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I had, for a while, a plan to write a West Coast Avengers issue guide, in much the same vein as the JLA Issue Guide. After some thought, I decided to give the idea up, because the West Coast Avengers, a Marvel comic book series from the late 1980's, is neither interesting enough in itself to deserve an issue by issue dissection, nor could it provide the kind of ironic humor that say, Godzilla #23 could.

The late 80s were a transitional time for comics (but then comics, both internally and externally, are almost always in a state of transition). Comics were becoming higher concept, and the average reader was looking for something more than just a diversion. There were no longer ads for Sea Monkeys or Grit. But the readership of comics, at least in the mind of editors, still included people down to an elementary school reading level, and there was still the comics code to consider. So high profile ideas had to be edited down to fit.

The creator of the West Coast Avengers, Steve Engelheart, seems pretty proud of his work on the series, Although not up to the standards of today, the West Coast Avenger's series managed to mix some serious story lines and deep characterizations together with some whiz bang comic book action in a way that was quite good for the time. To see how the book fits in, you have to compare it to the other Marvel group books of the time. The Fantastic Four's story lines have always depended on the interpersonal dynamics of the group, together with over the top cosmic story lines. The Avengers, with their shifting roster, were more plot driven, with story lines driven by combats with more and more powerful adversaries. The draw of the X-Men, by this time, was a combination of angst and Chris Claremont's still interesting ideological ponderings.

The West Coast Avengers combined many of these elements. Much of the story is driven by character conflicts within the team, while still having lots of complicated plot driven stories. What is interesting is the selection of Avengers that were put on the West Coast team. Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Iron Man, Tigra, Wonder Man, and Hank Pym were not neccesarily Marvel's big names that would automatically draw people to a book. Only Iron Man had his own solo book, and he was far from being Marvel's most charismatic character. Most of the others were background characters that only long term Avengers fans would know about. Steve Engelheart makes the combination work, perhaps because of the fact that the personalities of the characters could be a tabula rasa. Across the 39 issues that he plotted and scripted, Engelhart used these characters in interesting ways. Two of the most interesting character conflicts involved Hank Pym's almost suicide and redemption; and Mockingbird's brainwashing, (suggested) rape and revenge on the Phantom Rider. It was pretty powerful stuff for the time. At the same time, Engelhart also wrote some great adventure filled plotlines: the seven part "lost in space-time" series, the conflict with old Avengers villains The Zodiac Cartel, a trip to Eastern Europe where they met Dr. Doom, and others.

Reading the series by the standards of today, of course, the writing seems quite old fashioned. Background details of the story had to be explained with clumsy expositionary dialogue, and characters' motivations were explained with copious thought bubble monologues. Also, every issue had to have at least one fast paced fight scene, and had to have a clear beginning middle and end to appeal to new readers. However, all of these were part of the standards of comic book writing at the time.

After issue 39, Steve Engelhart left, part of a general conflict with Marvel at the time. After ten issues, the series name was changed to Avengers West Coast, and lost much of the original flavor of the work. Avengers West Coast made it another 40 issues, and then ceased. However, for the first 39 issues, you can see a comic book that was just slightly ahead of its time.


http://www.steveenglehart.com/ Steve Engelhart's official site.

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