I AM excited. I AM going opening night. I even panicked that there might not be a Thursday showing. And now I’m counting down the hours till I see it. It looks as if it’s not going to suck. But who knows, I did the same thing to myself right before The Man of Steel.
In anticipation of Ant-Man’s release, (a coincidentally lines up roughly with my timeline here) I’ve been doing some reading to get myself more familiarized with the character. Ant-Man is in a unique position as a starting film franchise. First, it’s two versions, the original, Hank Pym and his predecessor, Scott Lang. Secondly, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Avengers have had constant and even multiple series consistently since the early 60’s. As characters, they have qualities that make them popular. The Guardians of the Galaxy that we saw in the film were unknowns and relatively new to comics as a team, and were obscure characters before that, only showing up sporadically here and there, so you can do whatever you want. Ant-Man is a character that most people who read comics know, but hasn’t been popular enough to support an ongoing comic, despite being an Avengers regular. In fact, a lot of people, flat-out don’t like him. This movie has a lot of pressure to prove to sceptics that he is a character worthy of their own film, and not just “because we gave one to your Avengers brothers”. That being said, there are multiple good stories for both versions of the character that we will see on the big screen. Among those – Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers run with Hank Pym, and Geoff Johns use of Scott Lang in Avengers.
Alright, enough rambling, let’s get to the reading. First up Hank Pym’s initial appearance in Tales to Astonish #27 and his first outing as Ant-man in #35. Both pumped out by the ever so popular Stan Lee and Jack Kirby superhero making machine. We first meet Hank Pym as the protagonist in a typical monster story of the era. Stan and Jack had created the FF and other heroes, but their popularity hadn’t quite been realized at that point and they were still pushing out these monster stories to pay the rent. Sometimes these monsters are creatures from outer space like Groot, but here, they are a little more familiar and as such a little more creepy. They are ants. Not regular ants. 6 foot tall, 1/2 ton behemoth ants. At least, that’s how they appear to Pym, who is a scientist that has shrunken himself down and gotten caught in their anthill. He obviously saves himself and then destroys the shrinking serum. This isn’t really that odd of a story, we’ve seen it in films already, and I guarantee people have had nightmares of this exact scenario. I thought this was a great, simple story, and a fantastic example of the quality 50’s/60’s comics have to offer.
Several issues later, Tales to Astonish #35 returns us to the adventures of Hank Pym, who has now developed the serum into a gas, created a costume, and developed a helmet that allows him to talk with ants, recruiting them for his crusade against crime. These additions to the character work in premise, and fit the story telling of the times, but I feel that after that point Stan struggles in adding depth to the character. The escape from the Anthill makes the stakes real. When he chooses to recreate the formula and become a hero the dynamic of the book changes as becomes less interesting to me.
The real focus here, as it is a book I would have done regardless of the movies release is Marvel Premiere #47/48. When David Michelinie and John Byrne recreated the character, they did Scott Lang’s introduction is quite different. There are real stakes. His is history of crime rather than science, (although he is an electronics expert and later works for Stark Industries when he goes straight). After getting out of jail for good behaviour, he is forced to return to crime when his daughter, Cassie, becomes dangerously sick. On one of his heists he comes across the currently out of service Ant-Man costume (Hank at the time is under one of his many other aliases). He uses the costume to break into a fortified facility to recruit a highly accomplished surgeon to save his daughter’s life. Unfortunately, this doctor is operating at gunpoint on the villain of the upcoming movie, Darren Cross. This version of Cross is a giant monstrosity that looks more disfigured thanscary. Lang defeats Cross and has the doctor save his daughter. Upon success of his mission Hank Pym shows up and gives Scott his blessing and permission to keep using the suit for good.
Unlike most origins this isn’t just about a guy who gets powers and uses them to save the world, or even stumbles upon a situation where only he can help. This is a scenario that I’m sure many people with sick or victimized family find themselves wishing. “If only I could just tell the person who could help the most” “if only they knew my story” “I would steal, or worse for this to happen”. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where we can shrink down, break in and find the person who can save our loved ones. But we can dream. For Scott, it shows an endearing quality. He’s not a criminal, he did it for love. Later, he is using his powers to atone for his sins so that he can be the father that Cassie deserves. Again, endearing. This wasn’t a story about Ant-man, this was a story about Scott Lang and any other hero identity could have been acquired and it be the same story.
I can’t talk about Scott Lang’s origin without at least mentioning Nick Spencer’s current run. I just read the first volume and he really brings it back to its roots. Spencer weaves his tale with threads left over from Lang’s origin, pits him against the Taskmaster (whose own origin was in an early Scott Lang/Ant-Man appearance) and returns Scott and Cassie to the dynamic they had the last time both of them were alive (Yup! That’s right). All this, while adding the type of humour that he has mastered and that I expect we will see in the upcoming film.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the movie! Here are the links so you too can get caught up on your Pym/Lang action:
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