Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym debuted a full eight months before his Ant-Man persona. He was a scientific explorer who shrank himself down to the point that he was having to fight ants for his survival. Pym would quickly adopt a superhero costume and a helmet to keep the ants from attacking him in his micro form. Through a mix of Pym Particles (his term for the augmentation that allows him to change size) and radio mechanics, Pym would learn to harness the ants as allies. Over the next few months, he found a way to replicate his powers in his socialite girlfriend Jan Van Dyne. She would become The Wasp and join Hank in adventures. Jan and Hank would spent the summer of 1963 as a crime fighting duo before joining the Avengers in the Fall of 1963.
Before we get into Pym’s time as a charter member of The Avengers and all that entails, let’s focus on something that I’ll talk about in the Wasp chapter. Hank’s relationship with Jan was bizarre from the get go. While casual readers wanted to portray the relationship as abusive, I feel that’s an oversimplification of the issue. Jan used Hank to avenge her father’s death, while Hank used Jan to find someone that could understand his new powers. But, all of Hank’s powers and adventures were self inflicted. He talks a good game and Jan goes along with being The Wasp. But, she never stops Hank from taking it one step further. After all, he does shrink her down and surgically graft functional wasp wings into her shoulder blades. How does that sound, ladies? Your man can shrink, but he wants to take that power to graft appendages onto your body.
Hank would join the Avengers and find a distraction away from his psycho sexual experimentation on Jan. After all, Hank know had a Hulk to play with and new friends. Hulk would bail by the second issue, but the scientific exploration never ended. Hank would develop his second superhero identity as Giant Man due to feeling inadequate against Thor and the Hulk. But, that would give away to the Goliath persona. It was meant to tweak the Giant Man formula, but Pym would find himself stuck at a giant size for several issues while showcasing his first visible signs of mental distress. After shedding the Goliath issues, Pym would return to his lab to study the captured Dragon Man body. Hank found himself growing fascinated by the concept of Artificial Intelligence and he wondered if he could tweak the mechanics inside of Dragon Man to create a new state of existence.
The result was Ultron-1. A simple laboratory mechanism that thought Pym was his father and kept addressing him as such. The creation creeped out The Wasp, but the rest of the Avengers paid it no attention. Over the next few issues, Ultron would upgrade itself into the form that the world will recognize from the upcoming “Age of Ultron” film. Ultron would organize a new iteration of the Masters of Evil, while feeling the pangs of fatherhood himself. In an attempt to create a new soldier to serve him, Ultron creates the world’s first synthezoid with captured materials from all over the Marvel Universe’s tech hot spots. The Vision would rebel against Ultron and defeat the robotic tyrant due to feeling more in line with Pym and the Avengers’ quest for world peace.
Pym would sink deeper into his lab work, as a means to make up for the tragedy of Ultron. Due to exposure to a vast amount of chemicals, Pym would develop further mental issues that would cause him to form a sense of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Shortly before his wedding to the Wasp, Hank showed up as a new superhero dubbed Yellowjacket. The Wasp knows who it is and seems kinda turned by the weird identity play. So, she goes along with Yellowjacket’s theatrics and agrees to run off and marry him. While the Wasp and Yellowjacket get married, the Circus of Crime attack and the conflict gives Pym the needed push to break out of his Yellowjacket personality and save his bride.
Dr. Pym would spent the 1970s and the early 80s as part of the Defenders and working as scientific support to the Avengers. He helped to repair The Vision during the early days of the Kree Skrull War, helped to fight Ultron again and eventually joined The Defenders after the core lineup quit. The early 1980s is the era where I first met Hank Pym and it seems to be the touchstone for the modern era writers to keep touching. Years of stress, failure and exposure to toxic chemicals has destroyed Pym’s rational mind. Captain America kicks him out of the Avengers, after Pym repeatedly beats a villain after the man has been defeated. While being removed from the team and facing a potential court-martial due to the Avengers having recently become a branch of the American Government’s defensive structure; Pym decides to build another robot.
The Wasp confronts Pym over how bad of an idea it is and Pym accidentally strikes her. The panel above has been an issue of great debate for the last thirty plus years. Original writer Jim Shooter says that the artist misinterpreted his writing for the panel and played the hit to be way bigger than it was. Shooter said it was meant to be a violent brush-off, as Pym worked on Salvation-1. That being said, it’s hard to look at this now canon panel and see it for anything else. Pym struck Jan hard, while trying to stage a false-flag attack against the Avengers. Captain America moves to permanently throw Hank out of the Avengers and The Wasp divorces Hank. The Wasp gets the book money, the patents and the amassed wealth of Hank.
This leads Hank into various predicaments, as he spends most of the 1980s penniless and without purpose. Pym eventually finds his way onto the West Coast Avengers, where he mentors the team and begins romancing Tigra. While with the young heroine Firebird and the West Coast team, Pym starts to realize his problems and how he got to this point. Englehart did amazing work with the character, as Pym talks himself away from suicide and back into what made him a hero. In time, Pym and The Wasp reconnect and start to rebuild their relationship. Pym takes on the Giant Man persona again, as he rejoins the Avengers to help Cap and company beat Ultron. During the “Ultron Unleashed” storyline, Pym comes face-to-face with his worst creation and reveals the truth behind the robot’s evil. Ultron’s thought patterns are based on Pym’s agitated and depressed brain. Pym feels that everything bad about him as a person is manifest in everything that Ultron does against the world.
Dr. Pym would spend the early 00s rekindling his relationship with The Wasp, but it died off quickly. Unbeknownst to Wasp, Pym had been replaced by a Skrull Invader as part of “Secret Invasion”. Pym spent most of the time after the Skrull Invasion having to make sense of what happened during the months he was in captivity. The Skrull Invader had memories of his relationship with Tigra and spent the time knocking up Tigra and siring a tiger cub with her. See the panel above for the sticky paternity situation that the event entailed. The weird fatherhood issues didn’t get a chance to resolve, as The Wasp died saving the planet from the final efforts of the Skrull Invasion. Hank took on Jan’s code name as a means of honoring her and then worked with his Jocasta unit (think Vision personality with female Ultron look) to rebuild his version of The Avengers.
In time, Pym would become recognized as Dr. Strange’s scientific equal by the greater cosmos. Now dubbed the Scientist Supreme, Pym would use this new sense of empowerment to help form the Avengers Academy and work with various Artificial Intelligence around Marvel to fight the sins of his past. This would be short-lived, as Pym would have to fight Ultron again. Whether it was the after effects of the “Age of Ultron” event or his return on the moon of Titan. Pym wasn’t done with Ultron until he forced his creation to merge with him. Former Avenger Starfox used his powers of romantic empathy to force the newly merged Pym/Ultron to love itself. Pym took control of the unit and flung itself into deep space to die. This time, The Wasp got to hold the funeral for Hank, as he finally overcame his greatest fear and worst creation.