Retro Reviews: West Coast Avengers #1-4 By Stern, Hall & Others For Marvel Comics

West Coast Avengers #1-4, (September 1984 – December 1984)

Written by Roger Stern

Pencilled by Bob Hall

Inked by Brett Breeding (#1-4), Peter Berardi (#4)

Colour by Julianna Ferriter (#1-3), Ken Feduniewicz (#4)

Spoilers (from thirty-six years ago)

There is a strange potential in farm teams.  There was a time when I wanted to know way more about Beta Flight and Gamma Flight than I did Alpha Flight.  And, when the Avengers started a secondary team, the West Coast Avengers, I was very excited.  The idea of Hawkeye leading his own team sounded pretty wild back in the day, as he didn’t seem like the leader type.  

I remember looking at this first issue, and being excited that I could recognize most of the floating heads on the cover.  I also remember looking at the different characters, and imagining how cool this team might have been had it included people like Rom and Leonard Samson.  Even still, I was more or less happy with the lineup that solidified around Clint (although I’ve never been a fan of Wonder Man).

I remember liking this book a lot, and I’m curious to see how it holds up against my memory of it.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

West Coast Avengers

  • Hawkeye (Clint Barton; #1-4)
  • Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse; #1-4)
  • Tigra (Greer Nelson; #1-4)
  • Wonder Man (Simon Williams; #1-4)
  • Iron Man (James Rhodes; #1-4)

Villains

  • The Blank (#2-3)
  • Graviton (#2-4)

Guest Stars

  • Vision (Avengers; #1, 4)
  • Jessica Drew (fka Spider-Woman; #1)
  • The Shroud (#1, 3-4)

Supporting Characters

  • Edwin Jarvis (#1)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Hawkeye is standing in the middle of the Avengers new compound in Los Angeles, yelling out “Avengers Assemble.”  Mockingbird teases him, since they are the only two people there.  They ride an elevator down into the compound’s new sub-basements, and discuss how Mockingbird doesn’t feel up to being an Avenger.  They call Avengers Mansion back east, and Jarvis puts them through to the Vision, who is the team’s leader at this time.  Vision congratulates Clint on the speed with which he’s had the compound renovated to fit their needs.  He also tells him that he’s contacted some potential team members.  In San Francisco, private detective (and former Spider-Woman) is thanking Tigra for her help with a case, and is about to offer her a job when her secretary tells Tigra there is a call for Greer Nelson.  Tigra takes the call, and is surprised to be offered a lot of money for something.  She tells Jessica that she has to go to LA, but is mysterious about why.  Jessica, worried for her friend, places a call to the Cat’s Jazz Club.  In the Mojave Desert, we see some dune buggies chase a sports car.  A driver tries to throw a grenade at the car, but the guy driving the car (who I think looks a lot like Sean Connery, rest in peace) electrifies him, causing him to drop the grenade in his buggy.  It explodes, and we realize we are watching a film shoot.  The guy who blew up is Simon Williams, Wonder Man, stuntman extraordinaire.  He is told that something in his trailer is buzzing, and he recognizes that to be his Avengers transceiver; he rushes into his trailer, and emerges in his red leather leisure suit Wonder Man getup, and flies off.  In Stanford, Iron Man is flying around, thinking about how he’s happy that his boss, Tony Stark, is sober again (this is during the time when James Rhodes was wearing the Iron Man suit).  He gets a call from the Avengers, telling him he’s needed.  He flies for twenty minutes to the new compound, which is on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  He arrives at the same time as Tigra, who Rhodes doesn’t know, although she doesn’t know that.  They are greeted by Hawkeye, and don’t see a shadowy figure slip through the gate when Tigra’s driver leaves.  Clint takes them to a meeting room to explain that the Vision wants to start an expansion team to cover the west coast of the US, and to create space for the many Avengers who want to join the main team (which, oddly, is none of the people they are gathering here).  Tigra’s not sure she wants to be involved, having left the Avengers because she felt inadequate.  Rhodey is about to tell them who he is, but a security alert goes off.  A single figure has penetrated into the secure part of the compound, and as they watch on security cameras, disables their stunulator and infrared scanners.  Clint splits the heroes up to go search for this guy.  Mockingbird finds herself surrounded by darkness, and fires her battle stave into it, almost hitting him.  We see that her quarry is the Shroud, who sneaks up behind her and pinches some nerves in her shoulder.  Falling, she manages to hit him with her other stave.  Clint arrives, but his magnesium tipped arrow can’t dispel the darkness around him.  He uses a hypersonic arrow next, and the darkness disperses, but all he can find is Bobbi.  Tigra recognizes the darkness around her, and calls out to the Shroud.  Iron Man, operating with his radar, finds Shroud and moves to attack him.  Shroud tries to explain that there’s a mistake, but Rhodey isn’t listening.  Shroud jumps out a window to get away from him, but just then Wonder Man arrives, and seeing the Shroud, flies into him, sending him flying into a tree.  Tigra yells for Simon to stop, and as all the heroes gather, the fight ends.  Later, Shroud explains that Jessica Drew was worried about Tigra, so she called him to back her up.  Simon and Rhodey both apologize for not listening, and Clint offers him a slot on the team.  Shroud declines, since he’s been working undercover in the underworld, and disappears.  Simon asks what’s going on, so Clint starts his pitch over again.
  • The team, minus Wonder Man, engages in some training together, where Iron Man is trying to attack Hawkeye, Mockingbird, and Tigra.  They work together to get him down, but then he fires his repulsors into the ground and takes them all out.  Clint comments on how he and Iron Man used to fight, back in the day, and while Tigra continues to feel like she’s not good enough to be on the team, Rhodey wonders if he should tell the others he’s not the original Iron Man.  At the same time, Simon is packing up to move to the Avengers’ compound.  His friend Freddy comes to help him, and is surprised to see that he’s taken the back off the rental house he’s moving out of (although I think I’d be more surprised to see someone wearing such tiny jean shorts as Simon is).  He needs more nails for the crate he’s made to carry his stuff, so they head to the hardware store together.  Along the way, they realize that someone is robbing the local bank.  The robber appears as an undifferentiated mass of gray zip-a-tone; a woman in the bank calls him ‘blank’, and it sticks.  As he leaves the bank, he’s confronted by Simon, who punches him back into the bank.  The Blank knocks Simon’s sunglasses off, so people can see that his eye sockets are full of roiling energy.  He catches the thief, but the Blank, who is bulletproof, slides out of his grasp and jumps out the front window.  Simon can’t find him in the crowd.  We see a regular looking guy slip away.  Later, we see this guy at home with the money he stole all around him.  He narrates his life story for us, so we see that he was waiting for the bus with some inventor type who had just quit his job, angry that Stark International was taken over by Obadiah Stane.  The man left with his latest invention, but impatient about the slow buses in LA, the guy walked into traffic and was killed.  Our narrator took the bag with the invention in it, and eventually figured out how to work it.  Now, he wears a belt doohickey thing, that when he charges it off another doohickey thing, he becomes The Blank.  He blanks up, and as he leaves, we see a human like shape coming from the charger, asking for more power.  The WCA have a meeting, and Simon is furious that the Blank got away from him.  Clint wants the team to split up and look for him, but Simon wants him all for himself.  They get him to see reason, and head out to search LA.  They each take different parts of the city, with Clint flying on his new skycycle, and Bobbi driving around in her custom convertible.  The Blank is in Inglewood, though, and he blanks up and robs an armored vehicle.  The driver takes off, so the Blank jumps into the back of the truck.  Bobbi hears about it over the police radio.  The Blank jumps out of the moving truck with as much as he could grab, sliding along the road.  Bobbi sees him and starts to follow.  Blank tries to hide in a construction yard, but Clint and Rhodey arrive, pinning him down.  Blank runs into a gas station, knocking over one of the pumps, spilling gas everywhere, and sparking an explosion.  Clint and Bobbi help get people out of there, while Rhodey picks up a dump truck full of sand and uses it to smother the flames.  Simon and Tigra arrive, and they are all unhappy that the Blank got away.  We see him back in his house, where he decides to get out of town after charging up one last time.  The villain Graviton emerges from the charging station, asking for help after being trapped for months.  The Blank explains that he’s leaving LA to get away from the Avengers, but Graviton tells him that if he helps him, he’ll make sure he never has to deal with the Avengers again.
  • Between issues two and three, the Casket of Ancient Winters storyline played out in the Mighty Thor.  The WCA are helping clean up after LA is blanketed with snow.  Iron Man notices that Wonder Man is short tempered.  Mockingbird and Hawkeye stop some looters, and Tigra catches the two that almost get away.  A little later in the day, the team gathers around the Hollywood sign, remarking that all of the snow has already melted.  Hawkeye suggests that the team get together for a barbecue, and everyone seems excited, although Simon is still pretty distant.  He flies off first.  Clint leaves on his skycycle, and when Bobbi asks Tigra to come with her to the market, Tigra claims that Rhodey was going to give her a lift.  After Mockingbird leaves in the team’s quinjet, Tigra tells Rhodey that she wants to talk to him.  She’s worried about Simon, and wants Rhodey to talk to him, since they have known each other for a long time.  Rhodey finally reveals to her that he’s not Tony Stark, and shows his bare hand as proof, but doesn’t reveal his identity.  He also suggests that Simon would be more likely to open up to Tigra.  Graviton is in a house in the mountains, thinking about how he got trapped in another dimension by Thor, and now wants to live comfortably.  We see that he’s got the Blank working for him, and is planning something.  When Blank suggests that the Avengers have beaten Graviton in the past, he gets angry, shuts off the device that blanks Blank, and threatens him.  They agree to keep working together, as Graviton plots to kill the Avengers or something.  Simon is pacing on the beach on the Avengers’ Compound, and Tigra finds him there.  She gets him talking, and he reveals that he’s unsure if joining the team is right for him, since he was enjoying being a stuntman, and since he’s had problems being a good hero in the past.  He was determined to do things properly this time around, and he’s mad at himself for letting The Blank get away.  Tigra shares that she is also not sure she belongs on the team.  She feels like she always falls into a new thing, like when she became Tigra.  She shows him that she has a magic amulet on her bra that allows her to appear human again, but she never uses it.  Tigra has an idea of how they can catch The Blank, and she takes Simon to the Cat’s Jazz Club to see Shroud.  When they get there, they see that the place has been trashed.  They talk to his employees, Mouse and an unnamed guy, but they deny knowledge of the Shroud, until the Shroud appears among them.  The club was attacked by gangsters who are working for a new boss in town.  Shroud doesn’t want the police involved, and they decide that Simon will disguise himself and go with Shroud to deal with things, since Mouse recognized the men who came.  There is a party happening at the home of the mob boss who has been replaced.  Shroud arrives, with Blond Wig Simon, while Tigra watches through the window.  Simon is surprised to see that The Blank appears to be speaking for the man in charge.  Blank explains that Shroud’s men were beaten because Blank’s new gang needed to establish some street cred.  Shroud tells Simon to attack the Blank, but finds himself hanging in midair and then being spun around.  The Blank recognizes Simon when his wig falls off.  Tigra busts in, and starts to fight The Blank.  The noise brings out Graviton, who Simon recognizes.  As Simon tries to reach the villain, he is pinned down by gravity.  Shroud tries to confuse Graviton with his darkness, but Graviton just sends all the furniture flying around the room.  He captures the heroes, and turns on The Blank, who he doesn’t need anymore.  He sends Tigra, Shroud, and Blank flying through a window and out over the Pacific Ocean, where he drops them.  Back at the Compound, Clint is ready to start cooking, but Bobbi suggests he waits, since she can’t raise Simon or Tigra.  We see that Graviton is standing over a swimming pool, using his power to pin Simon to the bottom of it.
  • Tigra surfaces in the Pacific, holding on to the unconscious Shroud.  She is able to use her Avengers signal device to call for help, and then recaps the plot while treading water.  Iron Man appears in the sky above her, and takes the two back to the Compound.  Later, we learn that Tigra is warming up, that Shroud is sleeping, and that Iron Man wasn’t able to find the Blank when he went back to search for him.  Iron Man wants to go back after Graviton, and Clint is a bit surprised, seeing as Iron Man’s the only one there who fought him before and should know how dangerous he is.  Rhodey decides it’s time to reveal his identity to his team, and Clint doesn’t take it well, calling him an amateur.  He’s surprised to learn that it was Rhodey that was with them during the Secret Wars, and then realizes that he’s acting the way he used to act when he first joined the team.  He apologizes, and the team starts to plan to deal with Graviton.  At Graviton’s place, some of the women at the party talk about what a creep Graviton is, while the bartender gives them champagne.  A knock at the door reveals the arrival of Madame Masque and her assistant, who demand to speak to Graviton.  Graviton meets with Masque, who is interested in working with him, although she expresses concern about the Avengers.  He takes her to the back, to show her that he has Wonder Man’s dead body in his pool.  Louis, Masque’s man, reacts poorly to this scene, and she slaps him.  Just then, Iron Man arrives and starts firing repulsor blasts at them.  Graviton sends him flying into things.  The bartender, it turns out, is Mockingbird, who changes into her costume.  While Graviton focuses on Rhodey, he doesn’t notice that Simon is starting to move at the bottom of the pool.  Bobbi joins the fight, and Hawkeye comes flying in on his skycycle, although he is immediately knocked into the bushes, where “Louis” grabs what turns out to be a dummy of Hawk, and starts swapping gear.  Simon is able to collapse part of the pool, and climb out, despite the force of Graviton’s power.  He hits him hard, at which point Iron Man flies off with Madame Masque.  Graviton goes after him, while Clint and Bobbi get Simon caught up on their plan.  He finds Masque, and learns that Rhodey has hooked his armor up to a power substation.  The two men start fighting, with Rhodey enjoying the massive boost of power to his suit.  The connecting wires start to melt though, causing Rhodey to lose control and knock both him and Graviton down.  Masque goes to Graviton, and then punches him in the face, revealing herself to be Tigra.  Simon arrives, and he and James start punching Graviton’s field.  Graviton starts to suspect he was drugged (we know that Bobbi drugged most of his men), just as Clint fires some tranquilizer gas arrows at him.  Graviton rallies, but then collapses.  After US Marshals arrive to take Graviton away, Clint blows off a news crew, saying the team has somewhere important to be – at his barbecue, where they watch the news on a giant TV.  They chat, and Simon explains that he doesn’t need to breathe or eat now.  Clint plays the team a message from The Vision, congratulating them on their debut, and it looks like Tigra and Simon are feeling good about being on the team.  Clint is especially happy.  

This was a pretty solid little miniseries, and it worked well to establish this team and what makes it different from the main Avengers book.  

Clint undergoes some real growth in these four issues, as he embraces his role as team leader.  I like that Stern had him looking back to how he was when he joined the Avengers, and working to be a better team player and leader.  His enthusiasm for this team is nice to see, and it’s cool to watch him learn how to navigate team dynamics and other things that he never would have paid attention to before now.

Bobbi doesn’t do a whole lot in this miniseries, but it’s clear that she’s a capable hero with a lot to bring to the team.  A lot of her time is spent supporting Clint in his role, which doesn’t age great, but it’s all good.

I like the uncertainty that James Rhodes shows about being Iron Man on the Avengers, instead of as a solo act.  It’s a little odd that, even when he’s in the suit, no one could tell that they weren’t dealing with Tony Stark, but it’s comics, so I guess we have to allow that.  I like Rhodey as Iron Man a lot, and his inclusion on the team gives it both a sense of continuity, having a recognizable founder, and newness, given that Rhodey is effectively a stranger.

Tigra really doesn’t do a whole lot in this miniseries.  Basically, she punches Graviton once, and that’s pretty much the extent of her being a hero here.  Including her in the first place was an interesting choice, as I don’t imagine she ever had a ton of fans, but I like that she was also aware of how out of place she was.  

I’m not a big fan of Wonder Man, mostly because of his long history of having the worst costumes in the game.  He’s a true powerhouse, but he somehow always gets relegated to secondary positions, suggesting he’s just not a very competent hero.  His obsession with letting the Blank get away doesn’t really fit his character, but I guess it’s a necessary plot device to get him to go look for him again.

There are a few things that I found odd about this book that I never noticed before.  The Vision’s stated reason for starting the farm team on the west coast was because too many heroes wanted to be Avengers, in the six-member lineup era, but then he had to go out and recruit ⅗ of the team.  I know there were other reasons that became revealed when the Vision lost control, later in the main series, but that just really stood out to me.

I also think that it’s odd that the team has this massive compound in LA, yet no staff.  The mainstream Avengers couldn’t manage a simple New York mansion without Jarvis, but I guess Bobbi is expected to do the cleaning here.

These are very capable comics.  Stern was always one of the great Avengers writers, and he had the formula down perfectly here, as the team assembled and started to get to know each other.  Bob Hall is, likewise, a classic Marvel house style artist, who did a perfectly fine job with this book.  I thought The Blank looked very cool, and would have liked to see him return at some point 

I remember being really excited about these comics, at a time when a second ongoing title featuring someone other than Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man was a huge deal.  That feeling came back a little, as I got swept up in the promise of this book.  I’ve also loved the cover to #2 for a long time, and thought it was cool when Kelly Thompson’s recent WCA title paid homage to it.

It wasn’t too long after this series ended that the WCA came back in their ongoing title.  I remember loving that book, but not its art.  That’s where I’m headed next, but I’m also going to read the second Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries that it crossed over with at the beginning, as that duo became increasingly important for the west coasters.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read this series, you can follow this link for a trade paperback that includes it.
Avengers West Coast Epic Collection: How the West Was Won

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