Don't put away your passports just yet, 'coz we're off again on another rollicking journey. Set your controls for
To be fair, that ain't the only time-space this comic takes you to. As the splash page boldly declares, "Time has split in six!", and I think we all know how painful that can be. Only some of the Avengers are in Egypt...2940 BC, to be precise, giving an exact year to the vague "Ancient Egypt" of FF #19 and Doctor Strange #53. The rest of the issue and the storyline concerns other timelost Avengers, but we're only interested for the moment in the quartet back in the land of the Pharaohs: Hawkeye, Tigra, Iron Man, and Wonder Man. They are...the West Coast Avengers!!
All panels in this post are from West Coast Avengers #22 (July 1987), written by Steve Englehart, art by Al Milgrom, Kim DeMulder, and Christie Scheele
Yes, that's right, years before today's double Avengers team (one a team of would-be-murderers, the other a team of clueless, post-active ineffectuals...but I kids the Avengers), there were two Avengers forces back in the late eighties and early nineties: the old stand-bys hanging out in Manhattan and these new Johnny Come-Latelys surfin' the waves under the hot California sun. Now that there's a superhero team in every freakin' state in the Union, it's kind of fun to see how non-New York hero teams got their start, isn't it?
The story begins in media res (as my Latin Phrase of the Day Calendar informs me): it's the sixth issue of a multi-part story and we're dumped into the action pretty quickly. There's no real recap to get you up to speed if you haven't read the first five parts, but really, what more do you need to know than The Avengers are in Egypt?:
I don't know old ankh stick there's name (so let's call him Old Ankh Stick), but he's apparently a priest of the ancient Egyptian god Khonshu (gesundheit), patron pagan lord of Moon Knight, the aptly-described not-appearing-in-this-timeline Avenger. OAS has led our Kooky Kwintet to the Sphinx of Rama-Tut, which is fast becoming the busiest intersection of the space-time nexus (but not so crowded that the WC Avengers can't quibble and be testy among themselves):
Even in a multi-part story, things have to happen fast, and the story's first Very Special Guest Star is only a panel away:
Hoary Hosts of Hoggath! And other "H" words. That's our good pal Doctor Stephen Strange, being carted away by big robots, unconscious after being stunned by laser beams in Doctor Strange #53 (as we saw yesterday). The Whackos...oh yes, they really did call themselves that, I'm ashamed to say...immediately rush to Doc's assistance:
...but Mans Iron and Wonder are both too busy bickering like the Lockhorns to notice in the scuffle that all-new, all-different robots are escaping with Strange's comatose form, probably giggling all the while:
Reallllll sharp, guys. But a ha! Remember those missing moments from Doctor Strange #53? He fell into unconsciousness, we cut away to a Clea and Sara discussion about the perils of falling in love with a guy with a pencil mustache and a big red bathrobe, and when we saw the Doc again, he was being carried by a quartet of gold robots. Now at last we know what happened during Strange's missing moments: Iron Man and Wonder Man bitched at each other. Seriously, you two, why don't you just kiss and get it over with?
Gotta give the Whackos credit thoughthey're either heroically persistent or as dumb as a bag of hammers, because they just keep on chasing Doc's body, arriving just a moment too late to save him from being slapped in his force field prison:
After Wonder Man's two-second attempt to break Doc free fails, Hawkeye immediately gives up on the plan and calls a general retreat. (Don't worry, folks, we all know Strange will be okay!) That's plenty of time for the WCAs to sit around and watch TV:
Hey, it's the exact same scene from FF #19 and Doc #53 yet again, only this time in high-def! Hawkeye's quicksilver mind (not to be confused with Quicksilver's hawk eye) puts two and two together: FF + ancient Egypt = time machine = a way to escape back to the future! So they run off again...seriously, most of this issue is Hawkeye and company running around and retracing their steps, just missing a chance to interact with the other two sets of time travelers, as the story logic dictates. If we didn't see Hawkeye in Fantastic Four #19, neither did the FF! Unfortunately this strains a bit of belief: the more heroes wind up in Egypt, the more likely it is that one of the "earlier" visitors will spot one of the "later," but the story dictates that they have to keep just missing each other. It's sort of the 2940 BC equivalent of Three's Company. Except with Hawkeye playing the Jack Tripper part. I guess that makes Iron Man and Wonder Man Mr. and Mrs. Roper, then.
We get a few pages of the 1917 adventure of Avenger Firebird's Bible-packin' grandma (just what the kids wanna read about!) and then it's back to all-out Egyptian action as the Whackos confront a posse of Rama-Tut's guards, giving Hawkeye a chance to keep working on his own west coast version of the time-honored east coast slogan "Avengers Assemble." Um, your battle cry ain't quite coming together there, Clint:
Most of the rest of the issue focuses on the West Coast Avengers literally running around in circles. First they head back to the tunnel...
...and then back the way they came...
...just in time to watch, again on TV, Rama-Tut's escape pod blasting off from the Sphinx. The FF and Doctor Strange got to see this amazing sight in person, but for the Whackos TV is good enough, huh? It's almost like being there, wouldn't ya say?:
The West Coast Avengers: the guys who watch stuff happen on television.
Meanwhile, just like in FF #19, the FF have discovered the vial of radioactive eye balm the whole ferschluggin' adventure started off with (hey, I bet you'd forgotten about that, didn't you?):
Seconds after the FF escape, the WCA are still running around chasing their tails, and they arrive back in the control room again. Excellent timing, guys, you're just in time for the place to blow up like it did in FF and Doc. As Marshall Rogers would say, "boom!"
Everybody's okay, though. (Whew!) Apparently it was an oddly specific bomb that only completely destroyed every piece of futuristic machinery yet leaves Avengers standing. Time's a-wastin' for them to hitch a ride out of 2940 BC. Well, Doc Strange is outside, as we know from having read Doc #53. If they can catch up to him before he leaves...
Whoopsie-daisies. Oh well, there's always the FF to hitch a ride home with...
Whoa, maybe if Reed and Ben hadn't been chattering so much that their word balloons covered up the sky in the original Kirby panel, they mighta have spotted the Avengers flying up above them.
The Whacky Avengers are zero for three on catching a ride home. Them's the breaks, kids! Is it time to give up now, Hawkeye?
And with that, the story finishes.
Well, to be honest, it concludes in part seven in ish #23which I don't have. So just as I'll never know how Hawkeye, the Bickersons, and Ms. Garfield arrived in Rama-Tut-a-Rama-World, I'll also never know how they got out. Who knows...maybe they are there still...
To put it kindly, this isn't a great comic. I was especially struck by the progressive expansion of the stories from the initial through the third segment in this saga: the first (FF #19), is, as were so many early Marvel Comics, a fast and furious done-in-one: everything you need to know about the story is between two glossy paper covers. Nineteen years later, Doctor Strange #53's second segment is part of a much larger story, but the Egyptian adventure is complete within its pages and is neatly and cleanly summed up at the beginning in case you missed the previous Doc-installments. WCA #22 is part six of a seven part story that drops us into the action with little or no recap, and doesn't finish the adventure in the issue. If that isn't symptomatic of the gradual decompression of Marvel Comics, I don't know what is.
WCA #22 is no work of art. Al Milgrom's a great draftsman and his panels are energetic and clear, but he lacks the innovation and power of Kirby and Rogers, those who went before him. Englehart's story suffers from that worst crime of all: the heroes spend the entire story reacting instead of acting. I know it's not fair to judge the entire storyline on one issue, but when I picked this one up at the comic book shop it was only because it continued the story started in FF and Doctor Strange. There was really nothing in here that compelled me to buy the next issue; I really didn't enjoy WCA until John Byrne came on board and started tearing the team apart (in the Vision's case, absolutely literally.
Despite all that, I'm hereby declaring West Coast Avengers one of the most fun comics ever for its sheer chutzpah and enthusiastic glee in adding a new layer to the already-richly frosted cake of the previous two stories. Englehart's was a somewhat thankless task: Roger Stern filled in most of the "gaps" in Doctor Strange #53, so there wasn't much for Englehart's heroes to do except run around and just miss running into everybody else.
I'm told this storyline continued in the Rise of Apocalypse comic book...but I don't got it, so our time travels end here. Brian Hughes, who trailblazed a discussion of this story first in his great blog Again With the Comics, said in an email to me
If anyone mentions "Rise of Apocalypse", do yourself a favor and run! It's mucho awful.I will take that very very good advice with great thanks, Brian.
But...you know...the beauty of a story like this is that it never ends. A month, a year, ten years from now, some clever Marvel Comics scripter can continue the Rama-Tut Egyptian Adventure by tossing yet another hero or team back in time to walk carefully and unseen in the footsteps of the West Coast Avengers. It is, after all, the busiest intersection of the space-time continuum; what's to prevent more heroes from taking that journey? Who would you like to see added to this story? Me, I'd be tickled to have Deadpool or the Runaways travel back to 2940 BC. Or...and oh my oh my, just the mere thought of this makes shivers go up my spine...why not Nextwave? It could happen! And knowing the way that the more things change, the more they stay the same, I bet some day in some way this story will continue. Frankly, I can't wait.
But I hope you can wait until tomorrow for the final installment of "Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me!" No, I don't have more stories to examine...but just give me time to get out my scissors, scrapbook, and glue, and get ready for "Rama-Tut: The Complete Experience!". Be there or be