With the arrival of both Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, Ant-Man has suddenly become one of the most widely anticipated movies of 2015. But most people have no idea who Ant-Man even is. So here’s an overview of the tiniest Avenger.
So, Ant-Man is…?
Ant-Man is, depending on where you are in Marvel continuity, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) or Eric O’Grady, a hilariously amoral d-bag who sadly will not be showing up in the movie (at least that we’re aware of.) So it’s really the first two we should focus on.
Tell me more about this Hank Pym guy.
Hank Pym is one of the most important superscientists in the Marvel universes, and has had more aliases than David Bowie. He actually wasn’t intended to be a superhero: He first debuted in Tales to Astonish, an SF anthology series, as a one-off character who shrinks himself to ant size. He did so well, Ant-Man was born a few issues later, with the power to shrink to tiny size and control ants with his ridiculous helmet.
Wait, so that’s what the helmet does?
What, you think he just glued some deely-bobbers to a motorcycle helmet? Hank Pym is a serious scientist.
How does he change his size?
He uses the humbly named “Pym particles”, which essentially stuff volume into a different universe. This works the other way too, allowing users to grow in size, which is why Hank Pym became Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket. Also, if you’re exposed to them long enough, your body will spontaneously generate them. They will also, in the case of Hank Pym, supposedly turn you into a terrible human being.
I thought he was supposed to be a superhero?
It’s more or less a running joke in comics that Hank Pym is the second most awful human being in the Marvel Universe, largely because Hank unsurprisingly has real trouble dealing with the constant stress of being an Avenger. It’s compelling when properly written, because Hank essentially acts like a normal person would when faced with the terrifying crap that is Tuesday for the Avengers. When improperly written, there’s the infamous bout of wife-beating, which happened because his wife was trying to point out to ol’ Hank that maybe creating a malevolent robot that hates all life would not be the best way to impress the Avengers with how heroic he was.
It should also be noted that Hank performed experimental surgery on Janet, a woman he was attracted to but barely knew, before dosing her with particles he himself had only just discovered and barely understood. He’s had repeated mental breakdowns, and has at least one alternate personality that keeps popping up. And he built Ultron, a robot that he puts his own thought patterns into and which almost immediately becomes a homicidal maniac. Really, Hank should not be allowed near anything dangerous and possibly should be in jail.
I’m starting to understand why they wanted an Oscar-winner for the role.
Yeah, Hank is pretty complex. And one assumes that this emotionally fragile aspect of the character will make the leap to the film.
So who’s this Scott Lang guy? I’m assuming he’s a moral, righteous, upstanding-
Desperate petty criminal?
Yeesh, is the costume cursed or something?
To be fair to Lang, he was driven to crime by desperate circumstances; he’s an electronics engineer, he just apparently is really bad at job interviews. He turns to theft first to feed his family and then later on because his daughter, Cassie, needs surgery and he has to save the only doctor in the world who can do it. So he gets the bright idea of breaking into the Avengers mansion, where he installed the security system because Tony Stark doesn’t do background checks, and stealing Ant-Man’s stuff. Hank Pym, being the superb judge of character that he is, lets him keep the Ant-Man gear.
What are some good Ant-Man comics?
The solo runs have generally been less than great, although I confess a soft spot for The Irredeemable Ant-Man, which stars the aforementioned Eric O’Grady and is absolutely hilarious, as well as the equally hilarious follow-up Ant-Man And the Wasp. Probably the best Scott Lang comic is the recent run of FF by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred, as he tries to save the world and struggles with the recent death of his daughter.
As for Hank, honestly, he arguably gets his best treatment from Marvel not in the comics but in the cartoons: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does a surprisingly good job of summarizing Hank as a character while stripping out the, ah, more dated parts of his personality. He’s still an irresponsible tool, just a better-written one.
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