Friday, December 23, 2011

Molecular Madness at Marvel Comics Group

Now, the remaining two in our quartet both made their comic book names with molecules; the founding blocks of any chemical identity, smaller than the eye can see, yet a part of all things!

In these stories, both are quite psychologically troubled, as well. It’s no accident Jim Shooter suggests therapy strongly in the sagas of both Hank Pym, a.k.a. Yellowjacket and Owen Reece, a.k.a. the Molecule Man. Both suffer from mental illnesses exacerbated by their fantastic powers. Their contrast is extremely instructive: despite their similar alienation and the soft science fiction basis of their powers, one, Hank, feels he is not truly powerful enough, while Owen’s driven crazy by the nearly unlimited abilities! By the end of these stories, one’s on his way to hope, while the other, in trying to do the right thing under duress, falls deep into the belly of the beast---an accused traitor to the United States

Tigra’s the star of the first pages of #215, with her misadventures at the bank and the local singles bar ending with her sticking up for a scrawny street musician aboard the subway. Along the way she’s already thinking of teasing Jarvis some more! She’s not the first bad girl type to take up residence at Avenger’s Mansion, but she’s the most happy-go-lucky and without a doubt, the one to which the butler claims the worst allergies! One of my favorite moments in an earlier issue, when Jarvis asks the irrepressible Greer Nelson “how did you come to be this way?” She replies with her near-death experience and her mystic salvation by the realm of Cat People, who make her one of their own. His response? “I was actually inquiring about your upbringing!”

Tigra, who disliked psychotic break Pym intensely, shares a problem with him: does she have the courage, raw power and/or skill to stand beside the other Avengers? In her case, she sets out to prove herself first by hopping up on the Silver Surfer’s board, sent to the empty Baxter Building to signify a need for help (they eventually will try, without success, to save the day next issue). They find he’s a prisoner of the Molecule Man, unleashed from his wand to swap stories with the Surfer until the tale of Galactus inspires him to try eating the world! All their efforts make only a miniscule aperture in Molecule Man’s force field, but it’s just enough to make Tigra the first intruder to his fortress---pulled from pieces of New Jersey at whim! She knows Iron Man thinks she’s hot-dogging it---he’s right. But she’s still embarrassed by her freezing fear in the face of the Ghost Rider, perhaps a day before.

Tigra tries a personal appeal---playing to her strength---but he’s not mature enough as a man to be interested in her. He offers to keep her as a pet! Unfortunately, when the Avengers and Surfer arrive, the board, the shield, the hammer and the armor all disintegrate at his behest! (I’ve skipped some neat character bits, but hopefully you’ll read up yourself one day.) Suddenly Cap’s privy to the secret of Thor and Iron Man’s i.d. but their bravery stands true---until, apparently, Molecule Man squashes them with a serrated steel boot of Very Large Size! Now, the most dubious Avenger’s the Last Avenger. To top it all off, he doesn’t understand how to construct plumbing.

Disgusted and frightened out of her mind, Tigra keeps Molecule Man talking; he’s spared her life on the chance she “might like him if they talked.” He’s emotionally stunted, still struggling with his mother’s “protection” and abusive ideas. He sleeps in a grand version of a water bed with stuffed animals! The thirty year-old virgin sets an alarm based on monomolecular filaments, waiting for her eventual attack, but she can’t bring herself to kill him, without any idea he’s prepared for her.

Fortunately, the Avengers are alive, even if two of them are powerless; kudos the Surfer’s “power cosmic which is mine alone!” Tony’s already assembled a new gadget…which disintegrates before his eyes. Their distressed assault plays upon his poor fighting skills; his belief he can’t affect organic molecules means he doesn’t simply disintegrate them, as well. Lame Dr. Blake---Thor’s alter ego---lands a good punch, and they get over on him against all odds: but what will they do now? Tony argues they have to be practical and take his life. Now we get a surprising conclusion; Tony’s argument with Cap ends with Tigra bringing a recalcitrant Molecule Man forward to surrender and request a therapist! She credits her quick thinking to luck. Tigra turns in her Avengers I.D. and gives Jarvis a kiss goodbye. She's just too much the everyday person, in her mind, to play for Avengers stakes.

Meanwhile, as they used to say, we’ve seen Hank groveling before Janet Van Dyne, who still sports a black eye from his anxiety attack. She sends him away with a car and offers him whatever money he needs, but she’s through with their marriage.

Overwhelmed now with guilt, test failed and behind him with nothing left to prove and seemingly no redemption, Hank Pym’s struggling to find himself without any badly needed help when his oldest foe comes hat in hand, begging for help to make amends. Of course, the world thinks Egghead here is dead---yet here he is, offering a bionic arm to his niece, Trish Starr (any Gerber fans recall Kyle’s model girlfriend?), to atone for maiming her in a petty act of vengeance. Pym looks over the apparatus and decides to deliver it---but in a scene that will be paralleled in their confrontation told a year later, all’s not what it seems, and the circuitry shifts its assemblage to reveal an elaborate mind-control device and bomb! Pym’s only hope is to aid the hypnotized Trish in stealing alloys of adamantium, the Marvel Universe’s strongest constructive substance.

The battle with the summoned Avengers pays off a great deal of suspense. The Wasp rejoins them and becomes their leader; in this first skirmish, her estranged husband’s the apparent wrong-doer they must stop. An inventive use of powers, surprise and perhaps excessive restraint leads Hank to surprising success---the move where he shrinks and hides within Cap’s shield takes him off Iron Man’s radar and brings him close enough to grow suddenly and deliver a stunning blow on the shield’s return!

Ah, but for all his momentum, the Wasp points out: “you’ve basically got one good trick---and I can do it too!” as she enlarges herself and gets the drop on Hank. He’s batted from hand to hand by the team, and groggily surrenders in an effort to save Trish from Egghead’s bomb. But the crafty Elias Starr’s programmed her mind to forget his involvement and remember only Hank Pym’s compliance and coercion. Egghead? But he’s dead! The parts inside the bomb disassemble to leave an apparently ordinary artificial limb. Hank Pym’s had one nervous breakdown too many; his saddened ex-teammates take him into custody for conspiracy to steal the top-secret alloy, and the frame by his supposedly dead arch enemy ends with Hank Pym headed to prison!

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