Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he reviews of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.
Another week, and the third Marvel review in a row. This week A-Force #1 came out, one of the first tie-ins to Marvel’s big summer event Secret Wars (review of issue #1 here), following some fairly ridiculous commentary that I will talk about later on. A-Force is written by Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson, with pencils by Jorge Molina, inks from Molina and Craig Yeung, colours by Laura Martin and Matt Milla and letters from VC’s Cory Petit.
Secret Wars started with the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe colliding, ending both universes and the multiverse itself. From the second issue, it appears that this collision resulted in a reconfigured reality known as ‘Battleworld’ – a world ruled by Doctor Doom and divided into numerous regions, each presided over by a baron or baroness. One such fiefdom is Arcadia, the “feminist paradise” ruled by the baroness She-Hulk, who protects the area and it’s citizens with an all-female team of heroes called ‘A-Force’. When a Megalodon (giant prehistoric shark) attacks during a routine patrol, Captain Marvel leads Ms. America, Sister Grimm and Dazzler to deal with it before it harms any civilians on land. During the fight, the actions of one member of A-Force violates the border rules of Battleworld, bringing the punitive functions of the Thors, the enforcers of Doom’s absolute rule, to Arcadia. As She-Hulk struggles to fight against these laws she risks the safety of all of Arcadia, but the alternative is giving up one of their own to life imprisonment on ‘The Shield’.
I was worried going in to some of the Secret Wars tie-ins that they would feel impenetrable to new readers, especially those looking to check out this female led book. The first issue of the main event did feel somewhat closed to those without any firm knowledge of the Marvel Universe, the second felt like more of a clean slate for the story. A-Force echoes the latter, with the basics of Battleworld covered in a summary on the fourth page (after a gorgeous double page splash of Carol Danvers leading her patrol in the skies over Arcadia), and each major player given the bare essential background early on in the issue (for example a green box stating ‘Jennifer Walters SHE-HULK. A-Force team leader. Baroness of Arcadia. Green’.). The writing is brisk, exceptionally tight and compelling, with each character (even the few I didn’t actually know or was more unfamiliar with) feeling fully realised and well rounded. Bennett and Wilson have a great handle on these characters, and the story at this point seems disconnected enough from Secret Wars to be self-contained, while still being shaped and informed by it. The art team of Molina, Yeung, Martin and Milla does a really nice job here too, bringing the superhero action to life and balancing the varied characters and colour palettes well. There is a vibrancy and enthusiasm, despite the dark undertones and cracks in Arcadia, that make this a real pleasure to read. And Captain Marvel punching a giant shark may be one of my favourite panels I’ve read all year.
I’d be remiss to not address the New Yorker piece about A-Force ‘Looking at Female Superheroes with 10-Year-Old Boys’ by Jill Lepore. In the article, she asks why the Marvel superheroes all look like pornstars (apparently she watches very niche porn where everyone wears spandex leotards, but fine), ignoring the variety of body shapes and characters that the comic presents. Instead she chooses to heavily criticise and rather than actually do any of her research, relies on the knee jerk reactions of two 10-year-olds and her own preconceptions of comics to undermine the importance of the book. The fact she both says that “Thor became female because he’s a Norse god and I guess he can be whatever he wants” and “Captain America became black” speaks to a lack of the most basic internet search that would indicate that neither of these statements are in fact correct, and has instead opted for the sensationalism response instead. The odd thing is that the article actually has a seemingly well researched section about DC Comics, William Moulton Marston and the creation of Wonder Woman.
I’ve not linked in the article, frankly because I don’t really want to give it any more clicks. I will link to G. Willow Wilson’s response, because she manages eloquently take the high road, without seeming angry (like I haven’t) and delivers an impassioned rebuttal. I’m rather fond of how she closes it out too:
“I have been a little cheeky thus far, so let me close by saying that I imagine Dr. Lepore and I want the same thing: better, more nuanced portrayals of women in pop culture. What I don’t understand is why someone in her position would, from her perch a thousand feet up in the ivory tower, take pot shots at those of us who are in the trenches, doing exactly that.”
I really enjoyed A-Force #1 and on top of following the series throughout Secret Wars, I hope that the series continues in some form after the Marvel Universe is put back together. Will you get more out of this if you’re up to date on Marvel, Secret Wars and all of these characters? Maybe. But even if you’re not, this is a great story with a well written cast of kick-ass, but just as importantly nuanced, characters. Did I mention Captain Marvel punches a giant shark? Buy this at your LCS or digital comics platform.
Score: 9 Megalodons out of 10