There were a lot of wild, weird black-and-white comics in the 80s, but how many are still around in 2019? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Femforce #1 awaits!
Writer: Bill Black
Penciler: Mark Heike
Inker: Bill Black
Colorist: Rebekah Black
Letterer: Walt Paisley
Editor: Bill Black
Publisher: AC Comics
Cover Price: $1.75
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12.00
Previously in Femforce: Having been around since 1970, Paragon Publications only became Americomics in 1982, later shortening their name to AC Comics in ’84. Ahead of their time in many ways, AC was one of the pioneers of the now-ubiquitious trend of reviving Golden Age characters who have fallen into the public domain. They even briefly had the rights to the Charlton Comics library of characters (Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the rest) whom they published as The Sentinels of Justice. AC was the place that I learned about Golden Agers like The Green Turtle and Airmale, but they are best known for their flagship title, a love letter to the good girl art of the 1940s, featuring heroes from lost publishing houses like Holyoke, Fiction House and Fox Feature Publications, among others. As this issue opens, Ms. Victory recieves a desperate radio plea from Senorita Rio (herself one of the first, if not THE first latinx hero in comics), indicating that her granddaughter, Rio Rita, has been lost in the Amazon jungle. What’s more, Rio was working as the security agent for one Doctor Jiminez, who has created… a time machine! That’s when Ms. Victory calls in the troops!
The She-Cat (who is TOTALLY NOT The Black Cat, based on Lana Turner, the same was Rio Rita is based on Rita Hayworth) takes it upon herself to test Tara The Jungle Girl (who isn’t based on any specific jungle girl, but bears many similarities to Rulah), only to be interrupted by the arrival of Nightveil! The mystic-powered heroine has sensed that Ms. Victory needs help, but also has mortal concerns of her own.
That final panel reveal of The Blue Bulleteer is the giveaway about her origins, revealing her to be based on Matt Baker’s version of The Phantom Lady, published by Fox Features in the 1940s. AC had been using her since 1977, but the sale of the Quality Comics characters to DC Comics had them reviving Sandra Knight as the original yellow-costumed version of Phantom Lady. leading them to challenge AC’s cliam that she is in the public domain. Long story short (too late), The Blue Bulleteer is for all intents and purposes that late-40s blue-costume Phantom Lady with a pair of high-powered automatics. The team sets out for South America, brooding impressively about one another, their strange team (which is somehow both decades old and brand-new, thanks to the power of the retcon) and the possibilty that Rio Rita is even still alive. Tara’s tracking skills quickly locate the plane crash, but Rita’s guide/pilot is oh-so-very dead in the wreckage. Then the other shoe drops!
This page is an example of the best and the worst of Femforce, with heroic actions by our powerful lady quartet, all the while showing off the puffy nipples and exposed skin that always makes it a little embarrassing to recomend this book. There’s also the recurring theme of giant women, which is almost always present in a fetishy fashion, but it’s quite pretty, and a reasonable approximation of the work of legndary good girl artist Matt Baker. The Femforce is freed from their giant attackers by the attack of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, from which they then have to save themselves, thanks to Tara’s vine-swinging skills, while the real villain, Ripjaw (himself an updated version of Golden Age Crimebuster baddie Iron Jaw) skulks in the shadows. Unfortunately, Rio Rita (remember Rio Rita? The reason this whole exercise started?) finds that the Amazon tribe has captured her for a strange sacrifice to their new god: The Time Twister!
So, we got time-travel, dinosaurs, giants, superheroes and lady Tarzan, as well as a cyborg nazi… All this story is missing is a couple of aliens for the perfect fullbore lunatic comic nonsense prize. The Femforce finds the Amazong stronghold and, thanks to the claws and feet of She-Cat, makes their way to where the creator of the Time Twister is being held.
It goes… poorly.
It’s a classic “Dun DUN DAAAAAH!” moment, albeit with more Amazon giants than your average soap opera. Thanks the the slow-and-steady nature of AC’s output, all the heroes have appeared in multiple stories in books like ‘Bizarre Thrills’ for several years, and even the Femforce team itself has appeared before this first issue. This makes trying to collect their output and put it in any sort of order maddening, but it’s always fun to immerse yourself in the joyfulness of an AC book, leaving Femforce #1 with a confused, slighting overwhelmed, but entertained 3 out of 5 stars overall. Given that issue #187 is scheduled to hit stories in just a couple of weeks, you’ve got plenty of time to find and read the other hundred-eighty-something comics before it hits!
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It's not always comfortable to see the peek-a-boo art, but there's an infectious kind of fun to be had here.