Sometimes life just ain’t fair.
No matter how many bad guys you put in jail, or how many legendary teams you help found, all it takes is for one of your backhand slaps to connect with your spouse’s face and you’re known as “that wife-beater superhero” for the next 30 years.
If we’re being fair, we should note the extenuating circumstances behind that infamous scene from 1981’s Avengers #213. Obviously, physically attacking your spouse is never okay, but Dr. Pym should earn some sympathy for being under a lot of stress at the time, right? He was on the verge of getting kicked out of the Avengers, he was suffering a mental breakdown, he was still reeling from the effects of being brainwashed by his unholy robotic creation… he was feeling the pressure, you know? So maybe we should reconsider his place of honor in the Superhero Dick Hall of Fame?
Actually… no. No, we shouldn’t. Because even if that slap had never happened, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym, Esq., is in fact a right proper jerk.
1. “Then, you shall know I’m a greater scientist than any of you!”
Ah, spite and ego — where would science be without them? In his very first appearance, we see Pym at a “science convention” telling other scientists he’s working on something big — but he can’t tell them what it is, because it’s a secret. And when he’s ready to share it with the world, he’ll modestly accept their cheers proclaiming him the most awesome science guy ever. Sure enough, he succeeds in perfecting his shrinking and growing serums, but an accidental run-in with some ants convinces him to pour his life’s work down the drain, and he promises the other scientists at their next meeting to focus only on “practical subjects” (which in the early ’60s probably meant creating better napalm bombs and asbestos crib liners). Putting aside the fact that real scientists don’t operate this way, it’s pretty dickish — if not out-and-out stupid — for Pym to go full-on “I’ll show you all!” at a meeting of his colleagues. Maybe those other guys were looking out for you, Hank. Maybe they had genuine concerns about your career, or where your obsessions were leading you. Did you ask them, Hank? Or welcome one of them into your confidence to review your numbers and perhaps save you from perilous situations involving giant ants caused by your own arrogance? No, you didn’t. Because you are a dick.
2. “Obey your leader! The Ant Man commands you!”
I’m cheating a little here because the scene on this cover doesn’t appear in any Ant-Man story, but it’s a good visual to represent his dickishness when it comes to one of his signature powers: his ability to command ants, thanks to a helmet that reads and sends the same electrical impulses that ants use to communicate. His early stories go back and forth on whether the ants follow him into battle willingly, but in either case Ant-Man thinks nothing of sending millions of ants into harm’s way, just so he can score some sweet public adulation. That’s a pretty dick move for someone who once swore he would never step on an anthill again.
3. “No one except me will ever know of their existence!”
Pym’s first story was a one-off affair, a bit of Code-approved horror to fill some pages between ads. So when Lee and company decided to bring him back as a superhero, they had to show Pym changing his mind about destroying the shrinking and enlarging serums. One science montage and hostage crisis later, and Ant-Man was ready for action. So good for him, right? He used science (science!) to invent cool things and he’s now using those things to clean up his city, one bank robber at a time. And all without asking for monetary compensation! What a guy! Except here’s the thing: think back to his first story, when he muses about the possibilities of his shrinking serum. “Anything could be reduced in size and shipped for a fraction of the cost!” he said back then. But then that’s never brought up again. Think about it. Pym could have solved most of the world’s energy, transportation and environmental problems just like that. Instead of millions of ships, planes and trucks burning oil carrying freight every day, we could shrink everything that China manufactures in a month and ship it in one vessel. Or we could shrink all the garbage rotting in the world’s landfills and stuff it into a Tupperware container. Or we could have used his enlarging gas to produce larger crops and eliminate hunger overnight. So many possibilities… which we’ll never get to see because a certain someone would rather play hero and keep his incredible discoveries to himself.
4. “They’ve obeyed my orders to the letter! Now I have an ant hill to land safely on!”
We’ve already seen how willing Ant-Man is to send his “friends” into harm’s way; here’s proof he’s perfectly happy being the source of that harm himself. The writers tackled the question of how Ant-Man travels from place to place by turning him into a tiny human cannonball; he’d figure out where he wanted to be, set the dial on his fancy catapult, and sail through the air (where obviously he had nothing to worry about re: hungry birds, telephone lines or tall buildings getting in the way). Prior to touchdown, he would order his ants to form a living pillow to soften his landing. I am not even remotely kidding. “But he’s so light when he’s tiny!” you might argue. Maybe so, but he still has some mass to him, and that mass hurling at a high rate of speed towards other bodies with similar mass means something is going to get squashed. You can jump off a 10-story building and hope the neat pile of friends’ bodies on the ground will save you; it might, but someone in that pile is going to feel the impact of your landing, exoskeleton or not.
5. “The Ant-Man! But… How —??”
This is how Geoff Johns gets ideas, people. Please do not give Geoff Johns ideas. The set-up: a woman goes to the police station with information about a Communist spy and asks how to contact Ant-Man. Our “hero” hears about her request through his ant network (long story) and finds her getting in her car, so he hides in her purse and makes his presence known when she’s inside her apartment. So many questions. Why wait until she was alone to show himself? Why not approach her in his normal size and spare her the fright? Hell, why not ring her up on the Ant-Phone and arrange a meeting in a public place? Why violate her privacy by rifling through her bag (which, we learn later, is exactly what he does)? What if she had left her purse in the car? What if she’s really pissed at the idea of ants crawling inside her purse? What if someone else was in the room when she arrived and they immediately started making out — would Ant-Man have stayed hidden and watched? “Privacy? Pfft. What’s that?
6. “Must command the ants to board the ship, but not the way I did!”
In that same early adventure, the Communist super-spy gets the drop on Ant-Man and covers him with a glass box before leaving the room to prepare for the ship’s departure for Mother Russia. Yes, there are a few flaws in this spy’s plan, but let’s focus on Ant-Man’s method of escape. He decides he can’t punch his way through the glass (even though he maintains his full-size strength) and he can’t use his enlarging gas to bust his way out (even though he uses it moments after escaping to radio for back-up). So he commands ants on shore to push pieces of wood into the water, use them as rafts, and board the spy’s ship so they can bite the guard’s ankles on the off chance he’ll drop his rifle and smash the glass prison. That seems… unnecessarily convoluted, doesn’t it? I mean, if the ship were a little farther from shore, if the ants’ makeshift rafts couldn’t reach the ship, if the guard didn’t drop his rifle, if the rifle had fallen a bit to the left instead of the right… Dr. Pym is a smart guy and surely would have considered all the ways his plan could have failed, but he went with it anyway. It’s only logical to conclude he considered preserving his strength and stores of enlarging gas as more important than the lives of the ants he risked. Ergo and ipso facto: dick.
7. “The DDT! Hurry! Bring it over here!”
“Wait!” someone is now saying. “Ant-Man isn’t the merciless insect-killer you’re painting him out to be! Remember the Scarlet Beetle? Even after that irradiated, super-intelligent bug tried to take over the world, Dr. Pym took pity on him and returned him to his pre-radiated state, instead of just squashing him!” True, true. But consider this: in that same adventure, Ant-Man sprays a massive amount of DDT on the Scarlet Beetle’s insect infantry. Let me repeat that: a superhero resorts to chemical warfare to kill the mind-controlled minions of his super-villain foe. Never mind the very real potential for pesticide blowback to fall on his own ant “friends,” he’s basically decided that all non-ant insects aren’t worth his time to save. Imagine if Aquaman faced a foe who had turned his finny friends against him, and he decided the only way to save his own skin was to pour a few million gallons of dioxin into the ocean. Aquaman wouldn’t do that. Why? Because Aquaman is not a dick.
8. “Before you arrived here, I covered the mike with microbes… microbes which cause laryngitis!”
So a fellow with a hypnotic voice comes to town and decides Ant-Man is the only one who can stop him, even though Ant-Man is just as susceptible to his super-persuasion powers as everyone else. Don’t ask, just roll with it. After surviving a death-trap set by the Voice of Doom, he sets a trap of his own by forcing the Voice at gunpoint to tell a national television audience that everyone should love and respect Ant-Man. Which is dickish enough as it is, but Ant-Man prevents the Voice from following up with a “Just kidding!” by coating his microphone with germs that give him the world’s most conveniently timed case of laryngitis and takes away his hypnotic powers. Sure, all is fair in love and war… but winning a battle by infecting your opponent? After threatening him with death by gunfire unless he uses his powers to make everyone your biggest fan? That’s just wrong.
9. “I could make them do anything…”
So, what does a scientist-slash-superhero do on his days off? Glad you asked! Apparently, one of Pym’s favorite activities is wandering around the local zoo and fantasizing about which other animals he could control with his cybernetic helmet. So… how long have you been having these control fantasies, Hank? Any other desires we should alert the authorities about? Forget being a dick — we’re moving into dangerous sociopath territory now.
10. “What? Your father…! Oh, come now!”
In “The Creature from Kosmos,” we meet Janet van Dyne for the first time. The daughter of another scientist, she’s an attractive young woman who bears a striking resemblance to Pym’s late wife. Not that it matters, though, because their first meeting lasts all of five minutes, or just long enough for Pym to tell her father he can’t help him with his research. The next time Pym hears from her, she’s calling him in a state of shock, having just discovered her father’s lifeless body in his lab. And what does Pym think when she calls? “These bored society playgirls are all alike! But it’s pretty gruesome for her to get her kicks by making up a horror story about her father!” I mean… Jesus, man. Who gets a call from an obviously distraught person they just met and thinks that? And to add insult to massive psychological injury, he only believes her story when the ants confirm it. But only the male ants, because we know how the lady ants always be trippin’, right, guys? (Sigh.)
11. “I need a partner… and I have chosen her! I am… the Ant-Man!”
And how awesome it would have been if Janet had said in that moment, “I’m sorry… who?” The story that introduces the Wasp begins with Pym moping about how he needs a crime-fighting partner to watch his back. So when he meets with Janet after her father’s horrific murder, are his first thoughts to comfort this traumatized young woman? Does he stop to think that offering someone in an emotionally vulnerable state the chance to beat up evildoers maybe isn’t the best idea? Hell, no! All he’s thinking is, “Yeah, she’ll do. Mind you, she might change her mind next week when the pain of losing her father isn’t so raw, but to hell with that. ‘Cause I got needs, and really, what female wouldn’t be thrilled to know I have chosen her? After all, I am… the Ant-Man!”
12. “All I feel is a tiny pin prick!”
And you better believe that ain’t the last time she said those words, either (rimshot). Okay, so Pym has approached someone in an extremely fragile state with the opportunity to become his crime-fighting partner. There’s no turning back now; she’s all hopped up on vengeance and ready for action. No problem, right? All Pym has to do is give her a spare cybernetic helmet and shrinking-gas capsule and… oh wait, that’s not the plan? We’re going to perform invasive surgery and implant specialized cells in her body in a procedure that hasn’t even been tested? You don’t want to maybe try it out first on a few mice or something before you — yes, of course, you’re right. There’s an alien rampaging through the city; the last thing we want to do is take a minute to see if her body rejects the implants, or spend five minutes practising with her new powers, or something crazy like that. Look at the bright side: if she dies, at least the body will be easy to hide.
13. “Now button those ruby lips until we finish this job!”
Not long after the Wasp appeared, Ant-Man became Giant-Man, the first of several name changes over the years. One thing that didn’t change was his bizarre behaviour towards Janet. Even after she flat-out told him she was falling in love with him, he brushed her off by saying it wasn’t proper for him to love someone so young (but not so young that “performing unlicensed surgery on her person” was off the table, apparently). That was the start of a strange dynamic between them that was aiming for “Hepburn and Tracy romantic banter” but instead hit closer to “the cringe-worthy parts of The Office.” She would make a comment about cute men; he would tell her to grow up. She would complain about his lack of romance; he’d tell her to zip her lips and focus on the job at hand. Even while tied up and barking orders at her to free him, he tells her to “stop yapping” and calls her an “exquisite empty-head” in his thoughts. Really, with an attitude like that it’s a miracle she stuck around long enough for him to wind up his smacking arm.