They just don’t make superhero wedding comics* the way they used to.
These days, it’s as likely as not that a heavily promoted “wedding issue” will come out and have not a single scene where anything remotely resembling a wedding ceremony occurs. Or, a couple does get married, but it’s a different couple than the one whose marital union the book was supposed to be about. Something of a bait-and-switch going on in both of those cases, if you ask me.
Ah, but in the Good Ol’ Days (AKA the Silver Age of Comics), the major funnybook publishers really knew how to celebrate them some nuptials. For an example, take Aquaman #18 (Nov.-Dec., 1964), where the whole blamed Justice League of America turns out for the Sea King’s undersea wedding to Mera (bubble helmets thoughtfully provided by the Royal Atlantean Event Planning Committee, I’m sure), Or Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), in which not only do all of Reed Richards’ and Sue Storm’s super friends show up, but so do a whole passel of super foes, as well, thanks to the machinations of the diabolical Doctor Doom. Now that’s what I call a wedding to remember. Not a dry (or un-blackened) eye in the house, y’know what i mean?
And then, there’s Avengers #60, featuring “‘Til Death Do Us Part!”, by Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema (penciler), and Mike Esposito (inker, as “Micky Demeo”) — which not only gives us an Avengers Mansion-ful of super-powered guests and gatecrashers, but also brings the wacky on a level rarely seen before or since.
The story actually begins in the previous issue, produced by the same creative team (with the exception of the inker, who for Avengers #59 was George Klein). “The Name Is… Yellowjacket!” introduces a new costumed character, a mysterious figure who first comes to public notice when he prevents three armed robbers from making off with a truckload of stolen furs, subduing them with “stinger” blasts fired from his hands. The very next day, at Avengers Mansion — where the Wasp, Hawkeye, the Black Panther, and the Vision have all been cooling their heels waiting for a tardy Goliath to show up for the team’s scheduled meeting — the new (supposed) crimefighter shows up unannounced (not to mention uninvited):
The smug Yellowjacket goes on to inform the indignant Avengers that they should forget about Goliath ever showing up — because he’s killed the size-changing Avenger!
As YJ tells it, late the previous night he ambushed Goliath, AKA Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym, at the latter’s suburban headquarters. After a bruising battle in which Hank’s assailant countered his foe’s greater size and strength by blinding him with his stingers, Yellowjacket hit Goliath with a dose of powerful, fast-acting shrinking gas, and…
Yellowjacket didn’t actually see Goliath die, he says, but he figures there’s no way he could have escaped the spider. Uncertain whether or not to believe his tale, the Avengers figure their best option is to beat the truth out of him, and rush to attack. But before they can overpower him, YJ manages to take the Wasp hostage, and thus makes his escape.
Later, at Yellowjacket’s hideout, Janet van Dyne — who, in addition to being the Wasp and Hank Pym’s longtime romantic partner, is also a wealthy heiress — is at some pains to make her captor understand just how pointless all his efforts are:
“Now I don’t want him to…!” Ewww.
A little while later, the other Avengers follow the signal from Jan’s tracking device — which has suddenly started working again — to an unnamed small city. They land their aircraft just as Yellowjacket and the Wasp are descending the steps of City Hall (!). Hawkeye, Vizh, and the Panther are ready to resume their beat-down of YJ, until the Wasp pleads with them to stop. Dumbfounded, Hawkeye demands to know why he and the other guys “shouldn’t total this creep called Yellowjacket!” And Jan proceeds to offer him “the best reason in the world”:
Whaaa — ?!?!?!
And that’s how things stand at the beginning of Avengers #60:
We open on a scene of a shocked Captain America receiving his wedding invitation, which seems an entirely appropriate way to begin. Cap, after all, has known Janet (and Hank) longer than any of their fellow current Avengers, as well as having led the team through a thirty-two issue run that had ended only about a year ago. And as I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, although editor Stan Lee had told writer Roy Thomas he couldn’t use Iron Man, Thor, or Cap as “regular” Avengers members, Thomas worked them in as “guest stars” every chance he could — especially Cap, who was around so much that a relatively new reader (as my eleven year old self still was, in November, 1968) might reasonably wonder if he really had left the book, after all. I mean, Cap is even included as one of the four “floating Avenger heads” on this issue’s cover, fergoshsakes.
The next page finds Cap swiftly making his way to Avengers Mansion, where…
Based on the editor’s footnote, one must assume that the “project” that Cap refers to above is his taking on Rick Jones as his new partner, as seen in the pages of Captain America #110 [and discussed in last week’s blog post]. Oddly, however, in that issue, Cap — and Rick — are both plainly shown to be living at Avengers Mansion, so it doesn’t make much sense either for Cap to have received his wedding invitation somewhere else, or for the mansion’s butler Jarvis not to know anything about his “project”. Oh, well.
Hawkeye fills Cap in on the bizarre events of the last issue, including Yellowjacket’s claim of being responsible for Hank Pym’s death — and then, the happy couple arrives:
At around the same time, elsewhere in the mansion, Jarvis answers the service entrance doorbell to find…
Unfortunately for the Avengers’ faithful butler, the new arrivals aren’t really caterers at all. They quickly overpower Jarvis and truss him up, after which they reveal themselves to be…
This group of super(ish) villains were completely unknown to me as a relative Marvel newbie in 1968, but longtime readers would recognize them as a B-list band of baddies who’d been around since 1962 (though they were likely inspired by an earlier Ringmaster & co. who’d appeared in Captain America Comics #5 [August, 1941]). Debuting in Incredible Hulk #3, they’d bounced from there to Amazing Spider-Man to Avengers to Thor, never really becoming established as any one particular hero’s nemeses. Their plan in this story is aimed mostly at getting revenge on the God of Thunder for a recent defeat at his hands — and involves blowing up the Avengers and all their superheroic guests with nitroglycerine.
Meanwhile, Janet van Dyne is getting ready for her wedding ceremony, with the aid of the Fantastic Four’s Sue Richards and Crystal:
“Gosh” doesn’t sound quite right coming from the mouth of Crystal, a member of the Royal Family of the Inhumans, whose speech patterns tended to be considerably more formal in Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four scripts. Like the earlier bit concerning Captain America’s living arrangements, it’s an example of how difficult it was to keep Marvel’s fictional continuity 100% consistent across the line once Lee wasn’t writing everything. Still, it’s a minor inconsistency, and one that probably barely registered (if it did at all) on my eleven-year-old self back in ’68. And hey, the Marvel Universe was still a whole lot more coherent than its equivalent at DC Comics, where each editor still pretty much managed the characters and storylines in their own books with little to no regard for what their peers were doing.
And speaking of that coherent Marvel Universe…
I can well remember being completely knocked out by this page the first time I saw it — a full-page splash that featured almost every superhero who were appearing in Marvel’s comics at the time.** I specifically recall being fascinated by the different character groupings (why is Cyclops separate from all the other X-Men?) as well as being vaguely reassured by the fact that Spider-Man was present, considering that he was wanted by the police over in his own book around this time. At least his fellow heroes still know he’s a good guy!
On the other hand, I don’t recall paying much (if any) attention to the caption explaining that our heroes are all drinking non-alcoholic punch — my own family were strict teetotalers, and we never had alcohol in our house when I was growing up, so that didn’t strike me as being in any way strange — but it does seem a little odd today, especially since there’s no similar statement explaining that Nick Fury is smoking a herbal cigarette (or Ben Grimm an herbal stogie). Alcohol is bad, but tobacco is OK? Those were different times, I guess.
Wait, Cap and Iron Man have both bailed before the actual ceremony? That’s especially surprising in Cap’s case, considering that the book opened using him as a primary viewpoint character (plus, y’know, that floating head on the cover) — but I suppose writer Thomas didn’t want to press his luck with editor Lee.
As soon as the ceremony is over, Hawkeye stalks off, wanting to put some distance between himself and Yellowjacket. He heads for the kitchens, to see how the wedding cake is coming along — and runs right into the Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime. By dint of surprise (although, really, no one who was around for the Richards-Storm wedding should be surprised to find super-villains horning in on this one, too), as well as superior numbers, the bowman is quickly outnumbered; and soon, he joins Jarvis as a captive.
And then, the cake is served…
The Panther and the Vision quickly subdue the python before Jan can come to any real harm, and then…
Oh, right, that’s definitely the way to go. Send Daredevil and the FF and everyone else home, because “this is Avenger business!” What the heck does that even mean?
The real reason for doing this, of course, is so that the fight that begins on the very next page won’t already be over by the end of that page.
Even with Spidey, the X-Men, etc., all having left the premises, the Circus of Crime isn’t really a match for the remaining heroes. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t do some damge before they go down…
Double whaaaa –?!?!?!
Honestly, I can’t remember whether I was taken completely by surprise fifty years ago by the revelation that Yellowjacket had been Henry Pym all along — but I kind of suspect that I was. I am sure that I’d finished issue #59 with no idea that the story YJ had told the Avengers about his battle with Goliath was a complete fantasy, though of course I didn’t believe that Hank was actually dead. I think, rather, that I accounted for Jan’s strange behavior by assuming she was under some kind of mind control, and probably did all the way up until that last panel on page 16 of #60. At any rate, if I was bright enough to figure out Yellowjacket’s secret before the big reveal, I have no recollection of it.
Now that he’s back to full fighting strength (and size), it takes mere moments for Hank to free Jan, and then use Princess Python’s pet as a makeshift rope to tie up the Ringmaster; meanwhile, the Panther and Vizh finish putting the kibosh on Cannonball, the Gambonno brothers, and the Clown:
And as for Princess Python herself…
It’s nice (I guess) that, after relegating her to a passive, damsel-in-distresss role for much of this issue and the last, Thomas and Buscema allow Janet van Dyne to throw at least one satisfying punch before everything’s wrapped up. As for Hawkeye — who having finally freed himself from his bonds arrives just after the nick of time — his hapless ineffectualness here may seem to have been an arbitrary narrative choice, but it’ll be seen to bear meaningful fruit in just a couple of issues.
But for now, our storytellers have still got a lot of ‘splaining left to do, and only one more page in which to do it — so pay close attention, OK?
Got all that? Due to his accidental exposure to “various untested gases“, Hank contracted a form of “schizophrenia” (actually, it seems to be more a case of dissociative identity disorder), which caused him to believe that he was an entirely different person, “in many ways the opposite of Hank Pym”. But Jan was ultimately able to figure out the truth, thanks to that nonconsensual kiss back on page 18 of issue #59. And rather than tell that truth to either Hank or their fellow Avengers — or, y’know, get her beloved some obviously much-needed medical help — Jan takes advantage of the situation to force Hank to do something he’s proven reluctant to do when in his right mind, i.e., marry her. Ain’t love grand? And hey, don’t worry, the marriage is totally legit — in spite of the fact that there’s no way Yellowjacket could have gotten a marriage license under his true, legal name. Well, not in our world, anyway. I guess maybe they do things a little differently in the Marvel Universe.
But, despite my present-day self’s snark, I doubt that any of the problems noted above fazed me a single whit when I first read this story, back in late 1968. I was a reasonably well-off, sheltered, eleven-year-old kid who didn’t know much (if anything) about serious mental illness, let alone marriage law. And as such, I took the happy ending that Thomas and Buscema provided on face value, just as the characters seemed to. And I suppose most other readers must have accepted it as well, since it remained in canon for decades without challenge (though not without consequence, as we’ll get into a little bit later).
Eventually, however, Marvel did revisit the events of Avengers #59 and #60, in the pages of two unrelated projects dealing with the team’s fictional history — and, in both projects, applied some retconning to those events. Brian Cronin has written a column for CBR.com’s “The Abandoned An’ Forsaked” series which discusses both retcons in considerable detail, and I see no need to duplicate his fine effort here, but these are the basics: In 2007’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II, writer Joe Casey and artist Will Rosado revealed that all of the Avengers, including the Wasp, had known Yellowjacket was Henry Pym from the moment he’d first entered Avengers Mansion — but, on the advice of a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychiatrist, played along with his delusion, as said expert explained that if they tried to “shock” Hank back to his normal self, they might well destroy his mind forever. So, everything that Jan and the others did over the latter half of #59 and most of #60 was for Hank’s own good — including the wedding. Then, in 2010-11, writer Brian Michael Bendis gave us yet another version of events, via “Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of the Avengers” — a prose feature that ran in the back of the Avengers and New Avengers comics over several months, before being collected into a single volume. In the chapter that ran in New Avengers (2010) #7, readers were given yet another version of the Yellowjacket-Wasp wedding — one which didn’t jibe with either the 1968 original or the 2007 retconned version. According to Bendis, that whole business about Janet van Dyne marrying a new superhero who wasn’t Hank Pym was all a public pretense, cooked up by Janet’s PR firm, and intended to serve the dual purposes of helping Jan and Hank to have a “normal” wedding (?) and launching Hank’s new superhero persona of Yellowjacket. Of course, since this is all presented in the context of an “oral history”, based on interviews given by the Avengers some years later, one could see this account as simply presenting the official, public version of events, rather than what “really happened”. In the end, of course, which version of the story is to be considered “true” is up to the individual reader. (That’s how I see it, anyway. You stick with your headcanon, and I’ll stick with mine.)
But many years before any writer thought to revise the story chronicled in Avengers #59-#60, its events were providing fodder for new stories, as well as new takes on the characters of Henry and Janet Pym. In 1981, then-Avengers writer Jim Shooter (who also happened to be Marvel’s editor-in-chief at the time) looked at the whole history of Hank Pym — paying special attention to such oddities as his regular cycling through costumed identities, his loss of memory after creating Ultron (which, as you may recall from our Avengers #58 post a couple of months back, took place immediately before the Yellowjacket dissociative identity episode), and, of course, the Yellowjacket episode itself — and decided that here was a guy who had some serious mental problems. Or, at least, someone who could be justifiably be written that way.
Shooter proceeded to put Hank through a full-on breakdown, during which the hero, facing a court-martial by his teammates over his behavior towards a defeated foe, schemed to secure his place with the Avengers by faking an attack on them by a robot he’d created, which he then would “defeat”. When Jan discovered his plan and tried to dissuade him, Hank struck her. According to Shooter, he had written the scene in Avengers #213 so that the blow came as an accident, delivered as Yellowjacket flailed his arms in anger — but artist Bob Hall misinterpreted the script, and turned it into an obviously deliberate backhand. (You can read more about Shooter’s claim, and Hall’s essentially supportive response, here.) Regardless of any issues with that particular panel, however, Shooter had already written several scenes in which Hank was clearly emotionally abusive to Jan — making that single backhanded slap merely symptomatic of the problem, not the sole instance of it. In any event, by the end of Shooter’s storyline, the Pyms were no longer a married couple — and Hank would be fixed firmly in the collective mind of comics fandom as the Marvel Universe’s foremost spousal abuser.
The damage done to Hank Pym as a character in 1981 has lasted to this day, and may ultimately be irreparable — perhaps, at least in part, “because that [Hank striking Jan] was the most interesting thing that had ever happened to that character”, as Marvel Executive Editor and SVP Tom Brevoort put it to CBR in 2011 — but that hasn’t stopped Marvel’s writers from trying to redeem him, multiple times, over the last thirty-seven years. Among the most memorable efforts have been Steve Englehart’s having Hank join the West Coast Avengers in the non-costumed persona of “Dr. Pym, scientific adventurer”; Sam Humphries‘ casting him as the similarly non-costumed leader of Avengers A.I., a spinoff team composed primarily of androids, cyborgs, and robots; and my own personal favorite, Dan Slott and Christos Gage‘s having the cosmic entity Eternity anoint Hank “Scientist Supreme” of Earth in Mighty Avengers (2007) #30. I mean, talk about swinging for the fences, right? (Of course, Loki later claimed to have been masquerading as ol’ Tall, Dark, and Spacey, so maybe that wasn’t really on the level, but who knows for sure?) And oh, did I mention which costumed identity Hank was using at that time? The Wasp! This was during a period when Jan was presumed dead, so it wasn’t quite as weird as it probably sounds. (Though it was still kind of weird.)
As Brevoort’s comment indicates, none of those attempts at rehabilitating Hank Pym have stuck, at least not for good. (Mark Millar‘s 2001 “Ultimate” version of the character, which went all in on Hank-as-abuser, certainly couldn’t have helped matters on that score — which is all I’m going to say about that subject.) Most recently, Hank has been utilized in a sort-of villainous role, having been fused with his “son” Ultron into a single malevolent entity*** — though, at the time of this writing, Hank’s psyche (or at least a fragment thereof) has been separated from his cybernetic progeny and trapped in Soul World, as part of Marvel’s 2018’s Infinity Wars event. That’s not a state of affairs that I would expect to last indefinitely, and I imagine that most of this blog’s readers would agree. We’re all but certain to see Hank Pym again, one of these days, and that day probably isn’t too far in the future.
As for Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp — the former Mrs. Pym may fairly be said to have fared rather better than her ex-husband, in the years since 1981. Having been originally conceived as a mere sidekick/love interest for Henry Pym in his Ant-Man identity, and characterized mostly as a flighty, flirty heiress with little interest in anything other than Hank (and maybe fashion; in the ’60s and ’70s, the Wasp was known for changing costumes at least as often as her partner changed identities), Jan came into her own post-divorce — taking on the chairpersonship of the Avengers in issue #217, and proceeding to lead the team capably through most of the next sixty issues. Over the years, she and Hank have put their past acrimony behind them, and even became romantically involved again a time or two, though never on a lasting basis Jan has been shown to have other romantic relationships from time to time as well; though, thankfully, following Hank, her characterization has no longer been defined by them.
Janet van Dyne appeared to have died in Marvel’s 2008 Secret Invasion event, but was eventually revealed to have been shunted into the Microverse, instead — a plot development that would later be adapted for the 2015 Ant-Man movie and its 2018 sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp. She was subsequently rescued in 2013, and since her return to Earth, she’s continued to play an active role in one Avengers title or another. Most recently, her life has become just a bit more complicated due to the appearance of a new, “Unstoppable” Wasp — Nadia, the teenage daughter of Hank Pym and his first, Russian wife, who has used her father’s “Pym particle” technology to give herself superpowers. As Hank himself was out of the picture (i.e., bonded to Ultron and off in outer space) when she made her 2016 debut, Nadia sought out the original Wasp — and though Jan might have been expected to feel somewhat resentful at the sudden appearance of a sort-of stepdaughter she never knew existed, not to mention one who’s appropriated her superheroic powers and identity, she has instead been wholly accepting and supportive of her namesake, taking the younger hero quite literally under her wing. In gratitude, Nadia has assumed her mentor’s civilian surname, Van Dyne, as her own as well — and it seems the two will be sharing the Wasp mantle for the foreseeable future. (Hey, it seems to be working out OK so far for the two Spider-Men, so…)
And that brings us up to date, more or less, with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne now established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as in the comics, via the aforementioned films. Some fans of a certain age may be disappointed that Hank and Jan are not, in fact, the titular stars of Ant-Man and the Wasp, but others of us are just happy that they’re in it at all. Especially since neither dissociative personality disorder nor domestic violence seem to be part of either their past or their present, at least so far. Here’s hoping things stay that way.
*For clarification’s sake, I’m talking here just about wedding comics where both parties involved are super-people — so the nuptials of Lois and Clark, pre-“One More Day” Peter and MJ, pre-Flashpoint Barry and Iris (and Wally and Linda), etc., etc., aren’t included.
**The notable exceptions being Thor (whom a later footnote explains is off fighting the Silver Surfer in the latter’s book), the Silver Surfer (see previous), the Hulk (see Captain America #110), and the Sub-Mariner (whom I figure just didn’t get his invite in time, him living at the bottom of the sea and all).
***This post’s focus on Hank and Jan’s marriage doesn’t allow for anything like a full exploration of the Oedipally-charged drama of their extended (and mostly artificial) family — including Ultron, the Vision, Jocasta, Victor Mancha, and maybe even some other characters that I’ve forgotten. But I do expect we’ll get around to it in the blog, one of these days.
This story got alluded to quite a bit in Avengers stories in the 1980s and 90s, but I didn’t have an opportunity to actually read i until the early 2000s when it was collected in Essential Avengers Vol 3. By then I was in my mid 20s and, yeah, the whole thing came across as insane. Going by your recollections, I’m sure that most young readers of Silver Age comic books probably didn’t find it all that odd, though. It’s not too much more bizarre than some of the really screwy plots that DC would do in the Superman books with Lois Lane trying to trick Superman into marrying her, and all the shenanigans with Jimmy Olsen, and all the screwy hoaxes the Legion pulled, and so on.
I guess one could argue that maybe it was a bad idea to take a story like this, originally written for readers in their early teens, and a couple of decades later attempt to apply real-world adult logic to it, which led to Hank Pym hereafter being regarded as mentally ill, irresponsible, and dangerous.
Still, if you’re going to forever have Hank be regarded as incredibly dysfunctional, at least getting Michael Douglas to portray him in the MCU is pretty darn cool, especially since he plays those types of roles so very well.
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Every time I reread this it makes less sense. It’s not just Janet marrying Hank (even reading the first time as a teen, I realized “it’s legal even if he called himself Yellowjacket” was not the big issue for marrying a loonie) but—
Even given they’re losers, why would the Crime Circus plot to blow up the heroes unawares, then give the game away with the snake attack?
Why didn’t Jan just shrink out of the python? Other than Roy’s generally sexist writing of her.
Why does the guest list consist of characters Jan hardly knows (Dr. Strange) or dislikes (Spidey)? She’s never been shown this close to Sue — does she not have friends of her own for the bridal party?
Why do the Avengers not search for Hank (“Fortunately Tony Stark built a device for finding tiny people!”) or report his death to the cops? Even without a corpse, they have a confession and they’re the fricking Avengers — the cops will listen.
I think Roger Stern’s Avengers run did the best job getting into Hank’s head (“It takes a brave man to shrink to the size of an ant and not panic. I was never that brave.”).
Schizophrenia was the standard term for split personalities in pop culture back then — I’m not sure about psychiatric practice.
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