Monday, May 27, 2013

How Small Problems Become Big Problems: Avengers 140

To Everyone Here in the States, a Very Happy Memorial Day (and a special "thank you" to all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom) -- Bring on Summer!


Avengers #140 (October 1975)
"A Journey to the Center of the Ant"
Steve Englehart-George Tuska/Vince Colletta

Doug:  When we originally set up this post, we'd included the cover scan from the Comic Book Database, our usual source for the covers we display at the top of our reviews.  However, when scanning for the art samples I decided to switch it out with a scan of the cover of my personal copy.  I want you to direct your eyes to the "A" in Avengers and notice the date written on the cover of this magazine.  I bought this at a corner grocery store (yep, can actually remember exactly when I came into possession of this issue).  Do you have books in your collection with such defacing?  I know that retailers could tear the tops off of the covers and return them to the magazine distributors for partial refunds; my assumption is that what we see here is part of that process.

Doug:  As a youngster, I'll admit to being totally confused by this issue!  I had never seen an issue of Amazing Adventures featuring the Beast, and had really only read the character a time or two in reprints (notably in the Avengers/X-Men crossover that ran in Avengers #53 and X-Men #45 -- albeit in reprints).  But Steve Englehart wrote this one largely as if we were all in on the entire backstory.  When I was nine I found that to have placed a veil over my eyes; on the re-read, I was taken back to that time almost 40 years ago.  We've grown so accustomed to recaps, that this tale without any sort of detailed one included was just a whirlwind (pun intended)!  But enough about me...

Doug: We open on the steps to the hospital at which Janet Pym is a patient.  After helping Yellowjacket defeat the Whirlwind, the Beast has walked his new teammate back to the place where his wife lies in grave danger.  However, as the Beast ascends the steps to the building, he turns to notice Hank Pym stagger and attempt to support himself before crumpling to the ground.  As the Beast bounds over to give aid, he notices that a) YJ's passed out, and b) he seems to be growing!  Hank McCoy deduces that this must be fall-out from a microbe YJ had gotten as Ant-Man some months before.  Panicking, the Beast eschews the stairs or elevators of the building and instead scales it from the outside.  Entering the Wasp's room, he greets Thor, who continues to stand watch.  Thor ushers the Beast out into the hall, where the Thunder God is debriefed on Hank Pym's condition.  The two Avengers make their way to the street, where Pym has already grown to 20 feet!  A doctor comes out and suggests that they move YJ while they still can; Thor says "nay", as he's pretty sure the fallen hero will soon fill any enclosure.  At that, the Beast gets an idea and bounds away without explanation.

Karen: I liked the Beast's simple explanation for why YJ had used his size-changing powers even though he knew it was dangerous: "He wanted to hit somebody so bad..."! That pretty much sums it up. I'm with you, I was fairly confused about the Beast and what he was up to the first time I read this, having not read his Amazing Adventures series.

Doug:  To be fair, Englehart does give us an ever-so-brief reflection by McCoy on his days at the Brand Corporation working as a chemist -- it still went over my head.  Hank wants to break into his former place of employment, as he thinks a project he was working on may help his new friend.  But Brand has a fair amount of security, so the next 3 1/2 pages give us the break in and then subsequent break out by our furry would-be Avenger.  He's able to locate the serum he was after, but has to take out a few guards along the way.

Karen: I think I've commented on this before, but it's odd to think that the Beast had a healing power at this point, much like Wolverine's, and actually I believe he had it before Wolverine's was ever mentioned. But it seems to have been forgotten at some point. He's also got a sort of stream-of-consciousness thing going, where he just keeps rambling on from one thing to the next. I think Steve Englehart must have felt very simpatico with the Beast.

Doug:  Subplot #2 (from last issue):  A redhead knocks on the front door of Avengers Mansion and is told by Jarvis that the Beast is not home.  Really?  You could just walk right up to the front door?  No wonder "Under Siege" took place!  She refuses to leave, and parks herself on the front porch.  I had no clue who she was, and as I recall, a few issues later during the big reveal I still had no idea.

Karen: Shouldn't there be a gate at least?

Doug:  Subplot #3 (again, from last issue):  The Vision and the Scarlet Witch return to NYC via quinjet, and as Wanda continues to lament their honeymoon being cut short, the Vision looks out the window and spies a very large Yellowjacket lying prone in the middle of the street.  He quickly whips the quinjet around and executes a landing, and then hurriedly greets Thor for the 411.  I'll use this space to comment on a bone I've often picked with artists who have to draw giant-sized characters, and I alluded in an earlier post that I'd be bringing this point up when we reviewed this issue.  YJ looks great in this panel -- perfectly proportioned, and he really looks like he might be 50 feet tall.  However, George Tuska's depictions of the supposedly ever-growing Hank are all over the place throughout the rest of the story, and that bugs me.  There must have been some frame of reference that Tuska could have used for consistency's sake.  As long as we're at it, I'll reiterate that Vinnie Colletta isn't the best inker for Tuska.

Karen: Vision's sort of peeved that everyone's surprised they're back so soon, and Wanda's certainly not happy to cut the honeymoon short, although I think at this point she should just be glad Mantis is not around any more. I agree about the ever-changing size of Mr. Pym -he looks 40-50 feet tall when seen by Wanda and Vizh above, but then perhaps 25 feet tall when they land. It is a bit distracting.

Doug:  Wanda emerges from the quinjet as well, and figures that if Hank Pym's troubles are physical and/or organic that she'll be able to fix it.  Nope -- witchcraft is a no-go.  The Beast arrives back on the scene, and among the Avengers they determine that a blood sample from Jan is what McCoy needs to complete his analysis of his wonder-serum and adapting it to Hank Pym's needs.  But when they get back in the hospital, Jan's attending physician says he won't allow a blood draw.  Say what?  I thought this was a somewhat silly plot device, as no doctor should leave any stone unturned when saving a life is at issue.  But what this did do was get an appearance by Dr. Don Blake, who convinces Jan's doctor to help out the Beast.  He relents, and McCoy is able to get a lab to hole up in and do his work.

Karen: Don Blake -- always showing up just at the right time. But really, how does the man have any credibility at all in the medical community? I got a good laugh out of this. The character was such a plot device. I was glad when they finally got rid of him for good.

Doug:  Subplot #1 (again - last time - from last issue):  Moondragon and Iron Man are just about to leave Doc Doom's castle after having gone there in search of Hawkeye.  Finding no evidence of the bowman, Iron Man follows the priestess from the chamber when he hears something -- the time travel platform suddenly materializes, and with blood on it.  Iron Man declares that he smells a trap!

Karen: Although I tend to connect Hawkeye with Cap, because of their time together in the early days, Iron Man has a strong connection to Hawkeye too of course: Hawkeye first appeared in Iron Man's book (well in Tales of Suspense anyway) as an enemy. So Shellhead's intense motivation to find Clint is understandable.  Just one question here though: Why is Moondragon drawn with pointed ears?

Doug:  Back at the hospital, the Beast is finally successful in getting the formula he wanted to create.  After his five hour ordeal, he looks in on Jan.  Passing by a window, he sees that Hank Pym has now grown to 150 feet (but looks much smaller than he did from the Vision's previous aerial view).  Racing to the elevator and down, McCoy joins Thor, the Vision, and the Scarlet Witch beside their fallen comrade.  The Beast declares that the serum has to get into YJ's bloodstream fast.  The Vision offers to take it, and climbs the arm and chest of Yellowjacket.  Once on his chest, the Vision turns intangible and enters the giant.  Of course this is reminiscent of a turned table from several years past, when Hank Pym as Ant-Man saved the Vision in similar fashion.  I found it puzzling that it seemed unclear to the Beast how Pym would be administered the drug, yet once inside YJ the Vision remarked to himself that he didn't know how McCoy had made the drug with properties of tangibility/intangibility.

Karen: Beast creates the formula but apparently isn't sure how he's going to get it into YJ. Then the Vision volunteers, and says he can take it, as he can control not only his own density, but that of his costume and everything within it, and with that pours the formula into his cape. OK, fine. But then a few minutes later, the Vision is inside YJ's chest and declares he doesn't know how the Beast has made the liquid intangible like himself. I think what happened here is old Steve wrote the first part, then went and had dinner, or went to bed, who knows, then came back and wrote the second part and completely forgot what he had written before!

Doug:  Inside Yellowjacket, the Vision makes his way toward and then into the giant's heart.  Along the way he's attacked by the very microbes that have caused this problem.  In a move that I guess I would not have recommended, the Vision slightly solidifies himself so that he can combat the little nasties.  He's then able to release the serum and exit the body.  Once outside he's hailed as a hero, while standers by note that Yellowjacket is already beginning to shrink.  It's mere moments before he's conscious, and then sitting up shortly thereafter.  Once back to his normal height, he quickly jumps to his feet and begins to run toward the hospital -- against the advice of his teammates.  Undeterred, Pym finds his wife's room, where she has also snapped back to "normalcy".  The two share a reunion, as the Avengers bask in their love, and a mission accomplished.

Karen: Man, did he recover quickly or what? I thought that was a little hard to swallow, but then we're talking about a guy who can grow to 150 feet tall, so I guess all bets are off. I have to say the trip inside YJ was pretty underwhelming, particularly when compared to the similar trip inside the Vision as drawn by Neal Adams in issue #93. I think my favorite part is Thor raising his hammer and yelling at the end.

Doug:  I have always liked this two-parter, probably mostly due to the fact that it was among the first consecutive issues of the Avengers that I owned.  As I've said before, I had quite a smattering of this title as well as the Marvel Triple Action reprints, but this may have been the first complete story that I owned -- I know that very early on I had copies of #'s 111 and 119 as "new" issues.  I really enjoyed the battle the previous issue with a giant Yellowjacket, and the pacing of this conclusion, with the Beast working to beat the clock, the return of the Vision and Scarlet Witch, and the various subplots all served to give me the impression that this was a must-read comic series.  And as I've loved these heroes for over 40 years now, I'd say the creators did a good job at selling to this guy.


Comicsfan said...

Karen, you may be right about Englehart losing track of things--because when he was writing the Beast in Amazing Adventures, he made quite a big deal of having the character lose the ability to survive gunfire (during his battle with Quasimodo) due to further mutation of his condition. (Even going so far as having the Beast wonder how he would fight future threats "without his powers.") Apparently in this story, Englehart has switched out invulnerability for a "fast-healing metabolism" off-stage--which I'm okay with, though it should have helped him against Ultron's attack in a later issue, as well as many others.

david_b said...

Greetings All, Happy Memorial Day. Do yourselves a favor and check out the Honor Flight videos:

Sending WW II vets to witness THEIR monument is quite moving. The Mrs and I just watched the very-moving documentary about the Wisconsin chapter the other evening, which I believe was one of the first to go largescale and use 747's to ship these honorees to DC.

At the rate they're slipping away from us (nearly a thousand a day..), it's fantastic what these volunteers are doing for the surviving soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. It's a humble and stirring way to salute the greatest generation.

As for today's post, I'm quite frankly amazed I don't have this issue yet. Thanks to the Tuska/Colletta team, it still looks like it moves very well as ish 139.

I rate it one of the best Marvel and/or Avengers Bronze covers, so I'm again gunning for a VF+ copy for myself.

Great review, Doug and Karen.

Graham said...

Thanks for the review. This was around the time I started reading the Avengers and it was my first complete two-parter as well. I remember what a hassle it was sometimes to get all the multi-part stories back then.

Doug said...

Thanks for the compliments, guys!

David, my wife works with a lady whose father was able to go on an honor flight just several months before he passed away. How impactful for those guys! I tear up every time the nightly news shows a group returning to one of the Chicago airports and the reception they get.


Anonymous said...

I love that little inked in date!

Since I don't collect comics for their monetary value (and really with the softness of the market, who in their right mind does?), I really love comics that have those kinds of individuating marks.

I got an Avengers issue for about a buck via eBay a couple of weeks ago that surprisingly was signed by Joe Sinnott!

I also have a few issues stamped "Not for Resale" (which I bought just that way from a comic shops 25 cent box).

Looking through a comic I have had for a long time I found 10 year old me's dream picks (circle in pen) from one of those two-page spread ads from Mile High Comics!

Fred W. Hill said...

Nice semi-wrap up issue -- at least of the Jan & Hank plot, but with two dangling sub-plots to go. I actually have the first issue Moondragon ever appeared in -- Iron Man #54, in which she manipulated Shellhead into attacking Sub-Mariner, although at that time she called herself Madame McEvil, and, yeah, that is a rather silly name. George Tuska did the art and I'm pretty certain he gave her pointy ears there too. The story, btw, is credited to Mike Friedrich & Bill Everett, but Jim Starlin assisted in the artwork on the previous issue and did all the artwork on the very next, wherein Thanos was introduced, so I'm curious as to whether Moondragon, as he re-christened her in her next appearance in Daredevil #104, was his idea or if he just liked her look and took her for his ongoing initial Thanos epic.
As to other tangents, I knew just enough of the Beast's post X-Men back story to not be too confused, but let's face it, by this point in the Marvel Universe, there were many points where we had to fill in the blanks in most stories, and while it was rather frustrating at times, it was also a bit of fun and actually made it all seem a bit more "real" to me. After all, there are many aspects in real life, whether in our own extended families or in current or historical events where we don't know all the details, and in many cases never will. At least with comics these days we have more opportunity to fill in the blanks, except, of course, with those stories that never were told.

WardHill Terry said...

Somehow I had this issue. I wasn't even collecting comics when this was published, and I wouldn't start collecting The Avengers until 15 issues later, but I had read a bunch from the 140's. I had this one and I really liked it! I liked how everyone was so concerned for Yellowjacket. I liked that they liked each other. I loved Hank's concern for Jan. I agree with Doug that Colletta's inks are not the best for Tuska, and I confess to being dismayed whenever I saw Tuska instead of Dillin in JLA, but...look at that great splash page. He's drawn both Hanks body language perfectly. There's a lot of fluidity in the action sequences with the Brand guards and the bloodstream guards! I give the size perspective a pass, it never bothered me as the storytelling was clear. As to some of the story elements; I had no idea of who the Beast was or his history, or Moondragon, or Hawkeye, even! With many Marvel books the allusions to previous stories and relationships could be off-putting, even deal-breakers. (I read one Defenders, had no clue who was who and what was what and gave up.) However, Englehart truly intrigued me with this story. I wanted to know more, especially about the Beast! I really love his response to the security guard, "I'm an Avenger! Or at least I'm trying to be one!" I was rooting for the guy. Smart, funny, charismatic. The opposite of Moondragon. Which I think was one of the themes of this ongoing story. At the climax in 150 they are both offered membership, and when Moondragon declines there is relief from the Avengers, and probably the readers as well.
I also loved how Thor was there. Not doing Thor-like things, but being useful as his alter-ego. Other writers might have him rage about his uselessness, but here his concern for his teammates overcomes his ego. I've got to dig these out, read them again, and figure out how much time passes between the Avengers tryout and the end of this issue. Great stuff.

Doug said...

You know, Wardhill Terry, you make a great point about Tuska in this issue (and last). It's really tough for me, if you want to press me on it, to state what exactly it is that I don't like about Tuska's art. Well, as I've said, I don't dislike the guy's work, but he's pretty far down my list of favorites. I totally agree with you that the splash page is excellent, and last issue's big battle between Hank and the Whirlwind was excellent. I suppose I should ruminate on this a bit more, and record my thoughts.


david_b said...

Good comments on Tuska, which in part serves my own opinion of him..

As mentioned before, I didn't like him at the time, having gotten so used to the Buscema brothers and Bob Brown since I started collecting the Avengers since ish 114. But Tuska always drew great figures of strength and beautiful female faces, which is why I liked him in Iron Man.

I wasn't an immediate fan of Perez on this team early on, perhaps due to inkers. He just didn't draw the heavy muscles or arching figures like Tuska, but I came to accept him in time. Perez's style was perhaps too different (or 'too new'), which made it hard for me to accept, especially when I had generally accepted the 'old-school look' I've gotten used to at Marvel thus far, making me actually miss Tuska when he left.

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