Who is Ant-Man?

Feature James Hunt

With Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man movie finally taking a step towards production, James explains just who this long-serving Marvel character is...

Marvel's films always attract a lot of buzz, but for years, one had all buzz and no substance – at least until last month's SDCC, where an effects test and promo card put the film another step closer to existence. Of course, we're talking about Ant-Man.

Although one of Marvel's oldest properties, the enthusiasm for Ant-Man isn't based so much on the strength of him as a character, but on the talent behind the script: two of Britain's most prominent and geek-friendly writer/directors, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright.

It was Wright's appearance at SDCC that finally proved the wheels were turning on the film, which makes now a good time to ask: just who is Ant-Man?

It's a question that's not quite as simple as it first sounds. Unlike other classic Marvel heroes, Ant-Man is an identity that has been assumed by several different characters for lengthy periods of time. Generally speaking, you can be pretty sure that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and Tony Stark is Iron Man, but Ant-Man has had at least three distinct and fairly long-lived incarnations. Wright and Cornish have already indicated that at least two will feature in the movie, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the third in there too.

At his core, however, Ant-Man is a character with shrinking powers and a helmet that lets him communicate with (and control) insects. Fair enough. Not so complicated. We can expect to see all of that represented in the film regardless of who the lead character is. But which Ant Man are we actually getting, and who are they?

Well, the original Ant-Man was Hank Pym. In the comics, he was even a founding Avenger, although the movie version of the team was (ironically) unable to find the space for him. Pym is also the scientist behind the famous Marvel Universe pseudo-science, Pym Particles, a chemical which allows matter to shrink in size without becoming compressed. Using these particles (and a helmet which can control insects – presumably a useful tool when you're the size of one…) Pym became the superhero Ant-Man. Refining his formula to allow growth as well, he then revised his identity to Giant Man. Then later, to Yellowjacket, Goliath, Giant Man again, Yellowjacket again and even (for a while) the Wasp. It's not hard to see how the Ant-Man name ended up free for someone else to use.

Being a Lee/Kirby creation and one closely associated with the Avengers, there was never any question that Hank Pym was the version of the character most likely to feature in an Ant-Man movie. Indeed, Wright and Cornish have confirmed that their treatment starts with Pym in the 60s, and flashes forward to a future incarnation of Ant-Man: the Scott Lang version.

As the second Ant-Man, Lang was a thief who stole the Ant-Man suit and equipment so that he could use it to save his daughter's life. After he reformed, Pym encouraged him to become a full-time superhero and he was allied to the Fantastic Four, working and living in the Baxter Building with his daughter Cassie. He was eventually killed by the Scarlet Witch, but brought back to life by her a few years later. Although shortly after, Cassie (who had, in the intervening years, become the size-changing superhero Stature) was killed by Doctor Doom, so it's not the happy ending it might sound like.

It's not hard to see why Wright and Cornish might want to use Lang. Unlike Pym, Lang's story adheres slightly more to the classic Marvel template of a flawed hero with personal responsibilities that weigh on his superheroic exploits. That said, he simply doesn't have the name recognition that Pym does, despite holding the identity for longer – 25 years, from 1979 until his death in 2004 – so it perhaps makes some sense to include both versions of the character and play them off against one another.

The third and (so far) final Ant-Man is named Eric O'Grady. A low-ranking SHIELD agent who discovered the Ant-Man equipment interned following Lang's death, O'Grady hoped to become a superhero to attract women and get revenge on those who had wronged him. Although superficially immoral, he usually ends up doing the right thing and was personally invited to join the Secret Avengers by Captain America, who believes he has potential to be a better hero.

As a character predisposed towards comedy, O'Grady is the version of Ant-Man that many expected to appear in a movie from writers with a comedy background, such as Wright and Cornish have. However, everyone involved has denied outright that the film will be a comedy or spoof, and no mention has been made of O'Grady appearing in the film – although to be fair, he could make a compelling villain.

However, the villain most of us want to see Ant-Man fight is undoubtedly Ultron. One of Hank Pym's earliest creations, Ultron was an artificial intelligence (based on his own memory patterns) who later turned out to be pretty evil, and has proven almost impossible to kill. Ultron is a formidable Avengers villain, and introducing him in an Ant-Man film – only to have him come back bigger and stronger in an Avengers movie – would be the sort of thing Marvel geeks could get behind.

As for allies, there's only one other Avengers founder left unrepresented in the Marvel cinematic universe, and that's Janet Van Dyne, aka The Wasp. As Hank Pym's traditional love interest and sometime wife, there's a good chance that Van Dyne will appear in an Ant-Man movie. Whether she'll take on the Wasp identity is debatable, especially if Wright and Cornish are pursuing a story that places Pym in the 60s and Lang in a more up-to-date era. The winsome Wasp might not be quite so useful to the Avengers if she's got bad joints and a replacement hip.

According to Wright's friend and creative collaborator Simon Pegg, Wright is planning to shoot Ant-Man in 2013, following the completion of their current project, The World's End, so it's possible that Ant-Man will be released in 2014, alongside Captain America 2 and Guardians Of The Galaxy. However, Marvel Studios has also long asserted that two movies a year is all they're capable of – so a 2015 release isn't out of the question.

Either way, with a creative team like Wright and Cornish behind it, there's every chance that Ant-Man could be the next breakout Marvel hero. We're looking forward to it.

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