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West Coast Avengers Annual #2

September 1987
Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom

Story Name:

Death & Texas

Reviews & Comments

Rating:
3 stars

By Rob on March 7, 2017

This issue is split into chapters - all but the opening 1, which gives its name to the whole story, are short:-
1 Death & Texas. The ballgame plus the WCA meeting the Collector.
2 The Other Side. Grandmaster tells *his* version.
3-10 are the 7 fights plus Silver Surfer & Death.
11 is Grandmaster's triumph.

The 2 Avengers ballgames happened in consecutive Annuals but this comic *doesn't* say this is an annual event. There's no way that the intervening issues lasted a year. This is nothing to do with Marvel's sliding timescale, but related to the earlier observation that several years of comics are needed to fill out a physical year (so not all references to Christmas can be canonical).
Last time Av Annual #15 said they were playing baseball. This time it's claimed to be softball. As an ignorant Englishman I can't tell the difference in the comics, particularly in the depiction of the pitching.

There have been many team changes since the last Annuals many of which are referred to in the story, especially those concerning the WCA themselves:-

The WCA's #14-16 covered the end for now of the Master Pandemonium story and the merging of Tigra's conflicting human and cat sides.
#17-24 had the 8 issue Lost In Space-Time story where the team went all the way back to Ancient Egypt. But in the present day Firebird returned as Espirita and helped Henry Pym bounce back from contemplating suicide to become 'scientific adventurer' Dr Pym and join the team. As it says here Espirita doesn't want to join but Moon Knight is considering it. Meanwhile back in time the god Khonshu got Hawkeye to create the weapons that he gave to his soldier MK in the present.
On the other hand Wonder Man is thinking of leaving the team. Since he lost his fear of death and his other insecurities he's become an overbearing braggart which has caused friction. And he's got a new costume here because fans hated his previous 1.

Meanwhile Iron Man had his own issues #214-221. #214 was a coda the the previous double-Annual tale as he helped the new Spider-Woman. #215 saw the return of the Michelinie/Layton partnership for a long run. Tony restarted Stark Enterprises and hired some new supporting characters. IM gained a new foe the Ghost. And Justin Hammer returned from MicheLayton's previous run.

The (East Coast) Avengers followed their last Annual with #273-277 sometimes called Under Siege wherein Baron Zemo's large group Masters Of Evil wrecked Avengers Mansion and put Jarvis and Hercules in hospital. Thor and Dr Druid helped out.
In #278 the team started using Hydrobase Island as their base. Wasp resigned as chairman and took a holiday from the team, and She-Hulk came back from the Fantastic Four. In #279 Captain Marvel became the new chairman and Dr Druid and Thor joined.
In #280-285 the Olympians kidnapped the Avengers, including off-duty Sub-Mariner and Wasp, because of what happened to Hercules. Namor decided to return to active duty, but not until next issue.
Then they got involved in Mephisto Vs #4 (see below), and X-Men Vs Avengers #1-4 where they arrested Magneto for his crimes.

Thor had a major problem during this period because Hela's curse had weakened his body and stopped it from recovering from injuries.
After Th#373-374 featuring X-Factor Thor made his appearance in Under Siege.
In #375-378 Loki sent foes to kill him while vulnerable. Thor donned enchanted armour to protect himself and then joined the Avengers.
In #379-380 Thor fought the Midgard Serpent and died.
In Mephisto Vs #4 featuring the Avengers Mephisto and Hela fought over Thor's spirit while the Destroyer tried to destroy his body in #381. Then in #382 Thor's spirit used the Destroyer to ravage Hel. Hela lifted her curse and cured his body, so he no longer needs the armour.
Then it's XM Vs Av #1-4 and over to here.

Captain America's issues #321-331 included some important stuff. The supposedly dead Red Skull was behind some of the events. #323 & #327 introduced John Walker as Super-Patriot, who would soon be the replacement Cap. #324 was an Under Siege tie-in. #328-331 followed up some loose ends from Thing's series:- We saw Dennis Dunphy become Demolition Man (or D-Man) to hunt down Power Broker, featuring Ms Marvel (Sharon Ventura).

Black Knight's Ebony Blade was freed of its curse by Dr Strange in DrS(1974)#68-69 in between Dane Whitman being brought back from the 12th Century in Av#225-226 and (re)joining the team in #256. The curse will be reactivated when Namor uses the sword to kill his wife Marrina in #293.

Thing guested with the WCA in #3-10 while he had quit the FF and during the last issues of his own series. He was about to join the team when in #10 and Thing #36 he left to hide the fact that his body was mutating. He was found in FF#296 and his problem dealt with, but he still had the original reasons why he left the FF in the 1st place. So She-Hulk stayed on until #300 and the events of Silver Surfer #1 mentioned here. Then she went back to the Avengers and the FF were back to their original lineup.

Dr Druid is an occult investigator whose adventures were 1st catalogued in the 1961 Amazing Adventures (as Dr Droom, then reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales as Dr Druid). His previous involvement with the Avengers before Under Siege was in #225-226 helping to retrieve Black Knight.

Silver Surfer's story doesn't quite match his series. In #1 Champion told SS that he wanted to stop him interfering with a Skrull plot to enslave Galactus (so when he escaped SS *did* put the kibosh on that plan). Champion made it sound as though he was personally allied with the Skrulls. It isn't until #3 (after this pair of Annuals) that Norrin investigates whether the Elders' actions were linked and part of a larger plan.

Hawkeye and SS were briefly in the Defenders together - #8-11 for the Avengers/Defenders War.

The idea of the Elders Of The Universe has evolved gradually.
Collecter and Gardener said they are Elders (but both claimed to come from another universe).
Grandmaster said he and Col are Elders in Contest Of Champions (but also claimed Death is 1)
Champion claimed membership, and Mr Buda revealed himself as Elder Contemplator (and there we saw the other 4 pictured alongside Kamo Tharn who has not claimed to be 1)
Handbook#4 named all 6 as Elders, naming KT as Possessor (and said they are members of 1 of the 1st alien species in this universe).
HandbookII#4 added Runner and said they are each from a different species, as repeated here. (Runner actually appeared a bit later without saying he is an Elder.)
The idea of their unique obsessions also grew in the telling.

We never get confirmation or explanation of Espirita's immortality. And her powers will turn out to be of alien origin in Av Spotlight #24, not a gift from God as she believes.

Death has usually been shown as a hooded cloaked skeleton, most notably in the War Is Hell series. But since Jim Starlin gave the cloaked figure a female shape as Thanos' love in Captain Marvel #26 that depiction has been repeated as here.


 

Synopsis / Summary / Plot

The East and West Coast Avengers have met for their 2nd ballgame, this time in the Houston Astrodome. It's the bottom of the 9th and Thor is the last batter of the match, playing of course for the East Coast Team. They are 4 runs down and all the bases are loaded, so if he hits a home run it's a tie. Wonder Man is pitching (in the new uniform he's donned between WCA#24 and #25).

This time they're playing 6-a-side. It's Hawkeye, Iron Man, Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonder Man and the newly-recruited Dr Pym for the WCA against Black Knight, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Dr Druid, She-Hulk and Thor. Espirita and Moon Knight are sitting it out because they aren't officially Whackos (and Moon Knight doesn't have his full powers in the day). Wasp is watching not playing because she's not currently an active Avenger. But she doesn't appear to be acting as umpire like her ex-husband Henry Pym did last time.

Thor strikes out twice. For the 3rd ball Simon Williams throws the ball so hard it catches fire. But Thor's hammer hits it through the glass roof. However when the flaming ball appears to be returning it is instead the Silver Surfer, who suffuses the dome with energy.

When the energy dissipates the WCA recover. Iron Man asks Surfer what he's doing here - according to the Fantastic Four he'd left Earth for good. SS quickly recounts his recent history. In the 1st issue of his new series the Elder Of The Universe known as Champion came to Earth to kill him because the Elders didn't want him interfering in their plans out in space. This made him think that there must be a way past the barrier Galactus erected to keep him on Earth. So he and the FF found a way through it.

In #2 he took time out to visit his love Shalla Bal. Then he says he sought the Elders to find out why they wanted him dead but heard that 1 of them planned to kill the Avengers. He rushed back to Earth just in time to catch up with the Elder's energy bolt.

But they look round and see that he was too late - the Eakos (as Hawkeye has christened them) are all dead - even Thor.

Wonder Man wonders if SS is a fake, and he killed the Avengers with his own energy blast. Norrin Radd tells Hawkeye a detail of their shared time with the Defenders which convinces Clint Barton that he's the real deal.

Surfer tells them more about the Elders Of The Universe. They are each the long-lived survivor of a different otherwise extinct alien race. Each has dedicated his life to an obsession. We know of the Collector, the Gardener, the Possessor and the Grandmaster.

Moon Knight remembers how all the heroes got involved with that last 1 in the Contest Of Champions 3-issue series. Didn't he die to bring the Collector back to life? Norrin agrees, but he is still the 1 behind this plot. His death was his ultimate gamble - that he could win his own life back. And if Elders can come back from death then the Avengers can make it too.

Hawkeye readies his team for action, and Espirita and Moon Knight elect to accompany them. Their best plan is to find the Collector, and Surfer knows where his spaceship is. SS gets on his surfboard and drags their quinjet behind him (presumably at speeds faster than they could achieve, unless the Collector just happens to be parked nearby).

They enter the spacecraft without incident and confront the Collector. The Elder knows what has happened, and his gratitude for the Avengers' part in COC outweighs his feelings for his fellow - he'll help them. He explains that the Elders share a partial telepathic link, so he knows Grandmaster's plan.

In COC#3 GM swore never to use the heroes as pawns in his games again, but he has convinced himself that his death has nullified that vow. He offered the Avengers to Death in exchange for his own life. But he didn't know about the division in their ranks, and so his wager didn't include the WCA.

Collector says that the only way to save their friends is to go into Death's realm and take them from Grandmaster. But not even Silver Surfer can find a way there - the only way there is to die. WM protests that as an ionic being he can't die, but Taneleer Tivan insists that everyone will die sometime, even the Elders.

He offers them the strongest poison in the universe. Despite not trusting him completely, each for their own reasons decides to take the chance - and the poison. But when they are all lying dead Espirita is still standing - despite the fact that she drank too. The Collector realises that she must be a being who is uniquely exempt from the rule he proposed in the previous paragraph. He 'offers' her a place in his collection.

Meanwhile the 7 East Coast Avengers have appeared in Death's realm next to Grandmaster, who gives them his version of the plot. (It will turn out to probably not be a coincidence that his opening sentence is phrased identically to the Collector's.) He claims that Collector's period of death made him desperate to avoid it again. So he's promised the WCA to Death in exchange for true immortality. GM learned of this and brought the Eakos here to grab the Whackos before Death can get them. Because he has found a way the return them all, GM included, back to life.

At this point the WCA arrive. Tigra notices that Espirita isn't with them, and because she doesn't like Bonita she suggests that she chickened out. As they menace GM Thor convinces the others that Collector must have poisoned their minds. So the Easties spring to the Elder's defence, which convinces the Westies that Grandmaster must be controlling them. Both sides are convinced that they have to defeat the others for their own sake.

But Silver Surfer flies off with a plan of his own.

That leaves 7 on each side, and what follows is a set of 1-on-1 battles.

Iron Man tackles Captain Marvel. While they fight they restate the Elders' claims and try to persuade each other that they're on the wrong side. IM disrupts CM's control of her energy, but she splits into multiple images and then attacks him with magnetism. He counters that with a forcefield so she just pours energy at him. But he absorbs as much of that as his suit can stand and then fires it all back in an intense laser burst which renders her unconscious. But Tony Stark is left wondering whether Grandmaster really is the villain here.

Mockingbird chooses to fight Captain America rather than She-Hulk, leaving husband Hawkeye to deal with her. She figures she stands a good chance against another costumed athlete, and she keeps up chatter to distract him. She joins her battlestaves into their telescoping pole mode, and Cap has to use his shield to avoid her long-range strikes. Steve Rogers 'runs away' and leads Bobbi Barton into a tangle of huge thorny branches. She follows leaping from branch to branch but her pole isn't so useful here. Suddenly Cap turns and throws his shield to break the pole apart. Then he dives to the attack and relieves her of 1 of the staves. But he turns and runs again, deeper into the tangle. As Mocky follows her long loose sleeves get snagged on thorns, and Cap is able to take her other stave and accept her surrender.

Meanwhile Surfer has found Death and implores her, as 1 of the highest beings in the universe, to ignore Grandmaster's wager and let the Avengers go.

Henry Pym faces his ex-wife Janet Van Dyne. Wasp expects to win because Hank can't shrink any more and her stingers have been improved. But Dr Pym pulls out 1 of his shrunken artefacts - a plexi-glass shield to repel her stings. And then 3 flying guns to attack her. She dodges them and then flies behind Hank's head so that their blasts all hit him in the face. But Jan is worried when he falls to the ground. She quickly destroys the guns and flies down to check he's still alive. But he was playing possum - his weapons won't work on him. He captures her in a bubble of sleep gas.

Thor and Wonder Man trade mighty blows even as the Thunder God tries to persuade Simon to let Grandmaster save them all. But Williams is intent on proving himself unbeatable, until Thor summons the power of a storm into Mjolnir and throws it at WM knocking him out.

Tigra doesn't know what she's facing in Dr Druid. His telepathy enables him to dodge her attacks, and he sends 2 monsters against her. Until she realises they are illusions because they have no scent. And he can't take over her mind because it's half-cat. He runs into an area with towers of stones and topples 1 on her - but that's an illusion too. He topples another 1 which she ignores, until a real rock lands on her tail. The distraction allows him to dominate her mind.

It's Black Knight vs Moon Knight. Dane Whitman explains how Dr Strange has purged his magic Ebony Blade of its bloodthirst. But if he kills with it the curse will return. However he's willing to risk that for his comrades. MK throws various weapons (which he recently learned were designed by Hawkeye in the distant past) at BK but the sword deals with them all until bolas tangle his legs. However he tricks MK into cutting the bolas with his axe and then leaps to the attack. But Marc Spector throws himself on the sword. Shocked Whitman is easily KO'd with an ankh. And MK reveals that he held his body to 1 side within his cloak and has the sword trapped under his armpit.

We finally get to Hawkeye vs She-Hulk. And the results are tied so this is the decider. A blast arrow doesn't stop Shulk so Clint tries to talk her into switching sides - when Thing left the WCA and returned to the Fantastic Four, his stand-in Jennifer Walters should have transferred to the Whackos rather than back to her old bunch the Eakos. But she just responds by breaking his bow and crushing his quiver of arrows. Running away he tricks her into falling into a lake. Then the archer quickly fashions a bow and arrows from sturdy reeds (and a spare bowstring). But he has no time to attach his trick arrowheads so he throws an explosive head into the water where the concussion knocks Jen back down again. This gives him time to complete a gas arrow. And as She-Hulk surfaces to gulp in air she gets a lungful of sleeping gas.

The West Coasters have won and the awake Easterners honourably surrender, hoping that the right side has won. The WCA hope that they've rescued the others from the fate Grandmaster planned. But GM makes no move. Instead he waits as Death materialises before them, but apparently bound. All the Avengers are now awake. And now GM gloats. His plan all along was to get Death's attention - and now he has won the universe.

To be continued in AVENGERS ANNUAL #16.
Elektra

Story #2

Death & Texas!

Synopsis / Summary / Plot

In the Houston Astrodome, the West Coast Avengers and their eastern counterparts are competing in a friendly game of softball, with non-members Moon Knight and Espirita in the stands. The match is interrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer with an urgent warning: one of the Elders of the Universe is plotting to kill the Avengers. The warning is too late, however: the West Coast Avengers look in the bullpen and discover their eastern teammates are already dead! The Surfer reveals that the enemy Elder is the Grandmaster, attempting to return from the realm of the dead where he was sent after the Contest of Champions when he chose to die to restore the Collector to life. The Collector, then, is their one lead, and they head to that Elder’s ship in deep space. The Collector welcomes them and explains how the Grandmaster offered the Avengers to Death in exchange for his own life and that to combat him the West Coast heroes must enter Death’s Realm. Unfortunately, to do that they must die. After some discussion, they agree to drink the Collector’s poison and die to rescue their friends. They do so but it turns out Espirita is immune to the poison, puzzling the Collector.

Meanwhile, the East Coast Avengers are met in the Land of Death by the Grandmaster who explains that the Collector has made a deal with Death, offering the lives of the West Coast Avengers for his own immortality, and that he (Grandmaster) has brought the heroes here to rescue their friends. When the West Coasters arrive, each team believes they are fighting to save their deluded compatriots. While Silver Surfer tracks down Death, Iron Man faces Captain Marvel; at first he is no match for her energy powers but eventually manages to absorb her light and throw it back in a single laserlike burst. Mockingbird pursues Captain America into a gigantic thorn tree, hoping to overcome him with her agility but Cap turns the tables on her and her long sleeves become trapped in the thorns. Hank Pym mixes it up with his ex-wife the Wasp and by pretending to be injured he tricks her into coming close enough to be grabbed. Thor and Wonder Man engage in an earthshaking slugfest that ends when the God of Thunder brings his opponent down with all the powers of nature. Tigra is cautious around Dr Druid but gains more confidence when the lack of smell tells her his monsters are illusions; however a real falling stone distracts her sufficiently for Druid to hypnotize her. Moon Knight’s array of weaponry can not overcome Black Knight’s enchanted sword until he pretends to impale himself upon it and snatch it away before bonking him with an ankh. She-Hulk wrecks Hawkeye’s bow and arrows giving her the advantage until he uses as knockout gas arrowhead to subdue her when she is taking a deep breath. As the heroes assemble before the Grandmaster he causes the bound figure of Death to appear before them; thanks to the Avengers’ distraction, he has been able to triumph over Death and win the universe!
Story continues in AVENGERS ANNUAL 16.




Steve Englehart
Al Milgrom
Al Milgrom
Gregory Wright
Al Milgrom (Cover Penciler)
Al Milgrom (Cover Inker)
Al Milgrom (Cover Penciler)