Super heroes fighting each other has long since gone from reliable genre convention to outright cliché. Whatever the reason for the fight’s start, it almost always turns into a “let’s discuss how best to defeat a villain” coffee clutch. Avengers West Coast 69, though, is one of those great examples of super hero fights that have nothing to do with upholding justice and fighting crime. Two characters who can’t keep their mouths shut literally pick a time and place to beat each other senseless. It remains my favorite super hero fight to this day.
Avengers West Coast 69 is a glorified team picking. The story jumps back and forth in time, telling two stories concurrently. In the A story—the story that opens the issue—Hawkeye and US Agent dish out a mutual ass beating. In full costume and with arrows and shield, the two fighters hold little back. There is no love lost between them, and since the A story begins before the fight actually starts it’s clear to readers that the whole thing was orchestrated in advance which leads to the obvious question of “why.” Enter the B story which occurs earlier in the day and is confined to Avengers West Coat headquarters. The team is choosing a new roster, but before they do that General Heyworth has a message for US Agent. Both Avengers teams will operate under the United Nations going forward so the US government is no longer maintaining a representative on the teams. US Agent, who had had a guaranteed a slot on the team before, now has to earn his way on like everyone else. US Agent doesn’t take the news well and Hawkeye rubs plenty of salt in the wound. Predictably, the voting doesn’t go US Agent’s way, and with only one vote cast in his favor he gets a spot as an alternate. The end of the B story dovetails into the A story as Hawkeye and US Agent set up a fight for later that night.
It’s a lean story in Avengers West Coast 69 that really boils down to two events of consequence: the team selecting its members and Hawkeye and US Agent fighting. With respect to the first event there’s no real rising action or plot twist; so foreshadowed is the result of the vote that the reader isn’t surprised that Hawkeye makes it and US Agent doesn’t. As to the fight—everyone knows it has no real teeth. The story is the fight rather than the outcome, so to an extent it’s overwritten. To the benefit of both stories, though, Roy and Dann Thomas used a convention common across a variety of narrative forms today but less frequently seen at the start of the 1990’s: non-linear storytelling. Both stories benefit from being broken up and interspersed with the other. It prevents the vote from feeling more important than it is, and it keeps the fight from feeling too long. It’s a brilliant move that makes the issue work.
I’ve never read other issues of Avengers West Coast, so I don’t know if there is additional backstory to the Hawkeye/US Agent relationship. You don’t really need it, though. The Thomases write US Agent as a self-entitled jerk through and through. Even before the general unceremoniously delivers the news in front of the entire Avengers team with no warning, US Agent’s smug attitude goes a long way to damaging him in the readers’ eyes. Hawkeye, though, is almost worse—and this is where I wish I did know the backstory. Hawkeye starts rubbing salt in US Agent’s wounds immediately, and it’s entirely personal. At no point does he offer a compelling argument for why US Agent is a detriment to the team. Hawkeye just doesn’t like him, and he’s having a good time kicking him while he’s down. The pettiness behind both men’s actions colors the fight and sets it into a special class—a more personal class—of hero fights. There are no lofty ideals here.
Paul Ryan’s art is, unfortunately, not as memorable as the story it’s conveying; that said, Ryan is very good at drawing characters’ faces and expressions. This proves to be a key component to the B story where US Agent and Hawkeye are already pushing back at each other but aren’t in a position yet to fight. Words were unnecessary; the dislike is obvious despite the masks.
Avengers West Coast 69 has all the makings of a forgettable one-off. And if not for the non-linear storytelling device I’m not sure it would be half as fun. It also happens to be the issue that colored my perception of Hawkeye forever. US Agent is a jerk in this story. Everybody knows it. And everybody knows he’s not making it on the Avengers. But only Hawkeye takes the tack that he shouldn’t; he does it very personally and very publicly. Even if he’s right, his attitude in the B story and his willingness to stoop to US Agent’s level is definitely a stain on someone who just got overwhelmingly voted on to the team. What’s more the promised suspension at the end of the issue rings very much like the kind of non-punishment reserved for popular members of teams and groups. To me Hawkeye walks away from this fight looking far worse as a character, and to this day I’ve been ambivalent to if not outright suspicious of him—his defining moment to me a petty fight on the beach.
Avengers West Coast 69
Roy and Dann Thomas – writers
Paul Ryan – penciler
Danny Bulandi – inker
Bill Oakley – letterer
Bob Sharen – colorist