Ahead of ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp,’ take a leap into their comic book origins.
We’re living in a superhero movie renaissance, an era where spandex-clothed heroes continually dominate box offices. Or at least it feels that way. With the genre at its height and showing no signs of slowing down, it’s no surprise mainstream audiences have been introduced to more niche heroes in recent years. Case in point: Ant-Man, a lesser-known Marvel hero who now has his own movie franchise despite never having his own long-running comic series.
The 2015 release of Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd, was a bit of a head-scratcher. Of Marvel’s long line of superhero flicks, Ant-Man is probably the most niche to nab his own feature film. Nevertheless, the film performed exceedingly well at the box office, a result that guaranteed Ant-Man a vital role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years to come.
Although Ant-Man didn’t appear in Avengers: Infinity War — which virtually brought together all current Marvel movie heroes into one ridiculously star-studded film — audiences can see the size-shifting hero in action again in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Ahead of the sequel, take a look at this once-obscure character’s comic book origins.
If you’ve seen the first movie, you’ll know Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, aka Scott Lang, wasn’t the first to assume the role. The first Ant-Man, Hank Pym, preceded Scott Lang by 17 years. Ant-Man was created by a trio of comic book legends — Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber. In early 1962 in a rarity for the medium, he first appeared in a fantasy/science fiction anthology series, Tales to Astonish #27, in a story called “The Man in the Ant Hill.”
Ironically, Lee didn’t think up the “Man in the Ant Hill” as a new Marvel hero but just as a peculiar man who could shrink to a microscopic size for this one-off story. Tales to Astonish regularly introduced characters that didn’t wind up as recurring heroes, but issue 27 intrigued fans and sold well enough to warrant full superhero status for the Man in the Ant Hill. In issue #35, readers were formally introduced to Ant-Man, Marvel’s latest superhero, in a three-chapter event.
Readers were drawn to Ant-Man, so Marvel fleshed out his story in subsequent issues of Tales to Astonish. Creators even gave him the superhero sidekick Janet van Dyne, better known as the Wasp, within a year. The Wasp was introduced as Ant-Man’s girlfriend and lab assistant. Ant-Man’s many powers were also established in the early going: microscopic shapeshifting (applied to both himself and other objects), supreme intellect and telepathic communication with ants.
In the comics, Hank gains his powers after performing a series of experiments on subatomic particles. After developing a serum that allows him to radically shrink objects, he tests it on himself and becomes trapped in an anthill. Thankfully, he has also concocted a reversal formula to return to normal size. After toiling with the notion of abandoning the experiment due to safety concerns, Pym designs a helmet that allows him to communicate with and control ants. Eventually, he’s contacted by Dr. Vernon van Dyne, who hopes Hank can help him make contact with alien life. Hank agrees only because he’s interested in van Dyne’s daughter, the aforementioned Janet. The adventure goes awry, and an alien kills Vernon. Feeling responsible, Hank vows to help Janet avenge her father’s death. He creates wasp wings for Janet’s shrinking costume; thus, the Wasp is born. After successfully taking out the rogue alien, the pair now see themselves as full-fledged superheroes.
Ant-Man and the Wasp became founding members of the Avengers in 1963, with the Wasp coming up with the name for the crime-fighting squad.
It’s not particularly unusual for superheroes to shift identities throughout their tenure in comics, but it is uncommon for the ones who’ve garnered movie adaptations. Although he’d received a major role in Marvel’s new flagship series featuring some of their most popular heroes, Ant-Man’s identity quickly changed. In the second issue of the Avengers, Ant-Man adopted the moniker Giant-Man. Although never discussed at the time, many years later it was revealed that Pym turned into Giant-Man because he felt like a lesser hero compared to mighty characters like Iron Man and Thor. As a result, Giant-Man had superhuman strength and durability and abandoned his trademark shrinking ability.
The abrupt shift from Ant-Man to Giant Man poses an interesting question: Did Marvel not believe in the long-term appeal of a hero with super-shrinking powers? Logistically, making the panels interesting and giving them proper perspective to showcase his unique vantage point probably proved challenging. In that sense, the move to adopt the Giant-Man identity made sense, as it stuck to Marvel’s strengths.
After taking a hiatus from the Avengers, Giant-Man returns as Goliath, a new identity but basically the same character in terms of powers. It’s during this time as Goliath that Hank has his most interesting arc. He manages to develop his size-shifting ability once again and accidentally gives sentience to a robot creation of his called Ultron. Ultron, of course, is one of the Avengers’ most famous nemeses.
Hank’s mishaps and misfortune continue during an experiment in which he inhales personality-changing chemicals. Once again, under the influence of the chemicals, he adopts a new identity as Yellowjacket. Throughout the 1970s, Hank retained the Yellowjacket identity and periodically linked up with the Avengers.
The Ant-Man moviegoers know
As mentioned, Ant-Man went through numerous permutations throughout the ’60s and ’70s. By 1979, though, Marvel was ready to bring back the original Ant-Man. Perhaps in an effort to preserve Pym’s wild story line, they introduced Scott Lang in Avengers #181 rather than rebooting the character. Lang grew up in Florida with a fascination for movies. His humdrum life as an electrical engineer didn’t live up to the adventure he so desperately longed for, so he took to a life of crime and eventually served a four-year prison sentence for burglary. Upon his release, Tony Stark hires him to install a new security system in the Avengers headquarters.
When his daughter becomes gravely ill, he returns to his crime past out of necessity. The only doctor who can help him has been captured by a Stark Industries competitor. To get her out, he breaks into Hank Pym’s house and steals the Ant-Man’s suit. Scott saves the doctor, but when he goes back to return the suit, Hank decides to let him keep it as long as he uses the powers for good.
This origin story differs slightly from that of the first movie, but it leads to the same result — a new Ant-Man.
Although the comics that Scott appeared in as the hero featured the Wasp from time to time, the upcoming movie will be more indebted to the original Ant-Man and Wasp. In Scott’s early days as Ant-Man, he teamed up with the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne. However, the Wasp in the film is Hope van Dyne, the daughter of Hank and Janet, who didn’t appear in the comics until 1999.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, Ant-Man and the Wasp is set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. So you can bet that when the next Avengers film releases, all of the group’s canonical founders will have major roles.