By Theron Couch — Superheroes fighting each other has long since gone from reliable genre convention to outright cliché. Whatever the reason for the fight’s start, it almost always turns into a let’s discuss how best to defeat a villain coffee clutch. Avengers West Coast #69, though, is one of those great examples of superhero fights that have nothing to do with upholding justice and fighting crime, and everything to do with two characters who can’t keep their mouths shut literally picking a time and place to beat each other senseless. So yes, it remains my favorite superhero fight to this day—and it also forever-defined for me a major character who is returning tomorrow in Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli’s new West Coast Avengers #1.
Avengers West Coast #69: The A Story & B Story
Avengers West Coast #69 is a glorified team picking. The story jumps back and forth in time, telling two stories concurrently. In the A story—the story that opens the issue—Hawkeye and US Agent dish out a mutual ass beating. In full costume and with arrows and shield, the two fighters hold little back. There is no love lost between them, and since the A story begins before the fight actually starts, it’s clear the whole thing was orchestrated in advance, which leads to the obvious question of why.
Enter the B story, which occurs earlier in the day and is confined to Avengers West Coast headquarters. The team is choosing a new roster, but before they do that General Heyworth has a message for US Agent. Both Avengers teams will operate under the United Nations going forward so the US government is no longer maintaining a representative on the teams. US Agent, who had had a guaranteed a slot on the team before, now has to earn his way on like everyone else. US Agent doesn’t take the news well, and Hawkeye rubs plenty of salt in the wound. Predictably, the voting doesn’t go US Agent’s way, and with only one vote cast in his favor he gets a spot as an alternate. The end of the B story dovetails into the A story as Hawkeye and US Agent set up a fight for later that night.
Avengers West Coast #69: The Fight
It’s a lean story in Avengers West Coast #69, one that really boils down to two events of consequence: the team selecting its members, and Hawkeye and US Agent fighting. With respect to the first event there’s no real rising action or plot twist; the result of the vote is so obvious that it’s hardly a surprise when Hawkeye makes it and US Agent doesn’t. As for the fight—it’s also clear that it has no real teeth. The story is the fight rather than the outcome, so to an extent it’s overwritten.
To the benefit of both stories, though, Roy and Dann Thomas used a convention that these days is pretty common, but it much less so at the start of the ‘90s: non-linear storytelling. Both stories benefit from being broken up and interspersed with the other, preventing the vote from feeling more important than it is and keeping the fight from feeling too long. It’s a brilliant move, one that makes the issue work.
I’ve never read other issues of Avengers West Coast, so I don’t know if there is additional backstory to the Hawkeye/US Agent relationship. You don’t really need it, though. The Thomases write US Agent as a self-entitled jerk through and through. Even before the general unceremoniously delivers the news in front of the entire Avengers team with no warning, US Agent’s smug attitude goes such a long way to damaging him in the readers’ eyes.
Hawkeye, though, is actually almost worse—and this is where I wish I did know the backstory. Hawkeye starts rubbing salt in US Agent’s wounds immediately, and it’s entirely personal. At no point does he offer a compelling argument for why US Agent is a detriment to the team. Hawkeye just doesn’t like him, and he’s having a good time kicking him while he’s down. The pettiness behind both men’s actions colors the fight and sets it into a special class—a more personal class—of hero combat. There are no lofty ideals here.
Can Hawkeye Be Redeemed?
Overall, Avengers West Coast #69 has all the makings of a forgettable one-off. And if not for the non-linear storytelling device, I’m not sure it would be so much fun. But it is the comic book that colored my perception of Hawkeye forever. US Agent is a jerk in this story. Everybody knows it. And everybody knows he’s not making it on the Avengers. But only Hawkeye takes the tack that he shouldn’t; he does it very personally and very publicly. Even if he’s right, his attitude in the B story and his willingness to stoop to US Agent’s level is definitely a stain on someone who just got overwhelmingly voted on to the team.
What’s more, the promised suspension at the end of the issue rings very much like the kind of non-punishment reserved for popular members of teams and groups. To me Hawkeye walks away from this fight looking far worse as a character, and to this day I’ve been ambivalent toward him, if not outright suspicious—his defining moment to me is a petty fight on the beach because he was talking shit to someone in a position beneath him.
Here’s wondering if Kelly Thompson can, at long last, redeem Clint Barton in my eyes.