What if episode 3 could be explained: rethinking a Marvel hero
The Avengers initiative implodes from within, and we’ll never be able to look at a particular character the same way again.
By Brad GullicksonPublished August 25, 2021
Marvel Explained is our ongoing series in which we explore the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news to guess the future of the franchise. This entry explores What if…? Episode 3 and why a certain Ant-Man is not trustworthy. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.
“There was an idea. Bring together a group of great people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed to, to fight battles we never could. “
Nick Fury’s vision for the Avengers cements the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but what if someone stepped in at a few critical moments and shattered it into a thousand pieces? The fantasy would quickly turn into a nightmare.
What if…? Episode 3 takes us back to a critical week during Marvel Phase Two: that moment between Tony Stark leaving the donut in Iron man 2 and Bruce Banner unleashed by Culver University at The Incredible Hulk. As these heroes approach, an intruder appears. And knocks, stopping the Avengers Initiative in its tracks.
“What if … the world loses its mightiest heroes?” “
Instead of receiving the antidote for his palladium poisoning, Tony Stark falls dead, apparently murdered by Black Widow. The Hulk is no exception to General Ross’s assault on the university; his body bursts, splashing so much green blood on campus. Rather than maintaining his aim, Hawkeye sends an arrow straight through Thor, and his twisted brother Loki arrives on Midgard with an occupying army. The Avengers need revenge.
Black Widow takes care of the case, but even she falls victim to the mysterious killer. Before dying, she sends one last message to Nick Fury. And Fury puts two and two together, and we find out about the choice made that separates that reality from the main reality of the MCU.
Understanding Hank Pym’s Rage
In the multiverse world seen in What if…? Episode 3, Hope Van Dyne, the second Wasp, joined Nick Fury’s team long before Tony Stark declared himself Iron Man. Without a doubt, she was a serious ass eater, but like her mother before her, she died on the court. This tragedy sent her father, Hank Pym, to the brink of collapse. When he found out what Fury was planning with the Avengers, he hit it off, killing these heroes before they could be killed.
Pym’s logic is flawed, but it is not about logic. It’s about rage. Hope’s death fills Hank’s heart with hatred. He wants Fury to feel just an ounce of what he feels. Would our first MCU Hank Pym behave the same under the same circumstances? Probably.
In the MCU
As we saw in Ant–Man, Hank Pym leaned back to keep Hope out of the costume. His wife’s death poisoned their relationship, and in his desperate desire to keep Hope safe, he created a huge wedge between them. He even went so far as to trick a convict into adopting the character of Ant-Man rather than sitting down and having a rational conversation with Hope about his feelings. Hank Pym doesn’t do feelings well.
If he had only glimpsed the future and scrutinized Ant–Man and the wasp, he would have seen how amazingly capable Hope is as a hero. She raises Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, to be the best he can be, and he does the same for her. We don’t know the circumstances around it What if…? dead, but it’s easy to defer the fact that it wouldn’t have happened if her father had been more open with her regarding her mother’s heroism or if she had been able to bounce some of that action off Scott Lang. When the Pyms and the Langs fight together, they are unstoppable. When they fight with each other, they are doomed.
In the comics
Hank Pym as a rabid psychotic, as seen in What if…? Episode 3 is nothing new. Infamous, Pym is known to have punched his wife Janet in Avengers # 213, published November 1981. In this story, Pym loses control of his emotions, falling into violent outburst patterns. On the battlefield, Captain America scolds Pym for his reckless behavior. Formal charges are brought against him, and the Avengers have put Pym on trial.
Wanting to defend her husband, Janet begins a private investigation. She discovers an adamantium robot in her lab, built underground to attack the Avengers so that Pym can heroically defeat “the bad guy” in battle. When she confronts Pym about this absurdly despicable plan, Pym hits her.
Pym’s plan never kicks in, the Avengers kick him off the team, and Janet issues divorce papers. Eventually, Pym is arrested, goes through a series of adventures designed to deliver redemption, and slowly returns to the Marvel Comics spotlight.
But this moment in his history has marred the character forever. There is no return from such a violent, low. And, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is why Scott Lang was positioned to be the first cinematic Ant-Man. If Hank Pym were placed in the foreground, fans would be waiting for this dark episode to stand. And, probably, this is an episode Marvel Studios wish we had forgotten. Except they go ahead and make Pym the psychopath for What if…? Episode 3.
Hank Pym is a killer
Alan Moore and Brian Bolland The murderous joke once said that we were all on a bad day to become The Joker. But we’re also only one bad day away from becoming Batman. We cannot blame others for the choices we make. They belong to us.
The loss of Hank Pym is unimaginable. First his wife. Then his daughter. You can’t blame him for the anger he feels. We can blame him for what he does with this anger.
In What if…? Episode 3, we meet a killer. Do we have empathy with him? Sure. Forgive him? Certainly not.
The question becomes, does seeing Hank Pym behave so miserably in What if…? change your feelings towards him in the rest of the MCU? Is its darkness visible now? Should we look at it with one eye always open? Yeah absolutely. Don’t trust a Hank Pym. Already.
What if…? Episode 3 is now airing on Disney +.
Related Topics: Marvel Explained, Marvel Studios, What If
Brad Gullickson is a weekly columnist for Film School Rejects and senior curator for One Perfect Shot. When he’s not talking about movies here, he’s talking about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Track him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He him)