AVENGERS: WEST COAST AVENGERS- LOST IN SPACE-TIME (Marvel, 2012; Hardcover)
Collects West Coast Avengers (Vol. 2) Nos. 17-24, Fantastic Four No. 19, and Doctor Strange No. 53 (cover dates October, 1963; June, 1982; February- September, 1987)
Writers: Steve Englehart, Stan Lee (Fantastic Four No. 19), and Roger Stern (Doctor Strange No. 53).
Artists: Pencilers- Al Milgrom, Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four No. 19), and Marshall Rogers (Doctor Strange No. 53); Inkers- Joe Sinnott (Nos. 17-21), Dick Ayers (Fantastic Four No. 19), Terry Austin (Dr. Strange No. 53), and others (Nos. 22-24).
Steve Englehart was on a roll with this title. What were once merely entertaining, serviceable superhero stories have blossomed into a full bore centuries spanning epic lasting 8 issues. There is no way that this could be done today, as endless company wide crossovers would interrupt the flow of this title. Most titles lose steam along the way, but Englehart was like a locomotive here. Slow to start, but once things got cooking he was impossible to stop.
I always smile when people refer to Brian Michael Bendis as the greatest Avengers writer of all time. Roger Stern, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart...these are the cats who wrote the classics. Englehart's character development is worlds beyond anything that Bendis did, and he did it with greater efficiency. Hank Pym's growing despondency and thoughts of suicide, the growing arrogance of Wonder Man's new-found confidence, the increasing friction between he and Iron Man, Hawkeye's progression from unlikable upstart to guiding light for the team when the chips are down...these are all real, organic character developments, done within the confines of the story, and done without the sacrifice of action or fun. No snarky dialogue, no condescending attitude toward superheroes...in short, just great comic book writing.
The gist- The West Coast Avengers head to Albuquerque to find Firebird and offer her membership on the team. Once there, they run into a dead end...and four supervillains named Sunstroke (who looks exactly like Stingray with different colors), Gila, Butte, and Cactus. Yes, Cactus. As in a walking, talking humanoid Cactus. The villains flee but Iron Man manages to track them down to their cave hideout, where they find their leader, Dominus. Dominus is from the same alien race as Lucifer (Silver Age villain), and he traps the team in Doctor Doom's malfunctioning time machine. It sends them backwards in time but cannot return to the present. All of this occurs in one issue. Bendis would have milked that for an entire trade paperback and then launched it into a company wide crossover spanning 50 issues.
Englehart certainly knows his Marvel continuity. In the Lost In Space-Time mega-arc he refers to his classic '70s run and includes characters steeped in Marvel lore like the Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, the Ghost/Night/Phantom Rider, and Rama-Tut. The team ends up jumping backward in time a few times trying to repair their broken time machine. They go all the way back to ancient Egypt to enlist the help of Rama-Tut, who traveled thousands of years back in time himself. This is another nod to Englehart's '70s run, as Rama-Tut/Kang/Immortus all figured into the classic Celestial Madonna arc.
The ranks of the team swell with the addition of La Espirita (formerly Firebird), Doctor Pym, and Moon Knight. Doctor Pym is a horrible character name and idea, and he dresses like the Phantom Stranger. God awful. Englehart created the shrinking things other than himself aspect to Pym's power, something which is utilized to this day. There is an interesting development with Moon Knight's weapons, with Englehart inserting a continuity porn aspect to them which diehards will love.