, but Thor is obviously in the public domain. I'm thinking in 1935 an American archaeologist found an ancient Viking settlement in North America where he came across an ancient hammer with a tiny haft, the legendary Mjolnir. Wielding the hammer he was endowed with supernatural powers and became a superhero, naming himself Thor. Thor was quite popular in the 1930s but when World War II broke out he vanished. Most people assumed he was secretly fighting overseas in the British army. In truth, his sympathies were with the Nazis and he left to fight for them, though this was not learned until after the war. Surviving the fall of Berlin, Thor made his way back to the United States and began secretly instituting a Nazi revenge plan. In late 1950 Thor publicly returned to our main-but-unnamed city and tore open a hole between dimensions, bringing the svartálfar ("black elves") to our world. Led by Thor they did great damage to the city but were defeated, at great cost, by the other American superheroes. Many died in the battle and great damage was done to the city. To this day there are surviving elves and their servants living in hiding. The loss of so many superheroes coupled with the revelation that America's greatest hero had been a Nazi greatly lowered the stature of superheroes in America.
Adding to the disgrace I'm picturing a Batman expy being outed as a communist and caught stealing intelligence on behalf of Moscow. Between these events, there weren't many with superpowers still alive - the war and its aftermath had killed most of them. Those that survived decided it was time to hang up the cape.
In the years that followed the city was slowly rebuilt while superpowered beings, at a low ebb in numbers, remained in hiding. However, something has happened recently. The machinations of the elves or the impact of a nuclear explosion or something weakened the barriers between universes and triggered a reemergence of superbeings. Not all were struck by lightning or a strange mix of chemicals to get their powers. Some relied on their training or their gadgets but this breakdown of reality has made superscience much more possible than it was a decade or even a few years ago.
So we've got a world that doesn't quite trust beings with superpowers. A city still being rebuilt from a battle fought nearly a decade ago, with corruption rife and nonintegrated neighborhoods the expectation.