Monday, November 19, 2012

1981–83: Avengers Sorta Disassembled Part One: If It Ain’t Too Broke…

Guest blog by Jef Willemsen (

Marvel recently released the Trial Of Yellowjacket, a paperback containing a huge chunk of early 1980s Avengers continuity. Plenty of reason to look back at these comics that, in retrospect, didn’t just shake up the book’s status quo, but actually demolished it with fevered fury.

As great a read as The Trial Of Yellowjacket is, its rife with glaring omissions and equally baffling inclusions. For instance, the issues leading up to the formation of the featured, ill fated Avengers line up are left out, while fairly forgettable tales like a Hawkeye and Ant-Man team up (#223) or an inconsequential two part romp in Avalon (#225 & 226) did make the cut. The actual TPB doesn’t tell the full story, so lets get that out of the way first.

In the Spring of 1981, Jim Shooter returned to the title with #211. During his previous run, he had written the immensely popular Korvac saga, so the fans were giddy with joy and anticipation for what cosmic tale of wonder he’d come up with next. Little did they know, he planned to tell a completely different kind of story… And he didn’t waste any time getting to it.

The opening pages of #211 feature an uncharacteristically harsh and snippy Cap, who rather randomly announces the team had to downsize the number of active Avengers to six; at least three of the current members would have to step down.

In more ways than one, this spelled the end of the status quo the book had been in since the late 1970s, a time many fans would consider the glory days of the book. It meant the end of an era with founders Wasp, Thor, Cap and Iron Man, fighting along beloved mainstays like Vision and the Scarlet Witch. Not to mention Beast and Wonder Man whose camaraderie really added to the book. In fact, the sales for the book had been steadily increasing every month since 1978. So, why mess with success? If it ain’t too broke, why fix it?

Shooter might have figured that a way to keep the sales momentum going was to shake things up a bit. So, an impromptu membership drive was held, thanks to a little unwanted help from Moondragon. The former Avenger and full time goddess of the mind believed her judgement to be superior, that’s why she decided to pick the best possible new members herself. Using her mental powers, she ordered heroes like Dazzler, Tigra, Iceman and Yellowjacket to Avengers Mansion for an audition. After the team thanked Moondragon for her input by forcibly kicking her out, the new line up was decided on… And this mind boggling scene took place.

 Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wonder Man all gone in one issue… Ow, and that figure leaping away is long time Avengers associate Jocasta. After Shooter introduced her as Ultron’s rebellious robot bride in the late 70s, she hung around the mansion, ever ready to pitch in but never granted full membership. Her willing departure was truly a symbol of the good old days literally thrown  out of the window. Still, onward and upward… by the end of issue # 211, the new team was set and ready to go.

To be fair, with five founding Avengers back on active duty this is hardly a new team. But as issue # 212 proved, all was not well in the world.

Hank Pym had changed. A lot. The kindly inventor turned reluctant superhero had always been in flux. Shifting between power sets and costumed identities almost as often as his wife changed Wasp outfits, he rejoined the team as Yellowjacket but appeared cold, distant and seething with passive aggressive rage.

Reading this dialogue in 2012 is fairly cringeworthy. Pym treats Janet like she’s an irresponsible, air headed nuisance and she seems mostly able to spout trite lines straight from 1950s style romance comics. He can’t even stand to share a car with her.

As seemingly out of character this might have appeared at the time, Jim Shooter recently shared his initial intentions for this Hank & Jan storyline on his blog…

“I reread every single appearance of both characters.  His history was largely a litany of failure (…) 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.”  

Well, forgetting for a minute that Hank, as Ant-Man, managed to trap Loki in Avengers # 1 and was key in the formation of the team… It does stand to reason that one might feel a little insecure if your fellow team members include an Asgardian god of thunder and a gamma powered behemoth.

Finding himself on the team with Thor, genius inventor Tony Stark and Cap, living legend from World War II, might have pushed Pym over the edge. Shooter already had some experience writing a deranged Hank Pym when he gave him another nervous breakdown during his first run (#161 & 162). Pym hasn’t snapped just yet, but if you thought he was frantic at meetings, see what he’s like during the team’s first field mission to stop Linnea the Elf Queen.

Why, yes, Linnea… She and her warrior companion Gorn were introduced in this issue to serve the need for an obligatory fight scene ánd mirror the marital problems of the Pyms. For centuries, Gorn had been content living with Linnea in her magic glade somewhere in Virginia. But one morning, the warrior awoke, hungering for conquest he forced his woman to go on the prowl with him.

Finding it hard to deal with modern times, not in the least because they can’t understand the language, Gorn grows frustrated and actually strikes his woman. Shocked, a teary Linnea takes off, forcing the unreasonable warrior to fend for himself.

Before long, he runs into a street gang and despite his best efforts to show them the true meaning of chivalry, he gets gunned down. When Linnea discovers her man is dead, she goes on a rampage, destroying everything in sight… And this is where the Avengers come in. After a prolonged fight, Captain America manages to talk her down, despite the language barrier. And then, Hank does something incredibly stupid.

Striking down an enemy who had already surrendered (well, sort of) just to prove yourself? It’s a court martial offence. If he’d known what was ahead of him, Hank might have actually jumped towards the car Linnea tried to crush him with. But he was saved by Janet’s timely arrival. Nearly exhausted from flying to Washington DC under her own power, the Wasp manages to blast away the car wreck with her sting.
Already ashamed he needed to be rescued, Yellowjacket was now about to face an official Avengers court martial. Incidentally, the Elfqueen teleported away… Never to be heard from again.

Hank didn’t have that luxury and things went from bad to worse for him, as we’ll see in part two of Avengers Sorta Disassembled: Hit, Miss And Definitely Maybe


  1. Dynamite review, can wait for second part.

  2. Boy, do I remember that 'old, order changeth' issue. I couldn't believe what they did: breaking up Vision, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wonder Man essentially ripped the guts out of the team...and the trade-off was Tigra? I wasn't happy.

    But I stuck around for the next couple of issues and was actually pretty swept up in the Yellowjacket Court Martial story. But after that, I didn't feel like sticking around. Without those four Avengers mentioned above, it was like reading X-Men if they broke up the core of Storm, Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler (which they eventually did in Mutant Massacre...wasn't thrilled about that either, although at least they had a couple of intriguing replacements...)

    Great review! Always love dredging up these memories...

    david p.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys. I'll have Jef's follow up blog up later this week...

  4. I didn't like the dismantling of Hank Pym one bit. It perhaps would have been a better story if you had better art (this stuff was dismal), and perhaps a more intelligent story handling..

    Seriously, a 'court martial'..? Other Avengers in past have done 'stupid acts' like Swordsman in 115, 120, and not killing Kang in ish 129 to name a few (but then he quickly got killed), Vision in Avengers 99, refusing to chase the villain, instead helping Wanda (called out by Clint no less..), wrecking a building to save Mantis in 121 (still a dumb idea with both Iron Man and Thor around..), etc..

    Didn't see any court martials there....

    This type of tripe further sunk our favorite team to depths of banal mediocrity until Big John Buscema finally came back.

  5. While you're right about those instances, David... blasting your enemy in the back isn't exactly heroic behavior, let alone worthy of the Avengers. The marital tensions picked up on by Cap and the others might also have been a factor in deciding to go through with the court martial.

    And lets not forget Stan Lee started the trend of Avengers resorting to cruel and unusual punishment when they court martialed Iron Man for failing to respond to an Avengers distress signal. His punishment was getting kicked off the team for a week, but still...



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