Among Us Walks…a Goliath!

(Or, How I Came to Know Dr. Henry Pym)

Doug Wadley

 

 

Some things fade from memory relatively easily.  Others tend to leave our consciousness in a “cloudier” fashion, with shades of “Hmmm… I seem to recall…” Then there are those moments that remain vivid, those historical “moments in time” where you recall a setting, a song playing on the radio, those in whose company you were, and topics of conversation. 

My love for comic books started with a “moment” like that, when a neighbor girl gave me a copy of Marvel Triple Action #13.  Unkown to my childish eyes, the book was a reprint of a tale of yore, in this case Avengers #19: the coming of the Swordsman!  Who can forget the menacing yet smirking visage of our felonious blade-wielder, and the groovy Don Heck “floating heads” cover (only the second example of such, in what has become an Avengers tradition)?  I was hooked. The nobility of Captain America, the deception of the Swordsman (I didn’t know the word “smarmy” at the time, but it sure fit him), the aggression of Hawkeye and Quicksilver toward their leader, and that crazy thing on Wanda’s head all left me in awe.  I needed to know more. These Avengers were fun!

 

No-Fun Pym

 

Hank Pym, however, never seemed to have much fun. The next time I came across the team proved to be the most impactful, for me and for Hank as well:  Marvel Triple Action #22 (cover dated November 1974, and reprinting Avengers #28).  “Wow!” said my youthful self.  A giant, a Goliath! 

At this point my experience with the funny books was still limited. Now two Avengers issues, a JLA/JSA team-up, and maybe an Archie or Tom & Jerry or some such thing.  I was ecstatic to see “my” Avengers again and with new characters (at least they were new to me). 

This Pym fella, was a moody dude.  But the Collector was cool!  On further inspection I picked up what we now know:  Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne left the Avengers in an earlier story (you mean there’s more?), Jan returned in a previous story and went missing, and now Hank was back to fetch her with the Avengers’ help.

Right from the get-go, Hank was a tortured soul.  At this point I had no exposure to Marvel and all its angst. This was a guy genuinely down on his luck and desperate.  Early in Avengers #28, in regard to a call for help in finding the missing Jan, Hank says, “I had to reveal my true identity.  Secrecy means nothing now!  Not when Jan may be in danger! If only I hadn’t let her transform herself into the Wasp once more!  I should have insisted we stay in retirement!  But I had no choice! The need was there. And at heart, we’ll both always be – Avengers!” 

Hawkeye reluctantly fetches Pym, and of course, nothing is easy. Hawkeye asks for proof that Pym is Giant-Man.  Cap agrees.  Hank tells Cap, “One of the reasons I resigned from the Avengers was – I realized that changing size so often was dangerous to my body!  The unimaginable strain might some day be fatal!”  Nevertheless, protocol is protocol.  Despite a warning that twenty-five feet was now the only height he dared attain, a step into the alley (after donning some new duds sewn by Wanda “in case you ever did return!”) proves Hank the real deal.

What struck me about Hank in the first half of this story was his self-doubt, almost whining.  Hey, here’s a guy who should be on top of the world: top-notch scientist with his own very large research ship, Avengers founder, and with one of the coolest super powers around! 

The other Avengers were Justice League duplicates, and I had not yet figured out what Scarlet Witch could do (neither had her writers, it seemed). Now throw in a guy twenty-five feet tall and strong as a tank. That’s who I gravitated toward, identified with in an envious way.  Incidentally, giants would go on to dominate on my cool-o-meter as a youngster:  Goliath, Galactus, Black Goliath, Colossal Boy, shoot, even Stilt-Man was a treat. 

The second half of the story is what has caused me to admire the character and appreciate him as complex, heroic, and never-say-die.  Hank comes to the fore, aggressive, leading, angry, and when it looks to be over, lashing out with the last effort he can muster.  This Hank Pym would not be denied.  The kicker was on the last page when, attempting to shrink back to normal size to greet the newly freed Wasp, Hank stops at ten feet.

And there I was.  Newer readers have no idea what it was like trying to get comics in the pre-direct market days.  I was too young to fly solo to get to either of two local drug stores or the grocery store where we shopped, but even if I could get to one of those places there was no guarantee the book I was looking for would be in stock, let alone that it was even ordered that month.  These were the days of irregular distribution at best and there were no such things as “pull lists,” or store subscriptions.  As far as I knew, Hank was still stuck at ten feet.

 

A Growing Problem

 

Until I stumbled on Avengers #140.  This cover knocked me on my pants: “Invasion of the 50 Foot Hero!” it screamed at me as I stared at the giant lying prone on the ground with two strangers acting in haste to save him.  I couldn’t get the quarter out of my pocket fast enough!

This wasn’t exactly a jumping-on issue.  New characters, none of whom I recognized, and only the Scarlet Witch from my previous two Avengers encounters.  But I certainly knew Hank Pym and Jan.  What grabbed me about this book was Hank (now in another new outfit) as he collapsed and began to grow. I gleaned he’d fallen ill from a battle in the previous issue, in defense of the Wasp. 

Thor remarked to Jan’s doctor, who questioned Pym’s motivation for taking off after whomever this Whirlwind fellow was, “This man doth live his every moment for yon woman, doctor!”  Yep, they were talking about the Hank Pym I’d seen in that earlier Avengers I owned. 

The story improved my education as far as what went on with the team. About this time I figured out what a “reprint” was, and that my other two Avengers books were such). 

I couldn’t discern much of the Beast’s backstory (It would be months before I saw a copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1). But he was interesting. I was excited to see that Captain America would be in the next issue. The Vision was strange. 

But Hank, now Yellowjacket, was not.  His out-of-control growth forced him to a retirement.  This was OK to me at the time, because I was soaking in all of the characters I didn’t really know: the Vision, the Beast, and Iron Man (who got his tail kicked by Thor in #130).  I still recall that wonderful sense of discovery as I read #141; and that George Perez guy wasn’t too bad on the art, either! 

Then, an ordinarily boring trip with my mom to the grocery store lit up my day.  On the magazine shelf, next to the Car-toons and MAD magazines, was a single copy of Giant-Size Avengers #5 with Goliath prominently on the cover.  The team, full of new characters, went up against very colorful baddies in the longest story I’d yet seen in a comic book. 

I liked his playfulness with the Wasp toward the end of the story. It showed Hank was very dedicated to her.  It was fun to see the squad’s interaction, particularly the Thor/Hawkeye team-up. 

Don Heck’s art was solid and he learned to reconcile Goliath’s height changes as relative to his teammates and surroundings; even as a waif I noticed this glaring discrepancy in the Avengers #28 story.  George Tuska struggled similarly in #140 in staying consistent when attempting to show the unconscious Yellowjacket’s growth. In one scene YJ was drawn smaller relative to other characters, in others he was two to three times larger, and then back again.

 

Hank and Jan

 

The rest of the summer and fall of 1975 progressed with a surprisingly steady stream of Avengers mags, but sadly no Pyms.  When I leafed through a copy of Marvel Treasury Edition #7 (The Mighty Avengers) at the grocery store, I found a reprint of Avengers #57, the first appearance of the Vision. 

Goliath was on the first pages, but in a predominantly red costume, as opposed to the blue one I was used to.  I also was interested to see 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 bought me a paperback copy of Origins of Marvel Comics; yule greetings in 1975 brought me Son of Origins of Marvel Comics and it featured a reprint of Avengers #1.  For the first time I saw Hank and Jan as they started with the team, as Ant-Man and the Wasp.

I was surprised at the tone Hank took with Jan.  He was curt.  But, as I reread the story, it occurred to me that Stan Lee wrote Janet van Dyne as  obnoxious.  The constant fussing over her hair and makeup, the fawning over Thor, the revulsion at the appearance of both Iron Man and the Hulk was a middle-aged author’s attempt at writing a woman in the vein of some teenager’s nagging mother or boy-crazy sister. 

What Stan attempted was to reach 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.  Not a bad strategy for the day, yet Jan’s depiction in that 1963 issue is so dated now.

Hank’s speech toward Jan was puzzling.  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.  The second makes it pretty plain that Hank had a smart-aleck streak in him. 

While mounting flying ants to respond to an SOS, Jan says, “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!” 

Is that 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 thought, “Yeah, put her in her place!”  As an adult, I look back with the lens of their history and I see Hank as caring. 

Their age difference was more glaring than in the mid-Seventies when Hank agonized over Jan’s hospitalization in #140.  Maybe she was on his nerves.  But on the last page 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!”  It’s obvious that Hank and Jan discussed the success of this first teaming of these great heroes in the defeat of Loki.  They felt camaraderie with the others and were in search of a sense of togetherness. 

Hank and Jan found a common emotional bond and a spiritual need among these new peers.  If all I ever read of Ant-Man and the Wasp was Avengers #1, I would 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, in reading Jan’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963), Stan laid the groundwork for the Pyms’ mythos of the next forty-plus years.  Tales to Astonish #44 is the “origin” of Henry Pym.   

Fully dismayed at the news that not only had his young bride Maria died, and her scientist father was killed, Hank set off on a mission to bring their killers to justice.  “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).” 

Did later authors 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 downfall in the early 1980s?

      Even in this first meeting of Hank and Jan, Stan’s mastery of romantic angst that festered in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man is at the forefront of their relationship.  Jan makes something of a pass at Hank.  The following exchange takes 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 (thinking):  “So, I’m only a child, am I??  Well, Mister Ant-Man…  We shall see!”

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

 

Stan gave future scribes the characterization groundwork: Jan’s proactive attitude toward life and toward “catching” Hank in particular, and Hank’s common sense.  Steve Englehart played this up at the end of his run, and Shooter carried it forward, big time.

 

Trouble in Pym-ville

 

Through old, beat-up copies of Avengers # 30, 42, and 56.  It was nice to fill in some history, and to see how valuable Hank was to the team in that era.  He provided muscle, brains at times (always had ’em, for sure), and spirit.  He could be more agitated in this span, particularly in #42, when he squared off against the team to try to save Jan from Diablo. He was written over-the-top.  While I understood Hank’s desperation, which Roy portrayed loudly and clearly, his loyalty to Hawkeye and the Maximoff twins was hazy at best. 

While protecting Jan continued a theme, it gave me a sense of security that no matter the costume or height restrictions or team line-up, Hank was a rock.

A newsman foreshadowed the Jim Shooter era when he gave this report while anchoring coverage of the awaited Avengers line-up change:

 

“Dr. Henry Pym has otherwise been known by a great many names – making him easily the most confusing Avenger of all.  When he came back he changed his nom de guerre to Goliath – but soon he was shrinking down to ant-size again.  It’s almost as if he could never get comfortable with his job.  (#151)”

 

Hank responds to Jan’s cry that heck, yes, she wants to be an Avenger!. He says, “I can’t get involved here.  I’m sorry .” 

After the dust settles from that shocker, Iron Man tells Jan she should feel free to go after Hank.  Jan remarks, “No, thank you, Iron Man.  He’s his own man, I’m my own woman.”  She thinks, “That rat!  I won’t give him the satisfaction!” 

Whoa!  To this gasping ten-year-old, all was suddenly not right in Pym-ville!  I’d seen trouble between Reed and Sue over in Fantastic Four #’s 146-149, but the FF was a family first. That always let the reader know that sooner or later their universe would return to order.  Here, I wasn’t certain. 

Iron Man offers the final roster spot to Hellcat.  Jan is visibly shaken that the lineup would close without Hank; then Patsy says she won't join, “But I will.”  It’s Hank, who returns saying, “I’m not ready to give up my laboratory work – but I just can’t get Avenging out of my blood.” 

Jan exclaims, “Oh, Hank you don’t know how – happy I am – !”  He responded, “Did you really think I’d leave – you, honey?” 

The way the writers (Englehart, Shooter, and Gerry Conway are all credited) put the emphasis points in those two word balloons is strange.  Exactly what emotion is Jan feeling?  “—You don’t know how – “ How what?  Of course she says “happy,” but is there something else?

 Upset that we are even in this situation?  That you’re wishy-washy?  That you love test tubes more than me?  Where might Jan have gone with that statement if not in the company of several other people?  As for Hank, with the pause before the words “you, honey,” was he betraying the rest of the team?  Could he be counted on to save the others from peril, or just Jan?  .

In #152 (penned by Conway), there is a poignant scene:  

 

Jan:  “Hank, I want you to know – I’m sorry if I forced you to rejoin the Avengers. I just thought it might be good for you.  You’ve been so grim lately.”

Hank:  “Have I?  Then maybe I’m the one who should apologize, Jan.  Here, how’s this for a smile?”

Jan:  “Better.  You look almost human.”

 

And that’s it, at least for the next eight issues.  One would think a conversation like this would lead to a plot thread, or at least a short-term fallout.  But from # 153-159 they’re in the action, in the midst of a fantastic multi-part crossover between Avengers and Supervillain Team-Up, but the run never showcases them as characters. Then Shooter got hold of them.

 

 

Shooter and Ultron

 

Jim Shooter takes the reins #158 and gets started with a bang. Hank and Jan are featured only on a couple of panels, but in a most cryptic fashion.  As they depart Avengers Mansion, Hank says to Jan, “Head for the lab, Jan… That battle convinced me that Yellowjacket’s powers need improving (Avengers #160)!” 

The splash page by George Perez to #161 shows Ant-Man lurking. It doesn’t take the reader any time to know that Hank, is not right.  Hank is enraged the Avengers are not present for their “first official meeting”: Referring to Wanda as “the chick in the swimsuit” and Cap as a “two-bit imposter,” Hank demands answers.  When receiving stunned silence in reply, he launches a one-man (and mega-ant) attack. 

During the fracas, Ant-Man snaps to Vision:  “Back off, Red Puss!  And you can drop the weird hollow voice bit!  Special effects don’t impress me!”  When the Wasp appears, startling Hank, he is subdued.  Jan says, “It’s been…building for a long time…and I’m afraid his mind…has finally snapped.”

#162 was a first “conclusion.”  Ultron is revealed as the true villain, mind-wiping and resetting set his memories back to before he and Jan were married.  Ultron’s goal is to instill Jan’s life essence into his cybernetic bride.  Ultron is defeated, but at a cost of Hank’s sanity. 

Hank screams, “How could I have ever thought I loved you?” 

Iron Man says, “After we study Ultron’s equipment, we may be able to restore his mind!”  “Aye, ‘tis possible,” agrees Thor.

A pretty depressing way to leave a reader hanging.  I was crushed at this new development.  It was warming to see the other Avengers embrace and care for Jan; that same picture, however, made me think of Hank as all alone and hopeless.  What Hank said, even if they could restore his mind, he said those words.  Nothing could change that.

I was eager to see how events would unfold.  By #164, Simon Williams is going through tests under the supervision of Tony Stark, the Black Panther, the Beast and … Yellowjacket? 

I went back to look for clues to Hank’s sudden sanity.  I found none.  When the next issue came out, there was no hint whatsoever as to how Hank got back up and running.  When #170 arrived and the “Bride of Ultron” story was apparently continued, I thought surely Hank’s mental state would be addressed. 

Yet even face-to-face with the robot, Hank is calm, almost as analytical as the Vision.  But it just suddenly ended, and Hank was back to status quo.

 

No Peace for Pym

 

He remained that way until Avengers #193 (March 1980).  I was about to enter high school.  I had big disco hair, acne, and no girlfriend.  Solution: quit being a “comic geek.”  In my freshman year in college I found friends interested in comics, and I had a decent haircut, my face had cleared up, and I was dating the girl who would become my wife.  So I got back in.

The first issue I bought was Avengers #257, drawn by a childhood idol, John Buscema.  It took several issues, to get used to the Wasp in the book without Hank.  But I figured out why he wasn’t around: his betrayal of the team, abuse of Jan, and their divorce. 

As I found out there were now comics shops run through a “direct market,” I filled in some gaps in my collection that had become a chasm during my high school hiatus.  I attempted to get a complete run of the Avengers.

I accomplished that feat in the early 1990s when I purchased a VG copy of Avengers #1.  What a satisfying conclusion to a fan’s dream project!  To this day I’ve not read the stories where Hank breaks down, betrays his fellows, hits his wife, and then appears to redeem himself.  I’ve read his subsequent appearances, but not those.  I decided I don’t want to see Hank in that state. 

Hank Pym has always been one of my favorite Avengers.  Writers just won’t let the guy have any peace.  I’ve read his time in the West Coast Avengers as Dr. Pym; I’ve seen his return as Giant-Man in Avengers volumes I and III.  But writers never take him seriously.  The baggage is as large as his Goliath-sized boots.  Those few stories where he was shown as weak or , mentally ill have dogged him. 

When Mark Millar completely remade the Avengers in Ultimates, the old, formulaic Hank took after Jan with bug spray.  I was so disappointed.  Millar had the opportunity to correct or at least amend, the character assassination of the early 1980s, but instead he went the easy route.  Give ’em the old, familiar Hank. 

The producers of the Ultimate Avengers animated movies perpetrated a similar injustice, characterizing Hank as a loudmouthed jerk.  They were writing for Hawkeye; trouble was, ol’ Hawk wasn’t in the flicks.

Hank Pym has the stature of a giant, but is so often stepped on by his writers like a bug.