It is a little reminiscent of Alan Partridge’s repreated “So I had the last laugh”. But Jim Shooter continues to travel through his history in comics putting right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be…
Anyway, onto the storyline that turned Hank Pym into a wife beater. He writes;
Back in 1981 I was writing the Avengers. Hank Pym aka Yellowjacket was married to Janet Van Dyne aka The Wasp and things had not been going well for him for a long time.
Before I embarked on the storyline that led to the end of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne’s marriage, I reread every single appearance of both characters. 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. His most notable “achievement” in the lab was creating Ultron. 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.
As I was developing the storyline, I discussed the potential pathology of their relationship with a psychologist who happened to be sitting next to me on a five-hour flight. The story made sense, he thought. I went ahead with it. During the time the story was running, I got a great deal of hate mail. It worried me enough to ask Stan what he thought. He said he got the same kind of mail in the ‘60’s regarding Peter Parker’s various romantic travails. He asked me how Avengers sales were doing. They were in fact, increasing by 10,000 copies per issue. Stan said that people obviously cared passionately about what was happening to Hank and Janet, as if they were real people. That’s the key. And he said, “Don’t worry about the mail.”
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.
When that issue came out, Bill Sienkiewicz came to me upset that I hadn’t asked him to draw it! He saw the intent right through Hall’s mistake, and was moved enough by the story to wish he’d had the chance to do it properly.
By the way, I was too busy to finish the story, so Roger Stern took over two-thirds of the way through. I thought he did a great job. He’s an excellent writer who doesn’t get enough credit.
I want to see that used in a court of law. “I didn’t mean to hit her, I was just going for an extreme action and I didn’t have time for anyone to redraw it…”
In this week’s Marvel column at CBR, Tom Brevoort writes;
For example, we’ve spent years trying, but the audience will not forgive Hank Pym for striking the Wasp. That’s the moment in that character’s history that looms the largest and probably will forever. And when they did the Ultimate version of Hank Pym, that’s what they went right to. That’s what people think of when they think of that character — he’s a guy that grows and hits his wife. And no matter how many times creators have tried to redeem the character and put him back on a noble, heroic path and have him express his sorrow and express how he and Jan have moved on past that moment — and quite honestly, most of the people who dislike these attempts haven’t even read that story or understood that moment within the context of the original story, which was “Hank is having a nervous breakdown and is not in his right mind” — that became what the character is about. And part of that is because that was the most interesting thing that had ever happened to that character, and so that really cemented it. Any number of creative teams since then have struggle mightily trying to get that moment to be overcome, including myself, and nobody’s been able to outperform the gravity of it. But that’s sort of the rare exception. Most everything else is fixable. But that rule’s not quite absolute.
UPDATE: In the comments below, artist Bob Hall gave his side of the story;
I never heard Jim’s side of the story. He never said he didn’t like the slap panel — on the other hand, I can’t imagine that he did. I would never have drawn that panel two or three years later and I certainly wouldn’t draw it now the way I did then.
There were two or three things operable when I drew that issue.
1. I didn’t like the the story. I didn’t hate Jim’s writing or the plot or that it advanced the characters etc. It’s just that I was getting to do The Avengers and I wasn’t crazy about Hank Pym having a breakdown. It was relatively early in my career and I wanted to draw the Avengers that I loved. A few years later I would have jumped at the chance but not right then. That means I didn’t have an affinity for the story and should probably have turned it down or at least discussed this with Jim. But I didn’t. I was trying to be a pro and do my job.
2. I was I wasn’t really a pro at that point. I was a fan with some skill. I could not have drawn the panel the way JIm wanted it. In fact, I remember re-drawing that particular panel several times — not for JIm but because I didn’t like the results. The final panel was the point where I gave up and thought — I know how to do Marvel action — I’ll make it Marvel action cause nothing else I’ve done seems right either. This particular assignment — the Hank Pym story, convinced me that I needed to go off and learn to draw. I started taking life drawing classes etc. in an effort to be able to do something more subtle than the pseudo Buscema/ Kirby stuff I had been doing and doing badly. I was just not able to produce what I wanted to produce. I think by the time I got to Squadron Supreme I was doing some stuff that at least seemed to have some humanity.
3. Even at the point of doing Squadron I was slow as molasses. Why I kept getting group books is beyond me. While I was doing Avengers that time I was even worse and as I kept trying to do the “character arcs” that JIm was developing I kept redrawing and redrawing. I don’t remember but I can’t imagine the book wasn’t late.
4. I have no memory of how the panel was described in the synopsis but the Marvel method gave you lot of lee way. What I interpreted then might have been quite different from how I would look at it now. I can’t imagine Shooter would not have asked for a re-draw had there been time.
I hope this clarifies things a bit. I’m not ashamed of the issue — I did the best I could then — but I in this instance, I don’t doubt Jim’s story