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READING LIST: The Essential Ant-Man

by  in Comic News Comment
READING LIST: The Essential Ant-Man

Marvel‘s smallest hero is about to get very big. Even the most casual comic book readers have likely seen the film’s first trailer, and with the July 17 film now less than six months away, it’s officially time to get excited for Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man.” The world of Ant-Man may not be very well-known to casual Marvel fans, but comic book loyalists are likely very familiar with the character in all his varied incarnations. A number of heroes have assumed the Ant-Man moniker since the character debuted in 1962, each with their own complex history and seminal stories from across the decades.

First Look At “Ant-Man” Film Is Now “Human-Sized”

Join us as we delve back into Marvel’s rich past to find the highlights of the history of Ant-Man. Whether it was Hank Pym in one of his many heroic identities, reformed burglar Scott Lang or the Irredeemable version of the character, Eric O’Grady, each of the Ant-Men have entertained Marvel readers over the years. As you count down the days ’til “Ant-Man” hits theaters — and with issue #2 of Marvel’s recently launched “Ant-Man” series on sale today — peruse this handy reading list of the essential stories that make Marvel’s most diminutive superhero a prime candidate to be their next big screen star.

You Will Believe a Man Can… Shrink?

“Tales to Astonish #27” (1962) Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby

Here it is, the debut of Hank Pym. For a first issue that introduced one of Marvel’s oldest heroes, there is very little costumed action in sight. Instead, Lee, Lieber and Kirby treated early Marvel fans to a take on “Gulliver’s Travels” or “The Incredible Shrinking Man” as a terrified scientist named Hank Pym became “The Man in the Ant-Hill.” This issue was almost like an Ant-Man pilot issue, as Kirby got to play with forced perspectives and other artistic tricks to make fans believe the Ant-Man conceit. It seemed like this was going to be a typical one-off issues of one of Marvel’s many sci-fi/horror anthologies, until a few months later when Hank Pym, now in a very distinctive costume, made his dramatic return.

Size Matters Not — A Hero is Born

“Tales to Astonish” #35 (1962) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Eight issues later, Lee and Kirby’s “Man in the Ant-Hill” was back, becoming one of the few recurring characters in the Atlas/Marvel anthology years and this time. Not only did Pym return, but he donned his distinctive red-and-black costume and silver helm for the very first time. Months after the Fantastic Four and the Hulk debuted, Ant-Man joined the burgeoning Marvel pantheon. None of the wonderfully strange villains that would go on to define and bedevil Ant-Man’s earliest forays joined Pym on his first costumed adventure — on the contrary, in his first ant-helmeted adventure, Pym faced four generic communist agents. Nevertheless, “Tales to Astonish” #35 marked the beginning of Ant-Man’s legend and his costumed Marvel adventures.

The Wasp Arrives!

“Tales to Astonish” #44 (1963) by Stan Lee, H.E. Huntley and Jack Kirby

The issues before “Tales to Astonish” #44 focused on Ant-Man as a solo shrinking super-hero not moving much past the gimmick, but this issue was the first to focus on Hank Pym the man. In it, readers were informed that Pym once had a wife, Maria Pym, a Hungarian refugee. When Hank and Maria returned to her homeland, they were attacked by armed men and Maria was killed in the process. Following a flashback to Pym’s tragic past, the issue then introduced Janet Van Dyne. While Pym was developing a method to bestow similar shrinking abilities on someone else so he wouldn’t have to fight crime solo, Professor Vernon Van Dyne accidentally transported to Earth the Creature from the Kosmos, an alien criminal. The Creature killed Janet’s father and when Pym saw her dedication to bringing the creature to justice, he bestowed powers upon the girl he once dismissed as too flighty to undergo the procedure and Janet Van Dyne became the Wasp, who like Ant-Man would become a longtime Avenger and a major part of Marvel history.

And There Came a Day…

“Avengers” #1 (1963) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Whether on a solo adventure or side-by-side with the Wasp, Ant-Man’s adventures were not exactly earth-shattering. Exciting? Yes. Innovative? Of course. But epic? Not so much. That all changed when Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne became founding members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, better know as the Avengers. Now, the diminutive duo were given equal billing with Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. In fact, the most legendary moments concerning Pym and the Wasp would happen in the pages of “Avengers,” and it all began here in title’s inaugural issue when Marvel’s tiniest titans played with the big boys for the first time.

Things Get Big

“Tales to Astonish” #49 (1963) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Very soon after Ant-Man and the Wasp joined the Avengers, Hank Pym underwent his first costumed identity change — though it would be far from his last. In the pages of “Tales to Astonish” #49, Ant-Man changed his size-altering formula and was now able to increase his size in addition to shrinking. Now, Pym could truly stand side-by-side with both gods and monsters. Pym had a classic new look that went with his new power set and Giant-Man became as iconic as Pym’s Ant-Man identity. This size alteration also changed the tone of Pym’s stories, with the hero’s new powers allowing him to take on foes far more powerful than the red menaces and saboteurs he faced as Ant-Man. By making Pym larger and more formidable, Lee and Kirby were able to tell stories that were larger in scope and really brought the sometimes stagnant “Ant-Man” strip to the next level.

Identity Crisis

“Avengers” #28 (1966) by Stan Lee and Don Heck

In “Avengers” #28, Pym once again changed his costumed identity to that of Goliath. This issue marks the first inkling that something could be wrong with Pym mentally with the scientist and hero admitting he changed his identity because he felt powerless compared to the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. As Goliath, Pym was also trapped at the height of ten feet, a tragedy that further weakened Pym’s already delicate psyche. Pym’s greatest failures mental instability truly began with his second name change, and things only went downhill from here.

Pym’s Giant Mistake and the Birth of Ultron

“Avengers” #54-55 (1968) by Roy Thomas and John Buscema

Ant-Man and Ultron will both make their first cinematic splashes this year, which is apropos since the two character have always been inexorably linked in the pages of Marvel Comics. “Avengers” #54 introduced the Crimson Cowl, a mysterious new villain who threatened the Avengers. When the cowl fell away, readers of the day were shocked to learn that this new villain was a robot. More shocks followed when readers discovered this mechanical menace was constructed by none other than Hank Pym. Already vulnerable from his time trapped as a giant, Pym, still in his Goliath guise, was forced to face his greatest failure — the robotic monster of his own creation. Pym has spent his entire career atoning for the fact that he created a being who is responsible for so much death and destruction. Ultron’s creation wasn’t all bad, however, as the robot despot built two robots who went on the become Avengers: Vision and Jocasta. But while there was a tiny silver lining, after Ultron rose to power, Hank Pym, as each of his identities, would never truly be the same.

Identity Crisis, Part Two

“Avengers” #59 (1968) by Roy Thomas and John Buscema

In this famous issue of the “Avengers,” a brash new mystery man made the scene. A costumed being known as Yellowjacket kidnapped the Wasp and swore to destroy Goliath. At first, it looked like the Avengers were under siege by a brand new villain, but it was soon revealed that Yellowjacket was none other than Pym himself. Thanks to another lab mishap, Pym exposed himself to chemicals that created a new, more confident persona he dubbed “Yellowjacket.” After this issue, Pym’s newfound confidence gave him the impetus he needed to propose to the Wasp, and the two were finally married. Hank and Jan’s blissful days as newlyweds would not last long as what became of their marriage is almost as legendary as Pym’s failures with Ultron.

Return to the Anthill

“Marvel Feature” (1971) #4-8 by Mike Friedrich, Roy Thomas Herb Trimpe and Craig Russell

For a very brief period at the dawn of the Bronze Age, Hank Pym escaped the shadow of the Avengers and had a very short solo stint as Ant-Man once again. These handful of issues were Marvel’s attempt to make Pym a viable feature, and while this run may have been brief, it was also a blast. These issues marked a return to form for Hank Pym and even tried to establish an Ant-Man’s rogues gallery by reviving and revamping some classic “Tales to Astonish” villains like Egghead and the former Human Top, now known as Whirlwind. For fans who want to steer clear of Pym’s baggage, multiple identities, Ultron or the Avengers, these issues certainly fit the bill.

A Future Film Star is Born

“Marvel Premiere” #47-48 (1979) by Bob Layton and John Byrne

Before we talk of the dark times ahead for Hank Pym, let’s focus on the rise of a hero, and a brand new Ant-Man. Scott Lang was looking for a second chance, a chance to be a hero and save the life of his daughter Cassie. To do this, Lang had to rescue the only doctor who could treat his dying daughter and the ex-burglar turned budding hero stole Hank Pym’s old Ant-Man suit and undertook a daring mission to save the doctor. Thus, the second hero to use the name Ant-Man was born, one who would 35 years later star in an “Ant-Man” film. These issues of “Marvel Premiere” were the world’s introduction to a new Ant-Man and most importantly, according to interviews with Edgar Wright – -the filmmaker originally slated to direct “Ant-Man” — these were the issues that inspired his take.

The Slap Heard Around the World

“Avengers” #213 (1981) by Jim Shooter and Bob Hall

Hank Pym was once one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This issue changed all that, with the Avengers pondering a court-martial over Pym’s reckless behavior after he, as Yellowjacket, built a new adamantium robot only he could defeat. When his wife, the Wasp, tried to stop him, comic fans were horrified when Pym slapped her in response. After this issue, the legacy of Hank Pym was forever tainted and remains so to this day. Yes, there have been attempts at redemption for Hank, but the slap and his subsequent removal from the Avengers have forever tainted Pym’s heroic legacy.

An Iconic Team-Up

“Avengers” #223 (1982) by David Michelinie and Greg LaRocque

While Pym’s legacy was in shambles, the legacy of Ant-Man was going strong thanks in part to this rollicking issue of the “Avengers.” While the issue belongs more to Hawkeye than Ant-Man, Scott Lang plays a pivotal role — and oh, that cover. Artists Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson crafted one of the most iconic covers in “Ant-Man” history. As for the story itself, Scott Lang must help Hawkeye save the carnival in which he used to perform from the Taskmaster. Will we one day see Jeremy Renner fire Paul Rudd from his bow? We can dream.

Ant-Man & Jessica Jones

“Alias”#13-28 (2002-2004) by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos

Fans seeking some modern day Scott Lang action to prepare for the film, look no further than “Alias.” In this vastly influential Marvel MAX series, Scott Lang became the boyfriend to troubled super-powered private investigator Jessica Jones, soon to be star of her own Netflix series. For roughly half of the series, Lang served as Jessica’s romantic interest and her emotional rock until he was seemingly killed in horrific fashion by the Purple Man. Turns out, Lang’s death was a sick trick, but these issues really defined Lang as a man and as a character moving forward in the Marvel Universe.

Ant-Man Disassembled

“Avengers” #500 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch

Lang wasn’t killed by the Purple Man, but sadly, for a time, he was killed by the out of control power of the Scarlet Witch. When Wanda Maximoff’s power caused short-lived Avenger Jack of Hearts to detonate, Lang was caught in the explosion. He would remain dead for some time, resulting in his daughter Cassie to take the heroic identity of Stature as a member of the Young Avengers to honor her father. Many events of the Ant-Man legacy began here with the death (well, at least for a little while) of Scott Lang.

From Astonishing to Irredeemable?

“Irredeemable Ant-Man” #1-12 (2006-2007) by Robert Kirkman, Phil Hester & Ande Parks

With Lang gone, there was an ant-shaped void in the Marvel Universe, and no one could ever guess that the hero that filled it would be truly irredeemable. When “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman and artist Phil Hester introduced Eric O’Grady, the legacy of Ant-Man changed forever. Pym might have had a dark side and Scott Lang might have once been a burglar, but here was an Ant-Man that truly was, well, a dick. O’Grady was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (a bad one) who stole Pym’s tech to become the newest Ant-Man but he used his powers not for good, but for things like making money and watching She-Hulk in the shower. Come to think of it, a film version of O’Grady could be a perfect foil for Scott Lang in any potential “Ant-Man” sequel.

Scott Lang Lives

“Avengers: Children’s Crusade” #8 (2012) by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

When Scott Lang returned from the dead in this issue, no one could expect the tragedy that would accompany his resurrection. Stature, Lang’s daughter, was thrilled to witness her father’s resurrection, but when Cassie is killed by Doctor Doom, Lang finds his return to life unthinkably tragic. This issue initiated a new status quo for Lang, as a mourning father who fights for justice in the name of his fallen daughter, and this issue stands as a moving and powerful issue in the Ant-Man legacy.

The Mourning Hero

“FF” Vol. 2 #1-16 (2013-2014) by Matt Fraction, Lee Allred and Mike Allred

Lang’s pain continued into the pages of “FF,” where the mourning father found purpose in leading the Future Foundation kids while the Fantastic Four went on a mission in space. With Medusa, She-Hulk and Miss Thing, Lang proved to the world his inner strength by finding the hero within despite the inner turmoil he was going through. Somehow, Fraction and the Allreds still had a blast with Lang despite the dire circumstances in which this Ant-Man joined the FF. These issues are a wonderful testament to the man, the father and the hero Scott Lang embodies.

The Greatness of Hank Pym

“Age of Ultron” #10A.I. (2013) by Mark Waid and Andre Lima Araujo

Coming off “Age of Ultron,” it would seem that Hank Pym didn’t have much to live for. After all, he just witnessed just how much horror his creation wrecked upon the timeline and all of reality. But this issue by master comic scribe Mark Waid tracks just how many boons Pym has given to the world. After so much darkness, Waid examined why Pym is the greatest of heroes, an unmatched scientist supreme who keeps the world safe despite his mistakes. This issue is a celebration of the fifty-plus years of Ant-Man greatness dating back to “The Man in the Anthill.”

The Modern Era Begins

“Ant-Man” #1 (2015) by Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas

It may have just been released last month, but Marvel’s new “Ant-Man” series starring Scott Lang easily makes the cut, with a debut issue that perfectly captured both the spirit and the rich history of Ant-Man perfectly. If the tone and sense of fun of the film is represented by this issue, Ant-Man fans are in for one heck of a ride in 2015.

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