Monday, September 24, 2007

The Greatest Comics You've Never Read 001: Avengers West Coast #102

I tend not to give a fuck about autographs. I think I've purposely gotten, maybe, ten at most. Those were cases where I wanted to show my support to smaller presses (like getting Paradigm #1 signed in Chicago four years back), buying something from the creator and having it signed automatically, or when a work meant a lot to me and I wanted my copy of it to be all extra-special and shit.

That's why two years ago at a convention in Toronto, I had Dave Ross sign my copy of Avengers West Coast #102, which he drew. This comic has been one of the biggest influences on my own comic writing and how I view comics.

And five bucks says you've never read this amazing issue. Actually, it's not that amazing, but when I got in a twenty-five-cent bin when I was 13 or 14 or whatever, it was. Blew my fucking mind oh yeah.

AWC #102 is the final issue of the series and the lead-in to the new Force Works (which I never read). The issue details exactly why the Avengers West Coast sucks and should not be allowed to continued. The issue actually begins with Vision declaring the team is dead, so let's all get on with new business, while the Scarlet Witch tells him to go fuck himself, because four members of West Coast are sitting right there and they say the team is still active. And that's the entire issue: the Avengers trying to shut down the West Coast branch, because they're fuck-ups.

I love it.

The West Coast members present are: Scarlet Witch, War Machine, USAgent and Spider-Woman. The Avengers: Vision, Captain America, Hercules, Crystal, Black Widow, Black Knight, Sersi and Giant-Man. Gee, why would anyone think the West Coast team is kind of shitty? Could it be that Mockingbird just died, Hawkeye fucked off and the remaining members have been useless recently?

And then, Iron Man shows up, seemingly to defend the West Coast. Arguments are made on both sides. USAgent hates Cap, War Machine hates Iron Man, Scarlet Witch hates Vision, Hank wishes everyone would just get along, and Spider-Woman is sorry for being fertile.

Eventually, the decision to disband the team goes to a vote and things are tied up when it comes to Iron Man. His vote will be the one that saves the West Coast team--

So, naturally, he votes to disband it.

The end of the issue has the West Coast members quit the Avengers (including Iron Man), USAgent toss his gear into some water and Wonder Man show up to the abandonded, destroyed West Coast mansion only to have Iron Man tell him the team is no more.

Okay, it doesn't seem that great, does it? Well, trust me, it is.

What hooked me in was that here we had two groups of Avengers, characters that should, by all rights, get along--and they fucking hate each other. The cover depicts Iron Man holding USAgent back from punching Captain America (a scene in the book); War Machine quits right after Iron Man shows up; and they all eat lunch in between. This isn't how superheroes are supposed to act--I mean, yeah, some of the newbies look shit (War Machine, Spider-Woman, USAgent--but also Sersis and Crystal), but the Scarlet Witch qutting the Avengers? Iron Man following suit? What the fuck? This is the Avengers! What's happening?

By all rights, this issue should be shit. It's a quick one-off to shut down this book and set things up for Force Works, but Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning manage to make so much more of it. It's the sort of dark realism you would expect from a book dated January 1994, but it doesn't just go down that route for the sake of it, it raises questions of differing motivations and what being an Avenger means.

One of the issues raised is the events of Operation: Galactic Storm, which I guess was some mega-crossover involving the Kree and a decision to kill its leader, the Supreme Intelligence. That decision nearly tore the Avengers apart because of differing views. Except, the thing that they all seem to miss is that it wasn't the West Coast team that decided to kill the SI--it was a mixture of both teams, just as a mixture of each team decided not to participate. But, the West Coast team takes the blame. There's something below the surface that could destroy the team and they seem to think getting rid of the West Coasters will solve everything. Nevermind the fact that of the four Avengers we see prepared to defy Captain America and kill the SI, three of them are sitting on his side of the table. (Although, on a side note, why was Captain America against it? Oh yeah, it was during that time when everyone seemed to forget that he's a soldier and would kill when necessary. Whoops.)

This book also has a very familiar set-up: Cap on one side, Iron Man on the other, but with the roles reversed. Cap is the conservative authority figure, while Iron Man is the defiant rebel who won't let "The Man" keep these guys from doing what's right.

In another way, the book is very self-conscious in that the Avengers explain exactly why AWC is ending, why the group and the book doesn't work anymore. In a way, Abnett and Lanning are recognising that if they are going to push these characters into new and different places, it's almost wrong to use the Avengers name, because the darker, harsher 90s approach doesn't fit with that tradition. Ending the book is almost a sign of respect and a subtle jab at those who darken the iconic books when it doesn't fit.

Now, I got Dave Ross, the artist to sign my copy mostly because he was at the convention, but also because his work here is really quite good. Everytime I look at it, I'm amazed he isn't more well-known, because while the art suffers from the horrible costumes of many characters, he draws crisp, clean characters that are distinct and have realistic body language. His storytelling is fantastic and despite being a dense, text-heavy comic, it never feels cluttered--even with so many characters.

I'm not sure Avengers West Coast #102 is as great as I like to think it is, but it was an eye-opener for my younger self and much of it still holds up. Give it a look when you can.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss another comic--one that's not quite so brilliant, but I still love: Marvel Two-in-One annual #7.