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Ant-Man

Longbox Graveyard #149

You may have heard there’s a new Marvel movie coming out this week — Ant-Man!

Ant-Man

More so than any previous Marvel movie, Ant-Man represents a tremendous risk. With the startling success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proved they can turn C-Level characters into A-List stars … but Ant-Man seems a reach even for a studio on such an unprecedented hot streak. Ant-Man has little name recognition; he was lampooned by Saturday Night Live long before superheroes were cool; the movie started as a passion project for a director who has since left the picture; and the hero himself has a history so tortured even he can’t be bothered to keep up with it.

Hank Pym

If they had it to do all over again, Marvel might well have given a miss to Ant-Man, but the franchise machine grinds on, and so ready or not, here he comes …

I will be there, of course. Marvel has earned my trust with a string of very entertaining movies, and I expect Ant-Man will open just fine. To prepare myself for the film, I went back to read the original Ant-Man adventures — a task not so easy as it seems. Which Ant-Man was I to read, exactly?

Ant-Man as seen in the early days of the Avengers?

Hank Pym names the Avengers

Nah.

Ant-Man as the stolen identity of Scott Lang, the character at the center of the movie?

Marvel Premiere #47

Nope.

Only the original vintage will do for Longbox Graveyard!

I went all the way back to before Ant-Man was Ant-Man … when Hank Pym was the Man in the Ant Hill!

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

The original Ant-Man — as we would come to know him — debuted in Tales to Astonish #27, cover dated January 1962.

Tales To Astonish #27

Tales to Astonish was a Marvel science fiction anthology mag, mostly concerned with monster-of-the-month stories staring creatures with names like Rommbu, Gorgilla, and Groot (yes, that Groot).

Tales To Astonish #13

Those early issues of Tales to Astonish were obsessed with huge creatures running amok. In spinning a story where an ant-sized man was menaced by regular-sized insects, co-creators Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby might have been taking a break from giant-sized monsters … or they may have been co-opting another popular science fiction trope, explored to brilliant effect in the classic 1957 film, The Incredible Shrinking Man.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Or maybe they were sticking with the formula after all, aping Them, from 1954, where giant ants ran wild in Los Angeles.

Them!

hmm … that fleeing woman may have given Marvel the idea for Hydra’s catchphrase!

Ant-Man certainly works as a B-picture science fiction idea!

Whatever the origins of the idea, Ant-Man’s comic book debut wasn’t especially auspicious, save in hindsight. Like most issues of Tales to Astonish, this was at best a competently-executed high concept tale.

We began with an ambitious scientist who might have been whistled up out of central casting — a white guy laughed at by the establishment for his mad dream …

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

… in this case, a serum that could shrink items and then restore them to their original size. It worked on a chair, so of course the next step was for Hank Pym to conduct a human-trial-of-one …

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

… and given that this was Tales To Astonish, no sooner has Hank shrunk down to ant-size than he was locked out of his lab and menaced by (to him) giant ants!

(Sometimes I just love the Silver Age!)

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

There followed some B-movie derring-do, including anti-ant judo (!) …

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

… but then came the magic. Trapped outside his lab, and with no way to scale the wall to get back inside, Pym hitched a ride on the back of an ant that was mysteriously more friendly than the rest.

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

In short order, Pym was returned to human-size, and vowed never to step on an ant hill again!

That might have been the end for Ant-Man … before he was ever called Ant-Man! … but for two things.

One, that image of Hank riding an ant up the side of a building was very cool. I suspect it stuck in Stan Lee’s head.

Two, there was this thing called The Fantastic Four … which debuted two months before this tale, and proved to Marvel that superheroes — and not goofy monster books — represented the future of the company. Suddenly, creating new superheroes was Job One.

Insects would prove fertile ground for the newborn Marvel age of comics …

Amazing Fantasy #15

… and just a month after Spider-Man debuted, Hank Pym was back, now sporting a costume and called — for the first time — Ant-Man!

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Tales To Astonish #35 provided a more full-featured superhero origin story for Ant-Man, recapping Pym’s previous tale, and adding to the character an entirely-reasonable newfound fascination with ants.

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Even more interesting was Pym’s impossibly cool Ant-Man helmet, a classic Jack Kirby design that was quickly put to the test, as Communist agents intent on stealing research secrets took Pym and his colleagues hostage, prompting our hero to swing into costumed action.

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Hank plunged into the ant hill again, finding that his helmet let him communicate with ants …

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

… and that he retained his human strength even while ant-sized, in a kind of inversion of Spider-Man’s famous “proportionate strength of a spider.”

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

And with that, Ant-Man was a superhero, and a part of Marvel’s nascent shared universe (there’s even a reference to “unstable molecules” as an explanation for why Ant-Man’s costume shrank with him, a concept that would be co-opted to account for the miraculous capacities of the Fantastic Four’s costumes).

Now all that remained was for Ant-Man to roll out his own super-heroic schticks, first by leading an army of ants to the rescue …

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

… then showing how an army of ants could muck up a gun, and swarm over a gunsel.

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Add a secret identity and the promise of more adventures to come, and a superhero was born!

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Living in the shadow of early Marvel hits like The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, Ant-Man would prove a modest success for Marvel, headlining a respectable thirty-issue run in Tales to Astonish (though he would share top-billing with the Hulk starting with issue #60, by which time Ant-Man had become Giant-Man in the first of many identity transformations for this star-crossed character). So significant a character was Ant-Man that he was made a founding member of the Avengers, along with his partner, the Wasp, and top-tier Marvel characters like Thor, Hulk and Iron Man (and in this case, I know that “top tier” = “anyone Marvel could round up that wasn’t Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four,” but still). In fact, while largely forgotten today, I’d argue that Hank Pym was the most interesting character in the first year or so of the Avengers, and with his many changes of identity, feelings of inadequacy, stormy relationship with the Wasp, and his creation of the mad robot Ultron, Hank Pym might be one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe, full stop.

Alas, Hank’s history seems bound to be forgotten. Hank’s ever-changing, shades-of-grey personality veered into the black with his depiction as a wife-beating asshole in the Ultimates, and then his long-gestating solo movie project cost Ant-Man his charter membership in the Avengers, with Tony Stark ultimately usurping Hank’s semi-mad scientist role and letting loose the Age of Ultron. In every way that counts for modern audiences — that is to say, the people who go to the movies — it will be Scott Lang that is Ant-Man, with poor Hank reduced to a supporting character (and possibly the bad guy, to judge by the movie trailer).

Ah, well, it is a modern miracle that we have an Ant-Man movie at all — it is churlish to complain that we aren’t getting the right guy. I just hope it’s a decent picture … or at the very least that we finally learn how to pronounce, “Pym,” after all these decades!

I hope you like the move! Let me know what you think in the comments section, below. And maybe spare a moment to enjoy Ant-Man’s very first adventures, available in digital form via Marvel Unlimited.

  • Title: Ant-Man (Tales To Astonish)
  • Published By: Marvel Comics, 1959-1968
  • Issues Reviewed: #27 & #35, January/September 1962
  • LBG Letter Grade For This Issue: C-plus

NEXT MONTH: #150 The Core of the Four

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on July 15, 2015, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Great article. I read these issues and the origin of Scott Lang for my blog. https://graemesliterarytimemachine.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/197919622014-grab-your-magnifying-glasses-were-looking-at-ant-man/
    I also agree that Pym was interesting in the beginning, but I question why he hasn’t been able to successfully solo a series since those early days. I’m glad that he is not the star of the film.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading!

      I expect our poor Mr. Pym has been nor more or less able to carry a solo series than many Avengers of his era, like Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision. Even Hawkeye has been a C-lister until his recent movie success and (even more) his very nice recent series by Fraction and Aja.

      So it goes …

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Scintillating read, as always! Thanks.

    I’m hoping to see the film soon whilst avoiding detailed reviews until then. I saw a description of the movie as a “heist film” which actually boosted my interest level. I’m wondering if the Wasp will be included or even hinted at? We shall see.

    I guess I should read that vintage story, but I assume Stan knows that ants do not make honey… I will be charitable and assume that the ants brought the honey with them and jammed the gun with it.

    Stray thought: Is ant-size the limit for Hank’s technology? The silver age (and modern) atom can shrink down to subatomic size. Can Hank push that limit?

    Like

    • Yeah, that bit about honey and ants was strange. Honey appears in both of the issues I reviewed, and I almost mentioned it … I’m no expert, but the only kind of ant I could find that creates honey is a particularly disgusting creature that swells up with the stuff and is eaten by the rest of the hive in times of famine. Now, THERE’S a new identity for Pym!

      Like

  3. Also, thanks for the movie references. I bought and watched both today and thoroughly enjoyed them!

    Like

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