Thursday, March 12, 2009

Byrne Baby Byrne! West Coast Avengers #43

West Coast Avengers #43 (April 1989)

“Vision Quest!”

Writer/Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: Mike Machlan

Sharon: We’re continuing with our look John Byrne’s first arc for the West Coast Avengers. At the end of WCA #42, erstwhile member Mockingbird shows up and announces she can answer the team’s questions about the missing Vision.

Sharon: So, in #43, Mockingbird explains that she was duped into helping a group of people (they told Bobbi they were from SHIELD) with their top secret “contingency plan” that would ensure that the Vision would never again be in a position to take over the world’s computers (as he had done in Avengers #251-254 a few years earlier). So Bobbi joined this initiative and divulged Avengers secret security codes and the like, until she eventually wised up and found out the group wasn’t part of SHIELD. In fact, the group comprises people from several different countries and they’re all worried that the Vision has retained classified information from when he took control of the computers. So their goal was to totally erase the Vision’s memory.

Sharon: But by the time Bobbi discovered the truth and escaped her “hosts”, it’s a case of too little, too late: the plan was already put into action: the Vision was kidnapped (off-panel), the faux Ultron was sent as a distraction (as we saw in #42), the virus was introduced into the Avengers’ computer systems, etc. Bobbi is not exactly Ms. Popular as she relates her part in this mess; for one thing, she and Clint are estranged, so there’s no love lost there; not to mention poor Wanda, who cannot believe what she is hearing.
Sharon: That Bobbi could be duped in such a manner is hard to believe, but Byrne has her explain that she was distracted since she’d left the team and Hawkeye.

Karen: I agree, Mockingbird looks like a grade –A nitwit here. And to be honest, I’m not too fond of Hawkeye’s portrayal either – a little too simple-minded, I think, at this point in his career.

Doug: Motion carried! The story behind Bobbi’s explanation is well-crafted, and as you said dumbed-down enough that we could figure it out – surely a trained super-agent should have “gotten it”!
Sharon: The Avengers go off to find the Vision. As if Hawkeye doesn’t have enough to worry about with Bobbi, he grumbles that he’s the official leader of the WCA but others—Jan, Hank—are the ones barking out the orders. Good characterizations throughout by Byrne, with the exception of Bobbi, who—as we all agree--seems awfully dense.

Doug: Wanda’s coldness toward Bobbi is genuine and in-character – a nice bit of tension. Simon’s descent out of the quinjet is reminiscent of one of Colossus’ exits from the Blackbird!

Sharon: Again, I think Byrne draws a great Wanda and Hank. You can really see Wanda’s distress and anger; her expressions seem so varied and real. I also like how he handles Simon, in all his muscle-bound glory. Machlan’s the inker here again and, as Karen noted in our last entry, he doesn’t do much in the way of enhancing the pencils. But I think Byrne’s work is strong enough so it’s not damaged by the so-so embellishment.

Doug: Nowadays I think of George Perez as the leader in drawing facial expressions, and of giving each character a distinctive look. But Byrne’s splash page of Hawkeye is a real grabber. As we may have commented before (I’m sure we have somewhere), Byrne really used the mouth to give characterization as well as panel-to-panel emotion – that is so evident in this one panel. And the large panel on pages 2-3 is a great lesson in scale among the characters – almost as worthy a reference as some of the model sheets we’ve seen through the years.

Sharon: Wanda thinks of her history with her husband: her first words to the Vision (“Flee, whoever you are!”-- Avengers #76), the Celestial Madonna saga, Quicksilver’s censure of her marriage to a “machine”, and the birth of Vision’s and Wanda’s sons, Thomas and William. Byrne handles the flashbacks well and faithfully—as strange as this may sound, he does a great Don Heck in some of those panels!

Karen: I noticed that too! Particularly the one from GS Avengers 4, where Vision asks Wanda to marry him. It had that same sketchy look that Heck’s later art had.

Doug: You guys are good! I, too, noticed the Heck-ish artwork, but to be honest wrote it off to sub par Byrne pencils – we’ve discussed how he can be rushed and sketchy. Duh – it didn’t even occur to me that this was homage to Heck’s work. Seeing this now through your eyes, it carries a little more weight!

Karen: It’s actually kind of painful to see all those scenes of Vizh and Wanda together, knowing what is coming for both of them. At least Wanda is still around, even if she has gone nuts. Vizh has been replaced and everyone just treats the new “Vision” as if he were the old one. That frustrates the heck out of me.

Doug: I am not at all up on the current state of the Vision, other than what you two have told me. And knowing your feelings and how it’s being handled, I’m glad I haven’t spent any money toward the current situation.

Sharon: Byrne loves those cliffhangers: we get a glimpse of Wanda and Vizh’s kids, who are being cared for by their nanny, Miss Bach. Then the nanny gasps as she sees--what? We won’t find out until next issue. Similarly, the Wasp gasps when she comes across someone who’s imprisoned—who is it? Next issue.

Sharon: And finally, Mockingbird learns that the plan is “far ahead of schedule.” She knows where the Vision is and she leads Wanda to the ominous “Section 31.” There are scientists and other personnel there, and there’s a table on which circuitry is laid out. There are vats and tubes and tanks containing what looks like lungs, tendons, etc.--can you say gross? Then there’s –ugh--something that looks like red skin splayed out atop a counter. It’s a gruesome scene. In our last entry Doug mentioned the Tigra turning feral subplot in #42, and I found that hard to take; but this scene is far more stomach turning. Bobbi tells Wanda that this is what’s left of her husband, the Vision.

Karen: It’s hideous, to say the least. The tanks full of organs, the metallic skeleton – these are bad enough, but the skin is the kicker, just lying on a table, almost as if it were casually tossed aside. Of course, this is the effect Byrne is going for, and he achieves it. But then – and now – I find it highly disturbing, and don’t like seeing it.

Doug: Agreed. The flayed skin was a bit much. To be honest, I’m not sure I noticed it when I first read this 20 years ago. But it did jump up at me when I re-read it for this review. Highly disturbing, indeed…
Sharon: I don’t recall Byrne ever being this graphic in his FF work. I wonder how a reader in 1989 seeing this for the first time would have reacted back then —would one have just chalked this scene up to sensationalism? I can’t imagine anyone would accept Bobbi’s words that this—wreckage--was “…your husband, Wanda…” at face value.

Here it is! Your Marvel Bullpen Stamp for this post!

Collect 'em all!


Anonymous said...

Whoa, that flayed skin is really disturbing. Why on earth does Byrne hate Vision so much??

Karen said...

I've often wondered what compelled Byrne to do this story. I do know it was important to him, but whether it was his dislike of what he viewed as a machine married to a human, or just a desire to bring back the original Torch, is unclear to me.

Skydragon said...

I've always had mixed feelings about Byrne's storytelling skills.
He is a great artist, and does really well when he can either start from scratch (Alpha Flight) or pretty much make tabula rasa (Superman after Crisis, X-Men, often Fantastic Four), but I feel that when he has to work inside a tighter continuity and pre-existing elements, he just tends to destroy everything.

He repeated the dark uber-powerful lady thing three times, with Dark Scarlet, Dark Phoenix, and the Invisible Woman, wrote what for me was a pretty poor She-Hulk in the FF, and here pretty much undid the Vision after some pretty solid decades.

Anonymous said...

Well I've read on a forum somewhere that Byrne couldn't have children, which could explain his treatment of vision and his kids, the miscarriage of sue storm, and female characters in general...

here's a nice article that has a tally of his victims:

Sharon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon said...

Anonymous, thanks for the feedback and for providing the link to that fascinating- -but disturbing--article chronicling Byrne's treatment of female characters. I actually read it some time ago and I agree it's a must-read.

And thanks also for the intriguing tidbit about his personal life.

Robert McKinney said...

I just discovered your blog today, and I have to say ... nice work, folks! You've pretty much captured my sentiments towards Byrne's work on West Coast Avengers. The Scarlet Witch has long been my favorite Marvel character (probably my favorite comic character period) and I absolutely hated what he did to her and Vision.

I think part of his problem is that the success he had with retconning Superman (which I also hated) went to his head, and he ended up wanting to retcon every character he did afterwards.

Anyways, keep up the good work.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the kind words, Robert.

Yes, Byrne certainly did a number on Wanda and Vizh, and as you noted, Byrne was quite "creative" with other characters as well. I guess exercising one's artistic license comes with the territory, though I don't expect Byrne was too happy when subsequent creators took similar liberties and undid some of his work (Peter David and Tom DeFalco, to name two).

Anyway, we're on a summer hiatus at the moment, so our posting frequency has slowed down--but don't let that stop you from perusing our archives. We've love to know what you think.

And as one Legion fan to another, may I say I love the Sun Boy pic!

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