Aug 25, 2016

5 Elements of Art We Think We’re All Experts On (And Aren’t Even Close)

5 Elements of Art We Think We’re All Experts On (And Aren’t Even Close)
Travis Hedge Coke



I’m not an art expert. I had three years of art school and dropped out. My hands get worse with age, and my interest in doing art that doesn’t appeal to me, immediately, has waned over the years. But, I’ve got opinions. And, all of you have opinions. And, all of you have your education and your experience with art, too.

This is not an article for shitting on your art expertise. I am, here, not speaking specifically of any of us, but a collective “we” that is emblematic of us at our laziest, or generalized moments, because we all do this stuff. Moments of weakness. Poor education. Out of our wheelhouse. Maybe, in some instances, we are simply going with the flow. I’d like to think, four times out of five, when I’m guilty of oversimplifying the following five aspects of visual art, I am going along with someone’s “look at the awkward anatomy on this!” post or “how much does the color even matter?” article because they made several other good points, or their main issue is one I agree with.

But, in reality, I have been, at different times, guilty of it because of every reason I listed above.


Lifts

Lifts are when an artist copies figurework, posing, a design element or entire scene/piece and transposes it into their new work. The artist is “lifting” an image or design element from someone else, for their own work, without credit. Stealing.

And, yeah, it’s a thing and it can be theft, or feel like theft, certainly.

But, it is also one of the oldest practices in visual art and to one degree or another, used by every artist ever.

There are reasons to criticize lifts. They’re incongruous with the rest of the image or comic. They fail to communicate what they need to in terms of story. Even more so, if the lift is the bulk of the piece and they have just, basically traced or photocopied the original and splashed some paint across it or added a Photoshop filter. Outright theft and plagiarism are real, they do happen. Stealing a cool space soldier helmet design from Jim Lee isn’t really theft on that level, to me. Stealing an entire page from Jim Lee, or a splash would be. Using an entire page layout from Jack Kirby, figures and everything, for no apparent reason, that’s theft. Using a pieta arrangement in a panel or on a cover, that’s not theft, that’s tradition.


Perspective

Howard Porter refuses to recognize traditional or real life perspective in most of his art. So, for most of his career, did Jack Kirby. Kirby’s vanishing points don’t line up. They shouldn’t.

Drawing by Jack Kirby. Perspective lines by Erik Larsen.


Perspective is cool and all. Any competent visual artist has to have at least a working awareness of vanishing points and line of sight, of how to foreshorten and why. But, beyond that, they have to know when and why they’d want to not do it the traditional way, why imitating reality might not be the best approach in a picture.

All decent artists break from realistic portrayals of perspective and probably do so regularly. It can lend a sense of motion, of dynamism, it can help bring an outstretched arm closer to us, it can make the difference between a dog’s head and a bear’s head clearer, because from certain angles, in real life, bears and their faces can look like dogs. You have to deal with that.

When and if ignoring proper perspective has no upside, no benefits, or when it simply scatters the audience’s focus too many places at once, then there’s a problem. If it loses too much of the audience, that is a problem. Losing you or me? Not a problem if there are fifty or fifteen thousand other folks who are satisfied and appropriately moved.


Anatomy

Like perspective, anatomy gets cartooned and exaggerated constantly in artwork. It has to be. But, because on base levels, we want art to be a reflection or reproduction of reality, we are - as a general audience - trained to believe this is what “good” art is, we dismiss these alterations when we notice them or use them as examples of incompetence. Not being anatomically correct is, as an act on its own, no more a sign of incompetence in art than a woman stopping in her walk to hit a little dimpled white ball with a club then walking some more is a sign that she is incompetent at walking. She’s just playing golf.

This is the go-to attack for “sexy” artwork we don’t approve of, and what those generally ignore is that it is not the anatomy that’s the problem, it’s what the poor or accurate anatomy communicates in terms of audience-identification, what angle or presentation the exaggeration is in aid of, and other aspects. Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman cover wasn’t bad because Spider-Woman’s butt is in the air. Her butt is often in the air. So is Spider-Man’s. It’s not bad because her neck is craned in a way that would uncomfortable for us, or her butt-cheeks are spread further that a non-airbrushed woman’s probably goes without tape.



That cover bugs me, as an individual, because the uncomfortable neck bend to get her face where it is looks viscerally painful for me, not sexy. That’s a horror-cover neck bend. It’s an uncanny, creepy bodily position. But, it’s these things seemingly in service to being sexy and sexualized.

Those shots where huge breasts are flying away from a character in skintight boob-socks built into their costume, one breast going up to the left, the other out to the right? That looks painful to me. And, awkward. I’m not gigantically concerned with the physics or the physiology of it, but with what it communicates and why the artist chose to go that route. And, the artist always chooses.


Pro Forma Colors

Especially in comics, we get dismissive of colorists and color. They get credited way below the penciler or writer. Special editions exist where their work, and no one else’s, is removed and we act like it’s more artsy, all the sudden, more about craft. Like black and white movies made in the modern era, a lack of color immediately adds a sense of artistry and seriousness.

We tend to treat color in comics as we do color in reality; there until removed. Naturally present and naturally organized.

Colors, in a comic, are chosen. They are chosen for their representational capabilities, their contrast to one another, the reactions they evoke in people on sight. There is as much consideration, technique, and trial and error in quality comics color work as there is in the pencils and inks, in the writing or the editing. A good colorist works on a comic. There isn't a button in an art program that they click and all the skies go not just blue, but a variety of blues and whites with varicolored highlights to represent city lights on the underside of clouds or sun shafts breaking through from above.

Colors are not chosen, generally, to replicate reality, either. The colors on tv are not, the colors in your comics are not. They are selected, mostly, to represent and enhance the sensibility of an experience. To sell danger or excitement, wealth or beauty, cold, heat, sickness, romance, bad taste, injury to the eye of the beholder. The colors are selected and utilized for reasons beyond “sky, blue; grass, green; sun is yellow.” The sun isn’t even yellow, not the real one in the sky. Look at it. That does not look yellow up there, unless you’re right at sunrise/sunset or you have weird pollution. The sun is white. Whitish. But, fictional suns, often, are yellowed, because white even without real illumination behind it can easily come off as too bright to the audience. We wince at the simulation of brightness and a colorist, a good colorist knows this so that you don’t ever have to even think about it.


Show vs Imply

Drawing every rivet in every girder across a structure shows commitment and how small you can go and still draw clearly, but not drawing every rivet or even every girder does not mean the artist is lazy. If three rivets lead the audience to inferring the other twenty or more that, in real life, they could see, then those three rivets have done the total job.

Artists are not cameras. They are not automated sketch machines making photocopies of a scene directly in front of them. That Batman fight didn’t actually happen. There is no blood under the skin in a drawing of Charlie Brown. These things are all implication, some more directly illustrated than others. We can feel like characters really breathe or have emotions, but they do not. We might get swept up by the existence of Gotham City and where the bat-lines tether to a building’s top floor so Batman and Robin can swing around, but there is no city, there are no bat-ropes. Artists are not building working realities, they’re making affective facades.

That the facades feel true can make things better, make our experience stronger and more emotional, more rewarding, but it’s a facade, every time. Even nonfiction comics are facades. Documentaries are facades. The moment you add in edits and representations, it’s faked. Fake is okeh. Fake is good. Fake is, in many ways, superior to how things would be if artists we just copy machines and pencilers had to draw in the bones and blood under Hal Jordan’s face or Goku’s arms, before they could draw a smile or a flexing bicep.

Aug 17, 2016

Things I Don't Write About

Too Close To Comment
Travis Hedge Coke


My mom has been bugging me to write something about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther relaunch since it was announced. I get asked every other week why I talk a lot about Wonder Woman, but rarely write about her or comics with her. “Where’s your Invisibles book?” is not an uncommon question from friends and colleagues.

So, why not? If I love Black Panther, why don’t I write about him all the time? The Fantastic Four? Ann Nocenti was my pick on a Cube roundtable, for the writer I’ll always check out, but do I have an article about any of her comics? Not really. Sup with this? Am I a lie?

I’m too close to it, and I take these articles a little too seriously to risk tackling things I cannot see at least mostly clearly. Plus, I exhaust myself talking about that stuff for fun all day and night long. I talk so much Wonder Woman, the Cube’s own Tanya Lindquist tells me to shut up about her regularly in threads and conversations about Wonder Woman. So, I don’t inflict it on you. I don’t mislead you with my weird obsessions and gushing fandoms, if I can help it.

So what do I avoid dealing with professionally, at length? Glad you asked! I’ll make a list…

Top 5:

Fantastic Four

One of the first comics I remember getting into, becoming obsessed with the Frightful Four invading the FF’s headquarters, and Medusa being all “I have super-long hair and it grabs things!” I enjoy more Fantastic Four comics than I don’t, but the ones that I don’t are almost always hugely popular, beloved runs. I don’t ever want to even try to get through Jonathan Hickman’s run again, but I’m glad for those of you who like it. I think John Byrne’s run has way more flaws than good stuff. It’s pretentious, sexist, in love with “growth through sexual trauma” and I forget a large number of the storylines as soon as I’m not reading them.

If I start to cover the comic seriously, here, in articles, I’m basically distinguishing myself separate from the majority of what is already a fairly niche fandom. I’m just going to bore a lot of people and piss off a few, so I don’t touch on them, too much, unless it’s something absolutely intriguing, like Unstable Molecules.

Black Panther

One of my favorite superheroes and a character whose early appearances had a profound effect on my childhood, the Black Panther means a lot to me. And, if I start talking about him, or about a particular Black Panther comic, I will not stop until I’ve said everything. Black Panther, for me, is less a character or a bunch of comics and an upcoming movie, as BP is a fugue of beautiful greatness.



The very first Black Panther story shows him to be smarter, cooler, stronger, faster, richer, and more powerful than any of the white characters in the comic, including the team starring in the book. He is hands down, all the way amazing. A genius superhero king. I don’t know that I had ever read or seen a nonwhite character trump the white characters to that extent, in any piece of entertainment. As a kid, this was eye-opening. As an adult, it still feels like a heroic achievement to me. That Jack Kirby and Co made something that is genuinely an achievement with those Fantastic Four issues that introduced the Black Panther.

And, I have no time criticisms or dismissals that are rooted in fanboying or racism. I’d get a bit high horse, to do a BP article.

Deep Analysis

Another high horse that I try to avoid. None of you really want me to go full bore on analysis and eat up three hours of your evening with criticism and consideration of a four panel page from a single comic, but I could. I love comics. I enjoy thinking out all the angles, considering and reconsidering all the elements of a page, a panel. How someone chooses to represent an eye is interesting to me. How they draw or color hair. Why they do it that way. Whether this character’s hair differs, in delineation, from another’s and what effect that has on the reader, on the reading.

You may believe that you want to see me do ten pages on hair and flowers in an Ethan Van Sciver comic, lies and admissions in a Greg Rucka comic, body language and body politics in a page of a Milk Morinaga comic, but you don’t and I would overdo it.

Maybe you do really want it, but I know, still I would overdo it.

Wonder Woman

And, I’d overdo Wonder Woman coverage. I almost already have. I wrote about Wonder Woman: Earth One, a few months ago, and I had to knock it back, several times, because I wanted to throw in all sorts of asides about Phil Jimenez’s work and theories regarding her, to propose we give Robert Jones, of Son of Baldwin fame, an editorially-unbound year to use Diana and her comic to his own ends.

I could rant on and on about how much I love the lasso and the tiara and why they need more showing off. I do. Just not here. This isn’t the place for that.

My Facebook wall is for that. Forums could be for that. I don’t want to turn these articles into a forum for how important I am and I don’t want to seem, again, like I’m shitting on the rest of the fandom by disagreeing strongly about tiny things.


Talent I Love Too Much

I can’t take the criticism of writers, artists, colorists or letterers who I adore, so I try to minimize my coverage of them. If I can’t see someone’s flaws or at least take it seriously that other people do see this or that as a flaw, I don’t think it’s good to indulge myself, professionally, and risk just lionizing them or misleading you.

Iktomi

A comic I’ll never write about, probably, except this, just now. And, also, emblematic of comics I’ll never write about because I dislike them thoroughly on every level.

If a comic is racist at its core. If a comic is dumb to its bones. If the sexism is just egregious. If the comic just gets right on my every nerve, I’m not going to cover it. I don’t want to give it the time, to put its title out there any more than I have to. If one of you buys Leonardo Masetti's Iktomi because I mentioned it here, I’ll feel really bad, even though I am blatantly warning you not to.

***

So, to sum up, why don’t I? Because of you. Because I love you all, and I only want to provide top notch entertaining and informative writing for you. And, ranty things that don’t drag anyone’s fandom or enthusiasms down.

Aug 15, 2016

Enough With Powerless Heroes

Enough With Powerless Heroes
Ben Smith

I don’t normally write things like this. The internet can be a negative enough place as it is, so I usually prefer to keeps things positive. But with my beloved Spider-Gwen stuck in a bit of a rut lately, it really highlighted a storytelling tool that I’d be more than happy to never have to see again. Stripping the hero of their powers to highlight that true heroism comes from the person, not the abilities. Or, in other words, here’s a comic about a person doing nothing spectacular. It's navel-gazing. I'd rather read a comic that was nothing but a superhero literally gazing down at their navel for 20 pages. At least that's something I haven't seen before.

I know that for Spider-Gwen in particular, Spider-Man basically invented the conceit of the superhero struggling with the cost of being a hero. I understand why they’re exploring Gwen struggling with if she should even continue as Spider-Woman while she’s faced with the prospect of losing her powers for good. I just don’t find it that entertaining. I want to watch her kick ass and wisecrack, like her web-slinging predecessor. When this book launched, she was such a fresh and fun character. I loved the comic. I still love the comic, but I sure hope they wrap this up quick.



The important thing to remember about Stan Lee and John Romita’s famous story of Spider-Man quitting in Amazing Spider-Man #50, is that it only lasted one issue! Modern comics have the capability to explore every facet of a story much more than comics of years past, to really go in-depth. This may be great in most cases, providing a deeper level of characterization, but for a story device like this, there’s only so much whining that I can take. And that’s essentially what it becomes at a certain point, whining. Spider-Man himself has suffered from this more than enough times, with subsequent creators trying to tell their own version of Lee and Ditko/Romita classics. Spider-Man has his fair share of tried and true classics, but quitting isn't one that I'm fond of. (I guess it could be worse. "I am the spider" worse.) If a creator is burning to tell their own version of this cliché, at least make it as short as possible.

The best execution of the depowered hero I can remember from recent memory, was Superman’s crossover with the Legion of Super-Heroes, during Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s run. In that case, Superman lost his powers under the rays of a red sun, but the rest of the Legion was still there to make it not boring (as most Superman stories tend to be). Yet, if there’s one exception to the depowered hero rule, it’s probably Superman, because he’s so powerful that sometimes it’s good to see him play the role of the hero without those powers. (Now that I think of it, one of the best episodes of Justice League Unlimited had a powerless Superman as well.)

However, the most perplexing medium to utilize the powerless hero approach has to be movies. I, like many others, praised Spider-Man 2 as the greatest superhero movie ever created when it was released. But if you look at it now, beyond its antiquated effects and storytelling, the most confusing thing is why they decided to spend (at the very least) 50% of the movie with Peter Parker whining about, or having quit, being Spider-Man. Not the most dynamic storytelling choice for your big budget action spectacle that fans waited 3 years to see. (Personal anecdote, I remember telling a co-worker that Spider-Man 2 was my favorite movie at the time, and he responded with “but he spends the whole movie complaining and quitting.” My only response was, that is kind of part of Spider-Man’s whole deal, which isn’t really a great rebuttal.) The Wolverine made this idiotic decision also. Wolverine, arguably the most badass of all the superheroes (certainly in the eyes of the casual fan) spends the entire movie powerless and getting his butt kicked. Fan-tastic.

Look, I know how ridiculous it is to try and place a rule on storytelling. There’s always an example that will prove me wrong, or a creator that will come along with a great story to tell. All I’m saying, is that I’ve seen it before, and I can’t imagine anyone improving all that much on what’s been done before. I’m not a very complex person. I buy a Spider-Man comic to see Spider-Man with the proportional strength of a spider (whatever that means). If I want to read something depressing featuring a character riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, I’ll read Charlie Brown.

Or Starman.

Just kidding, I’d never read Starman*.

*That's because Ben is an idiot. -Cranky Editor Man

Aug 6, 2016

The Charm of Seconds

The Charm of Seconds
by Tristan

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds puts you head first into the weirdly repetitive everyday life of Katie Clay. The book mainly takes place in Katie’s undoubtedly aesthetically beautiful restaurant called Seconds, where in which the idea of second takes and second chances are heavily emphasized. You can now probably see where the title came from. It’s a solid and quick read, but most importantly it’s a great experience for everyone.

O’Malley had big shoes to fill following his massive hit in Scott Pilgrim, and he delivered on that with Seconds. I would recommend Seconds to anyone who’s interested and to anyone who has an appreciation for good art and storytelling. It is a very charming and lighthearted book, and it will definitely be a good read for anyone who decides to pick the book up. I would give it a legitimate 9 stars out of 10 and here’s why.

The Story

Seconds’ plot pretty much follows the plot of any other time travel-centered story, the Butterfly Effect and all that, but the catch here is that Katie doesn’t actually do any time-travelling. The book starts during Katie’s mid-life crisis. She’s unhappy and unsure of her place in the world, like most of us here in the real world, and she’s risking so much in starting a second restaurant to change her life. Little does she know that she’s a notebook, a mushroom, and a pen away from changing absolutely everything.



A mysteriously fashionable house spirit gives Katie the power to right her wrongs by way of eating a mushroom, rewriting and revising past events, and sleeping it out. Obviously any mushroom of this kind, if allowed to exist in the real world, would be banned in all states, cities, and countries in all continents, because after all, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and a time-bending mushroom is pretty much absolute power.

This in turn initiates the rollercoaster ride of Katie’s life, in which we as readers have a front seat. With each revision she makes, she jumps to a new reality where that revision was effected. She jumps from one alternate reality to another, constantly fixing mistakes, unknowingly making bigger holes while trying to mend the smaller ones. Ultimately, messing with the universe will catch up with anyone and everyone, including a person high on mushrooms, initiate crisis within a midlife crisis.

The story is interesting and entertaining until the end, with plot twists and turns that’ll keep you engaged. It’s a fluid tale told extremely well, as it reads more like a short film than an actual book mainly because of its great pacing of events that’s keep your eyes glued to the story. Seconds is fun—and that’s all it really needs to be —and it delivers.



The Charm

What truly makes Seconds stand out among other works of fiction is its charm. Everything from the art to the characters and to the setting, Seconds has that charm which makes it special.

The art here is fantastic and adorable, and it fits with the story’s tone and characters perfectly. The colors are bright and lively when the scenes are lighthearted, and dark and devoid when the scenes are heavy; it actually feels as though the art is a character in the story all on its own. Bryan O’Malley manages to give motion to the book with his great use of panels. With his use of art, he actually makes the book feel alive.



The setting and characters of Seconds give the story its depth. The characters are likable, some even relatable, and they don’t feel like just some other background pieces even though they totally are. Katie’s relationships with the different people in her life like Max, Hazel, and Andrew are all given their times to shine, and that’s awesome. The setting is adorable and actually gets familiar after a while, yet another character of its own.

It’s the charm of Seconds that make it transcend from a good book to a beautiful one. It is its charm that even though it’s a quick one to two hour read, it sticks with you for days and weeks. The charm, brought by the art and the life it gives the comic, is what makes you go back to the book for a third or fourth read. I recommend anyone interested to go out of your house and buy Seconds now, because it really is worth the time.

If you don’t trust me, trust its charm.


Aug 3, 2016

Using Preexisting Characters, For Better or For Ill

Using Preexisting Characters, For Better or For Ill
Travis Hedge Coke


Resurrecting someone else’s character after years of disuse. Bringing in a character from another publisher to secure a new version. Parody. Satire. Preserving a trademark. There are many reasons that comics reuse old characters, and there are many ways that the authors (artists, writers, inkers, letterers, colorist, et al) can bring an old character in. Sometimes, it’s great. Sometimes, it falls entirely flat. Maybe the authors want it, maybe the publisher demands it.

Comics muddy the waters of trademark and copyright law more than any other medium in America.The big publishers, the big Houses of Trademarks, are like fly strips; they’re meant to collect characters, new creations, abandoned properties, and to hold onto those they have, but they also just collect detritus, fluff, and characters that they, and nobody, really cares about. They hold on, not because every character has intrinsic value, but because they might, and because if they start letting some go, it weakens their hold on all the others, including those of exceptional importance. So, you see cases of characters probably unfairly or illegally appropriated into a publisher’s holdings, and other times, Frank Miller draws Elektra somewhere and, well, what are they going to do about it?

The Human Torch, the original one, the robot guy who fought in WW2, and eventually, it was revealed, killed Hitler in the Marvel Universe, was resurrected in the mid-60s because the copyright was about to expire on the earliest stories featuring him, and Carl Burgos, the author of those comics, wanted to republish them, and do new followup stories. This is a character Marvel owned, in the sense that there was not anything that seemed legally binding at all, and the stories are copyrighted but that’s expiring, and so… word comes down to do a comic that uses the character, reintroducing him after years of disuse, to demonstrate that they have a current interest in him. And, then we don’t see him used again for quite some time.

Sometimes these reuses are diktat. They’re just rights-holding exercises.

Sometimes, like the currently-serializing Patsy Walker: AKA Hellcat, the reuse seems to be neither a case of company demand or author appeal for Kate Leth or Britney Williams, but wanting to throw the small pool of serious Patsy fans a bone or three. This is smart. We get Tubbs. We get the first Nancy Brown shoutout in about forty years. This makes us love the comic and it gets us talking about it. Nancy is one of my favorite comics characters, period, ever, at all, and yes, just popping her in, even in reference, gets me feeling loyal to a book in a way that characters who appear all the time won’t.

Dan Walsh started making Garfield Minus Garfield, in which old Garfield strips are strip-mined, taking out the dead weight, the distraction called Garfield, to highlight Jon “nobody cares about this guy” Arbuckle. That’s love. Or, in any case, it’s attraction. A kind of on-sight crush.



Dan Slott seems content working in corporate-owned comics and on occasion resurrecting a character he loved that nobody has really used in ten or twenty years, and we’re all richer for that.

Captain Fear, a DC property originally drawn by Alex Nino and written by Robert Kanigher and Steve Keates for Adventure Comics in the early 1970s, and hardly reused since then, has been brought back in recent years, by both Brian Azzarello and Walt Simonson, separately. One of those, regular Cube readers can tell I love, because I talk up Simonson’s The Judas Coin a lot. The Azzarello reuse… bugs me.



Captain Fear is the a Carib man who is enslaved by the Spanish in the early 19th Century, who escapes, becomes a badass pirate and captain of a ship. Walt Simonson follows this up with a story of greed, gold, a Lovecraft reference, and the glory and treachery of the high seas.


Brian Azzarello, gives us a Pepe LePew caricature with a bunch of lazy latino stereotypes snapped over him like kitsch theme armor on a 1992 Ninja Turtles action figure. He’s Cholo Fear, low-rider of the seas or something.

Sometimes you take a risk and reinvent a character and the reinvention is so good, nobody really remembers the previous take. Sometimes, the reinvention just stinks in general, but to fans or the older version, it goes beyond stinking and just looks ugly. I was a Captain Fear fan coming in on that story. But, even if I wasn’t, you’re taking a non-Spaniard enslaved by the Spanish, and reinventing him as a cartoon Spaniard?

This is the risk you run, reusing a character. Even a minor one.

I think the Carole satire in It Ain’t Me Babe Comix is incredibly funny. The story features several name comics characters, none owned by the author, getting fed up with general or specific instances of sexism and striking off to form a no-dudes clubhouse and discovering unity, self-reliance, lesbianism, and more. It’s only a few pages long. No claim on owning the characters is made, and little pretense is given to whether or not it is a true to fact or exaggerated take on these characters. The comic has a point, and it goes after that point. That, to me, justifies anything that, in the “real” comics would annoy me. Superman can be a sexist ass, because he’s being written that way for a satire comic, to make a point, not because he’s being written by a misogynist or written for an audience who is expected to be sexist.

The authors of these comics know that we, the readers, are having reactions. They understand that they are, often, presenting these characters to an audience who have never heard of them before, another audience who are there 100% for anything with those characters, audiences that will be hugely particular and audiences that will accept all sorts of variations. Unless they are dead ignorant, they know all these readerships are possible and that they are likely. The best play to as many as possible. Some do their best, and it still fails to catch any audience at all. They are, one and all, playing to a chance. It clicks or doesn’t click.

It’s worth the chance, right?

Aug 1, 2016

5 Reasons To Read The West Coast Avengers

5 Reasons To Read The West Coast Avengers
Ben Smith

Believe it or not, there was once a time when Marvel did not publish twenty different Avengers series every single month. There was the core Avengers comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and that was it for a long time. That is, until the West Coast Avengers launched in 1985. (It was preceded by a 4-issue mini-series, which no doubt served as a test to see if it deserved an ongoing series.) Fortunately, the book got a pretty spectacular team in Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Tigra, The Thing, and Hank Pym as a supporting character. Also, ‘80s Iron Man and Wonder Man (you can’t win them all).

The comic was written by Steve Englehart, with pencils by Al Milgrom (and sometimes finishes by Joe Sinnott, who makes everything better). I’ve never been a big fan of Englehart, and Milgrom is a solid but unspectacular storyteller (don’t misunderstand, I love Milgrom, however, he was definitely not flashy) and yet somehow the two of them together produced a really fun, but also really ridiculous, comic series. (John Byrne would eventually have a pretty fantastic run as the writer and artist on the book, but that’s a story for another time, maybe.)

Here are 5 reasons, in no particular order, why you should read The West Coast Avengers.

COCKEYE

One of the best parts of the series was the inclusion of the Thing, finally free from the drudgery that is the Fantastic Four (I like Johnny, but only when he’s with Spider-Man). Anyway, this was from his inexplicable phase as a professional wrestler, and Hawkeye spends several issues trying to convince him to join his squad. That’s when the Thing refers to Clint as Cockeye.



Now, you’d think maybe someone might have noticed how that could be interpreted and let Englehart know, but no. He did it again, several times.



I love comics.

TIGRA

This is probably the best Tigra you’ll ever find. As the series begins, she’s struggling to prove herself as a worthy Avenger, while also dealing with the internal conflict caused by her feline and human sides. She attempts to get revenge on Kraven for mind-controlling her (from the infamous issue of Marvel Team-Up) but her impulsiveness gets her into trouble.



This was also the beginning of the Tigra and Hank Pym relationship, a relationship I enjoy quite a bit more than Hank and Janet Van Dyne. What makes it even better, is that after playing around with Wonder Man for a bit, just a few pages later she makes the moves on Hank, while Simon is walking around outside like an oblivious goof. Man, I hate Wonder Man, and he deserves it.



Speaking of Wonder Man…

WONDER MAN SUCKS

Wonder Man makes a big show of revealing his criminal past, so that he can clear his conscience and be a better….yawn, nobody cares.



Later, while the rest of the team is worried about important world-saving things, he’s wondering what time his talk show interview will be airing on television.



Here, Hawkeye hilariously gets all the way real with Wonder Man about his status as an actor.



This series shows Wonder Man finally becoming a competent combatant, but he’s still far from competent at anything else (including legitimately being entertaining). If you enjoy hating Wonder Man like me, this is a good place for it.

IRON MAN

The “invincible” Iron Man, in his high-tech suit of powerful armor, is incapacitated when he gets poked in the eyes by a werewolf. This should absolutely be how the Iron Man movie series eventually ends.



(Before that, when Tigra gets tackled out through a window by said werewolf, she screams “I hate this!” I don’t know why, but that cracked me up.)



ULTRON GROWS FEELINGS

Hank Pym shows up at the beginning of the series, making his return to comics after the debacle that was the Trial of Yellowjacket. Shortly after, the team is attacked by the latest version of Ultron. Weirdly enough, over the next several issues, this version of Ultron evolves past his hatred of his creator, and decides he wants a relationship with his “father.” Unfortunately, a prior version of Ultron breaks up the creepy fun.



(Incidentally, this series was one of the best runs for Hank Pym in comics.)

Those are just a few of the reasons to read this goofy and fun series. Along with those, Bobbi Morse is featured as the still relatively new (future television star) Mockingbird. The team’s first major villain is the demon-controlling Master Pandemonium, who has demons in place of his arms and legs, and a five star hole in his chest where his soul used to be. He’s also the head of a major movie studio. It’s goofy, fun, and weird.

If you’re looking for something really well written or drawn, you should probably look elsewhere (again, no shots, I love Milgrom) but if you’re looking for fun ‘80s comics, you could do a lot worse than The West Coast Avengers.


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