Weird Comics History
Avengers #213:That time Hank Pym did that thing he did…
Dusting off the Weird Comics History branding again, in order to address one of the inadvertent “seminal moments” in Marvel History… and, also to sorta kinda “pick a bone” regarding comic book “shorthand”… how a character can be defined by one action, to the point where it becomes the only thing a casual (or non) reader knows about that character.
I’ve talked before about how nobody can write a Speedy story without mentioning that… he was a heroin addict. How that one story line, from a half-century ago, is still all anybody wants to write about. Every Speedy story since is predicated in the fact that, Green Arrow’s ward was… a junkie! Roy a father? Well yeah, but he’s a junkie father! Roy started a new career? I wonder what’ll happen when his bosses find out he’s… a junkie! Ya know, stuff like that. Hell, the DC Universe has been rebooted, what… a half-dozen times since O’Neil/Adams’ Hard-Traveling Heroes run? And yet, poor Roy Harper has been forever branded.
Roy ain’t the fella I’m wanting to talk about, however. As you can see by the title of this piece, we’re going to be discussing the Slap that forever branded Hank Pym… a Wife-Beater! Now, it should go without saying, but this is the internet, so I’ll say it anyway — nothing about this piece is intended as a “defense”, excusing, or making light of Pym’s actions/behaviors. Domestic abuse isn’t anything to joke about. As part of my Masters coursework, I worked on/with several cases of it… and, if you’re a victim of it, it’s the sort of life I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around.
This topic came to mind while I was digging through a back-issue bin at a shop early last week. This isn’t a shop I frequent, as… it just doesn’t have a great vibe. But, you know me when it comes to conducting an “exhaustive” search of the bins when I’ve got something on my “gotta find” list. Anyway, while I was there, there were two or three dudes chatting up the owner. Since this is a comic book store, they were naturally talking about comic book… movies. Kill me.
After round-tabling over how old Professor X looks, they shifted the subject over to Ant Man. One of them mentioned how they wished the film was more about “the other Ant Man”… ya know, the one who “got drunk and beat his wife all the time”. The owner didn’t correct him — then again, this is a fella who I’ve heard tell multiple customers (myself included) that he’s “too rich” and “too busy” to read comic books… so, I suppose it makes sense for him not to say anything.
Now I… almost said something. I really wanted to ask this fella if he’d ever read those Pym stories… and, if so, maybe give ’em another look. But, a) nobody likes the “ackshully guy”, and b) I really didn’t want to be part of this conversation… so, I didn’t say anything. I mean, it’s not this dude’s fault that this is all he knows about Hank Pym — because it’s the only thing anybody ever really seems to talk about! He probably gets his comics history and news from, I dunno, a clickbait Newzarama Top Ten or Wizard Magazine’s Twisted Toyfare Theatre or something.
So, instead of “getting into it” there… I decided that, throughout the week I’d literally “get into it”… the story, that is. There’s been a lot said about it — including some corrections/revisionism from the writer of the issue, Jim Shooter himself… some of which… I dunno, doesn’t really line up. So, let’s… ya know… get into it.
First, some table-setting.
Hank Pym is a multiple-time loser. I’m one’a those as well, so I’m allowed to say that. Okay — lemme ‘splain. At the time of the slap, Hank’s biggest “accomplishment” was… creating Ultron. Well, Pym Particles too… but, Ultron was “fresher”. He was haunted by the guilt of this… and further, being married to a woman who could seemingly spin gold out of straw (figuratively speaking), led to Hank suffering from pangs of inadequacy. Depression. Anxiety. This would lead to Hank taking multiple breaks from the superhero life, and the Avengers. I mean, he surely isn’t an easy character to write… so, why not turn that negative into a positive by making his absences part of his story?
Jim Shooter, writer of the “wife-beater” issue, would say of Hank: “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.”
In the lead-up to the slap story, Hank was back… and was acting increasingly erratic. His bitterness took over, and he’d verbally lash out at Janet… in front of the rest of the team! Example below from Avengers #212 (October, 1981) aka. “Slap-Eve”. He seems to be in a constant and painful state of struggle due to his feelings of inadequacy.
Later that very same issue, this would lead to him endangering the entire squad (as well as the public) during a battle with the ElfQueen. During this brouhaha, Captain America appears to be able to get through to the ElfQueen… hopeful that he can diffuse a very dangerous situation peaceably — when, ol’ Hank goes into business for himself — zapping the EQ in the back with one of his stingers! This completely undoes and undermines Cap’s attempt at mitigating the threat.
The ElfQueen reacts to this by… dropping a truck on our man! Thankfully, his erstwhile better half was there to save his bacon. Well, thankfully in the “dude didn’t get crushed by a truck” way… though, perhaps just a little bit embarrassing for our Hank.
Oddly, Avengers #212 includes a bit of a lead-up to the ElfQueen’s attack… in a scene wherein she’s… uh… slapped in the face by her husband, Gorn. Why bother bringing this up? Well, it sorta-kinda feels like something we’re intended to draw parallels to, what with what’s about to happen between Hank and Jan. I mean, that’s my immediate takeaway. Maybe I’m wrong?
In witnessing this increasingly erratic, reckless, and dangerous behavior from Pym, that Captain America court martials him. With little time in the interim, Hank heads back to the lab in order to come up with something that may redeem him in the eyes of his fellow Avengers. What he comes up with is… well, another Adamantium Robot! It worked so well the first time, yes? Anyway, the gimmick here is that… he’d unleash this robot on the Avengers, knowing that he himself would be the only one who could defeat it. Solid plan, eh? So, Hank would save the day — and be back in everybody’s good graces. What could possibly go wrong?
Janet, worried about her frazzled husband, would investigate… and discover both the robot and Hank’s plan for it. This, my friends, is where The Slap happens.
Pretty cut and dry, yes? Hank, pushed to the limits of his sanity, lashes out and backhands poor Jan. It’s not exactly “dur hur, gets drunk and beats his wife all the time”, but it’s pretty plain to see that this was an intentional WHAK!, yes?
Well, maybe notsomuch? Let’s check in on Jim Shooter’s old blog… in a post titled “Hank Pym was Not a Wife-Beater”, dated March 29, 2011, Jim would blame “the slap” on a bit of lateness on his part added with a dash of miscommunication between he and artist, Bob Hall. Jim sez:
“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 (actually a left-handed backhand slap)! 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.”
Now, as much as I wanna take Mr. Shooter at his word here… I’m struggling a bit. Let’s play out his scene. Jan comes in, Hank accidentally bops her in the face — and, then what? Like, why even include the scene at all, if you’re not going to go “all the way” with it? I’m assuming Avengers #213 was created using the “Marvel Method”, which is to say – plot, to pencils, to script. What do y’all think Shooter’s plot said? I mean, if he can recall enough detail to know that he intended for Hank to “throw up his hands in despair and frustration”, than he definitely had (a version of) this scene in mind, yes?
How does this scene add to Hank’s downfall if it doesn’t go the way it does? Later on in the issue, Janet removes her sunglasses… revealing the fresh black eye left on her by her husband. Hank — doesn’t show any remorse. He doesn’t appear to regret his actions, nor care to do anything about making it right. In fact, he doubles-down on being a jerk!
It’s perhaps worth noting that the lettering in Hank’s word balloons looks quite a bit different than the rest on the page… perhaps a sign of a last-minute rewrite? I suppose that somewhat supports Shooter’s statements… maybe? Well, let’s check in with Bob Hall, the guest-penciler of this issue and get his thoughts, from a comments thread on Bleeding Cool:
Bob Hall sez: “I never heard Jim’s side of the story. He never said he didn’t like the slap panel — on the other hand, I can’t imagine that he did. I would never have drawn that panel two or three years later and I certainly wouldn’t draw it now the way I did then.”
Regarding the Marvel Method-iness of the piece: “I have no memory of how the panel was described in the synopsis but the Marvel Method gave you a lot of lee way. What I interpreted then might have been quite different from how I would look at it now. I can’t imagine Shooter would not have asked for a re-draw had there been time.”
Of the panel itself: “I remember re-drawing that particular panel several times — not for Jim but because I didn’t like the results. The final panel was the point where I gave up and thought — I know how to do Marvel Action — I’ll make it Marvel Action cause nothing else I’ve done seems right either.”
Hall wrapped up his thoughts by corroborating Jim Shooter’s take… or, at the very least, not contradicting it. He sez: “I’m not ashamed of the issue — I did the best I could then — but in this instance, I don’t doubt Jim’s story.”
So, where do we end up here? Well, I’m just a regular ol’ know-nothing, so all’s I can go with is my gut. Personally, I think the truth, as it usually is, is somewhere in the middle. If I were a betting man (and thankfully, I am not), I’d wager that mayyybe there was to be a bit of intentional physicality involved in the scene as originally conceived — perhaps just not to the extent that we got. The obvious (to me, anyway) rewritten dialogue in the “black eye” scene really says a lot to me in supporting Shooter’s claim. The issue was drawn, there was no time for a redo… and one of the big things about Shooter’s time in the big seat was… getting the books out on time. It wouldn’t be a good look for his book to miss deadline, right?
So, accidental or otherwise – the damage is done, yes? The knee-jerk response to the utterance of the name “Hank Pym” will forevermore be “Wife-Beater”! You may wonder, with all the relaunches, reboots, reimaginings… all the “Everything you thought you knew… was wrong!” hoo-doo that Marvel loves to pull — why hasn’t this been “undone”?
Well… they tried… sorta. Let’s hop ahead a decade and a half to one of the more notorious Avengers stories of all time… perhaps even moreso than The Slap — we’re talking The Crossing! Avengers #395 (February, 1996) reveals… in the midst of this absolute mess of a story, that Kang was responsible for all’a Hank Pym’s mental breakdowns!
All’s good in the hood then, yes? Well… for a minute. Jumping ahead just three years later, Avengers Forever #8 (July, 1999) reveals that this… was a lie! Nobody was responsible for Hank’s mental state… besides Hank himself!
There have been a number of opportunities to “make right” Hank’s wrongs… Secret Invasion being the most obvious and glaring. But, for whatever reason, it’s still part of Pym’s story. To many out there, it’s the only thing he’s ever done! This defines his character to the point where, as part of Marvel’s “new-reader friendly” Ultimate line… it literally was his entire character! Let’s take a look at, master of subtlety-and-nuance-in-comics, Mark Millar’s take in Ultimates #6 (August, 2002):
Hey, at least there was an attempt at consistency with Hank using his left hand. Here we see our man lashing out after being bothered while working. Ultimate Wasp, unlike her 616 counterpart, doesn’t shrink away (no pun intended) from the confrontation. You may be thinking — hey, that’s not so bad — it’s playing up the 1981 scene for a new “grittier” generation. Oh-ho, we’re not done yet… hell, we’re barely getting started.
Janet bites Hank’s arm, breaking the skin. Once that blood’s drawn, Pym sees red and ups his level of violence. Jan does shrink down to escape being pinned against the desk… at which point. Oh boy, Hank grabs a can of bug spray. Is this parody? It’s reading like parody.
No, it’s not parody… well, not intentional parody. Hank Pym is indeed unloading a can of toxic spray all over his wife. Laughing while he does so! Comparing its burn to that of napalm! And, well… we’re still not done yet.
Our hero then sics an army of ants on her. In fairness, he does seem remorseful at the end of the issue… but, at that point, we’re go gobsmacked and befuddled by what we just saw, that I don’t know that it even matters. Born of a miscommunication, and whether anybody likes it or not — this is Hank Pym. To entire generations of comic book fans, this is who… or, what he is.
In putting this piece together, I find myself… almost understanding where that goober at the comic shop was coming from, when he mentioned Pym “dur hur, getting drunk and beating his wife all the time”… well, not the “getting drunk” bit, perhaps he was conflating that with that trait Tony Stark can never seem to escape. But, in the spousal abuse… I kinda get it. This is the Hank Pym Marvel wants us to see… it’s the only one they’re going to let us see. I’m, of course, talking comics only — I don’t watch the movies, you know that. Never seen a single “MCU” movie, in fact!
I honestly didn’t see myself coming away from this piece feeling this way.
Before we cut out, just one more bit from Shooter’s Blog to corroborate his take. He sez: “When that issue came out, Bill Sienkiewicz came to me upset that I hadn’t asked him to draw it! He saw the intent through Hall’s mistake, and was moved enough by the story to wish he’d had the chance to do it properly.”
This is interesting, as I often wonder how the “creative” mind works… how folks “on the inside” see the same panels we do… while “receiving” them in a completely different way. You and I look at “The Slap”, and it — is what it is, yes? Hank slapped Jan in a fit of frustration. It didn’t appear to be an accident or mistake — just a lapse in his sanity. A pro like Sienkiewicz sees it… differently. To the point where he wished it were him who drew the thing! I’m not a fan of interviewing comics pros, but I do like getting a bit of insight as to their points of view on the “language” and “craft”.
To wrap things up, Mr. Sienkiewicz did finally get his chance to be part of a “backhand” scene! Let’s hop over to the Clone Saga (wow, The Crossing and the Clone Saga in the same piece? Hatchi-matchi!). In Spectacular Spider-Man #226 (July, 1995), it was revealed that the Peter Parker we’d been following since the original clone story… was, in fact, the clone! This Ben Reilly guy was the real deal! Upon finding out, Peter reacts in… well, a very Pymian way.
Driven to the point where be briefly loses touch with his sanity, Peter Parker… who, has the proportionate strength of a spider… backhands his… err, pregnant wife — sending her flying across the room, where she slams into a void of speed lines and debris! So, I guess the next time they announce yet another Spider-Man film reboot… you can tell the chap who owns your local comic shop that you hope they use the one that “dur hur, gets drunk and beats his wife all the time”?
Or, maybe not. Thanks for reading.