We continue our journey into the COMICS 101 Vault with part III of our Ant-Man coverage…
By the late 1970s, and early 80s, Hank Pym as Yellowjacket had settled into a standard supporting role in AVENGERS and other Marvel books like DEFENDERS and MARVEL TEAM-UP. As time went on, Pym began to fall into periods of tension and depression, feeling that his scientific research had ground to a halt since his discovery of the Pym Particles, as well as being wracked with guilt over his creation of Ultron, and an increasing sense of inadequacy compared to his wife, who besides being the principal means of support in the marriage due to her inheritance from her dead father, had achieved considerable success in her own career as a fashion designer, as well as eclipsing Pym’s career as a superhero, what with her consistent service in the Avengers while Pym had numerous periods of retirement and inactivity. In the midst of another breakdown, Pym began to be verbally abusive towards the Wasp while attempting to redeem himself through renewed service in the Avengers as Yellowjacket. Things came to a head on an Avengers mission, when Yellowjacket blasted an enemy, whom Captain America was attempting to negotiate with, in the back.
Hoping to make himself look good at the court-martial hearing, the increasingly unstable Pym created a giant robot programmed to attack the Avengers, which only he would know how to defeat. When Janet discovered his plan, the now-deranged Pym, at his lowest point, strikes her across the face.
Not only was Yellowjacket’s plan painfully transparent at the court-martial hearing, it also backfires, as his robot is about to kill him before Janet stops it. You’d think Pym would have learned his lesson about robots…
Expelled from the Avengers, divorced from Janet and penniless, Pym is manipulated by his old enemy Egghead into stealing the unbreakable metal adamantium from a government facility. In the course of the robbery, Pym nearly defeats the Avengers (including Thor, Iron Man and Captain America – a formidable team) before a confrontation with his ex-wife proves his undoing.
Pym is unable to prove that Egghead forced him into the robbery, and is sent to prison on charges of treason (at one point seeing his ex-wife in the tabloids being romanced by teammate and ladykiller Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. Ouch.).
When it comes time for Pym’s trial, he’s kidnapped (although it looks like a prearranged escape) by the Masters of Evil (a gang of Avengers foes) at the behest of Pym’s old foe Egghead, who wants Pym to create a machine to grant him eternal life. Pym agrees, and soon shows Egghead the finished device, inviting the criminal to try it out. The suspicious Egghead makes Pym use the machine first, just as Pym had anticipated. Pym had loaded the machine with weapons and methods to defeat the Masters of Evil, whom he summarily trounces.
Pym decks Egghead, and turns to leave, to turn himself in to the authorities, when Egghead pulls a gun. The just-arriving Hawkeye the Marksman fires an arrow into the gun, which backfires, saving Pym but killing Egghead.
Henry Pym is cleared of all charges thanks to the evidence in Egghead’s lair, but refuses to return to the Avengers, stating that his superhero career had got him into this mess, and cost him his marriage, and he would never return to it.
Not long after, Pym accepted a post as operations manager for the Avengers’ Los Angeles-based West Coast division, but still refused to return to action. While serving with the West Coast Avengers, Pym sank into another deep depression, spurred by his general feelings of uselessness from his stalled career and failed marriage, and the death of Ultron-12, a version of Ultron who had grown past his hatred of Pym and considered him a loving father. Pym was about to commit suicide, were it not for the intervention of Firebird, a West-Coast-based hero who had been assisting the West Coast Avengers on recent missions.
The spiritually minded Firebird talks Pym down off the ledge, and helps him find a way to combine the successes of his past into a new direction. Accordingly, Pym decides to return to action in the Avengers under his own name (occasionally referred to by verbose writer Steve Englehart as “Doctor Pym, Scientific Adventurer!” Yeesh.), and with a new approach.
Rather than shrinking or growing himself, Pym uses the buildup of Pym Particles in his system to shrink and grow other objects. It’s a pretty interesting reversal, one I always liked. Not only would Pym shrink enemies or weapons used against him, but he would carry a virtual arsenal of weapons and equipment (everything from a blaster rifle to handcuffs to an Avengers Quinjet) around with him, which he would grow to a usable size as needed.
It’s an amusing notion: “What do you need? An operating table? No problem! Prison cells? No problem! A Pontiac Aztek? No problem!” The new Doctor Pym had also sworn off costumes, choosing to go into battle in a less-than-intimidating Doctor Who-like suit-fedora-and-scarf combo, but this was quickly dispensed with in favor of a red jumpsuit covered with pockets, which sure looked like a costume to me.
Pym also proved he still hadn’t learned a thing by creating R.O.V.E.R., his robot sidekick which also doubled as a one-man hovercraft. Pym claimed he had only given R.O.V.E.R. the intelligence level of a faithful dog, so it was completely safe, but anyone with a little knowledge of Pym’s past was surely just waiting for the day that R.O.V.E.R. snapped and started killing Avengers left and right.
The “Doctor Pym” identity remained in use until the early ‘90s, when later writers had Pym regain his ability to increase in size, and he returned to the Giant-Man identity. But we’ll get to that next time…