The Small Lebowski:
West Coast Avengers annual #2
Issue(s): West Coast Avengers annual #2
Contest of Champions ended with a mistake. The Grandmaster was said to have won that contest, but if you tally up the score you see that he actually tied with Death. In the introduction to my Contest of Champions trade, Tom DeFalco says that when Jim Shooter found out about that error, Mark Gruenwald quickly spun a story saying that it was a deliberate error so that there could be a sequel. No one thinks Jim Shooter actually believed that, but he did approve a sequel since Contest had sold so well. The sequel, which was to have been by Bill Mantlo and John Romita Jr., ended up getting delayed indefinitely (and Secret Wars was its sequel in spirit), and so this crossover between the Avengers annuals serves as the sequel to Contest, plotwise.
We begin as we did with last year's Avengers annual crossover, with a softball game between the East and West coast teams, this time in the Houston Astrodome.
The Avengers almost get to finish their game this time, with a score of 417-413. Thor hits the game-tying home run just as the Silver Surfer arrives, warning that an Elder of the Universe wants to kill the Avengers. And indeed, the entire East Coast team, including a visiting Wasp, suddenly drop dead. The Surfer reveals that this is the work of the Grandmaster.
Yes, he died in Contest of Champions to resurrect his "brother" (these issues emphasize multiple times that the Elders are not biological siblings), but he's now working from beyond the veil to resurrect himself. With the West Coast team containing two "members", Moon Knight and Wonder Man, that have already died and come back, they are ready to believe the Surfer and hold out hope that the East Coasters can be resurrected, too (Moon Knight is not officially inducted yet, and for that matter, Firebird isn't an official member either).
The Collector offers to give the West Coasters a potion that will kill them, so they can travel to Death's domain and stop the Grandmaster.
Al Milgrom's awkward art has Wonder Man just weirdly shouting his belief that he's unable to die.
But the Collector assures him that he can.
All this talk of resurrection should make Firebird, a devout Christian, uncomfortable, but instead, if i interpret Englehart's shoe-horned dialogue bubble correctly, she claims that death can be reversed, as long as it's God's will. Which i guess she thinks it is?
This talk of death also has Henry Pym bring up his recent suicidal intentions.
Honestly i'm not sure if there's any coherent point here; just that Englehart has realized that a lot of these characters have a connection with death. The West Coasters decide to drink the potion, and they all die except Firebird, who is left behind with the Collector.
What follows is, if you're feeling charitable, a homage to Golden Age style stories and of course Contest of Champions, where a big cast is broken down into smaller chapters so they can fight their individual fights. I'm not feeling charitable, so i'm going to say that what follows is just crap. The idea is that the Collector has told the West Coast team that the Grandmaster is behind the death scheme, but the Grandmaster has simultaneously told the East Coast Avengers the same thing about the Collector. So when the two teams meet up, the only way to resolve the conflicting information is for them to fight each other. There's no attempt to compare notes and reason things out, and there's no attempt at setting up a Misunderstanding that prevents them from doing so. They just fight.
If you want to believe that the Grandmaster is subconsciously manipulating everyone, that's fine, but you're bringing that to the story, not the writers. What makes it even dumber is that when the West Coast team "wins" the "contest", everyone agrees to go along with the West Coasters' plan, even though some of the individual East Coasters won their portions.
If this was really something worth fighting over, wouldn't they continue to fight beyond their initial pairings? It makes no sense.
The Silver Surfer leaves the Avengers to their pointless fight while he seeks out Death.
Since this is a glorified Whoodwin, i shall opine about the outcome of the battles.
Captain Marvel is weirdly boastful. I assume this is just meant as exposition but it comes across poorly for her.
I have no problem with Iron Man winning the fight by finding a way to channel her energy. It should quell complaints that CM is too powerful.
Cap defeating Mockingbird is fine, although he uses more trickery and running away than i'd expect.
Henry Pym beating the Wasp (wrong choice of words?) is disappointing.
The problem with his new status quo is that he's as powerful as Doctor Strange (some might even say a Scientist Supreme), able to pull any random thing out of his pockets at a moment's notice. The idea that he'd design these little drones just perfect for zapping the Wasp is too convenient (or worse, suspiciously alarming!)...
...and the fact that he designed them in a way such that he's immune to their blasts is even more convenient.
And the fact that he's able to beat her by grabbing her (through trickery and playing on her sympathies) doesn't really work either, considering the super-strength that Roger Stern recently established she has when she's small.
Thor vs. Wonder Man? Yeah, bring that guy down a peg. Fists compared favorably to Thor my rocket-burned ass.
Tigra is able to disregard Dr. Druid's illusions, which doesn't seem right.
His illusions, i thought, were more like hypnosis. They aren't image projections. So they should work on all her senses. But he does say that her catlike mind is able to resist his powers to a degree, so maybe that explains it. Druid has been shown to have a martial arts side, too, so i thought maybe the idea would be to eliminate his mental abilities and pit them up against each other physically and see who wins (in which case my money would be on Tigra). But instead Druid ultimately does manage to use his mental powers on Tigra, and the fight ends with him patronizingly petting her on her head. I thought we were past all of this.
Moon Knight manages to beat the Black Knight using some deception. Ok with me.
Hawkeye's fight with She-Hulk is presented as the most unbalanced contest, and i agree. But Hawkeye manages to win the fight. I mentioned that i'm only opining on the individual battles because we're essentially invited to, since there isn't much more of a plot here. Normally i'm ok with the sentiment that anyone can beat anyone given the right circumstances. But this is a straight up versus type of fight, so circumstances should not really favor one candidate over another. But here they do. She-Hulk immediately crushes Hawkeye's bow and arrows.
But then in (i guess) a Hulk-like moment of raging stupidity, she ends up depositing herself into a lake...
...and stays down there for a loooong time, giving Hawkeye the opportunity to construct a new bow out of some conveniently placed bow-length reeds...
...and then keep She-Hulk at bay with some explosive arrow heads...
...while constructing an arrow armed with a gas head that he hits She-Hulk with as she comes up for air.
I don't know why She-Hulk would stay in the lake so long, and i can't imagine Hawkeye's dinky explosives have any effect on her. I wouldn't buy the Hulk getting beaten this way, and there's not supposed to be that much difference between them. It's nice seeing Hawkeye being innovative, but i see She-Hulk as being too much of a powerhouse to lose to him in a straight fight.
Not one woman wins her fight, i'll point out.
In the end the Grandmaster goes MWAHAHAH this was my plan all along, and he's shown to have captured Death. The explanation for that, such as it is, will be in the Avengers half of the story.
It's worth noting that Al Milgrom drew and inked this entire issue, while the sequel in Avengers has a total of twelve different artists on it. And both are structured in the same way, with a framing sequence and then broken down into individual battles. That's the thing about Al Milgrom, and i mean this sincerely. He may not be very good, but he can handle all the art in a 40+ page annual featuring two teams of Avengers and choreograph all their battles.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Wonder Man appears in his new costume here for the first time. The costume's debut in the regular series in West Coast Avengers #25 definitely takes place after the events here, with references to these annuals. Firebird does not die when she drinks the death potion along with the other West Coast Avengers characters, and she's next seen in Silver Surfer #3, where she's brought back to the West Coast Avengers compound, prior to West Coast Avengers #25. For the East Coast team, this can fit between Avengers #285-286 (or rather, before the final epilogue page in #285). I break slightly with the MCP and place this before Captain America #328-331 instead of after that arc and Fantastic Four #306 (since in FF #306, Cap says he's heading to Washington, as we see in Cap #332, the storyline that begins the period that has Steve Rogers replaced by John Walker).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Contest of Champions TPB
Inbound References (14): show
There will eventually be a Contest of Champions II miniseries in 1999, though not a direct sequel and more of a tournament style structure.
A tournament created by the heroes themselves for their students is actually called "Contest of Champions" in-universe, I hear, during Infinity: The Hunt... Coincidently not long after Avengers Arena.
Posted by: Max_Spider | April 11, 2014 2:35 PM
As with the previous year's Avengers annual crossover, "kid me" just ate this up. I still have a fondness for it. It's not a challenging story but come on, it's fun!
Posted by: Robert | April 11, 2014 4:33 PM
The sheer stupidity of the Avengers drinking poison on the word of a VILLAIN like the Collector is beyond belief. (And yes, the X-Men do agree to sacrifice themselves on the word of Forge but Forge is an antihero.)
Posted by: Michael | April 11, 2014 7:49 PM
Of course IM beats Monica--she's Stern's Mary Sue, not Engelhart's. Now if IM fought Firebird...
I'm kidding: Monica's not exactly a Mary Sue. But she is too powerful: lightspeed plus intangibility plus flight plus firepower--she's more impervious to harm than any other Avenger, including Thor. Think about how the Masters of Evil arc illustrated this: Zemo had a half-dozen guys who could go a few rounds with Thor, or by extension with any other Avenger. But only one Master was any kind of obstacle at all to Monica, and he failed. She's only really vulnerable to magical, psychic, or exotic-energy attacks, or to Zeus-level energy manipulators. And frankly, if you can move at lightspeed, you should logically be able to beat any mage or mentalist who only has human reflexes.
Stern was clever enough and devoted enough to Monica that he could probably have written her indefinitely without her making all the other Avengers redundant. But for another writer a character like that is a headache: a story-killer more easily than a story-starter.
She's not the only Stern character who proves problematic for other writers, of course: the Hobgoblin "twin" twist was something that appealed to Stern and he might have pulled off, but what the heck was a guy like Tom DeFalco or Peter Davis meant to do with it?
And of course, Monica is not the only too-powerful character: Will O the Wisp has much the same problem, and Rachel Summers is also rather inconveniently powerful--but even Rachel never had light speed.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 12, 2014 12:17 AM
In addition to Wonder Man's costume, this also seems to be the premiere of Hank's red jumpsuit.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | April 12, 2014 12:55 AM
Erik, thanks for pointing that out. Upped the Significance score slightly for Wonder Man and Pym's new costumes, although i'm still not sure if they first appeared here or in West Coast Avengers #25, publication wise.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 12, 2014 1:52 AM
Figuring that DC had Superman for all those years as part of the Justice League, it shouldn't have mattered very much what Monica could do in Avengers.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | April 12, 2014 2:15 AM
Roger Stern may have re-emphasized Wasp's enhanced strength when undersized, but it was actually established way back in 1977's Marvel Team-Up #60:
Posted by: Luis Dantas | April 12, 2014 7:35 PM
Cap winning is expected, but the She-Hulk and Wasp fights were B.S. Jen should have stomped Clint, and though Hank would have put up a good fight, Jan would have won. She DID win like 3 different ways, but the writer seemed determined to undermine her in every possible scenario.
Posted by: Jono | July 20, 2014 7:57 PM
I'm with Robert - kid me ate it up and adult me still finds it enjoyable.
I especially love that it came down to Hawkeye and She-Hulk and that Clint wins through strategy. I love CBR, but I hate their "The Wrong Side Won" feature, which included that fight. I don't buy into the idea that a wrong side won (and some of their choices I find ridiculous). I love it even more when Clint is one of the only two survivors in the follow-up.
That said, as a kid I didn't pay attention to the fact that none of the females won and that kind of bothers me.
I do love that Thor completely thumped Simon. I wasn't a big fan of Thor at this point but Simon really needed to be taken down a peg after the Lost in Space-Time series.
Posted by: Erik Beck | July 19, 2015 1:25 PM
I tried reading this to my kids but had to stop. Terrible writing and inconsistent characterisations. The art is so bad that it would make a blind man shriek. A low point in my collection. Absolutely awful. We skipped this and moved onto Englehart's Silver Surfer 1.
Posted by: Grom | August 18, 2015 7:45 AM
If the Vision -- who can turn intangible, or become invulnerable and super-strong, or fry you with heat rays -- isn't considered too powerful, I don't see why Monica should be. (Now Sersi, on the other hand...)
Posted by: Oliver_C | June 17, 2016 7:43 AM
Lol, what's up with Moon Knight's hand in that second panel of him talking to Silver Surfer? What kind of pose is that? it looks like he's eating an invisible hot dog!
Posted by: KombatGod | April 7, 2017 4:22 PM
'not one woman wins their fight, I must point out', of course you must. Because you're sexist.
Posted by: will | October 14, 2017 2:11 PM
I also noticed the oddity that no women won their fights. At the time, it didn't really register much with me, but as I've gotten older I wonder a little bit what was up with that. (and I'm generally an Englehart fan).
The one loss that probably made the least sense was Captain Marvel, who should have handled Iron Man easily. At the time I read the story, I liked her defeat because I thought she was too powerful, but I have since come to like the character more. The character I have a much bigger problem with is Blue Marvel, who is essentially perfection personified.
Mockingbird, of course, had no real chance against Cap; Wasp never seemed particularly tough, so I was okay with her loss to Pym; and I did like Hawkeye pulling off the 'upset' over She-Hulk, but I thought Druid beating Tigra was kind of silly.
In Avengers Annual # 16 by DeFalco, Mockingbird does beat Red Guardian.
Posted by: intp | October 14, 2017 3:34 PM
Druid beating Tigra never bothered me. His shtick is that he take control of someone's mind if they're distracted so all you need is a situation where Tigra's distracted.
Posted by: Michael | October 14, 2017 4:24 PM
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