These two issues comprise a two-part tale highlighting Tigra and featuring the Silver Surfer, who helps the Avengers battle Owen Reece, a.k.a. the Molecule Man, a classic Fantastic Four villain with near-infinite power over matter (although we only see hints of it here). This is an… odd story, to say the least, but it does contain two very important revelations and a great philosophical debate at the end.
Issue #215 begins with Tigra having a day on the town, including being hit on, mauled, and then victim-blamed. We also see the Silver Surfer and the Molecule Man meet in New Jersey—I can confirm, you do meet the strangest people here—and recount their histories to each other, after which the latter gets the bright idea to be a new Galactus and eat the Earth. Reece subdues the Surfer, but his board flies away to the Baxter Building in Manhattan to tell the Fantastic Four that Timmy’s stuck in the well. Tony Stark sees it instead, and after changing into Iron Man he catches the board and summons the rest of the Avengers to help.
It is at this point, on page 13, that we finally see freelance artist Steve Rogers, looking for work at an ad agency—an ad agency where the Marvel Universe version of Ann Nocenti, in the real world a legendary Marvel writer and editor, happens to work—before he’s called away by Tony.
When the four remaining Avengers gather—the Wasp and Yellowjacket remaining on leave after their recent difficulties—Tigra uses another pop-culture analogy for the board’s behavior, and then puts it to the test.
The board leads the Avengers to the Silver Surfer, who updates them on the early pages of the issue, and then rubs a certain Sentinel of Liberty the wrong way (just because the Surfer and the Thunder God speak the same language, verily).
It seems Cap liked Tigra’s analogy too. “Giddyup, Tony, giddyup!”
By the time our heroes find the Molecule Man, he’s used a solid-air dome to squat in Jersey. Nothing can break through it: Not the Silver Surfer’s power cosmic, not Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir, not Iron Man’s repulsor rays… not even Captain America banging his shield against it.
Oh ye of little faith… Cap just needed to whack (or “whak”) it in the right spot, see?
Tigra slips through the hole and confronts the Molecule Man, trying to distract him while the friends continue to fight the very earth itself, with Cap launching into leader mode.
After fighting alongside the Surfer, Cap admits he was wrong about him, and berates himself for “letting things get to me too much lately.” (What exactly he means by that, I’m not really sure.)
When our heroes finally get past the Molecule Man’s defenses and confront him, they learn he can do much more than throw rocks at them.
After subduing the Avengers Prime and the Surfer, Owen puts them in a huge press, sparing Tigra on the off-chance that she might like him (which, to be fair, she encouraged earlier to save her life and to distract him). As issue #216 opens, however, he reveals that he has no interest in her as a woman—”Mom always warned me about… that! And she was right!”—but only as a friend, or rather a pet. (Just when you start to have a little sympathy for the guy, right?)
Before we get back to Cap’s new kooky quartet, we get a quick glimpse at another fabulous foursome, who apparently aren’t going to let a solidified air dome in New Jersey interfere with a cover shoot for their favorite band’s new album.
While the Four struggle against the Molecule Man’s barrier, the Surfer has managed to free Cap and his two friends…
…whom Cap has just noticed are no longer themselves. (I can understand him being surprised about Don Blake, but seriously, there were so many clues about Tony that Cap must be feeling really stupid right about now.)
Cap will have to get used to seeing Tony starkers: The panel above always reminds me of one of my favorite scenes (and lines) from Avengers Prime #3 (November 2010) by Brian Michael Bendis, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Javier Rodriguez:
Back in 1982, Cap tries to keep Tony and Don away from the fight, but to their credit they’re not hearing it.
Just let Cap have this moment, Tony, OK?
Meanwhile, thinking her fellow Avengers dead and the Molecule Man about to destroy the Earth, Tigra has a chance to kill him but can’t bring herself to do it… and soon discovers her friends are very much alive, including the master of stealth himself.
Tigra still struggles with whether she should have killed Owen when (she thought) she had the chance, and also with her flirtation with him earlier, which Cap praises…
…even if she doesn’t think she’s worthy. All that goes out the window when she sees Tony and Don, whom Cap outs, apparently without a second thought. (And Tony just shrugs it off.)
As the inevitable fight begins, the Molecule Man gets symbolic with Cap, who repeats his “ordinary man” canard—which may be excusable in this context, as he truly is David facing Goliath here in terms of raw power.
After Cap knocks Owen out, he has the same argument with Tony that Tigra had with herself, and one they would have many times in the years to come, with Tony being more pragmatic, even in the face of clear wrongdoing, and Cap remaining principled, even in the face of unimaginable costs.
The Silver Surfer has perhaps the most interesting view, arguing that the Molecule Man should be killed to save all the life on Earth, but he could not do it himself. This is an important aspect of the trolley problem, which this situation resembles: It’s one thing to say that the trolley should be diverted to save many lives at the cost of one, and it’s another thing entirely to be the one to pull the switch itself.
Tony has no such qualms though, and as Cap stands in his way, Tigra tries to talk to Owen, disputing Cap by saying that power doesn’t have to corrupt, but can be used for good if the powerful wants to… and it works.
Thanks to Tigra, Owen surrenders to the authorities and agrees to go to therapy, but first he gives the boys their toys back…
…except Tony. Owen says he couldn’t understand the technology in the Iron Man armor, so he made him an “Iron Man leisure suit” instead.
Despite saving the day, Tigra is still inspired by the heroism of the other Avengers, and announces that she’s quitting the team, leaving just the Avengers Prime… unless the Wasp and Yellowjacket were to return, say in the next issue maybe? (Come back for the next issue/post to see.)
Avengers (vol. 1) #215, January 1982: Jim Shooter (writer), Alan Weiss (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Avengers (vol. 1) #216, February 1982: Jim Shooter (writer), Alan Weiss (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers: The Trial of Yellowjacket and Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume Twenty.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Avengers #214 (December 1981)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #265 (January 1982) and Captain America #266 (February 1982)
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #217 (March 1982)
Jim Shooter seemed to really enjoy having the Avengers fight psychologically disturbed beings with godlike powers: Graviton, Korvac, the Molecule Man… am I forgetting anybody?