West Coast Avengers #12-13
Issue(s): West Coast Avengers #12, West Coast Avengers #13
Let's start, though, with an entirely different sort of offense. This one visual. It's Wonder Man's new costume.
Holy god, dude. You can see why this guy spent half his career to date in a safari jacket. He just has no sense of fashion, even in the gaudy world of super-heroes.
Along with the costume is apparently a mid-life crisis, as Simon is now dying his hair (it never would have occurred to me that his hair was grey vs. black prior to this if it wasn't called out). And he's enlarged his jetpacks to unwieldy proportions and moved them up so they are constantly blasting fire on his "uh". So i guess that means the suit's also fireproof?
Not to be outdone, Hawkeye and Mockingbird have modified their costumes, too. And nothing could better illustrate the growing disparity between male and female super-heroes after our brief high point in the early to mid 80s. Both have adjusted their costumes because now that they're based in LA, they don't need as much protection from the elements. So Hawkeye has rolled his sleeves up a little...
...and Mockingbird has taken her pants off.
Hawkeye wore a skirt for a period of time, so he's not really shy about baring his legs.
And of course, the scene isn't complete without Iron Man leering at Tigra.
Actually, that's a big part of the reason i'm so down on Englehart's treatment of Tigra. I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Pants aside (literally!), his depiction of Mockingbird has been pretty good, and he's shown diversity by including Firebird in the cast as well, and highlighting her religious nature without making her look stupid for it. And the sexualization of Tigra happened before Englehart started writing her, and you could make the argument that he is putting her through all of this to eventually get her past it. Emphasis on "eventually" there, and that's another problem. Chris Claremont often puts his females through difficult and demeaning situations in order to get them to grow stronger for it, and while the number of times he's done this has raised eyebrows, he's generally recognized as being a good writer for strong female characters. So why is what Englehart doing here different? Well, a lot of reasons, but one is the sheer length of time that this has been going on. We're up to issues #15-16 here and this has been going on since the beginning of the series. That's a long time, especially since we're a ways away from the storytelling decompression of modern comics. And especially if it really was meant to be a corrective measure addressing her earlier depictions; if so, there was no reason to re-establish the problem for so long before fixing it.
That said, Englehart has been roundabout in other ways for this series, so maybe i could give him a pass on the way Tigra's issues are being dragged out if that was the only problem. But back to my point triggered by Tony's comment. If the idea is that she's becoming hypersexual because she's becoming dominated by her cat soul (the basic premise of which i also am not on board with, but let me try to stay focused here), then fine. She should be hypersexual, and hitting on all the guys. But do all the guys have to respond? I get it, she's a sexy cat girl. And Henry Pym is vulnerable due to his divorce. And maybe Wonder Man is a one night stand kind of guy (he tells her this issue that he'll never forget that afternoon on the beach, but he's with Christy Carson right now, so shuffle along, please).
But Iron Man is also attracted to her (in addition to comments he's made in this issue and earlier, after Wonder Man rejects her, Tigra runs to him and tries to get him into his bungalow, and he says he'd definitely be interested except he already dated one of Henry Pym's former love interests once and still feels guilty about that, so shuffle along, please).
And in addition to Tony, there was Werewolf By Night and Balkatar. And now we have Graviton, leering at Tigra from a distance and planning a whole two-issue attack on the Avengers because he thinks Tigra is hot.
I mean, you can't even blame that on pheromones. It's one thing to give a female a nymphomania-like problem and make her work her way through it. It's another to also make everyone else on the planet attracted to her and actively seek her out to take advantage of it. That's not serious character work; that's the plot of a porno. And that's the point. With the length of time this has been going on, the number of men that she's been with, and the fact that there's also constant comments about how sexy she is, it's impossible to look at this as anything other than a service for the primarily male comic book reading audience.
That's also evident by the nature of this book. This isn't Claremont's X-Men or anything close to it. This is a series where the long term villain is the goofball Master Pandemonium, where Tigra is working for a Cat King of the Cat People, where last issue's villain was called Headlok, and where in this issue the villains are based on a concept that you'd expect from a kid daydreaming in his high school physics class. The tone is just all wrong to tackle mature themes.
Before we get to those physics textbook villains, we have more humiliation for Tigra to go through (and then, after the villains, more humiliation). After getting shuffled along by both Wonder Man and Iron Man, both in part because they're worried about hurting Pym's feelings, she angrily goes to Pym to tell him that she's done with him. But instead she winds up making out with him.
Sure, no lady turns down a kiss from the Pymster.
Pym is next seen pulling his pants back up.
And Tigra is left spitting a bad taste out of her mouth, and asking "Why do I melt any time any man wants me?".
And let me just take this as an opportunity to repeat something i've said before: there'd be nothing wrong if Tigra were just sexually liberated, but what's happening here is she's being compelled to have sex with men, and feels disgusted with herself afterwards. And that's actually going to be a main plot point for these issues; she's captured by Graviton soon after the panel above.
Meanwhile, we see three other villains gathering. Two are new: the alien Quantum, who comes flying out of the sun...
...and Halflife, who comes out of a nuclear reactor. She's also an alien, actually.
The final villain is Zzzax.
If you were daydreaming during your high school physics class, these guys, with Graviton, represent the four fundamental forces: gravity, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and electromagnetism. I did daydream in physics, so that's about all i can tell you about that, but it's absolutely not important. Graviton just heard about the concept and thought it would be neato to form a little group based on it, so he sent a signal out into space that Quantum and Halflife responded to, and when no aliens responded representing electromagnetism, Graviton reluctantly recruited Zzzax to round out the group.
"Strong nuclear" Quantum can create equally power replicas of himself...
..."Weak nuclear" Halflife causes people to age (although they get restored when she gets knocked out)...
...poor old Zzzax is still vulnerable to the old arrow through water trick.
All three prove to be not too difficult to handle (Wonder Man is immune to Halflife and Quantum is vulnerable to smoke arrows), but when Graviton arrives, that's a different story.
All of the Avengers are captured and brought to Graviton's latest floating fortress, but Tigra is kept on a leash.
Which, i mean we're just totally off the rails now in terms of any kind of cat theme. I know some cat owners try to "walk" their cats, but that always ends with the cat rollings its eyes at you and doing whatever the hell it wants. We've really sort of lost the thread here and we're just into pure subjugation.
And it gets worse. Graviton forces Tigra to kiss him, and demonstrates quickly that there's not very much force required.
There's a variation on the "melt" line again. Englehart apparently thought it was worth putting in twice. Why do you always melt before anything in pants, Tigra? Because Steve Englehart says so, that's why. You've certainly never felt compelled to make out with a villain before he came along.
Note also in that scene above that Quantum would like to get in on the Tigra action, but Graviton tells him that they're only working together on their "projects of evil" (god, how dumb that sounds!). He's not sharing his sex slave.
Eventually we get to Tigra's redemptive moment. Sort of.
She manages to turn herself back into Greer Nelson, which removes her sex cat impulses.
Tellingly, Greer explicitly rejects feminism even at this point.
She's then attacked by one of Graviton's guards, and he makes an out of nowhere "man against woman" comment which i assume is meant to give Greer something symbolic to battle, fighting against chauvinism even while rejecting feminism.
Even as Greer, she continues to fantasize about being subjugated by Graviton.
But she resists, and uses her wits to defeat Graviton's super-villain allies. The wits involved are about the level of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, to be sure.
Zzzax was already out of the picture after issue #15. After this issue, Quantum and Halflife go directly to the Quasar series without passing Go.
Soon Graviton's floating island is falling apart, and Greer gets the other Avengers free and they rescue Graviton's soldiers and escape, leaving Graviton to go down with his little kingdom. Or actually, up; he's flung into space.
It's worth noting that Graviton obviously has problems with women. We've seen that in past issues and his whole scheme here is just about getting Tigra as a sex slave, to the increasing annoyance of his alien allies. So you might say there's some additional theme about how men subjugate women when they aren't mature enough to have healthy relationships. But if that was intended, it's buried in the focus on Tigra. And it's clear that Englehart thought that this issue was serving as a turning point for Tigra, but even looking at these issues alone, she goes through too much for it to work. The old "rape 'em to make 'em stronger" trope is bad enough, but this is "rape her and make her want it", which is really repulsive. And mixed in with this is Englehart's hostility to feminism, which prevents him from allowing Tigra a satisfying way out of this. As Greer Nelson, she should have been more like her old, strong, self that she was when she was the Cat. But Englehart clearly didn't like that.
When it's all over, Greer acknowledges that she'll have to turn back into Tigra at some point if she's going to remain an Avenger, and she'll have to stay "alert to the seduction of that form". So this isn't over yet.
While all of this is happening, Henry Pym is checking out an occult bookstore, still looking for the Darkhold, and attracts the attention of a demon.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: Zzzax next appears in Hulk #325. Despite an ending with the demon lurking around Henry Pym's lab, the Avengers annual crossover takes place between this arc and next issue (the upcoming issues blurb explicitly says so and Pym says that the team is next going to Kansas City).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (10): show
Finally- you reviewed "why do I always before anything in pants?" I've been waiting all year to see you take this issue apart and I'm not disappointed. A wonderful present- thank you.
Posted by: Michael | December 24, 2013 11:57 PM
Quantum is a member of the Dakkamite alien race who first appeared in Adventures into Fear #17 (the same race as Wundarr). I'm sure this will be touched on more later with the Quasar appearances.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | December 25, 2013 12:30 AM
@Michael - just under the wire, too. Happy holidays!
@CK - Thanks. In this issue, Graviton just says "Near as I can determine, he lived in the nuclear fusion of an alien sun before heeding my call and entering our sun".
Posted by: fnord12 | December 25, 2013 12:34 AM
Mockingbird is starting to look a bit too much like she stepped out of Betty & Veronica.
I'm not going to argue that Tigra's sexuality isn't being handled well(That "How's tricks?" comment is obviously meant as "turning a trick" as in prostitution), but I don't think the single male superheroes are under any burden to refuse--it's not they swore vows of chastity or are monks in their civilian IDs. That being said, they shouldn't talk like sphincters after the deed is done.
Does Werewolf By Night really fall into the same category as the other men attracted to her, though? Didn't he respond to her strictly as an animal, not as Jack Russell? Plus, you leave out the Thing, who didn't sexually respond to her in this book, and he's known her a lot longer than anyone else here.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 25, 2013 12:38 AM
Mark, i agree that, in-story, all of the male heroes that respond to Tigra aren't doing anything wrong or out of character, individually. And yeah, the Werewolf might be in a separate category. It's the cumulative effect that bothers me; ALL these men drooling over Tigra feels like an invitation to readers to treat her like a sex object. Even the Thing. Hawkeye uses her as bait to lure him to the team in issue #6 and you can see that it has an effect, and then in #8 he asks her to give him a massage, something he "couldn't ever ask Suzie" to do.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 25, 2013 12:54 AM
But would a massage be anything but, well, a massage to the Thing? It's not like he's got sensitive skin, and Tigra would probably be the only woman strong enough to even attempt to loosen the muscles up. Sue Storm probably couldn't(and in any case, what kind of guy would ask his best friend's wife for a massage of any sort? That just seems to me like a dumb thing to ask for). Alicia? Uh-uh. Thundra? She certainly could, but she'd most likely just beat him up again...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 25, 2013 1:06 AM
Its sad to see Greer go through this considering its all a matter of circumstances and writer mistreatment. She's gone from the strong feminist heroine to a catgirl to a "catly coward who chases mice" (Shooter's Avengers run) to...this. Engelhart probably was trying to make a point but it's sort of sad and ridiculous to see this sort of thing Besides, even Shooter made a point when he had Greer talk down Molecule Man.
Posted by: Ataru320 | December 25, 2013 8:24 AM
Not having read this since it first came out, my only memory was "This is when Wonder Man gets his awful new costume." I believe the letters pages were so hostile to the costume it was eventually changed.
Graviton's appearance in the limited series really set him up to be the main villain of the team, so it is good to see him appear again. However, the new villains don't do anything. Although an intriguing concept, Graviton is already powerful enough to face the Avengers on his own, so his new goons actually detract from him. Furthermore, the new villains are not interesting enough of their own, so they don't generate any level of menace or coolness. If we were given some more details on who they were, why they are villains or agree to help Graviton, they might changed. But we're not given that, so they are only boring ciphers.
Of course Wonder Man's costume is fine with fire shooting on his butt. It's made out of unstable molecules.
I think the depiction of Tigra is one reason why it's bad to attach a new concept onto an existing character (The Cat becomes Tigra). Going from the Cat to the monster and magic themed Tigra, the Werewoman to the standard superhero Tigra really confuses the concept of the core character. It would have been far better to create a new character entirely for Tigra as nothing about Greer Nelson was tied into it. Since Patsy Walker became Hellcat (an improved name over the Cat IMHO), the name and costume came back soon thereafter anyway. While the execution by Englehart is clumsy anyway, it might be less offensive for those not familiar with the original incarnation of Greer Nelson.
Posted by: Chris | December 25, 2013 2:27 PM
Chris- that raises the question of whether or not Englehart would have done this to Tigra if she hadn't been a "feminist". Englehart has complained that Greer's character was "pandering to feminists" and even this issue we see Englehart's disdain for feminism.
Posted by: Michael | December 25, 2013 2:34 PM
I don't think there's anything wrong with bringing in a new idea to help out a hero who doesn't quite have things or who would have languished in obscurity otherwise. Greer may not have succeeded on her own as The Cat, but she was still notable enough that someone was able to use her for another idea that honestly wasn't such a bad one (she becomes a werecat; she was "The Cat" and they worked it out in a way that wasn't that outlandish even if it was catering to the monster movement). The problem then is that she couldn't hold a book for too long and languished as a second-stringer for so long until Shooter's Avengers run came along which lead to this treatment of Tigra, reinforced by Stern and now being brought out again by Englehart. (and meanwhile it was Englehart himself who brought in Patsy Walker and made her Hellcat anyway)
That's a major problem with comic books: characters who don't catch on or who become "supporting" or go further and further back in the list of heroes out there generally end up taking forever to find themselves or sometimes have tons of identities and may never find themselves. Tigra got caught up in it due to her circumstances but it didn't necessarily have to be this way...but that can be said about a lot of heroes.
Posted by: Ataru320 | December 25, 2013 4:05 PM
Ataru320, I don't really see how Stern reinforced this treatment of Tigra. The entire point of Stern's treatment of Tigra was that Greer got over her fears and doubts with Simon's help and became a capable Avenger. Then Englehart came along and turned into a lady that melts before anything in pants.
Posted by: Michael | December 25, 2013 4:25 PM
Oh, and by the way, the demon that goes after Hank this issue is Allatou, from Marvel Spotlight 18-19.
Posted by: Michael | December 25, 2013 7:30 PM
Added Allatou. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 26, 2013 12:42 PM
Um...this is one of those "porn parodies" I've heard so much about, right?
Actually this Tigra arc seems thematically similar to a rather notorious Red Hood and the Outlaws issue...
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 17, 2014 11:45 PM
As a Hawkeye fan and a kid growing up in LA tired of all the comics taking place in NYC love WCA? So much that even though #12 was the first issue I bought in real time and I was welcomed by the horrible eyesore of a costume that Simon is wearing that I kept buying WCA until long after I had stopped buying any other comic.
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 27, 2015 1:06 PM
You know, these panels where the Avengers compliment Simon's new look are... embarrassing. How could the people behind this issue see that this costume was atrocious?
The second embarrassing thing is the "projects of evil" bit. "We all have projects of evil, gravity man" - what??? This sounds like something out of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (strangely appropriate, considering Halflife's looks...).
Posted by: Piotr W | July 2, 2015 3:07 PM
PS. #12's splash page by Milgrom is just... bad. There's something very wrong with Simon's right arm and pose - and that Hawkeye, pointing at Simon with a jaw dropped...
Posted by: Piotr W | July 2, 2015 3:11 PM
This is getting to the point that I really start to dislike WCA for a little bit. Milgrom's art is just so stiff so between that and Englehart's bad writing I can't take it. Which is a shame because I really enjoy Englehart's original Avengers from the '70s. I can't believe he got this bad.
Contrast it with the fact that this is parallel time-wise to Stern's Avengers, which is one of the best Avengers runs ever...yeah. Just yechh.
Posted by: Jeff | March 20, 2016 10:09 PM
I really enjoyed this story as a kid because of the new villains and the textbook physics stuff, but as an adult I've come to be repulsed, much as fnord is, by its sexism. It was twigging to the problems with this storyline that got me to reexamine Engelhart's earlier work with Mantis and notice the major problems there, too.
Both Tigra's and Mantis's storyline have some very odd ideas about the "nature" of women and women's experiences. Both arcs, in different ways, treat female sexuality as a kind of threat, something that messes up men's friendships if it isn't properly "contained" and over which women themselves have little control. This arguably comes up again in the Phantom Rider-Miockingbird stuff, and perhaps even with the whole "demon poising as Shooting Star" thing. It's hard not to notice that the long-suffering "good girl" in Engelhart's run is Firebird/La Espirita, a character who comes across as something other than sexually liberated (depending on how you read her short relationship with Hank Pym.)
Posted by: Omar Karindu | December 3, 2016 8:10 AM
His treatment of Patsy Walker is interesting in this respect: in the 70s, she comes across as a story of female liberation of a sort, with her fantasy of suburban married life collapsing and her taking up that costume to finally confront her ex. But when he revistis her here, she's just a frisky housewife who traded up with her remarriage; there's a whole theme about California culture and the transformation of the radical 60s and 70s into a more conventional, upwardly mobile kind of "Liberated traditional household" idea. And y'know, that's also the happy ending for the Scarlet Witch, come to think of it.
Ultimately, Engelhart tends to reinforce the reductive fantasy of the whole old "lady in the street, but a w***e between the sheets" fantasy: the woman who's sexually liberated in terms of having a high sex drive, but ultimately devoted to the joys of monogamy. Hell, there's a scene with Pasty and Daimon in issue #16 that's just about as literal a representation of that fantasy as one could imagine. And the men, in turn, tend to be formerly tortured types who've tamed or exorcised their inner demons and insecurities and become "ready" to be with such women.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | December 3, 2016 8:16 AM
I read these stories when I was 15 and even back then I realized that they were utterly asinine. Both the heroes and the villains behave like cretins, as if it's some sort of contest about who's dumber.
Posted by: Freakazoid | May 16, 2018 6:07 AM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|