Cripes, and you thought the X-Men books oozed angst. STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI focuses on that ultimate fodder for navel gazing: one's mortality. I have been waiting forever for Marvel to publish a trade collecting this neglected but wicked good series. Writer Peter B. Gillis piles on the angst, yes, but his storytelling is so compelling and the hook so irresistible that STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI instantly jumped to the top of my list of favorites back in the '80s. I'm not exactly sure why this series didn't make more of an impact, why it wasn't more popular. Maybe it wasn't conventional enough. Maybe the subject matter was too morbid. This was a comic book in which one key character after another routinely died. Think Drew Barrymore in SCREAM, but then think Neve Campbell also taking a dirt nap. Me, I got gunshy once my favorite character bought it six issues in. The series lasted for 31 issues, from 1986 to 1989, with a follow-up 5-issue mini-series STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI: ELECTRIC UNDERTOW). I stuck with it for a while after Gillis left after issue #20. But it went downhill from there.
STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI Vol. 1 collects issues #1-13 and features really terrific artwork by Brent Anderson and inker Scott Williams, with Whilce Portacio filling in for issue #10. The set-up goes as such: In the not too distant future, a marauding alien race, the Horde, invaded Earth and made it look easy. Four years later, humanity has lost the skies to the Horde, has, in fact, been enslaved, and the planet looted of its resources. But now a scientist has arrived at a way to fight back, having created a process which imbues its subjects with superhuman abilities. The three primary caveats: only a tiny percentage of humanity qualifies for the process, one can't predict what sort of power will surface, and the test subject dies within a year of undergoing the process. Still, with mankind facing extinction, there is no dearth of brave volunteers.
STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI came around the same time as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN, so that's another reason it didn't gain as much acclaim as it maybe should have for its originality and sense of gritty realism. This series offers an intelligent and mature look at war and how pragmatism gets in the way of wanting to do the right thing. This first volume tracks not only the exploits of the first generation of Strikeforce: Morituri (and, later, the second generation's), but, more poignantly, the characters' meditation on mortality. It's a gripping formula that Gillis works in: bouts of blistering action followed by moments of introspection and brooding, lots and lots of brooding. Another way in which this series separated itself from the pack back in the day: This was one of the earlier comic books in which the writer took great pains to explore the characters' roles as media darlings and celebrities. Aware that a terrorized humanity desperately required inspiration, some last measure of hope, the people pulling the strings ensured that there were plenty of comic books and video series in the works extolling Earth's "superheroes."
I can't say enough about Brent Anderson and Scott Williams' art. There's such an organic flow to their lines. I love how expressive the faces are, and the body language. The art team really nails those heavy emotional beats. Visually, the Horde aliens are menacing and barbaric, their faces and body parts decorated with bone piercings and, occasionally, with various Earth trinkets. The Horde boast no redeeming qualities whatsoever, just the way we like our villains.
There's an injection of faith and religion, but smoothly integrated. I really liked the character of Jelene Anderson, a serene woman of faith whose Morituri ability allows her to analyze any substance or device, and, given enough time, duplicate it or arrive at a counter-measure. Jelene is beautifully written and soulful, and at no point did I feel I was being lectured on religion. But Jelene is only one example of how Gillis excelled at strong character work. STRIKEFORCE: MORITURI is absolutely a hidden gem of a comic book. I can't recommend it enough, or at least the bits with Gillis, Anderson, and Williams as the creative team. After their tenure, well, the suck came in.
Also included are two segments from the double-sized issue #13: a 5-paged Official Strikeforce Morituri Handbook which fleshes out the Strikeforce: Morituri universe and the 5-paged Mad Magazine-esque "How Peter & Brent Create (& Destroy) Strikeforce Morituri."