Ant-Man arrives in theaters today, introducing moviegoers to Marvel's latest superhero: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who takes on his new abilities under the mentorship of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). He may not be as popular as Iron Man or Captain America, but Ant-Man is likely to score with audiences who meet him for the first time this weekend.
But those same moviegoers might be surprised to learn that in the original comics, Ant-Man became infamous for an entirely different reason. Dr. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man) and his wife Janet Van Dyne (the superheroine The Wasp) were founding members of the Avengers, but Pym was eventually ousted from the group. In a desperate attempt to win his spot back, he developed a robot villain only he could defeat, which he believed would impress his former teammates. But when Janet tried to talk him out of the plan, he backhanded her across the face, sending her crashing to the ground.
The moment turned out to be a defining one for the Ant-Man character — but according to Jim Shooter, who wrote the issue, he never intended to make Ant-Man a spousal abuser:
"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. [Artist] 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." [JimShooter.com]
In the decades since, Marvel has repeatedly revisited the domestic abuse of the infamous issue. In one story, Hank Pym attempted to atone for his actions by opening centers, in his wife's name, that provided support for women and children who had suffered domestic abuse. In another, much nastier continuity, he used his superpowers to terrorize his wife even further, spraying her with raid and siccing his ants on her.
Of course, none of that backstory factors into the new Ant-Man movie, which aims for a broader, more family-friendly tone. When asked in July 2014 if Ant-Man would include a domestic abuse subplot, Marvel president Kevin Feige just laughed.