This issue of MARVEL TRIPLE ACTION was another book that I picked up as part of a 3-Bag purchased either at a department store or a local toy store. It reprinted an issue of AVENGERS that was about a decade old at that point. And during that time, AVENGERS was a very different book than it was in the present. The main point of separation was that pretty much all of the “big gun” heroes–notably Thor and Iron Man–had given way to lesser lights, with the singular exception of Captain America (and at this particular moment, he was on the cusp of quitting the series as well.) This meant that the book did have characters that it controlled, that called it home and thus could be more materially affected by the ongoing adventures. But it also meant that the team often struggled to live up to its sobriquet as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”
But aksi at the time, the title was getting a bit of a facelift thanks to a powerhouse new creative team. Roy Thomas had been writing the book for about a year now, an he’d already taken some steps to bolster the Avengers’ ranks and power level. He was shortly after joined by John Buscema, whose powerful artwork immediately made the Avengers seem more formidable. John was only supposed to fill in while regular artist Don Heck drew the oversized AVENGERS ANNUAL, but Roy was so smitten by Big John’s artwork that he pulled strings to get him assigned to the title on the regular. Nothing against Heck, but this was a good move. In this issue, sadly, he was inked by Vince Colletta, who was occasionally known as the “great equalizer”: on a crummy artist, he would elevate the artwork. But over a great artist, he’d bring them down to the same level. I get the sense that John wasn’t too happy with the results on this issue, as it was relatively rare that Vinnie got to work over John in the future.
This particular story introduces–or, really, re-introduces–a villain who would go on to be a recurring figure all across the Marvel line. This was Whirlwind, formerly the Human Top, a somewhat-ridiculous figure who had battled Giant-Man repeatedly in the early days. With his huge inverted top helmet, the Human Top often looked like a deadly spinning turnip–so here, Buscema gives him a makeover. I don’t know that a bare midriff is the wisest choice for super-villain attire, nor another helmet that provides for no peripheral vision. (or even allowed Whirlwind to turn his head–shades of Batman!) But the look stuck, and is still being used today with one or two tweaks and deviations over the years. Building on the last story the Human Top had appeared in, Roy gives the villain a more notable M.O. by having him obsessed with the Wasp–so much so that, in his civilian identity, he takes a job as Janet Van Dyne’s chauffeur, the better to be near her and to learn Hank Pym’s (Goliath at this time) plans.
Goliath has been having troubles with his size-changing powers pretty well ever since he returned to the Avengers some time ago, and this is Roy’s first step in getting him back in fighting trim. But before that, we get a few pages of our heroes separating and enjoying a rare nice day without any villains to fight. Pretty much only Hank and Jan are left at Avengers Mansion as the others head off to do their own things. As Jan’s driver, Whirlwind is well aware of this, and so he selects this moment to strike at Pym. Breaking into the Mansion, Whirlwind is able to expose both Goliath and the Wasp to the shrinking apparatus Hank was working on, trapping them both at ant size. He then proceeds to dump them into a terrarium in which Pym was keeping a bunch of ants for study, figuring that without their cybernetic helmets, they won’t be able to communicate with the ants and will be killed by them. But just in case, Whirlwind sets about planting a bomb in the lab, which will finish off the other Avengers when they return. But sadly for him, the ballgame Captain America and Quicksilver were planning to attend was rained out–and they come back while Whirlwind is still at his nefarious work. Quicksilver once defeated the Human Top in two panels at the Wedding of Reed and Sue Richards, but here he both doesn’t recognize the villain, and is himself taken out by the new, improved Whirlwind in a similar space.
Captain America, it turns out, is also unable to cope with their swiftly-whirling foe. And within the terrarium, things aren’t going any better for Goliath and the Wasp. They’re under attack by aggressive red ants who see them as food/a threat. Through dumb luck, the Wasp winds up killing the tribe’s queen, and so they immediately adopt her instead as a replacement–this would have been better had Jan targeted the queen specifically thanks to her knowledge. But she’s still being played like a flighty bubblehead in these days. Anyway, with the immediate threat taken care of, Goliath is able to cobble together a makeshift cybernetic helmet out of the apparatus within the terrarium, allowing him to communicate and control his former attackers. Now, Goliath is ready to strike back.
As Whirlwind starts to consider making a break for it before his explosive device detonates, Goliath is able to make his way at tiny size to a loudspeaker, and alert Cap and Quicksilver to the danger. From there, it’s the work of only instants for Quicksilver to locate the device and then race away from Avengers Mansion with it, allowing it to explode harmlessly in the air. (This was during a period in which Thomas had granted Quicksilver the ability to fly by vibrating his legs at ridiculous speeds, an ability that vanished one day just as quickly as it turned up.) Of course, the crowds below who witness the explosion think that Quicksilver is responsible for it, and the silver-haired mutant is reminded once again about the anti-mutant prejudice that is pervasive. This is all in service of setting up a character-turn in the very next story.
Whirlwind takes advantage of this moment to speed away, resuming his guise as the Van Dyne chauffeur and living to fight another day. Quicksilver, having gotten the worst of things, is pissed, but there isn’t much of anything to be done about it. On a more positive note, being shrunk forcibly like this has unlocked Hank’s shrinking abilities once again, so in addition to being Goliath, he’ll hereafter also be able to call upon the less-flashy abilities of Ant-Man. And that’s the note the story wraps up on. But these would hardly be the last changes made to Hank as Thomas and future writers attempted to find a formula for the size-changing crusader that would connect well with fans. In another year or so, he’d switch over to a new identity, Yellowjacket, leaving his growth formula to Clint Barton, who would give up his guise as Hawkeye for a time to become the new Goliath. If nothing else, things in AVENGERS didn’t remain static for too long,