Marvel's Latest Movie Hero, Ant-Man, Abused His Wife

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The next Marvel superhero to get his own movie is Ant-Man, a.k.a. Hank Pym, a genius and an Avenger with the ability to change the size of his body. The feat he's most known for however, is actually pretty unheroic: in the 1980s, Pym struck his wife—the single act that's defined Pym for many comic readers. 

Pym hit his wife, The Wasp, during a story arc in which he was going to semi-betray the Avengers in an attempt to get back their trust  (The Guardian's Ben Child has a recap of the complicated plot):

Originally, writers had not planned for Pym to be an abuser. Jim Shooter, who wrote the Avengers wife-hitting storyline, explained in a blog post that the backhand was supposed to be an accident:

In that story (issue 213, I think), there is a scene in which Hank is supposed to have accidentally struck Jan while throwing his hands up in despair and frustration—making a sort of  "get away from me" gesture while not looking at her.  Bob Hall, who had been taught by John Buscema to always go for the most extreme action, turned that into a right cross! There was no time to have it redrawn, which, to this day has caused the tragic story of Hank Pym to be known as the '"wife-beater” story.

Also fascinating is Shooter's psychological profile of Pym:

His history was largely a litany of failure, always changing guises and switching back and forth from research to hero-ing because he wasn’t succeeding at either. He was never the Avenger who saved the day at the end and usually the first knocked out or captured ... Meanwhile, his rich, beautiful wife succeeded in everything she tried. She was also always flitting around his shoulders, flirting, saying things to prop up his ego.  

In other words, Pym is a failure, frustrated by his perfect wife. That by no means excuses Pym's actions, yet it does try explaining the roots of Pym's terrible act. We should also note that Pym and his writers have tried multiple times to say sorry for his actions. 

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The Ant-Man's inexcusable behavior has been expanded upon by other writers more recently. In an alternate storyline, The Ultimate Marvel version of Pym (the "same" character set in a different timeline and universe) is a notorious abuser, spraying his wife with Raid (it's designed to kill bugs, and she's The Wasp, after all), and siccing his ants to attack her

With the announcement that the Ant-Man movie is coming in 2015, and pre-production beginning in October, there's now more pressure on Marvel — as well as the Ant-Man movie's director, Edgar Wright — to explain how much of Pym's domestic abuse storyline will be explored in the movie. Marvell will have to portray Pym's actions without glorifying them.

Or, it might try to evade them altogether. Wright, who's known for comedies like Shaun of the Dead and The World's End, has already promised a more comedic take on Ant-Man. All the way back during ComicCon 2012, Wright playfully said "Ant-Man will kick your ass, one inch at a time" and introduced a test reel with plenty of humor. Weaving a domestic abuse storyline into a comedic superhero movie sounds difficult. Speculation suggests it could even be dropped altogether.

Wright and Marvel are also paring down the hero's involvement in the Avengers (despite fans clamoring for his inclusion in the first movie), and will not have Pym interacting with the rest of the Marvel universe. "It is pretty standalone in the way we're linking it to the others," Wright told Indiewire last week.

What it sounds like we're left with (at the moment) is a baggage-less Pym, and breathing room for Wright to play with Pym's storyline. But scrubbing away Pym's past, while convenient, also does a disservice to comic readers — and, more importantly, to the subject of domestic abuse. 

Pym's abuse could engender an important conversation about violence against women. Pym has defenders (sort of), even more opponents, but also a lot of people just asking why—sparking debates about the portrayal of other superheroes who have hit their significant others (see: Peter Parker; Reed Richards). Josh Flanagan of iFanboy has a strong  reaction that is surely shared by many fans:

To my mind, spousal abuse is just something too real to live down and chalk up to fiction. It’s a charge people don’t usually recover from, right up there with murderer or pedophile. You don’t do it. Even if you do it once, that’s it, because it means that it’s in you. That capability is always there, and it can become unlocked once more if the right kind of stress and pressure are applied. Because of that, the character of Hank Pym is irreparably broken.

Comic books are at their best when they provoke serious conversation. The X-Men have continually been a means for writers to talk about AIDS, race, and homosexuality, just as Wonder Woman is a way to talk about feminism and Batman about law, order and society. Pym's attack on his wife, intentional or not, is in this same vein. And while scrubbing this ugly part of Pym's history could make it easier for Wright to give us a more enjoyable movie we want, it could also rob us of the movie we need.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.