Aside from “Who would win in a fight?”, no debate gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether or not superheroes should marry. In this mini-feature, former Bride Rebecca Henely-Weiss and Bride-to-Be Kayleigh Hearn take a trip down memory lane to the most significant times comic companies took the plunge and got their characters hitched! Did we like the couple? Did we like the dress? And more importantly . . . why did (or didn’t) the marriage last? Today we look at the wedding of Janet Van Dyne and Hank Pym!
Content Warning: Discussion of domestic abuse.
The Couple: Janet Van Dyne and Hank Pym
The Issue: Avengers #60
Published: January 1969
Today: Oh, dear … Well, Hank and Jan’s marriage deteriorated pretty quickly after he clocked her across the face decades ago. While the couple has dated on and off (and had really weird sex —NSFW link!) since the divorce, it’s never been quite the same.
Rebecca: In the upcoming film Ant-Man and The Wasp, the titular duo behind the masks are Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne, neither of whom were the original Ant-Man or Wasp or even worked together in the comic books. (Actually, Hope’s comic book equivalent is an alternate reality future character set up as Scott’s daughter’s villainous rival and I will never be over that.) Yet positioning them as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s versions of the heroes may have been the better plan given Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne’s history, which is very … rocky, this wedding included.
Kayleigh: It’s a safe bet that Scott Lang would never have had his own movie if Pym’s violent past (and the “MCU’s Newest Hero Hits His Wife! PICS INSIDE” clickbait that would have followed casting him as the lead) hadn’t made him completely unpalatable to Disney execs. Unfortunately, this also resulted in Jan being erased from the Avengers’ MCU history and fridged in a flashback as a flimsy excuse for why her daughter isn’t actually the hero of the movie. We’re getting Michelle Pfeiffer as Jan in the sequel and there’s a new Pym daughter fighting crime as The Wasp in the comics, but … actively thinking about this family is depressing, so let’s get this over with.
Rebecca: Let me be honest. I was born in 1984 and have never known a time where Hank and Jan weren’t “the wife beater couple.” Every once in a while I’ve seen people push back against that characterization. Jim Shooter, who wrote the issue (Avengers #213) where Hank hits Janet in the midst of a Yellowjacket breakdown, said artist Bob Hall drew the scene more dramatically than he intended. Fans have argued that other characters have done similar things and recovered, like Peter Parker accidentally knocking back Mary Jane shortly after he was told he was a clone or the hot mess that is Black Canary and Green Arrow’s relationship. But I think the trouble is that while there are fans who are still pissed about Scott Summers abandoning Madelyne Pryor shortly after Jean Grey was revealed to be alive, future X-Men authors didn’t lean into the “Scott Summers, cad” characterization (or at least didn’t for many years). Janet and Hank seemed to be written as somewhat dysfunctional after the incident until the Ultimate universe eventually leaned into the characterization, depicting Hank attacking her with ants until she went into anaphylactic shock.
And while I hesitate to imply that Mark Millar’s edgelord nonsense was the natural endpoint to the couple’s portrayal in earlier issues, I do wonder if part of the reason why Hank and Jan’s relationship inspired writers to make them worse instead of better was because it had always been beset with fights and Jan trying to make Hank jealous by flirting with other men. For two characters made for each other, in their early issues they always seem to be driven by an especially large level of conflict. Also, this issue itself doesn’t make them look very stable.
Kayleigh: Silver Age Hank and Jan certainly aren’t the only “classic” Marvel couple of that era marred by distressing levels of sexism and paternalism. But while writers have worked over decades to make, say, Reed and Sue’s relationship much more equal, it’s interesting that Marvel actually went deeper into the toxicity of Hank and Jan’s relationship instead of pulling away from it. Earth-616 Hank and Jan are a big ol’ cautionary tale of what happens when two characters’ worst personality traits (Hank’s callousness and hubris, Jan’s narcissism) are emphasized and no one gets the psychiatric care they desperately need.
Rebecca: Avengers #60 begins with Janet Van Dyne having announced her intention to wed Yellowjacket, the costumed criminal who claims to have murdered her unofficial fiance, Hank Pym. There are a lot of Frozen-esque “You can’t marry a guy you just met!” conversations from horrified Avengers, but Janet brushes them aside and goes through with the wedding. Unfortunately, The Circus of Crime disguise themselves as the caterers and infiltrate the reception. A battle breaks out that doesn’t completely turn around until Yellowjacket sees Janet in danger and grows to giant size, revealing himself to be Goliath. Hank later explains that he never died—a lab accident triggered schizophrenia and inspired him to create his Yellowjacket identity in an attempt to turn himself into someone that Janet would love. Janet reveals that she figured out Yellowjacket was Hank when he kissed her, and that it doesn’t matter who he married her as, it’s still legal. Happy ending!
We’ve covered some dysfunctional couples on this column before, but I’m still floored that Janet Van Dyne decided to spend the Happiest Day of Her Life (™) essentially trolling her friends. There is a precedent for Janet being a self-centered weirdo, but it is still mind-blowing that this is how it all happened. Oh, and Hank’s ideal man for Janet being a braggart who gets into endless pissing conflicts also raises a lot of questions.
Kayleigh: Jan taking advantage of Hank’s accident-induced schizophrenia to get him to finally marry her is, like, evil. I’m flabbergasted by this comic. The way the marriage ended has probably had a bigger impact on these characters than the way it began, so it’s staggering to read the “happy ending” and realize that a lot of the red flags (particularly in issue #59, where Yellowjacket is presented as a physical threat to Jan) were not intended to be red flags at all.
Rebecca: I’m having trouble deciding whether I like or dislike this issue. I want to respect the audacity of it on a certain level, and the battle between the Avengers and the Circus is fun. On the other hand, all of the Avengers are really combative and condescending to each other in this issue and that makes it hard to just kick back and enjoy the nonsense. Hawkeye is the worst—I can understand his skepticism over the situation, but he’s just such a jerk. At least untie Jarvis before you go back to the battle, you monster!
Kayleigh: I can’t be too hard on Hawkeye, since his “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” reaction to Jan marrying Hank’s presumed murderer is the only thing resembling a genuine human emotion here. Honestly, the comic this most reminded me of wasn’t any of our previous Wedding Issues but the rightfully reviled Avengers #200, where Ms. Marvel gives birth to her rapist and the Avengers’ collective response to her obvious psychological distress is “Congrats, Carol! When can we play ball with the little slugger?” Like, take Hank to the hospital, assholes! Get him help before something terrible happens! Something terrible DOES happen!
Rebecca: I do know I love Janet’s dress, however. I’m probably harder on some of the more out-of-fashion dresses featured in this column than I should be. I would never have chosen a dress with a trumpet waist and puff shoulders ending in pointed sleeves in the 2010s but John Buscema renders it beautifully here. The gravity-defying veil with the flower crown and sparkles is especially pretty. I’m not going to be too hard on this issue for having the guys wear their superhero costumes because it’s important to the plot, although I do give Susan Richards props for wearing a dress. (Not like Crystal, who shows up in a Fantastic Four suit and then complains she’s not the one getting married—it’s not about you, Crystal!)
Kayleigh: Hold your horses, Crystal, we’ll get to your two ill-fated marriages soon enough. I also liked Jan’s dress quite a bit; it’s absolutely of its time, but it’s still quite glamorous and classic. Considering Jan’s career as a fashion designer, it would have been easy to laugh if she was put in something plain or dowdy or hideous, but John Buscema did her justice. Sue, weirdly, looks like she’s wearing an 80s prom dress—”Invisible Girls Just Want to Have Fun?”
Rebecca: I have to say Buscema and author Roy Thomas kind of dropped the ball on the cameos, though. There’s this huge spread which shows the Fantastic Four, original five X-Men, and solo heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange attended the wedding, but they do absolutely nothing during the fight. Also, if the Circus of Crime were pretending to be the caterers, why didn’t anyone ask about the food before they cut the cake? Did they just decide to do that before dinner? What gives?
Kayleigh: The Circus of Crime is the only thing about this comic that made me smile. Vision shoots a heat ray at an evil clown! A giant python erupts out of the wedding cake, which is in no way a metaphor for this horrible marriage! As for the guests, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas’s note assuring us that none of the heroes are drinking alcohol during this psychological horror story feels like the 60’s version of all those Marvel comics today where you can show Wolverine disemboweling a guy in graphic detail but you can’t say “shit.”
Rebecca: Sometimes when we look back at the wedding day of a comics couple whose love went horribly awry, the issue itself takes on a level of pathos the creators never intended. With this comic, I felt like the abusive end to their relationship only made this deeply weird comic look even more disturbing. Still, I have to wonder what the heck Thomas and Buscema were going for at all with this one. Romance is marrying your post-mental breakdown boyfriend who everyone thinks is dead under very compromised circumstances? I … I just don’t know what to say anymore. What is this relationship, anyway? How the hell did this all happen?
Kayleigh: I hesitate to say this is a bad comic—good John Buscema art can carry a book pretty far—but it has bad ideas about a bad relationship. Can I ask: why is Hank Pym still a thing? I’ve read the arguments from fans that defining him by his worst moment is reductive, or that it’s hypocritical of Marvel to bury similar incidents (like the aforementioned Spider-Man and MJ scene) without the heroes facing any consequences. But this is a character who has physically abused his wife in two different universes, why do we still have to read comics where Pym plays the tortured hero, or see sanitized versions of him in cartoons or on movie screens? There are two other Ant-Men and at least three other dudes named Goliath, we don’t actually need to keep telling Hank Pym stories.
Anyway, Avengers #60 was a difficult read, because a lot of the plot devices we remember fondly in Silver Age comics (secret double and triple identities, a gang’s-all-here superhero wedding, heroes fighting one of their own) feel ominous and twisted by our knowledge of future events. Hank and Jan are both pretty monstrous here, and unfortunately it only gets worse.