If there’s a Charlie Brown of the Marvel Universe, it would have to be Dr. Henry Johnathan “Hank” Pym.
You wouldn’t think he was cursed. He was created by the same superstar team of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby that launched an entire universe of popular superheroes. He debuted at the beginning of the Marvel Universe along with Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Man and HULK. He was a founding member of The Avengers. He wasn’t partnered with some dumb kid, but with a vivacious and attractive woman that he would ultimately marry.
And yet things never worked out for poor Hank Pym.
This is his story.
Let’s Get Small — Then Large
Created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Stan’s brother Larry, Hank Pym made his comics debut in a short-story, “The Man in the Ant-Hill,” in Tales to Astonish #27. This wasn’t a superhero story, it was one of those silly, sci-fi-with-a-twist-at-the-end tales that Marvel cranked out on a regular basis.
It was published a few months after the debut of Fantastic Four and with the success of that comic, Marvel was now in the superhero business. Looking around for someone else to turn into a superhero, Lee remembered scientist Hank Pym and his talent for making himself really small.
Ant-Man made his debut eight issues later in Tales to Astonish #35. Pym, you see, had discovered “Pym Particles,” a substance (at one time a serum, later a gas) that allowed him to shrink down to, well, ant size. He also developed cybernetic technology that allowed him to communicate with ants through a stylish helmet.
Nine issues later Hank was given a partner. When young socialite Janet Van Dyne’s father is killed by an alien menace, Hank shares his shrinking talent with her. In addition, he gives her a pair of wings that grow when she shrinks, and lo, a Wasp is born. Jan, of course, is smitten with the handsome scientist, but Hank doesn’t have time for romance.
Shortly thereafter, Ant-Man and The Wasp team up with Iron Man, Thor and HULK to form The Avengers. Hank quickly realizes that being an Ant-Man isn’t really going to cut it when standing next to Iron Man, Thor and HULK, so by the second issue of Avengers he has figured out a way to reverse the growth process and now goes by the name and identity of Giant-Man.
Hank and Jan continued to be the stars of Tales to Astonish up until issue 60, when they had to share the title with HULK. HULK had debuted in his own title, which was canceled after 6 issues. When he came asking for a home in Giant-Man’s comic, well, who says “no” to HULK?
By the 69th issue of TTA, Hank and Jan were tossed out and the book was given over to HULK. Hank would never have an ongoing solo title again, making him the only Lee-Kirby character created during the dawn of Marvel to be such a failure.
Hank and Jan found a home in The Avengers, and had a good run there throughout the ’60s. Hank and Jan had left the group in issue 16 along with Thor and Iron Man, but with their own title canceled, they returned to the team in issue 28. It was during this time that Hank changed his super name from Giant-Man to Goliath.
Things Get Crazy
In 1968 Hank had his second great breakthrough in science. He creates an artificial intelligence that becomes Ultron, one of the greatest menaces in Avengers history.
Shortly thereafter comes one of the stupidest, most bizarre stories in Avengers history. One night while working in his lab, Hank knocks over some chemicals, which, when breathed in, causes him to develop a new personality. Now going by the name Yellowjacket, Hank shows up at Avengers mansion claiming to have killed Goliath and wanting to take his place in the Avengers. Needless to say, the team has no interest in admitting for membership someone who just claimed to have killed a founder.
Yellowjacket responds by kidnapping Jan and taking her to his secret hideout. He tells her he intends to marry her and forcibly kisses her. Once kissed, Jan realizes that Yellowjacket is actually Hank. Rather than try to snap him out of it, she agrees to marry him! After all, she’s been with Hank for years an he’s shown no interest in matrimony — this may be her only chance.
They go ahead with the wedding and Jan doesn’t tell anyone what’s really going on — the rest of the Avengers are angry and confused, as you’d well imagine. But then the Circus of Crime (yes, the Circus of Crime) crash the reception and Hank snaps out of it in time to grow to giant size and stop a giant snake from eating Jan. Hank and Jan go off on their honeymoon as if this was no big deal.
Nothing much of significance happens with Hank and Jan throughout the ’70s. Hank stays in his Yellowjacket identity most of that time, occasionally changing to Ant-Man for no reason. He and Jan are not with the Avengers during most of this era.
They rejoin the team in the ’80s and Hank has another bad turn of luck. Feeling inferior to his comrades, Hank tries to come up with a way to look good to his teammates. In a moment of anger, he slaps Jan (The writer claims the artist made the scene more violent than he intended). Hank gets labeled a wife-beater, Jan divorces him, Hank is expelled from the Avengers.
Hank is eventually redeemed but his relationship with Jan is never the same. Mainly because writers can’t decide what to do with them. One writer will get them back together, the next writer will break them up, and back and forth it goes. Currently Hank and Jan are not a couple.
All New, All Different Ant-Man
Hank Pym was never very protective of his former identities. For a while, Clint Barton (Hawkeye) took on the Goliath identity. His lab assistant also played at being Goliath for a time. The role of Yellowjacket was briefly played by a woman.
In 1979, thief Scott Lang stole Hank’s Ant-Man costume so that he could use it to save the life of his daughter. Despite his checkered past, Hank decided Lang was a good guy so he let him keep the suit. Scott became the new Ant-Man. He wandered around not doing much, guest-starring here and there, he eventually joined the Avengers but was killed shortly thereafter by the Scarlet Witch. He got better.
Meanwhile, Hank and Jan continue life as second-tier superheroes. Hank goes back to being Giant-Man for a while, then he dumps it all to become Hank Pym: Scientific Adventurer, then he goes back to being Giant-Man, then Jan dies and Hank for a brief time starts calling himself The Wasp (seriously) but then Jan gets better and at last reference Hank was back to being Giant Man.
In Part Two: Hank and Jan get left behind when Hollywood comes calling