THIS REVIEW OF ‘WEST COAST AVENGERS’ CONTAINS SPOILERS.
By Don Alsafi. In 1984, Marvel launched the West Coast Avengers. It was the very first spinoff of their Avengers comic, coming two years after their success in creating the first X-Men spinoff, The New Mutants. The 1970s had seen the creation of both Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man and the Spidey-starring Marvel Team-Up—and yet at this time in Marvel’s history, they still launched secondary titles with caution and care. (A far cry from today’s publishing world, where even a middling success like Deadpool can immediately flood the market with 3-4 extra titles!)
West Coast Avengers was indeed a hit, and would run for nearly ten years. The series was created and initially written by Roger Stern, not only an impressive writer but also an experienced editor. This may be why, as with the creation of The New Mutants (which we talked about here), the book wasn’t “just another Avengers comic,” but rather strived to embody a completely separate identity from its parent book—which, again, is something that today’s spinoff titles often fail to take into account.
The Avengers was still where the heavy hitters like Captain America and Thor could be seen, but WCA was notable in that many of its members were heroes who were a little offbeat, like Wonder Man, Tigra, an unpowered Hank Pym, and even Moon Knight. Notably, just about none of the West Coast members were headline heroes with their own comic book titles, which meant that this team book could afford to balance epic stories like “Lost in Space-Time” with significant character developments (something not often viable when a different writer is steering a character’s main comic).
Despite the West Coast book folding a full twenty-five years ago, and the comic book market’s fondness since then for launching spinoff books willy-nilly, the West Coast Avengers title has never come back into play—despite its original fans still remembering it fondly, and in seeming opposition to corporations’ usual fallback position of bringing back every trademarked property they’d once held. The question has been posed to Marvel’s Executive Editor (and Senior VP of Publishing) Tom Brevoort over the years, and he’s explained that although he too has great memories of the original run, bringing back the title without any reason to do so would simply be indulging in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake.
Well, it’s 2018 and a new West Coast Avengers has indeed hit the stands. Is this just a re-tread of Marvel’s past glory—or the launch of something different and new? Let’s find out.
Written by Kelly Thompson.
Art by Stefano Caselli.
Colors by Tríona Farrell.
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna.
Two Hawkeyes for the price of one. West Coast Avengers is written by Kelly Thompson, who just last month launched the Rogue-and-Gambit-starring Mr. and Mrs. X. She’s joined by Stefano Caselli, an Italian artist who first gained notice in the early 2000s for his work on G.I. Joe and Tim Seeley’s Hack / Slash, before later achieving wider recognition illustrating Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man run and Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors.
This past spring, Kelly Thompson finished up a 16-issue run of Hawkeye, which—like the preceding comic written first by Matt Fraction, then Jeff Lemire—starred both the original Hawkeye (Clint Barton) as well as the Young Avengers founding member (Kate Bishop). West Coast Avengers thus begins with Kate calling up Clint for help with a Santa Monica attack by a frenzy of—no, seriously—land sharks. Also lending a hand to the crisis are America Chavez and Kate’s boyfriend Fuse (from the Thompson-penned Hawkeye series). At the end of the day, the origins of the land sharks are still a mystery… but Clint is so impressed by Kate’s initiative that he suggests she put together a team to monitor America’s western seaboard.
Who are these crazy kids? What follows is one of the more ridiculously useless superhero auditions seen outside of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, featuring never-before-seen bozos such as Surf Doctor, Bread-Boy, and Wolver-Mean. Fortunately, one wild card trumps them all: Gwenpool, a possibly insane weapons expert with a habit of breaking the fourth wall (somewhat appropriate for a character first conceived as nothing more than a one-off variant cover joke). With the additions of America Chavez, Fuse, and a part-time Clint Barton, their ranks are then completed with the unexpected appearance of Quentin Quire, a.k.a. Kid Omega, from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run in 2002.
As with the original West Coast Avengers, the team is thus composed of a number of bizarre D-list characters, perhaps more akin to the goofy John Byrne-created Great Lakes Avengers. The result is a book that can’t help but have a lighter feel than most of the superhero team books out there—but it’s also one that takes its characters seriously, as when it portrays not just Kate Bishop’s reluctant acceptance of the need for a West Coast team, but also her uncertainty regarding her own role as its leader.
Kelly Thompson does a great job in balancing the tone of the comic, never letting the book devolve into a pointless yuk-fest you can’t take seriously, yet also able to embrace the genuine humanity of its characters even while dealing with threats that are both incredibly dangerous and entirely ludicrous—like the land sharks, or the appearance of an original WCA member (now 200-feet high and feral). It’s a team book filled with misfits and weirdos—recall that Clint Barton himself first became an Avenger in what was dubbed “Cap’s Kooky Quartet”—and the last-page reveal of an all-new character is a laugh-out-loud moment reminiscent of nothing so much as the final page of Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave #1, and its memorable commentary on Fin Fang Foom’s giant purple underpants.
Camera obscura. And yet the question still remains: Is there any compelling reason for this to be called the West Coast Avengers? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, the west coast of the USA is perhaps no more in need of a superhero team than the Midwest, or South America, or Europe. This myopically US-centric approach was more understandable in the 1980s, when the average consumer was less aware of the world outside their own country, but the advent of globalization and the rise of social media in particular have made the world seem somewhat smaller than it once was.
The marketing and promotion for the comic have given a vague reason for its location by claiming that the team will be part of a reality TV show (because L.A. = vapid and brain-dead television), but even this doesn’t ring entirely true. Yes, Quentin Quire shows up and offers to fund the team if his camera crew can film their day-to-day events, which allows the characters speak from the heart in their on-camera confessionals, but even the filmmakers admit they aren’t sure if the eventual product will be a movie, a documentary series, or what.
Essentially, they’re the West Coast Avengers only because… well, because that’s where these characters happen to reside. And, really: So what? It’s not like the Avengers ever spend that much time avenging anyone, after all! Sometimes, a name is just a name.
A perfect blend of action and fun. Superhero comics have traditionally mixed high-octane action with gripping character melodrama. But as the medium has had to face more and more competition for its consumers’ dollars, a trend has emerged where every new title, and every new story, endeavors to be bigger and bolder and badder than everything that’s come before. This neverending push for greater and greater heights has been responsible not only for Marvel’s increasing over-reliance on massive crossover events over the last fifteen years, but also a landscape where many of the comics on their titles overwhelmingly embrace a tone that is dark, and serious, and heavy. Taken together, it can sometimes be a bit too much!
Fortunately, West Coast Avengers is the rare comic book that’s Fun with a capital F. Thompson’s confident grasp of all these disparate characters is impressive, but she’s equally matched in the visuals from Stefano Caselli (with colors by Tríona Farrell). Caselli is an artist who excels at both action and character, conveying the sometimes humorous sides of genuine human interactions, as well as effectively portraying classic superhero action scenes—even if that means showing our two Hawkeyes riding a herd of land sharks across a beach.
West Coast Avengers is a weird, wild, rollicking ride that combines the nuttiness of Nextwave with the indelible character moments of Young Avengers. If spinoff books have to exist, they could do a heck of a lot worse than this!
8.5 out of 10