Elmore art and all), I can't deny that the first edition, illustrated mostly by Dave Trampier, with some help from David Sutherland, has a raw power to it that no subsequent edition of Gamma World has ever come close to matching.
A big part of that power is similar to the power of the LBBs: the first edition rulebook is only 56 pages long and is filled with lots of lacunae, to put it charitably. Actually playing the game demands a fair degree of filling in by the referee and without much explicit guidance from the rulebook. Likewise, the rulebook is frustratingly inconsistent in its presentation of the world of A.D. 2471 -- equal parts retro-future (like the illustration above), glib social commentary, dark apocalypticism, and general weirdness. It's a potent melange of elements and any referee running Gamma World is free to decide how to present and combine these elements in his own campaign.
Precisely why so many referees chose to suffuse Gamma World with an atmosphere of glib weirdness, if not outright humor, is an interesting question that I may return to in a future post. Suffice it to say that I don't think there's anything inherently superficial or jokey about Gamma World and, while I think it'd be a mistake to treat the game any more seriously than, say, D&D (or indeed any other RPG), I nevertheless think it's possible to run it "straight," provided one keeps in mind the lesson learned from Detective Chimp. In any event, as the month of May dawns on us, I'll be devoting a lot more attention to Gamma World (and its sorta-clone Mutant Future). It's a game of which I am very fond and that I think deserves some more love in the old school community these days.