I have to be honest: about 13 years ago, when I first heard of the comic book series Femforce, published by AC Comics, I initially wrote it off as yet another “bad girl” comic book, sight unseen. Of course, I soon after learned three significant facts about the series. One, it had begun publication in 1985, several years before the whole bad girl anti-hero movement had kicked off. Two, many of the characters in Femforce actually dated back to the 1940s, and had been revived by publisher Bill Black. Three, in the early 1990s a number of issues of Femforce had been penciled by Silver Age artist Dick Ayers.
That last item that really caught my attention. I’m very fond of Ayers’ artwork. In addition, I’ve met him and his wife Lindy at a number of conventions over the years. I figured that if Ayers was involved with Femforce, it had to be worth checking out.
A local comic shop happened to have a box full of early Femforce issues, along with a few other AC Comics titles, such as Nightveil and Sentinels of Justice, which I was able to buy up pretty inexpensively. I quickly got caught up on the series, and I found it was a fun title with interesting, well-developed characters. Yes, the female protagonists were all sexy women, but they were drawn in a retro “good girl” style that wasn’t exploitative. More importantly, Bill Black and frequent collaborator Mark Heike developed personalities and rich back stories for their cast of lovely ladies.
In the last few years, due to the difficulties in distributing & selling independent titles, Black and Heike have altered the format of Femforce somewhat. It is now a quarterly 80-page title priced at $9.95 with shorter stories by an assortment of creators. I have to admit, I do miss the days when the series had full-length stories featuring the entire team, with Black and Heike themselves as the driving forces behind the series. But I can understand why changes needed to be made, and I’m glad that the book continues to exist in some format.
The latest issue, Femforce #160, is topped off by a cover by the very talented Eduardo Barreto, whose work I’ve always enjoyed. Tragically, Barreto passed away at the much too young age of 57 in December of last year. This must have been one of the last pieces he drew before his untimely death. It really is a lovely cover, featuring images of team members She-Cat, Stardust, and Ms. Victory.
Inside, what really impressed me, as always, was the artwork. I’ve gotten so tired of much of the material at the “Big Two,” Marvel and DC. You either have over-rendered work with ridiculous amounts of crosshatching, or you get Manga-inspired styles with poor storytelling. These have pervaded through much of Marvel and DC’s products. What I like about the artwork on Femforce is that it’s clean-cut. The penciling reminds me of such 1970s & 80s artists as Ron Wilson, Alex Saviuk, and Alan Kupperberg, who have clear, solid storytelling abilities. The inking is reminiscent of the Filipino school of illustration, with its rich embellishments. I’m a huge fan of that style, as well, so I like the combination of the two.
My only real criticism of the art is that at times the blacks do print somewhat dark. It would be lovely to see some gray tones & shading.
The stories in Femforce #160 are all on the short side, each a solo tale of one of the team members. I guess the problem I had with these is that none of them really felt like the events in them had any significance to them. The two exceptions were the Synn and Nightveil stories, but each of those had this real dream-like quality, and at the end you weren’t entirely certain what did and did not occur. Having said that, the Nightveil episode appears to be a set-up for future events, and so I have to wait and see what that leads to.
There was also a Stardust solo story in #160 that was good. The story by Eric Johnson, although a bit on the slight side, was fun. I was certainly impressed by the dynamic artwork by Chris Allen and Scott Shriver.
As I mentioned earlier, I am more of a fan of the longer tales featuring several of the ladies of Femforce working together on a big case. I’m thinking specifically of “Full Circle” a 42-page story written by Mark Heike that ran ten issues ago. That was divided up into shorter chapters, with a different art team illustrating each segment. I felt that worked extremely well.
One definite improvement to Femforce is that the Gargantarama flip book has been dropped. I never understood the appeal of all those giant women. Yeah, I don’t mind if Tara the Jungle Girl would sometimes develop the power to grow to be 50 feet tall, or that Femforce would occasionally fight a six story tall female menace. But devoting almost a third of the book’s page count to a flip book featuring stories of giant women was excessive, in my opinion. In #160 we do get one giant woman tale, and that’s just enough for me.
Anyway, putting humongous females aside, Femforce is a fun comic with cool characters and fantastic art. I’m happy that Bill Black and Mark Heike have been able to continue to publish this series.
I definitely recommend taking a look at the AC Comics website, where there is a huge selection of Femforce back issues & trade paperbacks available. AC has also released a number of old sci-fi and horror movies & serials onto DVD and has them for sale. There’s some interesting, rare material being offered. AC has even produced several low-budget direct-to-DVD movies based on the Femforce characters. You can really see the fondness that Bill Black has for his characters & stories, devoting all that time & creative energy into bringing them to life.