Saturday, June 4, 2011

Among Us Walks…a Goliath! (Or, How I Came to Know Dr. Henry Pym), Part Three

Doug: Welcome back. Today we pick up my discovery of Dr. Henry Pym at my ripe old age of 9.

The rest of the summer and fall of 1975 progressed with a surprisingly steady stream of Avengers mags, but sadly with no Pyms. I did stumble across an interesting discovery, though, when I leafed through a copy of Marvel Treasury Edition #7 ("The Mighty Avengers") at the grocery store. Inside was a reprint of what I would much later come to know as Avengers #57, the first appearance of the Vision. Goliath was on the first pages of the tale, but in a predominantly red costume, as opposed to the predominantly blue one I’d been used to. I also was interested to see the story that showed the wedding of Hank and Jan, from Avengers #60. But, alas, it was all only for a glimpse, as my mom wouldn’t shell out the $1.50 for the big book. When Christmas of that year rolled around, though, I got a real treat! The previous Christmas my parents had bought me a paperback copy of Origins of Marvel Comics; yule greetings in ‘75 brought me Son of Origins of Marvel Comics and it featured a reprint of Avengers #1. For the first time I got to see Hank and Jan as they started with the team – as Ant-Man and the Wonderful Wasp.

I was quite frankly surprised at the tone Hank took with Jan. In some dialogue he seemed very short, almost curt, with her. But, as I grew a little older and after having reread the story several times it occurred to me that Stan Lee had written Janet van Dyne as – to be honest – just a bit obnoxious. The constant fussing over her hair and make-up, the fawning over Thor, the revulsion at the appearance of both Iron Man and the Hulk; this was a middle-aged author’s attempt at writing a woman in the vein of some teenager’s nagging mother or perhaps even boy-crazy sister. In effect, what I think Stan was attempting to do was reach out to his assumed audience: male teens and young adults. Boys who might not have been caught dead reading a romance comic could nonetheless read a book with a female supporting character and still identify with her. Overall, not a bad strategy for the day – yet Jan’s depiction in that 1963 issue seems so dated now, when our heroines exhibit a fearless independence.

Hank’s speech toward Jan was puzzling, as I think Stan left the door of interpretation open to the reader. His first comment to her was, “I thought you weren’t coming, Jan!” Right after that he made a snide comment about her always having to stop to powder her nose (Avengers #1, page 5). I suppose one could find a matter-of-fact meaning in the first comment, but the second makes it pretty plain that Hank had a smart-alleck streak in him. However, their next exchange was a bit more to the gray. While mounting flying ants for the purpose of responding to an SOS from the Teen Brigade, Jan said, “But why do I have to use your silly flying ant relays? I happen to have my own wings!” Hank responded, “But we’ve got a thousand miles to cover, Jan, and I don’t want you exhausted when we get there (ibid)!” Genuine concern for Jan as a person (love interest?), or as a partner? Is Hank a romantic here or just practical with an unknown situation in the offing? As a kid, I was thinking – yeah, put her in her place! As an adult, I look back now with the lens of their history and I see Hank as caring, nurturing her. Their age difference at this point in their careers was perhaps more glaring than in what was then (the mid-‘70’s) the present when Hank agonized over Jan’s hospitalization in #140. Maybe she was on his nerves. But on the last page of the book there’s no mistaking that Hank was capable of seeing her on equal terms when he says, “Wait! Before we separate, the Wasp and I have something to say (page 22)!” It’s obvious with this comment, made very shortly before Jan coined the name “Avengers”, that Hank and Jan had discussed the success of this first teaming of these great heroes in the defeat of Loki. It’s obvious, too, that they’d felt camaraderie with the others and were in search of a sense of togetherness. Hank and Jan had found a common emotional bond and a spiritual need among these new peers. If all I’d ever read of Ant-Man and the Wasp was Avengers #1, I guess I’d have come away with the notion that they were respectfully different, yet in need of each other nonetheless. I’m not sure “love” would enter the conversation.

Recently, since I’d come into possession of the source material through reprints, I decided to do a little background checking. In reading Jan’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish #44 (cover date June 1963), we see how Stan laid the groundwork for much of what would become the Pyms’ mythos throughout the next 40+ years. TTA #44 is the “origin” of Henry Pym and of how he came to be a champion for justice. The yarn Stan spun detailed Hank’s first marriage and the death of his young bride at the hands of Hungarian communist conspirators in her native land. Fully dismayed at the news that not only Maria Pym had died, but that her scientist father was also killed in America, Hank set off on a vengeful mission to bring their killers to justice. Stan wrote, “The young scientist went berserk, and, within a few days landed in jail on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown (Tales to Astonish #44 page 4).” Did later authors (notably Roy Thomas and Jim Shooter) consult this material for what was to come for Hank and Jan? Is this the seed that would lead to Hank’s disgrace and downfall in the early 1980’s?

Even in this first meeting of Hank and Jan, Stan’s mastery of romantic angst that so often festered in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man is at the forefront of their relationship. Shortly into their first mission Jan made somewhat of a pass at Hank. The following exchange took place:

Hank: “No! You mustn’t say that, Janet! You’re only a child! Let’s get this straight… I chose you as my partner simply because I thought you had a reason, as I have, to fight for mankind! I never want to love again! I… I couldn’t bear it if I had to lose a loved one – twice!”

Jan thought: “So, I’m only a child, am I?? Well, Mister Ant-Man… We shall see!”

Hank, to himself: “She is so like Maria… her beauty… her spirit!! I must be careful lest I do fall in love with her (page 14)!”

As far as characterization goes, Stan had given future scribes the basic groundwork – Jan’s aggressiveness at life in general but also toward “catching” Hank in particular, and Hank’s common sense/reserved look at life. Steve Englehart would play this up at the end of his run on the book, and Shooter would carry it forward, big time.

6 comments:

Rip Jagger said...

Hank Pym was the core of the Avengers alongside Hawkeye and Wasp (the Panther soon to join) when I discovered the team, so he's always been a fave. I love the old blue and yellow Goliath look best. As Yellowjacket, we find a most confused fellow, a guy who wants to measure up to his counterparts, but who seems to be pushing against his nature.

The infamous wife-beating scene though apparently is less intentional than has long been imagined. Here's a link to Jim Shooter's blog where he discusses how this came to be:

http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/03/hank-pym-was-not-wife-beater.html

Rip Off

BrittReid said...

Interesting to note how, for a year or so in '68-'69, Hank was a redhead because the Avengers already had two blonde heroes (Captain America and Hawkeye).
Hank always had an inferiority complex, especially during his early Goliath days when he was trapped at ten feet.
Not as strong as Thor or Iron Man, and perceived by the rest of the Marvel Universe as not as smart as Tony Stark (Iron Man's boss and Avengers benefactor) and sponging off Janet Van Dyne's inheritance.
(although neither was the case!)

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks Doug, the Pym series is great, but bittersweet. It's sad that the PTB have decided that "Wifebeater Hank" is here to stay. 'Marvel Treasury Edition #7' has long been a favorite of mine too.

For some reason(even as a kid),married Marvel superhero couples have always interested me. In fact, when I got married, I gave this book to my wife as a Wedding Present:
http://tinyurl.com/69vuq7y

Hank and Jan often had sarcastic patter between the two of them, but I always read it as humorous and good natured(sort of like George Burns and Gracie Allen). I've never read more than a story or two from their 'Tales To Astonish' issues, so I never thought of them as having much of an age difference. Jan was already an established fashion designer when I read Avengers stories that featured the Pyms. It was also nice that(by the 70s at least)Jan was depicted as intelligent, even if she wasn't a brainiac like Hank.
They were very different than Reed and Sue. I got annoyed reading the FF sometimes, with all their earnest "Reed Darling/"Sue Darling" talk. But they loved each other, despite their age difference(Byrne said Reed was 41,Sue was 29,dunno what other writers said)and despite the fact that Sue often tired of Reed's scientific mumbo-jumbo talk).
And both Reed and Hank were often depicted as being awkward when it came to expressing love.
And then you had Vision & Scarlet Witch. It could be said that they had the deepest, most heartfelt love of any of the Marvel couples. And they expressed this without cutsie talk. I've griped here already this week about the dissolving of their marriage here, so I'll stop here.

Looking forward to more Pymology 101!

dbutler16 said...

That cover of Marvel Treasury Edition #7 does bring back some memories. I do like that blue & yellow costume better than most of his others, and I think that is perhaps the one I identify with him the most (or maybe Yallowjacket). After Pym went loco, I'd wondered if there were seeds of it in the past, or if one writer just decided to do it on his own to shake things up. I've noticed in rereadings that he was a bi of a hothead,but I find Doug's quote from TTA #44 about Pym going berserk telling as well.
Finally, I recall readnig a later Avenger where we find that Maria isn't really dead, but is being used by the Hungarian government for her powers. The details are a bit fuzzy to me now, though.

david_b said...

Always love yet another edition of Doug's review of Dr. Pym.

Per earlier entries/thoughts, it wasn't the slap against Jan I dislike as much.., more so the lackluster Hall art and over-all build towards Hank's downfall, with his earlier bitterness, the 'rant-on-the-stand' like Queeg in 'Caine Mutiny.

It's more the entire, awful episode than a single panel depicting a slap. But I'm relieved to know there are multitudes of fans who feel as we do about his handling. Doug, will you be covering the WCA tenure of Dr. Pym..?

Doug said...

david_b:

Nope, no Dr. Pym in my essay. I stop with my departure from comics collecting around 1980, and then have a brief epilogue that involves Hank in the '90's-'00's. Although I've read some of the WCA issues, I don't have many lasting impressions beyond the horrible Al Milgrom art.

Doug

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