Remember Avengers #58, November 1968 with its “Next Issue” blurb of “Yellowjacket!” and how I said we would “take a look at [it] when the time comes because Spidey makes a two-panel appearance?” That didn’t take long, did it?
It was only last issue that the Vision shed tears on the final page because he had been made an Avenger. You’d never know it by this issue with its entirely new storyline and with the Vision already in the upper left-hand corner cover logo box as if he’s been an Avengers for ages. The cover is red on the edges with a white circle filling the center. Within the circle are concentric black lines that look like that symbol that induces hypnotism (you know, like the Ringmaster’s hat).
I don’t know if this is just a style choice or if this is supposed to suggest that things are not as they seem when we look at an unconscious Goliath stepped on by a triumphant Yellowjacket. The Wasp bends over Goliath with a shocked look on her face as Hawkeye, Black Panther, and Vision seem to hang in the air. Goliath’s red costume bleeds into the red of the background while the four-word blurb, “His Name is…Yellowjacket!” is written in yellow, standing out from the red, as the yellow Yellowjacket stands out (and over) the red Goliath.
The story gets right down to it. Big Eddie and Charlie have paid off a watchman so they can steal armloads of furs. As they load up their truck, a new hero named Yellowjacket leaps down and knocks Eddie flat out. Charlie and the truck driver, Rocky, pull their guns to defend Big Eddie (since he was going to pay them) only to be zapped by Yellowjacket’s stingers. (“The mint juleps will have to wait, though…till visitor’s day!” says YJ. Get it? Stingers? mint juleps? Yeah, it’s a pretty weak joke.) The stingers…well, let’s let Charlie say it for us…”He blasted the rods right outta our hands!” Declaring, “It’s every man for himself,” Charlie flees but YJ punches him right into a wall. He calls him “Weepin’ Willie” as he does so, which is an old jazz song from the 40s.) Rocky makes it back to the truck. “He ain’t just whistlin’ ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’,” he thinks, which I can’t imagine anyone actually thinking. Then he remembers that he doesn’t know how to drive, which is strange because he was the driver! We saw him get out of the driver’s seat! What, was he keeping the seat warm?
With that, Yellowjacket knocks out Rocky and summons the police who tell him he’ll have to testify as a material witness. YJ crosses his arms and, haughtily, says, “I play cops ‘n’ robbers…let somebody else play judge ‘n’ jury,” which I think means Big Eddie, Charlie, and Rocky will probably go free. Yellowjacket leaps off and one of the cops can’t decide, “Whether I’d rather shake that glory hound’s hand…or punch his kisser!”
The scene switches to the Daily Bugle where J. Jonah Jameson (surrounded by three generic “Front Page” newspaper types) holds a paper with the headline, “City Has New Hero…Yellowjacket.” (Yes, it even has that ellipsis.) He declares that Yellowjacket is his kind of superhero. “Give a guy like that half a chance, and he’ll mop up this town with a bum like Spider-Man!” One of the reporters suggests that JJJ loves YJ because “you owned half-interest in that furrier,” but Jonah declares he’s “just a public-spirited citizen!”
Jonah enters his office, leaving the reporters behind. He knows that Yellowjacket is “selling a truckload of papers.” “He’d sell even more, though, if Peter Parker’d been on the spot to get some candid shots!” he says, “When there’s work to be done, his generation’s always out on a coffee break!” Then he hears someone saying, “Yellowjackets…Wasps…Ant-Men…Black Widows…some days I almost wish I’d been bitten by a radioactive water buffalo!” The voice is coming from outside his window and JJJ would “know those mocking tones anywhere!” He looks out his window and sees Spider-Man hanging off a flagpole. He has created a bit of a hammock out of webbing and is reading the Bugle. Jonah says, “Get off my flagpole, you wall-crawling webhead!” (So, there’s actually a flagpole right outside Jonah’s office window?) “Your flagpole, Jameson?” says Spidey, “Sorry, laughing boy, but they’re city property…municipal by-laws, page 351, paragraph 17! Need I add that I looked it up? Still, if you’re gonna be a spoil-sport about it…I’ll go…but don’t walk down any dark alleys on Halloween!” Jameson replies, “I’ll walk anywhere I want, you web-spinning weasel! Though, it just so happens I’ll be out on town on Halloween!”
It’s a strange little exchange and I have no idea why Roy bothered to include it. I assume that Spidey’s comment about not walking down alleys on Halloween implies that Jonah’s face looks like a fright mask but JJJ doesn’t get it, unless the “out on town on Halloween” is some kind of sarcastic rejoinder. If anybody sees any hidden meaning in this, please let me know. As it is, that’s all for Spider-Man in this issue. But we’re going through the rest of the issue anyway.
At Avengers Mansion, Hawkeye tests his new “boomerang special” arrow by shooting it at the Black Panther, who “narrowly evades” it. Then, Hawkeye doesn’t recognize Jan when she enters because Goliath isn’t with her. (This is a very strange, sexist admission to make.) Hearing that Hank isn’t there yet, Jan worries because “he knew there was a meeting this morning.” The Panther adds “He informed me he’d be here early to discuss something with me in private.” (We never find out what that is.) The Vision suggests they go look for Hank but Hawkeye says “a guy ten feet tall can take care of himself.” So, instead the Vision suggests that they start without him. Hawkeye agrees. “Me, I wanna watch the World Series this afternoon!” Afternoon World Series games! (In this case, the Detroit Tigers vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.) Those were the days!
Before the meeting begins, though, each of the four attendees “dwell on far more serious matters.” The Wasp thinks back to the last time she saw Hank. He was in his lab “testing that miniature solar battery to see how much energy it soaked up today” and he told her he was too busy to join her at the coffee shop. T’Challa wonders if his “greater destiny is as an Avenger or as prince of the proud Wakanda.” He imagines giving a speech, in full ceremonial garb, to the United Nations in which he offers scientific advances to “those who seek peace.” The Vision thinks about how the world hates him because he isn’t human. He recalls walking with Hawkeye as bystanders recoil from him. One guy actually says, “Crummy androids tryin’ to take over from real people! They oughtta string ‘em up by their own jump-cables!” It makes it sound like there are androids everywhere. And, maybe in the Marvel Universe, there are. But I suspect they don’t have jump-cables. Hawkeye, admits to himself that he doesn’t really care about baseball. He’s more worried about the Black Widow, who has left him to prepare for a SHIELD job. And, in some SHIELD lab, Nick Fury tells Dum Dum Dugan to “hit that exhaust switch” because the Widow is “getting’ an overdose of that new nerve gas.” Dum Dum does so but wonders, “if I reached it in time.” The Widow is sitting in the cockpit of a Kirbyesque machine. She wears a gas mask but the green nerve gas swirls around in the cockpit with her. What kind of job preparation is this? Or is this just Hawkeye letting his fears get the better of him?
Elsewhere in the mansion, Jarvis the butler polishes silver. Yellowjacket enters and, apparently, has brought rope with him because he soon has Jarvis tied up, with his cleaning rag stuffed in his mouth. Now, in spite of Vision’s suggestion that they start without Hank, the Avengers are still waiting around for him when YJ enters and tells them that he wants to sign up. He also tells them that Hank won’t show up because, “I’m the guy that polished him off.” And he casually blows on his fingers as he says this. Jan, “under the strain of Hank’s recent work, plus our visitor’s cryptic words,” faints dead away. As she goes under, she thinks that there’s “something in his voice…tells me that…” and then she’s out. The other three confront Yellowjacket with the Vision insisting that he “clarify.” YJ is more than happy to do so. He spends the next five pages telling a story that is set up like a flashback…
Now, in my other life, I host a podcast called “Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” that looks at the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, as well as Hitchcock’s films. In a recent episode, I looked at Stage Fright, an underrated film that caused a stir when it was first released because (SPOILER WARNING HERE) it has a flashback, told by a character, that turns out to be a complete lie. This was something not done in 1950, apparently, and people felt betrayed by it. Was there a similar outrage in 1968 when Yellowjacket’s flashback also turned out to be a lie? Not if you go by the “Avengers Assemble” letter pages. In fact, it looks like most readers figured the whole thing out right off the bat.
So, what is Yellowjacket’s story? He claims that he sneaks into Hank Pym’s “renovated suburban HQ” via a “forgotten shaft.” Below, he hears “Paul Bunyan” talking to himself, “How I want to marry Jan…be more the kind of man she wants…but I can’t…not while there are still so many secrets left to unlock…so much that man does not know.” Just above, Yellowjacket drops the shaft’s grating on Hank, knocking him out. Yellowjacket jumps down and hefts Hank onto his back in a fireman’s carry but can’t handle the weight as Hank begins to grow. Becoming Goliath, Hank grabs Yellowjacket, only to be zapped in the eyes by YJ’s stinger. Blinded, Goliath blunders outside, knocking down his house in the process. Yellowjacket won’t let up. Goliath thinks about calling in the Avengers but decides against it. He revealingly says, “In some way I don’t understand, this is my battle. Must win or lose…on my own.” But Yellowjacket, somehow, possesses some sort of shrinking gas and Goliath “became the size of a normal man! Then of a small, cringing dog…a gasping rodent…a groveling insect.” At last, unable to get it to obey his mental commands, Hank is pinned by a spider.
The Avengers are appalled that the apparent killer of Goliath would come to them, seeking membership. Jan wants to question him to see if he’s telling the truth but Hawkeye lashes out, punching Yellowjacket in the jaw. The Vision steps in to protect Hawkeye from YJ’s stingers and the Panther leaps in to the attack. But, it turns out that Yellowjacket has mental control over yellowjackets (of course he does) and he sends them swarming over the Panther who leads them away from his partners. The Vision goes after Yellowjacket, who grabs the Wasp, knocking her out with a nerve pinch. He flies away, taking Jan as a hostage.
He takes her to his “hornet’s nest hideaway,” an elaborate, Kirbyesque structure built into an immense tree that is near an empty plain that is alongside a mountain. I don’t know where this is but it seems to be a long ways away from Manhattan. (And, since Hank has been missing only a short time, I don’t know when YJ had the time to build it.) Starting to believe that Yellowjacket has actually murdered Hank, Jan tries to slap him. “I ought to paste you for that, beautiful,” says YJ, but instead he kisses her. Pushing Jan aside afterwards, Yellowjacket apologizes and then tells her he doesn’t need her anymore as a hostage and plans to let her go. But Jan thinks, “But somehow…now I don’t want to.”
“The Wasp’s inactive homing device suddenly begin[s] to send signals once more,” leading the Avengers to a small town where they find Yellowjacket and Jan coming out of City Hall. The Panther attacks YJ but Jan tells him to back off. When Hawkeye asks for “one good reason why we shouldn’t total the creep,” Jan gives him a particularly good one. “I’m going to marry him,” she says.
Say what? She’s going to marry him? The guy who killed Goliath?
In the fifty years since this issue, it’s become common knowledge that Yellowjacket is Hank Pym (we do all know that, don’t we?) so it’s impossible to tell if this would have fooled us. If we go by the subsequent letters, probably not. It seems that most (but not all) readers picked up on the clues and figured it out. And if you figure it out, then the final panel, the “I’m going to marry him” moment, is not much of a shock. In that light, everything from J. Jonah Jameson endorsing Yellowjacket because he owned interest in the furrier to the arrogant expressions John Buscema puts on Yellowjacket’s face to Jan recognizing Hank through his kiss, feels sort of silly. But, hey, if this is what it takes to get Hank and Jan married, I guess I’m for it.
But that doesn’t make it a good issue. It does have some nice moments but I can’t give it any more than two webs.
The wedding itself does not happen until next issue and, since Spidey will be there, we’ll be there, too. But not for a while yet. We’ve got other things to get to first, beginning with the antepenultimate issue of Not Brand Echh, not counting that issue that came out in 2018. It’s Not Brand Echh #11.