West Coast Avengers #1
Issue(s): West Coast Avengers #1
Even prior to this series, the West Coast team were actually serving as supporting characters in the Iron Man series rather than Stern's Avengers, so it wasn't any seismic shift when this book started getting published.
As to Steve Englehart, my biggest complaint from his earlier, well-regarded Avengers story, like Celestial Madonna and the Serpent Crown Saga, is that they were unfocused and meandering, and often read more like history lessons than stories. You'd think *i* would love the historical continuity mining, but the stories of the 70s were often so rushed, late, unedited, etc., that they often were too unstructured to read like proper stories. So maybe in the fascist dictatorship of Jim Shooter's reign, things will be a little better?
The focus on Marvel's history certainly remains, and indeed Marvel took the unusual tactic of playing up the Vision and Wonder Man's rather convoluted backgrounds as a selling point.
As you can see from the ad, in addition to launching the West Coast book, Marvel also simultaneously launched a Vision & the Scarlet Witch maxi-series and had the first four issues tie in as a continuous story. So we're going epic from the start here
Also interesting to note that this book was originally to be titled "Hawkeye and the West Coast Avengers". Gruenwald says they dropped that title because they couldn't make a good logo out of it, but judging from this first arc it doesn't seem like Englehart really intended for this to be a "Hakeye and the..." book anyway.
In fact, Englehart tries to give equal time to all the members of his cast. Add to that a complex plot, and this issue moves a few notches back towards the Silver Age on the compression/de-compression scale. Although it is a double-sized first issue.
We start when Henry Pym shows up at the West Coast Compound...
...only to turn into some sort of demon-vampire when Hawkeye suggests it might be because the team has a membership slot open.
He's actually here to check out Erik Josten, who turned up "several weeks" ago as Goliath.
Pym wants to study him and learn how he became Goliath. He's intrigued to hear that he doesn't have blood anymore and that Josten's powers are derived from a combination of Pym's growth serum and ionic energy.
Meanwhile, Wonder Man is flying Tigra back to the compound.
Tigra is suddenly terrified of water, "because I've go the soul of a cat, you turkey!". Tigra never exhibited this kind of cat behavior before; she says it's a recent phenomenon.
While still in the air, Wonder Man and Tigra are attacked by a fleet of robots. Luckily Iron Man shows up to help.
This would have been readers' first glimpse of Iron Man's new armor, because this issue was published prior to its debut in Iron Man's own title. A note from Gruenwald explains that this book was originally written to come out after IM #200 but the publication schedule on this book got moved up by a month. Tony Stark doesn't actually officially join the team until Iron Man #201; prior to that James Rhodes was Iron Man and Stark was just using their lab as a workspace.
While Iron Man and Wonder Man take on the robots...
...Tigra exhibits her own act of bravery by jumping into the water so Wonder Man can fight with both hands. I already don't like where Englehart is going with this character. She's already one of the weakest character but if writers would stop treating her like a joke there's no reason she couldn't be as effective as, say, the Beast. Instead she's picking up new weaknesses and going back to her "sex kitten" days, coming on to Henry Pym (yeachh!) when the team gets back to base.
The Avengers leave Pym behind and trace down the source of the robots, which is a boat floating in San Pedro Harbor. They learn they are dealing with Ultron.
Meanwhile, the Wasp calls in to check on the West Coast team. Pym hesitates a bit before answering his ex-wife on the monitor.
The team returns from their fight with Ultron (he left them to die in a death trap that they escaped from) before the conversation goes too far, and when the Wasp hears who they are up against, she suggests sending in some heavy hitters. Specifically, um, Thor or Captain Marvel. Hawkeye angrily says that his team can handle anything.
But were they counting on... the Man-Ape?
Balancing what i said earlier about Tigra, she does have a good showing against the Man-Ape.
Man-Ape is teamed-up with Ultron, which is surprising, as is the fact that Ultron wasn't aware that Pym had arrived at the West Coast base, suggesting that Ultron's plans for once don't involve re-inacting Oedipus Rex. Indeed, the Man-Ape refers to a "master" that Ultron refers to as an "ally".
The pair are able to free Goliath, and the villains are more than a match for the Avengers team.
They are able to capture both Pym and Wonder Man (also, that looks like an uncomfortable way for Josten to travel).
When Hawkeye sees the Man-Ape, he correctly guesses that he's dealing with the Grim Reaper, who was leader of the Lethal Legion, of which the Man-Ape and Erik Josten (in his Power Man days) were both members.
Despite sledghammer characterization (when Ultron first reveals himself to Henry Pym and blasts Pym and Iron Man into rubble, Iron Man makes a stray comment referring to Pym as an Avengers and Pym, who should be terrified at seeing Ultron or at least from nearly getting killed, moans "Don't call me "Don't call me -- Avenger...", because surely that's what would be the first thing on his mind right now)...
...this is enjoyable on a basic level. There's so much going on and it's built on so many past stories (see the absolutely exhausting number of footnotes) that you kind of get past the scripting, and it's a nice set-up. And there's a slamming battle at the end. The art is fine, but Milgrom/Sinnott art should be better than this, but Milgrom is surely over-extending himself working on this and Secret Wars II in tandem; neither book is lightly plotted.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places the Wasp's appearance here between Avengers #258-259. That seems unlikely considering the Avengers that the Wasp offers to send to help fight Ultron: Thor would be difficult to reach at this time, and Captain Marvel was currently off in another solar system; the Avengers hadn't heard from her in weeks. She could just be speaking off the top of her head; maybe rattled by unexpectedly talking to her ex. Takes place after the debut of Iron Man's new armor in Iron Man #200 and his affirmation that he's replacing Rhodey on the team in #201 even though those books hadn't been published yet. See West Coast Avengers #7 regarding this incarnation of Ultron.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
The terrible art on SW2 and the passable art on this made me realize why an inker is important.
Englehart's comics tended to be enjoyable, but not great. Never understood why so many others just loved his work. At the time, I liked WCA, but knowing what I did now I am very disappointed we never got to see the Stern plots.
Englehart was great for high-concept epics in the '70s, though even then the execution didn't often match the ambition. From his mid-80s return to Marvel, I really enjoyed his final six months on Silver Surfer, though I realize now he mangled quite a few of the cosmic characters, particularly the non-villain Elders of the Universe like Runner and Contemplator. (Englehat's Contemplator was retconnec by Gruenwald into a Skrull, but the Runner never recovered.)
This goes way back, but does anyone else remember Englehart's bizarre war-of-letters with Mike W. Barr in the Comics Buyer's Guide when the first Michael Keaton Batman movie was being released? It went back and forth between them for weeks, and got nastier in every round. I thought Barr made the more convincing case. (Essentially, the bone of contention was how much Englehart was responsible for the modern, "darker" version of Batman that laid the groundwork for Frank Miller's stories and then the film. Englehart's letters suggested that it would be difficult to overstate Englehart's contribution.)
The way he came off in that exchange made me think less of him...and his then-recent work (such as WCA and his post-Byrne run on FF) already had hurt him in my eyes. It's a shame, because I know at one time he had written some good comics, but I had gotten to a point of dreading to see his byline by then.
About a year before this, it was announced that Englehart was writing a 12-part maxi-series with the Black Widow. No idea if he ever actually got to use her outside of some cameos.
In a preview for this book, Englehart stated that Tigra had a "split personality" due to having a cat soul and a human soul. He did acknowledge that Tigra started out as a strident feminist, but he didn't mention anything about picking up on it.
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