Monday, November 25, 2013

John Byrne's West Coast Avengers Part 5: Acts of Vengeance

Back in 1989-90, John Byrne had a 16-issue run as writer/penciler on The West Coast Avengers (renamed Avengers West Coast partway through his time on the title). I'm neither an Avengers nor a Byrne expert, but I'm aware that, at least in some circles, these comics don't have the best reputation. Screw that noise, because I quite like them, and I'm writing about them one arc at a time.

"Acts of Vengeance" was a crossover story where a whole bunch of villains, secretly being manipulated by Loki, attacked heroes they didn't usually fight. The idea was to give the good guys challenges they hadn't faced before and for which they would therefore be unprepared. Avengers West Coast was one of several titles telling the story, so the three issues involved are disconnected beats. Reading them without the other books provides a fragmented picture of the narrative, but the event is structured in such a way that consuming broken bits of it isn't confusing or unsatisfying. Each chapter highlights a single fight in the widespread, long-running conflict, so they're all self-contained adventures in addition to being small pieces of a larger whole.
     The West Coast Avengers, sometimes with the help of the main team, fight (in order) the U-Foes, Mole Man, and Loki. The first of these battles is the dullest, but it's meant as sort of a teaser of things to come. Its action is a bit low energy, because the Avengers need to be able to shut down the U-Foes quickly and without taking much damage themselves. This makes it easier to let the villains leave when one of them, Vector, shows up and exposes that the whole reason his teammates attacked the heroes in the first place was a lie. They'd been falsely led to believe that the Avengers had killed Vector in combat, so once they see him alive and well, they fall back. Pretty much as soon as they do, Mole Man's much more powerful, terrifying, and physically massive forces arrive and begin their own offensive. The Avengers deal with the bigger and more immediate threat, letting the U-Foes escape.
     Totally worth it for Byrne to do some huge panels of Mole Man's biggest minions. It makes me want to just read a Byrne-drawn comicbook where all the characters are dinosaurs, monsters, aliens, or some combination of those things. Several awesome fights take place, including Iron Man throwing a monster the size of a skyscraper into the ocean. The height of the drama comes when Wonder Man lets Mole Man blast him repeatedly with a staff to prove the Avengers didn't attack Mole Man earlier. Just like with the U-Foes, he's being deceived, which leads the Avengers to stand around and wonder who might be provoking a bunch of random villains to attack them. Luckily, they also discover that the East Coast Avengers are having similar problems, so everybody gets together to solve the mystery and defeat the foe behind the foes. But that assembling and mystery-solving actually happens in other titles, so that the epic finale to "Acts of Vengeance" can take place in Avengers West Coast.
     And as is only natural in a story that involves trickery and a gathering of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the villain ends up being Loki. That also means Thor gets most of the glory of the victory, which is too bad, since he's not technically part of the cast of this book. But Avengers from both coasts get moments to shine over the course of the final fight, so it's a nice sprawling slugfest for the story's conclusion.
     This arc is the least connected to the rest of what Byrne does, making its place so close to the end of his run a bit bothersome. It would've been nicer if he'd had more room to push things forward after this was wrapped up, but them's the breaks. With only two left issues before his departure over disagreements with editorial or some such, "Acts of Vengeance" is his last full arc on this book. And it's not even contained within this book alone, another detail I'm not wild about. I do like the concept of this crossover, because it feels kind of inevitable. Once there are enough villains and heroes established in the world, there's bound to be somebody who tries to use them all against each other. So many supervillains are large-scale schemers, it was only a matter of time. Plus Loki's the perfect choice, the only choice, maybe, to be the guy who out-schemes them all. Big-picture, it's a strong idea, but within the pages of this particular series, it's lukewarm.
     I will say that the awkward, forced, unnatural recaps of past events that old-school comics so often catch flack for were extremely helpful in this case. Reading just one part of an event that spans several titles means I needed to have some gaps filled in my memory of what happens elsewhere. When the information is actually useful, the expositional dialogue is welcome. It's brief enough not to drag things down, and it bulletpoints all the need-to-knows so nobody gets lost. This happens in almost every issue of West Coast Avengers, and sometimes it's annoying when you read them all in a row. But there's an obvious value in the practice of making sure everyone's on board, even if it means wasting a few panels of regular readers' time.
     Anyway, these are fun issues, each one a complete, easily-digestible superhero action story. It's classic bad-guys-pulls-some-shit-so-good-guys-respond-with-might storytelling, episodic but connected to create layers of entertainment. Byrne does some of his most impressive artwork with Mole Man's monsters and Thor fighting Loki, and his writing ain't half bad either, in that he constructs this greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts narrative quite solidly. A decent arc, but not a favorite. That comes next.

No comments:

Post a Comment