by Spencer Irwin and Michael DeLaney
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: Kate Bishop’s California adventures — under the pens of both Matt Fraction and Kelly Thompson — have all more-or-less revolved around the idea of appearance, on Hollywood’s obsession with beauty, fame, and youth. On first glance, M.O.D.O.K.’s transformation into the chiseled B.R.O.D.O.K. in West Coast Avengers 2 seems fueled by the same kinds of obsessions, but there’s actually an even greater danger lurking deep within: B.R.O.D.O.K.’s preoccupation with appearance is driven entirely by dangerous entitlement and toxic masculinity.
B.R.O.D.O.K. manages to drive off the giant Tigra, although only after standing around posing and flexing for a few minutes. The West Coast Avengers easily and immediately come to a consensus that: 1. he’s clearly M.O.D.O.K. in disguise, 2. he’s likely behind Tigra in the first place, and 3. they need to keep an eye on him until they figure out how to handle him. This leads to hijinks, but also to B.R.O.D.O.K.’s “backstory,” which is likely the key sequence of the entire issue.
There’s quite a few layers to this scene. Artist Stefano Caselli and colorist Triona Farell frame this as though we’re seeing it from B.R.O.D.O.K.’s point of view, tinted by the haze of nostalgia, but even then, viewers are able to see the truth where B.R.O.D.O.K. can’t. In that fifth “panel,” for example, his “date’s” discomfort is more than obvious to readers, but goes right over B.R.O.D.O.K.’s head. B.R.O.D.O.K. isn’t lying to the West Coast Avengers when he tells them this story; he’s lying to himself, completely delusional. His memories are so twisted that Thompson feels it necessary to add in an omniscient narrator — seen nowhere else in the issue — just to clarify to readers what’s real and what isn’t, because B.R.O.D.O.K.’s reality isn’t even close to actually being real.
A detail that immediately jumps out to me here — and a few more times throughout the issue — is that B.R.O.D.O.K. seems completely incapable of admitting his own mistakes. When a relationship doesn’t work out, he’s quick to blame it on the woman, or just claim that it didn’t work “for some reason” without giving it any further thought or introspection. That speaks to a much more common kind of delusion. Though Thompson doesn’t explicitly spell it out, the story here seems to be that M.O.D.O.K. transformed himself from a monster into a typically handsome, ripped form because he thought this type of appearance would automatically win him women, and he seems utterly flabbergasted when it doesn’t work because society has drilled into his head that the hot guy always “gets” the girl.
I’m sure M.O.D.O.K.’s appearance was a turn-off to many, but the bigger problem was the fact that he was a murderous supervillain, and Kate herself points out that M.O.D.O.K. had toxic views about women long before he went Cali.
Again, M.O.D.O.K. can’t see that what ultimately drives women away from him is his own entitled attitude, the way he treats them like objects to be won, or owned, or experimented on. Instead, he lashes out and blames others — in this case, Kate herself.
It seems important to remember that the first thing B.R.O.D.O.K. did when first appearing in WCA 1 was kiss Kate (without consent, I’ll add), but then from that moment until this one he and Kate have minimal interaction; somehow B.R.O.D.O.K. has twisted that into an epic love story that exists only in his head. It again speaks to B.R.O.D.O.K.’s habit of treating women like objects, completely ignoring their feelings and what they actually say and do in order to instead fulfill the narrative playing out in his head. That’s also why, when he feels slighted by Kate, he doesn’t reach out to her to try to hear her side of the story, or even just tell her he feels hurt. He isn’t interested in her perspective as a human being, he’s only interested in her as a prize to be won, and if he can’t have her, nobody can.
This scenario should feel familiar. Although we in real life aren’t often faced with armies of giant tiger women threatening to flatten entire cities, we are all-too-often faced with angry, entitled men lashing out with violence when they feel spurned by a woman. The examples are too numerous to recount, and especially prevalent among comics and “nerd” communities, such as the so-called “Comicsgate,” which lashes out with threats and hate-speech when they feel like women have “taken” comic related jobs “owed” them. They’re extreme reactions based on nothing but the false, destructive, toxic idea that men are entitled to women (or women’s time, or the things or positions they have). There’s nothing quite like M.O.D.O.K. or B.R.O.D.O.K. in real life, but sadly, the evil that drives him is all too real.
Fortunately, the men in the West Coast Avengers provide a nice counterpoint to B.R.O.D.O.K.’s toxic masculinity. Clint is nothing but supportive of Kate, genuinely complimenting and supporting her throughout the issue. Fuse is respectful and cooperative. And even Quentin Quire is capable of putting aside his ego for a moment to view things from Gwenpool’s perspective; by doing so, he opens the door to a real (and consensual!) romantic relationship with her. As terrifying as the prospect of a Quentin/Gwenpool pairing might be, they’re still an example of what men like B.R.O.D.O.K. could have if they could approach women with even the tiniest hint of respect and introspection.
Michael, obviously this issue left me with a lot to chew on. What did you get out of it?
Michael: Spencer you are not wrong — there is a lot to take from this issue. I’m glad you touched on B.R.O.D.O.K. and his toxic masculinity. What struck me most about West Coast Avengers 2 is more editorial in nature. Spencer already posted what he described as the issue’s “key sequence” — B.R.O.D.O.K.’s early days in L.A. — and I completely agree. His recollection of events is undercut by the “post-it captions” that give the reader context for B.R.O.D.O.K.’s delusions.
B.R.O.D.O.K. is an unreliable narrator — a fact that Kelly Thompson makes immediately clear when he arrives on the scene. A more dramatic story might give us B.R.O.D.O.K.’s recollection with subtle clues that he was being dishonest, in the artwork and in his dialogue. Given the goofy nature of West Coast Avengers 2 however, Thompson and letterer Joe Carmagna give us the scoop with a couple of quips thrown in for good measure.
This omniscient narrator technique is both humorous and revealing, and is something almost completely unique to Marvel Comics. True, DC has adopted it in some of their wackier titles, but it very much feels like a logical progression from Stan Lee’s editorial notes from the comics of yore. There’s an almost Deadpoolian quality to these bits of comedic exposition. They don’t break the fourth wall as Deadpool — or in this case, Gwenpool — might, but they definitely brush up against it. The character introductions of each issue of West Coast Avengers are definitely one of my favorite parts.
I love putting creative spins on traditionally perfunctory conventions. I think of a comic like Batman: Hush, where Jeph Loeb used captions to re-introduce readers to the various players of book in the same way every issue. Compare that to Thompson’s ever-changing character descriptions to the cast of characters of West Coast Avengers. Again, West Coast Avengers lends itself more to comedy than Batman: Hush, but it’s still impressive. It keeps the readers engaged in something that otherwise would feel routine and mandatory. If you have the choice to make average or interesting, wouldn’t you always choose to make it interesting?
West Coast Avengers 2 uses a couple different storytelling devices in order to elaborate/present an alternate view on what a character says or does. Quentin Quire’s documentary film crew is just another example of this: commentary provides context.
While I could argue against the nature of “talking heads/documentary-style storytelling,” here it is yet another angle to examine the heroes from. This particular Hawkeye talking head provides a transition from the moment he is tasked with taking the first watch guarding the files to the moment where B.R.O.D.O.K. discovers them. The talking heads also show us character’s insecurities, like when Fuse looks up M.O.D.O.K. on his phone to check out “the competition.”
The plot of West Coast Avengers 2 doesn’t really interest me — which sounds like a criticism, but I promise you it’s not. Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli craft a comic that keeps your interest and attention with well-executed comedy. I wasn’t super interested in any of these characters but all of the yucks will have me coming back for more.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?