Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“You won’t be part of either team.” I maintain that, if you want to know anything about Hank Pym, that is the most important line in Age of Ultron #10. It offers great insight into the character, particularly when you take into account that he’s being told this by his past self. While Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t delve into that tension, it remains an undercurrent of everything involving Pym throughout the issue.
The Hank Pym from the past is a purer man. He isn’t the man who’s invented a genocidal robot yet (or, at least, one that’s turned genocidal) or smacked the Wasp or done anything else terrible that would come to define him over the years. He is still the hero with good intentions and people who trust and believe in him. When he speaks to his future self, it’s hard not to find a touch of pity and disdain beneath the surface. “You won’t be part of either team.” Those are the words of a man disappointed with what he becomes as he chooses to become it. It’s a phrase that sounds like it’s as aimed at himself as his future self. The Hank Pym in the past is reconciling what he’s doing with the consequences. By continuing to create Ultron, he’s ensuring that he will be that lonely man partly distrusted and pitied by all of his ‘friends.’ A man whose sole claim to fame that isn’t entirely tainted is that he helped found the Avengers. But, even that’s been shown up by the likes of Captain America to a degree.
The one-sided communication between the Hank Pym of the past and the Hank Pym of the present focuses their shared action and what it means for each man. For the past Pym, it’s a chance to continue to be the hero he’s been to that point. For the present Pym, it’s a chance at redemption. See, he didn’t just invent Ultron, he invented a way to kill him at the same time and was waiting for the right moment to enact his plan! It was always for the good of the world! Hank Pym was always a hero, a man who sacrificed almost everything… It’s like a gift of sorts. A time capsule of heroism that wipes away the intervening years.
“You won’t be part of either team.”
While the Avengers save the world, Hank Pym sits in a room alone. While the Intelligencia is abusing science for their own purposes, Hank Pym sits in a room alone. It’s not all that far off from the Hank Pym of the past. Wolverine doesn’t find him coming out of an Avengers meeting or in the middle of saving the world. He finds him in a room alone. The gap between the two Pyms is monumental in many ways and miniscule in many others. One of the things that seems to demonstrate how each man is different is the way that the past Pym wears his superhero costumes under his lab coat. The scientist is the civilian identity he wears over his superhero identity that can be shed. The Pym of the present is just a scientist. Not super, not a hero.
In that phrase is also a glimmer of hope. While Pym may not be the Avenger-style hero anymore, he’s also not so far gone as to be a member of the Intelligencia. There’s also the hint that it’s possible nonetheless. That even back then, Pym could foresee himself being the sort of the man who would stand alongside the likes of the Wizard and the Red Ghost. That potential is there and he knows it. Without knowing all of the details of his future, there’s a sense that none of it would truly surprise Hank Pym in the past. I don’t know if that makes any of it better or worse.
The panels that trouble me the most, though, are on the final two Butch Guice-drawn pages where, after Ultron is defeated, Pym sits with his head in his hands. It’s not a triumphant pose. Perhaps, it’s one of relief, that Ultron is finally dead. It doesn’t seem that way. It is a pose of sadness that exposes the true monster inside of Pym: despite everything, Ultron was still his best invention. It was his greatest achievement. He managed to invent an artificial lifeform capable of not just conquering the world but of conquering a world populated by the Avengers. He created something that could kill the Avengers and the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and everything that stood in its way. And he also created a way to destroy it at the exact same time. His greatest invention undone immediately.
I wonder if he would have joined the Intelligencia if asked.
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