In the Heart of the Beast, Part 2
X-Men Adventures (Season II) #10
Writer: Ralph Macchio
Penciller: Paul Borges
Inker: James Pascoe
Colorist: Joe Agostinelli
As we learned in part 1 of this essay, 1992's X-Men: The Animated Series had distilled 30 years of drastic personality changes into an ideal version of the Beast – smart, funny, kind, disciplined.
But there was one aspect of the character remained extremely unsettled: His love life.
A season two spotlight episode of X-Men: The Animated Series is an encapsulation of the Beast’s miserable romantic history, which is perhaps even more convoluted and confusing than his personality issues.
First airing January 15, 1994, “Beauty and the Beast" was based on an idea by Julia Lewald and written by Stephane J. Mathison. The story finds Beast working at a clinic to give sight to a blind woman named Carly Crocker. In working together, they have developed a strong mutual attraction, but of course Carly doesn’t know exactly what Hank looks like.
“The Beauty and the Beast” was adapted as both a
children’s book (published by Random House) and in an issue of X-Men Adventures
by writer Ralph Macchio (not the actor) and artist Paul Borges. Neither
adaption was an improvement on the TV version. Both eliminated a vital
emotional component of the story, Hank’s breakdown. That said, the ending
of the comic is a bit more satisfying, with Jean Grey telling Hank not to
torture himself and him responding dryly, “Ahh, who better, Jean? Who better?”
By the time of the Beast’s reappearance in Amazing Adventures, Vera is out of the picture. At Brand Corporation Hank immediately falls for Linda Donaldson, who is secretly a double agent. This storyline seemed destined to end in heartbreak, but due to the Beast’s spotlight in the series being cut short, it was never resolved.
Instead, writer Steve Englehart had begun a subplot in which he brought back Vera. He picked up on that subplot in Incredible Hulk #161, where it’s revealed that Vera's been seeing the former X-Men Calvin Rankin, Mimic. He's losing control of his powers, and Vera thinks Hank might be able to help. Long story short, Mimic dies at the end.
This could have led to Hank and Vera striking back up, but when the Beast joined the Avengers in 1975 she was nowhere to be seen. Instead, for the most of his time as an Avenger, Hank was depicted as a sort of playboy ladies’ man.
But they soon fall into
the old pattern of him running from emergency to emergency and ignoring
her, and her being justifiably frustrated and annoyed. This is humorous in one way, because it’s almost like DeMatteis commenting on his own lack of effort in actually carving out time for the couple. It also leads to Hank’s heartfelt confession in Defenders #116 (see part 1 of this essay).
It seemed that no one really wanted Vera around, so this seemed like clear break. But then for some inexplicable reason, writer Peter B. Gillis brought her back in Defenders #140, with Hank sending her a love poem. She’s touched, but also angry, saying, “Not only do you break more dates than I can count – flirt with everything this side of Boy George –but you move to New Mexico without telling me -- !” There’s not a single sighting or mention character again until issue #149, when Hank gives her a Beast signal watch and then bounds away. Maybe Gillis had bigger plans for Vera, but Defenders ended with issue #152.
Bob Layton used her almost immediately in X-Factor, though for dubious comedic effect. In X-Factor #2 we learn that some time has passed since Vera and Hank last saw each other. She’s moved to New York, ditched her glasses, shaved half of her head, and opened a bookstore that “specializes in left-wing music and literature from South America.” She’s heavily involved in pro-mutant causes, and she and Hank become an item again, with her giving him a New Wave makeover in X-Factor #5. But her last appearance of this stretch was in X-Factor #8; as before, she just disappears with no explanation given to the reader.
Synthia then reveals to Hank that she is some sort of alien / otherdimensional being who has been feeding off of his energy to gather strength to fight a creature she calls the Dark One. After he and Synthia defeat the villain, Hank finds himself back in the
same place where he first encountered Synthia, no time having passed. It’s an
exceedingly odd and uncomfortable comic, especially if you start to think about what sort of theme and message Starlin thought he was a conveying. To me it seems rather than having something interesting to say about the Beast's character, Starlin was using Beast and this story to work out some sort of personal issue. Case in point, none of Hank's concerns from the beginning of the book are resolved in any way.
When she leaks that to the media, Hank decides to go with it. Both Cyclops and Emma Frost confront him about it, and he says he "might as well be" gay because of the way he's been treated his whole life, and because he could serve as a positive representative for the gay community.
This was fertile ground to explore, but thus far no writer thus far has decided to do so. And that's a shame, because Hank’s healthiest and longest-lasting relationship is with a man, Wonder Man. And though it’s never been depicted as a romance, there’s no reason it couldn’t be.
The first mission the Beast participated in after becoming an official member of the Avengers was dealing with former member Wonder Man (Simon Williams) having made one of his patented returns from the dead. Almost immediately Hank gave Simon the affectionate nickname “Wondy,” and over the course of the next 50 issues their friendship would grow steadily. In Avengers #161 he designed a breathtakingly bad new costume for him that ranks as the second worst of Simon’s many superhero outfits (it's the the second from the left in the picture below).
Writer David Michelinie and artists John Byrne and George Perez advanced the Beast / Wonder Man relationship most significantly, depicting them going to the movies together, having a disastrous double date, getting drunk at the pub, and fighting sewer creatures in their own spotlight issue. In #196 Iron Man even comments on their friendship, holding it up as the epitome of people with great differences finding common ground. In Defenders #104, Simon tells Dr. Strange, “Hank’s my best buddy in the world.”
The next year they got
their own mini-series by Roger Stern and Mark Bagley, the awkwardly titled
Avengers Two: Wonder Man and the Beast.
But the promise of this didn’t last, and the next time the two were paired was
in 2017, in issue #28 of Uncanny Avengers.
It was a satisfying issue, but not enough. I’m putting this idea out there for
free to any Marvel writer and/or editor: Make these two a couple and put them
in an ongoing book together. The subtext is already there and the groundwork has already been laid.
Additionally, the character has strayed farther and farther from the balanced figure he’d become in the early 1990s, making a series of morally questionable, out-of-character decisions that continue into the current 2021 issues of X-Force. I won’t detail those here, as they fall outside of the scope of this essay series and I’ve already gone on long enough. Writer Jim Zub and artist Sean Issazke summed up a lot of the Beast's poor decision-making pretty well here:
It’s a writer’s job to put their characters through the wringer, that’s just part of the definition of storytelling. But there's a line between complications that challenge the character and complications that torture the character, and the Beast - outside of a few choice instances - has spent too much of his existence wrong side of that line.
But that 1990s version is still one of my favorite characters. I hope one day he lands in the hands of a writer who feels the same.
Lewald, Eric and Julia. “Our Wisest, Kindest Soul: The Beauty of the Beast.” https://xmentas.com/2016/11/19/our-wisest-kindest-soul-the-beauty-of-the-beast/
Lewald, Eric. Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series. Jacobs Brown Press: San Diego. 2017