Saturday, February 2, 2013

With This Ring, I Thee Trap

How crafty was the cover image of Avengers #59, which featured the introduction of Yellowjacket? It's giving us precisely the image we're meant to focus on--presenting to us, at a glance, most of the elements necessary to send us down a red herring trail (using a generous amount of bright bold red, I might add).  In effect, the decision is made for us as to how we'll interpret the story's events as they develop--and in the process, we're thrown off the scent of the real answer.

In other words, the story we're meant to latch onto has, in a sense, already been programmed into us:

A new character, Yellowjacket, having apparently defeated Goliath. The Wasp appears shocked at the possibility that he might be dead, while a trio of angry Avengers prepares to retaliate against Yellowjacket. All we know of Yellowjacket so far is his name--and, judging by his expression, we know that he's powerful and confident enough to challenge the Avengers.

So when the story unfolds, and Yellowjacket surprises the Avengers with his announcement that he's done away with their chairman, the cover image has already done its job of convincing us that Yellowjacket is a separate, distinct new character:

And when Yellowjacket subsequently recounts how he defeated Goliath and shrank him down to his probable death, we have no reason to doubt him. But we know, in retrospect, that "Yellowjacket" here is really Hank Pym himself, a victim of a lab experiment where gaseous fumes have affected his mind and developed this second personality. But you and I, as readers, are simply meant to fall for the illusion that the cover has presented us with; we don't have the luxury of being in the same room with the Avengers when Pym arrives in his new identity. So what remains unclear is why his teammates, who have known Pym all this time and certainly know what his voice sounds like, fail to recognize him, however more casual his inflection might sound. Nor does Jan, of all people, see the resemblance--at least at first.

About six years ago, Marvel followed up on its excellent eight-issue series, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, with a second eight-issue volume which included a different take on this story. In that version, it was obvious to the Avengers from the moment "Yellowjacket" greeted them that he was actually Hank Pym, though why he was masquerading as this new persona was a mystery. The SHIELD liaison team that was assigned to the Avengers suggested a "play along" approach designed to help Pym recover his memories without psychological damage:

It was certainly a more realistic--if less animated--approach to this kind of story, which removed the "threat" and hidden agenda elements of Yellowjacket entirely. But there was another development from the original story to be dealt with, which began near the end of Part One when the Avengers finally managed to track down the Wasp after Yellowjacket had abducted her from the mansion:

Part Two continues this spectacle by throwing us more distractions meant to keep us from examining the mystery of Yellowjacket too closely. Padding the guest list with super-heroes, who all seem to have conveniently forgotten where they put their formal wear; infiltration of the proceedings by, of all menaces, the Ringmaster's Circus of Crime; and the marriage itself, arranged and executed at such a dizzying pace you would have thought Whirlwind was the Best Man. Even Captain America is made to be as confused as the rest of us when his invitation arrives:

Cap, no slouch at investigation, learns no more at Avengers Mansion--and astonishingly decides not to pry further, even when we have a missing Avenger involved. Cap, not having a one-on-one with Yellowjacket and insisting on some answers? Clearly, Part Two of this story is meant to keep us in the dark about what's going on, a time-tested tactic designed to make the climax of the story have the maximum amount of impact. Interestingly, we get the opposite effect in the Earth's Mightiest Heroes version of the story, with all of the answers coming to us almost immediately and the story's events playing out around them. For instance, in the original story, we only got our first real clue about Yellowjacket in his actions after he abducted Jan--and even then it was difficult to put the pieces together, given the heat of the moment:

It's at that point that things just get crazy for the reader, mostly thanks to Jan and her total about-face with Yellowjacket. The frustrating thing about this part of the story is that we never really learn the reason for Jan's mad dash to the altar. In front of the others, she makes it seem like she was extremely bitter about Pym's feet-dragging and lack of commitment toward her--yet that does nothing to explain her attraction toward the man who admits to causing her boyfriend's demise. In the Earth's Mightiest Heroes story, things are far more clear: Jan isn't on board with SHIELD's method of helping Hank, and hopes the shock of a faux marriage ceremony will better be able to reach him:

In the original, we really don't get to the bottom of things until after the marriage actually takes place, with a real minister presiding:

(Again, no one thinks to ask: wouldn't the bridegroom, at least, attend his own wedding in formal wear? And before you answer with "Hey! Reed Richards didn't!", Yellowjacket didn't have the excuse of hurrying back from an all-out battle. Maybe Jan just wanted a little kink on her wedding night. Eww.)

(I should also point out that Jan and Yellowjacket visited City Hall in Part One, presumably to get a license. Wouldn't you have loved to have been a yellowjacket on the wall at that meeting. Just what, we could only wonder, was "Yellowjacket" going to put down as his real name on the application? And what's his face going to look like when he produces his I.D. and it says "Henry Pym"?)

After the Ringmaster and his goons attack, and Jan's life is put in danger, Hank's personality re-emerges, and Goliath helps the Avengers take out the Circus of Crime. And it's finally time for Jan to explain just what the hell she was thinking:

It's fair to wonder if Pym's schizophrenic problems from this point on have anything to do with this crazy woman who manipulated him into marrying her. Because without further explanation from her (or the writer), what else can we conclude from her methods here? When Jan reasoned out the truth about Hank's identity, instead of seeking medical help for him she instead threw herself into marriage preparations, for reasons that seem outwardly selfish. And what if Hank hadn't come to his senses? In effect, she'd be married to a man who technically never agreed to the marriage, with no one the wiser.  And then what does she do? Keep up the deception? Tell the Avengers after the fact? And would they go along with what she's done?

Instead, the issue sidesteps all of that and takes an "all's well that ends well" approach--indeed, both Hank and Jan seem to embrace that sentiment. Jan certainly doesn't seem like she's going to give the circumstances a second thought. But as for Hank, well:

Subconsciously, maybe Hank wasn't as okay with Jan's little end-run as it seemed.

1 comment:

Jon H said...

I love how, in the panel with Cap holding the invitation, the artist bothered to draw Cap reflected in an object in the background.

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