When I was in my teens I read an old copy of Avengers #60 and I thought it was fantastic. Rereading “Till Death Do Us Part” by John Buscema and Roy Thomas more than forty years later, I can’t say the same, but does that make my younger self wrong?
First, the backstory: in the previous issue, a brutal (by late Silver Age standards, at least) vigilante named Yellowjacket starts beating up hoods. Next he confronts the Avengers, tells them he killed Hank Pym, has a clash of titans with them and kidnaps the Wasp. She’s horrified until he kisses her; when the Avengers catch up with the couple on the last page, Jan tells them she’s marrying him. It’s a hell of a cliffhanger.
This issue, Cap gets a wedding invitation which floors him; why would Janet dump her fiancé for some guy who shows up out of the blue? The other Avengers fill Cap in, explaining that as Yellowjacket shrank Hank down and trapped him at ant size, there’s no body, ergo no corpus delicti, so they can’t call the cops on him. Janet informs them that after years of Hank postponing their marriage for adventuring or for research she’s not giving up her chance at happiness so her teammates should just shush.
The wedding and after party are full of superheroes (I suspect Roy Thomas was imitating the Reed/Sue wedding in this), but also villains: the Circus of Crime poses as caterers, plants some TNT under Avengers Mansion and plans to blow up the Assemblers and their friends. Demonstrating why they’re C-listers, the Ringmaster first has Princess Python’s pet constrictor jump out of the wedding cake and attack Jan, alerting everyone present that something’s up.The Avengers tell the other heroes to clear off, the Circus attacks and the python coils itself around Jan, turning her into a hostage. The sight of the helpless Wasp fortunately shocks Yellowjacket into remembering he is Hank Pym; using his Goliath powers he just yanks the snake off Jan. With no hostage, the Circus of Crime becomes once again the Circus of Jailbirds.
In the aftermath, Jan reveals she knew Yellowjacket’s identity as soon as he kissed her. She went ahead with the wedding as soon as her attorney confirmed the marriage would be valid even if Hank wasn’t using his real name. Happy ending!
Like I said, when I found an old copy in my teens, it blew me away. The Avengers’ frustration at not being able to nail Yellowjacket for Hank’s death. The shocking reveal at the climax. The spectacular reception scene.And yeah, John Buscema’s art still works 100 percent. Thomas’s plot, though? Not so much.
I think I was still in my teens when it began to register than Jan’s actions here are as nuts as Hank’s, and she doesn’t have the excuse of breathing the wrong chemicals in a lab accident. The man she loves has developed a new personality, thinks he’s someone else, claims to have murdered himself and her reaction is “Yay, I can finally get a wedding ring out of him!” That’s messed up, particularly as she doesn’t know what’s wrong or whether it’s even curable. I’m also confident legal issue with marrying Hank’s split personality is his mental incapacity, not that he’s using a different name, though that’s a minor point (as Hank’s not contesting the marriage vows).
Later readings as an adult made me realize that the Circus of Crime aren’t firing on all cylinders either, even by their inept standards. Why would they wreck their own plan by alerting the Avengers there’s an enemy present? Why would they imagine that a big snake would be a threat? Sure, Princess Python periodically claims her pet can crush Iron Man’s armor, but I don’t believe it’s ever happened. Heck, it wouldn’t even be a threat to the Wasp — all she has to do is shrink out of its coils — except starting with #57 Roy’s scripts have her respond to danger by running, screaming or fainting.
Rereading the story last month as part of the Behold the Vision TPB, a couple more flaws popped out at me. First off, the Avengers are wrong about corpus delicti. It’s not the body of the victim necessarily but the body of evidence showing a crime has occurred, and legally, they may have that. Hank’s disappeared (though as Brian Cronin says, they never made any attempt to find his body), Yellowjacket made a full confession, isn’t that enough to at least call the DA? It wouldn’t have to affect the plot, as the legal system might have a variety of reasons for not acting immediately.
Then there’s the guest list. Yes, a gathering of every hero in New York worked when Reed and Sue tied the knot, but it doesn’t make sense here. Does Jan have no friends who aren’t superheroes? When did Sue Storm become her close friend, as she appears to be? Why is Dr. Strange there when as far he’s never worked with the Avengers or, as far as I know, the Wasp? Spider-Man isn’t friends with the team and particularly not with the Wasp (he gets on her nerves). And while the Black Knight’s worked with them, it usually devolves into a hero vs. hero fight after which he flies off butt-hurt (equally curious, nobody mentions that he’s dropped his tech for a magic sword. Given Thomas just made that change in Marvel Super-Heroes #17, I’d think he’d want to highlight it, at least with a footnote).
In short, it just gets more and more nonsensical each time I read it, though the art stays just as good-looking. Nevertheless, it did work very well for teenage me reading it in the Bronze Age, and for several of my friends too. I was Marvel’s target demographic at the time; is it fair to dismiss the story now that I’m 60 years old and very much not the intended audience? Then again, there are stories from that era that, even if they don’t grab me as they once did, don’t have as many plot holes.
What do y’all think?
#SFWApro. All images by John Buscema.