Monday, January 4, 2016

BAB Classic: Nice Job, Hank! Bride of Ultron Part 1

This post was originally published on 6 August 2010.

Avengers #161 (July 1977)
"Beware the Ant-Man!"
Jim Shooter-George Perez/Pablo Marcos

Doug: Today begins a 4-part series that I can only call "one of my all-time favorites"; to call it anything less would be a lie. It's been long known by anyo
ne I've ever discussed comics with that the Avengers are my favorite team, and surely somewhere in that conversation it's come up that if John Buscema is my #1 Avengers artist, then George Perez is #1A. Toss in a script by Jim Shooter, a long-ago superstar with another favorite title of mine, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the formula for a winner is all here.
Doug: I am going to mix into these reviews some thoughts from my essay on Hank Pym, scheduled to appear in Assembled, Volume 3. To begin, the splash page by George Perez showed Ant-Man lurking in a ventilation shaft while Cap, Iron Man, Vision, Wonder Man, and Wanda enter the room. Making himself known via the use of a magnifying glass, Ant-Man addressed the group. It doesn’t take any time at all for us to know that Hank is not right. Seeing him like this, I felt that the potential seemed great for a mental breakdown along the lines of that suffered through Avengers #59-60 – and that is indeed what came to pass.

Doug: Hank was enraged that the Avengers were not present for their “first official meeting” – no Hulk, no Thor, and Iron Man not in his old, clunky yellow armor. Referring to Wanda as “the chick in the swimsuit” and Cap as a “two-bit imposter”, Hank asked for answers and when receiving only stunned silence launched a one-man (and mega-ant) attack against his friends. As the Beast and the Black Panther entered the fray, Hank single-handedly dismantled the team in a great scene by Perez that evoked the equally great cover. During the fracas, Hank's speech was unlike anything we’d seen from him. In response to the Vision’s suggestion that Hank is somehow putting them on, Ant-Man snapped: “Back off, Red Puss! And you can drop the weird hollow voice bit! Special effects don’t impress me!” It’s only when the Wasp suddenly appears, startling Hank and attacking him with her stings, that he is subdued. After containing him and restoring him to his normal height, Jan related the recent backstory of their personal lives, as she said, “It’s been…building for a long time…and I’m afraid his mind…has finally snapped.”

Karen: It's pretty cool to see the oft-denigrated Ant-Man wiping the floor with the Avengers! Obviously, he had the advantage, seeing as how his pals were both stunned by his actions, and unwilling to actually hurt him. Even so, he shows that he can be more effective than I think most of us ever considered.

Doug: Jan took the team back to shortly after she and Hank were married. She mentioned the accident that led to Hank taking the Yellowjacket identity and that subsequent to that his lab work began to go awry. Hank had begun to respond with rage and violence, often destroying machinery and other resources. Jan said that in days past it was always she who went to Hank for strength and support, but during this period their roles reversed. Jan mentioned that she had suggested therapy but that Hank would never have agreed to it; she went instead and was told to try to bring Hank back to life as it had existed before he had become YJ. She stated that things had been going well, and that she was excited when he agreed (seen in Avengers #151) to join her back on the team. But, as they flew back to the lab mere days before this, Hank sped away from her. And then the attack in the guise of Ant-Man…

Karen: I know Jim Shooter wanted to turn a Marvel hero into a villain, and eventually did that with Hank. Was he already planning that here? He planted the seeds certainly, with Jan's story about how Hank was often violent and unhappy. I mean, we saw some dissatisfaction on his part over the years, but I never got the feeling prior to this that he was capable of such rage. It also seems like Jan does a bit of blaming herself for Hank's issues here, and that would be magnified later.

Doug: The Avengers decide that Hank needs to be subjected to the "subliminal recall-inducer". Lord, if that isn't straight out of the Batman TV show!! Anyway, they put him under this old-fashioned hair dryer doohickey and... nothing. So, Wanda decides that maybe more of his close friends might bring him back. Cap attempts to contact Thor, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye, but no dice. We do get to see Hawk and Two-Gun living the dream out on a dude ranch, and that's a fun interlude.

Karen: That device was first seen back in issue 99, when it was used on Hercules. So you can blame Roy Thomas if it seems hokey!

Doug: Back in New York, the Beast is asked to drive Jan to her house to pick up some things. Shooter uses this little vignette as an opportunity to expand Hank's character, and Jan's too. It's a really nice scene. But, when Jan enters the house, she's struck down by an intruder who in turn takes out the Beast. Hank manages to make it back to Avengers Mansion in time to announce the arrival of Ultron! Last seen in Fantastic Four #150 at the wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver, Ultron was reconstructed and apparently made meaner than ever. He begins to knock down Avengers in a cool, calculated manner. No one staggers him, until Wanda begins to mess with his computer mind. Even that is temporary. Iron Man is drained of energy, the Vision goes down early, Wonder Man (who Ultron had done homework on) is taken out, and then the less-powerful members fall; most are taken out by Ultron's encephalo ray, a deadly neuro-neutralizing beam.

Karen: Great stuff in this fight sequence. I don't know if Ultron had ever seemed so menacing before. We get more of Wonder Man's fears,and Wanda's assertiveness which seems to have carried over from the Englehart era.

Doug: I'm certain some among our faithful throngs of readers are just dying for the scheduled BAB rip-job on Pablo Marcos' inks. Well, from my perspective Mr. Marcos did a pretty bang-up job here. As was stated in our first Open Forum, perhaps an inker's main job is to enhance a bad penciller and to stay out of the way of a good penciller. I feel Marcos does the latter here. My complaints earlier about harsh faces, muddy panels, etc. just aren't found.

Karen: I have to agree with you Doug: I have no complaints about the inking here. Perez' art comes through and looks as slick and detailed as I would expect. It's a fantastic looking issue.

Doug: The story ends when Hank, overwhelmed at the events of his day, decides to lash out at Ultron. Ultron seems surprised, but then calmly holds a finger toward the small hero, sucking him into a chamber as a prisoner. In a brilliant bit of foreshadowing, Ultron gloats over the defeated Ant-Man, ending his comments with a single word -- "father". The scene fades to black as the robot exits the mansion, only to return to light as Jarvis enters the room -- to a fabulous last-panel by Perez.


david_b said...

OUTSTANDING STORY.. Beautiful Art! I remember getting this issue when it first came out, being a huge Hank fan. It started me collecting Avengers again, since I pretty much stopped comic collecting in '75.

Luckily we still had a couple more great stories with YJ during John Byrne's run.

Edo Bosnar said...

Re: "I'm certain some among our faithful throngs of readers are just dying for the scheduled BAB rip-job on Pablo Marcos' inks."
Um, am I being called out? If so, then all I have to say is: Ha! Marcos' inks aren't so bad after all, are they?
Seriously, this is a fantastic issue. This is really Shooter at the top of his game, and you guys already mentioned how great the art is. I actually re-read Avengers 161/162 recently when I realized I had the story in this odd little TPB I picked up real cheap a few years ago and almost forget I had - it reprints those 2 issues plus Avengers annuals #6 & 7. So I finally got around to reading that latter annual, and I have to say, I enjoyed the art a little more than the actual story...

Karen said...

The art in this issue truly is outstanding. It's been fun to look at some of George Perez' early issues of Avengers and move along over several years to see just how much progress he made as an artist. He really took off here and became the complete package of storyteller/stylist.


larkydozer said...

This was my first favorite Avengers issue. Got it at a flea market in 1978 or so. I'm 42 now and I'm still mesmerized by the artwork.

I'm thrilled to have discovered your blog. Thanks for posting this!

dbutler16 said...

This was my first Avengers issue also! Bought at the newsstand, though. What a great cover, and I love the way Hank is able to take on the Avengers. Very good writing, in addition to the great artwork.

Morgan B. said...

This is my favorite Avengers story-arc of all time! Great art, great Avengers roll-call and of course...Ultron.

William said...

This has always been my favorite Avengers story since I first read it all those years ago. That is how you do an Avengers story.

And I still consider that to be the best last panel of all time.

Redartz said...

This is indeed an excellent example of everything that made the Avengers such a great book in the 70's. A striking, unique cover, beautiful art and a very memorable story; can't do better than this. The fight scene pitting Hank against the team is one of my favorite comics battles, period. Poor Wanda and the ants; what a scene...

Anonymous said...

Love this comic. It was around this time that I had a friend who made me more aware of who the various artists were and he turned me into a big time Perez fan.

I also find it interesting that since the original posting there has been an Ant Man movie and an Avengers movie featuring Ultron. Do you suppose Marvel Studios is getting its movie ideas from the BAB? :-)


dbutler16 said...

This was the first Avengers issue I ever bought! Ah, memories. This was in the midst of a golden era for the Avengers - great art (Lots of Perez and Byrne around this time) and plenty of good storylines, including this. Aside from the Bride of Ultron being a great story, I love the way Ant-Man takes on the Avengers.

Robert Frey said...

the subliminal recall inducer was actually introduced in avengers 28 when hawkeye used it to find the team=- can't blame roy thomas for that one! :)

i have 3 pages of the original art from this story, including the wanda attacking ultorn page and i used to own a 4th- the detail is staggering. i think 160-162 are the issues where george really emerged as an A-level talent.

Doug said...

Thanks for the tip, Robert. I recently re-read Avengers #28, and will certainly go back and do the comparison between it and Roy's reference some 10 years later. You know ol' Roy - he's on record as saying he didn't want to create too many new ideas that he could lose potential money on later!

I am also envious of your original art. It would be a fantastic experience to see those pages.


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