Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
The creative team of Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan were no strangers to a “weird world of terror” as they had collaborated on their successful 70-issue run on Marvel Comics’ The Tomb of Dracula, which was the longest running comic book horror series of all time (although I believe that honour now falls on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead).
I’ll admit from the start that I never read this series when it came out. My 11-year-old comic book budget didn’t allow me to push beyond my staples of the Amazing Spider-Man, the Uncanny X-Men, and the New Teen Titans.
What impressed me from a writing point-of-a-view was how Marv Wolfman, who was also writing the New Teen Titans book, could change gears and write a very different book that was not only a completely different genre, but a radically different cast of characters. What was also refreshing was that it was a clear shift from the superhero world. The cast of characters were everyday people who have had brushes with the supernatural or were gifted with paranormal abilities.
The story centered around the mysterious Baron Winters and his attempts to stave off an even more mysterious threat. From Wintergate Manor, Baron Winters would manipulate events and even use the time travelling powers of the manor to affect current events.
The cast of characters for their first outing was tabloid news reporter Jack Gold, granddaughter of Dracula’s nemesis Vanessa Van Helsing, and parapsychologist Donavan Cain. Cain worked for the United States government, trying to find a way to harness satanic forces for their own purposes which was a supernatural arms race with the Soviet Union. Vanessa turned out to a psychic focal point for these satanic forces and Donavan’s research quickly moved from helping the government to helping Vanessa and keeping her alive and sane. The stakes dramatically increase as Vanessa is abducted by the Soviets with their own designs of using her and kicks her teammates into motion to rescue her.
The idea behind the Night Force was that it would be rotating cast of characters the Baron would put together to deal with a supernatural threat. Unfortunately, the first story arc lasted 7.5 issues and was a bit too long as it didn’t allow the readers to see the concept they had in mind in action. Another significant problem was the lack of any kind of sympathy for Baron Winters. I felt his mysterious nature and master manipulator role worked against him. On the other hand, I did enjoy his side trips into the past as well as the hints at his immortality and the suggestion that there were other incarnations of the Night Force.
Night Force was cancelled due to falling sales with issue #14. In that issue’s letter column, Wolfman advertized that the series would continue as a four issue mini-series, published on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, Night Force wouldn’t get another chance until 1996 and despite that incarnation and one in 2012, the series just hasn’t been able to gain the foothold it needed to be successful. I can’t help but wonder if the title had started as a series of four issue story arcs, it would have fared better.
Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blogs at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com and dc1980s.blogspot.com