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", but 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 comes 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 bit 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 might 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.