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Monday, July 2, 2018

Celebrating the Force of July

I was looking around for something to post in celebration of Independence Day 2018 and was shocked to discover that a post about the ill-fated Force of July wasn't easy to find. Hence, here's our write-up.

Created by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo, the Force of July first appear in 1984's Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1.

Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) -- cover pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Jim Aparo

The cover of this issue is noteworthy since:

a) Frank Miller penciled it (and it would appear Jim Aparo inked it),
b) the "It's 1984: Do you know where your FREEDOMS are?" call-out is a reference to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (which was also adapted as a film in the UK that year) AND popular American television Public Service Announcement "It's 10PM. Do you know where your children are?", and
c) Batman is nowhere to be found on this cover (which is odd considering his name is in the title of the book).


For the sake of keeping this article relatively short, I'm NOT going to give you a play-by-play of what happens in this issue. All you really need to know is that a new super-team (sponsored by an ultra-patriotic US politician, naturally) is introduced as new antagonists for the Outsiders. Seeing as how this issue was an Annual -- and thus needed to resolve within 48 pages -- the Outsiders go toe-to-toe with the Force of July, get defeated and captured, but manage to rally at the last minute and thwart a dastardly scheme and save the day. The story ends in an ambiguous way and the reader is left wondering if the Force of July survives at the end. Spoiler: they do.

The roster included (from left to right): Mayflower, Major Liberty, Sparkler, Silent Majority, and Lady Liberty. [That's Metamorpho lying face-down on the ground between Major Victory and Sparkler.]
 panel from Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) - pencils by Jerome Moore, inks by Jim Aparo

While this particular story (written AND edited by Mike Barr) was somewhat clich├ęd and will probably never make anyone's 'Best Of' list, it was admittedly exciting to get a NEW team of characters for the Outsiders to battle. The series was still within its first year of publication and slowly building its own distinct rogues gallery (Masters of Disaster, anyone?) -- so this was good. A team of super-characters privately sponsored by the government is an idea as old as time itself, so we weren't really moving into new territory here. Regardless, the Force of July made formidable adversaries and had an interesting patriotic-themed gimmick, so this was a really cool concept to a 10 year-old me. [Just to be clear, I wasn't a 10 year-old when this Annual came out -- I was a 10 year-old when I started collecting and reading Batman and The Outsiders back issues.]


The next time we saw the Force of July was nearly a year later in The Outsiders v1 #2. The Outsiders v1 (aka Baxter Trade format) was a pretty exciting time for Outsiders fans -- we were treated to a glossier paper stock and back-up features spotlighting individual Outsiders members.

As a direct consequence of Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1, we find the Force of July punching their way out of a mountain. They are now part of a plot involving the Bad Samaritan and Gobrachev.

panel from The Outsiders v1 #3 (1985) - illustrated by Jim Aparo

By this point, the Force of July have been relegated to c-list villains and are easily dispatched by the new and improved Outsiders (Looker is now on the team).

They next appeared in 1987's The Outsiders Special #1. The Outsiders Special #1 was followed by 1987's Infinity Inc. Special #1 (released that same month) -- it was a cross-over. You were able to join the two covers to create a REALLY big battle scene between The Outsiders, Infinity Inc., the Force of July, and Psycho Pirate.

Covers to The Outsiders Special #1 and Infinity Inc. Special #1 (1987). Art by Eduardo Barreto

The cross-over ends with the Force of July deciding to withdraw from the battle because it was going to turn into an international incident on foreign soil.

They redeem themselves in The Outsiders v1 #23 (1987) when they team up with The People's Heroes to defeat a Russian menace known as 'Fusion'. This entire issue was staged as a flashback that occurred between 1986's The Outsiders v1 #13 and The Outsiders v1 Annual #1.  This is a particularly charming issue since The People's Heroes are ANOTHER patriotic-themed team of super-powered characters ALSO created by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo -- and it's pretty amusing to see the two teams (who are essentially American and Russian counterparts of each other) interact.

panel from The Outsiders v1 #23 (1987). Illustrated by David Ross and Bob Smith.

By the end of this issue, it was starting to seem plausible that the Force of July could actually be a team of government-sponsored super-heroes with a conscious who actually do good for the DC Universe (rather than a 'puppet' super-hero team controlled by the U.S. government).

The Force of July would last be seen together -- as a unit -- in the pages of John Ostrander & Kim Yales' Suicide Squad v1 #27.

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I'm not sure how detailed I want this article to be, but it would be kind of a shame if I didn't explain who was who, and what their powers were. Aside from Major Victory, nobody on this team had a Who's Who listing, so I'm just going to by what's been revealed in the comics.


Major Victory:

He led the team and wore an enhanced suit that gave him super-strength, super-endurance and the ability to fly. Most notably, he was a die-hard American patriot who did what he did for America. There wasn't really much more to him than that. He was arguably the most boring of the bunch.

panels from The Outsiders Special #1 (1987) - pencilled by Chuck Patton and inked by Bob Smith


Lady Liberty:

She appeared to have the ability to fly and the power to shoot energy beams. What kind of energy? I'm not sure -- they left it kind of vague. Whatever it was, it could be used to disintegrate things, levitate and move people/objects (like a tractor beam) or create thick smoke. I get the feeling her powers could do whatever the writer needed them to do in order to suit the story. In the spirit of the Statue of Liberty (which was a gift to the United States from the people of France), she spoke with a French accent. It is also revealed that she was originally from France.

panels from The Outsiders Special #1 (1987) - pencilled by Chuck Patton and inked by Bob Smith


Mayflower:

She's the group's botanokinetic (aka: ability to control plants with her mind). Her powers vary from making vines raise from the ground (to entangle someone) to having fully-grown redwoods sprout from the ground (to crush someone). A dialogue with Geo-Force gave a bit of insight into her origin -- she was originally from England and shunned for being a "freak", and she somehow found her way to the United States and was recruited to join the Force. I imagine she spoke with an English cockney accent. Her codename is based on the English ship that transported the first batch of Pilgrims to North America in 1620 -- hence her 'thematic' costume.

panels from The Outsiders Special #1 (1987) - pencilled by Chuck Patton and inked by Bob Smith


Silent Majority:

He didn't talk very much and had the power to create duplicates of himself at will. It would appear that injuring him also allowed him to create duplicates of himself. Each of his duplicates were an exact replica of him and had his proportional strength. It didn't seem like the duplicates had independent thought. He was like a DC version of X-Factor's Multiple Man (of Marvel Comics) if Multiple Man was less chatty and his duplicates all had a hive-mind. 'Silent Majority' was actually a term popularized by 37th U.S. President, Richard Nixon, to describe an 'unspecified large group of people in a country who do not express their opinions publicly'.

 panels from Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) - pencils by Jerome Moore, inks by Jim Aparo


Sparkler:

This bratty-looking kid had the power to fly and shoot fireworks. He also had the power to turn himself into a living firework -- but we never saw this ability again after his first appearance. A 'Sparkler' is another name for a hand-held firework that burns slowly and shoots sparks everywhere.

panels from Batman and The Outsiders Annual #1 (1984) - pencils by Jerome Moore, inks by Jim Aparo


Abraham Lincoln Carlyle:

He was a later addition to the team and first appeared in 1987's The Outsiders Special #1. Other than being an early example of an Uncle Sam cosplayer, Abraham's only ability was that he was rich and really REALLY wanted to be president of the United States. At some point he manages to get a hold of Psycho Pirate's Medusa Mask, and that becomes his power.

panels from Suicide Squad v1 #27 (1989). Art by John Snyder and Pablo Marcos.

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So, what became of this interesting crew of super-powered patriots? Well... with the exception of Major Victory... they all got killed off when they fought against the Suicide Squad during 1989's Janus Directive cross-over event. (which will make a great article for another time. wink wink)

Suicide Squad v1 #27 (1989). Cover art by Karl Kessel


Following the Janus Directive cross-over, Major Victory got absorbed into the Suicide Squad and fought alongside them for about 2 years before parting ways. Ultimately, he became a casualty of Eclipso's vengeance and bit the dust in Eclipso v1 #13 (1993).

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As far as fan reaction was concerned, the most surprising thing about the death of the Force of July was that it DIDN'T happen in an issue written by Mike Barr. By 1989, when the Janus Directive cross-over event was published, Barr was still working with DC Comics -- so I'm not entirely sure how this one slipped through the cracks.

While I never read any real criticism or praise about the Force of July in the letter columns of Batman and the Outsiders' issues, quite a few readers did chime in after the death of the team. One reader wrote in to comment that they were thankfully to Ostrander "for ridding DC of more deadwood by having the Squad kick the tar of the Force of July. They were growing awfully lame."

Another reader, Charles D. Brown of Brentwood, NY, theorized that the creation of the Force of July was Mike Barr's "way of sticking it to right-wingers and to express his own opinion that 'government-approved' super-heroes will never be as good as the real thing because the very fact that they do work for the government doesn't allow them to have as much of a conscience and a free will as 'outside' heroes. And after seeing Force of July, Checkmate, Suicide Squad and all other tearing at each other over false tips, barely visible sources, or just because somebody with a security pass says so -- you know Barr was right."  He also added that Abraham Lincoln Carlyle won't be missed, and that Sparkler was pretty annoying. (What can we say, Charles? Every team needs it's 'Cousin Oliver/Danny Chase'.)

Every reader who wrote in had no problem with the Force of July getting killed off and even applauded it, but always concluded with "...but you could've at least kept [insert name here] alive. They had a really cool power and would've been great on the Suicide Squad."

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...and this concludes our article on the Force of July. Hopefully, you are now armed with new knowledge and know what's going on every time someone out there makes a 'Force of July' joke. (probably not very often)

Happy Fourth of July and God Bless America!

-Justin

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