Saturday, December 21, 2013
We Who Are About To Die!
Strikeforce: Morituri was one of those offbeat comics which slipped into the market with little fanfare, but left a heavy impression. In late 1986 when this comic showed up on the newsstands and direct sales comic shops, the Marvel Universe was locked down tightly after many years of Jim Shooter's careful attention to details. "The New Universe" had arrived suddenly and seemed to be dwindling just as suddenly. Marvel was a predictable company, producing reliable, often mediocre comics entertainment for a market which seemed well trained and conditioned to receive what they were given.
Then came Strikeforce: Morituri, a tour de force by somewhat iconoclastic writer Peter B. Gillis and undervalued artist Brent Anderson, with the occasional helping hand of Whilce Portacio. Anderson, an artist who evoked Neal Adams without aping him, was ideal for this project which offered a somewhat more mature and realistic vision of a future in which aliens invade the Earth. Nothing much earth-shaking there in pop fiction of the time, but the response of the Earthlings to this threat was a bit different, at least in comics. This story was not, and is not to my knowledge part of the great Marvel mythology. It's a mythology all its own, and that makes the difference.
Strikeforce: Morituri were agents, young men and women who volunteered to fight for their world, but with a peculiar condition. They were inspired by patriotism influenced though the popular culture of their time, including comics. They were given a special treatment which gave them superpowers, powers sufficient to wage a credible counter-force against the alien enemy known as "The Horde" , but which pretty much guaranteed the agent would die sooner than later, almost certainly within one calendar year.
It's one thing to say you are willing to lay down your life for your country should circumstances arise, but it's fundamentally something different to virtually guarantee your imminent death so that a battle or two might be won. It's what soldiers actually do, but focused in a way to make the plight seem palpable and immediate. And we no sooner begin getting familiar with our cast that we begin losing them as the side effects remove them from the game, some before they can achieve that which they've sacrificed themselves for.
It's pretty awesome stuff, and not a formula just any talent could handle effectively. This was something more intense than what passed for Marvel comics before. These were people, not just characters, who were not identifiable, but recognizable. If Marvel told stories in a landscape just outside your window, the stories of the Strikeforce were tales told from inside your most cruel nightmares. This was life and death in every issue, and not the usual comic type of death, with unreal consequences, but death everlasting. A member of the Strikeforce died, and they remained dead. Powerful stuff.
The series was twenty of the most incredible issues I've ever read, then Gillis and Anderson left. They were replaced by reliable types, but not talent capable of evoking the immediacy that had gone before. The book became a more typical sci-fi read, not bad, but weak compared to its earliest days.
Marvel has reprinted this remarkable series, one which cannot be discussed in too much detail for fear of spoiling some of the greatest surprises in the whole of comics history. The first volume, which I picked up a few weeks ago reprints the first thirteen issues, and in it we meet the first, second, and third generation of Morituri, most all of them distinctive and memorable personalities.
Below are the issues contained in the first volume.
I haven't yet picked up the second volume which concludes the Gillis-Andeson run, and I don't know if I will pick up the third which includes much weaker material, but we'll have to see.
For the record, let me say, that Strikeforce: Morituri is a saga any comics fan must read. I cannot recommend the first twenty issues enough.