Thursday, March 23, 2006

Profile: Hank Pym, Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Yellowjacket

First appearance: 1961 in Tales to Astonish

Current status: inactive member of the Avengers, having taken time off with Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp.

Was subjected to the following acts of discrimination: he was brainwashed by his own creation, the mad cyborg Ultron. This later resulted in the deterioration of his mental stability, leading to despair in his work as a scientist. But what really ended up damaging Hank Pym as a character was when in 1981, in an overwrought storyline in which he was trying to regain his credibility as a superhero with his fellow Avengers, he ended up smacking his then wife, Janet Van Dyne, the Winsome Wasp, to try and chase her away from his preparations. He did this again a few issues later, which triggered Jan’s anguish for real, leading to her lashing back, and soon afterwards, they were divorced for many years. As far as I know, this was later revealed to have been the result of Ultron’s damage to Hank’s mental health, but even so…

What’s wrong with how this was done? Plenty! Hank Pym was a pretty good character when he first debuted, and thanks to what was apparently the meddling of Jim Shooter, this ended up ruining the reputation of the character and subjecting him to a lot of reader debate over whether this makes him usable anymore or not, including when he and Jan reunited and reconciled. To make matters worse, some writers, most notoriously Chuck Austen (and even Brian Bendis), perpetuated this whole storyline into a pure stereotype and cliché, making it almost unbearable.

Was there anything good to come out of this? When Hank was a co-star in The West Coast Avengers, Steve Englehart and others working on the book at the time did do a good job with him. But even so, that earlier storyline with the slap to Jan was uncalled for, something I’m sure many would agree with.

Hank and Jan may have since reconciled, and in all due fairness, I don’t think that Hank is capable of screwing up as badly as he did back then, most certainly not if written well. But that still doesn’t excuse the long-running damage that was done to his character, repeatedly running the risk of turning him into a wife-beating stereotype of a character, and making it difficult for readers to fully accept a reunition with Jan.


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