Yesterday, I found myself kind of shocked about comics fans. This shouldn’t surprise me, but sometimes, I forget how the lines of fiction and reality can blur when fans put so much stock into these made up characters, but then you have Hank Pym.
Right away, I’m going to come clean. I am not an expert on Hank Pym. I know he was Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, and of course, Yellowjacket at one time or another. He’s an original Avenger, and he’s got a scarlet letter on him like no one else in comics. That is because at one point, Pym smacked his wife Janet around, and has since been labeled a wife beater. I don’t know the details of every Pym story since then, but I do know that since the incidence of abuse, the character (and I stress character, because it’s not a real person) had never lived it down. I have read the official response that this was an error, or that it isn’t what it looks like, or he didn’t mean to hit her, or mind control, or whatever. Doesn’t matter. That panel speaks for itself, and it’s done so for about thirty years.
There are fans of Pym who wish this had never happened, because it ruined the character. They’re right. It did. Almost no one who has read comics for any length of time, or spent any time reading the Avengers since the smacking back in the 80s happened isn’t aware of Pym’s past. The character will never live it down. Even if the creators using the character never mentioned it again, it’s too late. The thing is, they can’t not mention it. It’s big of a ripe fruit of drama not to touch, even if just in subtext. I didn’t read the issue where this started. I don’t know how I know about it, but I do know about it, and not a thing can be done about it, because when you bring in a story element like spousal abuse, it’s way more real than alien genocide, and it sticks to our consciousness, as well it should.
To my mind, spousal abuse is just something too real to live down and chalk up to fiction. It’s a charge people don’t usually recover from, right up there with murderer or pedophile. You don’t do it. Even if you do it once, that’s it, because it means that it’s in you. That capability is always there, and it can become unlocked once more if the right kind of stress and pressure are applied. Because of that, the character of Hank Pym is irreparably broken. The writers went too far, and it can’t be taken back. Our minds can forgive all sorts of things in fiction, but not this. There are fans who wish it was not the case, but it is, and whenever Hank Pym shows up, to the majority of readers, there is going to be a giant elephant standing in that room that no one will be able to ignore. His story then becomes one of redemption, always. That’s all we’re thinking of. These characters are archetypes, and while the backstory is rich and full, they still mostly boil down to a few key characteristics. Captain America is about leadership and courage. Hank Pym is about intelligence, and emotions he can’t control. That’s just the way it is.
I’ve read reactions along the lines of “this isn’t fair to his legacy”. To that I’d say, two things. One, he’s not real, and the legacy is made up, and therefore requires nor deserves any respect. Or two, yes, that’s true, but he did it, and he’s got to live with it forever. In real life, Chris Brown is going to be hounded by critics for the rest of his days, because he beat up his girlfriend and it’s never going to get lived down. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the names Ike Turner, Warren Moon, or Phil Specter? I, regardless of all their other notable qualities, first think that they beat up women, and are and were disgusting scumbags first and foremost.
And that’s why Hank Pym is done, unless you’re cool with him being labeled a wife beater. That’s why there have been at least two replacements in the Ant-Man suits. I suspect that’s why the movie never happened. I also suspect they killed off Janet Pym in some backwards and misguided, but telling, effort to cleanse Hank. I think they need to let Hank go. I think he needs to go down in a blaze of heroic glory, trying to atone for what he did, but knowing that he never fully can. Only then can he be forgiven. But Hank Pym fans need to stop being upset with other fans for bringing it up, or creators for putting it into their stories, and accept that what’s done is done, and go on to understand why, and what sort of effect these actions, even fictional ones, can have on our collective consciousness.