I remember it so well. West Coast Avengers was a quiet favourite of mine at the time, Steve Englehart was always so solid and readable I enjoyed all three of his books in the mid-80s - Green Lantern, Silver Surfer and WCA, all three were written in much the same way, with longterm plotting that built issue by issue to reward the reader at intervals as everything linked together and kept growing. By the time WCA #42 arrived Engleharts work had become more unreliable, due to backroom interference, of which I would only learn many years later. But when #42 did arrive it was with some sadness, I wanted Englehart. I liked what Englehart and Milgrom had built between them -with Hawkeye's ad-hoc leadership and his charming partnership with wife Mockingbird, the reinvention of Hank Pym into a stronger more assured figure, Wonderman too moved on from where he was to be given a level of self-confidence that frequently went over into arrogance, his rivalry with Iron Man was one of a number of character quirks between the cast.
Still, judged on its own terms John Byrne's debut IS a succes. Superb art, The Scarlet Witch front and center, the quiet reunion of Hank and Janet, Mockingbird dealing with her estrangment from Clint in a mature manner while he procrastinates and avoids... yes, there are a number of memorable moments in those forst two or three issues. The worries come as the run develops.
The many criticisms laid at the writer for his handling of the Scarlet Witch and Vision are fair ones I feel, I share them. While there is a legitimate line of argument to be had that the break-up of Wanda's marriage was an inevitability of Marvel's policy of "Only the Illusion of Progress" the timing and the methods used to seperate the couple were anything but conservative. There is one interview from the time that sticks in the mind as to the problem here - an interview for either Marvel Age or Wizard had Byrne discuss his approach to the storyline by declaring his known love of the Scarlet Witch as his favourite Avenger then comparing her longstanding love with the Vision as the equivalent of loving a toaster... to Byrne then The Vision was nothing more than an appliance, a programmed machine. And one he had little time or love for.
But the problem with this storyline lies deeper than what appeared on the page. Even at the time the harshness of his treatment of the Scarlet Witch was increasingly uncomfortable to watch as we see her discover her husbands dissected corpse, learn her children were figments of her imagination, and that Wanda was... what? A madwoman? A weirdo who loved 'toasters' rather than a real man? As she slides into insanity the message from John Byrne on his 'favourite' Avenger seemed to support those claims. And coming from a man who has repeatedly attacked the likes of Alan Moore for the deconstructionism that swept comics at the time this is high hypocrisy indeed. As in principle little seperates what Byrne did to The Scarlet Witch and Vision from what the likes of Moore were doing to Barbara Gordon, or Brad Meltzer did to Elongated Man and Sue Dibney. Byrne's inability to recognise the conceit that the Vision was an artificial man in the same way that Jim Hammond was failed to adhere to his own much voiced declaration that comics were for the young, teens. As such the placing of The Vision as a "Synthezoid" should have been all that was needed to seperate any thoughts of The Vision being some mere 'Toaster', only a deeply cynical and adult oriantated mind would ever fail to recognise the characters entire reason for being is that he is a unique and individual lifeform who has a right to a the life which he chooses. In much the same way that Wonderman is merely Ionic energy given human form by the mind of what is/was Simon Williams The Vision has a perfectly valid right to exist for what he is. Not what other people think he is.
The legacy left by Byrne's handling of these two popular characters continues to this day, for as we have seen Wanda has never quite recovered from that chapter of the Avengers so long ago now, and the frustrating reality is it was all so unnecessary and mean spirited to implement as Byrne never even saw the storyline out. In a move that mimiced his Incredible Hulk run he tore the character and book apart and... walked off it. Leaving an almighty mess for others to have to come in and sweep up.
THAT is the real shame of it all, he did not care to finish what he had started. And that reflects on him worst of all.
Looking back it that West Coast Avengers run was all a desperately sad waste. A solid teambook that was running nicely under Steve Englehart's guidance was ripped apart, the well regarded character development of Hawkeye jettisoned as he is casually removed from his successful management of the team and none of his supposed friends and teammates cares or objects, even when it is the repugnant USAgent who forces him out.
The strong partnership of The Scarlet Witch and The Vision ceased to exist, from todays perspective their strong partnership and love for the other belongs to a bygone era, a long forgotten past.
On the plus side though (and yes, despite the problems there are a lot of fine memorable moments) we follow Hank Pym as he is given a strong role by Byrne, building on Steve Engleharts work on the character Hank shows his strengths by being the rational calm center of the group, this is still my favourite interpretation of Hank - strong, stable, wise, and an elder statesman of the Avengers contributing his experience to the newer generation of Avenger. Mockingbird too is given good characterisation, but again it is a bittersweet plotline as along with Hawkeye she was a vital part of the books backbone and appeal, now being seemingly demoted to insignificance and written out.
The Scarlet Witch and Vision got the worst from this run, but Hawkeye too deserved far better than he got. Finally his own man, a wife who complemented him professionally and privately, management of his own Avengers branch... Yes, In hindsight his rise & fall in the 80s mirrored that of Captain Marvel/Monica Rambeau. Both were very shabbily treated...
The West Coast Avengers was my favourite title when I first started reading comics. I remember trying to figure out where I could read the East Coast Avengers stories since I couldn't find that title... then I realized that the Eakos were in the Avengers comic.
Hawkeye was easily my favourite character and I really enjoyed seeing him develop as a leader of the team - from bringing them together through to where they split after he and Mockingbird separated.
I recall being totally confused by Tigra suddenly being a part of the team again when Byrne started and was disappointed that her character development got regressed as well (ultimately being resolved in Avengers Spotlight and not even in WCA).
That being said, I did continue to read and enjoy the entire series... even after Byrne quit. I was shocked when I found out that the series was ending (solicitations just weren't a thing at that time!).