DC Comics

Night Force #1 (1982)

Night Force #1 (August, 1982)

“The Summoning, Chapter One: Genesis”
Writer/Editor – Marv Wolfman
Artist – Gene Colan
Inker – Bob Smith
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Michele Wolfman
Co-Editor – Ross Andru
Cover Price: $0.60

Justin over at the wonderfully fun DC in the 80’s blog recently put together a great piece discussing the first volume of DC Comics’ Night Force.  This is a series I’d picked up in bits and pieces, however I’ve never actively pursued it.  I guess I only grabbed them because I knew Marv Wolfman was the writer/creator.  Due to Mr. Wolfman’s amazing work on the New Titans he will always have my readership, and I will pick up most anything I can that he’d written.  I have not yet established a full enough run to give the entire series a fair read-through, but I can sure give #1 the ol’ once over.

In a half-hearted attempt at blog-synergy, I figure this is as good a time as any to subject Night Force #1 to my inimitable and unfortunate discussion and review style… Hold on tight, here we go…

It’s nighttime.  Two men, Kerry James and Trevor Simmons are driving unaware they are being trailed by a helicopter.  As their car crosses a bridge, the chopper opens fire.  Both men are killed, and the car careens into the waters below.

Our scene shifts to the Potomac Psychiatric Hospital, where a young woman is being held.  She is haunted by visions who threaten that they will soon “have” her.  She lunges toward the apparitions, and falls to the floor of her padded room.

Former Time Magazine reporter, Jack Gold, who is now working for the Enquirer-esque National Chronicle approaches a large Georgetown estate.  He is set to talk to the master of the house, Baron Winters about his involvement with the occult for a story he has been assigned.  Winters greets him at the door… Gold is surprised to see that the Baron keeps a large wild cat as a pet.  Winters introduces the cat as “Merlin”, and claims that he was a gift from the man himself, and the name is in tribute.

The two men share a somewhat contentious meeting.  Jack doesn’t believe anything the Baron is telling him, and this appears to tickle Winters somewhat.  The Baron excuses himself to take a phone call and Jack heads toward the back door of the estate.  Upon opening the door, Jack is shocked to find himself in front of a scene more akin to nineteenth-century Paris than twentieth-century Georgetown.  Everything returns to normal when Winters returns.

Still not on board with the occult angle, Jack takes his leave… returning to the motel the Chronicle has put him up at.  While there he receives a call from his ex-wife who is questioning the whereabouts of his latest alimony check.  Defeated and knowing he desperately needs the cash, Jack returns to the Baron to continue the assigned occult piece.

The scene shifts to something of a demonic ceremony.  A man stands in the middle of a pentagram, torch held high… around him, several nude individuals dance in tribal formation.  This ritual appears to have a possible connection to the visions the young woman at the sanitarium had experienced.  Apparitions similar to hers’s are now terrorizing a nearby affluent neighborhood.

While this is occurring, the young woman, now identified as one Vanessa Van Helsing is having a severe episode.  Clinical staff attempt to subdue her, yet she breaks free.  She desperately heads toward the doors, running headlong into the apparitions she collapses.  At the same moment, the demonic ceremony’s conductor, Dr. Donovan Caine ends the ritual… the people stop dancing, and the demons vanish.

Dr. Rabin at the sanitarium attends to Vanessa.  She is informed that she was covered in fresh blood, however, not her own.  It is clearly stated that this is something of a regular occurrence.  Rabin knows that if she wants answers, she must contact “that charlatan” Baron Winters.

Winters and Gold are continuing their discussion when Rabin’s call interrupts the proceedings.  The Baron claims to be unavailable to intervene on the Van Helsing case, and refers the doctor to one Dr. Donovan Caine… the same Caine who was conducting the earlier demonic ritual.

We rejoin Caine, finding that his ritual was a Georgetown University experiment that hopes to tap into some sort of “energy source” at the behest of the Pentagon.  Caine and a woman I presume to be his wife leave the University for the evening.  While in the parking lot, they somehow bump into the men from the opening scene, Kerry James and Trevor Simmons.  Alive and well, they claim to be from the Pentagon.

Before they leave, Mrs. Caine(?) alludes that she noticed one of the doctor’s students appears to have a bit of a fixation on him.  Shortly after, we observe that same student reporting to a shadowy someone via telephone about Caine.

Jack Gold arrives at the Psychiatric Hospital to meet with Ms. Van Helsing for more Chronicle story fodder.  The two share a brief visit before Dr. Caine arrives.  Caine volunteers that his doctoral discipline is parapsychology, and advises Rabin that he has arranged for Vanessa’s release, effective immediately.

Dr. Caine takes Vanessa back to Georgetown University, and Jack follows.  In order to prove that Vanessa is a victim rather than “crazy”, Caine seeks to conduct a test.  The three stand in the pentagram, and Vanessa is suited with electrodes.

Eighteen minutes later we are on a nearby Georgetown street.  Ethereal smoke pours out of a manhole, and victimizes a passing motorcyclist.  As that occurs, the Baron relates to Merlin that “It begins”.  With that, he blows the seeds of a dandelion and retires to his home to await what is to come.

Now I’m not a horror comic fan (or at least I don’t think I am), but I found myself really enjoying this issue.  I suppose it stands to reason that if I like Wolfman, I’ll probably like this.  This issue served as a great introduction for the (current) cast.  The letters column makes mention that there are regular characters in this series, but at the same time, there aren’t.  Of the ones met in the inaugural issue, I feel we were given just enough about their plights and personalities to whet our appetite for more.

Letters Page

The characters were given something of a motivation, however, Marv appears to be playing their true ends close to the vest.  We learn very little about the Baron, yet… what we are told makes me want to know more.  I always dig getting a “point of view” character in non-superhero tales.  Reporter, Jack Gold acts as our eyes into this strange and mystical world.  His reactions may well be our own, and his skepticism is refreshing, I feel he will likely struggle with his disbelief even when he witnesses something unexplainable firsthand.

This was as good an opening issue as I could hope for with a story of this kind, and I now look forward to tracking down the rest of this volume (and beyond).  I have the first three volumes of Marvel’s Essential Tomb of Dracula, which boasts a very familiar creative team to this.  I’d picked those up years ago as part of one of my infamous “reading projects” that I never get around to.  You know, those meticulously stacked piles in that one corner of your home?  Makes it look as though you’re boarding the world’s most obsessive-compulsive hoarder?  Yeah, it’s in there.  In reading Night Force, I think those Tomb of Dracula collections have moved up a hair in the rotation… meaning I’ll probably get to them within the next five years rather than ten.

The art was as to be expected, great.  Clean and gritty all at once.  During the initial scene with Jack and the Baron, I swear I smelled cigarettes… I take that back, every time Jack is on panel, I smell cigarettes.  During Vanessa’s scenes, not only her face… but her whole body depicts such sadness… such defeat.  It’s as though she has completely given up hope of ever living normally.  Even if you were to take her out of context, the art does an amazing job telling Vanessa’s story.

Most definitely recommended if you’re in the mood for something just a little bit different, though, with a familiar voice.  DC Comics’ digital store has the first four issues of this volume in one handy and affordable package.  Even if horror books aren’t your thing, I’m thinking there’s lots to dig in Night Force.

Thanks to Justin at DC in the 80’s for this inspiration on this one.  Check out their stuff at  dcinthe80s.blogspot.com/ on Facebook and on twitter @DCinthe1980s

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