Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

They just didn’t get it

Anyone out there remember Strikeforce: Morituri?

This 1986 series by Peter Gillis and Brent Eric Anderson is set in a near-future world where the alien Horde have Earth under their thumb. They don’t conquer, they simply loot, taking what they want and killing whoever they like. Earth is helpless until the development of the Morituri process (Latin for “We who are about to die”). The treatment gives humans super powers, but it kills them within a year, tops. The series follows several of the doomed Strikeforce teams as they battle the aliens and lock horns with authoritarian elements in their own government.

It was a good book with a great premise. When Gillen left, however, new writer James Hudnall hated the premise. He got rid of it — IIRC, the corrupt government knew all along how to keep the heroes alive — as well as removing the Horde to focus on the sinister government conspiracy. I read one Hudnall issue, then walked away.

To me it’s perfect example of something Marvel editor Tom Brevoort blogged about last year, the need to commit to a comic’s premise to make it work. If you don’t like the premise, “what you need to be able to do is to figure out what it is about the character or the book that appeals to the people who like it–or is supposed to–and then Commit To The Idea.” Trashing the premise, even if you dislike it, is the wrong way to go.

Another example is Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Written by Dan Mishkin and Gerry Cohn with art by Ernie Colon, the 1983 series has Amy Winston discover she’s secretly Amethyst, rightful ruler of other-dimensional Gemworld. When the sinister Dark Opal came to power, Amethyst’s caregiver had her adopted on our Earth where she could grow up safely. When Amy turns thirteen she’s drawn back to Gemworld, where she’s a young adult with magical power. But can a rookie mage stand against Dark Opal and his sinister forces?

It’s a wonderful premise, reminiscent of both Narnia and Japanese “magical girl” stories. As I blogged about here, Mishkin and Cohn originally pitched it as an open-ended series but DC was skeptical about its potential. The company agreed to a 12-issue limited series instead, but then proposed a sequel series in hopes of launching a toy-line tie-in. After eight issues, Mishkin walked away, deciding it had been a mistake to continue past the end of the first series. Cohn left a few issues later; Keith Giffen took over plotting with various creators scripting.

Some of the changes Giffen wrought might have been fine, such as revealing Amy is a Lord of Order and tying the story into the ongoing battles of Law ad Order in other DC books of the time. But like Hudnall, Giffen trashed the premise. Amy’s previous adventures could get dark, but they still had a sense of joy and excitement.

None of that sappy stuff for Giffen: he’s doing mature fiction, which means grimness, grit and suffering. The chaos lord Child and his servant Flaw destroy most of Gemworld, then nearly kill Amy’s father and her dog back on Earth. Oh, and Dad’s had an affair and Amy’s parents’ marriage is over. Neither he nor Mom even remembers Amy because her existence on Earth has been erased. Joyful it wasn’t.

The boundary line between “trash the premise” and “brilliant reboot” isn’t always clear. You could argue Alan Moore trashed the “human becomes tormented monster” premise of Swamp Thing by turning him into a plan, but it worked in a way Gerry Conway’s “New Swamp Thing” (which almost included a team-up with Hawkman) didn’t.

So maybe if Giffen or Hudnall had done a good job, I’d accept them as much as the work they rebooted. But I don’t think they did.

#SFWApro. Covers by Anderson, Colon, Colon and Ernie Chan.


  1. tomfitz1

    Loved Strikeforce: Morituri when it came out. Sorry that the series didn’t get another mini-series after the first one ended as promised.

    Didn’t care too much for Amethyst, but the Colon art was awesome.

    Enjoyed the Moore Swamp Thing run. Veitch, too.

  2. Le Messor

    I knew Strikeforce: Morituri existed, but that was about it.
    I already knew about it, but there was a line in an Alpha Flight letters page about the team having ‘nearly as high a mortality rate as Strikeforce: Morituri. Until just now, I didn’t know there was a connection (James Hudnall was probably writing AF at the time).)

    I have and love the first two Amethyst minis, but only one issue of the ongoing, and I hate it. Too dark. Thanks for warning me about the rest! 🙂

  3. John King

    I feel a little more should be said that sometimes trashing a premise can be good (at least when the premise isn’t good)
    Such as in the New Universe when Peter David gave Justice a total retcon and John Byrne destroyed Pittsburgh.

    (Quick disclaimer- I am not suggesting that destroying the real Pittsburgh would be a good idea. I have nothing against the city or it’s people)

    I will say that while I’ve mostly enjoyed Peter Gillis’ writing, I’ve never been satisfied by his series endings (Warp, Defenders, Micronauts)

  4. Sometimes yes, it can. Though I’m in the minority who enjoyed the original Justice — one of the few good bits in the NU.
    But don’t try to hide your hatred for Pittsburgh. You’ve been on the Pittsburgh Watchlist for years.
    You have a point about Gillis’ endings, though he finished his run on Strikeforce well.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.