Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Avengers: Dismissed

In mid-1984, creating a west coast branch of the Avengers seemed like a pretty good idea to the Vision, who had just been elected Chairman of the team. In fact, if you were a fly on the wall at that meeting, you'd almost get the feeling that, as with the Vision's other decisions during that time, it all felt a little rushed, lacking the deliberation that was generally a trademark of the Avengers' roundtable discussions:

It looks like even the government expedited the matter, and that can't be good.

So before you know it, the Avengers have become two teams, two titles--splitting their resources between two coasts roughly 3,000 miles apart, yet effectively putting each branch on its own and operating autonomously (which would need to be the case to accommodate the Avengers' 6-member roster limit).

However, nearly ten years later, the Vision holds another meeting on the subject, and this time he isn't smiling.

So maybe it's time to swing the gavel down on another

Marvel Trivia Question

What led to the Vision pulling the plug on the West Coast Avengers?

We'd have to backtrack a bit to get an idea of why this team wasn't able to measure up as Avengers in the eyes of the book's readers; or perhaps it's more accurate to say that it's the book that failed to resonate with readers in the way that the original title managed to. You'll likely find the floor is wide open on the matter of why the WCA concept failed--and that's telling in itself, since it's an indication that the list of reasons is a fairly extensive one.

We could certainly start at the source--the book's title, whether it's "West Coast Avengers" or the later "Avengers West Coast." In either case, the result was the same when a reader browsed the comics rack: Only one book is named "The Avengers." The other, however creatively worded, is not. When the title was shifted to "Avengers West Coast" just short of halfway through its run, the fact that the style of the masthead now matched the original book was all too conspicuous.

There's also the group's charter membership, which was made up of "cast-off" Avengers who didn't work out in the main book for whatever reason (Tigra by her own admission), as well as Jim Rhodes, who was only subbing for Tony Stark as Iron Man but, regardless, whose familiar armor was going to help sell a book featuring a new Avengers lineup:

And how about the fact that the new concept seemed to need not one, but two launches?

With the latter cover, it appears that things have already been re-thought: Not only has Tony Stark replaced Jim Rhodes in the group to coincide with Rhodey giving up his identity as Iron Man, but it's hard not to notice how the two most recognizable Avengers here have been positioned in the forefront--both decisions sensible ones which help to give the impression that it's still the Avengers we're reading about. (Iron Man's striking new armor was also bound to stimulate interest.)

Over time, we'd see the two teams of Avengers combine in cases of emergency, or during social get-togethers which would turn into emergencies. But for the most part, the West Coast Avengers were left to chart their own course, with many writers and artists coming aboard to shape and develop their adventures as well as their roster.  The end result, unfortunately, was that this team of Avengers reached the point of becoming virtually unrecognizable, in both appearance and cohesiveness. Matters weren't helped when their headquarters, a converted estate in Palos Verdes, met its end after a battle with Ultron:

The structure remained thus for the last twelve issues of the title--in publishing terms, a full year where readers were treated to the Avengers operating out of a ruined headquarters, which couldn't help but signify the state of the book itself.

The final membership of the team consisted of USAgent, Spider-Woman, the Scarlet Witch, War Machine, and a mourning Hawkeye grieving from the loss of the recently slain Mockingbird--with guest-stars galore dropping in as allies, and crossover events such as the Infinity Crusade, Bloodties, and Operation: Galactic Storm demonstrating the differences between both teams rather than giving the reader a sense of Avengers history in the WCA or any pride its members felt at being Avengers.

Those differences are painfully apparent when the Vision convenes the meeting that informs the WCA that things aren't working out, and that the team is being disbanded. A meeting, by the way, held in the east coast headquarters--which gives you an idea of how, despite all things being presumably equal with both teams of "the Avengers," there's one team that's nevertheless "in charge":

One team calm, collected, seasoned; the other team squabbling, testy, defensive. There are two teams in this chamber, and they simply aren't on the same page as far as being a united front.

In all fairness, the original team's composure is somewhat deceptive, considering the turmoil their own book was going through with the Gatherers, continuing a downward spiral that would lead to the Crossing, the destruction of their headquarters, and, eventually, the events of Onslaught and the demise of their own title.

But in the here and now, it's the heads of the WCA that are on the chopping block:

Wanda's harsh retorts would likely carry more weight with her east coast teammates fellow heroes if she had a leg to stand on here, but she does not. If she's basing her objections on her team's initiative and accomplishments, why chide the Vision for the stacked makeup of the east coast roster? What's stopping the WCA from supplementing its own roster with a more balanced and formidable lineup?

When the time arrives to vote on the motion to disband the WCA, perhaps the vote count speaks volumes in terms of how these two teams have evolved from their common foundation as Avengers--with the vote ending up 5 to 5, with one abstention. Yet the motion carries, with the shocking tie-breaking vote of Iron Man, a surprise arrival and former WCA member who nevertheless votes to dissolve the branch:

The repercussions are immediate. Wanda angrily resigns, as does War Machine--with Iron Man, USAgent, and Spider-Woman following them out the door. Iron Man would go on to tap Wanda, the Agent, and Spider-Woman (as well as Wonder Man) for the new Force Works team premiering in five months, correctly noting as part of his pitch that "we were going nowhere as an imitation of the main group." WCA Editor Nelson Yomtov had these words for the upcoming project:

"IRON MAN. SCARLET WITCH. U.S. AGENT. WONDER MAN. SPIDER-WOMAN. These great warriors down on their luck, trying to put together the pieces of their broken dreams, will be starting a new life with new purpose in the pages of FORCE WORKS, coming at you in January.

"Written by the team of Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett with groundbreaking artwork by Tom Tenney, FORCE WORKS is going to rewrite the book on super hero teams. A sampling of Tom's work is featured here and we're sure you'll agree that it's going to spin a lot of heads in the comic book industry.

"Issue #1, a 48-page gem, will kick off '94 in grand style and will be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for what we have in store for you. We kid you not--don't miss it."

(Despite this ambitious look down the road in what's essentially a sales promotion, the "book on super-hero teams" wasn't "rewritten" so much as recycled. Force Works proved to be WCA 2.0, ending its run after 22 chaotic and divisive issues.)

Yet Yomtov also offered these interesting closing thoughts on the WCA:

"For the past several months, it's been common knowledge among our readership and the comic book industry in general that AVENGERS WEST COAST would cease to exist with the publication of issue #102. Unfortunately, the months passed by all too quickly, and what you hold in your hands is indeed our final offering to you, our loyal readers.

"The difficult decision to cancel AWC was done for creative considerations. Essentially we had two titles, AWC and THE AVENGERS, operating quite separately from one another and paying little attention to the continuity of the other's story lines and characterizations. In fact, there were times when a roster change in one of the groups was not even alluded to in the sister publication. So what we were ending up with was two separate titles, each developing a solid readership of support, but with no connecting tie to the other 'Avenger' book.

"This situation begged an obvious question: What does it truly mean to be an 'Avenger' and what bond do these two groups share that enables them both to lay claim to the name 'Avenger?' After debating this earth-shaking query for weeks, we came to the realization that the East and West Coast teams had almost nothing in common. Their agendas were different. Their philosophies were different. Their modus operandi was different. Heck, hardly anyone on the east coast even mentioned the death of Tony Stark--one of their founding members! It was time to do something that shook the Avengers as a concept to its very roots.

"And that's what #102 is all about. The termination of the Avengers West Coast and the emotional breakup of the bi-coastal concept which became antiquated and useless--a 'failed experiment' as the Vision dispassionately claims.

"Not one punch is thrown. No baddie gets taken down. It's just solid characterization where old friends uneasily relate to one another during a time of great duress. The kind of comic we don't see too much of these days.

"I'm particularly proud of it. And I hope you enjoy it."

In a way, Yomtov states the obvious as far as the current rudderless state of the WCA--followed, however, by a decision to dump the project entirely, rather than address the points raised in the editorial offices and adjust the book accordingly. (If the WCA indeed has a "solid readership," which presumably translates to solid sales, why jettison the book as a lost cause, rather than make it the kind of Avengers book its editor recognizes it needs to be?) Perhaps more informative at this point might have been thoughts on what was intended for the West Coast Avengers book from Day One, and how and why that vision fell by the wayside.


david_b said...

Ok, day has arrived.. Where to start, where to start..

A busy work day today so I'll be brief. The first regular ish of WCA came just as I started collecting comics again at college. Big Hawkeye fan, so I thought it would be a nice title. Soon got the limited series.., and filled some of my Avenger holes with those terrible Milgrom art issues. Never quite warmed to a smiling Vision. But to add quickly, I DO love the return-to-brooding Vish in those '90s panels with the team dismantling scene, really don't know what happened to Wanda, but Vish is once again the 'cool-android-outsider' on the team.

As for WCA, just couldn't handle the 'seemingly-spiraling-downward' of storylines after the first half-dozen issues. Terrible covers, terrible banter, just very... disingenuous. I would have lasted longer with the phoned-in writing if the art was better.

It's been long discussed just how bad Englehart came across here on this title. It's like nothing stuck. Most of us loved him on CA&F and Avengers.., even Doc Strange. Don't know what to say here, hope others chime in.

Part of my issues were team members I never liked, such as Tigra, USAgent, Mockingbird, Spiderwoman, just weak 3rd tier heroes. The spawning of 'Force Works' was a knee-jerk, insipid pandering attempt at mimic independent comics prevalent in the '90s, and stayed pretty much generic.

Add that to lingering storylines with Master Pandemonium (yawn...), the Cat People (gawwwd, more yawn..), time-travel to the Old West again and again ("...kill me now...."), the 'Ben Grimm as Avenger' bit, and finally Doc Pym striving to have someone (ANYONE..) pat him on the back for merely getting up in the morning.., which nearly resulted in the first graphically-depicted hero-suicide?

If I didn't know better, I'd suspect the Bullpen purposefully throwing ideas specifically-designed by teams of scientists to annoy and depress me.

The arrival of Byrne to fulfill Shooter's desire to dismantle Vision seemed interesting at the onset, but much like the post-Perez NTT, there was nothing there to interest me much. Then of course Vish was 'rebooted' so Shooter could give readers a chance to 're-explore' Vish from scratch or something...?

'You.. just.. killed.. off.. a.. beloved.. character, dude..?'

Sooo again, the WCA seemed like 'THE comic' to test-run every change fans would cringe at the most.

Not sure how many 'creative teams' were involved during it's run, but as 'Avengers'..? Blech. Of course, until the arrival of Stern/Buscema on the main title.., that book wasn't faring much better. No wonder they couldn't help but throw Spidey, Wolvie or any of the mutants into the picture best they could to get sales up.

Once you added the Midwest Avengers idea and the Avengers Spotlight title to the mix. it was all just a saturated mire.

Sooo hence, I'd just prefer to remember WCA with the nifty Limited Series book, the occasionally-funny Wonder Man title, and forget the rest.

Comicsfan said...

david, the reasons you mention for your disappointment at Englehart's run on WCA are actually some of the things I appreciated him bringing to the table on the book. As you point out, several of the team members were indeed "weak 3rd tier heroes"; and one of Englehart's strengths is focusing on such characters and keeping them from blending into the background. In Tigra's case, for instance, Englehart was continuing Shooter's work with the character by giving her plenty of exposure and dialog; while he adapted Mockingbird's SHIELD training to make her an effective fighter on the team, rather than just "Mrs. Hawkeye." Oddly enough, the only character who seemed out of place to me was Iron Man, whose normal initiative was notched down and who should have had more interaction and interplay with Hawkeye; instead, he inexplicably ended up feuding with Wonder Man, which seemed like a waste of his presence on this team.

david_b said...

Sir, quite agreed on your reasoning.., it's great when 3rd Tier heroes get their 'time in the sun', with hopes that they'll develop a following for future titles, merchandising, etc.. Totally tracking.

It's... just that they're considered '3rd Tier' for a reason. Not many writers have given 'em any good storylines in the past, and while this was Englehart's chance to fix that.., none of it really got traction. You still need to have top heroes on the masthead for anyone to pick up the book, and other than Clint, perhaps IM.., you unfortunately didn't have any.

(Perhaps Simon, who had his own title during this time.., but I still didn't feel he was strong enough an established character, partially due to all the incredible uniform changes...).

Great review, as always.

As a book, WCA still punched the same tickets as other team books (involved with cross-overs, etc..), but ultimately, as a visual media with (or even sometimes without) engaging storylines.., WCA had neither going for it.

Big Murr said...

It's not the fault of "third-tier" characters in the roster. As you say, CF, it should have been a grand time for bringing "lost" characters up to the spotlight.

It's all down to third-tier writing and artwork. Either the writer or artist is a no-name hack or they've done good work, but they turning in half-arsed efforts. Actually, I'll bump the blame up a level in the chain of command. If I handed in work like that, I would be told in no uncertain terms to do it again. Or, the client would accept it, but oddly enough, I'd never-ever receive another phone call from that client. Comics apparently don't operate like that, with mediocre to awful output passed on to the printer again and again.

This, of course, applies to so many titles across the history of both comic companies. Today, plug in the name "West Coast Avengers".

It was, also, the 1990's. When comic creators suffered severe brain damage from carbon monoxide leaks in their main offices (or something).