Hank Pym's Downfall Started Long Before His Most Infamous Moment

Today, we look at how Hank Pym's downfall as a character predated his most infamous act of abuse.

Knowledge Waits is a feature where I just share some bit of comic book history that interests me.

It has now been a little more than 40 years since the August 1981 release of Avengers #213 (by Jim Shooter, Bob Hall and Dan Green), where Hank Pym (then going by the name Yellowjacket) committed an act of abuse that will forever taint the character's name in comic book history. I thought it'd be interesting to revisit that moment in light of later revelations by Jim Shooter and reflect whether that one panel really did change the story or whether that one panel has much of an impact on the story as you might think.

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THE NOTION OF WHAT SHOULD AND SHOULD BE FORGOTTEN IN A SUPERHERO'S HISTORY

First off, I guess we should address the somewhat controversial notion of, "Why do we even continue to bring up Hank Pym's abuse of Wasp?" What I mean to say is, the history of superhero comic book fiction is a long one, with characters written by many different people over a period of many decades and as a result, there are going to be some stories where we would really prefer not to think about them when it comes to certain superheroes and yet, for the most part, when it comes to forgetting events like these, we just, you know, DO. For instance, Mister Fantastic never has anyone confront him over the fact that he created a clone of Thor that went rogue and murdered Goliath, a really close friend to Reed's longtime partner, the Thing. Spider-Man never gets any grief over the time that he was in such a rage that when Mary Jane, who was pregnant with their child together at the time, tried to calm him down, he struck her and knocked her across the room. We've just collectively said, "Okay, that just totally ruins that character if we accept that story, so let's just ignore it."

But for Hank Pym, his worst action is ALL ANYONE WANTS TO WRITE ABOUT. I'm not saying it is wrong, but it is certainly a bit unusual. However, now that we're talking about said worst action, let's take a look at it as well as Jim Shooter's revelation a decade ago that he did not mean for Hank Pym to become a "Wife-beater."

THE "IT WAS NOT MEANT TO BE A DIRECT BLOW" DEFENSE

In an old Comic Book Legends Revealed, I wrote about how Jim Shooter revealed on his blog that the following sequence was drawn differently than Shooter had intended it in the plot of the story. Hank Pym is facing a court martial and he comes up with a delusional plan where he will have a robot attack the court martial and he will be the only one who can stop the robot he designed and thus the others will have to let him remain an Avenger. His wife, Janet, tells him that the plan is crazy and that he has to stop and he then strikes her...

That's the one scene that Pym has never lived down as a character. Shooter, though, noted, "In that story (issue 213, I think), there is a scene in which Hank is supposed to have accidentally struck Jan while throwing his hands up in despair and frustration—making a sort of “get away from me” gesture while not looking at her. Bob Hall, who had been taught by John Buscema to always go for the most extreme action, turned that into a right cross! There was no time to have it redrawn, which, to this day has caused the tragic story of Hank Pym to be known as the “wife-beater” story.

When that issue came out, Bill Sienkiewicz came to me upset that I hadn’t asked him to draw it! He saw the intent right through Hall’s mistake, and was moved enough by the story to wish he’d had the chance to do it properly." Bob Hall later told Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool that that sounds about right to him, so Shooter is likely correct that that panel was only meant to be an accidental blow rather than an intentional strike.

However, even if you change that scene, it perhaps doesn't have the same emotional resonance that comes from people posting that panel over and over again, but I don't know that it really changes Hank's depiction as an abuser in that issue and the one before it.

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HAD HANK PYM ALREADY WENT TOO FAR?

Jim Thompson brought this topic up with Shooter in Comics Historians' excellent longform interview with Shooter by Thiompson and Alex Grant (Grand then did a long follow-up interview with Shooter, as well) and I think Thompson's main points are quite on point when discussing the issues.

In Avengers #212 (by Shooter, Alan Kupperberg and Green), Hank had just rejoined the Avengers and he feels like he has been forgotten about, so he lashes out at Wasp while she is getting ready...

That's ALREADY emotional abuse, and it is a pretty standard deal that when a spouse/partner begins to destroy their spouse/partner's stuff, that is seen as a major escalation in the abuse.

Hank is a jerk all issue long and then, in an attempt to prove himself when the Avengers are fighting against a mysterious woman, he blasts her in the back while Cap was getting her to surrender. She then almost kills him, but Wasp saves him and Hank freaks out about THAT, too...

Cap then wants Hank court martialed for shooting the lady in the back. That takes us to the following issue.

As the issue opens up, Hank is just a "normal" jerk to Jan...

Later, when Jan initially sneaks into his lab to see what he's doing, his first instinct is to basically attack her...

and then he basically attacks her with the robot to show off its skills...

Then we get "the scene"...

And really, look at his response once she's down! Look at how he lets her cover up her black eye with sunglasses! Look how he doesn't apologize! You could remove that panel entirely and it was still clear that Hank was a "Wife-beater." The panel made it more visceral, to be sure, but it really isn't quite as important as I believe Shooter thinks it was. Hank was already a domestic abuser without it.

If anyone has suggestions about interesting pieces of comic book history, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]

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Brian Cronin (15127 Articles Published)

CBR Senior Writer Brian Cronin has been writing professionally about comic books for over a dozen years now at CBR (primarily with his “Comics Should Be Good” series of columns, including Comic Book Legends Revealed). He has written two books about comics for Penguin-Random House – Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed and Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! and one book, 100 Things X-Men Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, from Triumph Books. His writing has been featured at ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, About.com, the Huffington Post and Gizmodo. He features legends about entertainment and sports at his website, Legends Revealed and other pop culture features at Pop Culture References. Follow him on Twitter at @Brian_Cronin and feel free to e-mail him suggestions for stories about comic books that you'd like to see featured at [email protected]!

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