Saturday, October 15, 2016

Crabs, Assemble!, Part Seven: The Avengers: The Trial of Yellowjacket

 A perfect collection...?

 I'm not saying that the stories collected in THE AVENGERS: THE TRIAL OF YELLOWJACKET are perfect...far from it. What I am saying is that this volume, which collects THE AVENGERS #'s 212-230 collects a virtually completely self-enclosed arc that has almost no callbacks to other volumes and only one real loose end. (The book has a section at the end that implies that events in THE AVENGERS #211 may have some bearing on a court case, but that proves to be untrue, and the loose end that I referred to above was fairly inconsequential, as it was only a minor character who may or may not be about to break out of jail.) The actual stories here vary wildly in quality, but this is a volume that someone could, theoretically, pick up completely cold and enjoy, with a beginning, middle, and end that is complete unto itself.

 The book starts off with THE AVENGERS #212, which is a fairly dopey Jim Shooter story that finds an Elf-Queen and her time-displaced barbarian consort wreaking havoc in Washington, D.C. The plot, such as it is, is merely a device to get to the meat of Shooter's intentions for the team: The destruction of Yellowjacket, A.K.A. Hank Pym.

 Right off the bat, Shooter has Hank acting out of character, verbally abusing his wife, The Wasp, and just acting like a complete dick to his teammates. Jim Shooter has gone on the record with his intentions for this arc:

 "Back in 1981 I was writing the Avengers. Hank Pym aka Yellowjacket was married to Janet Van Dyne aka The Wasp and things had not been going well for him for a long time.

"Before I embarked on the storyline that led to the end of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne's marriage, I reread every single appearance of both characters.  His history was largely a litany of failure, always changing guises and switching back and forth from research to hero-ing because he wasn't succeeding at either.  He was never the Avenger who saved the day at the end and usually the first knocked out or captured. His most notable 'achievement' in the lab was creating Ultron. Meanwhile, his rich, beautiful wife succeeded in everything she tried. She was also always flitting around his shoulders, flirting, saying things to prop up his ego. 

"As I was developing the storyline, I discussed the potential pathology of their relationship with a psychologist who happened to be sitting next to me on a five-hour flight.  The story made sense, he thought.  I went ahead with it.  During the time the story was running, I got a great deal of hate mail.  It worried me enough to ask Stan what he thought.  He said he got the same kind of mail in the '60's regarding Peter Parker's various romantic travails.  He asked me how Avengers sales were doing.  They were in fact, increasing by 10,000 copies per issue.  Stan said that people obviously cared passionately about what was happening to Hank and Janet, as if they were real people.  That's the key.  And he said, 'Don't worry about the mail.'"

 I disagree with these comments completely. Perhaps if there had been extensive foreshadowing of Hank Pym having mental issues, this would have felt more organic. Shooter speaks about Hank's rich, beautiful, successful wife, but he portrays her as an airheaded, hormonal ditz in all of his issues. Only when Roger Stern takes over, later in this collection, does Janet begin to think and act like a well-rounded, rational human being.

 In fact, Shooter seems to have some weird agenda when it comes to the female members of the team. Jim Shooter himself made Tigra a member of the team in #211, but immediately sets to work in #212 to make her look as weak, cowardly, and ineffectual as possible, before having her quit the team in issue #216. The Wasp lusts after Thor and acts like a ditzy teenager. Moondragon uses her powers to seduce and rape Thor and murder her own father. Things don't get any better for the female members of the team until Shooter departs the title.

 Anyway, Yellowjacket, in his mania to be the one that save s the day, ends up zapping the Elfqueen in the back, knocking her out. She's fine, but the action pisses off Captain America, who Shooter writes as a holier-than-thou prick, and he demands a court-martial for Hank. (I want to scour my back-issues to see if Cap ever struck a much more powerful adversary from behind in order to save innocent lives.)

 The prospect of being court-martialed drives the already unstable Pym over the edge. He creates an evil robot to attack The Avengers, hoping to save the day himself, and even hits his wife, blackening her eye.

 Needless to say, the robot attack fails, and Pym himself is almost killed. The fact that his wife saves the day makes him even crazier. He is drummed out of the team that HE HELPED FOUND, and sent packing. Shooter accomplished his odd mission in only two issues....

 The ordeal of Henry Pym is the overarching story of this volume, but it moves along in fits and starts every few issues. Along the way, the team encounters Ghost Rider, The Angel, Moondragon and Drax The Destroyer (In a story that still effects both characters to this day), The Molecule Man, The Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, The Taskmaster, Doctor Druid, The Black Knight, and the new Captain Marvel. The Black Knight story, written by Steven Grant, stands to this day as maybe THE worst AVENGERS story that I've ever read. I hated it when I was eleven, and it was no better this time out, at forty-five.)

 When the book does deal with Yellowjacket, Shooter heaps on the misery. Alone and destitute, Hank is duped into an act of treason by his old enemy, Egghead, and imprisoned. During his subsequent trial, he is "broken out" by Egghead and his new Masters of Evil, and the jailbreak is made to look like his idea. By the time the actual trial rolls around, Roger Stern is doing the writing, but Stern arrives a little too late to save Pym from the ultimate indignity: His ex-wife begins a relationship with Tony Stark, A.K.A. Iron Man. Talk about salt in the wound....I know that Stark is known for being a bit of a dick, but would even HE go that far? Shooter's issues are entertaining, but his handling of the Avengers personalities is abominable. They all act completely out-of-character, doing things solely to further the demands of the plot.

 By the time Stern comes aboard, things are starting to look up. In fact, I consider Stern's run on the book to be an all-time high for the team, and it starts in earnest right here. Stern manages to close out the storyline perfectly, giving resolution to the trial, and allowing Hank to depart the team with a little dignity intact. The final page of the volume is one of the most poignant comic-book scenes that I have ever read.

 This is far from a perfect book, but Stern ends the tale on such a magnificent note that I had to give the collection a perfect ten-out-of-ten. A legendary volume, and it only gets better from here.