West Coast Avengers v2, Issues 3 to 10.
Writer: Steve Englehart (3-10)
Artist: Al Milgrom (3-10)
Inker: Joe Sinnott (3-5, 7-10); Kyle Baker (6)
Letterer: Janice Chiang (3-5, 7); Tom Orzechowski (6, 8-10)
Colorist: Petra Scotese (3, 5); Ken Feduniewicz (4, 6-10)
Editor: Mark Gruenwald (3-10)
Hawkeye; Mockingbird; Iron Man; Wonder Man; Tigra; Firebird; Hank Pym
Let me point out that this is a Thing website, not a West Coast Avengers website. A lot more happened in these books than I'm going to cover, but we're focusing on the stuff relevant to Ben here.
The relatively newly formed West Coast Avengers are relaxing around their pool as this issue closes. They're discussing their need for a sixth member, when an unexpected guest comes knocking at their front door... Ben Grimm, a.k.a. the Thing. (Ben only appears on the very final page in this issue.)
The issue opens with Ben and Hawkeye face to face, Ben angry, Hawk not.
Ben: "No way, ya purple-pussed polecat! I just quit one group, an' I ain't about ta join another!"
Hawkeye: "Hey, no rush, Thing! You can let me know your final answer tomorrow!"
That kind of sets up the vibe for the next several issues- Hawkeye wanting Ben to join the West Coast Avengers, Ben emphatically refusing.
In any case, Ben storms out, but as he does, a flaming figure falls from the sky, and it turns out to be Firebird. The Avengers give her medical treatment, and Ben soon departs.
Shortly, Ben is at a local arena, practicing his wrestling, when he's attacked by the same being who'd attacked Firebird: Master Pandemonium. The rest of the Avengers rush right over...
Not much Ben in this issue- he's at the compound at the start as the Avengers are dealing with some internal difficulties, loudly turns Hawkeye down again, and departs with Firebird in tow, dropping her off in L.A. proper.
Hawkeye gives Ben a phone call, and Ben preemptively turns down any requests to join the WCA. Hawkeye tells him that's not an issue right now, they just need some muscle to help out on a project, with Iron Man and Wonder Man both away. Ben agrees, and he and the group go to the abandoned Daemond Manor, where they can summon Balkatar of the Cat People, who they hope can help Tigra with some personality problems. The spell works, and Balkatar transfers the whole group to the Land Within, where the Cat People reside, but unfortunately the Cat People are not happy to see the intruders....
Very little Thing in this issue- pretty much one two page conversation at a celebration in the Land Within, where he turns Hawkeye down yet again, and tells them he returned Ultron's head from the Secret Wars, which informs the rest of the issue, which does indeed involve Ultron, but not Ben...
The group returns from the Land Within, and Ben accompanies them back to their compound. Though he still turns Hawkeye down, Ben is definately fitting in well, and seems to be softening on his stance.
A few hours later, Ben's relaxing by the pool with Tigra when Firebird's old group, the Texas Rangers, comes calling. Firebird is going to leave with them, until she realizes that one of the Rangers is possessed. A fight quickly breaks out between the two groups...
Mockingbird has infiltrated Master Pandemonium's headquarters, disguised as one of his underlings. Ben and the Avengers are in pursuit, and go to her aid when she signals. The Thing finally seems to be coming around on the idea of staying with the Avengers as the team is separated by Pandemonium into a variety of traps.
Finally, at the end of this issue, Ben makes the big decision...
We start with a one page issue of Ben and the Avengers, celebrating his joining and scheduling a press conference to announce it. We cut to the day of the press conference, but Ben is a no show. She-Hulk and Sharon Ventura call, and tell the Avengers that Ben threw a tantrum of some sort and ran away (this issue follows The Thing 36, the last issue of Ben's solo book, and the events of that issue are what the two are referring to). The Avengers vow to find him. The issue consists of several near misses as a trench-coated Ben dodges the Avengers, until finally Ben overhears as Tigra gets a call about Ben's being sighted miles away on the coast. Realizing it must be a trap of some sort for the WCA, Ben makes his own way there, and saves the day after the Avengers are all but beaten. While hidden in the shadows, an almost tearful Ben tells the WCA he can't stay, and has to go.
Issue 6, page 6, panel 1. As the Avengers summon Balkatar of the Cat People, who comes out swinging...
"That's a really dumb spell, Cockeye! You should hear the one Doc Doom trotted out once!
Balkatar appears, and Ben continues: "Uh, maybe it ain't _that_ bad! I'll let you know later, 'cause right now-- it's Clobberin' Time!"
Issue 9, page 17, panel 1. Ben, Iron Man, and Wonder Man are pretty much making a wreck of Master Pandemonium's demons. Ben says "Iron Man, Wonder Man, an' me! This is great stuff!"
Wonder Man: "Does it mean we're welcoming you to the ranks as well, big guy?"
Ben: "I ain't talkin'- at least, 'till we get done with Clobberin' Time!"
Issue 4, page 3, panel 5. Thinking its the Human Torch falling from the sky (its actually Firebird), Ben heads to catch them. "Backstabbin' little punk! I oughta let him crash, after the way he stole Alicia from me... but that ain't the way my Aunt Petunia brung me up!"
Things of Interest:
Though Ben was in eight issues, he only appeared on four covers (issues 4,6,8,9). So, I combined those four as the "cover image" for this page...
These issues were published at about the same time as the concluding issues of Ben's solo series "The Thing." In Marvel time, WCA 3-9, plus the first page of issue 10, all take place between The Thing 32 and 33. The events of WCA 10 (after the first page) immediately follow the events of The Thing 36, the last issue of Ben's series. Ben's next appearance is in Fantastic Four 296, which returns Ben to that book and solves (well, in theory- it actually more sort of ignores it) the mystery of his behavior in Thing 36 and WCA 10.
West Coast Avengers four marks the first appearance of Master Pandemonium, and is also Firebird's first appearance in the Avengers. Issue four is where Ben also renamed the West Coast Avengers from the groups initials (W.C.A.)... the Wackos.
I like Ben's line in issue eight, as he battles the Texas Twister. Twister says "Nobody can stand up to mah tornados!", and the Thing replies "Phooey! Ya call this windy? You should hear Hawkeye's membership pitches!"
Okay, so anybody get the feeling I liked this run? The Steve Englehart West Coast Avengers are classics in my books- old school comic books, where the stories are driven by the characters and most of all, its fun! Little or no angst and death here- all the characters are likeable and can be identified with. If I could go back and change one thing in comic bookdom, it might have been to keep Ben as a member of the West Coast Avengers. Unfortunately, after this issue he returns to the Fantastic Four, and Ben returns to being a mopey, self-hating, miserable curmudgeon. In a way, much more than the end of MTIO 100, this issue really marked for me the end of an era for Ben, a demarcation line, where after this issue he lost all he'd become and was returned to a much lesser version of what he once was.
These are not amazing Thing stories. Reading the summaries above, they're all a little off the beaten track, and in several, Ben is barely there at all. But I'll try to say this again: the characterization and the character interplay here is as enjoyable to me as the Thing has ever been. I'd contend that Ben actually fits in better here than he usually does in the Fantastic Four.
Most of these issues have now been collected, though unfortunately split between two titles. The Avengers: Family Ties book reprints issues 1-9, while issue 10 is in Avengers: Sins of the Past.
In 2010, with New Avengers vol. 2 issue 1, the Thing returned to the Avengers (see promo image at right). I'd hoped that this would last longer than and be as much fun as Ben's West Coast Avengers stay was, and though it did last longer, Ben did nothing memorable during his Avengers time. At the end of 2015, the same writer took Ben off to join the Guardians of the Galaxy; here's hoping he's better used there than he was in that 2010 New Avengers run. Later spoiler: he isn't. :(