I’m going to kick off my grand (ehh?) new monthly–hopefully–blog series, A Question of Character, with a study of a Marvel hero that it appears that only I like: Dr. Hank Pym, also known as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellow jacket and The Wasp. With A Question of Character, I intend to post an examination and explanation of some comic book character or another every month. I’m willing to take requests, but I’m going to start with my favorites as well as somewhat lesser known characters. Like Pym, an original Avenger who has almost no pop culture penetration.
The one thing that everyone seems to know about Hank is that he once beat his wife. This is a character with five decades of stories and he has only one memorable story; a story that is often misread. Most writers, especially bad ones, tell new stories about Hank Pym’s spousal abuse (hello Chuck Austen), but that is not actually what was happening in that scene. And by “that scene”, I mean this scene:
Admittedly, that is both a terrible and important moment for Pym. It is probably Pym’s relative popularity that this story is remembered while the numerous other instances of Superheroes abusing their spouses are forgotten. I know I could find similar panels for Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic, I’m sure I could do the same with most heroes with long-time love interests. Of course, as we all know, everyone else was doing it is not a suitable excuse for any sort of bad behavior. While this story is the source for numerous “Hank Pym: Wife Beater” stories, spousal abuse is not what is being shown here.
To get the full context of this moment, a history of Hank Pym is needed. He got his start by discovering size-altering particles and like any good scientist, he named them Pym Particles after himself. Also like any good scientist, he promptly tested them on himself. After a nearly disastrous encounter with an Anthill, Hank invents a way to communicate with those insects and uses them and his ability to shrink to fight crime. Soon he meets Janet Van Dyne, the daughter of a colleague who was murdered by an alien. Hank is attracted to her because she is young, rich, and beautiful and looks just like his first wife who was murdered by communists causing him to have a mental breakdown. So we are already out of the realm of the romantic and into the abode of the creepy. In order to help her get revenge for her father’s murder, Pym douses his new paramour with his Pym Particles as well. After her daddy is avenged, the two of them continue to adventure together until the founding of the Avengers.
On the Avengers team, Hank begins to feel inadequate next to the likes of Thor and Iron Man and Captain America. So he starts to use his powers to grow and go by Giant-Man. It is his unending quest to better himself and the world that constantly get’s Hank into trouble. He has an unmatchable desire to improve himself as well as an unmatchable rate of failure. (Of course, the real world reason for his constant change is due to a lack of popularity among the readers.) This is how his attempts to create an artificial intelligence results in the indestructible, murderous Ultron.
Jan helps her husband’s inferiority complex by flirting with Thor and Cap. Her goal is to passively-aggressively get Pym to propose. I guess making him feel like he’s not worth shit would make him want to lock that down, so to speak, before she wises up. I can’t argue with her logic seeing as it works, kind of. And by kind of worked I mean that Hank had a psychotic break (breakdown #2 for those keeping count), proclaimed that he was the Yellow Jacket and that he had killed Hank Pym. Then he forced Janet to marry him. Realizing early on that Yellow Jacket was actually Hank; Janet went along with her beau’s delusion. It all worked out in the end, with Hank and Janet married and Hank returning to his senses, blaming the breakdown on a mysterious experimental gas.
I will not say that any person deserves to be hit by their spouse, but the Pym’s have just been courting trouble since the beginning. When you marry a crazy person, you do not get to be surprised when they act crazy. And something crazy Pym did. Again feeling inadequate, Pym over compensates, accidentally taking down a surrendering opponent. Captain America, being kind of a dick, decides to convene a hearing about Hank Pym’s suitability to continue with the team. As usual, Hank has a not at all insane plan: to create a killer robot that only he can take down to prove his worth to the team. When his wife figures out what he is doing, she tries to stop him resulting in this.
After that, Pym goes through with his plan, only to fail to deactivate the robot. Janet arrives and does, and Hank ends up divorced, expelled from the Avengers and soon accused of murder.
Judging by his history of breakdowns, that story is less about Hank Pym being an abusive husband and Hank Pym having yet another mental breakdown. Instead of helping him out, his friends and family get cast him out. He is the victim of this story, not his wife. As I always say, a marriage that starts with a psychotic break ends with a psychotic break. His mental problems are obvious to any casual observer, why none of his friends noticed it I can’t say. I’m no psychologist, but it seems like he has a rather severe form of Bi-Polar disorder. What he needs is psychiatric help, not to be abandoned by his friends. Him punching Janet is terrible, but it is quite obvious that he in not in control of his actions at the time, that he is not thinking clearly.
Hank hits rock bottom soon after, but proves his hero credentials by fighting back and rebuilding his life. He stays out of the superhero game for some years after that, styling himself as some sort of super scientist. Eventually he reconciles with his wife, but then the bad writers come on to dredge up issues already put to rest. Recently he led a team of Avengers and became the Scientist Supreme of the Marvel Universe. He also took his now dead ex-wife’s name in a kind of creepy tribute. But if it weren’t creepy, it would not be Pym.