Monday, January 9, 2012

Isn't It Great When Hank's Heroic? Marvel Team-Up #59

Marvel Team-Up #59 (July 1977)
"Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire... Some Say by Ice!"
Chris Claremont-John Byrne/Dave Hunt

Doug: Welcome one and all to the first of a four-part look at the Claremont/Byrne Marvel Team-Ups. Karen suggested this to me about a month ago, and as fate would have it Marvel Comics released a trade paperback of these very issues just in time for Christmas! If you'll recall, we've already reviewed a 2-parter from this run, showcasing Havok and Thor against the Living Monolith. This time around we're checking in on Yellowjacket and the Wasp, and then Iron Fist and the Daughters of the Dragon. So, without further ado...

Doug: I feel it only responsible to bring up a major continuity issue right from the get-go. If you notice the cover date above, July 1977, then perhaps like me you may have wondered just where this story dovetails with the Avengers. Let's face it -- if you're reading a story about Dr. Henry Pym in the late 1970's-early 1980's, you have to worry about his mental state. Well, lo and behold if this 2-parter didn't hit the spinner racks at exactly the same time as Avengers #'s 161 and 162. Hmmph. What do you make of that?

Karen: Apparently listening to Spidey's wisecracks are what drove Hank over the deep end.

Doug: We begin with Spider-Man about to swing across the East River, after a Sunday dinner at his Aunt May's house. Suddenly a fire blast engulfs our hero, forcing him to let go of his webline (he says he had to let go before he burned? Did you wonder why?). But as he prepares to release another line, he's ripped across the chops by a baseball bat-sized bolt of ice. Unconscious, Webhead plummets toward the river. A short distance away, however, our co-stars are about to get it on (yeah, baby) when both Avengers spy Spider-Man's plight. To me, there are two keys in this scene: The first is Jan's statement that she's basically not seen Hank for a week as he's been holed up in his lab -- could this be the time when Ultron got to him and corrupted him? Additionally, Hank himself comments that he's increased his powers tenfold. Could the incorporation of his molecular disruptor gun into his wings have had anything to do with the mental instability we'd see in the "Bride of Ultron" storyline?

Karen: First of all, I have to say that I've always thought Byrne drew a great Spidey. He seemed to 'get' the character, at least from a physical sense. His web-slinger was always acrobatic yet powerful. Regarding Jan and Hank, I think Jan and Sue Richards should get together and commiserate. What is it with these eggheads, always neglecting their wives. I do think you could spin some sort of excuse for Hank's impending breakdown out of his work, but I doubt that there was any collaboration between Claremont and Shooter over this. It does work though.

Doug: Hank, now apparently faster than a speeding bullet, plucks Spidey from the water. You'll notice right away that a major improvement in Hank's powers is that he doesn't have to shrink to fly. I thought this looked weird -- I had the same feeling years later when Jan's powers were augmented such that she only had to shrink to around four feet to sprout her wings and fly. Hank brings Spider-Man back to the Pyms' apartment, stating that it's as well-equipped as any hospital. Funny, though, that all they do is seat him in front of the fireplace with a blanket over his legs! I've thought for a long time that medical expenses are ridiculously high... Spidey comes to, and the Avengers question him about his misfortunes. Spider-Man recounts how the Torch (shown in all his red-suited glory in a flashback) and Iceman once battled a super-baddie named Equinox, a thermo-dynamic man. Equinox possessed the ability to shoot flames from his icy hands, or ice from his flaming body.

Karen: I never really understood how those fins on Hank's shoulders (never looked like wings to me) allowed him to fly, so I really didn't question him flying at full-size. I thought it was funny that he didn't want Jan to help him, since she wasn't wearing an outift made of unstable molecules, and therefore would have to fly in her birthday suit. There's a panel in there when Spidey is unconscious and he pictures Gwen falling -that was a nice touch. I love how Spidey is able to quickly figure out who his attacker is, all based on some idle chit chat with the Torch! That was a wee bit too convenient, but it got the story rolling.

Doug: You know, in The Ultimates, doesn't Jan battle the Hulk in the nude? Or maybe she just flashed him...?

Doug: Let's take a brief break from the plot to discuss some of the story elements. Tops, John Byrne's art is pretty good. I wouldn't say it's great, certainly not his best (can we blame that on the absence of Terry Austin on the inks?), but it's very nice. I would take issue, though, with Claremont's script - or at least elements of the dialogue. The use of the terms "Waspie" and "Noxie" was grating on my nerves. I really felt that Claremont struggled to find the voices of these characters. I'd have to go back to the aforementioned Havok and Thor issues to see if he improved -- those were published about a year after today's story.

Karen: As you know Doug, I have always thought that Byrne looked his best when inked by Austin. Austin's a talented artist in his own right and he seemed to bring out the best in Byrne's pencils. I would say that Hunt is acceptable -better than many, although not the best. Middle of the pack. I would agree with you that Claremont struggled at times to find the voice of his characters. He was pretty good with Spidey though. There were times that I recall, later in his X-Men run, when it seemed like everyone sounded the same. But he knows how to spin a good tale.

Doug: At the same time Spidey guesses who is nemesis is, guess who comes calling? You are right, and the Pyms' apartment took the brunt of the greeting. Equinox stands perched on what used to be a window sill, and declares that tonight Spider-Man dies! Yeah, yeah, yeah... Superhero slugfest ensues. Of note is a bit of foreshadowing that's not all that mysterious, as we see a traffic jam form below with an African-American lady very interested in the goings on above her and a disgruntled trucker carrying a payload of fuel. I can see where that one is heading. The fight is carried outside after YJ gives Equinox a new-and-improved disruptor blast. This is depicted well, as is a panel showing Jan shrinking. Once outside, Equinox escapes via an Iceman-like slide.

Karen: How come nobody ever gets burned by these fire-wielding guys? Heck, I got badly burned by a pop tart once. Oh well, I'll let it go. It's a pretty typical fight, although I agree that YJ's disruptors, as depicted by Byrne, actually looked powerful. He had that Kirby Krackle thing going on.

Doug: Our heroes pursue and Jan gets whacked upside the head -- you can almost hear her say "I've never seen anyone move so fast!". But we're spared. Instead, she rebukes her own clumsiness, and then jumps Hank for improving his own powers but not hers. I keep coming back to what Jim Shooter was writing this month in the Avengers...

Karen: Hank was always toying with his powers and his identity. It seemed like his inferiority complex evolved quite naturally. Who wouldn't feel inferior, when you're on a team with Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor, and all you can do is shrink and order bugs around? Then he fiddles around and gets growth powers, giving him some raw power although still below that of Hulk and Thor at least. I doubt that it was a conscious plan on the part of Stan and Jack, but by the time Roy had Hank have a mental breakdown and become YJ, you could just feel the desperation and frustration there. That made it easy for Shooter -and later writers - to turn Hank into a fragile figure.

Doug: The battle moves back to the bridge over the East River. Equinox is dangerous, but not in the "prime time" category. Nonetheless, Jan is injured by some flaming debris and rendered unconscious. Hank lights into Equinox pretty hard, while Spider-Man encounters the mysterious lady (whom we now know as the mother of our baddie) from the traffic jam -- now sporting one pretty large, quite high-tech gun. All players converge on the bridge. And as Spidey helps the Wasp to her feet, Hank and Equinox battle closer and closer to -- you guessed it -- the fuel truck. In a cold-blooded move, Equinox fires above the staggered Hank, right into the fuel truck igniting it into a huge fireball. Tense moments later, a figure emerges from the inferno and it's not Yellowjacket. Standing triumphantly atop the mangled truck, Equinox is confronted by a fighting made Wasp -- who declares that she will be the death of this villain!

Karen: The explosion just radiated heat and fury- great job by Byrne. I also liked the expressions on the 'floating heads' on that page. It was also nice to see the Wasp's fighting spirit -here she has a chance to truly be an avenger.


dbutler16 said...

Hey, I just bought that at the LCS just last week! I've always had #60, having bought it originally on the newsstand, but never had #59, so I finally decided to rectify that. Gotta love that Claremont/Byrne run on this comic.

david_b said...

Ah, this was an EXCELLENT issue for many reasons. It presented very clear, unmuddled writing and art, as near Byrne-perfection as you can get. It's also my 'first' glimpse of the Pyms, having read the Triple Action reprints prior to Goliath returning, and didn't have any recent Avenger issues with him in.

I also loved the reaction floating heads next to the explosion cliffhanger.., it really drew you in to the suspense and terror.

Character-wise, I'd agree that Claremont did sync up characterizations well, without excess. Jan came across more colorful in this story than Hank, which was in sync Hanks's bouts of lab-isolation mentioned in Avengers 152 (Janet's comment to Hank to at least 'SMILE'), and the painful Pym recent events recounted in ish 161.

It was a much-appreciated, fleeting glimpse of intimacy in the Pym home, in midst of Hank's turmoil (kept very subtle), prior to events yet to come.

For many of us, this was one of the the last glimpses of the Pyms as we would loved them to have stayed.

Chuck Wells said...

From the time that Hank Pym adopted his Yellowjacket guise, it seemed the role that he was best suited to; plus Yellowjacket & the Wasp is a much more appropriate thematic pairing than having her with an Ant-Man or Giant-Man - at least to me.

Britt Reid said...

"...Yellowjacket & the Wasp is a much more appropriate thematic pairing than having her with an Ant-Man..."

The Yellowjacket/Wasp team had redundant powers (Shrinkage/flight/stingers), plus Hank seemed to "fit" the lower-key Ant-Man persona and costume better than the flamboyant YJ uniform.

david_b said...

"...Yellowjacket & the Wasp is a much more appropriate thematic pairing than having her with an Ant-Man..."

I can see both arguments, but in theory, you can take a similar stance on Batman and Robin.. Similar powers and styles, but they complement each other.

Not that Janet's technically considered a 'sidekick', but it was rare to see one without the other back then, until she came of age during the Buscema/Stern Avengers tenure.

J.A. Morris said...

I like this issue(and #60), but I always thought have the word "murdered" on the cover of this and the next were a little too much, even for the Bronze Age:

But always thought Equinox was a cool villain. And I agree, it's nice to see a Hank/Jan story where he's not portrayed as a crazy wife beater. Sometimes I think Marvel would like to have Mephisto wipe out any happy times the Pym shared together.

Dougie said...

One thing that Claremont doesn't get enough praise for is gravity. He raises the stakes so that events like this, with an obscure science-monster villain, become a fully-fledged conflagration and a domestic tragedy.

He also gives his heroes dignity- especially second-stringers like Hank and Jan. They're not jokes, like Justice League International- they're intelligent, passionate and experienced. Maybe this is because Claremont's early series feature Bronze Age lesser lights like Satana, Tigra,Iron Fist and some mutant group or other.

A post-modern writer like Whedon pits Wolverine against a giant monster and his solitary thought-balloon is "beer". It's witty but also reductive. Marvel melodrama went out of the window when we all became so sophisticated.
Claremont was weak when writing comedy and frivolity but his early scripts were cinematic and incident-packed.

B Smith said...

Hank addressing Jan as "M'love" should have tipped her off that something was going wrong fast.

david_b said...

Dougie actually voiced some excellent ideas I couldn't quite figure out how to say..

Look at how Claremont writes the Pyms relationship. It didn't seem cliche-ish or melodramatic, like a Reed-Sue or Vish-Wanda exchange in the Bronze or Silver days; it seemed adult and natural, very much different than how most married couples were written back then. A natural dignity, call it what you will.

If nothing else, this harkens back to the late Silver Age Pyms, shown much more heroic than most will ever give credit or remember.

Fred W. Hill said...

Seems the closely co-ordinated continuity that became a staple of Marvel during the Silver Age, when Stan was at the helm, gradually went out the window during the Bronze Age. Certainly it was rare that Spidey's appearances in his main mag, Team-Up and PPTSSM fit in any coherant way. With the Pyms, there doesn't seem to be any evidence in this story that Claremont had any idea the direction Shooter was taking them in the concurrent issues of the Avengers. Certainly if the same author was writing both, they would likely have been made to fit much closer, as Englehart did, however imperfectly, when writing the Avengers and Captain America. Of course, Stan's solution was to evict most of his solo stars from the Avengers and only bringing back Hank & Jan after they'd lost their spot in Tales to Astonish.
Anyhow, Claremont & Byrne produced some of the better MTU stories, although I often felt their version of Peter Parker was often very different in personality from the one in his own mags (but then Romita's Peter was a striking departure from Ditko's, and I'm not referring solely to the art!). Still, aside from the "Waspie", which I agree seemed uncharacteristic for Hank, I liked their depiction of Hank & Jan. Also, this is one of their few appearances together as Yellowjacket and the Wasp outside of an Avengers story. Even when YJ appeared in the Defenders, the most Jan got was a brief cameo.

Karen said...

B Smith: yes, I too felt the "m'love" was completely out of place.

dbutler16 said...

I just read this issue yesterday! I doubt there was any intent by Claremeont to tie into the story of Hank’s issues.
I thought it was interesting that, when Hank augmented his powers, Jan complained that he didn’t augment hers. He eventually did increase the power of her stingers, but I think that was years later.

I agree with Karen that I never questioned Hank flying at full size since those things on his costume don’t look anything like wings.

Yeah, Spidey did lament over Gwen a few times in this story. Nice touch.

I do seem to recall Jan being nude at some point, but for the life of me, can’t remember where it was.

I’ll agree that Byrne’s art here, while good, was not his best, but I won’t blame it on Terry Austin’s absence. Bryne has had some really great art in the Avengers, with a variety of inkers, most frequently Dan Green. Perhaps Dave Hunt wasn’t the best choice for inker here, though.
I agree about the dialogue. “Noxie” in particular really got on my nerves. It seems that too often in comics, characters go out of their way to shorten someone else’s name by truncating and adding an “ie” to the end of it. Awful, and it REALLY didn’t work with Equinox.

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