Now here is where I might lose some of you comic junkies, but hear me out! With the release of Ant-Man in theaters earlier this month, I felt it appropriate to talk about this controversial character and shed some light on why some comic fans, particularly female comic readers, have a bone to pick with him. Namely, I want to talk about the original Ant-Man: Hank Pym.
Warning: This post contains content that may possibly trigger people who have experienced domestic abuse.
Then, in this defense of Ant-Man, I am going to discuss why we shouldn’t write him off just yet. But first, for those of you who know nothing about him.
First appearing in Tales to Astonish #27, Hank Pym is presented as a genius bio-scientist who unlocks shape altering abilities through his discovery of Pym Particles. As such, he gains the ability to shrink his size and eventually communicate with ants he meets through a specialized helmet. It was then that he adopted the superhero name Ant-Man. During his heroic adventures, he encounters his soon-to-be-wife, Janet Van Dyne, and helps her get revenge for her father’s death by manipulating her size and giving her insect like wings and “stinger” abilities, thus creating The Wasp!
Now, sure, his abilities do not seem too impressive. Eventually, Hank discovers a way to grow in size, becoming Giant-Man and Goliath through his super-career, but even this does not make him that impressive of a Marvel character. What does set him apart, and why some fans love him so, is because of his genius intellect and the trouble it gets Hank into. To shed some light on this, comic circles have often stated that Hank Pym’s intellect reviles that of Mr. Fantastic, who many recognize as Marvel’s smartest superhero. Furthermore, Hank Pym, along with Janet, were the original founders of The Avengers, which Janet aptly named. So with a guy as smart as Hank, how does he manage to get into trouble?
Well, Hank is the original creator of Ultron.
Contrary to what the movie would have you believe, Ultron becomes the biggest foe the Avengers have to continuously face not only in the main-stream time line, but in alternate universes as well, and is incredibly fearsome. Hank creates Ultron as a means to protect humanity and rehabilitate criminals, and creates Ultron in his image. But since Ultron is artificial intelligence, what gets amplified of Hank’s personality is the obsession and distaste with imperfection. And what’s more imperfect than humanity?
After creating something that nearly wiped out the entire civilization, Hank suffers a mental break-down and creates an alternate personality, Yellow Jacket, while faking the death of Ant-Man in the process. During this time, he does what “Hank” never could: he asks Janet to marry him. Aware that Hank and Yellow Jacket are one in the same, she says yes and hopes that Hank will regain himself. But here is where the trouble starts.
Hank tries to build yet another AI, but this time with a fail safe, so that he can destroy it in front of The Avengers and regain their trust. He becomes fixated on his failures, lashes out at everyone on the team, and suffers from severe paranoia and anxiety. Janet tries to confront him about his ridiculous plan… and gets slapped. Though Hank is immediately aware of his error, Janet decides to divorce him and Hank leaves the Avengers for a time. It’s in this panel, at this very moment, that many comic fans wash their hands of Hank Pym and leave. He has been permanently labeled a “wife-beater” and for a while the movie was receiving threats of boycott and protest until fans found out that Scott Lang was the hero of the cinematic retelling.
Let me start by saying that I am not at all advocating or trying to defend Hank’s actions in this moment. What he did was indeed domestic violence and it is not something that should be taken lightly. If you or a loved one has experienced domestic violence in real life, not just in the comic books, please contact The National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. But what I am suggesting is taking a deeper look into this story and his character. Why is it that Ant-Man is so readily written off when crowd favorites like Mr. Fantastic and Spider-Man have also physically abused their loved ones? What about those heroes who continuously abuse their loved ones through emotional manipulation, like Scott Summers? In essence, what makes Ant-Man so deserving of hate?
Hank Pym was never a huge time success in Marvel comics. Whether it be that people did not understand or respect his powers, or that he was written as a hard to like character who was both egotistical and insecure, not many fans took to Hank Pym. Therefore, fans were not surprised when he snapped. What is surprising about the above panel, however, was that it was not supposed to be drawn that way. According to the writer, Jim Shooter, Hank was never supposed to hit Janet; he was supposed to push her away and “accidentally” hurt her.
Perhaps the artist was not a huge Hank Pym fan either.
What made this panel so lasting, in my opinion, was the fact that the violence was in a domestic sphere. Comic readers have seen and continue to see many instances where heroes beat up villainesses, heroines get hit by villains, or where heroes and heroines fight amongst themselves and even amongst their spouses. The rationale there is it was all in costume, or at least it was mainly in costume. In the above panel, only Hank is in costume and Janet is drawn in a dainty white nightgown. This no longer becomes a dispute between superheroes, but domestic violence.
In addition, the Ultimate Universe decided to take this scene and really run with it. Not only does Hank abuse Janet without remorse, but he sends his ants to attack her when she tries to flee him. It is brutal, unnecessary, and crappy writing.
But why am I willing to give the mainstream Hank a shot still?
Here’s What Your Missing:
A Superhero diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder and the trials he faces:
Hank is later revealed to suffer from this mental illness, and while it does not excuse his actions towards Janet, it does set up some context. During the time the comic came out, Bi-Polar Disorder was not officially named, so his actions were simply deemed erratic, emotional, and exaggerated. It was easy to discount him. Hank continuously has to battle his instability and somehow find a way to still be the heroic good guy he seeks to be. While Hank is not always an easy character to like, he is at the very least a complex character that suffers from a real illness some comic readers might also share in. He, in essence, truthfully presents this illness in all its highest highs and lowest lows. And while, in real life, only 11-16% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder act violently, for a superhero that deals with violence everyday, this is how his symptoms manifest.
Hank Pym’s Redemption(ish)
Hank Pym, at least in the mainstream universe, felt genuine remorse for hurting Janet and never went on to abuse any of his other romantic interests. He never got over Janet, however. After extensive apologies and wrong-righting, Janet does eventually forgive him and starts up their relationship again, though they never remarry. Hank Pym spent comic decades making up for his crimes, but his redemption story is not your typical tale. He still makes countless mistakes, such as creating the Thor clone in Civil War that kills his best friend acting as Goliath, and regularly battles his Bi-Polar illness. But regardless of the many failures he continues to amass, he still tries. He wants to be the good guy, the hero, and that’s something worth looking into.
Now this confuses me, but somewhere in the middle of this domestic chaos, Janet was forgotten by fans as well. Why? She was the victim in this whole mess and yet somehow she gets discounted as well. I have heard some comic fans blame it on the fact that she decides to return to Hank Pym in the end, but that is also a rather shallow reasoning. And Janet is such an interesting character! Not only did she name the Avengers team, but she was the first female to lead the team right around the time the original Secret Wars took place. While she started as a romantic interest for Hank Pym, she became an individualized superhero by her own right. In fact, she was so forgotten by the comic community, she is already presumed “lost” in Ant-Man and therefore the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that is a whole different gripe I have.
So there you have it, my reasoning Hank Pym might deserve another shot. Last I remember, Hank and Janet returned from retirement in Oxford only to have Janet brutally killed. Hank, in memory of her, dawns the Wasp mantel and comes back to superheroing full-time. Recently, he apparently joined bodies with Ultron and, upon realizing this grave error, is now floating alone in space. (Can this guy ever catch a break?!)
But with the release of Secret Wars, which effectively ended the Marvel mainstream and Ultimate Universes as we know them, perhaps there is a different future that awaits Hank Pym yet.