Andy’s Read Pile: West Coast Avengers, Darker than Scarlet

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IMG_2728Spooky to You, Folks! It’s your old pal, Andy Larson, the host of the 9999th most popular website/podcast about comics, the Ghosts of the Stratosphere. Although I am happy to report that according to Chad Smith, our podcast is like the 213th most popular one about “books” in the entire country of Canada!

Gotta say those Canucks got great taste!

First, Hockey, then Curling, then the GotS gang! And I love that their money looks like it was taken out of a  Monopoly box! Natch!

In any case, as you can tell by the picture on today’s article of me and the Mrs., I’m about to take my annual Halloween season dive into the deep end of fan wank and drown you all in talk about my love for the Marvel comics couple of Vision & Scarlet Witch. In particular Scarlet Witch, who has always been one of my favorite babes in all of the printed funny pages, as I discussed last year around this time.

As such, I’ve decided to highlight a particular book from my massive trade paperback collection that features prominently the Crimson Conjurer herself which I haven’t read for a second time since I originally bought some of these issues of West Coast Avengers when they were on the spinner racks back in 1990.

Yes, I remember these issues pretty vividly as I was one of the few kids that gave a crap about the Avengers instead of the X-men at this time, and I thought it was a travesty that not more of my school yard mates were talking about the fact that Scarlet Witch became a bad guy! I thought that was huge news!! But in reality the actual issue in which she turned villain occurred in the same month that Cable debuted in New Mutants #87, so that’s some pretty stiff competition.

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Regardless, for all of who shared my excitement at this stunning reversal of 20 years of character development with Wanda Maximoff, or for those of you that missed out because you were too busy fawning over Erik Larsen’s debut on Amazing Spider-man (gawd that was a stacked month!), here’s primarily John Byrne’s original tale of that time Scarlet Witch lost her marbles and started strutting like a Super Villain “Avenegers West Coast: Darker than Scarlet”.

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10 Cent Synopsis:

Collecting issues #51-57 and #60-62 of the West Coast Avengers, this trade recounts Scarlet Witch’s first major descent into madness and villainy. Following a battle with the Mephisto goon, Master Pandemonium, it’s revealed that Wanda’s “children” are in fact splinters of the arch demon of the Marvel universe that she gave human form to with her powers. This striking revelation starts Wanda down a very dark path mentally which only gets worse as the collection continues.

After her recently rebuilt husband, The Vision, decides to return to the East Coast team and the conclusion of the Acts of Vengeance attacks by Loki and his minions, Wanda’s then dad, Magneto, takes advantage of Wanda’s delicate mental state and convinces her to join him in his crusade to set up a mutant new world order.

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This whole story line eventually however takes a backseat when it’s revealed that Immortus, the limbo ruling alter ego of old time Avengers villain, Kang, had secretly been manipulating all the events to  become the “absolute master of time” with the help of an empowered Scarlet Witch. The Avengers overcome Immortus and his Legion of the Unliving for the third time though, restoring Wanda’s sanity for the time being.

That is until old ghosts resurface in Avengers: Disassembled…but that’s for an whole other article…

 

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20 Cent Background:

After talking about my plans to review this book with my co host Rob Stewart (@notbamf), he showed genuine interest in hearing about what events actually led up to the Scarlet Witch going evil in this story. Given that you only get the tail end of the long twisting road of continuity in this book that eventually led to the Witch going nuts because her kids were revealed to be portions of Mephisto’s soul brought into reality by Wanda’s strange reality warping abilities, I agreed that it might me good to lay down a brief explanation of the events in both Vision and Scarlet Witch’s relationship that led to these events in Darker than Scarlet being really the straw that broke the camel’s back in some ways.

So Let’s pick it up after Vision and Scarlet Witch first decided to get married in Giant Sized Avengers #4. There was some resulting concern by many of the members of the team about this pairing given Vision was in fact an artificial man and thus not exactly human (oh the robot racism!).

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Thus Vision started searching for his origins prior to the moment he showed up at Avengers Mansion in the legendary Avengers #57 and attempted to kill the team. Sure it was known that he was given the brainwave patterns of the then thought deceased Avengers member “Wonder Man”, but he didn’t really have a history before that other than he knew he was created by the evil robot, Ultron.

In his search for a real origin, he discovered that he was actually not built by Ultron, but repurposed by Ultron. In fact, his original creator was Professor Horton, who was known by fans to be the creator of the first Marvel Superhero, the Original Human Torch. Yes, it was revealed that Vision was indeed the Torch, and that his body had just been altered and enhanced so he no longer had flame powers but instead had density control.

I admit it was a stretch, and I often thought why Steve Englehart who came up with the idea just didn’t make Professor Horton create two androids, but whatever. The end result, was the Vision became more “respectable” now that he was actually a founding hero in the Marvel pantheon, thus people treated him more like a human (even though the Human Torch was a robot too…eh..whatever).

As a result of this, writers over the years said this prompted Wanda to look at Vision too in more sympathetic eyes and thus “yearn” more to have a traditional family with him. Thus she did indeed use her powers to conjure up a pair of twin sons for Vision to play house with her with (who would eventually be reborn after this story as the Young Avengers Wiccan & Speed).

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Things went along fine, until in the aftermath of the Korvac Saga, Vision had interfaced with a sentient computer on Thanos’ moon, Titan, named I.S.A.C.C. It seems this introduced some some megalomaniac thoughts in to the Vision’s programming, and ultimately while most of the heroes were away later in Secret Wars, Vision tried to take over the world by capturing the planet’s nuclear weapon stockpiles. Although eventually he came to his senses and the nasty programming removed, he made some powerful enemies among the world’s leaders which would come back to bite him.

Thus, years later, in a story called “Vision Quest”, the US government captured Vision and dismantled him as a threat to world peace. The Avengers tried to intervene but the best they could do is get the Vision rebuilt. So began the dreaded era of “White Vision”, which for me has always been a dark time for the character (especially since it’s this version most of my friends know about given this was the Vision we all grew up with).

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White Vision was not the same person as the Original, not containing the memories or the affection for Scarlet Witch he had before. Additionally, he was hell bent on being his own robot, refusing to reinstall Simon Williams’ brainwave patterns, and overall being a cold, calculating douche bag especially to Wanda, who was still his wife. To rub salt in the wounds, eventually the original Human Torch did come back proving that the original Vision wasn’t actually the Human Torch after all, and was again just another robot created by Ultron, thus negating that illustrious pedigree.

As a side note, later in Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek, the Vision/Human Torch dynamic would be made even more complicated by the revelation that the evil time manipulator, Immortus, had actually used something called a Forever Crystal to split the time-stream and create two versions of the Human Torch android in time, one that remained the Torch and one that was modified into being the Vision. Again, why they just didn’t say that Professor Horton created two androids is beyond me?!? I don’t understand all the necessary hub bub…but whatever.

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This put a tremendous strain on Wanda, who had come to love and depend on her husband Vision over the years, and all these actions added up to an involuntary divorce. So you can see due to all the drama that she was dealing with over the “death” of her Vision, plus the presence of this new jack ass version of the Vision, put her a pretty delicate state to be honest. Thus all this garbage with her kids being stolen away and being revealed to be devil spawn, yeah, that was enough to send her over the deep end.

Still not sure why Wanda went crazy again in Avengers: Dissembled over pretty much the same stuff that caused this episode after years of being okay with it. I think they said it was because she had her mind wiped of these traumatic events, but I still don’t buy that.

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I think Bendis just hated Vision and Scarlet Witch and took them out assassin style with pin point precision. Yeah…you hear me.

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Overall Thoughts & Final Grade:

Overall, this is a pretty rough collection of stories that really haven’t aged that well. Honestly, any time you start a collection with the Avengers fighting a bad guy that has toddlers for hands, you know you are in for a pretty rough ride.

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And although, the temporary “heel” turn for Scarlet Witch is interesting from a character perspective, I have to say that despite hating what Bendis did to her Avengers: Disassembled and House of M, at least his treatment was consistent and went somewhere.

Her bad guy run on these issues just seems forced, and maybe as as result of the change between John Byrne and Roy Thomas writing it halfway through the story arc, it just seemed pointless and derivative. What was the point exactly?

  • Did she want to team up with her then Dad, Magneto, because she finally admitted he had good ideas about mutant kind?
  • Was it just about the nervous breakdown and she wanted to cut loose as a baddie for a while, y’know be reckless and wild for a change?

Although yes, the impetus for her bad guy turn is well thought out what with the culmination of losing her husband and children, it’s like once they got her to that point, they threw up their hands and said “Well…at least her new look & costume looks great!”. And maybe that’s why this villain turn for the Witch ultimately didn’t last as long as the Bendis move of which the character is still digging herself out of years later. They didn’t ultimately have a plan for what to do with the villainous Scarlet Witch once they had her, and it painfully shows.

I mean the worst thing she as a villain is the scene where it’s heavily implied that Wanda rips Wonder Man’s ionic johnson off, or something to that degree. I mean, look at this exchange, what with the slow scratching down the chest towards his junk, and then the rather “dramatic” response. I mean with a “NOOOOO!” that big, I doubt she just gave it a gentle squeeze.

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Sheesh. Talk about a woman having your balls in a vice grip. Are you sure she didn’t put a finger up his bum to boot?

Anyways, I will say there are a couple things that do save this collection of issues from being a complete fail though. One is of course the beautiful John Byrne art, which is just another example of why he’ll always be on my list of the top 5 comic book artists of all time, given his work here, and previously on the Fantastic Four & X-men.

In particular, a really great example of the incredible work he does in drawing the Avengers comes from issue #55 of this collection, a kind of capstone to the whole “Acts of Vengeance” crossover story line that was running through all the Marvel books at that time.

Given it’s a crossover book, John gets to reunite many of the members of the two Avengers team, to ultimately show case the best and brightest from their combined rosters in a battle against who could be argued as the Avengers “arch enemy” in Loki. So you get some great little fight sequences with the Big Three of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor as well as Hawkeye, Vision, and others.

In fact, one of the highlights of that issue is these tremendously dramatic shot of Thor about to deliver his wrath of God style justice on his brother’s head, which I now will rank up there with the “Ultron, we would have words with thee” shot in terms of its complete badass-ery!

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Yeah, that’s good stuff. Worth the price of reading the collection right there.

The second saving grace is actually how well Hank Pym is treated in these issues. I’ve often said that it’s a shame that good ol’ Hank gets crapped on so much in the Marvel Universe. I mean sure there is the “slap” and it’s hard to defend a character after that, but to my point, he didn’t have to be made the poster child for domestic abuse in the first place, so that decision alone began a pretty rough trend in the way Marvel took care of one of founding members of their most important superhero team.

However, in these issues of West Coast, he genuinely seems likable, competent, and in command as an effective leader of the group. He gets along well with the Wasp, and despite her strong leadership abilities, she often is seen working in more of a supportive role, reinforcing his confidence and helping him make good decisions. They are really a wonderful loving couple in this, and given so often times that’s not the case, it was nice to see here.

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Seriously, other than a run of issues early in the original Avengers series after the Big 3 officially cut out (maybe issues 35# to #57), this is probably the most heroic and capable Hank Pym has ever been portrayed. So if you are fan of that like me, that’s definitely one of the silver linings in an otherwise forgettable run of issues.

In the end though, this trade is really only for those that really love the Avengers or want to have a complete backstory for everything that eventually happened in “House of M” years later.

Yeah, I think Wonder Man summed it up the best as to my thoughts on whether I’d ever read this collection of issues again…

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Andy’s Read Pile Grade: C-

 

4 thoughts on “Andy’s Read Pile: West Coast Avengers, Darker than Scarlet

  1. I’ve never read this arc, but I recall this being part of John Byrne’s tendency to want to re-write “The Dark Phoenix Saga” over and over again. He kept writing powerful women going mad with their powers, wearing darker (or skankier!) costumes, and having to be stopped. He never did get over being forced to change the ending of his & Claremont’s story.

    1. Yeah..there is a trend between this story and what he did with Jean Grey and Sue Richards in the FF. I don’t think though it’s as much that Jim Shooter made him change the ending of Dark Phoenix. From what I read, that was Claremont’s decision ultimately.

      1. Shooter is the one who laid down the lay over Jean wiping out that galaxy of brocolli people- he said Jean either needed to be imprisoned or killed. Claremont realized that prison would mean the X-Men would never stop trying to rescue her, so he ultimately decided to kill her off. Though in this case, I think both admitted that improved the story… Byrne seemed to re-write it twice over, and even ended up being the guy to bring Jean back (using a young fanboy named Kurt Busiek’s idea!).

      2. Yes, I understand Shooter’s involvement in changing the ending of the Dark Phoenix given the massive genocide she undertook during the course of the run. We covered that on our Dark Phoenix episode. https://gotstratosphere.com/2018/06/19/show-6-19-18-munching-on-planets/

        However, I don’t think it was Byrne’s decision to go with that ending. I think it was Claremont’s ultimately. Maybe to your point that’s why he was pissed and did what he did with all these books because he felt he didn’t have a say in how Dark Phoenix ended. It would be an interesting question to ask him for sure.

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