Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review # 2: "The Trial of Yellowjacket"

Up until last year, my collection of comic trades and hardcovers was almost exclusively X-Men. Yeah, there was some Batman in there, "Watchmen," and a lot of company crossovers but outside of Marvel's mutants I hadn't really dabbled in very much else.

Then "The Avengers" came out and the amount of content I have from that group exploded, which I'd guess is exactly what Marvel wants their films to do. Not explode, of course: sell comics. So I bought an omnibus of Brian Michael Bendis' run since he wrote the Avengers-heavy crossovers "Secret Invasion" and "Siege" which I'd enjoyed. That led to the "Dark Avengers," and the "Mighty Avengers" also written by BMB. When I decided to branch out to a different writer, a lot of what I'd seen online directed me towards Kurt Busiek's relaunch of the franchise in the late 90s.

The first book of his I picked up was volume two of his five-trade run, since it had a well-received storyline known as "Ultron Unlimited." It was early through that set that I realized something: even though Captain America, Iron Man and Thor - the "big three" - are usually all present in the Avengers books, there really isn't that much development for those particular characters. It makes sense, since they all have their own solo series. While the three have presence and play major roles in action sequences, the focus is really on the likes of, say, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man or The Vision.

Which brings me to Dr. Hank Pym aka Ant-Man aka Giant-Man aka Goliath aka Yellowjacket. Pym has literally been with the Avengers since the start as one of the team founders in the very first issue, before Captain America even joined. The more Avengers books I read, the more and more I liked Pym. A brilliant scientist, the character has always had difficulty seeing himself as a hero, hence all of the changes in identity. They are all well-chronicled in a separate collection known as "The Many Faces of Hank Pym." "The Trial of Yellowjacket" is his darkest hour.

Fairly recently, Pym had been mind-controlled into believing he was once again Ant-Man and that the team had just formed. This led to him fighting them. What villainous force was responsible? Ultron, the insane robot who wants to kill all humans that Hank himself had built. This was one of many factors contributing to a nervous breakdown where Hank shoots a surrendering villain in the back, crafts a robot to attack the Avengers (which only he can defeat in a misguided attempt to prove his worth) and - in the process - strikes his wife Janet van Dyne aka The Wasp. At the court-martial over his shooting the villain, the robot programmed to attack does so, he fails to stop it and Wasp saves his life for all to see. Pym, his plan revealed, is expelled.

Writer Jim Shooter catches flack to this day for what many perceive as character assassination. Pym, despite his faults, had been a generally good person and what he did seemed unforgivable. It's from there that things get much worse for Hank through a series of writers until Roger Stern gradually leads him out from the darkness. Pym's complete fall as he ends up in jail and eventual redemption are compelling, taking a character I had already found interesting and making him more so.

But that's just part of a 19-issue set that does wonders for not just Hank, but several characters. I mentioned off the top how you don't see much development when it comes to the "big three," however there's more in this set than usual. They are also there to build The Wasp, who absolutely shines in this, transitioning from being victimized to being empowered. It may be her most important story arc ever. Speaking of empowered women, this is the Avengers debut for the sensational She-Hulk who is at her best when she's flamboyant and having fun. She's also best when antagonized, and who better than the Avengers' resident s***-stirrer in the returning Hawkeye? The chemistry between those two jumps off the page.

Sticking with Hawkeye, there's an excellent one-issue story involving him and the second Ant-Man - Scott Lang - at a carnival. It took me from generally being apathetic about Lang to liking him.

I wouldn't recommend this as a first Avengers collection for any comic reader, but after reading a few of their stories this is one you'll definitely want to have.

Rating: 7.5/10

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