The Avengers (excepting Captain America, the absence of whom goes unremarked this issue) are locked in battle... with one of their own! Giant-Girl's gigantic heel is grinding them all into the pavement, with only Wolverine's unbreakable skeleton and the Hulk's gamma-powered physique keeping the Avengers from being smashed into paste. How did it come to this?
I'll tell you how it came to this. It began with Storm, Wolverine, and Spider-Man investigating some caves under the Adirondacks, where people had gone missing lately. Thanks to Logan's and Spidey's enhanced senses, the Avengers track the missing people to a deep vault, where they found miners and campers imprisoned in cocoons, and guarded by the "Insectoid People [sic]!" These insectoids-- humanoids with chitin, mandibles, and segmented eyes-- prove to be a real handful, especially given that Giant-Girl can't use her size-altering powers effectively in the tunnels.
Cue the Hulk, who smashes a hole in the mountainside and allows the Avengers to break free. In a panic, the Insectoid leader orders his drones to fight harder, prompting Giant-Girl, suddenly and without warning, to turn on her comrades. Luckily for the Avengers, Storm's mastery of the winds allows her to subdue Giant-Girl without harm, but the fight distracts the Avengers sufficiently to allow the Insectoids to make their escape. (Weren't they just about to begin fighting harder?)
After an off-panel trip to Avengers Tower to drop off an unconscious Giant-Girl, the Avengers bust into the secret lair of... the Puppet Master! (Bald guy, bad teeth.) Iron Man is certain that he's the villain responsible for Giant-Girl's odd behaviour, but it seems he's wrong, as the only voodoo dolls on hand (yes, voodoo dolls, really) are images of the Fantastic Four. Storm concedes that "he hasn't broken the law yet," so the Avengers merely confiscate those dolls, and the Master's nefarious equipment, and head on their way.
Now, see, this is exactly what the 616 Registration Act was designed to prevent: the Avengers break open the side of the Puppet Master's house, imprison him in webbing, seize his possessions, threaten him with Wolverine's claws after it's clear he "hasn't broken the law," and leave without any chance they'll compensate him for these thefts and indignities. And Iron Man, of all people, is the responsible party! This book really is a gesture back to the Silver Age. The story lets the Avengers off the hook, though, as the Puppet Master is actually happy about all of this, as it's proof the Avengers consider him to be a real threat. Take your jollies where you can get them, I guess.
Meanwhile, Giant-Girl has woken up and is tearing up Manhattan! What, the Avengers didn't restrain her at all? But perhaps that was too much to ask, especially as, when the Avengers spring into action to take her down, they end up crushed beneath her heel, bringing us up to speed with the beginning of the issue. Wolverine's poking her with a claw does not endear him to her, and she begins scaling the Empire State Building with him clenched tight in her fist. No points for guessing what pop-culture reference is being made here. She tosses him out to see with a nice overhand, but, thanks to Wolverine's claws and his struggles to get free, her mask goes with him. Now that they can see her face, the members of the media covering the incident breathlessly out Giant-Girl's secret identity: turns out she's "wealthy socialite Janet Van Dyne!"
As Giant-Girl stomps out of the city, the Avengers (including a soggy Wolverine, fished out of the Hudson River by Iron Man) regroup. Iron Man and Wolverine head after the rogue Avenger to minimize the damage she's causing in an unspecified manner, while Spidey and Storm go to have a talk with Giant-Girl's father, Vernon Van Dyne.
It turns out that poor little rich girl Janet wanted to make a difference in people's lives, and found she was taken more seriously as a costumed adventurer than a celebrity volunteer. Using technology designed by Hank Pym, a scientist in her father's employ, she gained the ability to shrink to ant-size! And to grow to giant-size, a wrinkle that egghead Pym hadn't recognized. Another wrinkle was that her Giant-Girl costume still retained the ability to talk to insects, a power Janet had never used, but nonetheless made her vulnerable to the Insectoids' telepathic communications.
Armed with that knowledge, the Avengers join their comrades in the countryside, who are valiantly fighting Giant-Girl and the Insectoid soldiers with whom she's rendezvoused. One slice from a web-catapulted Wolverine, and the antennae on Giant-Girl's costume are severed, restoring her to normal. That only leaves the army of Insectoids, whom at first seem too much for our heroes to handle. Leave it to Hank Pym to save the day, who uses his backup insect-communication rig to broadcast images of Giant-Girl cutting loose with her giant heels on hundreds of Insectoids. Horrified at the thought, the Insectoids retreat to their caves, and the day is saved!
Also, Giant-Girl gets a new costume, and the Avengers get a group hug! Awww.
I wondered as early as issue #1 what the deal was with Giant-Girl, as she was the only wild card in this new hand of Avengers. Previous references to her given name as 'Janet' hinted that she was a nod to the Wasp-Giant Man partnership of the early Avengers, which I thought was a nice, subtle nod to 616 continuity, and as much as one could do in a team book. There's not enough room in this book to showcase each Avenger in every story, and so, I reasoned, they'll never have the space to go into character backstory.
Seems I was wrong. This was a fun story, one that made references to sources as diverse as King Kong, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman, and mainstream Avengers continuity without letting them overpower the story. And it was light and fluffy enough that I'll overlook the minor plot holes (just what range does Insectoid mental communication have? Why was Giant-Girl not affected earlier? Why do the Insectoids only turn up when it's convenient for the Avengers for them to do so?) and the moral problems (Don't the Avengers bully the Puppet Master unforgivably? Given that the Insectoids emerged because they're starving, isn't confining them to their caves, as Hank Pym does at the end of the story, an act of genocide?)
Lightness and fluffiness aside, though, I'm concerned by Cap's unacknowledged absence. Has the edict come down from Marvel Editorial that, in the light of 616 Cap's death, Cap can't appear in any other line either? I hope not. It's true that if you were going to get rid of one character, he brought the least to the table, and that one fewer Avenger gives the others more panels in which to shine. But one of the book's appeals was seeing Cap in action with his fellow Avengers, a pleasure that the 616 books aren't providing these days. I'd hate to lose it here too.
Despite my caviling, a solid story. Four webs. I just hope we get to see Cap next issue.
The issue's best dialogue?
VERNON VAN DYNE: "It all hangs on how [Janet] became Giant-Girl. She asked me to make her a super hero."
STORM: "No doubt to avenge her mother's death."
VERNON: "Hm-- what? My wife's fine-- she's at tennis now. No, Janet wanted to help people."
A nice poke at superhero cliche and the whole grim-'n-gritty style. Kudos.