Tuesday, March 24, 2015

1987: The Whackos' Cross Time Craziness part IV: Mockin' Bird (will let ya fall off a) Hill

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

When we last left the West Coast Avengers, they seemed destined to remain in ancient Egypt after missing no less than three opportunities to get back to their own time. To make matters worse, in the present Dominus destroyed the Fantastic Four's timeplatform, preventing Hank Pym, Espirita and Moon Knight to travel back. Oh, and Mockingbird was about to do something drastic...

"Vengeance cries the Mockingbird"

West Coast Avengers I#23 marked one of the most controversial decisions writer Steve Englehart made during his tenure on the book. Even though the team was called Avengers, their charter strictly prohibited the heroes from killing. Guess what line Mock was about to cross... But before we get to that, let's review where and when all the other players involved in this transtemporal tragedy are supposed to be. Once more with feeling: "Previously, on West Coast Avengers..." 

"Time has split in seven!"

Luckily, most of those seven time periods are not relevant to the main story. With the Egyptian god Khonshu observing all of time at once, the story continued. Hank Pym, La Espirita and Moon Knight had come to New York to visit the FF in their beat up headquarters. Dominus and his desert troops had disabled the team's time platform but the solution to that particular pickle seemed surprisingly straightforward: "Reed, you're pretty smart, right? Why not repair it?"

"Smushed it maybe, Ben... But it *is* a machine! It can get unsmushed!"

Now, I'm no English major, or even an ensign for that matter, but I'm not sure one can 'smush' machinery. You can smush food, like butter peas in gravy, not to mention the insane amount of smushing that takes place in this video which has Roseanne Barr and the late great Phyllis Diller preparing a spaghetti diner. Check around the one minute mark for a ton of smush. 

At any rate, while Pym and Reed got busy fixing up the time machine... Back in ancient Egypt the West Coast Avengers were surprised to find themselves attacked by the local population. Turns out the royal slaves weren't too pleased by the fact pharaoh Rama Tut's dictatorial reign had ended. Sure, with the pharaoh gone they were now free, but that also meant they had lost *their* slaves as well. Even though Iron Man and Wonder Man could have easily handled the horde, Hawkeye called for a strategic retreat to the temple of Khonshu, much to the vainglorious Wonder Man's chagrin.

Inside the temple, they met with the priests who informed the heroes that, all appearances to the contrary, they'd proven instrumental in overthrowing Rama-Tut. A point Englehart illustrated with a clever bit of continuity based writing...

"Oh, yes, Avenger... You fulfilled your bargain with Khonshu!"

Talk about a practical application of the butterfly effect... By fighting some of the robots who were carrying Doctor Strange to his cell/sarcophagus, the Avengers delayed the mechanical men long enough for Strange to escape in his astral form. Strange was then free to help the FF which he (from our point of view) already did back in 1982's Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts I#53. Still, that didn't get the heroes one step closer to their own time, no matter what Khonshu had promised Hawkeye. That's why the archer decided he'd better make himself useful while they waited around. He asked the priests for some ivory from which he could craft a few weapons...

"This super-hero business is certainly far removed from the world of Marc Spector, mercenary"

Ah, and this is where Steve Englehart's "wheels within wheels" approach to the Whacko's time travel antics tends to get a bit too cute. Englehart established that Hawkeye was the one who handcrafted the sacred weapons Marc Spector had been using as Moon Knight all this time. While a nice reveal on its own, it got to be a little much if you consider this storyline already featured Hawkeye's message stuck in Bonita's bible, not to mention that arrowhead he dropped in 1776 which happened to prove essential in helping Mockingbird remember who she was in 1876.

Still, the weapons got crafted, in the present the time platform got unsmushed and before too long (again, relatively speaking)....

"Avengers assemble!"

With the Avengers and their newfound allies catching up in the Egypt of old, there was only one member of the Whackos unaccounted for: Mockingbird. After Two-Gun and the Rawhide Kid helped her shake off the influence of the Comanche love potion Phantom Rider had subjected her to, she swore vengeance and went after "the spook" herself. In appropriately dramatic fashion, their final confrontation took place during a freak thunderstorm right near the edge of a cliff. What could possibly go wrong?

"You'll be better dead, my love... Because you'll be a ghost like me!"

Mockingbird continued her fight against the clearly deranged Hamilton Slade. There was no reasoning with the man, who was so deluded he actually believed he was a living ghost. Yet, he proved all too human when Mockingbird aimed her battlestaves at his kneecaps, causing him to tumble over the edge of the cliff. Holding on for dear life, the Rider tried one last time to sweet talk his former victim...

"Woman, you will pull me up! The Phantom Rider commands it!"

Yeah, perhaps that's not the best way to approach someone already furious for turning her into your mindless love slave for heaven knows how long. Mockingbird did nothing when the weight of Hamilton's body caused the soaked cliffside to give way and... well...

"Drop dead!"

A lot has been said about Mockingbird's refusal to help the Phantom Rider. Did she cause his death? Probably. Was it self defense? Maybe. Didn't he have it coming? Possibly. Was it the right thing to do? What am I, a magic 8-ball? Reply hazy, try again... 

Avengers don't kill, that's for sure. But before she became an Avenger, Bobbi Barton-Morse was an agent of SHIELD. She was a scientist, true, but all SHIELD agents are trained in the proper use of lethal force. The fact she was by no means an objective participant in this particular case clouds the issue. There's no doubt she felt personally vindicated by watching her assailant get his comeuppance (by dropping down, ironically enough)... Yet she still attended the funeral the Comanche Indians held for their fallen champion. During the ceremony, she was reunited with some very welcome, familiar old faces.

"The Bird! Clint! Everybody!"

In another fine example of Englehart's realistic scripting, Hawkeye called his wife "the bird!". Sure, it's an endearing take on her codename and yes, only in Great Britain is "bird" slang for either "hot girl" or giving someone the finger... but it's hardly romantic. Semantics aside, the two lovers reunited, but instead of coming clean about her involvement in the Phantom Rider's death she kept quiet. 

"How are ya, honey? Did the Ghost Rider hurt ya? It took us a while to track ya! Two-Gun told me how he drugged ya! Where is that banana slug?"

Oh goodie, more natural dialogue.

It is a little difficult to confess a murder with your husband's tongue in your mouth...And having him call your rapist a, erm... "banana slug" of all things doesn't exactly help either. So, Mockingbird merely claimed he killed himself. Which isn't a lie per se, merely the kind of stretch that would give Mr. Fantastic muscle spams. While it's true that the Phantom Rider would probably still be alive if he hadn't kidnapped her, she still could have saved him. Only she didn't. 

With the Avengers once again fully assembled, the heroes headed back to the present to finally deal with Dominus. The villain had been busy in his hollowed out butte, filled to the brim with alien technology. Moments before the unexpected happened in West Coast Avengers I#24, he was explaining his master plan to Sunstroke, the one human operative in his employ.

"It is a complex process! It takes years! But when completed, the machine's ray deadens natives' wills, turning them to mindless slaves!"

Sheesh, who knew Dominus was behind Candy Crush? All kidding and poor attempts at topical humor aside, he was a member of conquering alien race called the Arcane who were ready to claim Earth using their so-called master machine. The device was nearing completion, and while Dominus gloated that not even a single superhero was aware of his plans an alarm sounded.

"Oh, my master!"

That's right, the Dominus we've been seeing during these reviews wasn't the real villain. He's merely a stooge mentally controlled by the sentient mechanical complex running the base. The power behind the throne is, well, the throne itself. But even though its host freaked out because the Avengers showed up at the front door, the Arcane computer mind simply ordered Sunstroke to take a few men to deal with the situation.

"Oh, you eight can have some payoff, Avengers... The fifty of us will be glad to close your account!"

We're in the home stretch, so let's ignore Sunstroke's corny comeback, even though it reads like something straight out of a 1966 Batman script. What Cactus, Butte and Gila lacked in skill, power or flair they made up for in sheer size of numbers. During the fight, the individual heroes took the time to reflect on what they'd been through in the past several days. Hawkeye remained blissfully oblivious to the fact Mockingbird was in severe emotional distress....

"I've never let myself down! No matter what anyone does to me..."

While Mockingbird was working through some of her anger and frustration by hacking apart Dominus poor, underachieving underlings... Moon Knight and La Espirita also made a mark for themselves, with Bonita taking on the heat generating Sunstroke and Marc Spector openly considering joining the Avengers. In the end, even 50+ mutated desert creatures couldn't stop eight p.o.'ed superheroes. They breached Dominus' base where they were subjected to one final, ever so nasty surprise... the Arcane's computer complex was ready for them. And then some.

"The sensors on my mechanized form show all eight of your minds... Are mine!"

What is this, a Chris Claremont comic? By simply flicking a switch, Dominus took over the minds of all the heroes, effectively ending their threat. All, except for Moon Knight who appeared to be impervious and struck Dominus when the villain briefly had his back turned. But hey, if at first you don't succeed... try, try again!

"Sorry! Your blasts don't mean squat to me, purple-puss!"

Failing to restrain a glorified acrobat whose only weapons are 2000+ years old and made of ivory was enough to make the advanced alien computer mind freak out. Faster than one could yell "abandon ship", Dominus launched its main computer core, including the nearly completed Master Machine into space. With the Avengers freed, Hawkeye ordered Wonder Man, Iron Man and La Espirita to chase the ship shaped like erm, like a... giant, purple erm. Well, we all know what it looks like, eh?

Unfortunately, Wonder Man's jet pack gave out as soon as they reach the outer edges of the atmosphere, proving you can't break the laws of thermodynamics no matter how big a wind bag you are. Not wanting to risk their theoretically indestructible teammate getting hurt, Iron Man and La Espirita broke off pursuit to catch him. As was to be expected, the smug and arrogant Simon was appropriately grateful...

"Here you go, Wonder Bread... Consider it my gift to the moviegoers of the world!"

In the closing pages of West Coast Avengers I#24 we learned that this latest perceived insult to his greatness was enough for Wonder Man to announce his retirement from the team altogether. We also discovered how Moon Knight was able to shake off Dominus' mental paralysis: Marc Spector was incapacitated along with the other heroes, but his split personalities were unaffected. Millionaire playboy Steven Grant took over, only to fall prey to Dominus' second blast. That left tough talking New York cabbie Jake Lockley to act. One more blast would have done it, but by then Dominus had already ran off. 

And so ended the West Coast Avengers' whackiest temporal adventure ever. Despite his sometimes dated scripting, even for 1987, Steve Englehart delivered a truly impressive piece of writing. The various elements came together naturally and functioned as a well oiled machine. Plot points crossed over neatly and threads from as far back as #6 were woven in to tell a rich tale that also set up future storylines. 

To readers in 1987, the end of Lost In Space Time must have felt like a completely new beginning for the Avengers West. Not only was Wonder Man as good as gone, Hank Pym had succesfully reinvented himself as the scientific adventurer and there were even two new Avengers: the mysterious Moon Knight and Bonita Juarez, who indirectly started the entire adventure back in #17. 

Unfortunately, nothing much came of it. Bonita never officially joined, prefering to continue her work as a Christian social worker in New Mexico. Wonder Man returned to the fold with his proverbial tail tucked between his legs in #25. He almost died fighting the Abomination at the Tonight Show studios following an appearance with Johnny Carson, but his Hollywood buddies merely thought it was a cheap publicity stunt. In a true After School Special-moment, Williams realized the Avengers were his real friends.

Moon Knight's tenure with the team was equally brief and uneventful. Apart from almost being kicked out when he went after Cornelius "Taurus" van Lunt on his own to make the crimeboss pay for breaking a promise he swore on the Moon, Marc Spector played no significant part. After a four part Zodiac storyline a few forgettable fill ins followed. Then the Wasp of all people joined while the Phantom Rider returned from the dead to tell Hawkeye that Mockingbird had let him die.

Instead of backing up his wife or even being remotely sympathetic to the fact she was the one who had been kidnapped, drugged and raped, the archer gave her hell. This conflic led to the end of Clint and Bobbi's marriage and caused a schism within the team, with all the Avengers taking sides on the issue. Tigra and Moon Knight supported Mockingbird and went with her when she left the group.

What followed was even worse. Shoddy, haphazard and thoroughly unpleasant issues marked the title's plodding march towards #42 when John Byrne would take over and changed everything. Before he left, Englehart had added Vision and the Scarlet Witch to the mix and... wouldntcha know it, even Mantis suddenly put in an appearance or two. Because, hey, why not?

Allegedly, Tom DeFalco wasn't too pleased with Englehart's insistence to include Mantis. As Marvel's newest editor in chief (he succeeded Jim Shooter in late 87), he made an executive decision to keep Mantis' involvement in the ongoing storylines to a bare minimum... Even actively altering already completed stories, like these scenes from West Coast Avengers Annual I#3. In the middle of 1988's Evolutionary War crossover, Mantis had plenty to say. Or did she?

Fun and games... Englehart dutifully served out his tenure on the book, in spite of the editorial edicts. In the end, Steve would simply move his planned Mantis/Cotati storyline over to Fantastic Four, where the FF offered Mantis the help she hoped the WCA would give her.

With Byrne at the helm, the West Coast Avengers became Avengers West Coast. This, according to Byrne's byzantine logic, was necessary to emphasize the fact the heroes are defined by being Avengers, not that they happened to be in California. Byrne's Avengers West Coast is often praised and lauded, though mostly for the art. It had very little to do with the heroes who once lived at the Palos Verdes compound.

The real West Coast Avengers, marked by their sly sense of whimsy and cavalier approach to superheroics, perished shortly after Lost In Space Time. The book lost its innocence after Mockingbird's rape and never recovered from the gloomy, dark clouds that started to gather when Bobbi didn't immediately tell her husband what had happened to her.

... If only we could go back in time to change it. 


  1. Jef, that was amazing! Thank you so much for that recap. This is one of the many, many stories I've never read, and here you are, putting it all out there.

    Like you said, it's REALLY hard to drum up any sympathy for Clint in this situation. So... he KNOWS that his wife was drugged, because the other two 1870s heroes told him... and he can't figure out that his wife was probably sexually abused? Yeah... I'd hope that a group like this would have a smarter leader than that. Plus, how do you so cavalierly throw away a relationship like that? Like you said: would that we could go back and change it. If only there were a broken (or working, even) time platform around here somewhere...

  2. Thanks for a great look-back at one of the most memorable sagas of the 80s! It was silly at times, but this crazy multi-parter was fun. I always had a soft spot for "B-grade" teams like the Champions and Defenders, maybe that's why I was a regular reader of West Coast Avengers. This time-travel story reminded me a bit of the Gerber-era Defenders stories, I may have to pick up the tpb of 'Lost in Time And Space' in the near future.

    Gila forever!

  3. I enjoyed the WCA in their day, never really purchased the main Avengers book. Got rid of them all years ago, this makes me want to read them again, no matter how dodgy! Super stuff.
    Matt B



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