While everyone is gearing up to see Avengers: Age of Ultron at least three times in the coming weeks, we shouldn’t forget that our favorite team of heroes isn’t the only property Marvel Studios is bringing to the big-screen this summer. While its scale will be fittingly smaller than the aforementioned film, Ant-Man is sure to offer plenty surprises of its own. Despite its lengthy and troubled production, I’m confident Marvel and Peyton Reed will deliver a film that’s just as good as what we’ve come to expect from Marvel. Before the movie hits the screens, here’s everything you need to know about Marvel’s smallest hero.
The Comic: There have been three different Ant-Men over the course of Marvel’s history. The first, and most well known, is Dr. Hank Pym. Pym, the creation of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Jack Kirby, first appeared in the science-fiction anthology series Tales to Astonish #27 in 1962. Pym’s first appearance in “The Man in the Ant Hill” wasn’t a superhero story at all. Instead it was a kind of horror story about a ridiculed scientist who tests a “reducing serum” on himself and shrinks down before realizing he made the stupid mistake of leaving his growth serum on the window sill. In an adventure that finds him beset by bees and ants, he must rely on tiny objects around him and one friendly ant to reach his serum. Oddly enough, the story ended with Pym dumping his serum, but the issue sold so well that Lee decided to turn Pym into a superhero later that same year.
Appearing in costume for the first time, Pym debuted as Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #35, which also introduced Pym’s wealthy, fashion-obsessed girlfriend Janet Van Dyne who was later given the moniker The Wasp, along with the ability to grow wings. Equipped with Pym Particles that allowed him to shrink while maintaining his strength, and a helmet that allowed him to communicate with ants through electrical waves, Ant-Man took on the criminal underworld and a host of D-list villains. But Lee could never match the success of Pym’s first appearance, so instead of simply focusing on solo-stories he made Pym and Janet founding members of The Avengers, who debuted in 1964.
As an Avenger, Pym took on a number of personas, most notably Giant-Man after altering his Pym Particles to allow him to increase his height and power. His most notable role in the Avengers was the creation of the villainous A.I. Ultron, which he created from his own brain patterns. His guilt over this and his increasing feelings of inferiority led him to develop a split personality (aided by unknown gases, naturally) and adopting the name Yellowjacket in the late 60s. It was during this time that he married Janet. During the 80s, Pym (still in his Yellowjacket guise) began to verbally abuse Janet, and eventually struck her. While he’s continued to be a major presence in the Marvel Universe, it’s a moment in comics’ history that the character has never been able to step out from.
The second Ant-Man, Scott Lang was introduced in 1979 in The Avengers #181, later becoming Ant-Man in Marvel Premiere #47 that same year. The creation of David Michelinie and John Byrne, Lang never had his own title but served as a member of the Avengers, and frequently appeared in Iron Man and The Fantastic Four, until he was seemingly killed in 2004. A third Ant-Man, Eric O’Grady first appeared in Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 in 2006 as the creation of Robert Kirkman (yes, The Walking Dead creator) and Phil Hester. O’Grady, an immoral low-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent had his own series for 12-issues before it was canceled. Never making much of an impact, he appeared in Thunderbolts, Secret Avengers, and guest-starred in other titles until he was killed off to make room for Lang’s return.
Lang currently headlines a solo-series that started in January of this year. Written by Nick Spencer, and drawn by Ramon Rosanas, the title sees Lang operate the business Ant-Man Security Solutions and struggle with being a single-dad, all while offering a humorous look at second-chances. Maybe for the first time in the character’s lengthy history and legacy, Ant-Man finally seems to have a solid direction.
The Film: In 2003, Edgar Wright and is writing partner Joe Cornish began developing Ant-Man for Marvel Studios. Originally proposed as part of Marvel’s Phase I, the film was postponed and postponed as Wright and Cornish continued work on the script while doing others projects (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Attack the Block). To the dismay of fans everywhere, Wright and Cornish separated from Marvel last summer after disagreements over the script led Marvel to bring in outside writers to tackle revisions. But enough time and words have been spent on that situation over the past year. What I want to focus on is the Ant-Man film that will be, and not the one that could have been. Directed by Peyton Reed with a script by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (using Wright and Cornish’s story), Ant-Man marks the end of Marvel’s Phase II.
Brilliantly, the film incorporates both the Pym and Lang characters into the story by making Lang Ant-Man and Pym his mentor. The film doesn’t appear to draw from any particular storyline, save elements from Lang’s introduction as Ant-Man Marvel Premiere #47. Given the character’s complex history, lack of a strong ongoing title until recently, and a handful of non-threats for a rouges gallery, it seems like a good idea for the film to take the story into its own hands and re-imagine concepts, while still remaining true to the characters. While there are many people who think Ant-Man is a dumb idea for a movie, the same was said about last year’s Guardians of Galaxy and look where we are on that front now.
The Tone: With Reed, Rudd, and McKay, there’s no doubt in my mind that the film will be a laugh-riot. I think everyone involved is aware of the absurdity of the concept, and despite semi-self-serious trailers, I think the film will offer plenty of fun and heart.The best part of Marvel’s films are how human they make their characters. These superheroes aren’t gods carving their own modern myths like DC’s characters. They are simply individuals placed in extraordinary circumstances and tasked do extradinaory things. Marvel isn’t afraid to show us the fallible hero, and there are few characters as fallible as Pym and Lang who can still manage to call themselves heroes. It seems pretty clear that Ant-Man, like Iron Man, will be a redemption story, but I think we’ll be looking at a style of humor that’s a little different from what we’re used to seeing from Marvel. If all goes well, I think Ant-Man, with its focus on fathers and daughters, big concept ideas, and humor, could recapture the spirit of blockbusters like Back to the Future and Spielberg’s output in the 80s.
Hank Pym (Michael Douglas): Hank Pym is no one’s favorite hero, a fact he’s always been aware of. The guy’s basically been a walking case of superhero impotence for the past 40-years. Jealous of friends and a wife who made better superheroes than him, Pym’s brilliant mind was never enough for him. Yet he tried to overcompensate for his unpopularity and gain respect from his peers by developing robotics, increasing his powers, giving himself a better code-name, and using his heroism not only as a means of fighting crime but keeping his relationship with his wife strong. The result of these efforts was the creation of the Avenger’s nemesis, schizophrenia, and divorce. Pym is one of the most tragic characters in the Marvel Universe, all a result of his own lack of self-worth. While he managed to redeem himself for a time, he’s never been able to escape the shadow of what he’s done. Avengers writer Jim Shooter has gone on record to say that, in the now infamous story, he never intended for Pym to be a “wife-beater” and that his accidental lashing out was drawn to look more deliberate and brutal than what he’d intended. Regardless, the story stuck and opened up some interesting discussions about domestic-violence in comics, and ensured that Hank Pym never truly rise above his inferiority complex. Read Avengers: Rage of Ultron to see how he’s currently dealing with it. In the film, Pym will be played by the incomparable Michael Douglas. This older take on the character was Ant-Man somethime in the late 20th century and had ties to Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, before an incident led to him hanging up the costume. While the spousal abuse won’t be touched on, Pym’s family life will still be a mess due to his relationship with his estranged daughter, Hope. In the MCU he won’t be the creator of Ultron (that role goes to Stark and Banner), but he’s sure to have plenty else to feel guilty about.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd): Scott Lang was never meant to be a hero. An electronics repairman who couldn’t support his wife and daughter, Lang turned to burglary. His life only got worse from there. While in prison, Lang’s wife divorced him. When he got out, his daughter Cassie developed a congenital heart condition. After finding out that the doctor who could save his daughter was being held at Cross Technological Industries (a rival of Stark Industries), Lang steals Pym’s Ant-Man suit in order to rescue the doctor. After managing to save his daughter and making an enemy of CTI head Darren Cross, who was suffering from the same heart condition as Cassie, Lang kept the Ant-Man suit with Pym’s blessing. Like Pym, Lang can not only shrink and communicate with ants, but also retains the strength of a full-sized man in his diminutive size. Despite his troubled past, Lang managed to outshine his predecessor in the role and even inspired his now teenage daughter to develop a superhero identity of her own as Stature. In the film, Lang will be played by Paul Rudd and it seems his criminal background, broken marriage, sick daughter, and clash with Darren Cross will all be retained. I have no doubt that Rudd will be able to pull off everything the roles requires while delivering the charismatic, boyish charm he’s known for.
Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily): Hope Van Dyne, the daughter of Hank and Janet, first appeared in A-Next #7 in 1999 as the Red Queen. In this alternate reality set in the future, Hope has the same powers as her mother, including the ability to grow wings, which she uses for evil as a member of the Revengers. The character has never been included in the main, in-continuity Marvel Universe. In the movie, Evangeline Lily should have no difficulty making the character her own given how few appearances Hope had in the comics. While we’ve yet to hear about Janet’s involvement in the film, Hope will still be she and Hank’s daughter. Allegedly, Hope’s arc will see her start at odds with Pym and in the service of the film’s villain Darren Cross before joining her father and Lang. There’s no word yet as to whether or not she’ll get powers, but I wouldn’t doubt that by the end of the film she’ll be The Wasp.
Darren Cross (Corey Stoll): Darren Cross first appeared in Marvel Premiere #47 in 1979. After a battle between him and Lang in that same issue, Cross died from his heart condition. He was kept in a cryogenic state and his son Augstine came up with a plan to kidnap Lang’s daughter Cassie and remove her heart in order to bring his father back to life. Lang was able to save his daughter, but had to contend with a resurrected Cross, now fitted with a comic-booky special pacemaker and a mutation that left him looking like a pink version of the Hulk. In the film, House of Cards’ Corey Stoll will provide a very different take on the character which sees him as Pym’s former protégé and current head of Pym’s company. Instead of turning into a giant-pink monster, Cross will instead adopt the name Yellowjacket and don a more militaristic version of the Ant-Man suit.
And there you have it. You’re now an expert on the very strange history and legacy of the Astonishing Ant-Man who joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe on July 17th!
Sources: Marvel Comics Database and Wikipedia