At some point between December of 1975 and Hank’s next Avengers appearance in Avengers #150 (cover dated August 1976 – shipped in June), I acquired old beat-up (you know, “reader's”) copies of Avengers #’s 30, 42, and 56. It was nice to fill in some history, and to see how valuable Hank was to the team in that era – the post-Kooky Quartet (becoming a Kooky Sextet??) period. He provided muscle, brains at times (always had ‘em, for sure), and spirit. It did seem to me, however, that he could be a bit more agitated in this span, particularly in #42 when he squared off against the team to try to save Jan from Diablo – I just found that he was written a bit over-the-top. While I understood Hank’s desperation, which Roy portrayed loudly-and-clearly, his loyalty to Hawkeye and the Maximoff twins seemed hazy at best. But, while protecting Jan continued a theme that has seemingly always run through their appearances, it gave me a sense of security that no matter the costume or height restrictions or team line-up, Hank was a rock among them. Incidentally, the covers to the stories of this era really illustrate Hank’s influence in that era, particularly #’s 30 and 42, where he is the featured character; he’s on #56, but Cap is the focus on a great “floating heads” cover.
Maybe it was newsman Sam Reuther who foreshadowed the Jim Shooter era when, in a Marvel Universe report on station CBS in New York, he gave the following report while anchoring coverage of the awaited Avengers line-up change:
Shortly after the report, Hank was shown standing in response to Jan’s cry that -heck, yes, she wants to be an Avenger!- and said, “No, Iron Man, I do not want to be an Avenger. I – I just would rather not be a superhero at all, Jan. I’m a scientist… a little eccentric, maybe… but a laboratory man, just the same. Maybe I could be a Defender, where they give you more free time. I can’t get involved here. I’m sorry (page 14).” After the dust settled from that shocker, Iron Man told Jan she should feel free to go after Hank. Jan remarked, “No, thank you, Iron Man. He’s his own man, I’m my own woman.” She thought right after, “That rat! I won’t give him the satisfaction (page 16)!” Whoa! To this gasping 10-year old, all was suddenly not right in Pym-ville! I’d seen some troubles between Reed and Sue Richards over in Fantastic Four #’s 146-149, but I guess the fact that the FF was a family first and a team second always let the reader know that sooner or later their universe would return to order. Here, I wasn’t too certain! After another Sam Reuther interlude, Iron Man began to offer the final roster spot to Hellcat, nee Patsy Walker. Jan was visibly shaken that the line-up would close without Hank; at the moment Patsy deferred in the interest of obtaining more training, saying, “…I guess I won’t join now (page 25).”, a voice from the background called out, “—but I will.” It was Hank, who re-entered the meeting, saying, “I’m not ready to give up my laboratory work – but I just can’t get Avenging out of my blood (page 26).” Jan exclaimed, “Oh, Hank – you don’t know how – happy I am – !” He responded, “Did you really think I’d leave – you, honey (ibid)?” Maybe I’m reading into it now – I know I didn’t catch it 35 years ago – but the way the writers (Englehart, Shooter, and Gerry Conway are all credited) put the emphasis points in those two word balloons seems strange. Exactly what emotion was Jan feeling? “—you don’t know how – " How what? Of course she said “happy”, but was there something else? Upset that we were even in this situation? That you’re wishy-washy? That you love test tubes more than me? Where might Jan have gone with that statement if not in the company of several other people? And as for Hank – with the pause before the words “you, honey” was he in fact betraying the rest of the team? Could he be counted on to save the others from peril, or just Jan? It’s fodder for much meditation, given the way events in Hank’s life would play out over the next 75 issues (give or take), and certainly even in the next year.
As the Wonder Man adventure began in #152 (penned by Conway), there was a poignant scene aboard a quinjet as the team rocketed to New Orleans. The following exchange took place among the team (Cap, Beast, Wanda, Vision, and Iron Man):
Jan: “Hank, I want you to know – I’m sorry if I forced you to rejoin the Avengers. I just thought it might be good for you. You’ve been so grim lately.”
Hank: “Have I? Then maybe I’m the one who should apologize, Jan. Here, how’s this for a smile?”
Jan: “Better. You look almost human.”
Hank: “I guess what it boils down to is this, Jan – I’m not a swashbuckler anymore. I’m a grown man – and I feel kind of silly chasing around playing hero.”
Jan: “Nonsense. You’ve always been insecure – first about my inheritance, now about yourself.” –kisses Hank on the cheek- “Take that, man-o’-mine, and please, shut up (Avengers #152, page 11).”