Sunday, March 22, 2015

1987: The Whackos' Cross Time Craziness part III: Khonshu Forget About Me?

By Jef Willemsen (

When we last left the West Coast Avengers, they were actually in the Far East... Ancient Egypt, to be precise in a desperate attempt to get Rama Tut to repair their damaged time platform. Instead, the heroes were shot by the evil pharaoh the minute they arrived. And even worse: back in the present, no one even had the slightest clue something was wrong.

Your name is Dominus, you're an alien with a purple turnip for a hat who is ready to take over the world. You're all set to launch your masterplan and have already successfully rid yourself of the West Coast Avengers by sending them into the past with no obvious way of ever coming back.

Yet, you remain uncomfortable sitting in your hollowed out butte in the Arizona desert...

"Is there any loose end? Anything I've overlooked? That I need to rectify?"

The answer to that sort of speaks for itself. But for now, let's get back to the stars of the book... the Avengers West, sent down time's stream without a paddle on a defective time platform. They're stuck around 2900 before Christ but they're by no means alone...

"Ancient Egypt rocks with Doctor Strange and the Fantastic Four!"

Who knew Rama Tut's reign would prove to be one of the most popular hot spots for 20th century superheroes? But as always, we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. The West Coast Avengers might be stuck in 2900 B.C,. but the Lost In Space-Time arc revolved around a lot of players in multiple time periods. So, time for ye olde, obligatory "Previously, on West Coast Avengers..."

"Time has split in five!"

The recap page really is helpful to keep track of the myriad threads writer Steve Englehart was trying to pull together. Not only were the Avengers stuck in ancient Egypt, the mind controlled Mockingbird was still madly in love with the Phantom Rider in 1876. And while Hank Pym and Bonita Juarez were busy welding something in 1987, her family bible was making its way into her hands through the ages. 

Starting with the Avengers: after Rama-Tut shot them with his futuristic weaponry, they were forced to lie in the sands and hear him monologize. Though paralyzed, they were still thinking up a storm, which meant it was time for some classic Englehart exposition....

"My power's gone! Can't move a muscle! It's like... when I was dead! But there's no panic any more!                         I've made it, all the way back from the darkness! Even now I'm a star!" 

...Riiight, Wonder Man. With an ego like that, comparing yourself to a giant, exploding ball of gas is only fitting. Still, as clunky as Steve's scripting is, it does tell you everything you need to know about the team, plus a little something about their personalities and individual plights. Thought balloons are a thing of the past in today's comics. And while their absence does add realism, having them can sometimes be beneficial to both the story and any new readers out there eager to play catch up. As former Marvel editor in chief Jim Shooter was fond of saying: every comic is someone's first.

In Englehart's defense: the reason his scripts tend to be so exposition heavy might be related to a policy initiated by Shooter during his reign. To make the comics as accessible as possible, writers were "(t)asked" to include all the characters names, codenames and powers. Such an edict spells certain death for organic scripting, because no one outside an Alzheimer's ward repeats facts about themselves everyone already knows. Check out some of John Byrne's early Fantastic Four issues for some prime examples. They littered with mentions like "Sue, darling", "my brother Johnny" or Ben Grimm explaining for the umpteenth time Alicia Masters is blind, his girlfriend and a sculptress...

Content with having defeated his enemies, Rama Tut ordered his underlings to drag the Avengers away. They decided to take them to the temple of Khonshu, Egyptian god of the moon. After Rama Tut took over the country ten years ago, he abolished all other religions though a small sect of priests remained loyal to their gods. They took care of the Avengers, but the already ailing Hawkeye pretty much died there, lying in the deity's temple. 

Clint's demise didn't go unnoticed. Not even back in 1876...

"All of a sudden I felt a chill... As if everything I loved in the world has died".

Somehow, the death of her husband nearly 3000 years ago gave the addled Mockingbird a sudden jolt. She took Phantom Rider's horse and took off, desperate to clear her mind. This scene was witnessed by Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid who were still on the Phantom Rider's trail after he'd kidnapped Bobbi. Two-Gun decided the best way to shock her back to her senses was by confronting her dressed as Hawkeye. Quickly crafting a makeshift version of the archer's costume, he approached her and, following a brief altercation, her memory was restored.

"The Spook-Man hit me, and he gave me some drug and made me love him!
I'll KILL him!!"

A seething Mockingbird joined the two gunslingers and prepared to get her pound of flesh. But her revenge will have to wait for the next entry. Let's visit the Avengers in Egypt again where we find out Hawkeye might not be quite so dead after all. He was saved by Khonshu, a god with a fondness for reviving down on their luck heroic types, just ask Marc Spector. Hawkeye had a heart-to-heart with him and surprised the Egyptian god with his moxie: Clint actually wanted him to send the Avengers home. 

Unfortunately, the answer was no-Konshu.

"Send a subtle message to friends of ours in the future..."

Hawkeye was returned to life, his health fully restored and ready to lead once more. The Avengers decided that if Rama Tut wouldn't help them, they'd simply raid his pyramid which was filled with all the futuristic technology needed to fix the time platform themselves. Hawkeye didn't give Khonshu's promise too much thought, but the god of the Moon kept his word.

"1987, New York City..."

Khonshu's modern era avatar Moon Knight received his god's message and made preparations to travel to California to warn the Avengers. Just why Marc Spector didn't simply contact the East Coast Avengers, he was in New York after all, is a mystery for the ages. It would have prevented a lot of confusion by the time he got to the West Coast Avengers' Palos Verdes compound. But more on that later... The Avengers had just gained access to the pharaoh's main pyramid using a secret underground passageway the priests of Khonshu pointed out. Once inside, they quickly realized they weren't the only superheroes who happened to be visiting Rama Tut's Egypt.

"Hey Whackos, it's the FF! They must have gotten my message from Bonita!"

Not exactly, this is actually yesteryear's FF, from a time not too long after the team's founding. They had used Doctor Doom's time platform to travel to Egypt in order to look for a cure to Alicia Masters' blindness. They were prisoners of Rama Tut before too long, with the pharaoh deciding to turn the male members into his slaves while planning to marry the Invisible Girl. But, the WCA ran into yet another old, familiar face they'd encountered once before during their current time travel crisis.

"It's Doctor Strange! If we rescue him, he can get us home with a coupla spells or somethin'...                                                                        Avengers assemble!"

Yeah, Doctor Strange also happened to be in Egypt in an ongoing time travel tale written by Roger Stern back in 1982. The Doctor was moving through time to chase a soul shard belonging to his ladyfriend Morgana Blessing. The shard kept manifesting in Morgana's past incarnations, and by the time Strange reached ancient Egypt "Morgana"was a mere handmaiden in service to the pharaoh. But before he could locate her, Strange was attacked and kidnapped by Rama Tut's robots and brought to the main pyramid.

In a rather clever bit of retroactive storytelling, the WCA attempted to rescue Strange only to barely miss the mage no less than two times.

                           "I must locate Morgana Blessing's past life and turn back her soul-shard!"

It wasn't all for nothing, Wonder Man got a much needed attitude adjustment when he failed to open the coffin Rama Tut's robots had put Strange in. Focussing their efforts on getting to Rama Tut and forcing the pharaoh to help them, they were stunned to find out the FF (thanks to some unseen help from Dr. Strange), had all but brought down the mad man's reign. Rama Tut decided to flee back to the future he came from while the Whackos could do nothing but watch.

"He can't escape! He's our main chance to get home!"

But escape he did... And while Tigra was right when she said both the FF and Strange were still left as viable options to return to their own time, the fickle finger of faith was giving them the middle one on both options. Not too surprisingly, after all having the West Coast Avengers interact with either the Fantastic Four or the sorceror supreme would have upset established continuity. That's why, to no one's surprise but the Whackos, this happened...

"They're already using their time machine!"

And with that, the West Coast Avengers watched their final chance of getting home the easy way slip through their fingers. Understandably frustrated and desperate, all they had to rely on now was the message to Bonita Juarez written by Hawkeye back in 1776, a message that Carlotta Valdez promised to keep safe inside her family bible. But, as the recap page of West Coast Avengers I#21 showed, Valdez died later that year. The padre she served with took her bible back to Mexico with him where he used it every single day of his life. After his death, the good book became the principle bible of a mission post in Ciudad, Corazon.

In 1847, a young girl called Isabel Ramirez was visiting the mission her family helped found. Ignoring the pious priest who ordered her not to touch the good book, deeming it too holy for peasant hands, she picked it up and almost immediately discovered a by now familiar message...

"A note... in English?"

Isabel was then hit with a sudden (perhaps Konshu khaused) flash of divine inspiration. She felt it was important for her to have the bible and proceeded to steal it. To make sure the theft couldn't be traced back to her, Isabel hid the bible inside an old tree near a remote cliff. There, the book remained undisturbed for seven decades until the now elderly Isabel returned to the site with her own grand daughter Chita and her young friend Benito Juarez.

While Isabel showed Chita the bible and its hidden message for the future, the clumsy Benito almost fell off the cliff. Isabel managed to save the boy, but the effort caused her to have a fatal heart attack. Though disturbed by her nana's passing, the future missus Chita Juarez made a vow.

"Oh Benito... She'll be my inspiration for the rest of my life!
And there won't be one day when I don't read her Holy Bible!"

Way to drive that particular storypoint home, little girl... And yes, that is the way all preteens spoke around 1915, especially with their grandmother's corpse developing rigor mortis next to them... Another example of Englehart's extremely au naturel scripting. But, that explains how the bible came into possession of the Juarez family, passing on from Chita to her child and finally to Bonita Juarez in the present day.

Bonita who, as La Espirita, had prevented Avengers founding member Hank Pym from committing suicide. So convinced every human life had value, she personally guided Hank's to give his life new meaning, which eventually led him to realize he didn't need to hide behind a codename or a costume to be an adventurer. Simply being himself was all it took...

                  "From this day forward, as an adventurer or an everyday guy, I am... Doctor Pym!"

Truth be told, it's an interesting take on the basic concept of the Hank Pym character. More than any other Avenger, he was always defined by the emotional problems of the man behind the mask, never comfortable with whatever costumed identity he adopted.

As Ant-Man he felt inferior compared to the other, more formidable Avengers. When he was the far more formidable Giant-Man, he still found himself unable to effectively contribute to the team and as Goliath he developed the size-increase related illnesses that forced him to quit growing to giant size altogether. While in his Yellowjacket persona, he suffered a number of mental breakdowns, which would explain his reluctance to return to that particular alter ego... It'd be for the best if he was just himself: Doctor Pym, master of robotics and the size-altering Pym particle, which he used to carry around a vast array of miniaturized weapons, tools and other gadgets he could call up at a moment's notice.

All in all, not a bad power set to have. Add to that the fact he'd fallen for Bonita during their shared journey of self discovery and Hank was ready to take on the world. His first challenger turned out to be Moon Knight, who had infiltrated the West Coast Avengers Compound to deliver Khonshu's message. But, as always, an obligatory fight scene was required...

"I'm not a failed hero any longer.... I'm Dr. Pym... the scientific adventurer!"

That's all well and good, Hank... but just how much of a hero, let alone a rational, empirical scientist, are you when you ignore your perceived opponents' pleas he isn't looking for a fight? Moon Knight just wanted to talk and you attacked him anyway. That doesn't make you either a hero or an adventurer and least of all a scientist acting solely on verifiable facts. No, it makes you a bully, plain and simple.

Luckily, despite the fact he was dressed remarkably similar to Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor Who, he was still no match for the fist of Khonshu.

                                                                  "Then study this now!"

At last, the message gets delivered... Though it is somewhat telling that a supposedly devout Christian like Bonita never even noticed a piece of ink stained petticoat stuck inside her family bible... A piece of cloth with her name on it, something all her ancestors all felt was an important message intended for the future? Still, let's ignore this semi-obvious loophole and see if the Fantastic Four can help save the West Coast Avengers. Hank and Bonita call the Richardses at Four Freedoms Plaza only to find out Dominus had thought of everything after all...

"A man calling himself Dominus and a group of mutated desert creatures just broke into our headquarters. Their object, apparently, was to destroy our time machine... And they did!"

How's that for a call back? Dominus finally figured out that he wasn't the only one in possession of Doctor Doom's time travel technology. Aided by his mutated desert creatures, he invaded the headquarters of the Fantastic Four behind the scenes and disabled the heroes' final option to return from yesteryear.

Next time, we'll cover the way the heroes got home (as if it was ever in any doubt), plus the final fate of the Phantom Rider in an entry we just had to call Mockin' Bird (will let ya fall of a) Hill)*

*(with sincerest apologies to Patti Page

1 comment:

  1. Definitely a weird and wacky comic book, especially with Englehart writing....sure some of it is just plain dumb, but I REALLY miss fun super-hero comics like this! Also, using old heroes, villains, etc.....THIS was when the Marvel Universe was still great, IMHO!




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