O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Hank Pym is a weird superhero. A founding Avenger, ex-husband/sometimes boyfriend of another founding Avenger who he also smacked in the face, he’s been on a ton of iterations of the Avengers, he’s had a ton of costumes and codenames, he’s had a nervous breakdown or seven, and he created an artificial lifeform that has killed a lot of people. It never seems like Marvel knows what they want to do with him. For every story where he’s ‘redeemed,’ there seems to be one that adds more fuel to the ‘Hank Pym is a douchebag’ fire. One step forward, two steps back. Mostly because of Ultron and, no matter what he does, he will never get past creating that homicidal robot. So, what kind of story of Age of Ultron #10? Redemption or condemnation?
I ask the question, because Age of Ultron as a series seems to condemn Pym. It is pointed out numerous times that, if he were told of Ultron’s homicidal future, he would probably still invent him, because he’s a super-genius who would take that knowledge as a challenge to somehow invent an Ultron that doesn’t turn evil. He’s basically an unreasonable prick who, faced with the limitations of his genius, would deny those limitations and actively make the choice to kill millions of people. That’s who Hank Pym is we’re told. That’s why Wolverine sees killing him as the only option. Hank Pym is an ego-driven murderer (or, at the very least, accessory to genocide).
Except, that doesn’t happen, because Wolverine realises that he must alter the past as close to his present as possible to avoid an even worse world. That means Ultron has to be invented and stopped in the last possible moment before the events of Age of Ultron. Hank Pym has to invent Ultron and allow him to do everything we saw the robot do prior to this story – and it’s for the good of the world! And he manages to help create a plan that does stop Ultron at the best possible moment. He not only stops his killer robot, he ensures that history happens the way it’s supposed to… before humanity is enslaved and driven to near-extinction. That seems like it should be a redemptive moment, right?
Brian Michael Bendis constructs a situation that justifies Hank Pym’s ego-driven mistakes and turns them into something heroic that happen for the greater good. He doesn’t have the option of not inventing Ultron. In a sense, Pym is put in a position where he knows that he has to invent a genocidal robot and be forever defined as the man who did that. He must make a tremendous sacrifice and never know that he’s doing it. It’s rather selfless in a way. It’s probably the most heroic thing that Pym has ever done.
Except we know that he would invent Ultron anyway. He would do it to try and prove that he can make a non-evil version. He would do it to prove that he’s smart enough. He only goes along with this other plan, because it’s a chance for him to play hero and prove his genius in another way. It’s still an ego-driven exercise. The real proof comes on the epilogue page where he’s talking with Tony Stark and is still trying to get it right. The problem with Ultron for Hank Pym isn’t that he killed all of those people – it’s that Pym’s invention didn’t work right! It’s still a problem to be solved to recover his ego and prove that he’s actually as smart as he thinks he is. There is no redemption, because there’s no real sacrifice. Pym created Ultron, so allowing that to happen changes nothing; installing a means of defeating the robot is simply solving the problem and showing that he can. That’s all it is for Pym: ego-driven problem solving. What looks like an issue that redeems him once and for all is really a subtle bit of character work that shows how far gone he really is. He wants to be a hero to satisfy his own ego. That’s what it all comes down to.
There is no redemption. No steps forward, only step back.
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