Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Classic Review: Avengers West Coast #s 42-57

In March of 1989, John Byrne took over The West Coast Avengers as writer and penciller. This run (that spanned a year and a half and 17 issues), saw the death of the Vision, the resurrection of the original Human Torch, the total mental breakdown of the Scarlet Witch, the creation of the Great Lakes Avengers, and so much more. There was also a title change (to Avengers West Coast) and a couple of inter-company cross-over tie ins here and there. All in all, it was a fantastic comic book run that definitely holds up as one of my favorite runs from the early 90s, as well as one of my favorite runs by John Byrne in general.

Issue #42 starts with the disappearance of long-time Avenger The Vision, who at that point in his life was happily happily married to the Scarlet Witch and the father of her twin babies. That happiness didn't last long for either character, since he the Avengers quickly learned that he was kidnapped and dismantled completely. This was the start of the Witch's turmoil, and it was her descent into madness that really set the entire tone for Byrne's run. She was definitely at the forefront of every major storyline, and it was all brilliantly set up and well handled until, well, until Byrne was forced off the title and replaced with another creative team who mostly aborted his storyline. But we'll probably get to that later.

Byrne used the dismantling of the Vision not only as the catalyst for his storyline with the Scarlet Witch, but as an excuse to do some serious housecleaning as well. It was always firmly established that the Vision had been created from the body of the original Human Torch (who fought with Captain American in the Invaders way back in the 30s and 40s), but Byrne cleverly managed to retcon that and bringing the character back and having him join the team. It was clever and mostly well done, but all of the expository dialogue used to justify and explain how this came to be was somewhat awkward and heavy-handed, and it never really made sense why he was so quick to join the West Coast Avengers so soon after coming back to life after having been "dead" for decades. He doesn't want to go back home or look up any old relatives? He doesn't want to reconnect with Namor or Captain America? He's really fine with just shacking up in a house with Wonder Man, Hank Pym, and a bunch of other people he's never met or even heard of? But, whatever. It managed to work over all because Byrne is a clever writer and he did such a good job of making the Human Torch fit in, not only as an Avenger the others would want around, but as a character the reader wanted around as well.

An even better inclusion to the team, in my opinion, was having the US Agent forced on the West Coast Avengers by the US government. US Agent was also a favorite character of mine, and having him assigned to the team against the wishes of the other members created a lot of fun tension and friction. Also, I'm the kind of guy who likes to follow rules and has high expectations of those around me, so I always sympathized with US Agent's role in the team. I always liked it him and thought he was a great hero. Unfortunately, there was just too much else going on during this run, so US Agent didn't get time to shine as much as I would've liked. And then it wasn't very long before the next creative team got rid of him all together, a decision I never liked very much.

Also, if you are a huge fan of Tigra, Hawkeye, Mockingbird, or Vision, you wouldn't find a lot to love about these stories, since those characters are mostly pushed to the side in favor of the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, and Hank Pym. They got the most "screen time" for sure, which is fine with me because I love all of these characters, especially Pym and Wonder Man, but it did suck to have Hawkeye quit the team so abruptly and most vanish from the book. It was awesome seeing him as the leader of the Great Lakes Avengers, but that storyline went nowhere fast. I wonder if they wanted to spin that off into a new series. I can't remember whatever happened to that team, but I always enjoyed their stories. And Tigra was almost nonexistent, spending most of her time in cat form in a subplot that went absolutely nowhere. But that's ok because nobody's favorite character is Tigra.

One major problem with trying to read any extended run from the 90s is all of the inter-company crossovers that keep intersecting with very little intersection. One issue began after the events of the Atlantis Attacks cross-over ran through the entire Marvel Universe, effecting all of the characters, which made for a seriously abrupt shift between issues with very little explanation. And then, just a few issues after that, there was a major tie-in to the Acts of Vengeance company cross-over that wasn't set up at all and yet had its resolution in an episode of West Coast Avengers. If you aren't familiar with Acts of Vengeance or Atlantis Attacks, you'll be very confused, and the editors didn't help matters by attempting to add any footnotes or references.

But these comics work and remain well worth reading because John Byrne is a fantastic writer and one of the greatest comic book artists of all time. There is just something right about the way he draws super heroes. He gives them a sense of grandeur and personality, and his sense of pacing and design is perfect. The inking on these books is something of a mixed bag, however, with some really poor work done by Mike Machlan. His inks range from being ok to being down right ugly. Byrne finally inks himself on issue 49, and the contrast between his line work and Machlan's is striking. After that, Paul Ryan takes over, and he proves that he is just as good an inker as he is a penciller. The combination of Byrne's pencils and Ryan's inks is beautiful.

Byrne is also a wonderful comic book writer who keeps things interesting, exciting, and fresh. Byrne stories are always interesting and unique and wonderfully entertaining. I remember one letter writer in one of his books once referred to him as the master of the subplot, and it's very true. His stories are always full of foreshadowing and subplots that often don't play out until months down the line. Obviously, this is a problem when he is only on a book for a year or so and is unable to finish any of the subplots he sets up, but they are still fun to read. There was one subplot in this run that I'm pretty sure set up a plot that he later wrote for the regular Avengers comic. I'm not sure if he was planning on using it for West Coast but he left the title so soon, or if he actually intended to have a subplot in this book that played out in a different book.

Anyway, I loved this books as much now as I did when I first read them. John Byrne is a master of comic boo storytelling, and his run on West Coast Avengers was one of the high points of his career in my opinion. Check 'em out. This is good stuff.

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

I'm pretty sure the Great Lakes Avengers are still around. They show up every once in a while for comic relief. Strangely, the most famous member these days is probably Squirrel Girl, because of the running joke of her being able to beat characters like Dr. Doom and Thanos.