Monday, January 19, 2009

West Coast Avengers

One of my favorite series as a kid was the West Coast Avengers, which ran for a little over eight years in the late 80s and early 90s. The concept behind the series, as you might gather from the title, is that the Avengers decide to expand and set up a branch in California. The big idea is looking at how a more relaxed, easy-going, west coast branch would differ from the traditional east coast, business-like Avengers. Several of the West Coast members fit well into this idea: Wonder Man, Tigra, Hawkeye, etc. The first couple of years of the series, written by Steve Englehart, execute the concept well, with the highlight being a long story-arc in which Hawkeye's wife (Mockingbird) is drugged and raped by a super-villain. When that villain is about to fall from the side of a cliff, Mockingbird refuses to save his life, thus setting off a schism in the group between those who believe in the Avengers' traditional stand against killing and a group who rally around Mockingbird. Another great story-line revolves around Hank Pym and his continuing depression and near suicide. Around the middle of the series, John Byrne picks up the reins and focuses more on new additions to the team like the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and the (original) Human Torch. The stories are more traditional super-hero fare and lose the distinctive flavor of exploring how super-heroes on the West Coast might act. Not a lot stands out in my mind after Byrne leaves, though the addition of the ultra-conservative and right-wing U.S. Agent to the team added some nice character conflict in later issues. The series was cancelled at the strange number of 102 issues, ending in a story-line where Mockingbird apparently dies (just last year, she was resurrected in the whole Secret Invasion thing) and the East Coast Avengers cancel the West Coast charter. Marvel had set things up so that most of the West Coast Avengers team members would transition into a new super-hero book, Force Works, but that series sold poorly and was cancelled a couple of years later. There's never been a dedicated expansion of the Avengers since, unless one counts the recent rival teams (one pro-registration, one anti-registration), each of which considers it the true inheritor of the Avengers legacy.

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