The Bizarre History of Ant-Man
Since Dr. Henry Pym created Pym Particles, Marvel has been filled with various alter-egos and spin-off characters. Here's the big list.
Let’s reminisce a bit to the turn of the century when the current schedule of superhero movies would have been nothing more than a dream. Yes, X-Men was a hit and Spider-Man was on its way, but did anyone truly believe that Marvel or DC would make it to some of their deeper cuts? Who ever imagined a big budget Ant-Man film could ever be a reality?
Should fans really be surprised that Ant-Man is Marvel’s next solo superstar? After all, the character predates the X-Men and Spider-Man. On further review, the character of Ant-Man and the legacy that started with Henry Pym is quite complex and it’s a story that has touched major aspects of the Marvel Universe for decades.
Many heroes wore the Ant-Man suit over the years and many of those heroes also have taken on other identities. Over the decades, there have been many Ant-Men, a few Giant-Men, many Goliaths, and even a smattering of Yellowjackets, there have been a number of Wasps and even a Black Ant.
So join us to celebrate all the men and women who have shrunken down (or grown tall) and joined the rich legacy that began with “The Man in the Ant Hill.”
The first man to take the identity of Ant-Man, Henry Pym, got his start in an unexpected place. Tales to Astonish was one of those typical post-Golden Age genre bending anthology books. The only thing that really stood out about these post-Silver Age anthologies was the magnificent talent that lent their vision and voices to these short form tales. Men like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and other creators who would go on to define the Marvel Age honed their skills on books like Tales to Astonish. The creators were memorable but the content of these books were usually forgettable, until Tales to Astonish #27 (1962) where Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby presented Henry Pym, a scientist that discovered a way to shrink down matter and eventually himself.
Now, it can be said that Lee and company were inspired by films like The Incredible Shrinking Man to create the story of Pym and the little tale was frenetically paced and wonderfully rendered by Kirby, but for a story that would go on to inspire decades of Marvel characters and storylines, there was a decided lack of superhero stuff going on. No costumes, no villains, no fights, no adventures, just a terrified man trying to escape an ant hill. Soon it was all over, Pym was restored to his normal size and in the next issue, Tales to Astonish introduced the Gorilla Man.
But Henry Pym wasn’t forgotten. Something about the brave scientist must have struck a chord with Marvel and its loyal fans because Pym was back in Tales to Astonish #35 (1962) by Kirby and Lee, and this time, Pym was in full superhero regalia. The helmet, the red suit, everything that fans would soon grow familiar with was introduced in this issue. At this point in Marvel history, Thor was a fresh new character, and the Fantastic Four was barely a year old, Ant-Man was the latest in a line of heroes that would grow exponentially over the next few years. But something was missing, Pym was a solitary character with no supporting cast to play off of other than his ants.
That would soon change as the first character to be drawn in by the legacy of Ant-Man was about to make her debut, and she would become more popular and beloved than Pym himself.
Tales to Astonish #44 (1963) by Stan Lee, H.E. Huntley, and Jack Kirby featured a typically forgettable Ant-Man villain, the alien blob, the Kosmosian, but it also featured the first appearance of Janet Van Dyne, a character who would go on to become one of the most popular and vital members of the Avengers. After her scientist father is killed by the Kosmosian (and what greatness Edgar Wright could have done with the Kosmonians…the mind boggles!), Janet Van Dyne begged Hank Pym to transform her into a hero so she could take her revenge on the invading alien. At first, Pym thinks Janet is just a flighty socialite (because the ’60s), but soon, found an innate courage in the fashion-obsessed woman. Pym transformed Van Dyne into the Wasp and equipped her with powerful sting blasts as well as the ability to grow wings and shrink.
Van Dyne added an element of camaraderie and cheer to the Ant-Man strip. Yes, much of it was rather sexist with the Wasp constantly trying to make Hank fall in love with her, but with Janet in the strip, Lee found a pleasing rhythm and cadence to Pym’s stories. It wasn’t long before Pym stopped resisting Janet’s charms and the two became an item, taking their romantic bond into the pages of The Avengers where it would soon disintegrate, but for now, let us reflect on the time where the Wasp and Ant-Man fought side by side, no abuse, no drama, and for a time, became Marvel’s leading crime smashing couple.
The Wasp went on to become a long-standing member of the Avengers and was even chairwoman of the team for a rather lengthy period of time in the ’80s.
For one issue of The Avengers, Ant-Man and the Wasp fought side by side with Iron Man, the Hulk, and Thor as the newly formed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In the second issue of Marvel’s latest team book, Ant-Man appeared on the cover as Giant-Man. One can postulate that Pym seemed paltry in comparison to the like of Thor and the Hulk and Lee and Kirby gave their hero an upgrade to not make him seem useless next to gods and monsters. In fact, in an early issue of Avengers, Pym revealed it was his feelings of inadequacy that led him to adopt the more imposing Giant-Man persona. This wasn’t the last time Pym would give into his negative feelings, for the legacy of Ant-Man is also fraught with mental illness and regret. But those are dark times for another day…
The first time Pym donned the Giant-Man attire was in Tales to Astonish #49 (1963) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby where Pym created a new type of size changing formula and took the identity of Giant-Man. The Giant-Man stories of Tales to Astonish were the most dynamic Pym strips to date. They were bursting with a freewheeling spirit and energy that defined the Marvel Universe in those glorious early days. The stories weren’t Earth shattering, heck the first villain Giant-Man faced was the Living Eraser, but man, were they a blast with Lee carrying the load on the breezy back and forth between Pym and the Wasp and Kirby doing what Kirby did best.
In Tales to Astonish #65, Pym changed up his Giant-Man gear, adding a cybernetic helmet similar to Ant-Man’s. This new look Giant-Man would not last long as Pym’s feature, which began in 1962, came to screeching halt as he was replaced in Tales to Astonish by the Sub-Mariner. After being ousted from the book he premiered in, Pym’s days of light adventure were over as the legacy of the Ant-Man would soon take a number of dark turns.
But not before Pym changed his identity yet again…
In the pages of Avengers #28 (1966) by Stan Lee and Don Heck, Pym changed his name and costume and took the name Goliath. This third identity in six years was a portent of the coming instability in Pym’s personality. For a time as Goliath, Pym was trapped in his giant form, an event that greatly affected his self esteem. Desperate to prove his worth, Pym went on to commit his greatest sin, the creation of Ultron. From Pym’s genius sprang the vilest technological menace the Marvel Universe had ever seen.
With the creation of Ultron, gone were the days of the light adventures and fun but forgettable adversaries like the Magician and the Scarlet Beetle. Now Pym’s legacy included creating what was essentially robot Hitler. This same legacy of evil that began with the creation of Ultron also led to the creation of the Vision, one of the greatest Avengers of all time. It also led to the creation of Jocasta, a lesser known Avenger but a great robotic hero in her own right. So the legacy of Ant-Man and Hank Pym also stretches to the robotic beings he had a hand in creating.
It’s amazing that all of Pym’s identities have a legacy of their own. Many characters have taken up the mantle of Ant-Man, but the Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket identities have also been wielded by a number of heroes (and villains). The second hero to take the name of Goliath was none other than Clint Barton, aka, Hawkeye. That’s right; there was a time where Barton abandoned his trick arrows for the size changing abilities of Goliath. Barton first donned the Goliath togs in Avengers #63 (1969) by Roy Thomas and Gene Colon.
Barton got the power upgrade because of his own feelings of powerlessness next to some of the more mighty Avengers, and this time as Goliath might have simply been relegated to a foot note in Avengers history if not for the Kree Skrull War. During this conflict, arguably the most celebrated story in Avengers history, Barton was front and center as Goliath making his time as a part of Pym’s legacy quite memorable and important to Marvel history indeed. Sadly, Barton never combined his two identities by firing tree trunk sized arrows at Kree warships.
Hey, maybe now that Pym and the legacy of the Ant-Man is being introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we can see Jeremy Renner get embiggened with Pym Particles at some point! A geek can dream, right?
Avengers #59 (1968) by Roy Thomas and John Buscema introduced Yellowjacket, a brash new anti-hero who had a dangerous agenda and claimed to have destroyed Goliath. Turns out, Yellowjacket was none other than Hank Pym. Yellowjacket was a result of another failed experiment by Pym (you think he would have learned from Ultron) which led him to dose himself with a chemical that caused schizophrenia. This new twisted state of logic caused Pym to create the Yellowjacket identity.
His newfound confidence as Yellowjacket finally gave Pym guts enough to propose to Janet and a wedding soon followed. Pym came to realize that his growth formula was causing his instability and he swore off using it and stayed the shrinking hero Yellowjacket. Sadly, the stability was not to last and much later, some of the more unfortunate events of the Pym legacy occurred, events that would forever define the character.
As Yellowjacket, Pym fell under the control of Egghead (not Vincent Price), and that, combined with the pressure of creating Ultron, the mental illness brought about by his growth formula and the pressures of never considering himself equal to the other Avengers caused Pym to lash out and slap his beloved Janet. This was the end of his marriage and it was a moment, despite the fact that Pym was being controlled by Egghead, that would define Pym’s character forever more. The days of Ant-Man and the Wasp fighting crime in the Silver Age were now forgotten under the weight of one violent act, one that Pym truly never recovered from.
When electronics engineer Scott Lang was introduced in Avengers #181 (1979), fans would never predict how this innocuous addition to the Avengers support staff would affect the future of the Ant-Man legacy, both in comics film. Lang was introduced in Avengers #181, but it was in Marvel Premiere #47-48 (1979) by Bob Layton and John Byrne that Lang became the second hero to become part of the Ant-Man legacy. What set Lang apart from Pym was the fact that Lang was a single dad. When his daughter Cassie contracted a rare illness; Pym steals Pym’s Ant-Man gear in order to rescue the only doctor that can save his daughter’s life. Pym is touched by Lang’s selflessness and allows him to keep the gear as long as he uses it for good and thus a new hero was born.
In Lang, Marvel had an Ant-Man who wasn’t burdened by the creation of Ultron or his past with domestic abuse. Scott Lang was a hero who represented the fun side of the legacy, and it could be a reason Marvel Studios turned to Lang as the star of the movie. That’s not to say that Scott Lang didn’t have his dark moments. For years, Lang was a frequent Marvel guest star appearing in issues of the Avengers and Iron Man; he even spent time as a member of the Fantastic Four when Reed Richards was believed dead. All of these appearance were typical superhero fare, fun but not particularly memorable.
Things took a decidedly dark turn for Lang when he started dating soon-to-be Marvel television star Jessica Jones in the pages of her book, Alias. Lang was murdered by the Purple Man in the pages of Alias leaving Cassie an orphan. At this juncture, the legacy of Ant-Man seemingly ended in blood. Lang would soon return to life thanks to the intervention of the Scarlet Witch only to witness his daughter’s death. Cassie Lang had taken on the heroic identity of Stature in honor of her dead father and fell in battle with Dr. Doom just as her father had returned to life. This dark period actually led to some of the greatest stories in Lang’s history…
After a brief stint as a member of a new team of Defenders, Lang became the leader of the Future Foundation, once again replacing Reed Richards. Here, Lang found purpose, taking care of the gifted students of the FF while mourning his lost daughter. Thanks to recent events in the pages of Axis, Cassie has returned to life just in time to be by her father’s side again.
Black Goliath/ Giant-Man II
While Scott Lang extended the legacy of the Ant-Man, brilliant scientist in his own right Bill Foster extended the legacy of two more of Pym’s identities, Giant-Man and Goliath. Foster was introduced by Stan Lee and Don Heck in Avengers # 32 (1966). He began as Pym’s lab assistant and even cured Giant-Man when he was stuck at ten feet. Later, Foster used the growth formula to become the heroic Black Goliath.
As Black Goliath, Foster starred in his own short lived series that remains an awesome curiosity of the Bronze Age. Later, Foster joined Project: Pegasus and changed his name to Giant-Man, making him the only character to carry two of Pym’s legacies. Sadly, Foster was a victim of the Marvel Civil War, becoming the first hero to die in the conflict. Since then, Foster has become an inspiration in his own right reminding heroes how destructive the clash of ideologies truly was.
Erik Stephan Josten, the villain originally known as Power Man was created by Stan Lee, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby and first appeared in Avengers #21 (1965). Power Man underwent the same ionic energy experiment that created Wonder Man and joined the Masters of Evil. Later, the evil Dr. Karl Malus gave Josten Pym’s growth formula and the villain changed his name from Power Man to Goliath. Josten didn’t fully taint that legacy, as he turned to the side of the angels as a member of the Thunderbolts. Using the name Atlas, Josten ended up following in Pym’s giant heroic footsteps.
After suffering disgrace after disgrace as Yellowjacket, Pym was at his lowest personal ebb. At this time, he served the West Coast Avengers in an advisory capacity. After being taunted by Whirlwind, Pym contemplated suicide but was saved by the religious female hero known as Firebird who became something of a mentor to Pym.
At Firebird’s urging, Pym rejoined the Avengers, this time in the identity of Dr. Pym. He wore no costume but used his Pym Particles to shrink down objects that he could use in battle.
Yes, at this time in Pym’s career, that was a Quinjet in his pocket and he was happy to see you.
The Irredeemable Ant-Man
While Scott Lang was suffering from a lingering case of death and Hank Pym was leading the Mighty Avengers once again as Giant-Man, a new Ant-Man rose up to take up Pym’s original Ant-Man identity. Eric O’Grady was a lousy SHIELD agent who stole Pym’s tech and became the newest Ant-Man. O’Grady was created by Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester and first appeared in Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 (2006). That’s right; this new Ant-Man was co-created by none other than the writer that who gave the world The Walking Dead.
Eric O’Grady was an unrepentant dick and while he ended up doing some good for the world, he mostly ended up using his Ant-Man powers to leer at chicks in the shower and make some extra beer money. Irredeemable Ant-Man was a hilarious take on the Ant-Man legacy and O’Grady would be a perfect foil for Scott Lang in an upcoming Ant-Man sequel or he can always pop up in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD TV series as a cross promotion with the coming film.
The Black Ant
Sadly, O’Grady seemingly died in the pages of Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers and was replaced by an LMD version of himself complete with shrinking powers. This LMD went on to become the Black Ant, a villainous part of the expanding Ant-Man legacy. When Black Ant was killed, he hinted that O’Grady was alive somewhere. With Ant-Man about to become bigger than ever before, O’Grady probably won’t stay dead for long.
The Ant-Man movie will feature a villainous Yellowjacket played by The Strain’s Corey Stoll. Stoll’s screen Yellowjacket will not be the first villainous Yellowjacket as even the fourth identity of Hank Pym has a legacy of its own. Rita Demara first appeared in Avengers #264 (1986) and was created by Roger Stern and John Buscema. After stealing one of Pym’s old Yellowjacket suits (he should probably get better security), DeMara fought the Wasp and had her stinger handed to her. She joined Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil but quickly gave up her evil ways.
DeMara helped the Avengers fight the High Evolutionary and even joined the original Guardians of the Galaxy after she was accidently shunted off into the future. When she returned to the present, DeMara was killed at the beginning of the Avengers saga, The Crossing, and believe me, the less said about that storyline the better. DeMara remains dead but with the new spotlight placed on the Yellowjacket identity thanks to the film and with the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise more popular than ever before, it’s probably only a matter of time before the second Yellowjacket pops up again.
The current hero to take up the name Goliath is the brilliant nephew of Bill Foster, Tom Foster, who took up the legacy of Goliath to honor his fallen uncle. Tom was aided in his quest to become a hero by none other than T’Challa, the Black Panther. Tom Foster first appeared in Black Panther #23, (2006) and was created by Reginald Hudlin, Greg Pak, and Koi Turnbull. Unfortunately, the younger Foster still blames the Avengers for his Uncle bill’s death.
We discussed Scott Lang’s daughter in his entry, but it is worth repeating since no character in the Marvel Universe embodies the legacy of Ant-Man, Giant-Man, and Hank Pym more than Stature. Cassie took up the heroic identity to honor her fallen father and when Scott Lang returned, he fought in honor of Cassie’s memory. Now Cassie and Scott are alive and well and starring in the new Ant-Man comic written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Ramon Rosanas. Through Stature and her father, the legacy of Hank Pym remains strong.
Before we go, we have to mention the sixth identity used by Hank Pym. So many heroes honor Pym’s legacy by adopting his abandoned identities, but there was a time where Pym honored another hero’s legacy. When Janet Van Dyne was believed to have been killed in action, Pym took the name of the Wasp to honor her memory. The original Wasp was not dead, she was stuck in the Microverse and when she returned, her ex-husband happily gave up her name, but the time where Pym honored his beloved’s heroic legacy should be remembered and acknowledged.
So there you have it. The Ant-Man legacy went from Pym to Lang to O’Grady to Stature and back to Lang. The Giant-Man identify went from Pym to Bill Foster. The Goliath identity went from Pym to Cliff Barton to Bill Foster to Erik Josten to Tom Foster, and the Yellowjacket identity went from Pym to Rita DeMara.
Meanwhile, the legacy of Pym’s genius took part in the creation the Avengers’ greatest foe Ultron who went on to use Pym’s technology to create the Vision and Jocasta. Oddly enough, every one of these characters except for Josten, Tom Foster, and Pym himself would die at some point in their careers as heroes. Most were resurrected except for Bill Foster and Rita DeMara (O’Grady is still up in the air).
Now that Ant-Man is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is clear that Kevin Feige and company have more than enough heroes and villains to play with as part of the rich comic book mythos of Hank Pym and the Ant-Man.