Occasionally when we’re visiting my parents, they will proudly introduce me to an old friend or distant relative as “Doctor Fury” or “my son the doctor.” I appreciate their pride, but what comes next is always a bit awkward: “Oh,” my new acquaintance will say with interest, “what sort of medicine do you practice?” And I’ll have to say, “Oh no, ha ha, I’m not that kind of doctor.” And then I tell them I teach English and they make the joke about being careful about their grammar that everyone makes and then they lose interest and begin to realize that I’m a liberal. Of course, if I were a medical doctor, then I might have had to hear about their bursitis or incontinence or something, so it’s probably just as well.
Now, up until my freshman year of college, when I received a D in Calculus, I did always say I wanted to be a doctor. I date that particular professional aspiration to early 1987, when West Coast Avengers #21 appeared in the spinner rack at the local Super Stop:
Note how well-worn my copy is. When this ish came out, all the cool kids—well, all the cool kids continued playing baseball, making out, and drinking beer in the woods. But all the painfully shy and acne-pocked kids were agog over Moon Knight joining the Avengers. To this day, Moon Knight occupies a special place in many a fan’s heart, mostly I think because they’re convinced that he’s a character with a lot of untapped potential. Me, I think it’s just that people want to read good Batman stories, and since no one at DC is publishing them, they think maybe Marvel has a shot with their knock-off.
I was immediately drawn to Dr. Pym, Scientific Adventurer, though, and for years he was my favorite Avenger. As comics fans know, Hank Pym was a founding member of the Avengers as Ant-Man, and he’s used his size-changing powers in a variety of costumed guises over the years, including Goliath, Giant-Man, and Yellowjacket. It’s in that last identity that Pym reached a professional and personal nadir: he suffered a nervous breakdown, betrayed the Avengers, and physically abused his wife, the winsome Wasp.
Anyway, this issue finds a new Hank Pym, with a new lease on life following a barely averted suicide attempt, realizing that Avengering is in his blood, but still tortued by the mistakes he made while clad in spandex, he decides to take a different approach to super-heroism. And so Doctor Pym is born anew for the fifth time! No longer able to change size due to the stress it puts on his aging body, he has gained the power to grow and shrink objects by touching them. Thus, he can carry an enormous arsenal in his pocket.
What joke did you make during the line-break there? Feel free to share it in the comments thread! Within reason.
So, my parents and others in my hometown could be forgiven for thinking that I wanted to have a career healing the sick and infirm, when in fact what being a “doctor” meant to me was carrying a miniaturized chainsaw in my pants and enlarging it when necessary to fend off attacks from bling-heavy Batman wannabees:
Okay, so that doesn’t actually look like any chainsaw I’ve ever seen before. Maybe Hank got it cheap at a Fourth World fire sale. Anyway, I also admired Dr. Pym’s versatility, his ability to choose just the right weapon for the right foe. For instance, when you’re up against a band of humanoid gila monsters, you break it down old school:
I don’t care what you think: Doctor Pym, Scientific Adventurer (you’re legally required to use the whole name) was coolest, squarest, most sensibly attired Avenger ever. Hank has since regained his size-changing powers, but for me this will always be the richest, most interesting incarnation of the character. You can keep your speculation about why I might have been drawn to an overly passive superhero with an inferiority complex and a mean case of imposter syndrome to yourself. Your psychobabble isn’t helping anyone.
True fact: I was reminded of that scene of Dr. Pym battling Moon Knight with a miniature chainsaw because we drove past the chainsaw store in my hometown. It’s immediately, if unfortunately, adjacent to the liquor store.