Sunday, November 1, 2009

1989 - John Byrne's Avengers West Coast

West Coast Avengers #42-53
March - December 1989
Writer: John Byrne
Artists: John Byrne/Mike Machlan
Editor: Howard Mackie

John Byrne’s run on the West Coast Avengers (renamed Avengers West Coast later this year) was a controversial, but pleasant run. Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco felt that the title needed a change of direction. So, West Coast Avengers editor Howard Mackie hired John Byrne, who returned to Marvel after a stint at DC Comics doing Superman. Byrne filled both the position of writer and penciler, while Mike Machlan remained on the title as inker.

Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom finished their 39-issue run on the West Coast Avengers and had cleared up most of their plot lines. Issues #40 and #41 were fill-in issues that miserably attempted to finish up the remaining plot lines. When Byrne started in issue #42, Tigra, Wasp, and Dr. Pym had all rejoined the West Coast Avengers without any explanation. It was nice, however, to see the Wasp, who had been normally associated with the East Coast Avengers, and Dr. Pym rejoin.

In Byrne’s run, Pym no longer had doubts about his role, in fact he took over the leadership of the team from Hawkeye. Hawkeye was portrayed as a less competent authority, which many had argued contradicted his character development throughout the limited series and the first 40 issues of this series. Byrne did a welcome job restoring Pym to his rightful place as one of the founding Avengers.

Pym’s mental instability was the catalyst that led to the break up of his marriage to the Wasp, also another foundering member. Byrne set the stage for their reconciliation and had them revive their romance off panel. Byrne “never liked it when they broke up. So we’ll be sort of pushing them back together again” (Peter Sanderson Marvel Age #70, 1988).

Hawkeye never seemed to stand out as an Avengers leader, but seemed to carry enough spirit for the entire team. And by issue #46, Hawkeye tired of being pushed aside takes a leave of absence. Hawkeye becomes a supporting character throughout the run and he eventually finds himself leading the Great Lakes Avengers.

Now to address the source of a lot of fans’ displeasure: Byrne’s treatment of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch had been happily married and Wanda had just given birth to twin sons. Well, in Byrne’s defense, he was hired to shake things up, and shake things up he did.

Byrne followed up an Avengers story line call “Unlimited Vision” (Avengers #251-254) in which the Vision attempts to seize control of the world computers and thereby providing a guiding “vision” (forgive the pun) to humanity. However, Byrne felt the story didn’t hold the Vision responsible for his actions. Well, Byrne’s story called “Vision Quest” has Vision abducted and disassembled. The West Coast Avengers rescued their teammate, but learned that his memory had been erased and that he had become a logical, unemotional machine.

They also learn that the Vision’s abduction had been an international intelligence effort to neutralize the potential threat the Vision posed to worldwide security. A lot of fans saw this story as a direct insult to the efforts of Steve Englehart who had developed the Vision into a distinct character. Also, there was a bit of “suspension of disbelief” required when it turned out that Mockingbird had been tricked into betraying her former teammates. This action also prompted the U.S. to assigned special agent U.S.AGENT to the Avengers team much to his new teammates’ displeasure.

By issue #47, Byrne had also taken over writing The Avengers (East Coast branch) title and worked to increase the interaction between teams. In The Avengers #305, Byrne took a bold step and created a revolving membership system that basically put every Avengers on call. By consolidating the Avengers into one team whose members could be appropriately called upon to deal with any threat or menace.

When the Vision was original created, it was believed that his body was actually that of the original Human Torch whowas an android that fought for the U.S. during World War II but had since been deactivated. However, Byrne reveals that the Vision’s body wasn’t the Human Torch’s, which sends the Avengers West Coast on a quest to find the body of the original Human Torch.

Byrne enjoyed the character interactions of this title. The Vision - Scarlet Witch - Wonder Man love-triangle, the Wasp-Dr. Pym relationship, and the Hawkeye-Mockingbird relationship all get a lot of attention and are dramatically changed. For example, Wonder Man’s brain patterns were originally used to infuse the Vision with a personality. Now that the Vision’s personality has been erased, Wonder Man’s is asked to donate his brain patterns once again. However, he’s in love with the Scarlet Witch and if he restores the Vision he can never have a chance with her.

This run also sees the return of another founder member, Iron Man, to the active roster.

Byrne identified the Scarlet Witch as a favorite character. However as Byrne put it mildly, “the Scarlet Witch is not going to be having a good time ...” (Peter Sanderson Marvel Age #70, 1988). She basically lost her husband, the Vision, and was left with an unfeeling machine. Things didn’t get any better for her. Her twin sons turned out to be pieces of the demon called Pandemonium which she inadvertently used to complete the spell that made her pregnant. Pandemonium showed up and forcibly reclaimed what was his.

Less than a year later, Byrne left the title. Roy Thomas, who had written the Avengers in the 70s, and his wife Dann, became the new writers and were joined by artist Paul Ryan. Unfortunately, both The Avengers and The Avengers West Coast would slip into a period of decline well into the mid-1990s.

For details on Byrne’s departure from the Avengers West Coast, check out his FAQ.


  1. Up until the Busiek/Perez relaunch, this was probably the last era of The Avengers that I really got into.

    I still bought everything (being the good Avengers fan), but it was never as fun again for a long time.

  2. Agreed. The relaunch under Busiek/Perez was a golden age for the Avengers.

  3. I was a huge fan of Byrne's work back in the 1980's and only read West Coast Avengers because he became involved. I still enjoy this run and while it does have all the earmarks of a typical Byrne run on a title (shake things up, tear apart what the previous team put in place), it was still lots of fun for me as a reader.

    That said, his sudden departure from the series was very annoying.

  4. People should appreciate that there was nothing creative about Byrne's approach to WCA specificially, or his "everything you know is wrong" approach generally. Picking a character's background to falsify and then having other characters react is antithetical to creativity -- it's as creative as throwing buckets of paint on a mural. His "back to basics" approach was pure formula fiction.

    Re the Vision's origin: I had a discussion with Byrne about that on his topic/forum on AOL back around '93. The only justification he could come up with was his interpretation of a sequence in THE SUB MARINER #4 by Thomas and Severin. As I saw it, his interpretation was seriously flawed.


  5. There was one run on the Avengers after this I liked quite a lot- the Bob Harras run in the '90s- but otherwise this was the last run I particularly liked. And I don't object to what Byrne did with Vizh, much as I hated it at the time- that sort of thing is how you inject drama, and it kept me interested. In hindsight it seems very Joss Whedon.

  6. Really enjoyed this run, was sad to see it get chopped so quickly. Ah, well, that's work-for-hire comics for ya.



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