This is a pivotal issue in the lives of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, changing how both characters and their relationship were seen from this point on. It also contains some significant reflection on the part of Captain America and other members of the Avengers, and puts Cap in the unique situation of holding a friend and teammate accountable for his mistakes.
WARNING: There are images and discussion of domestic violence in this post.
The issue does not waste any time, getting to the heart of the matters on this first page. Cap lets Iron Man and Thor speaks for him while he focuses on maintaining a very wide stance. (Did he ride a horse to work that day? I have no idea.)
In case you missed the last issue, Cap summarizes the charges against Hank…
…for which Hank has no excuse. He does have an explanation, but it’s a damning one that he’s rightly ashamed to admit to his friends and teammates. However, it does demonstrate that Hank is aware of his insecurities, even it doesn’t prevent him from acting rashly on them later in this very issue.
After Thor announces that the court-martial will be held in three days, Hank leaves, and the Avengers Prime end the meeting on a rather ambivalent note.
(I’m not sure when these three became enshrined as the “prime” Avengers, as in the title of the 2010-11 miniseries, but this seems like a fine candidate, as is the cover to Avengers #92, even if those were actually Skrulls.)
After Cap leaves, he begins to question his response to Hank’s actions, and his mind travels back to World War II and a near-fatal mistake of his own.
Not to interrupt, but my impression was always that Cap never saw combat as Private First Class Steve Rogers, his posting being merely a cover to keep him close to the action and the military brass. Also, wouldn’t he have entered the fray as Cap earlier, perhaps before the rest of his unit was killed? Very odd.
Yes, wonderful, but again, this might have been more effective had he done it sooner.
His exposition below highlights how, early in his time in costume, Cap acted on impulse and adrenaline in battle, far from the calm and rational combatant that we think of today, which led to what happened next.
As with the case of the 1950s Captain America, the victim of a flawed Project Rebirth treatment, Cap wonders if mere luck separates him from Hank.
Of course, we know from Hank’s thoughts that his mistake wasn’t bad luck or impulse, but a result of jealousy, resentment, and insecurity… consistent with Iron Man’s own recounting of Hank’s troubled history as a superhero, the last part of which is shown below.
This reminds us that, in addition to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and jealousy, Hank Pym has also shown signs of mental illness (such as schizophrenia)—all of which Tony Stark is very sympathetic about, perhaps reflecting his own struggles with alcoholism.
Whereas Cap is more likely to see Hank’s behavior as either the result of a character flaw or simply bad luck, Tony is better positioned to see it as signs of a troubled soul, consistent with his telling Cap during the “Civil War” that he can’t see human error because he doesn’t experience it himself.
(That’s from Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War #1, December 2006, by Christos N. Gage, Jeremy Haun, Mark Morales, and Morry Hollowell. It’s one of my favorite single issues, quoted at length in both my Captain America and Civil War books, and I imagine the eventual blog post on it will be quite substantial.)
When the day of the court-martial arrives, Cap has a rare moment of self-doubt—not about what he must do, which he regards as a matter of duty, but whether he’ll be strong enough to go through with it.
He also recognizes that, even though he is responsible for prosecuting the case, the final decision is not up to him, and he hopes nonetheless that decision is in Hank’s favor. (Is it reading too much into this to say that Cap recognizes that mercy is an integral part of justice?)
WARNING: The next section features domestic violence.
And what has Hank been up to the last three days? Just building a robot strong enough to defeat the Avengers—a robot that only he knows how to stop, so he can prove to the team that he’s worthy to be a member. Because of course that’s what he’s going to do.
As Hank continues to explain and justify his plan, Janet implores him to abandon his plan, and he lashes out violently.
Ironically, given his plan to use the robot to earn redemption, Hank Pym’s legacy became defined by this act of violence against his wife Janet. (For what it’s worth, writer Jim Shooter maintains that he meant the blow to be an accident but it was misinterpreted by the artist. See also this piece by Duy Tano that considers this incident in the context of Hank’s entire life, including later events such as establishing domestic violence centers in Janet’s name.)
I would be remiss if I did not point out, in the strongest terms possible, that we should not conflate mental illness with domestic violence. Although the two may be connected in specific cases (perhaps including Hank’s), they are two separate concepts. Conflating the two results in increased stigma, fear, and misunderstanding of the mentally ill, and also minimizes the abuse of partners and spouses (who may themselves experience symptoms of mental illness as a result).
When Hank and Janet arrive at the court-martial—Jan in large sunglasses to hide her black eye—the rest of the Avengers seem to share Cap’s hopes for an acquittal, but Hank does not help his case with his sarcasm.
Iron Man starts the proceedings by laying out the roles of the participants, then turning to Cap to make the case against Hank. Although he acknowledges that it may have been an honest mistake, Cap argues that superheroes must hold themselves to the highest levels of accountability, given the stakes of their actions. (During the Civil War, Cap would use this line of reasoning, and proceedings like this, as a defense against government oversight.)
After Cap is done, Iron Man none too subtly offers Hank a way out. Does he take it? Reader, he does not.
After Iron Man begs him to stop embarrassing himself by blaming everyone else, Hank appeals the last person he should look to, and when she looks up, her teammates get the entire picture. (Unfortunately, we only see Thor’s reaction, but we can safely assume it’s representative.)
Seeing his cause lost, Hank chooses to escalate matters by summoning his robot, which is more formidable than he expected—see also Ultron—and overpowers Hank himself, rendering him incapable of stopping it. This leaves it up to Janet, once again, to save him and the team.
When the crisis has ended, Hank doesn’t think of the danger he put his teammates in, but only of the fact that Janet was the one to save the day, and simply leaves before the now-assured verdict is announced.
In the next issue, we see the fallout from the events in this issue, not just on Janet and Hank, but the entire team.
If you are a victim of domestic assault, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Avengers #212 (October 1981)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #263 (November 1981)
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #214 (December 1981)