While many of us flock to the theaters to see The Avengers, I can’t help but reflect on the source material. There was an entertaining run in the ‘90s by Kurt Busiek and George Perez and then in the last 10 years there’s been The Ultimates and the various books written by Brian Michael Bendis. These I have read and, for the most part, enjoyed, but the first Avengers comics I remember buying were not of the core New York team but their satellite branch in California. Initially led by Hawkeye, never quite up to snuff with the main team and often referring to themselves as “Wackos,” these were the West Coast Avengers.
I have always had a fondness for inferior products, and the West Coast Avengers were definitely inferior. As a kid I didn’t know any better – Go-Bots and Thundarr were cool, right? In my tweens it was watching the first Beastmaster film over and over and being enamored by terrible C-grade slasher films like Silent Night, Deadly Night and the Puppet Master movies. This also extended into my videogame tastes; while I loved the NES Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden games, I also played cheap knockoffs like Yo Noid! And Wrath of the Black Manta more times than I care to admit. What was the appeal of reading the adventures of B-grade and below heroes of the Marvel Universe? Like many of my other sometimes good and oftentimes bad comic investments, I’ll chalk it up to my fear of continuity.
By the late ‘80s, the main Avengers comics were heavy with continuity. Here was a team that was supposedly comprised of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” but was usually Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and some other guys. Even those initial three weren’t always guaranteed! Those issues were numbered in the 200s at that point, whereas West Coast Avengers was still less than a decade old. Their adventures often involved fighting robots, monsters, history, amongst themselves or some combo of all of these. What a weird and dysfunctional ride!
One of my favorite heroes at the time was Hawkeye, who led the team for much of the run. I had borrowed some comics from my cousin, including the 4-issue Hawkeye miniseries from the mid-80s, so I was familiar with the cocky archer. Also on board at various points in the 102-issue run was his sometimes- lover and wife Mockingbird. A SHIELD agent and costumed hero, Mockingbird and Hawkeye’s relationship hit the skids after it was implied that she was raped by cowboy villain the Phantom Rider in the 19th century. I didn’t find out about this bizarre plot point until later; kinda glad I missed that issue. At different points in the run there were many of the crazier Avengers popping in:
Tigra: a horny half-woman/half-tiger in a bikini.
Moon Knight: a schizophrenic vigilante who wears a hood and cape.
U.S. Agent: a more conservative and crazy Captain America knockoff.
Wonder Man: a being of ionic energy in a human casing, like an electric zombie sausage. Wonder Man was also an actor who sometimes wished to eschew the heroing biz and do the acting thing full-time. Definitely the most “Los Angeles” of the crew.
Hank Pym: Crazy scientist who developed shrinking and growing technologies, as well as the creator of Avengers android The Vision and genocidal robot villain Ultron. Like Hawkeye, has marriage problems and also has a tendency to be abusive.
Scarlet Witch: Daughter of Magneto who loved Avengers android the Vision and married him, but also had a thing for the undead Wonder Man. She used her probability powers to create children that she initially claimed were conceived by her and Vision, but eventually made them disappear. Almost destroyed reality a couple of times, has issues.
Iron Man/War Machine: Tony Stark’s buddy James Rhodes, who was played by Terrence Howard in the first Iron Man movie and Don Cheadle in the second, which is the craziest thing I can think of about him. He has a fiery temper, but is probably the most well-rounded out of all of these guys.
Darkhawk: While only popping up in a couple of the later issues and only reaching reserve membership status, I’ll take any chance to mention Marvel’s convoluted superhero who was basically created costume first with no character backstory. Darkhawk is a prime example of the flawed methods of how superheroes were created in the ‘90s.
Wouldn’t you know it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! The crazy, crazy iceberg. Other more mundane members were Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter, not Jessica Drew), Mantis and the Living Lightning. Legendary crazy creator John Byrne even introduced a Midwestern team in issue #46 who initially called themselves the Great Lakes Avengers, featuring members with names like Big Bertha, Flatman, Dinah Soar and Doorman! Not to mention the surprisingly powerful Squirrel Girl. ‘Nuff said.
Eventually, all incredible things came to an end, and the West Coast Avengers were disbanded after Mockingbird was killed in a battle with Marvel satanic stand-ins Mephisto and Satanish. As an aside, the name Satanish cracks me up because it implies an inferior Satan – even the main one can’t be bothered by the Avengers West Coast! Tony Stark re-formed the team as Force Works, but that only lasted for 22 issues.
I always admired the off-beat rosters and sometimes Hollywood adventures of this team over the years, usually featuring familiar Avengers faces randomly put together with new and oftentimes forgettable characters. While I know there were others like me, it was probably for the best that the Avengers were pared down and merged into a lineup of powerhouse Marvel characters, even including Wolverine and Spider-man down the line.
It will be interesting to see how the Avengers movie franchise evolves and if they will introduce new characters as others are written out, but I think it’s safe to say that a team featuring Squirrel Girl, Living Lightning and Tigra won’t be happening for a while!