Christmas Comics Cavalcade: Force Works #8 (Marvel Comics)
In the inaugural week of 2013’s Christmas Comics Cavalcade, we’ll be looking at Force Works #8, a holiday themed issue of the superhero team series published by Marvel Comics in 1994.
This book was written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with art from Stu Johnson and Don Hudson.
It’s weird to think this in 2013 but The Avengers haven’t always been such a big deal. While the team is now the preeminent name in superhero comics and movies today, the property had major ups and downs over the years. The early to mid 1990’s were a particularly fallow period for Avengers comics creatively… which is from whence this week’s yuletide-themed comic hails.
By the mid-1980’s, The Avengers’ place as the center of the Marvel Universe had been usurped by The Uncanny X-Men and its’ various spin-offs and successors. By the early ’90’s, the various X-titles had become sales juggernauts. Force Works seems to be the Avengers’ answer to the success of X-Force. The title was meant to replace West Coast Avengers and high concept for the book was a trope that genre comic writers rake up every few years: the proactive superhero. Force Works was to be the team that stopped disasters WAY before they happened rather than waiting for the super-villain to attack. This approach is rarely successful; much of the fun of superhero comic is in the over-the-top theatrics; covert teams seeking to circumvent that process rarely generate a lot of interest from readers.
This was the 1990’s, remember – most comic readers (myself included) would buy ANY new comic series that had a number one issue… even better if it had some kind of cover enhancement. For the record, Force Works #1 had a pop-up 3-D cover that was one of the stupider of those things.
…but we’re not talking about Force Works #1… we’re talking about #8, and look at that cover! Surely everyone can anticipate what this comic’s going to be about before you even begin reading it, yes? That distinctive pointy cowl… that suggestive hand posture… even the phrasing on the book, “Guess Who’s Coming to X-Mas Dinner?” C’mon. That’s Wolverine, y’all! Wolverine was a big goddamn deal in the 1990’s and just a brief cameo from the character would shoot a book’s sales into the stratosphere.
Again, looking at the X-Men comics books as a template, this is a “breather” issue. Often after extended storylines in Uncanny X-Men, writer Chris Claremont would have a month that would be used to advance the characters without any traditional superhero conflict. I’m sure this tactic was used before Claremont but I’ve always thought he popularized the trend. Clearly, Abnett and Lanning are borrowing that trope with their Christmas issue. The overarching plot revolves around the Force Works team throwing a big holiday party at their new base of operations in California. The Force Works team consists of USAgent, the Scarlet Witch, Spider Woman, Iron Man/War Machine, and a mysterious character named Century who doesn’t do much besides watch A Christmas Carol throughout this issue.
OK, check this out.
…I wanted to show everyone this picture to give an idea of what the visual aesthetic was for superheroes in 1994. Out of costume, USAgent wears a bomber jacket with fringe off the shoulders AND a superfluous chain. He has a five o’clock shadow and a mullet. This was all drawn seriously. We the readers are supposed to think this character is cool and not suffering from some kind thought-debilitating head trauma.
…and THIS is what Marvel was doing to Captain America in the 1990’s. LOOK AT THOSE POUCHES! What does he keep in those pouches? Why are there SO many?
Anyway, later in the issue, the “mysterious Wolverine-looking stranger in the shadows” is revealed, in a massive fake out, to be Hawkeye.
Look at that goofy, overwought grimace USAgent has on his face!
The rest of the issue turns on a previous conflict between Hawkeye and Tony Stark. Hawkeye doesn’t trust Tony, and for good reason, apparently. Tony, in turn, has come to the Christmas party to apologize to the Force Works crew for some previous shenanigans
Unfortunately, Hawkeye overhears just a piece of the conversation via a remote video hookup
…misses the part where Tony says “Hawkeye’s the best, I’m sorry he’s not here so I can tell him so,” and he leaves in anger and disgust.
This point is absolutely weak sauce and reminds me more of something I’d see on The Facts of Life or Family Matters than a rollicking superhero comic.
Although the creators involved would go on to do good work later in their careers, Force Works #8 is rough. Stu Johnson’s pencils are as extreme as most work from this time period is, with lots of clenched teeth, balled-up fists, and needlessly complicated panel work. Johnson’s pencils are done no favors by the overwrought inks of Don Hudson. In Hudson’s defense, this hyper-crazy inking style was the norm for the 1990’s but it’s a bit of a mess. Abnett and Lanning do their best with the subplots and manage to move a few of them along but Force Works is a far cry from the glory days of The Avengers.
What’s most funny to me about the book is that I imagine there was a small contingent of kids who got suckered into buying Force Works #8 based around the misleading X-Men/Wolverine connection. Well, I bought this book for it’s misleading connection to the holidays and came away just as disappointed as those kids.