As you may recall, Spidey had a two-panel cameo in Avengers #59, December 1968, hanging off of a flagpole and reading the paper right by J. Jonah Jameson’s office window. It had absolutely nothing to do with the story but it did give us the opportunity to get in on the ground-floor of the upcoming nuptials. What nuptials, you ask? Why, the wedding of the Wasp to Yellowjacket, the man who claimed to have killed Goliath. I don’t know if Spidey got an invite for his one-panel appearance but we get one. It’s right there on the splash page.
But first let’s look at the cover. I think John Buscema had a fondness for the “disembodied heads” look. I’m not going to go searching for other examples but I do know he did it on the cover of Avengers #56, September 1968.
That one had the heads of the Black Panther, Goliath, and Hawkeye looking down on Captain America and a fallen Bucky. This one has Hawkeye and the Panther back again but also Cap (who, as noted, was in the main picture last time) and the Vision (who was not an Avenger yet). Why no Goliath? Because he’s in the main picture as Yellowjacket. The four heads look down from their perch right below the logo as Jan, in her wedding dress, finds herself squeezed by Princess Python’s python. Jan is so distressed that she nearly comes out of her left shoe. Not only that, but that darn python has wiped out the wedding cake! To our left, Yellowjacket rushes to help while the Clown, Princess Python, and the Ringmaster look on and gloat.
Hang on a second. The Ringmaster? And his Circus of Crime? That’s the best Roy can do? To be fair, Stan and Steve and Jack and Roy did a pretty good job of providing some entertaining stories with this silly group of bad guys. Ringo and his circus first appeared in Incredible Hulk #3, September 1962. (The Ringmaster who appeared back in Captain America Comics #5, August 1941 was retconned into being this Ringo’s father.) The Circus has met Spidey twice up to this point, in ASM #16, September 1964 and ASM #22, March 1965 (in the latter, they were The Clown and his Masters of Menace). They previously met the Avengers (or, at least, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch) in Avengers #22, November 1965 and their last appearance before this was in a terrific trilogy in Thor #145-147, October-December 1967 so let’s not dismiss them out of hand.
But, let’s open the comic and receive our wedding invitation. Jan and Yellowjacket’s faces adorn it (YJ in his mask), both smiling broadly. Below their pictures, in flowing script (good job, Sam Rosen) it tells us, “Miss Janet Van Dyne requests the pleasure of your company at her marriage to the superhero known as Yellowjacket… on Tuesday the twenty-first of November at four o’clock in the afternoon at the Avengers’ Mansion, said marriage to endure…” and then our title, in big black letters, “…Till Death Do Us Part!”
So, there’s our invite. It even has the date and time that we need to be there. But the invitation is held by a red-gloved hand and there is a mirror in the upper left corner that allows us to see that the glove belongs to Captain America. He’s shocked by the announcement. “The Wasp is getting married in a few hours…to a man the world had never heard of, only days ago!” he says. Still, he plans to attend and we’ll go with him, even though I’m enjoying this splash page so much that I hate to turn the page just yet.
When we do turn the page, we find Cap now out on the street, mobbed by autograph seekers. One calls out, “Just one more John Henry, Cap!” I always thought it was “John Hancock” but, according to Grammarist, it’s both. They say, “When someone asks for your John Henry, it means they want your signature. The use of John Henry to refer to a signature became popular in the western United States, fifty years after John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence. Signing your John Henry is cowboy slang. While there is an American Tall Tale about John Henry, the steel-driving man who outperformed a steam-driven machine, this character does not seem to be related to the phrase sign your John Henry, as the story dates to a time after cowboys began referring to signing your John Henry.” Two policemen look on, with one saying, “Compared to him, even Sinatra’s an also-ran,” which seems like an odd thing to say in 1969 when, for many comic book readers, Sinatra was an also-ran. Though, perhaps Roy did this intentionally because he juxtaposes the cop with a beatnik (who should probably be a hippie at this point) who says, disparagingly, “It’s them oh-say-can-you-see threads of his…who’s his tailor, Betsy Ross?”
Cap arrives at Avengers Mansion. Jarvis has to block the door to keep the autograph hounds out. (There’s a hand poking through the crack in the door, holding a notepad for an autograph, which is a nice bit. But, do all of these people walk around with notepads?) Cap tells Jarvis that he’s “in the middle of a little project of mine” and Stan footnotes that, saying “For which, see Cap’s own mind-bending mag!” But, I’m not going to fall for that. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course, I’m going to fall for that! Let’s check Cap’s mag and see what Stan means… And, having taken a look, I’m not sure to what Stan is referring, unless it’s allowing Rick Jones to become the new Bucky, in Captain America #110, February 1969.
Cap meets with Hawkeye, the Vision, and the Panther. They tell him that Yellowjacket bragged that he shrank Goliath and “left him to die, somewhere in the crab-grass universe of somebody’s backyard!” (John’s panel shows the spider that Yellowjacket implied ate up Goliath in Avengers #59 even if Roy’s dialogue doesn’t mention it.) Cap asks why they haven’t arrested YJ and Hawkeye replies, “we got no corpus delecti.”
At that moment, YJ and the Wasp arrive on Yellowjacket’s new “honeymoon hovercraft.” An ABC TV camera is out on the street, recording the arrival. When someone yells, “It’s them!” a cop replies, “You were expectin’ maybe Dick an’ Liz?” (I’ve done enough explaining about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the past to skip that now, haven’t I?)
In the mansion, Jan brags that YJ built the hovercraft “from scratch in just five hours!” A disgruntled Hawkeye replies, “Nuts! Goliath could’a done it in three! And he wouldn’t have let you pay for the parts!” which leads to a confrontation between Hawkeye and YJ and brings up Hawkeye’s main objection to the wedding. As he puts it, “did ya think this creep doesn’t know that you’re an heiress?” (That’s right, she is an heiress! We learned that way back in her first appearance in Tales to Astonish #44, June 1963.) Jan tells them to knock it off, that “I loved Henry Pym but he let my money plus his never-ending research stand in his way!”
Just then, the minister shows up, hoping that this is a more peaceful wedding than “the one I read about at the Baxter Building a few years ago!” (That would be the wedding of Reed Richards and Susan Storm in Fantastic Four Annual #3, 1965.) The caterers arrive right after the Reverend except it’s not the real caterers. It’s the Ringmaster and His Circus of Crime who have waylaid the caterers and taken their places. Once they get past all the alarms, they bind and gag Jarvis and hang him up on a hook in the kitchen. The Circus, in this case, consists of Cannonball, the Great Gambonnos, the Clown, and Princess Python (and her python). The Ringmaster is relishing “the prospect of destroying so many superheroes in one fell swoop.” They particularly have it in for Thor who, as I mentioned, dealt with them last time. “Shall I set up the nitro now?” asks the Clown. “At once,” replies the Ringmaster, but he also wants to wait until Thor arrives.
Now, some time must have passed because Jan is already in her wedding gown (“the best that Saks Fifth Avenue had to offer”) being helped by Sue Richards, when Crystal shows up at the door. Hawkeye answers and doesn’t know who she is, even though she showed up in her Fantastic Four outfit. (So did Reed and Johnny Storm, as we’ll see in a bit.) Crystal has just joined the FF in Fantastic Four #81, December 1968 so Hawkeye is excused for his ignorance. Crystal is there to help Sue get Jan ready but she can’t help but ask why Jan is marrying Yellowjacket. “Because I love him, that’s why!” Jan answers. Sue is wearing a flaring green mini-skirt with fishnet stockings and long green gloves so I don’t know if we can trust her judgement when she pronounces Jan “pretty as a picture…out of Millie the Model, no less!” Crystal says, “Gosh…I always cry at weddings! Mainly because they’re not my own!” And, really, she has no idea how good she has it now, just having the Human Torch as her boyfriend. She marries Quicksilver in Fantastic Four #150, September 1974 in what turns out to be a bad match. Later, she agrees to an arranged marriage with the Kree warrior Ronan the Accuser in War of Kings #1, May 2009.
While all that has been going on, the guests have arrived and we are treated to a “panoramic pin-up” by “Big John Buscema.” Many of them are drinking from champagne glasses but Stan and Roy assure us that “the punch our galvanizing guests are drinking is strictly non-alcoholic.” Hawkeye, the Black Knight, and Daredevil are chatting in the upper left corner. The Thing weighs so much that he sends the other side of the couch on which he is sitting up in the air. (Not sure how that works when his side is flat on the ground but…okay.) The Human Torch is sitting on that other end. The X-Men (Marvel Girl, Iceman, the Beast, and the Angel) are all together in the upper right, like the uncool kids that no one wants to play with. Mr. Fantastic chats with the Black Panther. Dr. Strange, the Vision, and Iron Man are having a conversation that seems to attract Cap’s attention. He turns back to look at them, away from Cyclops with whom he was probably previously talking. Nick Fury lights a cigarette in the lower left corner. And, Spider-Man is on his own, down in the lower middle. Enjoy your view of him Spider-philes. It’s his only appearance in the issue.
Now, we may have gotten an invitation but we don’t get to attend the ceremony. Not until the very end, at any rate. By the time we turn the page from the pin-up, the Reverend is pronouncing them man and wife. (He calls the groom “Mr. Yellowjacket.” Is that what the marriage license also says?) We are told that “Cap and Iron Man have left on urgent matters of their own” and don’t even attend the ceremony. Hawkeye is disgusted by the whole thing so he goes to the kitchen to see what’s delaying the wedding cake (even though the ceremony just ended) and walks right in on the “Ringmaster and his circus hoods.” Hawkeye assumes they are partners in crime with Yellowjacket. (These guys are just hanging around the kitchen dressed in their costumes? What was their plan again? And didn’t anyone at the wedding notice that Jarvis didn’t attend?) Cannonball, apparently doesn’t know his teammates are the “Gambonnos” because he calls them “Gombonno,” then attacks Hawkeye. The Gambonnos join in. Together, the three of them knock Hawkeye out. The Ringmaster lights a cigarette and wonders, “Isn’t it time [the newlyweds] had their wedding cake?”
Another time-skip so that we don’t see how the newlyweds get their wedding cake. (I assume the Ringmaster didn’t bring it out while dressed in his costume.) The Black Knight offers his sword to Jan to cut the cake, though he admits that “this is but a faithful replica of mine own enchanted blade.” (What? Is he making fun of her? Why bother with a replica? And where is his real blade in the meantime?) Jan starts to cut the cake, saying to YJ, “I’ve something to tell you, and I can’t keep it secret much longer.” (We never get back to this but I presume she is about to tell him that she knows he is Hank Pym>) Unfortunately, just then Princess Python’s python springs from the cake and coils around Jan. (This is the Ringmaster’s plan?) The Panther leaps in to disentangle Jan from the snake while the Vision knocks it out with his “thermo-scopic blasts.” (A petulant Yellowjacket says, “My super-powered stingers could’ve done the job just as well.”) Daredevil identifies the snake as belonging to Princess Python. (But how does he know? She wasn’t with the circus when he met them in ASM #16, September 1964.) Mr. Fantastic offers to help but the Panther tells him “this is Avengers business” and all of the guests leave! (Let’s get rid of all the heroes who could help. Makes sense.) So, instead of looking for whoever might want to kill Jan (besides Yellowjacket that is, as the Panther thinks, “Someone who stood to inherit her millions, perhaps?”) they stand around and do nothing. You know, the cake with the snake in it came from the kitchen. Maybe they should check the kitchen? They don’t. And soon, the Ringmaster and his Circus emerge. One of the Gambonnos reminds us why they stayed hidden so long. “We were waiting for Thor to show!” (A later footnote from Stan comments, “Could you attend a wedding and battle the Silver Surfer at the same time?” Thor takes on the Surfer in Silver Surfer #4, February 1969.) But, really, this is the Ringmaster’s plan? To take on the Avengers straight up? What happened to the nitro? And why did they let all the other heroes leave? What happened to relishing “the prospect of destroying so many superheroes in one fell swoop?” Oh, right. It was just the prospect of doing it that the Ringmaster relished. Cannonball says the Avengers “jinxed out plans to wipe out a city block of super-heroes” but how did they do that? By sending everybody home?
So, the battle begins and proves to be much tougher for the Avengers than it should be. While the Gambonnos take on the Panther, while the Clown and Cannonball take on the Vision, the Ringmaster shoots some sort of ray at Yellowjacket, knocking him back. This allows the Princess’ python to encircle the Wasp once again.
(As Cannonball knocks himself out on the Vision’s diamond-hard body, the Clown says, “Maybe I should’a listened to Emmett Kelly,”
Since, I think that Kelly’s character of Weary Willie never spoke, this is a joke of sorts…I think.)
With Jan in the python’s grasp, Yellowjacket realizes he can’t do anything except yell “You Three Ring fiends!” Paralyzed by his helplessness but unwilling to except that Jan will die, he feels something happening to him. Suddenly, he grows to giant-size and the Ringmaster realizes that “Yellowjacket is…Goliath!” One reason he realizes this is that Yellowjacket grows right out of his costume but has Goliath’s costume on underneath. Even granting artistic license, this is a pretty silly moment.
Goliath frees Jan from the snake and then uses it to tie the Ringmaster up. (Another silly moment.) Meanwhile, the Panther defeats the Gambonnos, causing the Clown to comment, “Image trying to beat the Black Panther with mere acrobatics! Might as well challenge Bobby Fischer to a game of chess!” He attacks with his “ray cane” but the Panther leaps out of the way and the blast doesn’t affect the Vision who fires thermo-scopic blasts back at the Clown, knocking him out.
In the kitchen, Hawkeye comes to and finds himself bound and gagged next to Jarvis and hung up “like a blamed side of beer.” (In fact, these do look like meat hooks on the wall. Do the Avengers run a slaughterhouse in the kitchen?) He manages to tear the back of his tunic to get free, then uses the acid from one of his arrowheads to get rid of his bonds. He heads for the battle, leaving Jarvis still tied up and hanging.
In the other room, Princess Python tries to escape but Jan knocks her flat with a right cross. Hawkeye emerges to see the police already carting the Circus of Crime away. (That was fast!) Not only that, but Jan is with Goliath with no Yellowjacket around. Hank and Jan explain it all to Hawkeye. It turns out that, when YJ said he did away with Hank, it was “true enough in a way he couldn’t suspect! For, he was Hank…with a king-size dose of accident-induced schizophrenia!” “I must have been thinking of Jan…of our love, of the things which kept me from proposing to her,” says Hank, “when I carelessly dropped some vials, containing various untested gases. Somehow, they affected me…turned me into a man in many was the opposite of Hank Pym…Yellowjacket! A name my subconscious naturally suggested as a fitting mate for…the wonderful Wasp!” Hawkeye asks if Jan “knew all along” and she tells him, “Not all along…but the clues added up…when he first kissed me” and then she tells Hank, “Whether you married me as Hank Pym…Yellowjacket…or as Wyatt Earp…it’s equally legal! Need I add that I looked it up?” Well, I don’t know about that…but, okay, as long as Jan looked it up!
In the Bullpen Bulletins in Avengers #61, February 1969, Stan writes, “The already-classic wedding of Hank and Jan (Goliath and the Wasp) in the Avengers last ish was written by Rascally Roy while on his own Caribbean honeymoon! Looks like fearless Forbush may be replaced by cuddly Cupid if we don’t watch out!” We knew about the wedding of Roy and Jean from the Bullpen Bulletins in ASM # 68, January 1969, right? But we didn’t know Roy was scripting during his honeymoon. You have to wonder what Jean thought about that. You also have to wonder if Stan had any qualms about spoiling the ending of this story just one issue later when he referred to the “already-classic wedding of Hank and Jan.” But we weren’t fooled, were we?
Thirty-eight years later, writer Joe Casey decided that the Avengers wouldn’t be fooled either so he retconned it in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II #5, March 2007, having the Avengers know all along that YJ is Hank but covering it up over concern for his delicate mental state. Apparently, the Avengers do such a good job of this that they stew over Jan marrying Hank’s killer even when YJ isn’t around, whisper things to each other that YJ can’t hear and think their suspicions as when the Panther thinks Jan’s potential killer could be “Someone who stood to inherit her millions, perhaps?” Not to mention telling Cap, they “got no corpus delecti.” Is Cap not in on this? Cap? Why don’t they just tell him rather than give him the “Yellowjacket is a killer” line? In other words, nice retcon but…no.
We’ve come to the end of three Avengers issues in a row that featured Spider-Man. There won’t be another Avengers appearance for almost two years, in Avengers #82, November 1970 and that one’s a cameo by Peter Parker. But then we’ll have 3 in 4 issues.
I’m all for Hank marrying Jan (although, this wedding, like so many other comic book weddings, doesn’t last). And I even like the idea of Hank wanting to propose but needing an alternate personality to do it, because, as Jan put it, “he let my money plus his never-ending research stand in his way!” The untested gases are a bit hokey but, hey, it’s comics! And since Hank really wanted to propose to Jan, you can’t say that Jan tricked him into marriage. I like that Yellowjacket has the wherewithal to come up a line like “You three ring fiends” when he’s in such distress and I do love that splash page. But there are too many flaws in this story to make it any more than average. Okay, so Roy was on his honeymoon and had other things on his mind. I get that. But still…what’s with the gaps in the story? Why don’t we see more of the ceremony? Why don’t we see how the cake gets out there? If they are waiting for Thor, why does the Circus put the python in the cake to begin with? Doesn’t that blow their cover? What about the plan? What is the plan? Since when does the Ringmaster have a ray gun and why have a ray gun if you’re going to blow everybody up? Because, what about the nitro? Wasn’t that the plan? Is it still hidden somewhere in Avengers Mansion? Why didn’t they ever use it, particularly when all the heroes were there? For that matter, if the bride has just been attacked by a giant python coming from her wedding cake in the midst of a bunch of heroes, why do the Avengers get rid of all the other heroes first thing? Why does the Black Knight bother to offer his sword to Jan to cut her cake if it isn’t really his sword? Why doesn’t Hawkeye free Jarvis from hanging like a side of beef? Did anyone ever rescue Jarvis? And what was Hank doing wearing his Goliath costume under his Yellowjacket costume? These issues are too much to overcome so I’m going to have to go right down the line and give this issue an average two and a half webs.
Everybody up for some reprints? Marvel Tales #18 is next.