This weekend the world will be introduced to the Ant-Man of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but before you hit the theaters, do you know what the origins of the comic book version are? How many Ant-Men have there been, and who’s who? He’s my favorite Avenger, so I’m volunteering to give you all the scoop, unbiased, or at least mostly. Learn all about this original Stan Lee Silver Age superhero, after the jump, with Biff Bam Pop’s Ant-Man primer.
Tales to Astonish
In the early days of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee created a handful of heroes to begin the wonderful shared continuity we all know today. Along with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Daredevil, the Hulk, and Thor, there was also the Ant-Man. Sadly, the least known of these luminaries, was the science hero Doctor Henry Pym, who had developed a gas that allowed him to shrink to the size of an ant. In later adventures Pym found he maintained his full strength at ant-size, and invented tech to talk to the ants, and even command them. A colorful costume followed, and then a career as a superhero, and then later his girlfriend gained powers as his sidekick the Wasp, and then he joined the Avengers.
Pym grew out of a tradition of science horror stories that Marvel Comics, then known as Atlas, specialized in. As a matter of fact, he was prototyped in a test story called “Trapped in the Ant Hill’ that appeared in 1957’s Mystic #57, where a scientist shrinks down to encounter sinister ants. In fact, Hank Pym’s first shrinking adventure in 1962’s Tales to Astonish #27 was pretty much the same, save the ants weren’t the baddies. But still, it was just another scifi horror amongst scifi horrors, it wasn’t until Pym made his second appearance in Tales to Astonish #35 as the costumed Ant-Man that the tide turned and suddenly (not just because of Ant-Man) superheroes were in and monsters (at least in the numbers they were previously) were out.
Enemies and Allies
Now that costumed superheroes were cool again, Ant-Man began to develop his own rogues gallery like all good heroes do. Like many of the Stan Lee creations of the time, especially Iron Man and the Hulk, much of the Ant-Man rogues gallery were of the red variety – red as in Communist. It was the times, decades before the Berlin Wall came down. Ant-Man faced off against villains like Comrade and Madame X, The Voice, El Toro, Madame Macabre, and the Scarlet Beetle, as well as more traditional costumed criminals like the Human Top (later Whirlwind, the Black Knight, the Porcupine, Egghead, and even the Living Eraser.
While doing battle with a creature from another planet, Pym gave the daughter of a murdered scientist not only the power to shrink, but also to grow tiny wings at ant-size. Thus Janet Van Dyne became the Wasp, later his girlfriend, and later his wife, and much later ex-wife. No matter how you slice it, they were lifelong partners from then on, no matter turbulent the path. It was in her company, that Ant-Man became a founding member of the Avengers, along with Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. He would remain affiliated in some way with the team for the rest of his career, for good or ill.
The Many Faces of Henry Pym
In the company of powerhouses like Thor, Hulk, and the double threat strength and intellect of Iron Man – ever the scientist, Hank Pym sought to improve himself, his powers, and his effectiveness. If he could shrink, why not grow? Growing added strength, so soon Ant-Man became Giant-Man. Under Pym’s research, the gas went from a pill to a serum to finally microscopic ‘Pym particles’ that could be directed to affect size change. Pym was, after all, one of the seven smartest men on Earth, after some guys named Richards, Banner, and Stark. The name-changing and costume-changing became commonplace for the character as after a short hiatus from the Avengers, Pym returned as Goliath. Same powers, different name and costume.
Later Pym tossed the size-changing and became a completely new identity, one caused by either a experiment gone mad or a multiple personality disorder (theories vary over the decades) – Yellowjacket. This swashbuckling and brash hero was more hands on, carried a disruptor pistol, could fly, and was brave enough to finally ask Janet to marry him. Yellowjacket later incorporated Pym’s previous size powers, and built the disruptor pistol into his gloves, giving him a ‘sting.’
Even More Identities
Our hero was also known as simply Doctor Pym for a time. Viewed at first as a lame rip-off of Doctor Who, the identity should be noted because it introduced a very important new power to Pym’s arsenal – the ability to not only shrink and grow his own body, but anything he touched as well. He could hide any object he needed at a shrunken size, then grow it when needed – anything from med kits to vehicles to entire labs, he could keep in a pocket of his vest.
Usually Giant-Man or Yellowjacket were Pym’s default identities, but for a wonderful period in the early 1970s, he returned as Ant-Man in a series of very cool adventures in Marvel Feature, the title that just before this had launched the Defenders. These stories written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by Craig Russell and the late Herb Trimpe were some of the character’s best, a mix of The Incredible Shrinking Man and Flash Gordon, great stuff, highly recommended.
For a time recently, after the death of his ex-wife, Janet Van Dyne (no worries, it was a comic book death, she got better), Pym took on the new identity of the Wasp in her memory. This Wasp was reminiscent of the original Yellowjacket as he used energy guns, but he also had the wings he had given Janet, as well as access to all of his previous powers and his astonishing scientific prowess.
At this point, you’re probably saying, ‘this is all well and nice about this Pym guy, but isn’t Paul Rudd playing some guy named Scott in the Ant-Man movie?’ He is indeed, and Rudd is playing Ant-Man, but Scott Lang is the second Ant-Man. You might imagine that with Pym switching identities every other day that some of his costumes might be stuffed in the back of a closet, collecting dust. For a while, such was the case with the Ant-Man uniform and ant-controlling helmet.
After serving his time for burglary, Scott Lang was hired by Tony Stark, and in his first comic book appearance was shown installing a new security system in Avengers Mansion. The next month however, he broke into Pym’s lab to steal the Ant-Man tech and costume. It’s not what it seems as Lang needed it to break a scientist out of CrossTech, run by evil entrepreneur Darren Cross. This scientist was the only one capable of helping Lang’s sick daughter Cassie. Once the smoke cleared, one of the happy endings was that Pym gave the Ant-Man tech and costume to Lang with his blessing. For much of the last three decades, Scott Lang has been Ant-Man.
Copycats and Dirty Rats
Of course, that’s the problem with names and costumes that come with their own powers – anyone can take them on. For a time in the 1960s, while Hank Pym was busy being Yellowjacket, friend and fellow Avenger Hawkeye took the growth serum and became the new Goliath. In the 1970s, Pym’s lab partner Dr. Bill Foster did much the same and became first Black Goliath, then Giant-Man, and then before dying in the superhero Civil War, also Goliath. Seems like the name-changing thing is contagious. Much later, even Lang’s teenaged daughter Cassie got into the act, and became Stature using Pym particles.
Not everyone is like Hawkeye, Foster, or even Lang and Van Dyne when it comes to ‘borrowing’ Pym’s technology however. There have been a fair share of villains who have done it as well. The original villainous Power Man stained the name of Goliath for a time during the 1980s, as did his Masters of Evil cohort, Rita DeMara, when she became the new Yellowjacket for a while.
And then there’s the third Ant-Man, Eric O’Grady. Created by Robert Kirkman, who is also responsible for The Walking Dead both in comics and on television, this Ant-Man is a less than admirable hero. After the death (again, comic book death, he got better) of Scott Lang, the Ant-Man costume, now more of a high tech armor, was stored at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Much like Lang, low-rent agent O’Grady lifted it for his own uses. After floating through several teams, both heroic and unheroic, this irredeemable Ant-Man eventually was killed, seemingly for good.
Hank Pym throughout the years has not fared well since his original Silver Age superhero days. To many in more than a few generations of comics readers, he is known for his two biggest mistakes, rather than his countless triumphs. Despite what the movies will tell you, Dr. Henry Pym created Ultron. Artificial intelligence and robotics being two of the fields he excelled in, unfortunately he succeeded in creating a being far too well, as Ultron is nigh indestructible, and set on the extinction of mankind. That is not a good legacy for Pym.
Sadly, the other thing Hank Pym is known for is slapping his then-wife Janet Van Dyne, eventually leading to their divorce. More has been said about this two-panel incident in the comics press than ever needs to be rehashed, so I’ll just direct you to my thoughts on it here. And then there has been Pym’s ongoing battle against depression and mental illness, which may or may not be the result of outside forces – whether they be experiments gone bad or cosmic manipulation. Pym has not had it good for much of his existence.
The Present and the Future
The status quo in the Marvel Universe (as it is, with Secret Wars ongoing) is that Hank Pym is essentially dead, merged with the Ultron entity, and with Eric O’Grady also dead, Scott Lang has once again taken on the mantle of the Ant-Man.
In the Ant-Man film, we see the origin of Scott Lang as the hero, as played by Paul Judd. Michael Douglas plays an elderly hank Pym who apparently was Ant-Man decades ago, perhaps hinting at an earlier iteration of the Avengers. Pym has a daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Janet Van Dyne the Wasp in the comics. And then there’s the aforementioned Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll, who much like Rita DeMara, takes on the villainous identity of Yellowjacket to battle Ant-Man.
Hopefully that should answer all your questions about Ant-Man in the comics. Who knows what else the new movie will bring? I’ve got my ticket already, do you?