Captain Scorpion (I)
A Brief Introduction to the Concept of Captain Scorpion
There are many heroic identities in the world. Some latter-day adventurers take on the names of their forebears, to continue a legacy or simply by coincidence. This usually happens only once or twice - hero-ing is simply too dangerous, and heroes simply too varied, too individual, to carry on multi-generational legacies. After all, for many costumed adventurers, their greatest hope is to create a world where their own children and heirs never have to don a costume to secure justice.
Yet, for reasons unknown, there has been one heroic identity that recurs throughout Earth’s history. In Ember Point
and elsewhere, one name recurs, It is the name of a champion, a righter of wrongs, and a defender of the innocent. The lineage extends back decades, and if certain adventurers are to be believed, far into the future…
There seem to be three unifying factors between all these heroes:
1) They are standout heroes of their generation. Leaders of super-teams, or paradigm shifters between heroic ages, or makers of the ultimate sacrifice to save the day.
2) They possess a “Sting of Justice
” - some weapon, power, technique, item, or other edge that they use in the pursuit of good over evil.
3) Always, for their own reasons, they are drawn to use the fated name: “Captain Scorpion
Beware the Sting of Justice!
The first well-known Captain Scorpion
was also one of the first superheroes of the Golden Age
in general. He may have been the first such hero, but it's hard to tell with this sort of thing - none of the Golden Agers held press conferences, so some of them took a while to get traction in the media and public consciousness.
His first confirmed case was in 1930, solving a series of poisonings in Chicago, proving that what police had believed to be a series of unrelated accidents and suicides were in fact murders committed by the same offender, with said offender left wounded but alive with evidence for the police to discover. There was a note at the scene - “Those criminals the police cannot or will not stop, Captain Scorpion will! All evildoers beware - the Sting of Justice!”
This was to be followed up by identifying and capturing the serial killer known as the Midwest Ripper
, rounding up the bank robbing Brown family, led by Ellen “Ma Cannon” Brown
, known for their use of overwhelming firepower in their heists, and dealing permanently with the original poisoner that he had first brought to justice - Joseph Mayer
, who took on the name the Toxin Man
when he escaped prison (after feigning illness using his own concoction and escaping the medical ward).
However, Captain Scorpion would also become known for his battles with the Chicago mob. Al Capone’s arrest opened the doors for a series of would-be challengers, most notably Davide or “David” Marinello
aka “The Little Barbarian
.” While relatively short-statured and hot-headed, Marinello was also a devious plotter and criminal mastermind who learned from Capone’s fall and kept his own operation more effective. While no slouch with a knife himself, he employed a series of hulking bodyguards and henchmen, each nicknamed “Goliath
,” many of whom met their end facing Captain Scorpion, either by his fists or his bullets - the “Sting of Justice” dealt from the hero’s customized revolver.
Captain Scorpion was indeed a killer, and the police never stopped hunting him for what were by all legal definitions vigilante executions. That he continued to show them up, and always managed to avoid their traps, certainly didn’t help his reputation with them. As part of the first generation of superheroes, the public largely excused his methods in favor of his results, though modern historians tend to reassess his legacy. He certainly gave as good as he got, with numerous reports of him taking seemingly lethal wounds, only to reappear days or weeks later, seemingly none the worse for wear.
However, he made a final and presumed fatal last appearance in 1943. With World War II raging, Captain Scorpion had turned his attention from organized crime to saboteurs and war profiteers, and even supercriminals had mostly taken the memo to put aside their efforts during the War (Marinello allegedly cooperated with the government to protect ports and transportation hubs, while half the Brown family enlisted and as the “Cannon Clan” earned fame with the Marine Raiders).
A group of Nazi-sympathizers and agents planned a massive bombing of key wartime facilities, but they were uncovered and dealt with by Captain Scorpion. However, they still had a speedboat laden with explosives, and the hero was last seen steering the boat out onto Lake Michigan, getting as far away from everyone and everything else as possible before it exploded.
The War was the dominant concern, and in the years after the Axis surrendered, Chicagoans could only think back and wonder who their costumed crimefighter may have been under his mask…
Heroic Origins & Private Lives
Born in 1897, John Jennings
, known to his colleagues as “Doctor Jennings” and to his friends and loved ones as “Jack,” was a bright young man from a WASP-y family in the Midwest. He attended Northwestern University, excelling in chemistry and biology, and like several other members of his family he obtained his medical license. Unlike his more “respectable” forebears, however, Jennings chose to work with the Chicago police as a medical examiner and forensic pathologist, performing autopsies and examining causes of death.
However, the police were alternatively corrupt or overworked, and a great many cases went unsolved or uninvestigated, no matter how promising the leads Jennings found were.
To fill his time and let off steam from work, Jennings pursued his scientific interests with gusto. Besides a desire to help the forgotten and overlooked, part of why he’d become a pathologist was due to his admittedly grim and macabre fascination with how the body could be manipulated, even turned against itself, by poisons and other chemical inducements. This included studying entomology and arachnology, as well as the possible medical uses of various venoms.
He spent a considerable amount of his fortune on acquiring stranger and rarer specimens, culminating in the acquisition of a particular red scorpion of unknown species. The dealer who Jennings purchased it from was shadier than most, and never turned up again after their transaction. The scorpion in question possessed a chemically-unique venom in its sting, one that Jennings believed had great potential for fighting cancer and dealing with clotting and other issues, if properly treated and refined.
One night, after being told in no uncertain terms by his supervisors in Chicago PD that the “poisonings” he harped on were not considered murders and would not be investigated as such, Jennings set to work late in his home lab. The combination of anger and more than a few drinks made him sloppy, and while attempting to interact with his crimson specimen in its terrarium he was stung.
Jennings stumbled back, and immediately passed out. He dreamed a deep, dreamless sleep.
When he awoke the next morning, however, he felt fine. Indeed, he felt better than fine - for while never adverse to a little bit of exercise, Jennings suddenly found himself in the best shape of his life. He soon found that his strength had grown prodigiously, and in the course of testing out his newfound strength he would also discover he had an incredible ability to heal.
The curious scorpion itself had died overnight. Whether this was from stress, or illness, or something else, like a bee having a single sting before dying, he was never able to determine.
Flush with power, angry at the police’s apathy, and full of certainty that he knew how to solve the case, Jennings put together a costume and identity. He donned a black outfit with red accents (the inside of his jacket, the logo on his chest and gloves) themed after the strange creature which had given him his powers. He dubbed himself Captain Scorpion, for his costume was adapted from a spare police uniform, and set out into the night to enter history.
He was able to pursue many cases based on what he overheard from the police, which was also how he was always keyed into their attempts to capture Captain Scorpion. Several detectives suspected the Captain might be an officer himself, but Jenningsremained above suspicion and outmaneuvered their mole hunts. However, he came to realize that he would need another source of information as well.
Thus, he approached a reporter for the Herald-Examiner
, one Dexter Kear
. Captain Scorpion proposed the two share information, giving Kear inside scoops that nobody else would get, while the Captain found ways to learn outside of official police investigations.
Kear was chosen after careful consideration on Jennings’ part, selected for his honesty, integrity, and dogged pursuit of the truth regardless of what unfortunate truths might be revealed, or which powerful people might be inconvenienced.
What Jack didn’t expect, however, was that over the course of their years working together, they would fall in love.
While Dr. John Jennings and Dexter Kear could barely associate socially without raising suspicion, Captain Scorpion moved in the shadows and was not subject to public scrutiny. He eventually revealed his identity to Kear, but the wry journalist noted that he’d ID’d the man beneath the mask months ago, but said nothing to allow Jack to make his confession in his own time. “After all, a journalist protects his sources…”
And Now, Something With Poison In It, I Think
In the course of his adventures, Captain Scorpion took a lot of punishment. He had what is known in many quarters as a “healing factor.” Wounds that would cripple anyone else merely inconvenienced him, though things that might kill someone else could still leave him laid up for weeks at a time.
However, what slowly became apparent as he battled more and more deadly foes, and took on greater and greater wounds, was that there was a cost associated with this vitality. It was not truly apparent until the mid-to-late Thirties, but Jack Jennings aged at a rate of approximately 2.5 years for every one that passed. For a time this helped keep his identity secret, as many took John Jennings to be ill in some way, and “too old” to be the seemingly spry young hero. But it also led to the emergence of health problems that his healing factor seemingly couldn’t affect.
This, and the changing criminal and cultural landscape, led to Jennings’ decision to retire. By the time he thwarted the Toxin Man’s final scheme in 1940 (which involved Mayer posthumously coordinating a series of copycats with detailed pre-mortem plans), the Captain had the body of a man of about 60.
He survived the boat explosion on the lake, of course, but took the opportunity to disappear. Jennings had already left his job as a medical examiner, citing his declining health. He took the remains of his family money (much of it spent on costumes, gadgets, and other gear, but fortunately still enough to live on) and spent the rest of his days living quietly with Kear, who cared for Jack as he aged.
In 1950, Dr. John Jennings passed away, looking like a man in his eighties, and leaving only a single person behind who knew the truth behind the legend of the first Captain Scorpion. Decades later, when Kear himself grew old, he would put together a tribute to his long-gone love in his memoirs, arranging for them to be released after his death, with certain redactions made, and thus in 1992, John Jennings was finally named and given the credit (and blame) that many felt Captain Scorpion had earned…
Possible Plot Seeds & Campaign Uses
- I’ll touch on other Captains Scorpion in the future, but it’s an open legacy. A PC could always take on the moniker of Captain Scorpion (and as you’ll eventually see, such a hero need not imitate John Jennings in costume, powers, or style!)
- In a game set in the 1930s, Captain Scorpion could appear as a rival, friendly or otherwise, to the PCs. If they’re against killing they could come into conflict with Captain Scorpion’s over his more Golden Age morality. Likewise if the PCs are time travelers. Alternatively, if the PCs are also in that pulp hero-style space, they could join forces. The Chicago Outfit are potent enemies, with or without mafiosos taking on supervillain-stylings as part of the costumed arms race.
- The crimson scorpion that empowered John Jennings may be a mutant of some kind, or perhaps just one of an entire species. As such, someone else could always gain the same or similar powers from it. This could empower a single hero or villain. Or in a present day game, some faction could be attempting to develop supersoldier serums or street drugs from the venom. And in turn this could be a power origin. The “heal fast, die young” aspect of the venom adds extra concerns.
- Dr, Jennings could be an NPC contact, a pathologist who comes to the PCs to express his concerns about a case that nobody else is investigating. Perhaps one of the PCs is a journalist that Jennings approaches to share information instead of or in addition to Dexter Kear, maybe without realizing they are a vigilante as well. Or maybe Jennings does know the PC is a hero, and wants to test and assess them as a possible successor to protect Chicago, knowing that he is aging prematurely.