There are probably a lot of readers who will go into "A-Force" #1 blind, so to speak, having not read the "Secret Wars" miniseries event that this comic spins out of. With that in mind, here's the good news: Marguerite Bennett, G. Willow Wilson, Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung, Laura Martin and Matt Milla have created a comic that is inviting for new readers as well as those in the know, especially thanks to a well-placed text page alongside the credits. That's a relief, because this comic is good enough that I don't want readers to get scared away.
The credits page quickly spells out the nature of Battleworld for readers wondering how this connects to other comics from Marvel, which is good because it allows Bennett and Wilson to quickly get down to business, showing us both the nature of A-Force as well as Arcadia. Both of them are quickly defined, Arcadia as a near-paradise modeled on a Mediterranean style island and A-Force as its superpowered protection squad. What's nice is how Bennett and Wilson both show and tell in the opening pages of the book. We're told halfway down the first page that Arcadia is full of "red roofs and friendly dogs, green hills and water blue as heartache." It's an evocative turn of phrase, and then you get to page 2 and Molina and Martin promptly give us just that, with A-Force soaring overhead. Not only does it bring to life what we were just told, but it locks it into the reader's head while they're looking at the foreground, so they won't miss all of the hard work put into the background visuals. The reader is alerted to this setup as it's delivered.
Bennett and Wilson also give us rough sketches of all of the pre-existing characters, enough to let us know who they are before moving forward and letting us see them in action. It's a simple but effective device that brings this large cast together; we don't need to know the extensive back stories of the characters, and the writers are wise to avoid them. After that initial introduction, Bennett and Wilson show us who they are by having the characters interact with one another and the threats coming towards them. Watching Ms. America and Loki's scene together, for example, tells us more about both characters than any narration box would have. We instantly understand not only their relationship, but little facts about them, like their tastes in music or pets. Even the characters who fall into standard roles -- She-Hulk as the leader who finds herself in the difficult spot of having to enforce a rule she doesn't think should be invoked, for example -- still come across as real people with genuine personalities, not one-dimensional stand-ins.
Within the story itself, Wilson and Bennett achieve two important things. First, because it's a superhero comic, chances are high that there's going to be some sort of fight. Instead of going for a typical sort of foe, though, we get a megalodon. It's silly and different and dangerous, all of which makes it instantly appealing. More importantly, the second achievement shows us the first cracks in the utopia that is Arcadia. Between Ms. America's verdict and the fact that the megalodon made it into Arcadia's waters, we're shown how Arcadia's perfection is, in fact, anything but perfect. That's important, because it's almost certainly the foundation upon which this entire miniseries is built. It's just the right level of mystery and looming disaster to make people come back for "A-Force" #2.
Molina and Yeung's art looks good here, capturing not only the idyllic look of Arcadia (as mentioned earlier) but the people within it. There are lots of great little moments that have energy and emotion. As Ms. America hurls the megalodon through the air, it's done in a manner that instantly tells us just how powerful she is. The body language is great here, too; Ms. America's slouched shoulders and head when She-Hulk comes back with the verdict looks extremely telling, and the moment of tenderness between two of the characters similarly comes across well. The cliffhanger at the end of the issue also works really well, thanks to how Molina, Yeung, Martin and Milla bring the new arrival onto the page. She looks instantly intriguing, both in physical shape (I love the wafting nebula of hair) as well as the dark purples and blacks used to bring her to life.
"A-Force" #1 is a triumph, taking a concept that could have simply been dashed off and then ignored and turning it into a book that I'd cheerfully read every month. Even if "Secret Wars" itself is unappealing, this book muscles its way into your heart through sheer quality. If there are any books that somehow survive the end of "Secret Wars," I'd love for this to be one. "A-Force" is an A-Plus.