Force Works is an interesting curio from Marvel’s mid-90s line-up. The first 15 issues of the series are now available in the Avengers/Iron Man: Force Works collected edition.

Force Works grew out of the old Avengers West Coast series. After years of never quite emerging from the shadow of its parent book, Marvel decided to transform the team into something new. Force Works found several ex-Avengers uniting in a proactive, more interventionist team. Formed by Iron Man, the initial line-up included Scarlet Witch (as team leader), Wonder Man, Spider-Woman (the Julia Carpenter version) and U.S. Agent. Wonder Man was taken off the board almost immediately and replaced by Century, a mysterious, alien powerhouse.

Housed in a Stark Enterprises R&D facility, Force Works used the “Chaos Computer” to try to identify looming threats, so that the team could intervene before they became disasters. Familiar foes like the Kree and the Mandarin turned up, but the series introduced several new menaces. The Scatter were alien scavengers that devoured whole planets. The Mandarin fielded a team of super-powered Avatars. In Slorenia, a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe, an ethnic civil war produced opposing forces Ember, Black Brigade and Volkhvy. The team encountered Aboriginal hero Dreamguard while facing off with an alien presence in the Australian Outback. The alien slave trader The Broker, along with his mercenaries the Slave Levy, attacked due to a shared past with Century.

Ongoing plot points included the tension between Iron Man and Scarlet Witch over the team’s leadership. Century’s amnesia and murky past featured prominently. A member of the species of alien robots the Recorders attached itself to the team to chronicle their exploits, even as he undermined them. The team struggled to distinguish themselves from the Avengers, who appeared frequently. And Tony Stark’s erratic behavior and secretiveness began to emerge.

At first blush, Force Works could have been another example of the ’90s drive to “extreme”-ize every concept. And while some elements of that style were a part of the book, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning made things far more interesting than that. The duo put some interesting character dynamics in place from the start. Taking fan favorite Wonder Man out of the equation at the outset was a daring choice. While Century could be affected at times, the character was an effective engine for drama within the team, especially with U.S. Agent.

But more important was the unique focus of the team. Abnett and Lanning came up with valid reasons for Force Works to separate from the Avengers and try a different approach to super heroics. That idea sometimes got lost in the shuffle, but it informed the attitude that permeated the series and gave it an actual identity apart from the parent Avengers book. But make no mistake, as much as everyone involved insisted this was a separate entity, this was an Avengers series. The core cast were all ex-Avengers and their former colleagues turned up regularly. The book was also closely aligned with the Iron Man and War Machine series of the time.

But even so, Abnett and Lanning developed a lot of interesting ideas and concepts, things that would be utilized by future creators. They amped up the Scarlet Witch’s power level and assertiveness. Slorenia would return in a memorable Avengers story featuring Ultron. The “predictive justice” idea is at the heart of the current Civil War II, casting an interesting light on Iron Man’s position in that conflict. Wonder Man may have exited quickly, but the manner of that departure would have significant consequences for him when he returned a few years down the road. The inventiveness and thought that Abnett and Lanning put into the book helped Force Works be more than just a stylistic exercise. Even if it wasn’t always entirely successful, the writing was at least interesting, which was a huge victory for a title in that era.

On the visual side, Force Works clearly had some influence from the mid-90s “extreme” ethos, and yet managed not to be an especially egregious example of the style. That sensibility was probably seen most clearly in the costume designs. Most of the team got makeovers consistent with the times. That meant lots of pouches, patches and belts. Chains, skulls and armlets turned up. Armor-esque pieces were there in abundance, including chunky boots and overly complex gloves/wrist guards. Scarlet Witch, meanwhile, went the skin-baring route in a ludicrous get-up that looked as though the veteran heroine had cobbled it together from the discount table at Victoria’s Secret. Spider-Woman, somehow, emerged with her costume intact.

A big issue for Force Works was the revolving door of pencilers. Tom Tenney was one of the launch artists, but only completed two full issues, and two additional partial issues, before departing. Jim Calafiore’s four-issue stretch later in the run was the only other tenure of note. Around those runs were a variety of other artists filling in, including erstwhile AWC pencilers Paul Ryan and Dave Ross, and future superstar Jim Cheung. For the most part, the frequent artistic changes weren’t too jarring. Most of the artists were working in the style popular at the time, so major adjustments in visual tone weren’t necessary. Plus the inks/colors team of Rey Garcia and Joe Rosas provided continuity.

Unlike many of its peers, Force Works didn’t go to ludicrous lengths to ape the Image approach. There were elements of that, but they weren’t too ridiculous. The male characters were all jacked, of course, but they weren’t the steroid grotesques that turned up in other series. The women were noticeably curvier, and more prone to sexy posing, but their proportions didn’t reach the depths of Barbie inanity seen elsewhere. The artists on board seemed to have more interest in providing detailed backgrounds to ground the action, instead of setting fights against jagged lines. Layouts tended to be fairly traditional, though occasionally they could get a bit on the tricksy side. Overall, it was fairly solid art that looks all the better compared to some of the more ghastly examples of the period.

Force Works had its final few issues co-opted to set up the controversial The Crossing saga (not covered in this collection). But for fans of the old Avengers West Coast series, or for readers with a soft spot for the likes of Iron Man and Scarlet Witch, this is a solid read that’s worth checking out. It’s probably not worth the expense for more casual fans.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on June 9, 2016.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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