Open Mike Night: Pymin’ Ain’t Easy!
by Michael "Skitch" Maillaro on June 29, 2013


This week’s column is all about Havy’s favorite hero, Hank Pym!

Tales to Astonish #27

Maillaro: Come with us now on a journey through time and space to the world of the Mighty…Pym. We start our trip way back in January 1962. The Beatles still hadn’t had their first hit yet; I think Havy was a teenager then. And that was when Marvel introduced a character named Hank Pym.

What struck me most about this story was that Pym wasn’t created as a superhero. Hell, I don’t think he was intended to ever show up in a comic again. In a very quick 6 page story, Pym is introduced as a scientist who creates a shrinking formula. He is often mocked by other scientists for his ridiculous ideas and is told to focus on practical projects (something that will also come to play in our review of Age of Ultron 10 AI later on).

Because of this, he spends a lot of time working alone. His formula works, and he ends up shrinking himself down so small he gets trapped in an ant hill and chased by ants (who he fends off with his wits and a little judo).

One of the ants comes to his rescue and he is able to get back to the lab to grow back to human size. He destroys the formula and decides other scientists were right, he should stick to more practical science. Lesson learned!

Until he was popular with readers and came back 8 issues later with a superhero costume and a helmet that let him talk to ants…but that is a review for another time.

Weaver: Henry Pym was never intended to be a superhero. There’s so many levels of truth to that statement: he was intended to be a one-off science fiction anthology character, and really, even after he became a superhero, he rarely seemed to have the right personality for it. More on that later.

That’s what I like about this story. It’s a pretty simple adventure story of the era, but the era was transitioning to being about adventure stories to being about superhero adventure stories. So poor Henry Pym (and another character I bring up from time to time, Patsy Walker) came along for the ride, despite being ill-prepared for it. One thing that long time fans of Henry Pym might notice here…wait, maybe that’s a group that only includes me. Anyway, if there WERE other fans of Henry Pym, you’d see that even from the start his methods and ideas are ridiculed by his peers, something that becomes sadly too common throughout his life, and something that leads to some pretty intense psychological damage down the line.

Maillaro: Yeah, I actually was impressed by how much story and characterization they gave what could have easily been a throwaway character in a one-shot, 6 page story. When Pym showed up again later, they gave him a little more of a heroic streak, but at the core, it is the same character that showed up here.

One thing I noticed is the story was uncredited (not unusual at the time). Wiki credits the creation of Pym to Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (Stan’s brother), and Jack Kirby, but the art here really didn’t look like Kirby to me. But I am far from an expert…

Weaver: It doesn’t necessarily read like a Stan Lee story to me, nor does it look like Kirby. I dunno. I do know that they didn’t include Pym in the long lists of Marvel characters created by Kirby that were in all the comics when he passed away, and they included some characters that I would consider more obscure. Unfortunately, a lot of the golden and silver age characters have questionable provenance…I mean, look at all the stuff that went on about who created Batman and who just took credit for it. Although in this case, no one seems ready to step up.

Have you read many of these old anthology titles? Whether you got to write another feature had a lot to do with how much you packed into six pages, so this is a pretty typical example of the style. Well, maybe not typical, because it is one of the better written ones, but it still follows the general formula. They really knew how to tell a compressed yet complete story back then, whoever they were.

Maillaro: Not too many, to be honest. I really did enjoy this one though (including the other stories in it). The first 25 issues of Tales to Astonish are on Marvel Digital Unlimited complete. After 27, it skips to issue 35 (which was Pym’s first appearance as Ant-Man), but from then on, they only include the Ant-Man stories, which is a shame. I would have loved to read more of the other stories in these comics. They are a pretty cool window to a very different time in comics.

Of the older comics we’ve reviewed, I definitely think this one holds up 50 years later better than a lot of them. It is just a simple, straight forward fun sci-fi story. I would definitely give it a solid 4/5 for writing. The art was solid, but not particularly memorable. 3.5/5 seems fair.

Weaver: This story could mostly be told today, minus a bit of judo and plus a little more angst. I like reading the stories from this era, the science fiction stories that were prevalent and so obviously led to a lot of the early Fantastic Four tales (and even things like Hulk and X-Men). It’s neat to think that at this point most comics told three or four stories, and now we can’t even get a full one in a single issue.

I’m going to be nicer and go 4.5 on the writing but keep the art at a 3.5. I really like Henry Pym a lot, and his debut is much less clunky than a lot of other heroes’. Probably because he was never meant to be a hero.


Avengers #59+60
Written by: Roy Thomas
Pencilled by: John Buscema
Inked by: George Klein
Lettered by: Sam Rosen
Published by: Marvel

Weaver: Now Yellowjacket, on the other hand…Yellowjacket was meant to be a hero. Don’t believe me? Just ask him. He’ll tell you. Good thing he got rid of that milquetoast Pym to announce his arrival on the scene.

Maillaro: So we hop forward 6 years. The Beatles are already on the downswing…and the Avengers are already going through some rough times. The team consists of Wasp, Goliath, Hawkeye, Black Panther, and Vision (who was a villain only a few issues before). This issue starts with a new hero on the streets, a little more vicious and aggressive than most heroes at the time (this was long before Ghost Rider and Punisher…much less dudes like Spawn).

This new hero, Yellowjacket, shows up at Avengers mansion, beats up Jarvis and claims to have killed Hank Pym…and demands to get a place on the Avengers team. In fact, he retelling of his fight with Pym takes up most of the issue.

The Avengers don’t take too kindly to this, and attack Yellowjacket. Who holds them off by taking Wasp hostage at gunpoint. He takes her back to his HQ, and after one kiss, she instantly falls in love with him. That is one hell of a kiss… The Avengers arrive, and Wasp tells them to leave Yellowjacket alone…Because..

DUM!! DUM!! DUM!!

Weaver: I mean, you did have some brusque heroes like the Thing already around, but Yellowjacket was pretty much the first guy to give as his job application: “I killed the last guy on your team, so you have to take me.” That takes some balls.

I’ve always seen this as commentary on the other heroes that belittled him. It’s no secret that Pym was jealous of everyone else, and that they pretty much dismissed him. Thor makes fun of him to his face on more than one occasion. So I’ve always seen Yellowjacket as having the personality traits of other heroes exaggerated to a large extent. He has the cockiness of Hawkeye and the ego of an Iron Man, for starters. I’ll agree that must have been some kiss, but obviously Jan knows something we don’t know: namely, it’s okay to take advantage of someone clearly suffering mental trauma.

Maillaro: To be fair, suffering from mental trauma is probably the only explanation for why my own wife puts up with me. Hi honey!

In the second part of this story, we have ourselves a typical superhero wedding issue. Bad guys show up to disrupt the wedding. The fun twist on this issue is that most of the heroes think that Yellowjacket was working with these villains in order to bump off the wealthy Wasp and inherit all her money. During the battle, Yellowjacket suddenly remembers “Hey, I am really Hank Pym!” It turns out that he didn’t really kill Pym, he had a traumatic lab accident and the nebbish Pym “died” to be replaced by the cocky and confident Yellowjacket. Wasp had realized the truth when he kissed her…but didn’t bother telling anyone else. What a gal!

In the end, they are married and live happily ever after.

Well…more or less…

Weaver: I just like that Pym’s always the totally bad guy in that relationship in public opinion, but Wasp, despite stating otherwise, forces him into what should be considered a legally invalid marriage, since he’s not able to give consent in that state. Do you love her word balloon about that as much as I do? Man, what a bitch.

I do like the twist, that Yellowjacket is at least somewhat a decent guy and not a villain looking to take advantage of her wealth and kill her. Although Yellowjacket definitely does take advantage of her wealth over the next several years. Or does he? I’m not sure you’re aware of the full extent of what happens next, but Pym starts to get a guilt complex over the fact that the ludicrously wealthy Van Dyne gladly tosses money his way for whatever he wants. He sees it as living off her, she sees it as “I wasn’t doing anything with that money anyway, and I love him.” In many ways, she has the opposite problem of the Fantastic Four issue we recently discussed, there is no possible way for her to ever run out of money. She’s got fat stacks of inheritance plus is a major designer who could have been wealthy off that alone. I’ve had a lot of discussions with people who still hold on to the kind of thinking that makes this a problem with Henry Pym, since I’m the stay at home part of my marriage, so I definitely understand it, even though it may seem silly to more enlightened people. It certainly didn’t seem silly in the 70’s.

Maillaro: I don’t wanna go too far off subject with a Sociology discussion, but I was listening to a good interview with Michael Pollan a few days ago. He has written several books the last few years talking about the problems with food. He has been accused of being a sexist because he says that people need to cook for themselves and their families more. But what he was really saying was that in the 60’s and 70’s when women started to move into the workforce, a conversation had to happen between men and women about how household chores would be divided. BUT, the food industry stepped in with TV dinners and processed food which meant that conversation never really happened in most families.

I see a lot of that “role confusion” reflected here. Pym was always looked at strangely by many comic readers, and I suspect you are right, a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is often played as “weaker” when he is standing next the more outgoing Wasp. Wasp has been a leader of the Avengers, a role I don’t think Pym has ever taken on. Even Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes definitely showed Wasp to be so much more exciting a hero than Pym.

Weaver: That’s, to me, the real meat of the character…he’s awesome, but he’s never quite awesome enough. On paper, he shouldn’t be constantly talked down to by the likes of Iron Man and Reed Richards, but he is. Yes, he’s not quite as smart as them, but he’s always listed as within the top ten best minds on the planet, while they’ll often treat him like the janitor. Strength wise, Giant Man wasn’t far behind Iron Man, a lot of early Avengers makes sure to underscore that. But his role was always to grow large, get punched in the face, and take a powder to show how super strong the villain of the month was. Wasp has pretty much the same powers, but as noted, her personality allows her to go further with it. I’m pretty sure Pym never even led when they had rotating chairmanship, and it’s possible that they stopped doing that just so he wouldn’t.

He also seems to have stuff stick to him more. Spider-Man definitely smacked Mary Jane with super-strength, and didn’t have the ongoing plot (not a retcon, it was the plot) of villains mentally tampering with him to give him at least a bit of a loophole, but it’s Pym who’s the wife beater and Parker who everyone wishes Marvel hadn’t retconned his marriage away. Reed and Tony have created hundreds of projects that turned out to be a bad idea, that was even the central plot of one of the more famous Iron Man plots, Armor Wars. But Ultron is Pym’s heavy cross to bear and every time Ultron shows up, everybody has to be passive aggressive or downright mean to Pym about it. I think it’s the fact that he is the Marvel Universe’s easy target that makes the character so appealing to me, because even with all that, he’s always trying to be better and make it up to people. Sometimes with really bad ideas like claiming he killed Giant Man and such, but he’s still always trying.

I know you plugged it, but now I have to as well. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was great about handling Pym. I especially liked the episode with Power Man and Iron Fist hired by Pym to get the Ant Man gear back from Scott Lang.

Maillaro: All right, scores for this book. I enjoyed it, but the concept was so damn off the wall, I gonna down mark it some. 3/5 for writing, 3.5/5 for he art.

Weaver: I think that being totally off the wall is part of the greatness of it, indeed, part of what made Marvel Marvel in the Silver Age. Still, there was some unevenness here, plus it relied pretty heavily on that wacky cliffhanger. I’ll see your 3 for writing. The art was sadly pretty much generic 1970’s superheroics, so I’m going 3 on that too. I mean, cliches are cliche for a reason, but in this era, most books really did look the same, no matter the artist.


Age of Ultron 10 AI

Written by: Mark Waid
Art by: Andre Araujo
Colored by: Frank D’Armata
Lettered by: VC’s Clayon Cowles
Published by: Marvel

Maillaro: Maillaro: Which brings us back to the present. Uhm…not much Beatles news…but Paul was on Colbert two weeks ago…

I have to admit…I am a little annoyed by the bait and switch on this book. I love, love, love Mark Waid. BUT, calling the book Age of Ultron 10 AI, it should have probably been by either the Age of Ultron creative team or at least the Avengers AI creative team. This issue is by neither.

But, that is purely a marketing complaint, and it’s really not fair to judge the quality of the book by odd decisions like that. I immediately loved that it really did incorporate a lot of the moments from the earlier comics we reviewed as well as other great Pym moments over the years. There were some dark moments, but it wasn’t a lot of angst. Pym had seen what the world would be like without him, and realized that Pym the superhero is just as important as Pym the scientist. By the end of this issue, he seems to really be enjoying a hero.

Weaver: I admit the first few pages had me a little worried. Being depressed is definitely a big part of Pym’s character, and feeling insignificant, and man, the recap page even hammered that down to you. But then, we get to see a Pym most people don’t see. The young Henry Pym, full of bright eyed wonderment at the world until he’s forced to build carburetors instead of UFO’s. The animosity he feels about being forced to conform fuels him into being Ant Man, but then, after a totally crazy idea gives him the win over Loki, he’s driven by an urge to be the best. Which, let’s face it, Marvel Universe, the deck is stacked against him from the start. Every moment where he shines seems to be eclipsed by some bad idea haunting him. And while in the past he dwelt on the negative sides of that, this issue shows us that the positive was just as important if not more important.

I like that he acknowledged that he COULD take this to mean that he was totally unimportant, and in the past he WOULD have taken it to mean that, but now, he’s a changed man. He was always trying to be better, and I think in this issue, he became the best he could.

Maillaro: I loved Pym’s grandma. My kids spend a lot of time in grandma daycare between my parents in and my inlaws. I actually had to stop reading the comic when grandma died and take a little break. It was truly a painful moment for me. Amazing how much you can care about a character in just a few pages. The way she encouraged Pym to be more creative with his dreaming was just so damn cool to me.

I also loved the weird little epilogue that seems like it will be leading directly into Avengers AI. Pym repairs a Doombot and realizes it needs to wear a cloak or people will have no idea what it is. It was just such a quirky moment, especially when he held up the head and sort of looked like Hamlet in the end.

Hey, you might now…has Pym ever done the “giant ant” thing before? I thought that was pretty damn clever and I can’t remember ever seeing that before.

Weaver: You’re telling me. I’m still bawling over “You hold the light and I’ll turn the handle.” It doesn’t help that my son AJ resembles young Henry Pym (at least in appearance) and that he, too, has a strong bond with a grandparent. Heck, I was about half raised by my grandmother. That scene was one of the most powerful in comics of all time, in my opinion.

*sniff*

Oh, giant ants, giant ants…no, I don’t recall a time, but it seems somewhat familiar. Maybe. I’ve given away most of my old Avengers books, so it’s hard for me to say for certain.

Maillaro: I also loved Pym using an enlarged strand of his own hair to tie up some crooks. If nothing else, we got to see Pym being damn creative in his heroics. Not just a really good Hank Pym story, but also just a great all around comic story. Definitely deserves a 5/5 for the writing.

Weaver: And his banter and attitude, much better. The brain punch scene where he tries to calm the hostage with “I’m a doctor” was fantastic as well.

Just a great, great, great comic. This is one of my ten favorite comics of all time. I’m straight 5’ing it, because the art team is also great with all these fantastical elements Pym brings to the table. Also note how many of Pym’s things are in these bright pastels and the rest of the world is grayish.

Maillaro: Yeah, the art was pretty great on this book too, but I wouldn’t quite go 5. 4.5/5 on it.

Knew I was gonna forget something. What the hell is that on the cover?

Weaver: Of Age of Ultron? It’s Giant Man’s screaming head bursting out of Ultron’s head.

Maillaro: Oh wow. I thought it was Nova.

Weaver: I can’t picture that at all.

Maillaro: To be fair, it didn’t look like Pym to me either.

I am sort of on vacation next week, so was thinking we would only do one book. Avengers AI seems like a good choice…

Weaver: I’m scared of Avengers AI. But. I feel that, as one of the few people who’s a massive Pym fan, it is something I should be looking at. Let’s do it.

I was looking around to see what Jack Knight I could find, and the story that was immediately obvious was the one with Wesley Dodds guest starring. Maybe the week after?

Maillaro Yeah, two weeks is definitely Starman…we can talk about two or three issues to do. The Wesley Dodds one is good…I would also like to do the Superman issue towards the end, I’ve always loved that issue.

Weaver: I’ve never read that before. As of this moment (but I’m happy to change this) all I have is three or four trades, missing the first one because a mutual friend of ours heretofore to be known as The Perpetual Borrower made off with it so long ago that it was part of an exchange of material involving PS2 games.

Maillaro: If you ever see your trades, ask them how my Scrubs DVD’s are doing.

Sigh.

We need a better class of friends.

Weaver: I’m taking applications. Alright, I guess we’re going to talk Henry Pym circa INDEPENDENCE DAY. Until then, bro.


Final Scores

Maillaro – Story Weaver – Story Maillaro – Art Weaver – Art
Tales to Astonish #27 4 4.5 3.5 3.5
Avengers #59+60 3 3 3.5 3
Age of Ultron 10AI 5 5 4.5 5


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