Avengers Vol. 3 #71: “Real Sicko. Perverts Only.”
No matter what you think of the quality of his work (especially the recent stuff), Geoff Johns is a bonafide comics superstar. He reinvented Green Lantern, had a long successful run on The Flash, returned the Justice Society of America and Hawkman to prominence, and shit all over his legacy with whatever the hell Doomsday Clock was supposed to be. However, there’s a reason you seldom hear about his stint at Marvel Comics, and it’s because his work there ran the gamut from unmemorable to downright embarrassing. Case in point: Avengers #71, a comic so filthy it turns whoever reads it into Tipper Gore. If you think that’s an overstatement, you haven’t read the comic. Geoff Johns’ Avengers tenure was unremarkable–it came a couple years before Bendis blew everything up with Avengers Disassembled. His run is mostly known for Black Panther breaking the Red Skull’s jaw and this. Let me tell you: Avengers #71 does not pop up on listicles because it’s a revelatory story or anyone’s favorite. There are more nefarious reasons for its notoriety.
Johns frontloads the depravity with a scene so ridiculous, so bad taste that I must list the editors because they let this shit pass through. Marc Sumerak and Andy Schmidt are listed as assistant editors while Tom Brevoort takes the most blame as editor. Three people looked at this comic and either had no misgivings or didn’t pipe up. This was before Johns was a superstar. Somebody could’ve said no. Anyway.
Establishing double page spread: Las Vegas, Nevada. The Big Apple itself. A lot of big, meaty spires in this spread as not so subtle foreshadowing for what’s to come. In case you don’t know, Yellowjacket and the Wasp have a contentious history that peaked with the former slapping the latter in an instance of spousal abuse. It has, for better or for worse, defined both characters in decades since. So to write the dialogue “No, Hank! Not again! Hank, please! No…more” to establishing shots of Las Vegas, Johns is playing on our assumption that Hank is physically abusing the Wasp again. But no, it’s a fakeout; he’s actually shrunk down inside her pussy. If “haha, you thought he was beating the shit out of her but actually he’s attacking her vag!” isn’t a reprehensible tool of the writer’s kit, it’s certainly a strange one to use in a comic Marvel pretends children read. (If you think I’m exaggerating, check the script, emphasis mine: “We’re looking at a hotel suite — in shambles. An over-turned chair, clothes all over the floor. Drawers open. Bottle of empty wine. Complete disarray — it looks like there was a fight in here. A domestic brawl…because we want it to.“) Most perplexing is when Yellowjacket decamps from her vagina, practically glistening, and then tells her “your turn”. What exactly constitutes her turn? Does she shrink and go inside his dick hole? Does she utilize her powerful wasp stingers to stimulate his prostate? Avengers #71 opened the door to this chicanery, so I should not have to go to DeviantArt to find out.
Here it is. If you came here via Google Image Search for “Ant-Man Wasp Sex Scene”, shame. SHAME!
The opening scene alone would be cause for inclusion in this column, but fortunately (?) for me the rest of the issue is filled with curious decisions and strange detours. Take, for instance, the introduction of the villain of the month, Whirlwind. Now, you see the cover of this issue and you know the characters’ history, if you’re a sick ticket you might be wondering “hey, where’s the violence against women”? Well, Whirlwind’s got you covered. Once a whimsical foe named The Human Top, Geoffrey Johns ran the guy through the ol’ grittifier and made him hire prostitutes to dress up as the Wasp (his canonical object of obsession) so he can beat them and blow them out the window to their deaths with his superpowers. Steve “Sadist” Sadowski draws it all, the bloody lip, the swollen shut eye. He even puts the sex worker in an old Wasp costume so continuity fiends will have something to appreciate besides the obvious eroticism of a vulnerable woman in pain. Within 5 pages the intended audience has shrunk (get it?) from “all ages” to “adults” to “people who were only cleared in the BTK investigation when Dennis Rader was arrested”.
Thankfully, things settle down a little bit as Hank and Jan go to the Star Trek Experience and quibble with its depiction of interstellar travel. I’d rather be watching Star Trek: Nemesis to be honest. Hank, ever the moron, thinks this is the perfect segue into proposing they remarry. Why propose in front of the real Eiffel Tower when you can do so in front of a chintzy replica? Jan sensibly declines, which sends her worse half into a shame spiral. Pym is better at pussy excavating than he is at taking rejection. It’s just page after page of him detailing how much he sucks, which even as a fan of the character I can’t argue. He tries to guilt Jan by saying he only felt accomplished when with her, which, come on. You discovered a particle, you fuck! Think of all the mediocre size changing characters that exist because of you! Black Goliath would be just Black without your doing!
Whirlwind whirls his way into the proceedings and already he’s pointing out the low stakes of the comic. “No Thor, no Iron Man, no Captain Freakin’ America!” Yes, reader, you bought an Avengers issue with none of them. Don’t you feel like a sucker? The writer will spell it out for you. Whirlwind blames his entire criminal career on trying to get Wasp’s attention, saying “love made me a criminal”. Not accurate; he was already a supervillain before “obsession with the Wasp” became his one character note. “Now I’m tired of seeing that weak-willed Ant-Boy get a taste of your honey. […] You owe me a little taste.” Then he fucking licks an unconscious Wasp and I want to throw up all over everything and everywhere.
Shit is so weird and fucked up a splash page of a naked Yellowjacket, the sphinx between his legs, screaming “don’t you dare touch her!” comes as a relief. A big naked guy, that I can at least wrap my head around. I’m sure Johns originally wrote that Hank vanquished Whirlwind by swinging his dick around but cooler heads prevailed. Instead Wasp wakes up, gives him a punch and a kick and he’s down for the count. The two affirm their relationship in a firetrucks and ambulances wrap up scene that raises the question of what the fuck the issue’s purpose was if their relationship status wasn’t going to budge. They don’t have to get remarried, they don’t have to break up, but it feels like something should’ve altered. Without it, #71 is merely a glimpse into sex lives no one had any interest in glimpsing.
Geoff Johns is or was a talented, interesting writer with a knack for revitalizing moribund characters in a fashion that doesn’t feel like trend chasing or like he’s rendering past stories or characterization moot. That applies to the DC Universe, though. Seeing him traverse the Marvel Universe feels wrong, like Sam Elliott without a mustache. All told, he has penned 32 Marvel issues, a number dwarfed by his contributions to DC Comics. (He’s credited for more Green Lantern comics, more Flash comics, more Teen Titans comics, you get the picture.) There’s an evident lack of familiarity with the characters and the universe that render Avengers #71 a strange misfire. For instance, in a line of dialogue Whirlwind thanks fellow minor villain Plant Man for tipping him off to Yellowjacket and Wasp’s whereabouts…”and the girls”. Look, man, I don’t need to fucking picute Plant Man having any involvement in prostitution, all right? Plant Man exists to tell bad pastiches of Alan Moore Swamp Thing stories, not to traffic women.
IT WOULD BE BLATANTLY LIBELOUS TO SAY Geoff Johns hires male prostitutes to put on a bomber jacket and answer to the name “Hal Jordan”.
The central issue of the issue – Hank and Jan’s relationship – was done before and better by Kurt Busiek not long before Johns’ tenure on Avengers. I don’t see why you’d revisit that well trod ground unless you wanted to put your own stamp on the relationship. Based on the material presented, Johns’ stamp was the kinky sex they’re into, a “clever” domestic abuse/kinky sex switcheroo and the characters blathering their feelings at each other that strikes as a very psychology 101 take on the heroes. I’m not saying Hank Pym is somebody who can undergo serious literary scrutiny, but there’s a little more to him than “his attempts to feel bigger actually made him feel smaller”. When faced with the choice between a passive-aggressive geek and a guy given a “gift…to become a human whirlwind”, Wasp does not take the sensible third option of neither and reiterates she’s willing to put up with Hank as long as he doesn’t try putting a ring on it. If she’s using him for shrinky sex, may I suggest she look up Scott Lang? He may not look like Paul Rudd in the comics, but he’s not bad. His “I’m an ex-con with a daughter I constantly disappoint” schtick wears out less quickly than the ol’ Wifebeater Pym bag of self-loathing and self-pity.
“I don’t care how erect your throbbing goliath get–Geoff, we can’t publish this.”
So you’re really left with the fact that the product is fucked up and shouldn’t have been published. This comic is so scandalous a page of it–you know the one–was memory holed by Marvel. It doesn’t appear in the collected edition nor in the digital version of the issue. If that’s not a tacit acknowledgement somebody fucked up in letting this happen I don’t know what is. Yet I feel like it’s too little too late. It’s not as though that’s the sole problem with the comic. How can you justify pulping that page and not the Whirlwind beating and throwing the prostitute out the window page? Or the Whirlwind licking the Wasp page? Or all of it, considering without the infamy it’s a fairly mundane recitation of two characters’ relationship, with an extra side of Hank Pym self-pity? (Fact: no one has ever wanted an Avengers issue of Ant-Man dealing with his tendency to overcompensate in the face of male competition. That’s down there with “Hawkeye returns to his old carnival” and “the Black Knight finds out his jeans are counterfeit” in terms of Avengers plots nobody wants.)
It’s missing an “I”; otherwise it’d be an utterly appropriate subliminal message.
On the cover Avengers #71 is rated PSR, which stands for Parental Supervision Recommended. If any parent ‘supervises’ their child reading this and the supervision doesn’t end with the parent taking the comic and burning it along with the rest of the kid’s collection, they should be served with criminal charges. Call me Kamala Harris because I’m advocating to lock up some mothers and fathers! That said, the comic was delayed a week and slapped with a Mature Readers label, but really that’s not good enough. This should come in a plastic bag so that everyone who purchases it is properly shamed. I’m not a prude, but we have to draw a fucking line somewhere or else next it’s going to be a one-shot titled Venom Tentacle Rapes The Marvel Universe or Chuck Austen will get work again.
If you ever see assistant editors Marc Sumerak, Andy Schmidt, editor Tom Brevoort, penciler Steve Sadowski or Geoff Johns himself at a convention, please, I implore you to ask them what the fuck was up with this comic. Use that wording: “what the fuck was up with Avengers #71”, because only that conveys properly the mixture of confusidon and scorn the question ought to contain. It’s not only a fucked up comic, it’s a lousy one, featuring neither rollicking adventure nor interesting melodrama. Ed Burns movies contain better grasps of human emotion, and if perversion is your goal, may I suggest the film Happiness? Dylan Baker’s in it, so you can imagine Curt Connors becoming a kind of monster different from a giant lizard in a lab coat.