2020 Force Works: Who, What, Where

Force Works 2020

With Marvel’s February 2020 solicitations came the announcement of a three-issue Force Works miniseries, part of Marvel’s Iron Man 2020 event. Written by Matthew Rosenberg, with art by Juanan Ramirez, the book will feature War Machine (Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes), Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse), Quake (Daisy Johnson), and USAgent (John Walker). These are four characters who rarely get the spotlight, but they have devoted fanbases, and the news of the revival was met with an enthusiastically positive reaction.

But what is Force Works?

The original Force Works series ran for 22 issues between 1994-1996, spinning directly out of the pages of West Coast Avengers. The team included most of the members of the final WCA roster. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that three out of four of the 2020 Force Works team members are former West Coast Avengers, War Machine and Mockingbird were not part of the Force Works team. It remains to be seen exactly how much this book will have in common with the original volume, but there’s plenty of potential with this team, given these characters’ history.

Mockingbird and her then-husband Hawkeye co-founded the West Coast Avengers in West Coast Avengers (1984) #1. Compared with the East Coast team, the West Coast Avengers (sometimes called the “Wackos”) were more casual, with plenty of scenes set around the pool, on the beach, or during a barbecue. The team was also very close-knit, being relatively isolated from the goings-on in Manhattan, but it had its fair share of drama. Between Mockingbird and Hawkeye’s on-again-off-again marriage and Scarlet Witch and Vision’s on-again-off-again children, there was always something interesting going on in the Palos Verdes headquarters.

In West Coast Avengers #100, Mockingbird tragically died in battle (don’t worry, she got better). Hawkeye took himself off to the wilderness to mourn in private, and while he was away, the East Coast Avengers swooped in and shut down the West Coast team.

The East Coast team expected the West Coasters to join the main team as reservists, but they were still reeling from the insult and had no interest in accepting those terms. Instead, Iron Man, a long-time West Coast member, invited his former teammates to join him in a new project, called Force Works. The purpose of the team was to monitor potential threats using advanced computer systems and proactively deal with problems before they got out of hand. The original Force Works team was made up of Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter), Wonder Man, and USAgent.  They also had an in-house artificial intelligence called PLATO (Piezo-electrical Logistic Analytical Tactical Operator) who manned (so to speak) the headquarters.

Force Works #1
Iron Man explains Force Works to his recruits in Force Works (1994) #1. Words: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning. Pencils: Tom Tenney. Inks: Rey Garcia. Colors: Joe Rosas

US Agent had joined the West Coast Avengers by government order in West Coast Avengers #44. Hawkeye, as team chairman, took offense to the external meddling, and from that moment on, Hawkeye and USAgent hated each other’s guts. First impressions aside, both of them were stubborn and brash, and they had very different points of view. Their feud became so intense that during one of Mockingbird and Hawkeye’s estrangements, USAgent tried to move in on Mockingbird, hoping to get on Hawkeye’s nerves, but his tactics–to put it delicately–failed to impress her.

West Coast Avengers #81 - Mockingbird and USAgent
USAgent’s negging doesn’t do it for Mockingbird. From Avengers West Coast (1985) #82. Words: Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas. Pencils: David Ross. Inks: Tim Dzon. Colors: Bob Sharen

Jim Rhodes became Iron Man during Tony Stark’s relapse into alcoholism during Iron Man #165-170. When the West Coast Avengers were founded, they invited Iron Man to join the team, not knowing that the current Iron Man wasn’t the same person they’d known for years. At first, Rhodes was uncomfortable taking the position, feeling like he was skating by on Stark’s reputation, but he ended up revealing himself to the team and showing them that he was worthy of the mantle. When Stark went back to being Iron Man, Rhodey left the team for Stark to replace him, but years later, after Tony’s supposed death in Iron Man #284, Rhodey rejoined the team with his new superhero persona, War Machine.

Learning that Tony had faked his death led to a big fallout between Tony and Rhodey, and the two of them were no longer on speaking terms when Tony started the Force Works team. However, Rhodey maintained his friendship with the other former West Coast Avengers, especially Hawkeye and USAgent (who had made their peace with each other during Hawkeye’s self-imposed exile after Mockingbird’s death), and his path crossed with the Force Works team several times over the course of the book.

War Machine #20 - USAgent and Rhodey
Rhodey greets USAgent during the events of “The Crossing” in War Machine (1994) #20. Words: Dan Abnett. Pencils: Fred Haynes. Inks: Johnny Greene. Colors: Erika Moran, Malibu Color

Daisy Johnson, a relative newcomer to the Marvel Universe, was introduced during Nick Fury’s Secret War, where she and Black Widow were the only ones privy to Fury’s entire plan. Johnson was only 18 at the time, but she was one of Fury’s most trusted agents. Eventually, she became a superhero called Quake and led the Secret Warriors, briefly joined the Avengers (where she had a short run-in with USAgent in Avengers (2010) #19), and eventually became the youngest-ever Director of SHIELD.

While Johnson was heading SHIELD, she approved a SHIELD-backed Secret Avengers team which included Mockingbird and War Machine, among others. Because of the nature of the team’s work, everyone involved (including Director Johnson herself) was injected with nanotechnology that erased their memory of each mission when it ended. This ended up biting most of the team in the butt, and by the end of the book, War Machine and Hawkeye quit in protest, while Quake and Mockingbird (together with the Winter Soldier) went on the run from SHIELD while trying to put together pieces of their memory.

Secret Avengers #16 - Quake and Mockingbird
The first day of the rest of their lives. From Secret Avengers (2013) #16. Words: Nick Spencer, Ales Kot. Pencils: Luke Ross. Inks: Luke Ross. Colors: Matt Wilson

What about Iron Man 2020?

So now that we’ve established the relationships between the characters, what sort of threat might this new team be facing, and how much will it connect to the original Force Works?

We know that 2020 Force Works is part of the Iron Man 2020 event, which spins out of Tony Stark: Iron Man and revolves around a robot uprising. Tony Stark will supposedly be out of the picture for this event, and as Tony’s best friend and someone who’s filled in for him more than once, Rhodey will no doubt have a lot on his plate. Thematically, it’s fitting for Rhodey to put together a team based on one that Tony created.

And what about this robot revolution? Assuming that this series has a major robot player, there are a few robot characters who might fit into it. PLATO, for example, was always loyal to the team, but who knows what he’s been up to since the team disbanded? Alternatively, he could show up as an ally to this foursome against whatever threat they’re facing.

If not PLATO, the threat might come from Ultimo, an alien robot who’s been a foe of both Iron Man and War Machine in the past. Ultimo was last seen in the pages of War Machine as part of a storyline featuring a team-up between the original lineup of the West Coast Avengers (as well as former Force Works member Cybermancer–a possible guest star here as well?).

War Machine #10 - WCA Reunion
Tigra, Wonder Man, Ronin (a.k.a. Hawkeye), and Mockingbird join forces with War Machine in War Machine (2008) #10. Words: Greg Pak. Pencils: Allan Jefferson, R.B. Silva. Inks: Nelson Pereira. Colors: Jay David Ramos, Michael Bartolo

Another possibility for a robot antagonist is Alkhema, a robot “sister” of Mockingbird created by evil robot Ultron in West Coast Avengers #90. Ultron used Mockingbird’s brain waves as a template for her personality and meant for her to be his wife and partner in defeating the Avengers, but just like Mockingbird, Alkhema isn’t one to follow orders blindly. Unlike most of Ultron’s other creations (e.g. Vision, Jocasta, Victor Mancha), she never did a heel-face turn to become a hero, but she hates Ultron even more than she hates the Avengers, which has worked to the team’s advantage more than once. Alkhema died in Avengers: The Ultron Imperative (2001), which means that she’s about due for a comeback.

On the other hand, Rosenberg and Ramirez might be leading us down a different path entirely. Still, it’s fun to speculate. Whether the plot of the miniseries ties into the old Force Works team or not, it’ll definitely be interesting watching this team work together.

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By day, Steph is a software designer and a writer. She loves underrated characters and filling in continuity gaps. Her ambition is to one day create the ultimate headcanon, a theory so breathtakingly perfect that it causes Marvel to revive the No-Prize just to make sure she receives one.

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