Strikeforce: Morituri #1 (1986)

Strikeforce: Morituri #1 (December, 1986)
“Though Some Have Named Thee So–“
Writer – Peter B. Gillis
Pencils – Brent Anderson & Whilce Portacio
Inks – Scott Williams
Letters – Jim Novak
Colors – Max Scheele
Edits – Carl Potts
Chief – Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $0.75

It’s Monday… and, for me… that means it’s Morituri.  For the better part of a year, Chris Bailey and I have been talking Strikeforce: Morituri on the air darn near every single Monday (we did take a break around the Holidays).  As of this writing, we’ve covered the first 19 issues in great depth.  This is a very important comic to me… and, if you’ve followed my audio-exploits, you’d probably know that.  I shoehorn it into any conversation I can, after all.

This will be… yeesh, the third or fourth time I’m discussing this issue… though, the first time I’m doing so in writing, which will be an interesting experience… ya know, talking about it with visual aids.

Here are some of the other times I’ve talked about this one, if you’re interested… which, you’re not… but, what do I have to lose?

During the above Chris is on Infinite Earths episode (#24), I discuss, at length how and when I first heard of Strikeforce: Morituri… and how, the first time I read it I was able to draw a lot of sorta-kinda parallels between the basis of the story… and my own real life at the time.  It might be a bit of a reach… at least insofar as the “mortality” of it all… but, suffice it to say, I feel like I first read this at exactly the right time in my life.

I suppose this also gives me the opportunity to share some “hype videos” I made to promote the show:

So yeah, this is a very special property to me… and, I’m hoping that through the work we’re putting into it, maybe some folks will “discover” it.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day… it’s still Strikeforce: Morituri… and the only time people actually seem to care about it is when they think they’ve discovered it.  Once the novelty of that “discovery” wears off… and they get their 15 Twitter or Facebook “likes” from sharing a picture of the cover they found on Google Images… it’s forgotten once again.

Well, here’s me trying again to promote this wonderful book as best I can!  We who are about to… read the same damn comic for the eleventy-hundred skatey-eighth time… salute you!

Our story opens in 21st century New Roanoke, Virginia… a former thriving port now decimated my an alien invading hoard.  We discover that a group called “The Horde” took over the Earth… plundering stores and factories, took slaves and killed millions melting half the city with their engines.  Earth was woefully unprepared for the attack. 

As a result we next observe the “Paideia Emergency Volunteer Unit”, as they’re looking for survivors.  They don’t find any… but take solace in the fact that they can now, at the very least, bury the dead with dignity.  We catch up with the central character of the story, who is on his last day of duty with the volunteer group… he is nicknamed R.B. by his colleagues or Rabid Beaver for short.  His civvie name is Harold Everson, and he’s just about to leave in order to undergo something called the Morituri Process.  His pals note that he is moving on to become a superhero and a celebration ensues.  We could assume this is gonna be one heck of a going away party!

Later, we rejoin Harold while on a train headed home to Alexandria, Virginia.  It’s here we get to eavesdrop on some of his true thoughts and discover that he feels that being part of the few individuals selected to be involved with the Morituri Process is like hitting the jackpot… at the same time, however, he struggles with the fact that others disagree… namely his parents.

He arrives at the station and meets up with his parents who take him home to relax before he leaves to join The Morituri.  An argument ensues as his parents try to convince Harold that he is making a mistake and that maybe he should stick to writing for “The Local Net”.  Harold says he is tired of hauling bodies and wants to do something about the Horde himself.  His parents quibble as he storms into his bedroom that their son is off to “become a dead man”.

As Harold rushes off to his room he grabs “The Book” which we see is a comic called The Last Stand Of The Black Watch.  The Watch, as we would discover, were the fabled original superheroes of the Morituri Process.  We see three futuristic looking soldiers dressed in traditional black leather style uniforms, complete with metal shoulder pads and pouches.  They are Clint, Bruce, and Woody… and they’re riding on top of a space cruiser flying directly into the heart of Horde territory looking to bring a fight.

Their superpowers and bravery are evident as they easily combat the monstrous horde armies with their bare hands,and super strength.  Worth noting, this is just a comic book… but it really does a great job motivating Harold to be just like his heroes of The Black Watch.

We jump ahead some time later, and rejoin Harold as he’s being driven into a gated compound named “New Haven”.  Upon arriving Harold observes the well manicured gardens and iron wrought gates and compares it to… a cemetery.

Immediately, Harold notices that the air is filled with flying crafts, which he calls “Contrails”… which he recognizes as part of the Alien Hordes flying fleet.  Harold and his driver are about to leap into action but discover that these are actually some Paideia on patrol… and, instead head inside the large compound.  It’s here that Harold meets the Morituri Commander, Beth Luis Nion (lookin’ a lot like Brotherhood of Evil Mutants era Rogue) and the creator of the Morituri Process Kimmo Tuolema. Harold is introduced to the other recruits…  

… Robert Greenbaum, Jelene Anderson, Louis Armanetti, Lorna Raeburn, and Aline Pagrovna… who appears to have already undergone the first stage of “The Process”, as when she shakes Harold’s hand… she nearly crushes it with her super-human strength!

Harold tried from his journey retires to his room where he curls up in bed with his issue of The Last Stand Of The Black Watch… yes, the same issue.  The only issue, in fact!

As he continues through his comic, he gets to the part where it shows the final fate of those three original members.  They are surrounded by the Horde legion who are rather ticked at all of the damage the Black Watch had done them… and so, the Watch is killed!  Though, not before warning the Hordians that there will be more to replace them… ie. the Strikeforce: Morituri.  Hmm… feels like this innocent little comic book might just be a propagandist brochure, dunnit?

Lorna is watching Harold from the hallway, but he is way too caught up in his comic book to notice.  It’s here that Lorna sorta plants the seed of doubt in Harold that the story he just read was not how this scene actually played out.

As the night rolls on, the Compound is stirred awake by some terrible noise and clatter.  We see fellow Morituri recruit, Aline who is absolutely terrified and crying for help.  It’s as though she just now realized what she’s given away in order to join the team.  She is taken away by Dr. Tuolema, while Harold watches on in confused horror.  This is our first real indication that there is a certain “sacrifice” involved in undergoing the process.  It’s been “in the air” for much of the issue, but this is where it really hits.

The following morning, Commander Nion interviews Harold for the process… by asking him the simple question of “–Why do you want to die?”  Harold struggles to answer the question before finally saying he wants to use his life the best way it can be used…in defense of the planet.  Beth, like Harold’s parents earlier on, reminds him that he is a writer and this is dead serious and not just some “story”.  She continues… and drops the big bombshell on the readers, by telling him that once he starts the Morituri Process… he will die within one year.  Harold doesn’t seem all that phased and suggests that he will write his memoirs regarding his Morituri Process experience in order to share with the world.  This way, he’ll sorta-kinda become immortal.

A bit later on Beth gives Harold the nickel tour of the lab facility where Louis Armanetti is about to undergo his initial Morituri Process.  While Harold, Commander Beth and Dr. Tuolema look on with Armanetti’s procedure they decide to show Harold the actual video of what happened to the real members of The Black Watch.

While the heroic battle appears to have been not unlike what had transpired… it’s the ending that is dramatically different from the pages of Harold’s one-and-only comic book.  Instead of going out in a blaze of glory from Hordian fire… Woody the team leader spontaneously combusts and burns to death as a result of the Morituri Process. Harold is rather shook.  It is explained that the human body is not compatible with the Morituri Metabolism… and is eventually bound to reject it and kill its carrier… which explains why those who undergo the Morituri Process are doomed to die within a year.

It is also revealed here that people will react differently to The Process, and will likely develop radically different power sets.  Beth reminds Harold that this is the price the Morituri are being asked to pay (hmm, just like that Twisted Sister song I’ve heard a few times)… and he she implores him to truly think this over before crossing the Rubicon.

Moving into mid-day, it’s lunchtime at Camp Morituri.  Harold and Aline are talking shop over some non-descript foodstuffs.  Aline reveals that she is taking the Morituri Process because… get this… she has been overlooked by men her entire life and The Process will make her strong and give her purpose.  Otherwise, she would have likely committed suicide a long time ago.  Yikes.  Now, she’s stronger… her skin’s cleared up, she has a bigger bustline… and she’s gonna be a superhero. The makeshift meal is interrupted by the emergency alarms.  The Horde are attacking! 

Our new recruits leap into action and are immediately sent underground to a bunker where they’re told not to engage the combat.  Remember, the majority of ’em don’t have any powers yet!  Harold is stompin’ mad about being left out of combat.  It’s here that Aline stumbles upon a newly manifested element of her Morituri-Power Set!  She transmits an odd energy through her hands and melts the locks off the bunker’s doors, allowing the recruits to escape.  Disobeying orders, they… get this… steal several land ships and fly into the shock zone.

Aline the only one with developed powers leaps out of the ship and joins the battle.  Harold and the rest land their ship and bust out of the tub guns a’blazing!

Harold is taken by surprise by a Horde warrior by surprise and is very nearly killed!  Before that can happen, however, Commander Beth Nion makes the save… which reading this idiot the riot act for disobeying orders. but not without chastising the new recruits for disobeying their orders to remain on base.  While Beth is busy, ya know, saving lives… she herself gets hit by a “parting shot” by the fleeing Hordian!  She survives… they all do.

Back at base, Commander Nion continues to berate the newbies for their stupidity and informs them that the place the Horde was attempting to rob was… a chocolate factory.  So, they all put their lives in jeopardy… for chocolate.  She, rightfully calls them all morons… and boots ’em from her office.

We join Harold back in his room as he… once again… flips through his one and only comic book… The Last Stand of The Black Watch.  It’s now where he realizes that everything he thought he knew regarding the Morituri Process was… a lie.

Harold drops the comic… and heads over to the Commander’s office.  Beth, who is in the middle of writing up her days report, is more than a little surprised when Harold brazenly enters and proclaims that he’s decided to sign on after all!

Man, I’ve talked about this issue so many times… it’s starting to feel like I’m turning into Harold with his stupid Black Watch comic!  Still though… I love it!

It’s very hard to talk about in a vacuum, however… ya know?  I’ve been so embedded in Marvel Earth-1287, that it’s difficult to just talk about this one singular issue… but, I’ll do my best.

Let’s start with The Last Stand of the Black Watch.  It’s weird… the Black Watch even gets the cover of this first issue.  We don’t see Harold, or any of the Morituri… it’s three dead guys!  It really sets up a strange expectation, dunnit?  We might expect an issue rife with firefights and intergalactic yadda-yaddas… but instead, it’s a (relatively) “grounded” and almost soapy affair.

I do love that Harold’s lone comic gets so much “play” here… as it really informs us as to the propagandist angle of the Paideia-approved Black Watch “lore”.  This comic wasn’t made to top the Diamond Top 300… it was made to foment Earthen “jingoism” (if that’s a thing) and ultimately result in a new generation of recruits.  Harold bought the propaganda… hook, line, and sinker!

I mean, this wouldn’t be the first time comics tried to inform a generation as to how they ought to think.  Comics from way back in the Golden Age would feature our “enemies” as not much more than evil caricatures… and, would also promote things like “war bonds”… with the message that in order to be a “Good American”, you’d support the war effort.  Pretty clever stuff here from Gillis.

Harold finding out “the truth” was also very well done.  I appreciate the lengths the go to show Beth Nion as… I dunno, sympathetic to Harold’s naivete?  She knows he “came in” via the propaganda brochure… and rather than just scoop him up, and push him through The Process, she makes sure he understands exactly what he’s getting himself into.

The bombshell that those who undergo The Process are doomed to die within a year was very well handled… and we get the impression that this may… or may not be known by the public.  Sure, the Eversons referred to their son as “becoming a dead man”, but… that could mean many things.  Think about military parents who aren’t exactly “on board” with their child’s decision to sign up.

That spotlight gets a bit brighter when Aline wakes in the middle of the night in a panic over dying… but, again… that could be taken in a few different ways.  Again, think of a new military recruit who has just found out they’re being sent into battle.  I can’t speak from experience… but, it stands to reason that might cause a bit of anxiety and stir up some mortal fears, no?

It’s not until Harold is told, in no uncertain terms, that… this is a one-way trip.  Once you’re part of The Process, your clock starts tickin’.  It’s a heavy prospect… and, it was dealt with here incredibly well.  Harold struggles… he’s got a lot to mentally digest… but, ultimately, after tasting just a little bit of battle, comes around to the idea.

I tell ya… this is a very special book.  Oh, and the art… oooh… Brent Anderson absolutely kills it!  Just awesome stuff!  The characters aren’t like “TV pretty”… they’re just normal flawed folks… and it’s that normalcy juxtaposed with the extraordinary situation they’re in, that keeps these characters relatable… and cheer-on-able.  Whilce Portacio delivers the art for the Black Watch bits, which… I like.  It drives home that these are two different stories… one “real”, and one… less so.

Now, one thing about Strikeforce: Morituri that I sort of tire of hearing is that it would “make a great movie/TV show”.  I get that… that’s where a lot of folks’ heads are right now.  But, here’s the thing… Strikeforce: Morituri already exists.  The comic is here… and isn’t hard to find (check your Marvel Unlimited).  Don’t “wait for the movie”, because you can experience the whole story… right now.  It ought to go without saying, that I recommend ya do so!

Interesting Ads:

8 thoughts on “Strikeforce: Morituri #1 (1986)

  • Back in 1986 when this came out I was exclusively buying Marvel and DC four color superhero books. So this was out of my wheelhouse. I had a friend who used to rave about it but I never picked it up. Since then I have read a lot about it but still have never read a single issue. Maybe I will give your Podcast a listen and see if you can convince me to give it a try.
    But I gotta admit, I have always loved the tag line "We who are about to die……..". Really cool.

    • If you do decide to check out the show, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

  • I know you explicitly said you were tired of the whole "this would make a great movie/TV show" idea but I think some updated take on Strikeforce: Morituri concept would be quite timely right now.

    In the 1980s with the Reagan era of American exceptionalism in full swing, I imagine Peter Gillis saw Strikeforce: Morituri as a statement of how far people might be willing to go in pursuit of a political ideology, particularly an ideology nurtured through marketing. Harold's comic book has guided his thinking that the best way to stand up to aliens is to become super heroes and kick their alien ass, even if one has to commit to a death sentence to do it. Does this sound a bit familiar?

    Think about the current environment where certain leaders and their devoted base cultivated through decades of media influence that any problem can be solved through brute strength and swagger and the idea that human life can take a back seat to that concept. There's this socio-political mindset that puts simple solutions over more nuanced thinking. Listen to the politicos and pundits who think people should be prepared to die for the sake of the economy, for crying out loud.

    Some form of modern take on Strikeforce: Morituri, be it a comic book or yes, even a TV series or movie, would be a mirror to our current political and cultural climate.

    • Everything you listed is precisely the reason I hope this never becomes a TV show or movie… or, heaven forbid, a rebooted comic book series. Speaking personally, I've had more than my fill of political allegory and ideology crammed down my throat by untalented writers with chips on their shoulders.

    • OK, what if we did this with talented writers without chips on their shoulders?

      Seriously, I concur that political allegory can be heavy handed. I think any writer who decides to tell a story to make a point is off to a bad start. If on the other hand a writer has a good straightforward yarn filled with adventure, humor and drama that also happens to have a deeper message if one looks close enough, that's different.

      I think the original Strikforce: Morituri is first and foremost a story about people willing to die to get super powers to kick alien butt but it also can be ready as an allegory for the political climate of the 1980s.

    • I'm honestly not for sure such a writer exists during "current year", unfortunately… and, to agree with your point… agenda-driven stories very seldom wind up all that good (even to those "in the choir" being preached to)… that's kind of where we are though in 2020. Even in moments of subtlety, a writer will reach down and drop that *one unsubtle line* just to make sure that even "kids in the back of the class" know what they're driving at.

      The original Morituri, while certainly can be compared to the political landscape of the 80's, Gillis is able to side-step so many potential pitfalls insofar as proclaiming "[insert side of the aisle] good" vs. "[insert side of the aisle] bad". This ain't Mike Baron writing SONIC DISRUPTORS, is what I'm saying. They even go so far as to make a statement in a later Letters Page that, they're not writing this to suit any sort of agenda… though, in fairness… that's kind of what they're expected to say, innit?

      Even with that said, it's going to sound cliche… but I feel like I want my "escapist entertainment" to be as middle-of-the-road politically as possible. Can't swing a dead cat anymore without being lectured by an entertainer/politician/entertainer-turned-politician about what and how we're supposed to be.

  • While I still stand by my earlier assessment for the potential of a new Morituri series, I don't know what writer could pull that off without being heavy handed about it. Whereas Gillis could thread that needle, too many current writers make it too obvious who they voted for. I'm with you, Chris, that I don't need that in my escapist entertainment.

    By the way, your last comment suggests a new comic book series. Strikeforce: MortiCattu. We who are about swing a dead cat…

  • Morituri was a great series, and it came just at the end of an era where Marvel would try out all sorts of crazy stuff, just to see what worked.

    A nice, thought-provoking, imaginative series that's well worth a look for anyone who hasn't read it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *