Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Force Works #16

Force Works #16, "Traitor's Gate," Original Cover Date October 1995
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Pencils by Jim Cheung, Inks by Rey Garcia

I'm not going to try to work out the chronology of the various "The Crossing" tie-ins, but I thought it'd be a good idea to check in on "second tier" books that were part of the crossover. For those that don't know, "Force Works" was Iron Man's cool 90's team, and was featured as the supporting cast on his 90's Saturday Morning cartoon show. It was basically a re-tooled "West Coast Avengers," but with a sillier name and a 90's attitude.

We begin with Spider-Woman II (Julia Carpenter) and... some guy in Nantucket, where baffling narration continues to contradict itself. The rain is called a "squall" and a "drizzle" in the same sentence. The pair are attacked by aquatic "D.A.E.M.O.N.S." because villains love abbreviation. The newcomer tries to build the reader's vocabulary by casually calling his power the ability to create "corposant fire." As somebody with an advanced degree, it's rare I have to look these up, especially since comics love mis-using terms like "sepulchral," but I'll admit I had to look up corposant. It's another word for St. Elmo's fire, the glow produced by electrically charged objects. Spider-Woman's separated from the mystery man, and identifies him as "Slade" with the code-name "Moonraker." Slade is a surprisingly common comic book name, apparently. She grabs a paddle and tries to thwack a mystery figure approaching her, but it's Moonraker. He catches the paddle, then starts making out with "Spi," pausing only to finish off the DAEMONS. As Iron Man checks in on the couple, the whole scene fades out. It turns out we're in the Force Works Danger Room-equivalent, and this was just a drill. "Fisher," the tech support guy, bumbles in as the two continue to make out, and as they leave, Fisher meets with "Amanda," the PR liaison for the group, and admits that he doesn't wish Slade any ill will. Somewhat weirder, elsewhere in the complex, Slade and Julia are making breakfast out of costume and continue to talk about Fisher's crush on Julia. That's unhealthy, guys. Julia becomes confused as a glass of orange juice is brought out, then returns to the fridge, then she starts cracking eggs, only to find all the eggs in the carton. I assume she is experiencing early dimentia, not some sort of chronal disturbance or something else impossible.

"What color is orange juice? Ah who cares."

Miles away, in the "hex ship Chimera" (whatever that is), Scarlet Witch and U.S. Agent head back to California after the reunion. Agent gives Wanda a hard time for buddying up to Tony, and does that thing where you list things about yourself as things you hate about someone else. Wanda says at least Tony seemed to be making an effort, and gets defensive when Agent mentions a secret room he and Century found under the complex. The two quickly recap that Century (a grey-skinned alien guy who I had only seen in the cartoons) has returned to space, as of last issue, but Scarlet Witch has a migraine and says she's been having them for months, and points out that Century just left a few days earlier. At first, it seemed like the team had just jumped forward in time, and that's why this Moonraker guy is so cozy with Spider-Woman, but nope! There's also a plushie of Moonraker on the jet. Mystery plushie!

The plushie is back and to the left.

Elsewhere, Iron Man returns home from a busy night of murder and answers a call from a "Suzi Endo," who agrees to take the next flight to L.A. to work on a big new project. Tony checks his messages while sitting in a darkened room, blowing off a call from Scarlet Witch but returning a call from a "Erica Sondheim," as if we're supposed to know who that is. In a spaceship, the "Broker" is attacked by "Skewer" until Century saves him. He's just doing what he knows, Century! Century explains that at least for now, they need the Broker alive. I'm really invested in this subplot, let me tell you.

I <3 U.S. Agent.

Back at Force Works HQ, Julia cuts some flowers with her young daughter Rachel nearby. When Rachel asks who the flowers are from, Julia thinks she's kidding. Agent and Wanda appear, and Agent brings Rachel a souvenir, an "I <3 NY" ball cap that is probably a men's large. Moonraker/Slade appears and laughs at Agent for using his own head as a gauge. Agent drops Moonraker's last name as "Truman," but their good-natured ribbing is interrupted as Julia notices the flowers are uncut sitting on her end table. The team frets over Julia, as Rachel takes Scarlet Witch aside to ask who the new guy is. When told that he's her mom's boyfriend, Rachel asks why she's never seen him before? TO BE CONTINUED?


This is a really weird jumping on point, as reading 90's comics I'm pretty used to obscure losers  not being given proper introductions. But this time, it's all a ruse! This really is the first appearance of Moonraker, and the fact that he suddenly has six months of history with the team is part of the mystery, not just lazy plotting. It's still pretty baffling for new readers, as not until the last page do we "get" that this new guy is a mystery outsider, and not just a character introduced recently so he doesn't have his official trading card yet. That said, looking back, I like the way it's done. There's quite a few hints about things not being right- things "reverting" back, and Wanda's sudden migraines, and the casual mention that the events of last issue only took place a few days ago. I actually kind of really like it as a storytelling device. My only criticism would be that I kind of wish they'd have a few months lead-in with this new guy showing up out of the blue and just being "part of the team" for an arc or so, instead of him showing up for the first time at the beginning of a time travel story. But that would require some long-term planning between editorial and the writers, so that would be impossible. Speaking of editorial, I'm not sure what we're supposed to make of Tony Stark's behavior here. Is he a bad guy now? It's not really made clear. He's framed like a villain, his face in shadow, but doesn't really do anything more villainous than not return phone messages.

I had no idea going into this review that Jim Cheung would be doing the artwork. The only issues I'd ever read of the series had art by journeymen "image" style artists like Tom Tenney, which I found to be particularly ugly (Garcia's inks probably made things worse). But I really like Cheung's work, even if his art can occasionally get pretty "manga" in style. It's different enough, and Cheung's a good storyteller, even this early. I'm not usually a guy who notices inkers unless you line up a good inker and a bad inker side by side, but the inks on this are pretty awful. Sometimes it looks like Garcia's just trying to smudge things up for no good reason. I'm not one to judge a person's talent solely by one issue (when I do criticize artists I try to at least find good work they've done), but Force Works was Garcia's only monthly inking work, ever. He also did a few isolated fill-ins on books like Darkhawk, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement that the higher-ups at Marvel liked his work. Compare that to Cheung, who survives "The Crossing" to work on second tier X-books like "Maverick" and "X-Force." He's movin' on up! Also I hate to pick on the colorist, but is it that hard to color orange juice? They weren't close.

90's Fashions: Moonraker debuts along with his new costume, an interesting mash-up of a military look with the rogue-ish Green Arrow mask and facial hair. Unlike Green Arrow, he has a bandanna to cover his hair. I guess it's part of his power, but he also has a chain wrapped around one arm, even when he's out of costume. I'm not sure how I never noticed this, but Julia Carpenter's  Spider-Woman outfit is just a Venom costume with a cut-out for her face and long white boots. Somehow I never noticed that until today. It seems like a missed opportunity that she never fought/teamed up with Venom in one of his 90's mini-series. U.S. Agent is in his starfleet costume (not to be confused with his "Captain America" costume or his "Judge Dredd" costumes).

Despite the poor inking and the fact that the entire issue is built around a gimmick, I liked this comic and I'm curious to see where it goes. Is Moonraker in cahoots with whoever's laughing at the end of Avengers? Or is he a mystery good guy? Stay tuned and we'll find out together, true believers!


  1. In a bizarre coincidence, I do know who Erica Sondheim is. I wouldn't have known just a month or two ago, but since I happen to be reading the David Michelinie/Bob Layton IRON MAN run for my blog, I've seen her pop up there a couple times. She's a very, very minor supporting character (I don't think I even mentioned her by name in any of the reviews, she's so minor). She's a brain surgeon or something, I believe.

    But yes, a footnote probably would've helped here.

    "I'm not sure how I never noticed this, but Julia Carpenter's Spider-Woman outfit is just a Venom costume with a cut-out for her face and long white boots."

    Let's not sell Julia short -- Venom's costume is a Julia Carpenter costume without a cut-out for the face and long white boots!

    Meaning, Julia's costume came first. Sort of. Spider-Man's black costume was designed, then Julia debuted wearing her costume first, so as to give Spider-Man an in-story "inspiration" for his new outfit.

    But that fact remains that in continunity, Spider-Man's back outfit -- and by extension Venom's costume -- were based upon Julia's outfit.

    Also, speaking of costumes... I really like U.S. Agent, and it pains me every time I see him in this stupid uniform. He looks so much better in his "Captain America clone" outfit.

  2. Yeah, I just find it funny how long it took for Marvel to introduce those intros that told us who the characters appearing actually were. Thank goodness for the internet for explaining who Amanda and Fisher were, because they aren't properly "introduced" either. We'll see if Dr. Sondheim shows up in the rest of the Crossing.

    I forgot that Spider-Woman was one of those Secret Wars creations, so I guess that sort of explains why she wears the outfit. But you'd think once word got out that a psychopathic alien wore the same threads that she'd want to distance herself from that look. I still think a mid-90's Venom/Spider-Woman crossover would've been pretty cool.

    And I'm also a big U.S. Agent fan, and I just can't stand this costume. I'd take his 70's-looking Super Patriot look over the starfleet commander look and energy shield.