I’ve written about Femforce, the comic book series published by AC Comics, a couple of times in the past. It’s a fun, entertaining series that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, so I’m happy to put in a good word for Bill Black, Mark Heike and their various collaborators. Now that AC is once again publishing Femforce in color for the first time since 1995, as well as having launched the spin-off title Superbabes, well, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit the series.
Femforce features a team of female superheroes. The series has been in continuous publication since 1985, a good 35 years. The Femforce line-up is made up of a combination of heroines who were originally published in the Golden Age of Comics and newer characters developed by Bill Black. Leading the team is the now-immortal Ms. Victory, aka Joan Wayne, a scientist who developed a serum for super-powers during World War II. At her side is former socialite Laura Wright, who initially fought crime as the masked vigilante Blue Bulleteer, and who later was recruited by the extra-dimensional sorcerer Azagoth to be his disciple, becoming the sorceress Nightveil.
Among the other longtime Femforce members are the hot-headed She-Cat, who gained her powers from the malevolent cat deity Sekhmet, the alien scientist Stardust from the planet Rur, the ditsy Synn, a former hippy and go-go dancer who possesses incredible mental powers but whose intellect was damaged due to long-term drug use, and Tara, an ardent environmentalist who has the power to grow giant-sized.
The most recent releases from AC Comics featuring the characters are Superbabes #2 and Femforce #188. I enjoyed both issues. They have a tone to them that is very reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s superhero comic books from Marvel.
Superbabes #2 is written & drawn by Mark & Stephanie Heike, with letters by Alex De Luca, and a cover by Johannes Vick & the Heikes. “Heads I Win, Tails You Ooze” sees Gorgana and Wampyr, two old foes of Femforce, escaping from the government-run Colorado Complex. Femforce is called in to try to recapture their adversaries, who have fled to a nearby ski resort. It’s a bit of a goofy story, but nevertheless fun.
The main story in Femforce #188 is “Crimson Prologue.” It is written by Bill Black, penciled by Eric Coile, and inked / colored / lettered by Black. The focus falls on one of the team’s deadliest enemies, the evil sorceress Alizarin Crimson, who is planning yet another attempt to destroy Femforce and conquer the Earth. We learn that it was Alizarin who was responsible for the disappearance of Nightveil’s incredibly powerful Cloak of Darkness several years earlier. Alazarin launches her first strike against Femforce and their allies, leading to a cliffhanger ending.
The back-up feature in #188 is the final chapter of a flashback story set during the 1980s featuring a team-up of Nightveil and the Sentinels of Justice. It is written & drawn by Black.
There’s always been a lot of overlap between these two teams. A few Femforce members also having been on the Sentinels roster, and several of the Sentinels are long-time supporting characters. Although the Sentinels of Justice only had their own title for a short time in the mid 1980s, Black is obviously very fond of the characters. It’s nice that he’s able to work on back-up stories featuring the team, keeping them in the spotlight.
One quality I really enjoy about the Femforce and Superbabes titles is that here is a whole lot of continuity and ongoing subplots. Both the Heikes and Black frequently tie in current events to a lot of the older storylines from the past 35 years. However, they always do this in such a way that there is ample exposition with which to bring readers up to speed. Even though I don’t own copies of every single AC comic book ever published, I’ve never felt lost, because there is always enough information given when older events are alluded to. Plus these books have footnotes! I really miss having those in Marvel and DC’s comics. They’re really helpful if you want to seek out the issues where those old stories took place because they tell you exactly which ones to seek out.
Considering that nearly all of the characters in Femforce and Superbabes are women, many of them revealing skimpy, skintight costumes, inevitably there is a fair amount of T&A. For the most part I find this is tastefully done, at least compared to quite a few other comic books out there. The characters are also drawn with somewhat more realistic anatomy and physiques than you often find in female-centric superhero comic books.
I guess my only major quibble with Femforce is that the team line-up is very WASPy. Nearly all of the characters are white. I think a major factor in this is due to the fact that, as previously mentioned, these characters either originated back in the 1940s, or were developed by Bill Black beginning in the late 1960s. Unfortunately back then there was much less of an interest in diversifying the casts of comic books.
That’s not to say that there have never been any non-white characters in Femforce. One of the team’s members in stories set during World War II was Rita Farrar, aka Rio Rita, a Latina adventurer & secret agent. In present day stories Rita’s granddaughter has worked with Femforce on a number of occasions. The team’s longtime government liaison was General Roberta Strock, an African American woman. And I’m sure there are a few other characters who I can’t recall offhand.
That said, in the future it would be nice to see a bit more diversity within the regular Femforce line-up.
One last note: I’m glad that Femforce is back in color for the first time in a quarter century. I understand that the economics of a small company publishing in a difficult market necessitated this. However, I often thought the blacks printed much too dark in the B & W artwork, and that there weren’t enough grey tones, at times making it a bit difficult to make out some of the details or the flow of action. I hope that going forward the book sells well enough that it car remain in full color.
I encourage anyone who is a fan of Bronze Age comic books to give Femforce a try. I think issue #188 is a really good jumping-on point. If you can’t locate it at your local comic shop then check out the AC Comics website, where current issues, as well as a lot of older ones, are available for purchase.