The concept of sub-teams was a compelling one growing up. From X-Men Yellow to the West Coast Avengers, the idea of disparate but connected teams made superhero stories feel bigger. If multiple teams are needed to cover an area, you have to wonder how many threats are going on at once. In 1986 the West Coast Avengers was an interesting group — made up of Hawkeye, Tigra, Firebird, Thing, Wonder Man, and Mockingbird, the WCA were all doing their best to keep the west coast safe. A standout element of the team was the melodrama which often turned this book from a punch-fest to some fun schlock. That is part of why this series is so iconic and memorable, as it approached the characters as if they were real people with their bickering, in-fighting, and romances.
The official summary reads:
The West Coast meets the Old West! Firebird finds herself in the middle of a fight between the Rangers and the Avengers – but will she become the sixth Whacko, or will the Thing? Menaces mount, including Master Pandemonium, Headlok, Griffin and Graviton – while Tigra and Hellcat team up against Tiger Shark! Meanwhile, Hank Pym battles his demons – but who will be his savior? Then, a time-warping terror leaves the West Coast Avengers trapped in the past! Hawkeye meets old friends the Two-Gun Kid and the Rawhide Kid, but another Western legend spells big trouble for Mockingbird! The sprawling spacetime saga spreads to Ancient Egypt as the Whackos travel ever further back – but what role will Moon Knight play? And will the team ever find the way home?
Why does this matter?
This is a 488-page Epic Collection housing 17 issues that spanned from May 1986 to September 1987. It’s a team that had special guests all the time and a leader in Hawkeye who was more of a friend (he seems to have a nickname for everybody) than a serious leader like Captain America. It’s a bubbly group that can go from all smiles as they play baseball to deadly serious when heroes lose control of themselves.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This book is dripping with melodrama, especially in the dialogue. Early on the villain Master Pandemonium says, “Well, if I just defeat them once and for all, I will! I hate what fate makes me do–but I will not be stopped!” The struggle is real! Then you have Mockingbird, who is in an on-again off-again relationship with Hawkeye who at one point shouts during battle, “I have better luck with him playing more adult games,” in regards to Hawkeye. Yikes. There are scenes where characters are rolling around in a passionate fight that turns sexual and others where they scream out as psychic past moments hit them hard. The book is never boring because these characters are so overly dramatic and touchy. Wonder Man in particular is outrageous, as he’s the overly dramatic actor type who is easily offended. Steve Englehart and Danny Fingeroth (with Mark Bright) wrote much of this collection and it shows — they would have been good soap opera writers. Every issue has something to stir up in-fighting with this team.
There are a lot of deep cut villains that pop up in this you don’t always see. Graviton, Tiger Shark, Griffin, and Master Pandemonium all show up to ruin the West Coast Avengers’ day. Other now-rare elements include western characters appearing, like Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid, who help the team defeat their enemies. It’s a bygone era that’s a real treat to explore further.
Art in this book is shared between Al Milgrom, Steve Ditko, and Mark Bright. The Ditko stuff is a bit rough (Klaus Janson and L. Lois Buhalis are finishers on his work) but it’s great fun to see him put the team through their paces playing baseball. Milgrom draws the majority of the stories and he has a clean and consistent line that keeps the superhero element sound.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
It can be laugh-out-loud funny to see these characters go from deadly serious to whining or even mad with rage. Once you get used to the erratic emotions it’s all gravy, but it can also feel like filler as the temperament of these characters changes on a dime.
Is it good?
I enjoyed the heck out of this melodramatic era of comics. The use of villains and the team chemistry is unlike anything you’d find today and would serve as a great TV show if Marvel wanted to mine stories.
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