Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp

(pop culture)

Marvel’s superhero revolution has been so successful that it is hard to imagine a time when the company was unsure about how to handle them, but in its early years there were a few strips that never quite caught on. One of these was Ant-Man, although, over the years, he has remained in the public eye through a succession of name—and size—changes. Dr. Henry (“Hank”) Pym was first introduced in a short Stan Lee/Jack Kirby story called “The Man in the Ant Hill!” (in Tales to Astonish #27) in early 1962, barely two months after Fantastic Four #1; this makes him Marvel’s second superhero. The tale recounts how intrepid (not to say reckless) scientist Hank Pym discovers a serum that can shrink him to the size of an ant; essentially, this plot device was little different from those used in the many mystery stories that the company was churning out at the time. However, later that year (in Tales to Astonish #33) Pym returns, this time with a stylish red costume and a “cybernetic” helmet that allows him to communicate with and control ants, as well as amplify his voice when he is shrunken so that humans can hear him. With a supply of shrinking fluids (later capsules) in his belt, he is ready to tackle crime as Ant-Man.

This faintly ludicrous premise inspired a number of enjoyably wacky stories—as long as Lee and Kirby were aboard. However, issues by lesser hands were a pale shadow of the company’s top features, such as Fantastic Four or Spider-Man. From a contemporary perspective, nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in the series’ parade of outrageous villains, including Egghead (whose head was, indeed, ovoid), the Porcupine, El Toro, the Scarlet Beetle, the Human Top, and the infamously stupid Living Eraser. Tales to Astonish #44 introduced the partner, love interest, and part-time damsel-in-distress Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp. She was gifted with shrinking powers, wings, and stingers by a smitten Pym. In late 1963 the pair were founding members of the Avengers, in whose comic book they would find much of their success over the following decades. One month later, Pym underwent the first of many transformations.

In issue #49 of Tales to Astonish, Pym discovered that by adjusting his serum he could grow rather than shrink, and so Giant-Man was born. Several issues later, the strip introduced a group of kids called the Giant-Man and Wasp Fan Club, but the strip was in trouble, and in issue #70 it was replaced by the Sub-Mariner, just as Ant-Man and the Wasp had been replaced in The Avengers #15 by the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. However, after a year in the wilderness, the pair returned and became Avengers regulars throughout the 1960s. But all this shrinking and growing were taking their toll on poor old Pym, who first changed his name to Goliath and then had a mental breakdown, reappearing as the mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know Yellowjacket. Undeterred by her beau’s raging schizophrenia, the Wasp promptly married Pym/Yellowjacket; but, even though he soon returned to normal, the seeds of future trouble were sown.

For the rest of that decade, Yellowjacket and the Wasp were occasional stars in the Avengers, while Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, “borrowed” Pym’s growth serum and became a new, bare-chested Goliath. In the early 1970s, the pair went on an extended “research” leave of absence, although Pym starred in a brief run of Marvel Feature (issues #4-#10 in 1972) as Ant-Man, before returning to the group with issue #137. While Pym seemed content to be Yellowjacket, his lab assistant Bill Foster briefly became the size-changing Black Goliath for five issues of his own comic. The 1980s were a less happy time for the couple, with the Wasp becoming ever more prominent in the Avengers while Pym gradually went around the bend (again) in his lab. In a sequence of events starting in The Avengers #213, Hank had a nervous breakdown, hit Van Dyne, was court-martialed by the team, framed by Egghead for stealing some nuclear devices, jailed, freed, divorced, retired, un-retired, and finally inducted in to the West Coast Avengers (as depressed scientist-in-residence).

Meanwhile, someone at Marvel noticed that there was currently no one in their line called Ant-Man, and so a new one duly appeared in two issues of Marvel Premiere (issues #47 and #48, in 1981). This new incarnation was Scott Lang, who had turned to crime to support his family and had been jailed for three years, during which his wife divorced him. On his release, he found work with Stark Industries but stole one of Pym’s old Ant-Man costumes to rescue the one doctor who could save his critically ill daughter (and who had rather inconveniently been kidnapped). Following his first successful outing as Ant-Man, Lang was given the suit permanently by a very understanding Pym and has since gone on to guest appearances in Avengers, Rom, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, and Alias. After quitting his job with Stark Industries, he was hired by the Fantastic Four to replace Reed Richards when that character temporarily disappeared (in Fantastic Four #388). Following Reed’s inevitable return, Lang became something of a glorified computer repairman for the team before joining the Heroes for Hire for a couple of years in the late 1990s (and appearing as mentor and rival to his grown-up, Wasp-like daughter Cassie—a.k.a. “Stinger”—in the parallel-future Avengers book A-Next). Like the original Ant-Man, Lang’s powers are not really significant enough to sustain a solo series, but he makes a decent team player and his insecurity and self-doubt make him an engaging character.

As far as Pym is concerned, the late 1980s saw him begin to rebuild his life and, for a while, he used his abilities (now made inherent after such prolonged use of his various potions and gases) to shrink or enlarge other objects, before gaining the confidence to become a superhero again. In due time, he rejoined the Avengers as Giant-Man, once more changed his name to Goliath, and gradually became reconciled with the Wasp. Post-millennial developments have seen the inevitable third mental breakdown and the reappearance of Yellowjacket. Although this time Yellowjacket initially occupied a separate body, he and Pym were eventually merged together.

While never a major figure in the comics world, Pym has enjoyed something of a cult following, particularly as Ant-Man, which has resulted in a well-received book collection of his Tales to Astonish years (in 2002) and the occasional action figure and statue. His sole brush with the mass media was in the 1999-2000 Fox Avengers television cartoon, where he appeared simply as scientist Dr. Hank Pym.

After the seeming death of Janet Van Dyne in Marvel’s Secret Invasion series (2008), Henry Pym adopted the name of the Wasp as a tribute to her. The new Avengers Academy series, which debuted in 2010, is about a school that Pym recently founded to train young superhumans. In 2011, Pym resumed his costumed persona of Giant-Man.

Writer Robert Kirkman and artist Phil Hester created the third Ant-Man, Eric O’Grady, who debuted in The Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 (September 2006) and later joined the Secret Avengers. —DAR

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