Hank McCoy was one of the original X-Men, and he was also the first X-Man to graduate. He’s had years of experience as a member of the Avengers, and has become the X-Men’s most accomplished scientist. Unfortunately, I happen to be of the view that he’s also going round the bend.
That Beast is a genius is beyond any doubt. His actual specialism is genetics, although – in true comic-book fashion – he seems able to make the leap to almost anything. During the 1990s, he was briefly replaced by his Age of Apocalypse counterpart, who was astounded that the X-Men depended on Hank for everything from curing the Legacy Virus to maintaining the X-Mansion’s Shi’ar technology!
But Beast has always had a tendency to jump in the deep end, to want to try things out rather than ensure they’re safe first. After all, we’re talking about the guy who injected himself with a serum and turned himself blue and furry. Sorry, Hank, but that one really can’t go down as a success story.
No doubt that experimental nature is why he can make technology sing and dance – he just gives it a shot, and sees what happens. His most recent masterpiece is the Jean Grey School, filled with advanced technology that even he seems barely in control of.
Here’s the catch, though. You have an incredibly smart guy, with a tendency to jump in the deep end.
And you have a guy who makes very dangerous choices when under pressure.
In the 1990s, the mutant race seemed to be on the brink of extinction (again). The madman named Stryfe had released a devastating illness that targeted only mutants, the Legacy Virus. And the Beast was the man on the ground, the scientist struggling to deal with the threat around him. In the haunting X-Men #27, Hank visited an old enemy, fellow geneticist Infectia. She was dying of the Legacy Virus, and he made a startling choice; he took her out of containment. I’m yet to uncover the references for this, but it’s commonly argued that Infectia’s out-of-control powers at the time of her death were what caused the release of a strain of the Legacy Virus that affected humans too.
Fearing the Legacy Virus was beyond him, Beast chose to allow Sinister to take the mentally-disturbed Threnody under his wing, believing Sinister’s lack of morals would give him a better chance to cure the disease. Hardly a morally uplifting choice of Hank’s.
This same tendency emerged in the 2000s, with the mutant race (again) brought to the edge of extinction – this time by the words of the Scarlet Witch. Hank was willing to compromise with his dark doppelganger in order to reverse the Decimation, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
During the same period, in the Secret Invasion: X-Men miniseries, Hank was willing to release a strain of the Legacy Virus against the Skrulls. Had any Skrull gotten back to the main armada, Hank would have just committed genocide. But step aside from that fact for a second; consider that Hank McCoy has kept a sample of the Legacy Virus. Yes, he mutated his sample; but at any time, no matter where he stored it, he couldn’t have guaranteed it wouldn’t have become airborne (particularly given how often X-Men bases get destroyed).
More recently, it’s gotten even more disturbing. In the aftermath of AvX, Hank began making seriously questionable choices. Fearing a mutant civil war (as though mutants had ever been a united race), Hank stepped back in time and summoned the original X-Men. In ANXM #25, The Watcher has stripped away all Hank’s reasons, and essentially exposed a long-repressed love for Jean Grey that led Hank to just desperately hope he could give her a better life by bringing her into the present. Unfortunately, it looks extremely likely that in doing so, Hank broke the timeline.
Now, I think things are building to a head. In Battle of the Atom, we have Hank meet a future version of himself who is both ugly and insane. Worse still, in Wolverine and the X-Men #42, a future Wolverine reflects that Hank must have been beginning to go crazy even back when he designed the Jean Grey School.
And then we have The Watcher’s words: “You disgust me, Hank McCoy,” The Watcher pronounced as a judgment, and the weight of guilt upon Hank’s shoulders only increased. Under the weight of this guilt, what will Hank choose to do? He has ideas, I’m sure, and they may not be pleasant ones.
Let me add one final worrying thought to the mix, to help you realise the extent of the problem the world faces if Hank McCoy is truly going insane. Beast is a member of a covert group of heroes known as the Illuminati, who have taken it upon themselves to protect the Earth at all costs – even destroying whole worlds in order to keep Earth safe (see New Avengers). Along with a handful of other heroes, he wields more covert influence than any of the other X-Men.
To give you an idea of the scale of it all, picture these words from Black Swan in New Avengers #5 – a being who traverses the universes.
Can the X-Men afford their best and brightest to go insane? Can the Marvel Universe?
And take a look at this amazing sketch, designed by Anthony Henderson!