Welcome back for the second installment of Bargain Bin Bounty, Wagoners! Like I said in the first BBB post, there’s nothing quite like rummaging through dusty longboxes to find a great old comic that can be had for pocket change (literally). I found this issue a while back in what may be my favorite comic shop in the universe (or at least in this galactic supercluster); Main Street Comics in Milltown, New Jersey. Main Street is a fantastic store with a friendly staff and a superb back issue selection that’s constantly being refreshed with new stuff. Primo back issues and bundled complete runs are reasonably priced, and the bargain bins are full of lost treasures. Even the 25c bins are worth looking through; that’s where I found this:
The Book: The West Coast Avengers Vol 2 # 18, “Lost in Space-Time, Part Two: Time Was…” – March 1987
The Creators: Steve Englehart (story), Al Milgrom (layouts), Joe Sinnott (finishes), Ken Feduniewicz (colors), Tom Orzechowski (lettering), Mark Gruenwald (editor), Jim Shooter (Editor in Chief)
Cost: Twenty-five American cents, 50c less than the cover price! Even accounting for inflation I made out, because according to this calculator 75c in 1987 equals $1.60 in dystopian future money.
I don’t think I had ever actually read a West Coast Avengers story before this issue. Moon Knight joined the team for a while so I intend to have fuller lookaround in the future; Moon Knight is one of my favorite Marvel characters, you see. The West Coast team was Assembled in a 1984 miniseries, then spun off into an ongoing title that lasted until the mid 90s. Hawkeye is usually the boss. There’s also the Great Lakes Avengers, based out of Milwaukee!
I was tempted by the cover’s promise of a showdown in the Old West, but my general ambivalence towards the team told me that I should probably keep thumbing onward through the bin. There is only so much space for comics in my Space Station Wagon, after all. But when I saw Hank Pym about to kill himself on the first page, I just had to snag this issue to see if he was actually gonna do it:
I know that this was just a few years after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and comics were at their maximum “grim ‘n gritty” levels, but I was still surprised to see something this intense in a mainstream superhero book. Who Hank Pym is and why he was about to put a bullet through his brain is a long story for another time; just know that he was the original Ant-Man, a founding Avenger, and by this time a pariah in the superhero community (he deserved it). I have never heard of La Espirita/Firebird before:
This all happens in the first three pages of the issue, so if I had bought it solely to watch Hank Pym grapple with his suicide I’d be sorely disappointed (and how cynical would I be, huh?). The rest of the book is all about the West Coast Avengers…lost in tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!!!
The WCA lineup for this adventure consists of Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Iron Man, Tigra, and Wonder Man (*sigh*). An obligatory flashback explains that in the previous issue the heroes tracked a gang of fourth-rate supervillains to their hideout in an Arizona cave, where the ne’er do wells sprung a trap on the WCA with a strategically placed time travel platform they had jacked from Doctor Doom. Doom’s time machine has been an element of the Marvel Universe almost since its beginning, first appearing in Fantastic Four # 5 (1962). Doom sent the FF back to pirate times to steal treasure for him, and Ben wound up becoming Blackbeard. That’s right, the historical Blackbeard.
The W.C. Avengers re-appear in the Arizona desert, but with no idea when they are. The time platform is damaged and inoperable, which leads to some scientific dick measuring between Tony and Wonder Man about who’s better suited to fixing it. Wonder Man is sporting some duds I’ve never seen him in; as always, his uniform looks awful:
The sound from behind the ridge is a group of Marvel’s Wild West heroes; the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, and the original Ghost Rider (going by Night Rider in this story to avoid reader confusion with the more well known motorcyclist). The Avengers charge in to assist the heroic gunslingers in protecting a stagecoach from some bandits, not considering any catastrophic changes they could make to the natural flow of time.
Hawkeye actually knows these fellas from a previous adventure the original Avengers team had in the Wild West (fighting Kang the Conqueror, natch). The cowpokes inform the team that they’ve arrived in the year 1876, and that a gang of old-timey supervillains is menacing the area:
Instead of steering clear of the whole situation in order to prevent changing history with nightmarish consequences, the West Coast Avengers team up with their Wild West counterparts to take down the costumed gangsters. Wonder Man splits from the group and heads to Tombstone, AZ to try and have a smith to make the parts necessary to fix the time platform; he is missed by no one. The futurefolk/cowboy team reaches the villain hideout, engaging the costumed criminals in an epic battle:
The heroes manage to gain the upper hand on the bad guys, but their leader Iron Mask deploys the gang’s secret weapon. BEHOLD, THE LIVING TOTEM!
Funny enough, in our last BBB entry there was also a giant, red “living totem” monster. I did not realize the bizarre similarity until I started writing about this issue!
The Living Totem first appeared in the 22nd issue of the Rawhide Kid’s comic back in 1961, and is surprisingly little known for being so damned weird.
As-he-explains-in-his-slow-punctuated-by-dashes-speech, The Living Totem is actually a being from another world who’s starship crashed in the southwest years ago. I’m pretty sure that totem poles were actually created by Native American peoples of the Pacific Northwest…maybe that’s where he was trying to go? Or could it be TARDIS-like camouflage, and the Living Totem is just kind of ignorant about the differences between Native American cultural groups?
Having not read the Totem’s original appearance, I don’t know if the alien explanation originated there or if this is a retcon. In any case, the heroes manage to defeat The Living Totem and foil Iron Mask’s plans to carve out an empire in the southwest (it is never explained why the Totem was willing to work for him). The human villains are turned in to the local marshal, while The Living Totem vanishes from history. The Marvel Wiki entry for this beastie lists Rawhide Kid 22 and West Coast Avengers 18 as his only appearances in the Marvel Universe.
Wonder Man is able to fix the time platform, but in a half-assed fashion (he sucks)…it only allows the Avengers to travel further back in time. The team sets the dial for Ancient Egypt to see if they can use the time machine of Pharaoh Rama-Tut (an earlier identity of the time-travelling Kang the Conqueror) to finally return to the late 80s. Just as the machine pulls the team out of 1876, Ghost Rider grabs Mockingbird and strands her in the Wild West!
Some research into what happened reveals this plot thread went to a creepy place; this version of Ghost/Night/Phantom Rider had been driven mad by his powers and fell in love with Mockingbird during the single day she spent in his era…he abducted her and drugged/hypnotized her into becoming his lover. When Bobbi eventually broke free of his influence and escaped, she had the opportunity to save Night Rider from falling to his death, most understandable she refused to do so.
When Hawkeye learned about this he was angry at his wife for not saving the life of a man who had kidnapped, brainwashed and repeatedly raped her….an insanely weird hill to die on for the usually hot-blooded Clint Barton. He even ends their marriage over it: Sorry for the downer ending…maybe its better to just let cliffhangers be. Perhaps someday I will find the other issues chronicling the West Coast Avengers “Lost in Space-Time” adventure, in other 25-cent bins. It looks like the team’s interference in the past didn’t alter time too much, as Iron Man muses below. Then again, maybe the original Avengers’ previous face-off with Kang and the West Coast team’s battle in this issue were what inspired the heroes of the 30s and 40s and kickstarted the Modern Age of Marvels.
Thanks for reading, Wagoners! Stay tuned for more Bargain Bin Bounties...each is like an adventure into the past you can take without leaving your couch!