Thursday, January 7, 2016

BAB Classic: Nice Job, Hank! Bride of Ultron Part 2


This post was originally published on 9 August 2010.

Avengers #162 (August 1977)
"The Bride of Ultron!"
Jim Shooter-George Perez/Pablo Marcos


Doug: Welcome back to our second installment of the "Bride of Ultron" arc. As Avengers #161 was actually chapter one of a four-part story spread over almost a year, #162 was a first “conclusion”. Ultron was revealed as the true villain last issue, having somehow mind-wiped Hank Pym and placed his memories well before he and Jan were married, and before the time when Hank had created Ultron. In this issue, we find that Ultron’s goal is to sap the life essence from Jan and instill it into his cybernetic bride (later to be known as Jocasta).

Karen: Yes, this story really brought on the full meaning of Ultron's Oedipus Complex, as he now not only tried to kill his "father", b
ut also marry his "mother". Even Ultron creator Roy Thomas had not gone that far before.

Doug: Thor somehow got the distress signal that Cap had sent last ish, and arrives at the Mansion to see Cap, Wanda, Vision, and the Beast being hauled out on stretchers. It's interesting that everyone in the scene remarks that they've died, yet none of them have the sheet pulled up over the face. Hmmm... Anyway, Thor heads into the Mansion to find Iron Man recharging, and Wonder Man and the Panther trying to figure out just what the heck happened. Another call goes out to Hawkeye, but to no avail.

Karen: The grim nature of the situation is well-expressed here. As Panther and Thor talk about facing Ultron, they are truly avengers, hoping to destroy the one who has killed their comrades. They're in for the fight of their lives, and they may not come out alive.

Karen: Another interesting scene c
omes when Wonder Man questions whether Hawkeye is "worth all this grief." A stern Thor responds, "When thou hast proven thyself a thousandfold thou mayest question the "worth" of Hawkeye, my friend! I will disregard thy careless remark -this time!" This was a good example of Thor's tremendous respect for his mortal comrades. Shooter was spot on with this characterization.

Doug: In Ultron's laboratory, Perez does a great multi-panel layout showing Jan hooked up to a metal construct of a female. Ant-Man has been freed from captivity and is being cajoled into helping Ultron save the life of Janet van Dyne. Hank goes for the ruse, and begins a process that actually drains the life essence from Jan and into the robot. As this goes on, Shooter focuses in on each of the Avengers individually with some nice characterization, as they each come to realize what Ultron may be up to. As the process in the lab continues, we spy a couple of ants who hook up with some buddies and make their way to Avengers Mansion and spell out "STARKLI" on the floor.

Doug: Thor and Wonder Man must be kinda dense, because they don't get it. Iron Man and T'Challa of course put it all together immediately and the team begins to converge on Ultron's hideout. Another battle royale ensues, and there are some really great scenes. Of note are the entrances of each of the good guys (Thor's is the best), Iron Man's selflessness (whoa!) in taking a bolt meant for Thor, and Ultron shrugging off a two-pronged attack from Thor and Wonder Man. I really think, when you look at this line-up, that it shows just how strong Ultron is. And in the end, it's not brute force but a questionable headgame that does him in.

Karen: As the four Avengers head off to face Ultron, Thor gives out a battle cry, declaring that "This night we shall avenge our slain comrades, or taste death's bitter cup ourselves!" This rattles Wonder Man, who at this time was still struggling with his fear of dying again. I always felt that Wondy's fear was a great angle to take. Here's this guy who is damn near as tough and strong as Thor, yet he's paralyzed with fear when he goes into battle. It was different and made things interesting.

Karen: Let's talk a b
it about the 'headgame' you refer to Doug. I felt this was another great bit of character work by Shooter, highlighting the differences in our Avengers. Iron Man realizes that they're getting nowhere in a physical fight with Ultron. He takes a gamble -and threatens to destroy Jocasta. It backs Ultron off, and he makes a swift retreat. But the Panther questions Iron Man's tactics. "I can not argue with success and yet your ploy with the girl...there is little honor in a victory that is won by-" Iron Man interrupts, "Stow it, Panther! Like you said, it worked!" But even Stark wonders if he would have gone through with it. I think this might have been one of the first times -if not the first -where Iron Man's "whatever means necessary" attitude was expressed.

Doug: Ultron is ultimately defeated, but at a cost of Hank’s permanent sanity. As the story winds down, and Hank is in custody, he screams out, “Ultron will be back to free me – and then we’ll crush you! That includes you, Janet! Now that they’ve somehow managed to make you whole again, your loyalties are apparently with them! How could I have ever thought I loved you (Avengers 162, page 31)?” In comfort, Iron Man says, “It…seems he’s gone totally mad, now – but don’t worry, Jan. After we study Ultron’s equipment, we may be able to restore his mind!” “Aye, ‘tis possible,” agreed Thor.
Doug: A pretty depressing way to leave a reader hanging, don’t you think? I'd like to follow up with some thoughts from my Hank Pym essay, mentioned last time. Frankly, I was crushed at this new development in the Pyms’ lives. How could Hank have let himself get to the point where he could speak to Jan that way? It was warming to see the other Avengers embrace and care for Jan in her time of need; that same picture, however, made me think of Hank as all alone and somewhat hopeless. Yes, the team had said they’d try to help him, but it seemed to me lines had been drawn; whilst one may forgive, can they ever truly forget? What Hank said – even if they could restore his mind, he’d said those words. Nothing could change that. I was eager to see how events would unfold over the next several stories. I assumed Hank and Jan would be missing for several issues, much as they had after the events of Avengers #’s 139-140. After a seeming fill-in in #163, where Iron Man did battle with the Champions and Typhon (years later, I’d see this for the marketing gimmick that it was – an attempt to build up sagging sales on a title Marvel would have liked to save), the team was back in action in #164 against a revised line-up of baddies calling themselves the Lethal Legion -- this was the opening chapter of the Count Nefaria arc that we reviewed last year.

Doug: The opening scene showed Simon Williams going through tests under the supervision of Tony Stark, the Black Panther, the Beast and… Yellowjacket?? After I had read the issue, I went back to look for clues to Hank’s sudden sanity. None. When the next issue came out, same thing. And again, and again – and no hint whatsoever as to how Hank had gotten back up and running. Nada. When #170 arrived and I saw that the Bride of Ultron story was apparently being continued, I thought surely Hank’s mental state would be addressed. Even when he was brought face-to-face with the robot for whom Jan’s life force was intended, he remained calm, almost as analytical as the Vision might have been. And that was that. The story, which was very good – I certainly don’t mean to diminish its wonderment and lasting greatness – ended and Hank was just status quo.

Karen: Yes, it does seem pretty odd that we never saw Hank regaining his sanity -it just seemed to happen off-panel. If I could venture a guess, I migh
t suspect that it had something to do with the fact that Shooter had spent most of his career at DC, where "one and done" stories had been the norm. Perhaps he didn't feel he needed to show how Hank was restored -the reader would just have to assume he was. Not very satisfying, I agree.

14 comments:

Rick J. said...

My first Avenger issues I picked up as a kid were Avengers 139-141, 148 and 161,162.
161-162 really blew me away at that time. The serious tone, the great art work by Perez and Ultron as the ultimate antagonist to the Avengers just made it a fantastic read. I'll have to say I still think those two issues stand up to any other Avengers two-part stories.
Thanks for the great review and nostalgia brought with it.

Fred W. Hill said...

This was a great story, with wonderful art by George Perez, but Shooter really failed to adequately follow it up. For me, it's one thing to leave a dangling subplot, irritating as that is, but Pym's psychological breakdown was a major aspect of this story and Shooter really should have shown Pym regaining his sanity rather than just having him pop up again supposedly back to "normal". It'd be as if Stan, having made a big to do about Pym getting stuck at 10 feet at the end of one issue, had him changing sizes from miniscule to mountainous again in the next with no mention of his situation in the previous mag. Just one of those things that irritated me about Shooter's writing. Of course, Shooter wasn't the only writer guilty of inadequate (or no) follow-up to a highly dramatic situation. I really hated it when Byrne killed off Guardian in one issue of Alpha Flight and then, unless my memory is faulty, made no reference to it all in the next several issues, after which I gave up on the series.

Karen said...

Rick, Fred, thanks for your thoughts. This was a storyline that Doug and I had talked about reviewing for some time. It obviously resonated with a lot of fans. But the lack of resolution to Hank's mental breakdown was just a glaring problem. I still think this is primarily due to the thought process over at DC at the time, where Shooter had been weaned, so to speak. Fred's example about if Stan had solved Hank's growth problem "off-stage" is very applicable here. It was one of those things where you thought you must have missed an issue!

Karen

Morgan Butler said...

I really love this issue. This is the one where the Avengers (even Thor)feel that they are quite likely going to die. I remember really feeling the threat. This was also my first exposure to Ultron. The colors are excellent in this issue as well.

Humanbelly said...

Now, was Shooter the editor for this book as well at that time? I've lost track of that sort of thing. If not, I wonder-- could there have been an editorial mandate to not follow through with such an unsettling subplot for Hank at that time? Or maybe even Shooter had second thoughts about what a downer pursuing that thread might be to faithful fans? I mean-- it is indeed personally quite ugly and not actually enjoyable to witness. Certainly justifiable and interesting-- but maybe not a ratings-grabber, as it were?

Golly I sure like George Perez. I've a December birthday, and I'm just now receiving the "gifts" I ordered for myself from the Amazon Gift Card my Mom thoughtfully provided--- and Vol 1 of The New Teen Titans TPB arrived yesterday--- and right there is George's particular genius on display-- his ability to bring an attractive, accessible, personal humanity to each character that he draws. In spite of their exaggerated proportions, you believe that they're people, y'know? This Ultron arc is, I think, a great example of that. It's an instance where you almost come away with the sense that you've watched a movie rather than read a comic.

HB

Anonymous said...

Love these BAB "reprints"!

I'm with the initial wave of responses about not liking these unresolved subplots or plotlines handled "offstage". For me, what happens in that last scene needs to be carried forward to future issues or it should have been replaced with the Avengers using the Bat Mind Restorer or something. One of the things that made me a Marvel zuvembie at that time was continuity and character development. The handling of Hank's mind wipe seemed to fly in the face of that and, looking back, probably contributed to my leaving comics altogether a few years later.

Somewhat related to this topic, but leaving a similar bad taste, was the return of Jack Kirby around this time. When he took over Captain America and then the Black Panther he totally ignored what had gone on in Engelhart's Cap run and McGregor's Jungle Action which just left me totally cold.

But, not to be a total downer, I did enjoy this comic and loved Perez' art during this run.

Tom



pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

I've been thinking about these issues since the previous column appeared. They appeared on the news stand at just about the same time I was getting ready to give up on comics. That weird burst of energy during the early Seventies, where anything, everything, and anyone could get a book at the Big Two had pretty much played itself out. The more recent books seemed more . . . standardized to me. Not bad, mind you, but somehow more of the same. Outside of X-Men, which at the time was a single comic that had only recently received monthly printing status, there wasn't much that got me going.

Then this thing showed up.

Sure, Shooter had been writing the Avengers, on and off, for a while. But Perez seemed to get where he wanted the story to go, perhaps even actively collaborated with him. These things were interesting and I had the feeling that maybe someone was putting a little more effort into it than was normal.

I was thinking about going into a long rant about the state of the Hank/Janet relationship up to this point, but maybe that's a better subject for a stand alone column. But the main thing is that what happened in this story was a clear example of a creative team looking at what had been done before with the characters and, unlike Kirby on Captain America and Black Panther, choosing to build on it rather than ignore it.

I think the Shooter/Perez approach worked much better.

Seeya

pfgavigan

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, I really like this story alot, despite the lack of resolution (or rather apparently off-panel resolution) of Hank's mental breakdown. Just by itself it's a well-written, beautifully drawn story, which, as PFG notes, builds on previous continuity in an interesting and creative way.
By the way, HB, Shooter was not the editor of this book - the credits in my reprint edition say that Archie Goodwin was the editor, although there's no indication of who the editor-in-chief was (although since the book came out in '77, it still couldn't have been Shooter, because he only became EiC in 1978; in fact, I think Goodwin was EiC at the time).

Humanbelly said...

Ah, thanks edo-- then that still gives me reason to hold onto my Editorial Mandate theory for awhile, eh? In fact, maybe Shooter's borderline-absurd non-acknowledgement of Hank's mental state was in itself his bit o' stickin'-it-to-the-(editorial)man-?

Yeah, I'm keepin' the conspiracy theory explanation!

HB

pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

Hey HB, who knows what was going on at the Marvel offices then?? I went over to the wiki site and went through the next twenty issues. The artist position became a revolving door with Perez, Byrne and others rendering various story lines. Even Shooter wasn't necessarily a consistent. Maybe if there had been more behind the scenes stability he might have been able to resolve things on page.

We always wonder why certain things happen or don't happen. Sometimes I think even creators must look back with regret and the thought of " if only I had had the chance!" I believe it's important to remember that comics are a cooperative art form, a gestalt of many hands and talents. Sometimes singling out an individual, any individual, for praise or condemnation might be unwarranted.

Seeya

pfgavigan

Humanbelly said...

We are of a mind on that exact point about the gestalt nature of comics,PFG. They exist in the worlds of both literature and graphic art, really, but are created in a way that is much more like film or theater or even music. Soooo many folks contribute their unique gifts to the eventual success (or failure, I suppose) of every issue. Y'know, even Orson Wells didn't play every role in Citizen Kane-- even the most "one man band" of all films had a solid company of artists and professionals adding their own life to it. . .

[I use the word "gestalt" every now and then at production meetings-- sometimes the headier egos have a bit of trouble trusting in the artistic fortitude and legitimacy of the design group as a whole. . . ]

HB

pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

And when I used the word 'gestalt' back in school when I was a theater minor I was greeted with glazed, confused expressions.

Seriously thou HB, cooperative arts such as theater, cinema, television, and comics benefit from the merging of talents and even from the conflicts of the creatives involved. Look at Clairmont and Byrnes. They produced some of the finest comics of the Bronze Age before their association splintered.

Now some have argued that neither reached the pinnacles later in their career as they had early on. There might be some truth to this. But the sniping that took place between them in their books, specifically X-Men and Fantastic Four, seemed to provoke both to try harder.

It was also very amusing if you knew what was going on behind the scenes.

Seeya,

pfgavigan

William said...

Part 2 of one of the best Avengers stories ever. A true classic. Probably my favorite of all-time (tied with the Super Count Nefaria story a short time later).

However, like some other commenters on here, I was confused when I picked up the issue after this one, and there was no mention of what had transpired in this story. Shooter did pick it up the thread a few issues later, but it had lost some of the impact by then. And I don't think we ever really did find out what happened to Hank, why he went crazy, and how he got back to normal.

Ward Hill Terry said...

I want to take issue with Karen's statement "I still think this is primarily due to the thought process over at DC at the time, where Shooter had been weaned..." Regardless of the editorial philosophies in vogues at DC at the time, I disagree. This two-part story is part of a deliberately spaced out four-part story, and is in the midst of a much larger story (the disappearing Avengers, and the timely appearances of Thor.) The sloppy transition from the end of 162 to 163 and beyond is squarely on Shooter as writer and Goodwin as editor. Not only is Hank raving at the end of 162, but other Hank, Cap, Wanda, and Vision are pronounced dead at the beginning! All of their fates, save The Vision's, are resolved in a couple of balloons on the first pages of 163. (Remember the great reveal of The Vision in the Count Nefaria story?) I don't know, but I suspect, that 163 may have been an inventory story. Why it was run, I won't guess. It was on sale at the same time as Champions #15 (thanks Amazing Mike!). For this issue to have any impact on the Champs own book seems like a very desperate attempt, as The Champions was cancelled only two issues later. The dreaded Deadline Doom was as much a threat to the Avengers as Ultron and Kang!

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