Ant-Man, the newest movie by Marvel Studios came out this weekend. From the reviews I have seen (and I’ve avoided a great many of them), it sounds like it’s being well received. When I had mentioned that I was intending to go and watch it this week, I found that there was a general reaction of “Ant-Man? Who’s he?”
Well, that’s a good question.
There have been quite a few people to call themselves Ant-Man since the superhero was created in 1962. Debuting in January’s Tales To Astonish #27 as Hank Pym (Ant-Man first appeared as a superhero in September’s Tales to Astonish #35), Ant-Man was created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, during the year that some of Marvel’s most famous characters were conceived; indeed, Ant-Man even appeared before several character who would eclipse him in term of popularity.
So why is he one of the characters that so few people know about?
There have been four people to call themselves Ant-Man over the past fifty plus years, but the first man to so was Henry “Hank” Pym. An incredible scientist who discovered a substance that could alter his size (later dubbed Pym Particles), Hank Pym arrived on newsstands several months before Iron Man would fight his way out of a cave in 1963. One of the original Avengers, Hank Pym joined in the first issue along with the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and the Wasp. Captain America wouldn’t join the team until issue #4. For a character with such an early pedigree, it’s hard to believe that he has been largely left behind in recent years.
Perhaps because he never really took off with the audience at the time, Hank Pym would adopt three other superhero identities in three years; Goliath, Giant-Man and Yellow Jacket, all of which would be adopted by another character at some point in Marvel’s history.
Stan Lee would later theorize on Ant-Man’s lack of popularity;
I loved Ant-Man, but the stories were never really successful. In order for Ant-Man to be successful, he had to be drawn this small next to big things and you would be getting pictures that were visually interesting. The artists who drew him, no matter how much I kept reminding them, they kept forgetting that fact. They would draw him standing on a tabletop and they would draw a heroic-looking guy. I would say, ‘Draw a matchbook cover next to him, so we see the difference in size.’ But they kept forgetting. So when you would look at the panels, you thought you were looking at a normal guy wearing an underwear costume like all of them. It didn’t have the interest.
It was April of 1979 by the time that the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang, donned the shrinking costume. Originally stealing the costume and Pym Particles and intending to use the shrinking abilities of Ant-Man to steal in order to help his daughter, Scott would swiftly become a hero when he rescued a doctor who saved his daughter; Hank Pym would then give Scott the costume and Pym Particles in order to uphold the law.
At the time that Scott Lang was Ant-Man, Hank Pym was calling himself Yellow Jacket. During an ill conceived plot in Avengers #213 to set a robot to attack the Avengers (Salvation-1) so that he could swoop in and save the day (Hank, not exactly in his right mind, wasn’t in good standing with the team at this time, and felt a timely rescue would return him to favour), Hank Pym struck his wife, Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp. Although Jim Shooter, the writer of the issue never intended to have Hank purposely strike Janet a misinterpretation by the artist turned what was to be an entirely accidental clipping into a full back hand. Obviously, and it really shouldn’t need saying, but striking your spouse is never acceptable. Hank Pym isn’t the only superhero to ever hit his significant other, but he is the one that most fans remember doing so. Hank Pym is constantly reinventing himself; unable to succeed with costumed identities that others later perfect.
Hank Pym has been at the center of some tough stories; the previously mentioned Avengers #213, his struggle with suicide in West Coast Avengers and his creation of Ultron to name only a few. For some reason, Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man never gained any traction with audiences. Scott Lang fared little better, and of the other two men to become Ant-Man, one died before ever really appearing in the suit, and the other was killed on a mission for the Avengers.
So who is Ant-Man?
The original is a truly flawed man who was one of the first in the batch superheroes created in the Marvel pantheon during the 60’s, a man who struggles with failure and his identity. The second is a reformed thief that wanted nothing more than to save his daughter. The third and fourth men were ex S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
The Ant-Man name belongs, currently, to Scott Lang again. Both on the big screen where he is played by Paul Rudd, and in the comics again. Maybe the movie can do for Ant-Man what Stan Lee’s artists couldn’t do in the 60’s.