Every two weeks, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance.
This week, it is West Coast Avengers #8. Written by Kelly Thompson (Hawkeye, Captain Marvel) with art by Gang Hyuk Lim (Peak, Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk) and letters by Joe Caramagna (Runaways, Exiles), this issue spotlights the bright tone and cheeky sense of humor that make this series a worthwhile addition to Marvel’s line of Avengers titles. Note: This review reveals major plot points.
Kate Bishop needs a movie. A TV show. Something that will boost her profile so that she can sustain an ongoing comic without it getting cancelled when there’s way more story to tell. The female Hawkeye is one of Marvel’s most compelling creations of the past 20 years, and writer Kelly Thompson has done exceptional work with Kate in her solo Hawkeye series and the current West Coast Avengers (WCA) title. Hawkeye was cancelled in the same year it was nominated for the Best Continuing Series Eisner Award, and while Thompson was given a second shot at Kate by making her the leader of the WCA, that series ends in April after only 10 issues.
Kelly Thompson writes superhero comics that are lively, emotional, and respectful of the past without being restricted by it, and her work with Kate Bishop showcases all these strengths. She understands that engaging character dynamics are key to creating a successful team, populating the WCA with people who have a strong personal attachment to Kate: her male counterpart and founder of the original WCA, Clint “Hawkeye” Barton; her best friend, America Chavez; and her current boyfriend, Johnny “Fuse” Watts. The recent addition of Noh-Varr, a.k.a. Marvel Boy, makes the book a mini Young Avengers reunion, and the team is rounded out by X-factors Quentin “Kid Omega” Quire and Gwenpool, who have started their own romantic relationship.
Hawkeye had a sense of humor, but WCA really leans into the wackiness. The first issue began with a stampede of land sharks, and then introduced a hunky version of M.O.D.O.K. named B.R.O.D.O.K. with long blond hair, a ripped body, and a head that was just a little too big. The team fought a giant Tigra rampaging through the streets of L.A., had to stop a giant Kate who was transformed into a literal hawk-woman by B.R.O.D.O.K., and escaped a carnival of death-traps created by a new Masters Of Evil. And because this is Los Angeles, the team is being filmed for a docuseries the whole time. There’s a lot happening here, but Thompson keeps it all together by centering the story around Kate, building on plotlines from Hawkeye like Kate’s search for her missing mother and her antagonistic relationships with her supervillain father and Madame Masque.
This week’s WCA #8 has the team taking a short breather before embarking on their next missions: infiltrating Madame Masque’s base and a cult potentially run by shapeshifting alien Skrulls. The issue opens with Gwenpool playing with the team’s adorable baby land-shark, Jeff, accentuating the lighthearted tone that makes this series such a delight. Gwenpool’s presence is a highlight of this series, and it’s great that she’s still playing a part in the Marvel Universe after the conclusion of her hyper-meta ongoing series. The Unbelievable Gwenpool was an imaginative and heartfelt series, ending with an exploration of cancellation that also served as a celebration of what the creative team was able to accomplish with a character who started off as a gimmick.
In WCA, Gwenpool suspects that she’s been rebooted and had her comic-book-altering powers rewritten so she can function as a team member, adding an extra layer of weird to the series. Gwenpool gets the opportunity to let loose with her two swords in WCA #8 when she and Quentin are quickly uncovered during their undercover infiltration of Madame Masque’s operation. Artist Gang Hyuk Lim accentuates the brutality of this attack while letterer Joe Caramagna brings the comedy with a series of sound effects: “SLICE,” “DICE,” “MORE SLICE,” and “SLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE.”
One of the funniest gags in WCA was introduced at the end of last issue with Noh-Varr wearing Quentin’s T-shirt that reads, “I de-vamped Jubilee and all I got was this lousy T-shirt,” which is way too small and turns into a crop-top against his buff torso. He’s still wearing the shirt in this issue, along with a pair of heart-adorned boxers that make it hard to take him seriously. That’s exactly the point given that the rest of the team isn’t convinced about his Skrull theory, but they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Gang Hyuk Lim is a new name in superhero comics, bringing a manga aesthetic to the page with exaggerated expressions and exhilarating action sequences. Lim’s work on WCA is a significant step up from his art on Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk, with more varied line weights and bold coloring reminiscent of Saga’s Fiona Staples. The acting in this issue is phenomenal, and Lim heightens the flirtation, exhaustion, frustration, and concern in Thompson’s script through highly animated character interactions. The majority of this issue is talking heads, but Lim’s artwork keeps the energy up throughout, building to an explosion of action in the final pages.
The solicitation copy for WCA’s finale suggests that it might not be the end of the team, but there’s no word on when or if the series returns. Kate is appearing in the new War Of The Realms: Journey Into Mystery miniseries written by The Adventure Zone’s McElroy family with art by André Lima Araújo, and while the McElroys are a big get for Marvel, it’s frustrating that WCA doesn’t get the opportunity to cash in on a crossover tie-in. The team has a connection to the Thor mythos in Quentin Quire, who played a significant part in Thor’s “The Asgard/Shi’ar War.” This week’s issue ends with the revelation that the team is facing off against a vampire cult, a conflict that coincides with a vampire civil war in the current storyline in the main Avengers series, which is leading directly into this summer’s big event.
WCA was cancelled before the first collection was published, so Marvel had no intention of taking trade sales into account for the book’s survival. Granted, those sales probably won’t be huge because Marvel’s collections are awful. WCA Vol. 1: Best Coast is $17.99 for the first four issues of the series plus reprints of The Unbelievable Gwenpool #1 and the Kate-centric Young Avengers Presents #6, so readers who just want the WCA issues are paying $2 more than they would if they just bought the single issues. It’s high cost for low-quality binding and paper quality, which makes them feel especially flimsy compared to other collections with the same page count but sturdier paper stock.
The trades collecting the most recent issues of Marvel’s series are overpriced and not especially attractive, but the publisher is making some positive changes when it comes to collecting older issues of ongoing series that appeal to younger audiences. Recent releases like Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur: The Beginning and Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan collect the first year of those series in paperbacks with smaller dimensions and a significantly cheaper cost ($12.99), and this new format would be great for the full runs of Hawkeye and WCA, two series with significant appeal for YA readers. It’s hard to imagine Thompson wrapping up all of WCA’s plot threads in just two issues, so hopefully the book is able to gain some readers after it ends and get a new volume. Or maybe Avengers: Endgame will introduce Kate Bishop and ignite interest in the character, giving Marvel reason to keep her in the spotlight without cutting her series short.