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The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Who Caused Hank Pym’s Mental Breakdowns?

All throughout December, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked.

Today we feature the third of three “Abandoned An’ Forsaked” installments where the story in question was “overturned” during Avengers Forever…

Enjoy!

During the Avengers crossover known as “The Crossing,” not only does Iron Man turn on the rest of the Avengers, but it is revealed that Iron Man had been manipulated by Kang for years. In Avengers #395, however, we discover that Iron Man was not Kang’s original target. Instead, he tried to turn Hank Pym, instead, but Hank resisted, with the result being that Hank’s mental state suffered greatly, leading to the notable series of mental breakdowns that Hank had over his time as an Avenger (Hank did not take kindly to learning the truth)…

However, in Avengers Forever #8, we discover that the Kang in that storyline was really Immortus in disguise. The entirety of The Crossing was designed just to occupy the Avengers’ time until the events of Onslaught took them out of the picture for the foreseeable future (it was all part of a plan by Immortus to keep the Avengers from becoming too powerful of an organization, which they have apparently always been destined to become – and the more powerful they become, the more despotic they become).

Which is fair enough, but what about the mental breakdown stuff? Hank asks about that…

One of the difficulties Kurt Busiek had with trying to reconcile away a lot of weird Avengers stories is that he had to go to “Yeah, we just did it for kicks” as an explanation for a few of them, which can sound pretty funny. “Yeah, we made you think that – no real reason, it just amused us.”

45 Comments

In the next retcon, Kang or Immortus or somebody will say they were just kidding about just kidding.

I’ve always resented Marvel for ruining Hank Pym with that mental breakdown stuff. He was my favorite Marvel character until then, simply because my first Marvel Comics were the early Roy Thomas Avengers where Pym was the most prominent hero. I feel the same way about what DC did to Hal Jordan with that Parallax crap.

When writers treat established heroes this way, it amounts to rape. If they want to trash characters, they should invent their own instead of destroying pre-existing characters that other writers have brought to life.

When a writer screws up a long-established hero, it’s a clear sign that they have no creativity of their own and nothing new to bring to the table. That so-called writer falls back on either (1) killing the hero, (2) making him turn evil, or (3) bringing in a “cloned” version of the hero, usually of the opposite sex so we can see the same uniform with boobs.

Whats wrong with female versions of characters? some people like boobs.

The truth is that the only reason the mental breakdown is so dominating in Hank Pym’s history/characterization is because there’s so little of anything else before or after that.

Let’s face it: until his extremely disturbing split-personality marriage to a manipulative and reprehensible Wasp, Pym had been a complete cypher, an utterly generic “science superhero” (and if we’re honest the Wasp deserved MUCH more scorn for the way she handled that marriage than she ever got). Then there was the “involuntary slap/wife abuse” incident (which was written one way and drawn in another), and suddenly there’s SOMEthing to write about when talking about Pym, beyond the feeble “Pym is unsure about being a superhero” that passed for a personality until that point.

I don’t think reversing that is even possible anymore; “mentally unstable genius superhero seeking redemption” is the best characterization anyone ever came up with for Hank Pym. I just wish the Wasp got her fair share of blame for his meltdown as well – after all, her decision to “humor” Yellowjacket in order to put a ringer on Hank’s finger was completely irresponsible and dishonest. I’ve never understood how that “marriage” could be valid on ANY level, least of all a romantic one… Janet clearly took advantage of Hank’s mental illness to put a ring on his finger, with no regard to his own well-being and sanity. Based just on her actions she’s just as contemptible as Hank, but unlike Hank she has never shown regret for coldly manipulating the man she claimed to love.

Bottom line, those two deserved each other (and in a way Hank was as much of a victim as Janet was, having been tricked into marriage by an opportunist who didn’t have his best interests in mind).

i like boobs too, but I never once looked at White Tiger or Loki and thought, “if only they had a huge rack…” How would people respond if Emma Frost suddenly sprouted chest hair and a bulging package?

interesting always thought marvel had the writers working on the avengers cause hank metal break due to hank wanting to be a good hero. instead now it was due to imortus trying to prevent the avengers from reaching their full potential as a team.

I don’t NEED Pym to have had mental issues; I can live with the retcon/forgiveness/backdoor. Still, the Shooter-era Avengers saw the character’s problems very well handled, and that includes the peak of it (circa 210-230, if memory serves). Some pretty fascinating and page-turning stuff in there.

Does anyone remember the climax of Metal Gear Solid 2? Ocelot must have been a Space Phantom.

I haven’t read this post because I’m still reading these comics right now, but the early 80s seem to be the Marvel Age of dangling subplots.

Agree 100% with HammerHeart.

I haven’t read it, but based on what I’ve seen on this blog this month, Avengers Forever just seems to be a story consisting of really well-drawn explanations to questions 10 people had.

@T. To be fair, it’s only issue 8 that’s used for this level of continuity house-keeping, and even that’s tied into the larger plot. All of these Abandoned An’ Forsaken references were used to explain how the Space Phantoms were working for Immortus, who was working for the Time-Keepers, who were trying to keep humanity from reaching space so that the dark future of the Terran Empire wouldn’t come to pass.

Does anyone remember the climax of Metal Gear Solid 2? Ocelot must have been a Space Phantom.

The ending of Metal Gear Solid 2 made me cry blood and rock gently on the floor in the fetal position for two straight days.

Silly as the wall-to-wall retcons were, I’m glad this one brought Hank’s issues back to being just Hank’s issues.

bryan rasmussen

December 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm

“In the next retcon, Kang or Immortus or somebody will say they were just kidding about just kidding.”

basically this tactic of going back and forth on saying “we were lying about causing your breakdown” and “no we weren’t! It was your fault the whole time” is all part of their dastardly plan to cause him to have a breakdown.

Kang was really Immortus in disguise? Aren’t they the same person?

Hank’s breakdowns were really all ROM’s fault; those comics just haven’t been written yet. It will all be revealed by some new idiot writer in 10 years or so.

Kang was really Immortus in disguise? Aren’t they the same person?

Um, they used to be, but they’ve mucked around with the timestream so much that now they’re not. or something.

Stuff like this is why Avengers Forever stopped making any damn sense to me past the fourth or fifth issue.

@Troy, an Emmett Frost would be kind of cool, get me reading X-men more regularly…

I like Hank Pym, and I think it’s way more interesting that his mental problems were his own and not some evil plot. It does make him a more interesting character. And I think Busiek did a great job showing Hank dealing with it during his run on the Avengers, and it made Hank seem more heroic as a result.

And to Nigel – Rape? Really? I’m not into being overly PC or anything, but saying that someone writing a fictional character in a way you don’t like is the same thing as rape is ridiculously stupid.

While I find neither Hank nor Janet as reprehensible as he suggests, I think HammerHeart kind of says what everyone’s afraid to admit about Hank’s character.

Yeah, Metal Gear Solid 2′s ending is on the level of absurd convolution of Avengers Forever. And the backstory of Metal Gear Solid 4 is even more tangled.

Also,Joe Casey retconned the Hank/Jan wedding so that everyone (Jan included) knew Hank was Yellowjacket, and were just humoring him so as not to trigger a greater outburst. Not sure if this is better or much, much worse.

I also think using “rape” to describe a different take on a fictional character is incredibly poor taste. The correct term would be more akin to “character assassination” because it is the reputation of the character that gets damaged.

Why is it that whenever a villain makes a claim, the heroes *immediately* buy it? Immortus just admitted he had manipulated events. How could Pym not know he wasn’t being manipulated again? Sheesh.

…except that “character assassination,” properly understood, refers to damaging the reputation of a real person. Putting fictional characters through changes, shifting the dynamics of relationships, bringing characters low and then raising up again is what writers do. It’s in the job description; and for corporate, collectively-created franchise properties, it is the right and indeed the mandate of a writer to riff on, expand, revise, and reverse the character beats established by other writers.

So, to be perfectly accurate, when writers treat established heroes this way, it amounts to … writing.

Why on earth you would even look for or expect consistent characterizations in a genre the industry model of which is predicated on a revolving door of creative talent is absolutely beyond me. If you want to read never-ending multi-creator franchise comics, there’s no point in whining when the characters act as if they’re written by completely different writers.

Hey, Avengers Forever was mostly continuity porn and not all that great a story, but it wasn’t the worst ever written. And it retconned out ‘The Crossing,’ which arguably was. So overall, a plus.

AverageJoeEveryman

December 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

“How would people respond if Emma Frost suddenly sprouted chest hair and a bulging package?”
Well . . . would she still have them boobs?

It wasn’t merely about the villain’s amusement. Busiek and Stern were making a point here that Pym’s problems had always come from within himself. Pym is not a victim of Kang, he is responsible for his own actrions.

“When writers treat established heroes this way, it amounts to rape.”–Now here’s why that isn’t true: you can’t rape a fictional character. Rape is what happens one someone forcibly has sex with another person against their will. What you’re talking about is one writer having a different vision for a fictional character than the vision you would prefer, which in the cyclical and formulaic context that is serialized, ongoing superhero comic books, will almost certainly be undone later anyway. Please talk to some rape victims about your feelings. Ask them how it felt to be violated in this way. I’m curious to know how many will say, “You know how bogus it was when Grant Morrison turned The Chief from Doom Patrol into basically a manipulative villain? Well being raped was kind of like that.” I’m curious to know how many will say, “Being raped is a lot like when a comic book writer decides to try a new idea and push things forward instead of recycling the same old garbage.”

Brian from Canada

December 17, 2011 at 6:08 am

Honestly, I prefer Busiek’s move because it restored the integrity of the original stories. Pym being unsure and needing to push himself is a key part of his character that’s logical from the beginning, and any attempt to say it was because of manipulation just weakens Hank’s ability to be himself.

Even in his first appearance there’s signs that Hank’s more than a little unstable; witness how he handles that rejection from the other scientists.

Also, as serious as the Jim Shooter written breakdown was, I’d argue that his most serious breakdown was when he believed he had murdered his own self during the Thomas run. His being the “father” of Ultron was also revealed in Thomas’ stories if memory serves. For that matter, most people, even if they learned to shrink to tiny size, would probably still be a bit squeamish about riding ants.

So I consider his instability to be part of who he is, and frankly his attempts to overcome it are partly what makes him a hero. It’s his equivalent of blindness or being trapped in the body of a monster or a heart condition/alcoholism or a limp.

I can’t see why no one up until now has attempted to reveal it as just another scheme of Ultron’s, akin to his mentally controlling the butler Jarvis when in the guise of the “Crimson Cowl” (Roy really did do the definitive Hank didn’t he)?

Shooter even had Pym brainwashed to kidnap the Wasp so she could be converted to a metal mate for Ultron in Avengers #161.

Christ, Justin Hammer had his scientists working over a long period of time to figure out a way to control Iron Man’s armour remotely so what is so hard to believe about a robot with an Oedipus Complex scheming to make its “father” fall out of favour with its “mother” so it can step in and become the “surrogate” husband?

This to me would seem to be the best, and simplest, way to redeem Hank and it gels with previous continuity. Just reveal it and then move forward.

As for my own interpretation for when Hank lost it, the seeds are planted as far back as Lee & Kirby’s run here: http://fanfix.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/ultrons-orign/

For the record, I enjoyed Avengers Forever. You have to love a story about two guys who are the same person at different points in their lives, can travel through time, and hate each other.

“I can’t see why no one up until now has attempted to reveal it as just another scheme of Ultron’s, akin to his mentally controlling the butler Jarvis when in the guise of the “Crimson Cowl” (Roy really did do the definitive Hank didn’t he)?”

The problem is it assumes that every fan *wants* Hank to be left off the hook. Most people can’t relate to a brainy scientist of that level of intelligence, but many people can relate to feeling insecure and to cracking under pressure and then having to try to do the right thing after. I love Hank for his flaws. I root for him to not crack up under future pressures, a bit of suspense that would be a non-issue if Hank’s past history was negated.

Plus it doesn’t account for periods of instability prior to Ultron’s creation. As I noted above, that’s been a part of who he is right from the Man in the Ant Hill story. Heck some of what he does in Wasp’s origin story, like grafting insect wings onto her because she resembles his ex-wife and he wants to woo her can be seen as less than stable as well.

But the bigger problem in a nutshell is that some Hank Pym fans want his periods of instability erased but an equally vocal group of Hank Pym fans want his periods of instability to stick and don’t want him left off the hook in any way, shape or form; it’s what they love about him. You’re never be able to just move forward because sooner or later another writer will come along and undo any explanation that lets Hank off the hook.

Much as I hated Shooter’s handling of Hank, yeah, there’s enough periods of him stressing out over the years to justify it.
I did enjoy his development as “Dr. Pym” in Englehart’s West Coast Avengers and I wish they’d stuck with that. It was more distinctive than his regular costumed identity.

Can I make the lame joke/sad observation that if you are the Black Cat or just about any female character at DC, the new version of your character from a new writer probably does result in you having been retroactively raped?

Hank Pym’s biggest problem was that he was always a Catch-22 superhero. He was a founding member of the Avengers, but on the same team as Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk, a guy who can get really small is irrelevant, especially if his girlfriend’s on the same team and has the exact same power. They didn’t even need an underpowered but very smart guy, because Iron Man is secretly Tony Stark, who is generally reckoned to be fairly bright. But they couldn’t get rid of him without the Wasp leaving too, and they had to keep her because nobody else had boobs (except maybe Thor – why do you think he never, ever takes his shirt off?).

The only possible solution was to almost immediately turn him into a different superhero called Giant-Man, but since his power was being as strong as the average generic B-lister, but nowhere near as strong as Thor or Iron Man, and not as versatile either, just more conspicuous, he was still irrelevant, plus he had the kind of name a 5-year-old would think up (and he was no longer name-checked in the title of a Captain Beefheart song which hadn’t been written yet). Also, in plot terms, being really big is actually less interesting than being really small and telepathically controlling ants. By the way, why couldn’t the Wasp control wasps? She could have been the Red Bee with attitude and boobs!

This being the case, there was nothing for it but for Hank Pym to somehow become somebody else. By the way, is it legally binding, even in a comic, to marry somebody so mentally unstable that he puts the wrong name on the marriage certificate because that’s who he thinks he is? But of course, his superpowers once again revolved around being very small, just like his wife, who wasn’t insane and had boobs. Which of them was going to have to quit the team? Clue: boobs.

It’s a classic case of: “Oh dear, we have a fifth wheel, so we’re going to have to get rid of him, and since it’s not The Era Of The Gritty Reboot yet, we can’t kill him, and since his wife’s on the team (and has boobs) we can’t just have him leave, so he has to turn into a horrible person.” Poor Hank – destiny always had it in for him, just like Elasti-Girl, the only Doom Patrol member too boring to suffer firmly established irreversible certain death and not get better. Though personally I think it would have been much more fun if it had been the Wasp who went mad through using hubby’s insect telepathy helmet without setting the safety catch, and started attacking people with vast hordes of kamikaze wasps. There’s a comic in there somewhere! OK, last time I looked she was dead, but obviously she’ll eventually get better, if she hasn’t already.

By the way, is Supergirl the only superhero with boobs to somehow spawn another version of herself with even more boobs?

For me, I blamed Hank’s mental issues on Loki. Ain’t no way a mortal that shrinks to the size of an ant is gonna get the best of a god – without SOME payback. Look at Avengers #1 and you know what I mean.

“Shooter even had Pym brainwashed to kidnap the Wasp so she could be converted to a metal mate for Ultron in Avengers #161.”
I was going to mention this (I’ve been rereading that period the past couple of months)–before the brainwashing, Shooter establishes that Hank’s already falling apart (research going poorly, depending on his wife for support)–it was handled much better than Shooter’s later attempt. Hank ends up ravingly convinced that Ultron’s the good guy and the Avengers are the villains, then he’s back to normal one issue later. Makes me wonder if the editors informed Shooter no, no, no–in the later plotline, he probably had more clout.

The thing about Shooter’s take was that it was locical given how Hank had behaved previously, such as when as Yellowjacket he became convinced he had murdered Giant-Man.

As I noted above, he was clearly a little crazy even before he shrunk himself for the first time:
(to other scientists about his newest plans): “I won’t tell you yet! You would only laugh at me as you’ve done before! But when I’ve finished it, I’ll show you! Then you shall know I’m a greater scientist than *any* of you!”

I think one of the very things that makes Hank fun is in fact that he’s a bit mad, but still a hero. I wouldn’t get into a vehicle with him after any bad news, but his struggles make him interesting to read about.

The funny thing is, I like the idea much better when Andy explains it than when Shooter actually executes it on the page.

I can’t wait until we find out that it wasn’t Immortus pretending to be Kang, but Rama-Tut pretending to be Scarlet Centurion pretending to be Iron Lad pretending to be Immortus pretending to be Kang.

Sijo, your comment about always accepting the villain’s claims reminds me of a line from the old “The Law is an Ass” columns: Whenever a villain tells the hero “Everything I did was legal! You take me anywhere near a police station, I’ll sue!” they simply let him go without even bothering to call the DA’s office to see if he’s talking bullshit.

I just read Roger Stern’s Avengers 227 with Pym explaining his breakdown. I must say Stern makes it much more plausible than Shooter ever did. I particularly liked “It takes a strong man to shrink to the size of an ant and still feel sure of himself … I wasn’t that strong.”

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