User: | Password: | | Sign up now!

The Small Problem of Henry Pym (Ant-Man)
Marvel, Pym, Ant-Man, Wasp, Giant-Man, Yellow, Jacket, Avengers, comics
February 27, 2010
Show: Mike M. | Views: 12898

One of the most common responses I got with my previous two articles about the Avengers (seenhere, and here ) was that Hank Pym and his Wife should not be put onto the big screen.

As many comic fans know, Hank Pym and his wife are also known as Ant-Man and the Wasp. Their powers involve shrinking and growing, and talking it insects. Kind of like something that you'd see in a Lewis Carol book. They are second-string superheroes that had the fortunate luck of starting the Avengers.

Out of all the Avenger's films, Ant-Man's is the most in question. Really, how much can you do with a Man who can shrink and talk to Ants?

Well, when Pym's involved, a lot.

The History:

Dr. Henry Pym has a long career in being a screw up. He's a middle aged scientist that doesn't know what to do with his life. The scientific community mocks his efforts, and half the time, his experiments just end up endangering everyone he knows, and then bite him in the ass for the next decade. When faced with a challenge, he'll try and face it, but usually chooses a god awful decision and makes a complete ass out of himself.


The thing about Dr. Pym's origin story is that he had almost full control over creating his powers. Something that is surprisingly rare in the Marvel Universe. He wasn't trying to make the world a better place; he was being a mad scientist for the sake of being a mad scientist and tested his size-changing formula on himself. It screws up and he shrinks, ending up inside an ant-hill.

Thankfully, Henry Pym knows Judo and tosses his way to freedom. Where he returns to his lab and grows again.

Pym was going to disappear forever in comic obscurity after that, but by some freak of economics, the issue Pym appeared in was the top selling issue that month. So Marvel did what it does with all the unexpected successes back in the 60's, they made Pym return fight communists.

The second appearance of Pym has him taking the role of Ant-Man, he know can control ants, using his helmet to send radio waves to ants antennas to control them. Yes, ants' antennas are used to receive AM radio frequencies, not smell stuff. But hey, I'm no world class scientist, so I'll assume Pym knows something I don't.

Pym (who is now Ant-Man) uses the ants to clog up the communists guns with honey. I personally had no clue ants could make honey, but again, I'm not Pym (yet).

Early Years:

Pym's success makes him the terror of criminals everywhere for some reason. His ants tell him whenever a crime is being committed; he'll then shoot himself out of a gun to travel to the scene, and somehow fight the wrong-doer. (Once he tripped up a spy by tying her shoelaces together.)

Needless to say, Pym's earliest adventures were underwhelming, especially compared to other stories of the Marvel Universe at the time. But they're readable in a B-movie sort of way. I mean, how can anyone not love a story where Ant-Man has a climatic fight with a cockroach bent on world domination, on top of a bird bath?

Janet Arrives:

The stories quickly change tone once Janet is introduced. A lot of stuff happens in the first issue she originally appears in. We get a reveal that Henry Pym is a widower and that his late wife was killed by Hungarian authorities in her attempts to bring democracy to her home country. This caused Hank to go insane and be committed for a short time. At the time there was nothing else like this in comics, (and probably popular culture in general.)

Janet is an heiress of a great scientific mind. At the time, she is in her late teens, and Pym is supposed to be in his mid-30's. Janet has a crush on Pym, but once here father dies, Pym experiments on her, making her shrink like he does, but altering her DNA, giving her wings when she does it. After this, she becomes known as 'The Wasp,' and Janet's crush on Pym turns into all out obsession, which Pym refuses, because he knows he's too old for her. (I think she has an Elektra complex.)

The stories move up a bit in quality, as the Wasp gives Ant-Man someone to dumb down exposition to, and create pointless sub plots. The stories still aren't very good, but stand out because of the lack of chemistry between the two leads. Jan cares more about her looks and attracting Hank than saving the day. And Hank Pym's wild-ass theories that make no sense are fun to read, and cause the occasional laugh. Add lame recurring villains, (a bald guy, a human porcupine, and someone who spins really fast,) who fail due to their own incompetence, more than Hank Pym's efforts, on top of constant non-sense alien invasions schemes, and you'll have a comic so B-grade that it's fun.

The Avengers:

Quickly after that, Ant-Man and the Wasp become part of the Avengers. By luckily standing in the right spot, Ant-Man is able to trap Loki in some radioactive container, saving the day on his first mission with the team. The Wasp then names the newly formed team 'the Avengers.' By the time the team comes together again, Ant-Man has become Giant-Man and is somehow even less effective.

Giant-Man then has sub-par adventures, until he quits the Avengers and gets kicked out of his own title by Namor. Yes, Ant-Man is replaced by the eyebrow plucking obviously-not-queen of Atlantis.

Shortly after, Pym returns to the Avengers, calling himself Goliath, because...why not? Pym obviously has an identity crisis every other month, so the Avengers go with it, probably out of pity. And elect him to lead the team once Captain America leaves for whatever reason.

For a long time Hank and Jan were only appearing in the Avengers; many huge events happen to the characters in this title. The first of these events is Hank Pym's barely functional leadership skills. He's not Captain America, he knows it, and he can't demand the respect from his teammates that the super soldier could. This drives him to huge amounts of self-doubt on a regular basis. In retrospect, it would have probably been better to put Janet in charge of the team, but at the time, her character development seemed limited to what new uniform outfit she was wearing every issue.


The next major event in Hank Pym's life is that he gets board of talking to the insects and starts working with robots. Through this, he accidentally creates one of the Avengers' ultimate villains: Ultron.
Ultron is a robot that is able to build better versions of itself. It turns out that Hank Pym used his own thought patterns to create the robots intelligence, creating a genocidal machine with an Oedipus complex.

Ultron then created 'the Vision,' an Android that eventually became the Avenger's figurehead, which sort of acted like a grandson to Pym. He also created Josica, based after Janet, and wipes out a small European country located right next to Latvaria.

(Pointless trivia note for Wolverine fans: adamantium was first used in the Marvel Universe by Ultron to make an indestructible body before it was used to cover the skeleton of a certain clawed Canadian mutant.)

Ultron is a great villain, and probably a better character than Dr. Henry Pym will ever be. It's likely that if the Avengers film becomes a franchise, you'll see the robot by the third instalment. Pym's legacy in the Marvel Universe is probably going to be Ultron, an invention that somehow effects everyone more than Pym particles (which cause ANYTHING to grow and shrink.)

Yellow Jacket:

If having three secret identities wasn't enough for Pym, he had a fourth one developed as well; the mentally unstable, schizophrenic, weaker but tougher persona, Yellow Jacket. He could still shrink and grow, but now he could fly somehow, and shoot bio-energy from his gloves. (At this point, Pym fans just went with it.) When Yellowjacket first appeared, no one knew who he was, except Janet. Having the Avengers not know their own team leader was a stretch, but having them stand by as Janet married him was just stupid. At least it made for a good reveal, when the readers found out who Hank Pym was. And the art was constantly good.

This version of Henry Pym was more of a dick, than the previous incarnations. That's saying something, since Pym was always harsh with others. He'd even get pissed off at his fan club back in the early years when he had one. (Who won't want to join that club? You could go and beat up the Jimmy Olsen fan club annually.)

Once the Pyms got married, Hank and Janet had a brief moment of happiness as Avengers leaders, before Hank went even further into mental instability, showing a reverse Napoleon complex, and leaving the Avengers permanently. (Right, and Superman is still dead.) Being the good wife, Jan left with him.

The Fall of Yellow Jacket:

Yellowjacket returned to the Avengers, but in typical Hank Pym tradition, he screwed up and shot a woman in the back. This lead to an Avengers court-martial, and probably the most important Pyms' story ever told.

Being accused of incompetence by Captain America, the founding Avengers were going to have a trial to see if Pym should remain on the team. It actually, looked as though Pym was going to stay on, but don't tell Hank that.

Hank decided that he should be a hero again, and build a giant robot that would attack everyone that only he could stop. (And no, it wasn't Ultron.) Unfortunately Jan found out and refused to let Henry go through with his plan to look good. What we were left with was this infamous panel:

Hank hit a new low in his career, which he never really recovered from. Not only did he lose Janet in this mess, but his robotic demonstration backfired on him, and he failed to save the Avengers from his own contraption. Jan comes in and saves the day, but Yellow Jacket walked away with his head hung down low.

From here on, Hanks attempts to walk among the giants and keep stride, were crushed, and his tragic attempt to become a hero ended up with him becoming a character that could do no better than becoming a tragic hero.

Henry and Jan split up, and had an on and off relationship that went on until her apparent death in the 2008 Secret Invasion event which took over all of Marvels titles. Things looked pretty bad for the tiny protagonist, but at least during this stage of his life, he got revenge on Namor for stealing his book.

Yellow Jacket was replaced by Dr. Henry Pym; who grew and Shrank things as needed, becoming a Deus Ex Machina character for the West Coast Avengers' title he appeared in throughout the 90's. But because this was the 90's, pretty much all of his adventures in the title have been written out of continuity.


The third renumbering of the Avengers series, had Hank Pym back as Yellow Jacket, for some reason, showing a more heroic side to himself. There were never really any defining moments for the character, except when he revealed who Ultron's brain patters were modelled after, and then him beating the robot to a pulp.

Despite never being the most popular Avengers, Pym somehow survived the Avengers' Disassembled storyline intact. This was written by (then) rising star Brian Michael Bendis for the purpose of killing off and warping Avengers characters. After that, Hank and Janet quit being superheroes all together to teach at Oxford.

Skrull Pym:

Pym returned to the Marvel Universe in the series wide crossover Civil War. He sided with the winning team, and wanted to license all heroes. After victory, he was voted Time Magazines' Man of the Year (in the Marvel Universe,) starting a 50 state initiative, to get authorized heroes duties across America. He saved George Bush's life, (another low mark on his career) and he headed up his own book Avengers: The Initiative.

At this point, Pym was getting too much respect, so both of his fans knew something was up. Sure enough, the confident Hank Pym turned out to be a shape shifting alien spy that wanted to take over the Earth. He was quickly disposed of. And the real Pym was found conveniently alive and well in the aliens' mother ship. So, everything that happened after the Avengers Disassembled storyline had no development on Pym's character.

The (second) Wasp:

Pym no longer had any shot getting back together with Janet, since she was dead, so he tried to move beyond her by taking up her superhero name and giving himself wings. It doesn't make much sense, but so far nothing Pym did ever has.

Getting a cool new costume, he starts his own team of Avengers, defeats Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of Fantastic Four fame,) in a mad science pissing match. And finally, Pym reveals himself to be Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, the longest lasting character on science fiction television. Okay, Pym isn't officially Doctor Who, since he's not British, but he can travel anywhere instantly, has a base that stretches near infinity, carries around a sonic screwdriver, and is hinted at being able to time travel. He is told by the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe (entitled Eternity) that although he's not the smartest scientist in the Galaxy, he's the best.

Of course, in good Henry Pym fashion, the second he's started to redeem himself, and prove he is a workable character, Marvel announced his book will get cancelled by the end of this year. (And probably adds that he's a wife-beater.)

The Problem with Henry Pym (Ant-Man):

This brings us to the problem with Henry Pym. Marvel doesn't know what it wants to do with him. Since they have the film rights, and Pym is a founding Avenger, they probably want to milk that angle and give him his own movie.

Unfortunately, few people know who Henry Pym is. He's not famous like Iron Man, or has cultural recognition like the Hulk, Captain America or Spiderman. He's never been featured as the main character in a company-wide cross-over, and has not managed to keep his own title since the sixties.

The idea of his powers sounds pretty silly as well. He can shrink, grow and talk to ants. So that sets him up to be the kinkiest Viagra spokesperson ever. His lack of influential solo-stories, make him almost impossible to start a franchise around. And the fact that he hit his wife stops him from being someone to promote as a role model for kids.

This problem likely stems from the fact that the writers never really had any clue on how to use this character. Is he a mad scientist? A wife beater? Someone who Captain America has a beer with every Sunday? The writers don't know. And the problem is that most writers don't respect him.

Mark Miller took the Ultimates' version of him and made him almost irredeemable, not just hitting his wife once, but constantly doing it out of spite, (not because of his mental collapse) and beating her to an inch of her life.

Bendis keeps finding new ways to humiliate the guy, and constantly brings up that one time he hit her, like it happened the previous week and not three decades ago.

I don't believe that comic fans even have much respect for Hank/Henry Pym, because I can't find too much fan art, or fan films on the poor bastard.

The solution:

If used right, Pym can be saved, because even though no one really shows respect for the guy, it seems that everyone likes him. Statistically, Henry Pym shouldn't have appeared after escaping the ant-hill, but the writers tried to update him by making him a superhero. When his title was struggling and its quality falling, they gave him a partner.

When it was obvious that the chemistry was dead, (something that I thought would be impossible on a medium that just used paper,) the writers made him team up with the heavy weights in the comic industry. Once that failed, they made him Giant-Man, and Goliath, and kept finding some way to keep the guy around.

The truth is, Marvel probably should have dropped him, or killed him off four decades ago. No one would have missed him. But they didn't, they keep coming back to the guy and trying to keep him relevant. They keep failing, but that keeps with the spirit of Pym. He's the little engineer that couldn't.

Maybe that's why against all odds, he's become my favourite Marvel character.

I like to think that I'm smarter than the average person, but I can't even keep up with some of my peers when it comes to grades and success. No matter how good I am, I'll never be the best. And Pym embodies that concept. He's not the every man's character, he's the type of character most people would be if they tried their best.

When Batman pushes himself to his limits, he comes out stronger and better. When Pym does it, it is a mess, then someone else comes along and does it better, fixing his mistakes and humiliating him for it.

Pym's life is all about failure. Any success is immediately undone in some way, and his past mistakes come back to haunt him and take center stage of his life. He is a warning that even if we try our best, it may not be good enough. But even with his failures, he's achieved more than most fictional characters ever will.

So I hope Marvel finally gives this guy a happy ending.

The Movie:

Apparently, there is still supposed to be a movie coming out. Even though it comes after the Avengers film, it will still give the Pyms a chance to shine.

Here's what should happen:

-The mad scientist aspects are immediately shown as Pym shrinks himself into an ant-hill and judo's his way out.
-A vengeance seeking Pym creates a helmet to control those who attacked him.
-Janet shows she can shrink and grow wings.
-Ants are mainly used to communicate when something bad is going down.
-Pym tries to impress SHIELD, but fails miserably.
-Pym shows signs of instability, but Janet calms him down and points him in the right direction.
-Pym must save the day, not by changing sizes, but by distracting the villain long enough that the ants screw up the villain's plans.
-SHIELD accepts Pym into their organization, but sticks him in a research job.

-The darker aspect of Pym should be hinted at, but wait until a sequel to be explored.

If the movie is shot like this, showing some of the realistic problems of how having goofy abilities can cause negative stress on a person's psyche, but allow them to overcome it. By doing that, it will allow people (besides the fans) to see what is cool about the character. Maybe that will increase his popularity and let Pym get his own comic series again, where a writer who respects him, can make some good stories about the character, using his strengths and weaknesses to the stories' advantage.

At least that's how I suggest to solve the problem of Pym.
View more Mike M.:
"Green Lantern: Rebirth" Review

Post a Comment
Are you human?
Enter code:
Guest: Bart M. (March 6, 2010 2:15pm)
Hank Pym is my number one favourite character in the Marvel © universe and if I think about it, of all comics and manga that I've read as well.

10 / 10

P.S.: I hope this doesn't mean we are to expect something bad to happen to next....

Guest: Rg (March 17, 2010 6:46pm)
If only he stayed as Goliath in temper and disposition.