Marvel has some of the best female heroes anywhere, but until the last few years, they seemed hesitant to give practically any of them solo titles of their own. They’ve been making up for lost time recently with books like Spider-Gwen, Silk, Ms. Marvel and others, but now they’re making a decidedly feminist statement by taking nearly all of their major female heroes and putting them together in their own Avengers title called A-Force. This is a far cry from the last attempt Marvel had with an all-female team, The Marvel Divas, which featured a group of four Marvel women trying to ape the whole Sex and the City vibe by having them get together at cafes and talk about men. Yes, this was a real thing.
Warning: This may include spoilers, so proceed at your own peril.
Before you can pick up issue #1 of A-Force, I highly recommend reading the first two issues of the main Secret Wars series or else you’ll probably be very confused. All the important backstory of Battleworld is presented in those books first, such as the idea that each kingdom of Battleworld is totally separate from the others, how a legion of Thors are the police of this world, and how any contact between kingdoms is forbidden by their God and Emperor, Doctor Doom. Plus, the notion that each kingdom is governed by a Baron (in this case, the Baroness She-Hulk) is presented first in the pages of Secret Wars.
A-Force are the protectors of the island of Arcadia, a beautiful, Venetian-style paradise among the war-torn worlds of Battleworld, described as being filled “with red roofs and friendly dogs, green hills and blue waters.” The citizens of Arcadia are a happy lot, and aside from dealing with the occasional petty crime and having to patrol their borders, A-Force seems to have it easy. I should state here that although Arcadia only seems to have female superheroes, this isn’t like Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island; the population seems to be gender balanced. Why all the superheroes are women is a mystery. If they wanted to make a statement on how unbalanced gender roles are in most superhero comics, I think the statement would be made more by a having a “token male” on the team, the way there seems to always be a lone woman on so many superhero team line-ups.
Although it seems every major female hero in the Marvel universe is a member of A-Force, in terms of actual screen time, the first issue consists mainly of She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Medusa, Sister Grimm, the female incarnation of Loki, Dazzler (in her classic disco outfit — thank you to whoever made that decision), Spider-Woman, and Miss America Chavez (most recently from the pages of Young Avengers). We see other female heroes in the background, like Storm and Phoenix (both of who seem a bit too powerful to be background fodder, if you ask me) and even Spider-Gwen, but for this first issue, it’s really the previously mentioned ladies that are the real team.
On an otherwise peaceful day, an ancient Megalodon shark attacks their coast and a brash Miss America uses her super strength to toss the monster across the borders into Marvel Zombies land, damaging the wall separating kingdoms. In doing so, she has broken Doom’s highest law. Doom has Baron Strange send one of the Thors to arrest Miss America, who is sentenced to guarding the wall for the rest of her days. Doom’s law is absolute, and it seems that not even She-Hulk can do anything to stop it. Both Loki and Sister Grimm seem especially angry at how easily She-Hulk caved to the demands of the Thors, and you get the sense that there might be a mutiny on the horizon.
A-Force then goes to summon the Sub-Mariners to see if they can explain the Megalodon attack that cost them one of their own members to be exiled, and Namorita, Namora and Namor answer her summons (Namor is the first male hero we see, although he seems to come from the oceans surrounding Arcadia, and isn’t a member of the team) and we’re left wondering if they had anything to do with this attack. There’s another cliffhanger-style ending at the end of the book, but I’ll make you buy the issue for that reveal.
There’s a lot to like in A-Force, but there’s a lot that has left me somewhat baffled, and I’ve been following this whole Secret Wars thing pretty closely. For example, is Arcadia culled from some previous story/continuity? Because I can’t remember ever seeing it or hearing of it before. All the heroes of A-Force seem like the Earth-616 Marvel Universe versions (except Spider-Gwen), but are they refugees from the 616 or new versions of classic characters? And if they are new versions, why does Pixie have an X-Men uniform on? It suggests that there’s an X-Men in this island, right? And while I get why the book is called A-Force, why isn’t the team just calling themselves the Avengers? It’s not like there is another grouping of heroes to differentiate themselves from in Arcadia. Or am I maybe just overthinking this too much?
I like the team that’s assembled here, and I’m eager to follow them when Secret Wars is over and they return to the main Marvel Universe (A-Force is scheduled to be one of the titles that survives Secret Wars). Writers Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson do the best they can with this crazy set-up they’ve been given, but both of these writers have shown they’re capable of a lot more, especially Wilson on Ms. Marvel (which reminds me, where is Ms. Marvel in all this?). I look forward to what they cook up with these characters when we no longer have to worry about being on weird islands with random Thors and Dr. Doom.
The book’s biggest highlight for me was Jorge Molina’s artwork. If you don’t already know Molina, you should; he has been making quite a name for himself at Marvel of the past few years. His art style is perfect for a book like this, as he makes sure to make all the women look fit and obviously attractive without going the porny route (despite whatever op-ed that The New Yorker might run) His pencils looks best when he inks his own work, as he does for several pages of this issue, and you can tell there’s a slight dip in quality and attention to detail when someone else does the inking, but it’s not terribly distracting. If it was Molina’s choice to have the heroes wear their classic costumes, then for that he has my gratitude.
Overall the issue was fine, and I’m curious to see where it all goes, but I’m far more eager to see what can be done with this grouping of awesome female heroes once the wacky conceit of Secret Wars is over and they return to the Marvel Universe proper. Here’s hoping that this same creative team sticks around for the job when the time comes.