Avengers #139 (September 1975)
Steve Englehart-George Tuska/Vince Colletta
Doug: What in the world is there not to like about a floating heads cover? Well, no matter what you might suggest to the contrary, I'll always argue that there is nothing not to like. And there's no place better to find them than featuring Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Hey, this 2-parter was my suggestion to Karen a few months ago when we were plotting the spring after our January hiatus. It's never been a secret that I'm in Hank Pym's corner -- have been since I read this story, Avengers #28, and on and on. This book also shows that Steve Englehart had truly mastered Stan Lee's formula of angst, subplots, and characterization. And there's not just a little bit of action in this one. Shall we?
Doug: When this book was new, I had only read a smattering of tales of the Avengers. I knew of the Kooky Quartet and the team just after, I'd seen parts of the "Celestial Madonna" arc, and some of the Giant-Size issues. But in terms of having any sort of a consistent run on the title, I'd not amassed anything approximating that as of yet. So as we go through this, with all of the aforementioned subplots, I'll say that it wasn't exactly a jumping-on point for this 9-year old! But I will say that with this issue, I did start a string of issues that didn't stop until just before #200 when I stopped collecting for a few years. We open in a hospital room, where it's pretty crowded. An apparently naked Janet Pym lies asleep while her husband threatens the Toad. You see, in the last ish Magneto's former lap dog had impersonated the Stranger and Janet had suffered grave injuries. Now Hank ain't happy -- not a bit. The rest of the roster is present as well, and it's a pretty impressive line-up: Thor, Iron Man, the Beast, and Moondragon. This was the line-up, along with Cap, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch, that Englehart would use in the conclusion of his run as writer.
Karen: I suppose I'm repeating myself, but I jumped on to the Avengers bandwagon with issue #92, right at the start of the Kree-Skrull War, and the Pyms didn't have a role in the saga at that point, so my real introduction to them was via reprints in Marvel Triple Action and elsewhere. But Hank already seemed like a tragic figure to me because of his troubles getting stuck at giant-size way back when. He always seemed very dedicated to Jan too, which made their later problems all the more painful. Doesn't it seem weird that Jan is apparently nude under the sheet?
Doug: It's a complete artistic faux pas, because when our baddie arrives she's clearly wearing a hospital gown. Anyway, as Hank gets madder and madder, his teammates try to calm him down. Hank yells at the doctor, at Iron Man, at Thor -- really, everyone. In the midst of the turmoil, who should show up but the Whirlwind? And just like a Whirlwind -- seriously, out of the blue (well, he was on the cover...). He rolls in, hurls a few insults, brushes off the Beast and Thor, makes a dope of Iron Man, and cracks Yellowjacket in the noggin. It's not until Moondragon gives him a mind blast that he abandons his plan of kidnapping the Wasp. He retreats, and it's right back to the yelling. I thought this opening scene was a little strange, to say the least. While I had, at the time, read other Marvel books with this sort of in-fighting, this was over the top. Hank all of a sudden winces with pain, and then runs off. Thor and Iron Man are incredulous at Hank's behavior under stress. In fact, Iron Man makes a snide remark: "To think he helped found the Avengers!"
Karen: Hank certainly seemed to be cracking up. It's not like he hadn't shown signs of mental instability before -- let's not forget that his whole Yellowjacket persona came about because of a mental break. But I don't think we'd ever seen him behave quite so erratically as this. Of course, Englehart was trying to ratchet up the tension here. As for Iron Man's remark -- did you notice that Englehart developed distinct personalities for all of the team members during his run? Even the heroes who had their own books, like Iron Man and Thor, were consistent within the Avengers title (even if they didn't conform to their depictions in their own title). His Iron Man tended to be a bit of an arrogant, headstrong old timer.
Doug: Yes, Englehart's team was ever-fighting, and at the drop of a hat. I recall the scene in Avengers #130 when Thor and IM tangle -- short fight. Hey, even though we're really just starting, let's take a time-out from the plot and look at the art. First off, I always liked the "nose mask". I know it is much maligned, but it always made sense to me -- why would you want your nose all scrunched under the flat faceplate? So I like this era. But a third of the way through the book and George Tuska has used nothing but straight-on camera angles! I know I'm going to comment on a couple of cool panels later in this review, but to begin this one, with all of the angst and confusion, the art just doesn't sell that idea! And Vinnie Colletta just isn't the guy to help Tuska, although they were often paired up in the Bronze Age.
Karen: The nose mask on Shellhead took a little getting used to, but it didn't bother me, because as you say, it actually made sense. Although visually, I think the flat mask is more dramatic. I think Alex Ross' version, where the face plate bends out slightly, is probably the best all-around version. But back to the art -- I've said before I'm not a Tuska fan, and I'll pretty much leave it at that.
Doug: At the conclusion of the hospital scene, after Hank had stalked off, Iron Man grabs Moondragon and tells Thor and the Beast that they will go in search of Hawkeye. Ol' Hawk had used Doc Doom's time machine two issues prior and had not returned. Thor, chairman at the time, chafes at this insubordination. I'll declare that I did not care at all for Iron Man at this time, and this very issue may be a big reason why. It's pretty obvious why he wants to sneak away with her, and a few pages later we'll find that I'm right. But we cut away as Thor begins his own Asgardian meltdown, and pick it up with Dr. Pym on the street. Waiting outside the hospital is Charles, Janet's chauffeur. The Pyms had fired him during the Ant-Man series that ran in Marvel Feature (of which I've never read an issue). Charles says something like Janet might benefit from a familiar face -- Hank of course tells him to get lost. We then see Charles enter the hospital anyway, and get a peek at his thoughts. Charles is in reality the Whirlwind, and has always been close to the Pyms. But when Charles enters Jan's room, he finds the Beast and Thor still by her side. Thor greets him, as he backs out the door to scheme again.
Karen: I had perhaps two issues of Marvel Feature when Pym was playing "Incredible Shrinking Man" but I honestly can't recall much about them, other than Egghead and his niece appearing in an issue. I also haven't read many of the old Tales to Astonish when Pym headlined. So this whole backstory with Whirlwind is news to me. It sort of makes the Pyms look clueless. Of course, Whirlwind doesn't appear too bright when he saunters into the hospital, expecting to find the Wasp left alone. Really? You think the Avengers would leave one of their own alone and vulnerable to attack? Duh!
Doug: Subplot #1 -- Iron Man and Moondragon rocket across the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Latveria. Iron Man, in all his best (or worst) smarminess, comes on to Moondragon. She turns the tables on him, which takes Tony off guard. But in a preface to her conversations with Thor some months in the future, she yells to her companion that although she was born on Earth, she is not an Earthwoman!
Karen: I thought this was a hilarious comeuppance for playboy Stark. "Should I now turn to you like this and press my yielding lips to your cold metallic ones?" Stark is completely dumbfounded, not used to having a woman refuse his come-ons. More than any other writer at that particular time, Englehart had a sensitivity to women and their issues, and managed to create scenes like this which were not heavy-handed but did manage to get across a point.
Doug: Subplot #2 -- A female hand grasps a newspaper announcing that the Beast has joined the Avengers. She crumples the paper, turns on her heel, and cries, "Look out, Beast! You won't escape me again!"
Karen: Now we know where this is going, but at the time, as I hadn't read any of the Beast's solo stories in Amazing Adventures, I had no idea what this was about. I'm sure I was not alone.
Doug: Oh, so it's somewhat self-serving by the author, a la Brian Bendis and all of his "pets"?
Doug: Back to the main action, Hank's at home, reminiscing on the good times he and Jan have had. It's really nice, and we believe that they have a deep love. As he turns to leave the house, Whirlwind attacks him on his front lawn. Hank immediately calls on ants to weaken the ground, which throws Whirlwind off balance. Then Hank draws his cellular-disruptor pistol and Whirlwind flees immediately. Here is a very nice series of five panels where Tuska and Colletta really shine. The page you see here with the aerial shot of Whirlwind followed by Hank looking pensively at the gun is really well done. A little detective work in his brain, and... Hank calls the hospital and checks on Jan. He asks the Beast a question, and gets the answer he assumed he'd get. He turns down the Beast's offer of help.
Karen: I agree, the art here was pretty dynamic. But I just didn't buy the whole bit here about Whirlwind running from the cellular disruptor pistol --"a weapon he shouldn't have recognized." If Whirlwind already knew about YJ and his powers, and he was so scared of the pistol, why would he have attacked earlier? I thought it was a little weak but I'm probably being nitpicky.
Doug: Subplot #1, part 2 -- Iron Man, all sarcastic with Moondragon now, lands the quinjet and together they enter Doom's castle. IM makes a comment about not being with the team when last they visited, in Avengers #56. Surprisingly, this was one of the first issues of the title I owned, and a great one at that. But, no time machine, and no Hawkeye. We know where he is, don't we?
Karen: Boy, Iron Man really is stinging from Moondragon's rebuff! It must have been a very uncomfortable trip to Latveria. But yes, the time machine is gone. Oh that crazy Hawkeye!
Doug: Subplot #3 -- We see the Vision and Scarlet Witch, in full costume on their honeymoon (duh...). Wanda wants to stay in paradise longer, but the Vision wants to return to the team. I thought that this was appropriate, as he'd been the face of the team for years at this point.
Karen: I know way back when, we had some discussions about the Vision and Wanda's marriage, and I opined that in some ways it was a comic-book stand-in for an inter-racial relationship. I still feel that way -- Englehart had people protesting their relationship, even going so far in issue #113 to become suicide bombers. Here, Vision tells Wanda they need to go back and face the public and whatever reactions their marriage may cause. Vision almost seems anxious to do this, like he can't wait to see what the reality of their life together will be, for good or ill. But largely, the public disapproval angle was dropped, and the two mostly faced problems from Wanda's brother, Quicksilver, and the Vision's pseudo-brother, the Grim Reaper.
Doug: Back in New York, we find Charles the chauffeur come staggering out of a bar. But as he gets to his limo, Yellowjacket emerges from the back door. Jig's up -- Hank grabs Charles and tells him exactly why the Whirlwind fled from Hank's pistol -- only Charles and a few others had ever seen the gun and knew what it could do. And since the Whirlwind knew... Charles immediately spins into costume and it's game on! But the wild card in this fight? Hank suddenly shoots up to 20 feet -- heck yeah! I knew enough about Yellowjacket to know that this didn't happen -- never! So I was totally taken aback and simply glued to the remaining pages. For my criticism of the camera angles in the earlier parts of this issue, the improvement shown over the last five pages is astonishing. This is fast-paced, all-out action. The words and pictures really paint Hank Pym as a man possessed, and the Whirlwind as so cocky it costs him. After a battle across a few city blocks, Hank shrinks to ant-size and gets up under Whirlwind's chestplate. At close range the stings send his nemesis into a frenzy. But just as he's about to put Whirlwind away, Hank inexplicably falls from the chestplate. As Whirlwind readies to stomp the tiny Avenger, a big furry blue fist knocks him out cold. While the Beast's sudden entrance might be a deus ex machina, I thought it served to further show Hank McCoy's wanting to make the Avengers his new home -- and bonding with a teammate to prove it. In fact, the Beast hoists Whirlwind over his shoulder and the two heroes head back to the hospital.