By Theron Couch — The original West Coast Avengers #1 starts with Mockingbird leaving lipstick on Hawkeyes’s lips...I challenge Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli’s new West Coast Avengers to be half as tantalizing!
In fact, that first page with the lipstick business would ultimately prove to be consistent with the overall style the old book developed as it charted a course in a separate direction from its parent title, The Avengers back on the East Coast. With the West Coast Avengers returning to Marvel for the first time in ages this week, I’d like to look back today at the original series and at how its debut issue effectively used soap opera dramatics to separate itself from its parent title.
See, West Coast Avengers #1 was essentially a soap opera that just happened to guest star Ultron 12 and his henchmen, Man-Ape and Goliath. Writer Steve Engelhart spent most of the issue following personal drama rather than focusing on action. For instance, in the opening pages—when Hank Pym interrupts the Hawkeye/Mockingbird make out session—Engelhart introduced Hawkeye’s primary goal: find a sixth member to round out the team. Hawkeye then went on to offer the position to ol’ intruding Hank...who resoundly turned it down. These motivations reverberated throughout the issue, coming up repeatedly in both private moments and group scenes.
Speaking of Hank, he actually had the highlight of the issue, that being when his ex-wife Wasp (whom he didn’t want to talk to anyway) not only questioned whether he was joining the team but—unlike everyone else—agreed that he shouldn’t. In similar fashion, nigh-invulnerable Wonder Man spent much of the issue worrying about death—a fear that almost crippled him in the team’s first fight with Ultron, and Tigra spent most of the issue sorting out who and what she had become following her transformation...until she finally stopped, mid-mission, to psychoanalyze herself.
Artists Allen Milgrom, Joe Sinnot, and Petra Scotese complemented this soap opera scripting with superb rendering of the characters. For starters, everyone was presented consistently, whether it be via shape or shading or color. Most importantly, though, was the attention the artists paid to characters’ expressions. Even some of the best artists today still fail to present character expressions consistently or to connect those expressions to the dialogue and events taking place in the moment. The entire first issue of West Coast Avengers, however, is a study in accurate rendition of character expressions—and good thing too since you can’t very well have a soap opera without ample closeups on stricken characters.
Another soap opera-y quirk in this comic—one often found in spinoffs like this one—is packing the book with references to critical events from the past. In this issue, Engelhardt and editor Mark Gruenwald almost go overboard with 16 (!) issue callouts that see the cast frequently speaking of past events from the parent series. As if a cast of Avengers weren’t enough, Engelhardt and Gruenwald want to constantly remind readers that West Coast Avengers really is a spinoff, one that as the first page says continues the proud Avengers tradition in a west coast way.
Overall, West Coast Avengers featured no shortage of action, and this review shouldn’t be construed to mean that nothing exciting took place—indeed, a lot of exciting things did go down between the drama. This first issue, though, establishes a character style that borders at times on melodrama. The west coast way, it turns out, is the tried and true old-school soap opera. And it’s quite a lot of fun to read.
Read more of Theron’s thoughts about the original West Coast Avengers series here.