Or – “Good Girl Art Is Not Inherently Bad…”

Ms. Victory!  She-Cat!  Nightveil!  Stardust!  Tara!  Synn!  Dragonfly!  If you know the Femforce, you probably know why we’re here.  If you don’t know Femforce, I want to preface today’s review with a warning:  If you are sensitive to depictions of voluptuous female forms, you may want to check out our extensive SDCC ’11 coverage.  There is nothing NSFW in this review, but a Femforce comic has a tendency to bring a nice big slice of cheesecake, put it on a plate, then add whipped cream and a nice raspberry sauce…

With that said, you should also know that there’s a lot more than cleavage going on.

FEMFORCE #29
Writer: Bill Black
Penciller(s): Rik Levins/Frank Turner
Inker: Mark Heike
Letterer: Walt Paisley
Tones: Joan Metcalf
Editor: Bill Black
Publisher: Americomics
Cover Price: $2.50 (Current Near-Mint Price: $3.00)

Previously, on Femforce:  Founded in the 1940’s, the Federal Emergency Missions Force (Femforce for short) is a team of superhuman operatives, each of whom has super powers, a particular set of skills, and an amazing figure.  (That last part may be coincidental, at least in universe.)  Each of the founding members was once an honest-to-Pete Golden Age superhero, though some have been changed for legal purposes, but no matter the situation, the Femforce is ready to fight injustice, to combat evil, and to look good doing it.  Led by Golden Age hero Ms. Victory, the team consists of Nightveil (originally the Phantom Lady), She-Cat (originally the Black Cat), Tara, and a host of other characters new and old.  With their leader Ms. Victory under the influence of psychosis-inducing drugs, a new Ms. Victory has been appointed to lead the team, much to the discontent of the team.  At the same time, the evil Black Shroud has used his sorcerous powers to covertly turn other heroes evil, and to move them against the Femforce.  It gets more complicated, but honestly, we’ll have to make up a lot of ground as we go. 

The issue opens with the Femforce in session, discussing the Black Shroud’s plan.  From the very first page of this issue, the art immediately grabs me and simply will not let go.  Witness Ms. Victory in this first panel…

The shading, the facial expression, the ever-so-slightly out of proportion eyes…  This full-page is really well-done, and even the requisite cleavage is wonderfully rendered.  I also like the way the exposition is handled in this issue.  Yes, we have a four-page talking sequence, but you also learn about the characters from their positions, their body language, and the way they talk to one another.  Tara ignores the briefing, sharpening her knife, while Stardust listens intently and She-Cat lounges unconcerned.  Ms. Victory wants to put together a battle plan, but before that happens, we start with a discussion of what happened to one of the team’s OTHER members…

The most fascinating part about this quick sequence is the story behind the missing member (whose name, by the way, was Thunderfox.)  AC Comics, like Image Comics later, consisted of a number of creators working together, each owning their own concepts and characters.  Jim Misson, the creator of Thunderfox, left the company, and thus Thunderfox went with him.  Most amazingly, this removal is not only addressed in universe, it’s addressed in a way that makes perfect sense for the character!  As a fantasy comic book character brought to life, the conceit that her book was cancelled and thus she faded away into limbo is not only fun, it’s downright brilliant, and it serves a dual purpose of informing the reader of what happened to a character who has been with the team for several issues while not dragging the ongoing story down.  Being as Femforce is an independent comic of the 80’s, we also get a little bit of content that wouldn’t have made it into a Marvel or DC book of the time…

That, by the way, is the original Ms. Victory in her new identity as ‘Rad’, a momentary vignette designed to remind us of the overarching plotlines, a throwback to the Stan Lee school of serial comic storytelling.  If there’s any weakness to this story, it’s the sheer number of characters involved, as we’ve already seen seen more than a dozen heroes in the first fifteen pages.  It doesn’t slow down, either, as we join Darkfire (one of the Femforce’s villains, albeit one with psychic powers) as she awakens from a coma to confront one of the other weaknesses of Femforce: the occasional bout of juvenile humor.

Turns out there’s another superhero in her bra (have you heard my new band, Superhero In Her Bra?) and her psychic distress is caused by the presence of additional minds in the vicinity.  Darkfire has been being held in the Weir Asylum, owned by Dr. Weir (once known as The Purple Claw), who years ago foresaw the Black Shroud emergency, and recruited superheroes to help defend the world if Black Shroud returned.  Now, that time has come…

You absolutely have to love that splash page there, even if you don’t have the slightest ideas what’s going on.  (I chose not to list everybody here, but I have prepared a coveted Bronze Blok award for the man or woman who can break down the characters on this page by name.)  Turns out most of the lost superheroes of the Golden Age have been hiding in the Vault of Heroes, including characters like the Green Lama, Black Terror, Target and his Targeteers, and nearly a dozen others that are in the public domain and have appeared since in books from DC, Dynamite, Eclipse, Marvel and others.  Sharp-eyed heroes will note the original Daredevil, as well.  I enjoy the character bits that occur throughout the second half of the issue, (note Strongman flirting with the Cavegirl as War Nurse looks on disprovingly) throughout the awakening sequence, but things get serious quick when Black Shroud attacks.

Turns out that not only did Weir put heroes in his vaults, he locked up the villains of the Golden Age as well, and their presence is no secret to the Shroud…  Cue the fighty-fighty!

The issue ends on a cliffhanger that sets up the Shroud War, a storyline that stretches out for another year or so, and desperately needs to be trade-paperbacked by somebody.  Are you listening, AC?  This issue also ends with a beautiful reprint of a Golden Age story featuring Camilla The Congo Queen (seen ogling Strongman earlier in the issue.)

With art like that, you can see why Bill Black fell in love with these characters in the first place…  The issue in question came out in 1990, the 50th anniversary of many of the characters revived within the book, including Camilla herself.  These days, Femforce comics tend to be a hit-or-miss proposition, lacking a lot of the continuity that made these early issues entertaining for the readers, and an unfortunate over-emphasis of the cheesecake factor.  The Vault of Heroes concept is a fascinating one, even though it ends up being presented as an overwhelming wall of heroes (including the ridiculous Air-Male and his kid sidekick Stampy.  Yes, really.) but the cleverness of Bill Black’s plotting and the obvious love for the characters, combined with the truly beautiful  art of Levins and Turner make up for a multitude of sins.  There are occasional snicker-filled moments, like Darkfire’s braful-of-Microman, but the fanservice is folded into an onrushing plot and generally remains at a tolerable level.  If you only know Femforce as ‘that book for the giant-girl fetishists,’ you might want to check out your local 3-for-a-buck bin for these issues.  Femforce #29 is a mixed bag, but still nails the landing and makes you want to come back next time around to know how these heroes will save the day, earning 3 out of 5 stars overall. 

(Starting the countdown now to when Erik Larsen or Project Superpowers will bring back Air-Male…)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: At what point do you think that the old-school Stan Lee universe-building turned into today’s self-consuming continuity of shared universes?

 

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. July 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm — Reply

    I want to blame the 90’s trends, but I feel that it might be closer to the late 80’s. I also want to blame Armageddon 2001 for the current trend, but my knowledge of Comic Book lore is nowhere near yours, Matthew.

    For me, “Armageddon 2001” is when it went bad for DC and “Avengers Disassembled” is when Marvel followed suit. Am I close, Matthew? Stephen? Buler? Anybody?

    • ~wyntermute~
      July 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm — Reply

      I -loved- A2001, so I must respectfully disagree with your assessment of it as a “downward turning point”.

  2. johnny
    July 25, 2011 at 1:43 am — Reply

    I always believed it was Secret Wars II that started crossover madness. Whereas DC’S Crisis had weight and artistic merit, and made lasting changes in the universe, SWII… sold toys.

  3. July 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm — Reply

    The current format for Femforce is basically an 80-page giant (that cost $9.95) with a flip-book format: The main side being Femforce, while the flip-side is ‘Garganatarama: The Comic Book’!

    The main story in Femforce does have a continuing storyline: The current such arc (started in issue #151) focuses on Synn’s powers going out-of-control! With 80 pages in each issue, the book has plenty of back-up stories featuring individual members, associates, and other characters!

    AC also has a Femforce Omnibus series currently at Volume Four, and it is currently up to issue #30!

    J.A.P.

  4. August 20, 2011 at 12:09 am — Reply

    The current ‘Living in Synn’ storyarc will conclude in issue #158, coming in December!

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