Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Secret Services: Bureau 13

Taking things roughly chronologically by publication date, the next "secret service" after The Omega Factor's Department 7 to appear might have been Richard Tucholka's "Bureau 13," from the role-playing game Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic (Tric Tac Games), first published in 1983.

I know of the Bureau 13 game only by reputation, as I never played it myself. I think I first encountered the name in connection with JM Strackzinski's Babylon 5, that featured in the episode "A Spider in the Web" a clandestine organization by that name. As he later explained it, JMS had been unaware that the name had previously been used in Tucholka's rpg, and when he was told about the earlier use, he left off using the name. (Though I know I'm not the only one to hear echoes in Star Trek's "Section 31," which first appeared a few years later.)

Tucholka's Bureau 13, which was also featured in a series of novels by Nick Pollotta, was apparently a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version of the "secret government occult investigation agency" idea, and interestingly predated nearly all of the most popular variations on that theme.

Here's the description of the outfit from the official site (where PDFs of the original game and modules are available, should anyone be interested):

The history of the human race is filled with evidence of eerie and unexplained happenings. Our myths, legends, and fairy tales consistently reaffirm that the supernatural exists. This knowledge of the "supernatural" has been with mankind since before the dawn of history. Mostly these occurrences were misunderstood and greatly feared by the general populace. With no organization, it was usually the small mobs of angry peasants that stalked the creatures of the night, and, more often than not, exterminated the supernatural, good and evil.

Always, though, there have been a few who were capable of discerning the passing difference between good and evil.

In the early 1860's, the government of the United States established a secret supernatural investigative agency under the cover of the Civil War. Only a few top officials knew of its existence and it became known simply as "Bureau 13." For the next century, the few employees of the Bureau went quietly about their business of secretly ferreting out and eliminating the destructive aspects of the supernatural.

So successful were their efforts that the memories of the public dimmed and the fear of the unknown was replaced by awe (and suppressed fear) of new technologies. Foreign branches of the organization were established in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The years have passed and worldwide memories have failed. The public has come to believe that magic and the supernatural are the stuff of children's dreams and nightmares. They are wrong.

Bureau 13, now an ultramodern force, more secret than before, fights to stem the growth of ancient magic and the supernatural that threatens the innocent.

Wherever the supernatural waits, good and evil, the Agents of Bureau 13 will be there but...evil is growing.

Bureau 13 is one of the earlier examples of an organization dedication explicitly to occult investigation was tied to a government agency, following The Omega Factor's Department 7. Marvel Comics's SHIELD got up to similar occult shenanigans as early as the 60s, as I recall, but their basic remit was espionage and law enforcement--Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division--so they don't really count in my book. Interestingly, though, the introduction recently of SWORD--Sentient World Observation and Response Department--a sister organization devoted to extraterrestrial threats, suggests the intriguing possibility that an occult variation is at least possible. As for British agencies in the Marvel Universe that handle such matters, such as RCX, WHO, Black Air, and the current MI-13--and with a familiar prime numeral in the name, to boot--I'll be coming back to them eventually...


Good point about SHIELD, although they had, barring how bad the comic was, the "Howling Commandos" that was composed, mainly, of practically every Marvel Monster there was, the Living Mummy, Brother Voodoo, even Gorilla Man Ken Hale (of Agents of Atlas fame). It never quite came together as a series but I still read every issue. If you want more info I can dig them out from the deep recesses of my Vaults of Comic Knowledge.
These entries have been pretty neat, I've never looked at them in such a systematic fashion.
Was that the series scripted by Keith Giffen a few years ago? It might just merit a mention, at that. I plan to tackle a lot of the Marvel Universe agencies under the umbrella of MI-13 in a few days, since it's set up as a successor to so many of them, but maybe I'll find a way to squeeze in the Howling Commandos, as well. Thanks for the tip!
I think so. The Creature Commandos were DC and back when I was a kid.
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