Friday, May 27, 2011

Among Us Walks…a Goliath! (Or, How I Came to Know Dr. Henry Pym), Part Two

Doug: In today's installment of my essay originally imagined to appear in Assembled! Volume 3, we pick up my impressions of Avengers #28, which featured the return of Dr. Henry Pym to Earth's Mightiest Heroes...

What struck me about Hank in the first half of this story was his self-doubt, almost whining about his problems. I thought, hey, here’s a guy who should be on top of the world – top-notch scientist with his own very large research ship, Avengers founder, and with one of the coolest super powers around! Look at the Avengers of that era: Hawkeye wasn’t in my mind much different from what I’d seen of Green Arrow, Captain America was no doubt in charge but leadership seemed to be his finest attribute, Quicksilver was a poor man’s Flash, and I’d yet to truly figure out what the Scarlet Witch could do. At that point in my readership I didn’t fully grasp the nature or intensity of Wanda’s prowess (nor for that matter did her writers, it seemed). Throw in now a guy who was 25 feet tall and strong as a tank… yeah, that’s who my seven-year old mind gravitated to, identified with in an envious way. Incidentally, giants would go on to dominate on my cool-o-meter as a youngster: Goliath, Galactus, Black Goliath, Colossal Boy… shoot – even Stilt-Man was a treat. I should also say that years later, I had to wonder if the different drugs Hank had used to create his ability to change sizes had not caused unknown side effects that may have affected him mentally. Could that have been a cause of his self-doubt?

The second half of the story is what has caused me to admire the character and appreciate him as complex, heroic, and never-say-die. Once the Avengers arrived at the Collector’s castle, Hank (although taken aback at Hawkeye’s disrespect for Cap’s lead, and amazed at how Cap had taken ownership of the team) came to the fore, freeing his teammates from bondage and on the attack – aggressive, leading, angry, and when it looked to be over in a gas attack, lashing out with the last effort he could muster. This Hank Pym would not be denied. Of course the kicker was on the last page when, attempting to shrink back to normal size to greet the newly freed Wasp, Hank stopped at ten feet.

And there I was. Newer readers have no idea what it was like trying to get comics in the pre-direct market days. Not only was I too young to fly solo to get to either of two local drug stores or the grocery store where we shopped, but even if I could get to one of those places there was simply no guarantee that the book I was looking for would be in stock (let alone that it had even been ordered that month). These were the days of irregular distribution at best and there were no such things as “pull lists”, store subscriptions, etc. As far as I knew, Hank was still stuck at ten feet…

Until I stumbled upon Avengers #140. I recall purchasing issue #130 myself, but for some reason I never got hold of the subsequent issues. Anyway, this cover knocked me on my pants – “Invasion of the 50 Foot Hero!” it screamed at me as I stared at the giant lying prone on the ground with two strangers acting in haste to (apparently) save him. I couldn’t get the quarter out of my pocket fast enough!

This wasn’t exactly a jumping-on issue. Talk about stepping in mid-stream! New characters, none of whom I recognized, and only the Scarlet Witch from my previous two Avengers encounters. But, I certainly did know the name of Hank Pym and his wife (?) Jan. Naturally what grabbed me about this book was what happened to Hank (now in a new outfit – did the guy change clothes like most people change their underwear?!?), as he collapsed at the beginning of the story and began to grow… and grow… and grow! I gleaned that he’d fallen ill from a battle in the previous issue, and it seemed like he’d done it in defense of the Wasp. Thor remarked to Jan’s doctor, who had questioned Pym’s motivation for taking off after whoever this Whirlwind fellow was, “This man doth live his every moment for yon woman, doctor (page 3)!” Yep, they were talking about the Hank Pym I’d seen in that earlier Avengers comic I owned. Ultimately the story had a happy ending, and also improved my education as far as what had gone on with the team (it was about this time that I figured out what a “reprint” was, and that my other two Avengers books had been such). Although I couldn’t discern much of the Beast’s backstory (X-Men? It would be about another few months before a friend showed me a copy of a book he’d just bought – Giant-Size X-Men #1), he was very interesting; the Vision seemed very strange. I was also excited to see that Captain America would be in the next issue.

But Hank, now Yellowjacket, wasn’t. The events of his out-of-control growth had taken a toll and forced him to a restful retirement in a hospital. This was OK to me at the time, because I was really soaking in all of the characters I didn’t really know – the Vision, Beast, and Iron Man (who had gotten his tail kicked by Thor in the #130 I mentioned). I can still recall that wonderful sense of discovery as I read #141; and that George Perez guy wasn’t too bad on the art, either! And then, an ordinarily boring trip with my mom to the grocery store lit up my day. On the magazine shelf, next to the Car-toons and MAD magazines, was a single copy of Giant-Size Avengers #5 with Goliath prominently featured on the cover. A little begging and a short trip home and I was back at it with a whole bunch of characters! Cap, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Goliath, the Wasp, Thor, Iron Man, and a big guy named Hercules went up against some very colorful baddies in the longest story I’d yet seen in a comic book.

There really weren’t any great Goliath action moments in the story, a reprint of Avengers Annual #1 – a good tussle with the Swordsman and Power Man, but nothing we hadn’t already seen. I did like his playfulness with the Wasp toward the end of the story – it again showed Hank was very dedicated to her. And it was fun to see the interaction of various members of the squad, particularly the Thor/Hawkeye team-up. Don Heck’s art was solid and it seemed he’d learned to reconcile Goliath’s height changes as relative to his teammates and surroundings; even as a waif I’d noticed this glaring discrepancy in the Avengers #28 story. George Tuska struggled similarly in #140 in staying consistent when attempting to show the unconscious Yellowjacket’s growth – in one scene YJ would be drawn much smaller relative to other characters, in others he’d be two to three times larger, and then back again.

14 comments:

david_b said...

I've been really enjoying these Hank Pym columns, Doug.

Many Thanks!!

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for this, I'm not familiar with that story from #140. I'm guessing it's a homage to 'A Journey To The Center Of An Android', from #93? Looks like the Vision returns the favor in 140.
If nothing else, these stories show that Hank Pym, mentally unbalanced or not, should NEVER have been turned into a "wife-beater".

dbutler16 said...

This was a fun trip down memory lane. I agree with JA, it's such a shame that when most people think of Hank Pym, they think "wife-beater" first.

david_b said...

Yes, yes, yes.. Totally agreed. It was a terrible chapter.

'Course I picked up a recent reprint on-base over in Kuwait (where Hank now dons Jan's old Wasp identity...??), and the only two stories they feature was the first meeting of Jan, and that one. I understand it was supposed to feature eventful stories, but I detest when a single incident taints a character from here on in.

It's doing a special on Gwen Stacy and just focusing on her death in Spiderman 121.

Hank (and Avengers writers) deserve far more credit than that.

dbutler16 said...

David B, on the flip side of that, how about perhaps Hank's finest hour - Avangers #229. Thank you, Roger Stern! He tricks Egghead, easily defeats the Master of Evil then is big enough to refrain from killing Egghead (though Hawkeye does that instead). Egads, how I loved that comic. It shows that smarrt can be cool too. :-)

david_b said...

dbutler16:

Yeah, it was alright. To be honest, I never liked any of the art or writing during this phase.

If a Buscema or Byrne would have been drawing, I'd consider hanging on to them more. I also didn't care for She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, or Starfox as members then. It was simply a very weak time overall for our Avengers until Stern and Buscema got back into the saddles.

Thanks for the great comments.

J.A. Morris said...

david_b wrote:
"where Hank now dons Jan's old Wasp identity...??)"

If I recall, Jan is "dead", so Hank decided to fight crime under the Wasp name as a way of honoring her memory.

Doug said...

You guys are certainly welcome! I recall when Karen and our former blog-mate Sharon proofread this essay that they both commented that part of the charm of it was that it read just as I intended -- with a sense of discovery, as seen through the eyes of a child. I hope that still comes across, as it was certainly my intention to give readers a sort of time capsule.

More in a week!

Everyone have a great holiday weekend,

Doug

Fred W. Hill said...

Re dbutler's comment about Hawkeye "killing" Egghead, as I recall, Egghead was about to shoot someone and Hawkeye responded by shooting an arrow into Egghead's gun, causing an explosion that killed Egghead. So technically, yeah, Hawkeye killed Egghead but only to directly prevent Egghead from murdering someone else.
Anyhow, the difference between Hank's character as depicted in issues 28 & 140 and in Shooter's portrayal in that infamous wife-beating story is striking. If Shooter had made a point that Hank's behavior was clearly out of character and perhaps based on the chemicals that gave him his powers it would have made a lot more sense, even tying in with the first Yellowjacket story, in which YJ is clearly a separate persona from Hank Pym, even boasting of having killed Goliath. But it seemed Shooter really just wanted to do a "hero goes bad" story, making it seem Pym was a bad man all along and attempting to negate all his heroic, if occasionally manic, aspects.
Naturally, in the Ultimates they played up the worst of Pym's traits based on Shooter's story. It certainly made for more dramatic fiction than a mildly reluctant hero devoted to his girlfriend/wife as seen in those earlier stories by Lee, Thomas and Englehart.

Edo Bosnar said...

Avengers #229 was a really nice story. It was basically Roger Stern starting to clean up the mess Shooter had made of the title, pretty much starting with issue #200. Even so, at the time I was still a rather upset fanboy, so I only lingered on for a few more issues before dropping it altogether - thus missing the heights of the Stern/Buscema run.
By the way, Doug, I'm really enjoying these posts, probably more so for some of the ancillary aspects than the main topic. Like your discovery of the stuff happening "now" and the reprints. Very similar to my own experience...

John Lindwall said...

Doug: The nostalgia in your blog posts (this one in particular) is much loved. I am a dude in his mid-40s who grew up on comics. I can remember certain comics purchases with fondness as do you, and it is fun to relive those moments.

There were certain 7-11s that had the best comics and when traveling across country I would scope out every truck stop or gift shop for books, etc. My heart would race at the sight of that spinner rack! Such fun.

I love how you inject that fun into your posts and will keep reading your stuff forever. Thank you!

Doug said...

John --

Thanks very much -- you are kind.

As I mentioned when we started this last week, later in the summer I think I'll publish my Crystal and Quicksilver essay in installments. And, my partner has been considering posting an essay of her own that originally ran in Assembled 2; let's just say she was less than ecstatic with some of the editing and the way it saw print -- I'll twist her arm a bit and see what we can do about it!

Doug

Jason said...

I stumbled across your blog last week and have been playing catch up - great stuff! As a bronze-age baby myself, I can't get enough of this era and it's creators. I really enjoy the "ground-level" perspective you guys bring - makes me feel like I'm a kid at the spinner-rack again!

I first met Hank & Jan in MARVEL TEAM-UP #59. Sure, I'd seen the two of them before, buzzing around random Avengers reprints, but they never really made an impact on my Spider-Man-crazed brain (this was the mid-70's and Spidey was THE super-hero in my eyes!) Anyway, MTU #59 is a great John Byrne issue, featuring Hank (as Yellowjacket) and Jan teaming up with ol' Webhead against B-lister villain Equinox.

In a nutshell, Spidey is web-swinging home one winter's night when he's attacked by an unseen foe. Knocked unconscious, he plummets towards the icy waters of the East River - only to be saved by Hank. Turns out the action went down just outside of Jan's deluxe penthouse apartment, allowing for the quick save. Pete wakes up to a cup of hot chocolate & sympathy from the Pyms, who are more than happy to help Spidey track down his mystery attacker. Stuff happens and the issue ends with a cliffhanger (Yellowjacket incinerated in a fuel truck explosion - WOW!)

At the time I had no way of buying issue #60 - I just had to hope that Hank somehow escaped his fiery fate. Eventually I picked up and issue of the Avengers #152 and there he was, alive and well in all his Kirby-etched glory. Whew!

While the issue had some great action sequences and a cool-looking villain, what really struck me was how COOL the Pyms were. I mean, Reed and Sue were Marvel's First Couple but Hank and Jan always struck me as the folks I'd want to party with. In this issue, Byrne gives the Pyms a '70's hipster elan - you get the sense that, off-panel, Hank is reading Castaneda and smoking a pipe while Jan sips a cocktail and pages through NATIONAL LAMPOON while trying to decide what to wear to that night's key party. They seem to be the kind of witty cosmopolitan New Yorkers we all wished we were - rich, powerful and members of the most exclusive club in the world! No wonder we thought they were so cool...

Donald G said...

IIRC, MTU #59-60 came out around the same time as Avengers #161-162 (at least that's how it seemed with distribution in my area). As MTU #59 opens, Hank's just coming off of a week of having locked himself in his lab working on improving their powers (the improvements he was contemplating in Avengers #160 before flying off as revealed in flashback in #161.

In Avengers #164-166, there are a number of referenced to Jan and Hank's upgraded powers with footnotes referencing the MTU issues. Apparently, working on the power upgrade for himself and Jan is the first thing Hank does after his offscreen recovery from the Ultron-induced madness.

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