Last time round on my tour of those comics needing a bit more respect or lost in the sock drawer of history, I told you of the genius that is Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!. This time round we stay in the early 1980’s.
The early 1980’s were an odd time for the horror comic. EC Comics still provided the template for many a horror comic such as Pacific Comics’ Twisted Tales, or there was the faux-superhero monster comic like Man-Thing or Swamp Thing which in the pre-Alan Moore days was actually at one point a full-on superhero book. Then there was Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Night Force which, in 1982, came upon a comic book market in some serious flux.
Wolfman and Colan had already created a classic horror comic, Tomb of Dracula, for Marvel; though when that came to an end DC lured the pair to create a horror themed comic for them. It should be noted that in 1982 DC was in transition from a company which less than a decade earlier had suffered the DC Implosion, and was starting to publish titles which started selling well; Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans being the biggest hit. This was before Crisis on Infinite Earths, or Frank Miller’s Batman stories, or anyone at DC had even thought of looking to the UK for talent, so many times.
In these times came Night Force. Based around the central character of Baron Winters, a magician who couldn’t leave his old mansion he lived in so would pick, and manipulate, those people he picked to fight whatever supernatural menace was around this month. It was a nice concept which in 1982, when the idea of the anti-hero was still fresh, added a nice diversity to DC’s often quite stale line of comics. Also having a morally dubious central character like Baron Winters who often seemed more like the villain helped give Night Force a complexity which, if Wolfman and Colan had come up with it a decade later, would easily have slotted into DC’s Vertigo line of comics. In 1982 though it stuck out like a sore thumb in a market where superheroes dominated and Wolfman’s and Colan’s morally complex stories of the paranormal lasted only 14 issues before being cancelled in 1983.
The series was revived in 1996 and in 2012, but are worth ignoring as it really is the Gene Colan art with all the dripping noir that makes the 14 issues DC published between 1982 and 1983 worth searching out as they are fine examples of a publisher then in the thrall of a single genre taking a serious risk on something just a wee bit out of time. If Night Force had found an audience maybe things would have been different for DC; however once they employed Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, horror became a genre worth paying attention to as it diversified from the shock endings of EC Comics into something different. Something which in Night Force was already there fully formed.
Baron Winters did make one more notable appearance outwith the 14 Wolfman and Colan issues though, that was in Swamp Thing #49 and #50 and these should be read too as they ostensibly follow on from the Wolfman/Colan run.
Night Force is one of those comics which personifies these titles I’m rescuing from the critical abyss. A strong, well written/drawn title expertly crafted that both at the time and subsequently hasn’t got anything like the respect or praise it deserves, but unlike some comics I’ll be covering it is pretty easy to pick up back issues, not to mention cheap. Go search them out, they’re great comics.