Avengers West Coast #56 – Reviews Of Old Comics

blogheaderWatching Avengers: Infinity War, I was taken with how powerful the Scarlet Witch was portrayed. This was a character shown to be powerful enough to shatter an Infinity Stone. Given that in the past two films that she’s appeared in, her powers have been shown to be primarily telekinetic and mildly telepathic, but not so powerful that she can shatter one of the six most powerful items in the universe.

This level of power is something that is not uncommon to long time comic fans. Most famously, she has completely rewritten reality in the House of M crossover event. She also stripped all but a handful of mutants of their powers at the end of that event. Writer John Byrne explored how her original power to alter probabilities in a great, albeit truncated story in Avengers West Coast collected in Darker Than Scarlet.

On his forum, John Byrne explained that Wanda’s powers worked backward through time, which brought the attention of Immortus. Immortus sought to exploit the most powerful aspect of her mutant power to change history, creating a timeline without an Avengers. This was a demonstration of how powerful Wanda could be, and that demonstration of power was the best part of what remained from the original story.

Avengers West Coast #56

March 1990
Marvel Comics

Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Paul Ryan
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Bill Oakley

Synopsis:

The Scarlet Witch is reveling in her newfound power. She fully understands the nature of her mutant ability. She gloats to Agatha Harkness, USAgent, the Wasp and Wonder Man, all held immobile in a force field. Wanda explains that her ability to alter probabilities allows her to restructure reality to her whims. She restored the house and Wonder Man, which had exploded on the edge of space. Now she sadistically tortures Wonder Man, who has loved her from afar. She uses knowledge of this to emotionally and physically torture Wonder Man.
 
A few minutes before, in another part of the Avengers Compound, Hank Pym comes across the original Human Torch and Ann Raymond, the widow of his old partner Toro. When the Torch mentions a little cat-like creature, Pym races to his lab and sees that Tigra has escaped. He had shrunk her when her feline nature became dominant. Looking on from Limbo, Immortus claims responsibility for this reversion. He claims to be manipulating the Avengers as part of plan to rule over time itself. The Torch runs off to search for Tigra. Before Pym can do likewise, he’s stopped by two figures teleporting in.
 
The Torch and Mrs. Raymond have their search interrupted by a motorcade arriving to evict the Avengers from the compound. Iron Man returns to his home, intent to spend a week relaxing as Tony Stark. An Emergency Signal summons him back to Avengers Compound.
 
Pym sneaks around Wanda’s bungalow and recalls testing her powers. He took a scan of a steel bar showing no flaws, and when Wanda’s powers shatter it, the scans are changed retroactively to reflect the flaw created by her power. He peers into the bungalow as the Scarlet Witch’s torture of Wonder Man has ended. Magneto enters and cautions her to use some restraint. Pym takes the opportunity to use his power to shrink objects on the wall for a surprise entrance. The Scarlet Witch states that she has joined Magneto’s cause willingly to prpare for the final conflict between humans and mutants. When Pym brandishes a very high-tech weapon, he’s attacked by a swift-moving figure that reveals himself to be Quicksilver, joining his father and sister on a path to become masters of the world.
 
In a back-up story set before the events of the previous summer’s Atlantis Attacks crossover, Captain America and Sersi are having trouble contacting the Sub-Mariner. The original Human Torch enters for a reunion with his old teammate. They reminisce and mourn their dead sidekicks. Iron Man then enters the room and tells them that the Sub-Mariner is dead.
 
In a single page piece, John Byrne explains that Tigra’s presence in the Atlantis Attacks crossover was a mistake as he informed writer Mike Higgins that Tigra would be on the Avengers roster at that time. We, the readers should ignore her in the crossover.

Review:

The logic behind the Scarlet Witch’s mutant powers has always been a little hard to follow. It does stand to reason that some mutants would be extremely powerful, and even that some of those would not realize just how powerful they are. Wanda is also one of those mutants that never trained under Professor X. Wanda never explored the nature of her powers through constant practice. She never had the opportunity to control, much less understand her powers. The problem with trying to fully understand these powers is that they never quite make sense to start with.

Changing the probability of something happening involves altering a lot of the math that governs the way things work The instance that Hank Pym sets up in the flashback doesn’t fully test the probabilities and as a scientist, he should know that. Of course this is the danger for a writer to deal with science that he doesn’t fully understand. John Byrne was always good about talking with others or working around dealing with these questions. Here, he is working how other writers explained Wanda’s powers, and doing so at a time when Wanda augmented those powers by learning actual magic. For the sake of the story, this explanation works well enough. He also set the stage for Wanda to have a severed relationship with reality. Wanda becomes a selfish villain after this snap, which makes sense only if she begins understanding that her powers work in this way.

John Byrne’s artwork is sound, but Paul Ryan inking him isn’t the best fit for him. Paul Ryan’s style hearkens back to an earlier style, but it does allow enough of Byrne to shine through. At this point in his career, there was criticism of Byrne drawing panels without backgrounds. I looked at the issue and he only did that here after firmly establishing the setting. In many cases, he could have done so and didn’t. He opted to draw backgrounds and environments. I can’t fault John Byrne for trying to give a reader their money’s worth, at least in art.

He also provides value  when it comes to the script. Exploring how the Scarlet Witch’s powers work is a key facet of this story. On its own, that would make for a very dense story. He also advances the plot, which I find admirable. The reveal of Quicksilver at the end doesn’t come off as much of a surprise, given that only one person with that hairstyle would show up with what can only be Lockjaw. I’m not taking away points in this review for this lack of surprise. John Byrne follows through on it in the very next issue.

The use of a green and pink subdued palette in the flashbacks is different, and works very well in setting it apart from the rest of the story. I don’t know if the ides for it came from Byrne, editor Bob Harras or colorist Bob Sharen, but Sharen did a great job with it.

Notes:

This issue has been collected in Darker Than Scarlet, as I mentioned before. The individual issue should be easy to find cheaply, so do not pay too much to get a good quality copy. You can get a digital copies easily enough. I did my research using Marvel Unlimited.

Final Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)

I liked revisiting this for a sense of how powerful the Scarlet Witch can be. I now feel like I need to go read House of M for another take on how her mutant abilities affect reality.