Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hank Pym was Not a Wife-Beater

Back in 1981 I was writing the Avengers. Hank Pym aka Yellowjacket was married to Janet Van Dyne aka The Wasp and things had not been going well for him for a long time.

Before I embarked on the storyline that led to the end of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne’s marriage, I reread every single appearance of both characters.  His history was largely a litany of failure, always changing guises and switching back and forth from research to hero-ing because he wasn’t succeeding at either.  He was never the Avenger who saved the day at the end and usually the first knocked out or captured.  His most notable “achievement” in the lab was creating Ultron.  Meanwhile, his rich, beautiful wife succeeded in everything she tried.  She was also always flitting around his shoulders, flirting, saying things to prop up his ego. 

As I was developing the storyline, I discussed the potential pathology of their relationship with a psychologist who happened to be sitting next to me on a five-hour flight.  The story made sense, he thought.  I went ahead with it.  During the time the story was running, I got a great deal of hate mail.  It worried me enough to ask Stan what he thought.  He said he got the same kind of mail in the ‘60’s regarding Peter Parker’s various romantic travails.  He asked me how Avengers sales were doing.  They were in fact, increasing by 10,000 copies per issue.  Stan said that people obviously cared passionately about what was happening to Hank and Janet, as if they were real people.  That’s the key.  And he said, “Don’t worry about the mail.”

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.

By the way, I was too busy to finish the story, so Roger Stern took over two-thirds of the way through.  I thought he did a great job.  He’s an excellent writer who doesn’t get enough credit.

40 comments:

Marc Miyake said...

Jim,

Although I prefer universes like DEFIANT and Broadway that reflect a unified vision of a creator or a team of creators, it's neat how many creators over time kept Hank Pym so consistent without overt direction. It's as if there was a real Hank and the creators were just reporting on him. It's not as if Stan Lee had a Hank dossier that got handed to subsequent writers. Collective continuity can work.

Did Marvel have a library of back issues that you could consult?

I haven't read this Avengers storyline yet - has it ever been reprinted? - but if I ever do get it, I'll keep in mind your original intent behind this infamous scene that I've heard about but have yet to see.

misterjayem said...

Hank Pym is all about #winning and #tigerblood, baby: http://www.armagideon-time.com/?p=5387

-- MrJM

Richard Guion said...

Interesting how this little mistake has reverberated throughout the years at Marvel. In the regular Marvel Universe, it's almost become Pym's Uncle Ben moment. Marvel's creative team had a chance to retcon this event during Secret Invasion and decided to keep it intact, saying it was integral to Pym's character. Then it was amplified to the max in the Ultimates, where that version of Hank Pym was really abusive to Janet.

Bill Sienkiewicz drawing the Avengers, written by you--that would have been something!

Steve (raker) Andreski said...

And it was in such a fit of rage, when she caught him betraying his teammates and covering up his actions....years later, Peter Parker, with all his Spider-Strength, punched a pregnant Mary Jane across the room way harder and more deliberately than that during the Clone Saga, but yet this moment sticks with Hank... I've always thought that bizarre!

uncannyderek.com said...

It's amazing how a simple "mistake" can have such a long-lasting effect.

Getting into comics late, I only knew Pym as a wife beater. It's mind-boggling that that's not the case.

Jim, what WAS your intent for Hank Pym then? What was the ultimate goal of the storyline or the future of Hank?

techberry said...

It may not have been your intent for Hank to be portrayed in such a light, but it did give a podium to a taboo subject. I guess the question is, will this moment define who he is or does it provide an opportunity for Hank to grow (bad pun) beyond it? All depends on how much writers want to expand on this...

Joseph Tages said...

Avengers #212 was my first issue and the Hank Pym arc was the reason I seriously began reading comics from month to month. I had never known what the Pyms were like before Hank's downfall and by the time Roger finished the saga in #230, I was convinced that Hank had always been a hero, albeit a flawed human being like everyone else. Jan matured into the next Avengers chairperson during this time and Roger kept writing her as a strong character until the end of his run. This remains my favorite story of all time, and it is certainly the most moving. It deserves to be collected in its entirety to set the record straight regarding Hank's actions.

118237750764181927644 said...

As much as you may not have intended for Hank Pym to be tarred as an abusive husband, I think it stuck because it didn't seem that out of character given his tendency towards breakdowns and erratic behavior.

I mean, his angry brooding when stuck as Goliath, the whole-mentally-unhinged-and creating-Ultron thing, and the 'I killed myself' incident as Yellowjacket all point towards Hank Pym as a mess. Which is perversely good for the character in my opinion, because messes are interesting.

Paulo said...

Later in that story, Hank doesn't appear to show remorse when Jan takes her glasses off and shows she has a black eye. Can anyone explain that?

f7fa41f0-5b0c-11e0-b85f-000bcdcb471e said...

He didn't feel bad that he accidentally hit her and caused a black eye? Mr. Shooter changed the scripting to reflect what the artist drew?


Steve, Spider-Man has had innumerable high points. Hank Pym's most memorable moments are his various breakdowns. the 'wife beating' looms much larger than in his much less appearances as a big thing. With Spidey is one moment in 3,000 adventures you know? and something instantly rejected by the fans. and Marvel.

Paulo said...

Hank does show remorse in the next issue (214), but the black eye is still odd. It's hard to cause one accidentally and maybe even harder to convey an accidental blow in a comic book. An accidental blow doesn't jive really well with Janet's unforgiving attitude towards Hank, though. I suppose it is entirely possible that the script was changed to match the pictures.

Oddly enough, however, a few panels before the slap, Hank appears to try and squash Janet when she's insect size and sort of sneaks in on him. Whether the slap was meant to be intentional or not, Hank appears to be a real head case here. It's not flattering to the character, however you slice it.

Incidentally, it wasn't a right cross, it was a backhanded slap, with the left hand. Anyway, sorry so.

Tropical Steve said...

Couldn't agree more about Roger Stern!

PC said...

Glad to see someone support my assertion that Hank Pym was no wifebeater, especially since it always seemed Janet was the one "wearing the pants" in that relationship. I remember during Jim's run on Avengers she practically dragged Hank back to the Avengers.

As for Bob Hall in the Avengers (an artist who just wasn't good enough to be a fill-in artist, and I have the Squadron Supreme TPB to prove it), what made it odd was that a lot of better artists were tied up either at DC (George Perez, Mike Grell, Dave Gibbons) or working on Marvel's lower selling titles (Gene Day, Walt Simonson, Brent Anderson, Marshall Rogers), and I still can't figure out why.

Piperson said...

Jim, your Michael/Korvac saga is one of my all time favorite Avengers story lines. Your fall of Hank Pym story line, not so much.
My first exposure to Yellow Jacket was in your aforementioned Michael/Korvac saga, and I fell in love with him there. I loved seeing him push Michael's love interest, Carina, out of the way of danger only to find her confused and bewildered. I love his costume, and I love his powers. I was hungry for more Yellow Jacket and was waiting for some one to see in him what I saw, a man who was trained as a scientist but with a latent heroic tendencies just waiting to come out. I was waiting for some writer to finally put him front and center and do him justice. Sadly that never happened. Instead we see the slow demise of a once great man. Sure it's great melodrama, but not what I look for in my heroes.
You are right in saying that Pym has had a history of failures and mental breakdowns. You don't have to look any further than his creation in Avengers #59-#60. Although instead of seeing someone in a slow descent into madness, it could have just as easily been taken the other way where his old stiff scientist self was being destroyed in order to make way for a bold swashbuckling hero to emerge. Instead we got to see him evolve from one bad carnation to the next. To this day no one seems to know what to do with him. I think the only reason he is still around is because his seniority status as an original Avenger.
Sure there are bigger and better heroes out there. I mean who can compete with Thor, but his small stature and scientific attention to detail gives him a unique perspective on things and allows him to see things that others would miss. He could be a real asset and cool hero if someone would only see it and bring it out.

Andy E. Nystrom said...

Actually I would argue that Hank is starting to come into his own again, having recently become Earth's scientist supreme in Mighty Avengers (that status and his past record of instability make him rather unpredicatable) and his checkered past also plays into his role as instructor in the Avengers Academy series. He's one of my favourite Marvel heroes precisely because of his past mistakes: no matter how badly he screws up, he's determined to try again and get it right.

Daniel Best said...

@PC - it's all a matter of taste I guess. Bob Hall was, and still is, a very capable artist. I bought those Avengers issues due to the artists who were on them at the time - Don Newton, Gene Colan, Alan Kupperberg and Bob Hall.

As for why a lot of the top artists were at DC back then, well perhaps Jim can illuminate us as to why a lot of talent defected from Marvel in the early yo mid 1980s.

jimshooter said...

DC and Marvel competed aggressively for talent. DC had a lot of money. They went after every artist who was any good. If a "star" ever had a beef with Marvel (or me) they generally had the DC alternative available.

Royalties, after they were established by both companies, were vastly better at Marvel. Only a few -- three or four -- DC titles paid a royalty at all, and not very much. One DC artist once showed me three DC royalty checks that did not total a dollar! EVERY Marvel title paid royalties, and all but a very few, substantial royalties. I remember handing John Byrne a $30,000 royalty check for one issue of one title. That sort of check wasn't uncommon for top sellers. Some of our guys became millionaires.

After the first few years, Miller worked both sides of the street. Byrne left because they offered him a fortune, Superman, and he'd had a disagreement with Marvel. In my opinion, relatively few "defections" occurred. I'd love to see your list of such. Right up until the end of my tenure at Marvel, I felt that we had, overwhelmingly, the best roster of art and writng talent.

Marvel editors were good at finding new talents -- Al Milgrom, Larry Hama, Archie Goodwin and others. Me, too. We used to joke about it. DC constantly tried to steal our talent and we constantly kept finding new, better talent.

We were so good at finding new stars that there was a time when, if I offered an artist a try-out job, DC offered them a contract! Case in point: Frank Miller. After he had just started at Marvel, and, as I believe he would agree, was still just learning the ropes. DC offered him a contract. He said to me he'd rather stay with Marvel, but would we match their offer? I said no. But, I assured him that, even without a contract, I was sure we'd be able to keep him working steadily (he was pretty slow in those days). He decided to stick with us. Later, not much later, he emerged as a genius, and yes, for as long as he wanted, we gave him a contract (which, besides guaranteed work, offered better benefits).

David Walton said...

That's interesting, especially since Bill would later ink Peter Parker's infamous wife-beating breakdown. Be careful what you wish for!

kintoun said...

I just noticed Brian Cronin chose this subject as one of his Comic Book Legends Revealed at
http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/04/15/comic-book-legends-revealed-309/

The article also includes a link to Bob Hall's thoughts on the matter found over at Bleeding Cool. I still find it weird that Brian Michael Bendis established Hank Pym to be a Skrull named Criti Noll in Secret Invasion yet the switch happened after Avengers: Disassembled. It's impossible to take Tom Brevoort's comments seriously that this situation can't be fixed. If Criti Noll replaced Yellowjacket as early as Avengers #213 and hit Wasp, this would have absolved Hank perfectly.

Jayfive67 said...

I hated what you did to the character. I reread a lot of Avengers issues featuring Yellowjacket, and I don't think he was ever a failure. He didn't seem to start breaking down mentally until you got your hands on him that Avengers issue in 1981. Yellowjacket had the coolest costume and powers and he was as intelligent as Reed Richards, in fact, he was the resident big brain for the Avengers. I wish you hadn't trashed the character by having him thrown out of the Avengers and then imprisoned. He didn't deserve what happened to him.

Nathan Adler said...

I can't see why no one up until now has attempted to reveal it as just another scheme of Ultron's, akin to his mentally controlling the butler Jarvis when in the guise of the "Crimson Cowl" (Roy really did do the definitive Hank didn’t he)?

Jim, you yourself even had Pym brainwashed to kidnap the Wasp so she could be converted to a metal mate for Ultron in Avengers #161.

Christ, Justin Hammer had his scientists working over a long period of time to figure out a way to control Iron Man's armour remotely so what is so hard to believe about a robot with an Oedipus Complex scheming to make its "father" fall out of favour with its "mother" so it can step in and become the "surrogate" husband?

This to me would seem to be the best, and simplest, way to redeem Hank and it gels with previous continuity. Just reveal it and then move forward.

Mike Grant said...

This "mistake" may have been for the better. As a teen when I read those issues surrounding Pym's downfall...I was stunned. It was shocking to see a hero fall so hard and for the Avengers to turn on him (and rightfully so) after his actions towards Janet.

All these years later, I still remember that storyline. If it had simply been an accidental push...not sure it would resonate in my memory today.

Gregg H said...

For the most part, I am actually glad for that particular mistake. I think that it made for one of the best and most impactful stories I have ever read.
For those that don't know, Marvel actually DID sort of retroactively 'fix' the situation at one point by saying that it was the outside influence of Kang that caused Hank's ever encreadingly greater instability. It isn't quite the 'get out of jail free' card as if they said that Kang actually MADE him do it, but they did come out and say that Kang DROVE him to do it. Close enough.
For who knows what reason, that undo was later undone itself by Kurt Busiek (possibly the one thing I didn't like on his Avengers run). It was written, so let it go. It didn't need to be fixed. What is worse than fixing something that doesn't need it, is fxing a fix that ALSO didn't really need to be fixed. If they would have gone with the skrull super cop out, that would be a triple screw up.

Gregg H said...

I actually like the story and ramifications of Hank just snapping one day (after Cap was being unreasonably hard on him for making a reasonable judgment call) and in the process of a complete breakdown he did the unthinkable and hit his wife.
(Not that it is really all THAT unthinkable if you look at it. Jan wasn't exactly some sheltered housewife in the suburbs. Her career literally consisted of her kicking people's asses and them doing the same to her. I think that Jan's reaction of being both emotionally hurt and really pissed off was appropriate, as opposed to some sort of long term emotional scarring that a crappy writer would have had happen. She was hurt and pissed and eventually got over it.)

I think the only writer other than Stern to handle the situation exactly correctly was actually Byrne on Avengers West. Hank and Jan sort of got back together, but not all the way. They were casually involved. There was this one really bad thing in their mutual past, but they acknowledged it and moved passed it. They still loved each other but weren't any longer in love. Perfect.
Of course that doesn't make up for how Byrne royally crapped on Vision in that same book at the time, but oh well.

Tropical Steve said...

Didn't Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern establish during Avengers Forever that a Space Phantom was influencing Hank subconsciously when he hit Jan?

czeskleba said...

Jim, I'm curious how this story was produced. Was it done Marvel-style (ie, plot-pencils-dialogue-letters-inks, in that order)? If so, why didn't you notice Bob Hall's drawing error when you received the penciled pages to dialogue (before it was even inked)? Or was this story done full script instead? I also don't understand how there could be no time to have it redrawn. Couldn't John Romita or some other staff artist quickly redraw and paste up that one panel in about 15 minutes? Was the book running *really* late for some reason?

jimshooter said...

It was done Marvel style. I believe that the job was sufficiently late -- my fault, probably -- that it was inked before it was written and lettered on overlays, from which the balloons were cut and pasted up. What I know for sure is this: there was no time, no chance to have any corrections made. The book may have been already colored without copy while I was still writing it. Don't remember.

I hated having significant correx made by artists other than the one who did the art in the first place anyway. To me, such correx always stood out like me at a jockey convention. Better to live with some mistakes, though that was a bad one, I thought. Who edited that issue? It would have been his call re: whether there was time and enough need to get the correction done. I deferred to my editor on such matters.

My having so little time to write was a large part of the reason I didn't write very much as EIC, and my lateness, for sure, was the reason Roger Stern had to jump in halfway through that story arc and finish it brilliantly.

czeskleba said...

The editor of that issue was Jim Salicrup, and Bob Budiansky was the assistant editor.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, poor Henry Pym. I don't get why they had to saddle all that paranoia/feeling small issues that led to him becoming Yellowjacket. Maybe you can answer this for me, you might have some shred of insight--why couldn't they just keep him as the one persona where he was comfortable and confident--Giant-Man? Why'd we have to go through Goliath, Yellowjacket, and eventually his Doctor Pym phase? In an issue of Avengers Academy, he even states that his Giant-Man persona was the one with the best sense of balance.

jimshooter said...

At the time I wrote Henry Pym, his life had already become a train wreck. He alternated between being a super hero in various guises and "retiring" to his scientist career. He was never much of a factor as a hero and his most notable accomplishment in the lab was the creation of one of the most dangerous and heinous threats to the world, Ultron. My plan was to bring all birds to roost, to have him break down, lose his beloved wife, fail catastrophically, end up in prison....hit bottom. Then come back, become a great hero and save the world. The ultimate fall from grace and redemption. The very stuff of heroes.

Anonymous said...

Do you like the way he's been portrayed on the new Avengers cartoon on right now? (If you haven't seen it, look on Youtube or something, it's pretty good, pray they try adapting your Korvac saga).

jimshooter said...

I haven't seen the Avengers cartoon. I'll try to have a look when I can.

Anonymous said...

Man, Hank can just never catch a break can he..

Dan said...

Mr. Shooter...

Didn't this also happen to Iron Fist? In PM&IF 125, "Captain Hero" strikes a sleeping Iron Fist to wake him up--and instead of using slaps to the face Mark Bright drew Captain Hero punching him with a massive body shot like a boxer and killed him.

This scene caused a longtime reader (no me, a friend) to stop reading comics. Iron Fist was his favorite. I tried to explain it away as a kid who made a mistake but he would have nothing of it. He took the story as it was presented (focusing on the type of punch and how unbelievably stupid and unrealistic it was) and declared Marvel too stupid to give money to anymore.

To this day I have no idea why Marvel killed Iron Fist, but that's a separate issue. The artist didn't handle it believably.

Dan said...

It's not fair to say Pym was always a failure. In the earlier Ant-Man stories, Stan Lee had him successful and a public hero. (Actually, Ant-Man was presented like a DC hero -- beloved by the public and public officials.) I'm having trouble recalling stories that necessarily undid all that. Sure, he changed powers and identities, but I just took that as trying to stay modern (the same way Wasp kept an updated wardrobe).

Now I'd agree that Pym had failed as a character in the eyes of fandom, but that's not the same as failing within the Marvel Universe.

Scot said...

I have to tell you, though, Jim, that whatever liberties Bob Hall took with your plot in drawing that scene, it was far more powerful to see Hank strike Jan in an intentional, if only momentary, outburst than it would have been if the blow had been accidental. I actually would give Hall credit for drawing the scene that way.

It tied in to the rest of the story very well in that we the reader were not the least bit surprised at Hank's subsequent actions, which led to his expulsion from the Avengers, not to mention his teammates' disgust at him when they saw what he had, purposefully, done to Jan. Given the way you wrote your story around that scene, it didn't seem at all out of character.

Jupiter Two Shrine said...

I preferred the way John Bryne wrote Hank Pym in West Coast Avengers. He wrote Hank as the lead in that group, without a mental condition, the way he was before his so called mental breakdown. i read alot of issus too featuring Hank...in Marvel Two and One where he and the Wasp guest starred with Spiderman, he didn't have any signs of a deteriating mental condition...and that was in the late 1970s just before he rejoined the Avengers in 1981. People don't ahve mental breakdowns overnight...it takes years. True, his greatest failure was Ultron, but his greatest success was the discovery of the Pym particles that allowed him to shrink and grow. Hank was one of the few heroes that didn't have natural superheroes like Captain America, or Spiderman. Again, mental breakdowns don't happen over night. Bryne wrote the character in the late 1980s without any kind of mental breakdowns. I don't think there is anything wrong with changing identities. The Wasp has had how many different costumes over the years???

Charlie said...

Wow. I'll have to agree w/Jayfive67 on this one. Yellowjacket is my favorite Avenger & always felt that he got a raw deal in that whole debacle. Those issues (#212-#214, #217) did leave an impression on me as a kid though so for that I commend you, Jim. Isn't that what great comics do? I mean, here we are talking about a 30 yr old comic storyline! That being said, I didn't wanna see YJ kicked out of the group in disgrace. I was really looking fwd to seeing some issues w/that whole line-up of Cap, Iron Man, Thor, YJ, Wasp & Tigra but we never got the chance. I saw Hank's super-identity shuffling as an enhancement to the character not a hindrance. With size-changing powers, it only seemed natural. Hank's feelings of not being quite "good enough" when compared to the Big Three is one of the things that made him interesting and more *real*. Plus, the Yellowjacket costume is one of the coolest in comics history in my opinion. So glad he's been redeemed since then and is shining in the new Avengers cartoon. Hank's FINALLY being done right! Now, if we could only get him & Jan in the Avengers flick...

Mattman said...

Thank you for writing this he is and always will be my favourite marvel character

C. Lewal said...

I like the idea of the guy being able to put it into perspective. He's a scientist, a man of reason. He needs to be able to say,
"Hey I'm Hank Pym. You might remember me from the time I accidentally hit my wife. But did you know I'm also a brilliant scientist? I created an android so indiscernable from human that a woman married him. There's a PARTICLE named after me. I used it to TURN MYSELF INTO GIANT. Oh and then I went ahead and became a superhero while I was at it. I'm currently working on bringing back my for all intents and purposes dead wife, because I'm Hank Pym, and I can do stuff like that. I'm not Reed Richards, but that's okay, because he's kind of dysfunctional. I'm human (except that time I was a skrull), but I'd say I'm a pretty damn remarkable human."
What's wrong with just calling him Han Pym, world-reknown non-angsty science hero?