In Do You Remember The First Time? we take a nostalgic trip back in time to discuss a seminal purchase that introduced us to a character, title, creator, or even a hobby.
During April, we're looking at our first Avengers comics.
Simon M: Growing up in the States, I had the luxury of being able to ride my BMX bike to the local general store and peruse the racks for comics. Up till this point my comic reading was mainly DC with Flash and Superman being the main culprits. I was would usually pick up digests which were reprinting stuff from the '70s and were of a very light-hearted nature. Then the store started to sell Marvel comics and that is where my passion for comics really started. I began reading Captain America and Iron Man and these characters just jumped out at me. They seemed more real and the stories were dealing with real world problems.
This brings me on to my first Avengers comic and wow, what a first issue it was! Avengers #213, 'The Court-Martial Of Yellow-Jacket', written by Jim Shooter with pencils by Bob Hall. It hits you straight away, first page, no hostages taken. We find Yellow-Jacket (Hank Pym) facing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America for his actions in #212 - if Hank can’t explain himself then he will face a formal court-martial. Now, for anyone who doesn’t know, Hank blasted a mysterious woman known as the Elfqueen in the back with his disruptor sting while Cap was starting to talk her down from a stand-off with the Avengers. Needless to say this did not go down well and she started to attack again, putting all of the heroes’ lives at risk.
Hank was asked to explain his actions and although he knew what he had done was wrong, and he was only trying to prove himself on his first mission since rejoining the team, he could not verbalise this to the others and remained silent. Cap had no option but to move forward with the court-martial.
Once Hank had left, Cap and Iron Man are left pondering Hank’s past and some of their own experiences. Cap remembers during WW2 while fighting the Nazi war machine, a time where he almost took the life of a small child. Iron Man remembers Hank’s one crowning achievement was the creation of a robot with the ability to think entirely on its own. Unfortunately this creation turned into the evil form of Ultron, whose sole agenda was to rid the world of “inferior humans”. Iron Man believes that this burden had been too much for Hank to bear and that was the reason for his erratic behaviour.
Hank’s wife, the Wasp (Janet Van Dyne Pym), takes him home to their mansion and tries to console him. He cannot deal with the raging emotions and retreats to his lab. While in his lab Hank recalls his creation, Ultron, and sees a way to redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow Avengers. Following three days without seeing her husband Janet sneaks into his lab to check on him. Here she finds him building an adamatium robot capable of defeating the Avengers, but has a weakness that only Hank knows. While the two are discussing the matter, Salvation 1 attacks Janet and Hank is forced to disable it with his disruptor sting.
Hank explains his plan of having Salvation 1 attack the Avengers if the trial goes badly, which he believes it will. Then he can save the day and be reinstated as a full member of the team. Janet tries to change his mind, but to no avail. He lashes out, hits her and makes her swear to keep his plan a secret.
As the court-martial begins the already unstable Hank starts to dissemble further and blames Cap for blowing all things out of proportion because he liked the Elfqueen and now had a vendetta against him. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he asks Janet to speak up for him. It is one step to far for Janet; she reveals her black eye for the rest of the team to see.
It’s at this point that Salvation 1 comes crashing through the wall of Avengers Mansion and starts to attack. Hank's creation is tearing through the Avengers, but when the opportunity to disable the robot presents itself, Hank himself is attacked and unable to fire the disabling blow. Luckily for everyone, Janet also knew how to halt the robot and stopped it before any further damage could occur.
Shamed by the fact his wife had to save him, Hank just walks out of the mansion and away from the Avengers without a word. Janet is left behind, emotionally drained, but unable to cry “I just don’t have any tears left”.
This, for an eleven year old, was some pretty heavy stuff; domestic abuse and depression only start to cover the topics being dealt with. I’ve lost count of how many times I read that comic as a kid, but reading again for this article has put a slightly different spin on things. Yes, the depression of Hank and his emotional and physical abuse of Janet are still relevant and hard hitting, but I had forgotten how they depicted women then.
Throughout this issue Janet was portrayed as a subservient, weak-willed woman who referred to Hank as 'lover'. There is a point in the middle of the story where across two panels this is perfectly summed up. Janet, while trying to console Hank, says “But I’m dingaling Jan, the airhead heiress! Everytime I try to help I just make things worse! I Know! I—I’m sorry! I always goof everything up. Always say the wrong things! I’m such a dumbbell! It’s a good thing I found you to think for me darling! You’re so smart .. so strong ..mmm.. so sexy! All I want to do is melt in your arms.. be yours! I need you to protect me and keep me warm, Lover!” This is a full-blooded member of the Avengers and this is how she was portrayed. Not something you would see today, but having said that it was a sign of the times and not the only stereotype on display. If you were of any ethnic minority you had your own issues to deal with.
As the first issue of Avengers for me, it left an imprint. It was hard hitting and emotional and dealt with strong, difficult topics. The depiction of women aside, it was a top notch read and got me into the Avengers from that point forward and my love of that team has not wavered in the 33 years since.