Three days ago I was in a swimming pool in a Santa Cruz motel. It was the last day of a trip that had included everything from WorldCon to watching Marguerite teach her 90 plus year old Grandma how to FaceTime. It was an exhausting and amazing time and as we decompressed on the last day, our gaze fell on the far end of the parking lot.
Motels, by and large, are all two-storey U-shapes with a pool and a laundry room at one end and a parking lot between that and the street. So we got a good look at the other side of the street, the incongruous Victorian guesthouses on the hill above us and the lady wearing an early 1990s Guns’n’Roses video wedding dress as she headed past the top of the lot. She was accompanied by a gnarly looking dude in a camo top, flip flops and board shorts. She was moving as fast as she could on six inch heels. And she had a mission:
‘EXCUSE ME! HAVE ANY OF YOU SEEN MY BACKING DANCERS?!’
We, the guests moving in, the guests moving out and the clerk had not seen her backing dancers. She yelled thanks and went on her merry way. I hope she found them.
Later that day, I read West Coast Avengers issue 1. It was the perfect capstone to the trip, and Guns’n’Roses backing dancer bride lady would have fitted right in.
Written by Kelly Thompson, WCA picks up from her previous fantastic run on Hawkeye. Hawkeye is Kate Bishop, an Olympic level athlete, enthusiastic level detective and new arrival on the West Coast. Hawkeye is also Clint Barton; veteran Avenger, deaf archer extraordinaire and 1000% soup to nuts trouble magnet. They are the definition of hard luck heroes and Thompson’s initial run did a brilliant job of showing not only the ground they share but how Kate is very much her own purple clad arching vigilante.
But not even Hawkeye (Both of them) can deal with some things alone. Especially when those things are landsharks.
The book sold me right here. This frantic, escalating action sequence that’s equal parts absurd (landsharks) and terrifying (LANDSHARKS!) is used to introduce the characters on the bounce and never slows down. So we get Kate; brilliant, hanging on by her fingertips, backing down not an inch. Clint, perpetually confused, always slightly pained, always there for his friends, especially when he isn’t really wanted and America, endlessly competent, fully capable of kicking anyone’s ass, frequently the grownup in the room. Oh and Fuse, Kate’s boyfriend, fresh out the box superhero, quietly decent and calm.
Thompson throws these four people and their radically different approaches to their ridiculous job at the wall in a manner that’s as balletic as it is frenetic. You get character beats, you get action beats, you get landsharks and you get this which is my favorite joke in any comic this year:
I get WCA on comixology which has a function called Guided View. Basically you can flick through a comic panel by panel and this sequence is just joyous when you do that. It’s a perfectly timed, perfectly measured joke that simultaneously moves the plot along, makes you laugh and tells you about four different characters, only three of which are visible. Also, landsharks.
This is a perfect time to talk about Stefano Caselli’s art too. The book’s script shifts from action to character, big to small, loud to quiet, constantly and Caselli lands every single shift. By the end of the first issue, Kate’s team have gained funding, a documentary crew, massively arrogant former X-child Quentin Quire and Fourth Wall Annihilator Gwenpool and Caselli incorporates all of them, the original four characters, the location and the tone with extraordinary grace and ease. This is a book that feels Californian and looks it too, and it’s a joy unique to comics to see a creative team so in sync like this.
Because make no mistake, comics is a team sport and even more so on a team book like this. Triona Farrell’s colour work here is brilliant, capturing the warmth and depth of the West Coast but mixing it with heat and the vibrancy that Marvel’s always slightly cold New York never has. Likewise VC’s Joe Caramagna, who makes sure everyone and everything has a voice all their own. Even the landsharks.
West Coast Avengers is a joy, top to bottom. It’s massively funny, clever, exuberant comic storytelling with a glee-filled sense of humor, incredible confidence and a style uniquely it’s own. Guns’n’Rosesbacking dancer bride lady would, I think, love it. I know I do.