Monday, November 14, 2011

Marvel 1981 Week--Avengers #213!!

We started Marvel 1981 Week with the epic 20th anniversary issue of the Fantastic Four. I probably shouldn't have done that, because, you know, the whole week will be downhill from here. What else from November 1981 could possibly measure up to the significance of that issue?

Holy crap, that was this month, too?!? Boy can I pick a month, or can I pick a month.

And that cover caption? One of the truest ever, as Avengers #213 was indeed destined to be one of the most talked about, most controversial stories ever. Fasten your seat belts, children, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

Let's jump right in:

And our creators?

The Avengers had been floundering a bit since their 200th issue. The mag never latched onto a permanent creative team; there was a constant parade of "plot by/script by credits," without any sense of anyone being in charge. On art, only Gene Colan did more than two issues, and his five issues had 4 different writers' credits on them.

Finally Jim Shooter, even though he was then Marvel Editor-In-Chief, decided to take over the writing reigns (he had been doing a bunch of co-plotting on the earlier issues, anyway). He started off in #211 with an "Old Order Changeth" story (drawn by Gene Colan) introducing a new line-up. Next was #212, a odd story (drawn by Alan Kupperberg--see what I mean about instability?), wherein an immortal barbarian and sorceress turned up to menace Washington D.C. And...well, let Cap recap it:

Well, basically, he just F'd up, and shot her while trying to prove his worth as a hero to everyone. But he's not about to admit that, so Pym demands a full trial:

Out in the hall, Tigra tries to comfort the Wasp, while thinking about how creepy Pym is...

Yep, Tigra would NEVER end up involved with Hank Pym. Nope, never. (OK, OK, I know, it was a Skrull, but now Tigra and Hank are really getting in on. Keep up, people!)

Hank spent all last issue lashing out of Jan for her riches, her being more successful than he, and just because. Why let up any this issue??

During the wait for the trial, Captain America remembers how easy it is to make a mistake in the heat of battle:

Iron Man seems much less sympathetic, and as he reviews Hank Pym's history, he seems to declare (to himself, at least) that Hank is two bagels short of a dozen:

Dude, "too wasted." Huh huh....

[note to Bendis: see, it wasn't some stupid publicity stunt as you claimed in your "Oral History Of The Avengers." Sheesh]

And let it never be said that Jim Shooter couldn't trowel it on thick, as Iron Man's last thought balloon in the scene pretty much condemns Pym as history's greatest monster:

Meanwhile, poor depressed Hank is still having troubles as "Mr. Van Dyne."

And he's so nuts, he doesn't even want to roll in the hay with Jan:

Oh, but Hank has...A PLAN:

OK, this really isn't going to work out well, is it?

Meanwhile, Tigra learns that being an Avenger is a paid gig:

$52,000 in 1981 would be about $129,000 in 2011 dollars. Not bad...too bad Tony Stark is broke now...

Back to Hank's "masterplan," which Jan has snuck in on:

Now, please note this next panel: we'll come back to it in a second...

And then he proceeds to show her how tough "Sal" the robot is:

And the actual plan?

Get it comes...

OK, we have to discuss this a bit. Obviously, this one scene completely and forever changed fans' perceptions of the man known as Hank Pym. One can only shudder at what the reaction might have been in the internet era.

But, thirty years after the event, Jim Shooter wrote a piece for his blog entitled "Hank Pym Was Not A Wife-Beater." The crux:

In that story (issue 213, I think), there is a scene in which Hank is supposed to have accidentally struck Jan while throwing his hands up in despair and frustration—making a sort of “get away from me” gesture while not looking at her. Bob Hall, who had been taught by John Buscema to always go for the most extreme action, turned that into a right cross! There was no time to have it redrawn, which, to this day has caused the tragic story of Hank Pym to be known as the “wife-beater” story.

Well, Shooter's blogging so far has been pretty much a "everybody in comics was always wrong except for me," which is his right, but I've got to make a call of special malarkey on this claim.

It's his business if he wants to throw Bob Hall to the wolves. But the claim that Hank was just supposed to have accidentally struck Jan "while throwing up his hands in despair and frustration" makes little sense in the context of this and previous issues.

First of all, up to this point, Hank had been increasing angry and violent towards Janet, destroying some of her clothing last issue... well as lashing out in the panel I told you to note up above. He's been getting more and more violent towards her.

Secondly, in the prior issue, we had a similar scene, with the barbarian slapping his princess out of damaged male pride while yelling "Shut Up!":

Obviously, we were setting up a thematic parallel here (unless, of course, Shooter claims that Alan Kupperberg drew that scene wrong, too).

Finally, even if was "too late to change the art," absolutely nothing in the dialogue, either in this scene or elsewhere in the issue, indicates that this was supposed to be an accident. Those are consecutive panels I reprinted there...Hank is most certainly NOT expressing despair and frustration. He's not moping about, he's manic and paranoid, lashing out in anger--an anger that is consistent with everything else in the issue. He's telling Jan to shut up, just as the barbarian did to his paramour--that's not an accident of frustration, that's deliberate violence to his wife, something Shooter has been building up to for 2 issues, no matter what he might want to amend it to three decades later.

So, Jim Shooter can blame others, or try to rationalize and excuse away the wife-beating charges against Hank Pym. I'm not buying THAT retcon.

Hey, let's get on to the court-martial. Cap prosecutes, but everyone expects them to let Pym off with a slap on the wrist...until Hank pulls his "Captain Queeg on the witness stand" bit:

And now, the collective Avengers facepalm:

And if that's not bad enough, the Avengers find out about Hank's..."get away from me gesture":

So, now is a really good time for Hank's fake robot attack:

Sal kicks the crap out of the Avengers--because if there's one successful skill the "Scientist Supreme" (snort) has, it's inventing robots that can destroy the Avengers--but his "rescue" doesn't go quite so well:

Fortunately, one person can save them:

and...Pym is finally crushed:

...and the Marvel Universe was never the same. And that's why, despite Shooter's retcon and attempts at rehabilitation by Dan Slott and Bendis, I'm so resistant to Hank Pym as hero. Redemption as a person? Sure, that's possible. But trust him as a hero? Pretty hard...

Of course, DC learned the Pym Lesson all too well. A hero can go bad and come back again! A few psychotic breaks and a fake attack on your team? That's nothing compared to mass murder, genocide, killing half the Justice Society--but hey, all of those crimes (and more) can be walked back without any consequences if DC wants to use the character again! In a way, this issue (and the subsequent arc) paved the way for Hal Jordan, Captain Atom, Hawk, and other heroes to go all Darkseid and still come up smelling like roses. So, hurray for Pym!!


The Avengers weren't the only ones going broody:

Defenders #101 (damn! Just missed the anniversary issue!!) was basically an epilogue to the team's multi-issue battle with Satan...yes, Satan. Back then Marvel wasn't too chicken to make the Big Bad the real Big Bad, and could call Daimon Hellstrom the Son Of Satan without fear of upsetting someone.

The story consists of the heroes being all sad and broody after beating the ultimate evil, just because Hellstrom turned all evil and decided to stay in hell. So they all just wander about, soul-searching.

C'mon, guys, you just defeated SATAN!! Cheer up!!

Of course, the Defenders probably don't get that $1,000/week stipend that Avengers get, so I guess that would depress me, too. That will teach them to join a "non-team." Unionize, guys!!


SallyP said...

Poor old Hank. Poor silly, idiotic,low self-esteem, crazy in the noggin Hank. He gave his side-kick more power than he had himself. Everything that he invented was a failure, or ended up trying to kill him. And seriously, having to live with Janet? No wonder he went psychotic.

Eyz said...

I never really seen the whole thing... thanks for posting this up!
It clarifies the whole sure as heck doesn't justify it, but it clarifies it nonetheless for me :P

Jay said...

fwiw, Bob Hall does not dispute Shooter's version of events.

"I don’t doubt Jim’s story"