Who is Ant-Man and Where Did He Come From?

A Guest Blog Post by Peter Huggins
This article was originally written for Rareburg, who in 2016,  joined forces with hobbyDB to provide an excellent source of collectible knowhow for the community. 

After all of the hype and publicity the new Ant-Man film has finally opened in UK cinemas. Marvel‘s marketing campaign has been so good that even my better half has shown some interest in the movie and asked me questions about the Ant-Man character that, as a life-long comic fan, I am ashamed to admit that I did not know the answers to – other than that he is a small little character who has an affinity with ants and fights the  bad guys. So, who is Ant-Man and where did he come from? Or should I say Ant-men? 

Now, ask me about DC Comics‘s Atom and I am your man but Ant-Man, mmm, other than a few childhood memories of the odd Ant-Man story I might have read from a friend’s collection I know very little about this new movie character that, I suspect, is going to grab hold of many people’s imaginations, both young and old, in the weeks and months to come. So, to be able to answer any further questions about Ant-Man from my other half  and to satisfy my own comic fan curiosity I thought I would do a spot of reading up on the little guy and fascinating and informative it proved to!

Tales to Astonish #27

Tales to Astonish #27

Ant-Man has been around for quite a while and is older than he looks, at least in his original guise. He was created by writer Larry Lieber and famed comic book artists Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers and first appeared in a one-shot story called “The Man in the Ant Hill” in Marvel’s Tales To Astonish #27 (Jan 1962 VF/NM $13,330 – although that was a 2014 price and any would-be buyer of this key issue can expect to see far higher prices in the wake of the film). In the story we are introduced to scientist Henry Pym (yet to design his iconic costume) who shrinks himself to the size of an insect. Sales were unexpectedly heavy, so much so Henry Pym was brought back as a series star in Tales to Astonish #35 (Sep 1962 VF/NM $3,200), in a costume, and given the name Ant-Man. The story was aptly named “Return of the Ant-Man” and this time had Stan “The Man” Lee on writing duties  – Kirby and Ayers retained the artistic chores.

These early Tales To Astonish  Ant-Man stories with their strong insect theme and the opportunity for some dynamic Kirby artwork, depicting such a small character in a world of giant-like humans, have a certain appeal but the series soon needed a bit of a shake-up. In Tales To Astonish #44 (Jun 1963 VF/NM $685) Janet Van Dyne arrived as Ant-Man’s partner, the Wasp, and did an excellent job of livening up Henry Pym’s rather staid and boring scientist character.

Tales to Astonish #49

Tales to Astonish #49

A second major change came in Tales To Astonish #49 (Nov 1963 VF/NM $350) in “The Birth of Giant-Man”. The title of the story says it all! Henry Pym discovers how to grow as well as shrink – a piece of Marvel one-upmanship over DC’s Ray Palmer Atom character  – and Ant-Man now becomes Giant Man. His first outing as Giant Man sees him pitted against the wonderful villain, The Living Eraser – check out the great cover.

Ant-Man and the Wasp, as well as starring in Tales to Astonish, were founding members of Marvel’s new super-hero team, The Avengers, appearing alongside Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk in Avengers #1 (Sep 1963 VF/NM $13,400). Ant-Man only remained an Avenger for the first issue. With Avengers #2 Ant-Man is replaced by Henry Pym’s new alter-ego, the aforementioned Giant Man.

It appears that Giant Man and the Wasp did not capture the reading public’s imagination as much as the likes of Thor, the Hulk, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man  – to name but a few of Marvel’s ever growing stable of new super-heroes. Avengers #15 (Apr Jul 1965) was the last issue to feature the pair and Avengers #16 (May 1965 VF/NM $325) saw the arrival of Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as Giant Man and the Wasp were dropped.

Confirming Giant Man and Wasp’s lack of commercial success, Marvel then dropped them from Tales To Astonish two months after their last Avengers appearance. Their final appearance was in a story entitled “Oh, Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?” in Tales To Astonish #69 (Jul 1965 VF/NM $120) after which the Sub-Mariner featured alongside the Hulk.

Although Ant-Man  – and then Giant Man – did not enjoy the success that Marvel would have hoped for after the initial fan interest, the short run of Tales To Astonish #35-48 that Ant-Man appears in are very collectable issues now, particularly with the new film having been released. Apart from #35 and #36, the rest of the run are still reasonably affordable and in the higher grades, I am sure, will be a sound investment in the years ahead.

Stan Lee must have seen something in the Hank Pym character because not long after his being dropped from both Tales To Astonish and Avengers he resurfaces as Goliath. After the Wasp has been kidnapped by Attuma and the Collector he re-joins the Avengers in Avengers #28 (May 1966 VF/NM $175) to help rescue her in the tale “Among Us Walks… a Goliath”.

Avengers #59

Avengers #59

The Marvel script writers definitely had it in for Hank Pym. Not content with three super-hero identities Pym is given a fourth change when, experimenting in his lab, an accident changed his personality. He experiences increasing mental strain, claims that he had murdered Pym and adopts the identity of Yellowjacket making his first appearance in Avengers #59 (Dec 1968 VF/NM $50). He married the Wasp in the very next issue although they were to divorce later.

Pym reappears as Ant-Man in the now classic Avengers #93 (Nov 1971 VF/NM $135). Written by Roy Thomas and illustrated beautifully by Neal Adams, Pym answers a call for the original Avengers team to gather and as he says to Thor “..it was Ant-Man then… so it’s Ant-Man now”. He then proceeds to take centre stage and single-handedly resurrects a seemingly dead Vision by entering his body and repairing the damage.

Ant-Man makes no further appearances in the Avengers but does appear in the lead stories in Marvel Feature #4-10 (Jul 1972 – Jul 1973) which feature some lovely covers by the likes of Herb Trimpe,  Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, and P. Craig Russell. Marvel Feature #6 sees the Wasp make an appearance and the two resume their team-up of old while #8 tells the origin of Ant-Man and the Wasp. The full seven issue run would probably cost you about $200 in VF/NM condition and would make a very nice little reading-and-financial investment.

What followed for Henry Pym was a series of minor appearances in his Yellowjacket persona during the 1980s after which he gives up any costumed role completely joining the West Coast Avengers in #21 (Jun 1987 VF/NM $3) as the scientist and inventor he originally started out as. This is a very quiet and forgettable period in Pym’s checkered Marvel career.

Heroes Return The Avengers 1st issue

Heroes Return The Avengers 1st issue

Once again, little is seen of Henry Pym until the events of Secret Invasion, the major crossover storyline event for Marvel in 2008. During Secret Invasion it is revealed that the Henry Pym who married the Wasp was a Skrull impostor. The real Henry Pym returns only to see the Wasp die in an explosion (seemingly – as she was really sent into a spatial warp by Thor’s hammer). After accepting Janet’s death, Hank Pym takes on yet another super-hero identity by renaming himself the Wasp in honor of Janet in Secret Invasion: Requiem #1 (Jan 2009 VF/NM $3 ). He re-joins the Avengers in Mighty Avengers #21 (Mar 2009) and eventually leads the team.

Avengers Academy #1

Avengers Academy #1

In Dark Reign, which deals with the aftermath of the “Secret Invasion” storyline, Pym formed his own team of renegade Avengers to work against Norman Osborn. With Osborn’s downfall, Pym felt he could do most good by teaching the next generation of super-heroes how to use their powers and to this end he established the Avengers Academy in Avengers Academy #1 (Aug 2010) and appeared as a supporting character throughout the run until the final issue, Avengers Academy #39 (Jan 2013). In the meantime, Pym appeared as his regular self in Secret Avengers #22-37 (Apr 2012-Mar 2013) and returned as the Wasp in the Ant-Man & Wasp mini-series (Jan 2011)  while a certain Eric O’ Grady was the Ant-Man.

Eric O’ Grady as the Ant-Man? Not surprisingly, with Henry Pym’s long term absence as the Ant-Man, Marvel saw fit to keep the hero in the public eye but through other characters. To date, there have been two successors to the Ant-Man role.

Marvel Premier #47

Marvel Premier #47

The first was Scott Lang who is the Ant-Man of the current movie played by the actor Paul Rudd. We first meet Scott in Avengers #181 (Mar 1979 VF/NM $15). Lang was an electronics expert who turned to crime for a short while to help support his family. He was caught and served time in prison. After his release his wife divorced him but Scott was given custody of his daughter Cassie. Cassie had a serious heart condition and the only surgeon who could treat her had been kidnapped. Lang turned once again to crime and burgled Hank Pym’s home where he stole Pym’s old Ant-Man costume and shrinking formula. Lang rescued the surgeon who saved his daughter’s life. Lang turned himself in but Pym decided to allow him to continue as Ant-Man. Lang’s first appearance in the Ant-Man costume came in Marvel Premiere #47 (Apr 1979 VF/NM $45). He subsequently often aided the Avengers and eventually joined the team in Avengers (Volume 3) #62 (Feb 2003 VF/NM $2).

Scott was later killed in Avengers (Volume 3) #500  (Sep 2004) during the Avengers Disassembled storyline when a zombified Jack of Hearts, under the control of an insane Scarlet Witch, explodes himself in the grounds of Avengers Mansion – along with Scott Lang. Very few heroes stay dead for long and, true to form, The Young Avengers rescue Scott from his death by traveling back in time in the mini-series Avengers: The Children’s Crusade (Sep 2010  – May 2012) and returning him to the present before the explosion. He then saw his daughter killed by Doctor Doom who then went on to revive her in the AXIS event of 2014.

Although he had been given a job at Stark International, Scott desperately wanted to be with his newly-resurrected daughter and turns down The Stark International post – following Cassie to Miami. This is where he currently resides, having set up his own detective agency Ant-Man Security Solutions, and his current adventures and misadventures can be followed in the Ant-Man (Volume 2) series that came out in March 2015.

Irredeemable Ant-Man #1

Irredeemable Ant-Man #1

Ant-Man number three was Eric O’Grady. Eric was a low-level agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. His best friend and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Chris McCarthy had been chosen to wear Dr. Henry Pym’s latest prototype of the Ant-Man suit. When McCarthy was killed during a HYDRA attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Eric immediately stole the armor from his best friend’s dead body. Eric was a cowardly man with very few morals, the willingness to lie and steal and do anything to suit his own selfish ends, Eric was created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Phil Hester in 2006 when he first appeared in Civil War: Choosing Sides #1 (Dec 2006 VF/NM $3) – a one-shot that serves as a prequel for Thunderbolts #110, Irredeemable Ant-Man #1, Immortal Iron Fist #1, Omega Flight #1 and also a Howard the Duck story. He then appeared in his own title with The Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 (Dec 2006 VF/NM $2) which went on to have a short 12 issue run. The title tells us all we need to know about his character..!

After various ill-conceived adventures, O’Grady took a job with Damage Control in Irredeemable Ant-Man #7 (Jun 2007) VF/NM $2) using a fake ID and a new super-hero identity, Slaying Mantis. Damage Control is the engineering and construction company that specializes in repairing property damage caused by superhero conflict. Later, in Avengers: The Initiative #8 (Feb 2008 VF/NM $3) Eric became a part of the Initiative, the program created to train people with powers and abilities where individuals that pass have a chance of being assigned to one of the fifty officially sanctioned super-hero teams – one for every state.

Secret Avengers #23

Secret Avengers #23

After the Secret Invasion, Eric “graduated” from the Initiative and was placed on Norman Osborn’s newest formation of the Thunderbolts in Thunderbolts #128 (Mar 2009 VF/NM $2). He later betrayed the Thunderbolts when they were sent to obtain the Spear of Odin for Norman Osborn to use to kill Thor. O’Grady turned on his Thunderbolt teammates to make sure Osborn did not get the Spear. Never a dull moment, Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America, then invited O’Grady to join the Secret Avengers in Thunderbolts #143 (Jun 2010) $2). Just as it seemed the irredeemable Ant-Man could be redeemed Eric was beaten to death in Secret Avengers #23 (Apr 2012 VF/NM $3) heroically defending a young child from a group of androids who were part of the Descendant group of machines created by the villain known as Father. A rather inglorious and checkered career as Ant-Man being brought to a seemingly premature end – I am cynical enough to think that he could be brought back in some way!

So, there is a lot more to know about the Ant-Man than one might at first think. Indeed, we are not even talking about one character but three – all very different to each other but all very interesting in their own ways. For the comic collector and enthusiast there is a wealth of material surrounding the character(s) to go out and read and buy. For the larger budgets there are some mouth-watering Tales to Astonish and early Avengers to pick up. What I would not give to be able to pick up Tales to Astonish #27 – even in a FN grade! Then there is the much more recent material, Irredeemable Ant-Man, The Secret Avengers, Scott Lang Avengers issues – all available for $2-3 an issue. All great reads. And if reading the comics is not your thing, go out and simply enjoy the movie. I know I will!

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