In 1961, Marvel Comics readers were introduced to Doctor Henry “Hank” Pym, discoverer of the “Pym Particles” and who would soon gain notoriety not just as Ant-Man, founding member of the Avengers, but also a deeply disturbed and volatile individual. Over the years, the Ant-Man mantle has been assumed by a variety of other would-be heroes, with Scott Lang being one of the most beloved thanks to Paul Rudd’s performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With his third movie finally due out this month, this seemed like a good time to revisit some of Ant-Man’s debut appearances.
Story Title: “To Steal an Ant-Man!”
Published: 23 January 1979 (cover-dated April 1979)
Story Title: “The Price of a Heart!”
Published: 27 March 1979 (cover-dated June 1979)
After debuting in the pages of Tales to Astonish #27, the legendary Stan Lee brought Hank Pym back eight issues later under the guise of Ant-Man, a size-changing superhero who would become the focal point of the book, help found Marvel’s premiere superhero team, the Avengers, and gain infamy for his mental and emotional stability. Pym rapidly switched costumed identities, created the murderous Ultron, and was notoriously abusive towards his wife, all of which meant that Pym often walked away from his most iconic persona, which allowed other characters to take on the Ant-Man role. While some were even worse than Pym, this can’t be said of his first successor, Scott Lang; created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Byrne, Lang was something completely different from Pym, a reformed criminal who made a brief appearance in Avengers #181 before debuting as the new Ant-Man in this two-issue arc. Although Lang wouldn’t graduate to his own self-titled solo series until 2015, he made frequent appearances in Marvel Comics; depicted as a single father trying to do right by his daughter (who would go on to become a member of the Young Avengers as Stature), Lang would join the Avengers and a new version of the Fantastic Four, the FF, and be a part of numerous big-time Marvel events. Lang has also appeared outside of the comics in various Marvel cartoons, and was always slated to be featured in a live-action Ant-Man movie; while Ant-Man didn’t make it to the MCU’s first big crossover movie, he received his own critically and commercially successful film in 2015, with veteran actor Michael Douglas portraying the volatile Hank Pym and universally beloved Paul Rudd taking on the Ant-Man identity as his successor, Scott Lang.
“To Steal an Ant-Man!” opens with a dramatic one-page spread courtesy of the brilliant John Byrne. In it, we find Ant-Man battling past armed guards working for Cross Technological Enterprises (CTE) in a bid to save his daughter, which is stated to cost the life of a patient in critical condition on Doctor Erica Sondheim’s operating table. Through Ant-Man’s dialogue and thought balloons, we’re told that this is a different man in the classic Ant-Man costume, one still getting to grips with being a superhero and the shrinking ability of his suit. This leads to some fun action panels where Ant-Man shrinks out of harm’s way and gets washed out of the room by an extendable faucet. Saved from drowning by his cybernetic helmet, Ant-Man grits his teeth and initiates a flashback to catch us up to speed with who he is and what’s going on and rekindle his motivation. This is, of course, Scott Lang who, months earlier, was released from prison after being a model prisoner; a genius with electronics, Lang ended up turning to burglary as it was “easier than fixing old Motorolas” but, having languished in Ryker’s Island, is determined to go straight and make the most of the warden’s generosity in setting him up at Stark International. His primary motivation to turn his life around is his young daughter, Cassie, who absolutely adores him, and he’s supported by his sister, Ruth. Despite her partner, Carl, less than thrilled at Lang’s duplicitous past, Scott throws himself into his new role designing advanced security systems for Anthony “Tony” Stark and enjoying his newfound freedom, but his happiness is soon shattered when Cassie falls ill due to her aorta having spontaneously grown inward and blocking her blood flow.
As her condition weakens and the medical bills pile up, Lang grows desperate and becomes tempted to return to his old ways before being referred to Dr. Sondheim, whose research into laser focused surgery could save Cassie’s life. However, when he goes to visit Dr. Sondheim, he finds her practise being shut down and the doctor herself being spirited away by goons from CTE. With no options left, Lang opts to break into a nearby lavish manor house in the hopes of stealing money to hire the muscle needed to break Dr. Sondheim out of CTE. Luckily for Lang, he happened to break into the heavily fortified home of Dr. Hank Pym but doesn’t make the connection until he finds his Ant-Man suit sealed away in a high-tech chamber. Seeing the suit and its gadgets as the key to his recent problems, Lang steals the suit, slips into it, and uses the knowledge he gleaned from reading Scientific American to utilise the cybernetic helmet (because its just that easy and of course Pym would allow all his secrets to be published so readily…) and summon a gaggle of ants. Though initially startled at being shrunk down to the size of an ant, Lang revels in the technology and the ants’ willingness to help and sets out to infiltrate CTE. Thanks to retaining his full-size strength, the new Ant-Man is easily able to hop through an air vent but doesn’t quite trust his ability to float down on the rising air so he hops on an ant and follows the vent towards an operating room, easily taking out a guard with his comparatively enhanced strength. Enlarging to full size, he bursts into the theatre to bring us up to speed, taking out the last of the guards and begging Dr. Sondheim to help his daughter. Unfortunately, it turns out that she was operating on Darren Cross, chairman and namesake of CTE, who’s a surprisingly eloquent mammoth man-mountain! The story continues in the next issue, which sees Cross delivering a beat down to Ant-Man; even though Lang can shrink to microscopic size, direct flying ants to distract Cross, and has a degree of superhuman strength while small, Cross exhibits superhuman strength far beyond Lang’s and vastly superior senses (referred to as “hyper vision”) which easily allow him to knock Ant-Man unconscious. After stripping Lang of his gas canisters and breaking his helmet, Cross locks him in a cell rather than killing him (since “murder is so pedestrian!”) and, once he’s awakened, regales him with his origin story.
After spending fifty years amassing incredible wealth and becoming a successful businessman, Cross’s dream of making CTE the greatest industrial power on Earth was interrupted when his heart began to fail on him. Rather than retire for the sake of his health, Cross naturally paid to have a “living nuclear […[ pacemaker” created and grafted directly onto his cells. Not only did this save his life, it also vastly augmented his heart, gifting him with enhanced senses and strength and a rapid healing factor but, eventually, resulting in his monstrous appearance. Although he enjoyed the benefits of this procedure, the strain soon once again threatened his life, so he had Dr. Sondheim kidnapped to perform a diabolical heart transplant to keep him alive. Now that he has a bona fide superhero in his clutches, Cross plans to take Ant-Man’s heart in place of the unwitting homeless people his men captured for the procedure. Luckily, Lang kept spare antennae in his boot and uses them to summon some ants to help retrieve his belt so he can punch out some guards and escape from his cell. Reinvigorated and armed with knowledge of Cross’s abilities, Ant-Man fares far better in his second bout against the man-mountain, but the fight easily goes in Lang’s favour thanks to time finally running out for Cross. The strain of exerting himself against Ant-Man accelerates his heart condition and he drops dead a few panels into the fight, but to Dr. Sondheim’s dismay as she took a vow to save lives, not end them. Thankfully, Ant-Man has a solution to the doctor’s upset and she’s successfully able to cure Cassie’s life-threatening condition. Although Lang is sure that the ants will grass him up to Pym and that he’s sure to return to prison for stealing the suit, Pym (in his God-awful Yellowjacket persona) shows up to offer Lang his blessing and Lang gratefully accepts, ready to begin a new life as the all-new Ant-Man!
After suffering through two issues from Ant-Man’s early days in the swingin’ sixties, reading a later Ant-Man adventure is a real breath of fresh air. Not only is the artwork far better, with much bigger and more detailed characters thanks to the great John Byrne, but the sense of scale is far better and the more bizarre aspects are much more realistic and futuristic rather than being basic or outlandish. Even better, the characterisations and dialogue are much improved in this new decade; Scott Lang is a far more relatable and interesting than what I’ve seen of Pym so far. He’s well aware of his flaws and is just trying to do right, is a little self-deprecating but absolutely devoted to his beloved daughter, and is determined to turn his life around even before he acquires the Ant-Man suit. Although it’s a shame that there isn’t more time spent showing him acclimatising to his new abilities, I can forgive this since the story needs to move ahead and Lang is said to be pretty smart and to have some knowledge of Ant-Man’s abilities, and he earns extra points by taking his relationship with the ants to the next level by nick-naming them (“Emma” the flying ant being the most prominent example here).
Even the no-name guards get some personality, spouting some quirky dialogue and holding a grudge against Lang for taking them out earlier in the arc. Although we don’t learn too much about Cassie, it really is refreshing to see a superhero actually have a daughter; so often, writers and creators refuse to give characters such responsibilities so it really helps make this new Ant-Man unique even if he’s using the same costume and powers as his predecessor. While Darren Cross may look like another hulking monster, he’s given a surprising amount of nuance through his extensive vocabulary and strategic, conniving mind. Retaining his intelligence and exhibiting a measured personality, Cross isn’t depicted as being inherently evil (there’s nothing to suggest he was doing anything underhanded before his physical transformation) but turns towards increasingly wicked methods as his desperation and condition worsens. A successful man who isn’t ready for his career or life to end, Cross simply wanted to continue working and to stave off death; after his nucle-organic pacemaker afforded him superhuman abilities, he of course relished in those powers, but he’s still portrayed as a desperate man trying to stay alive. In the end, this was a great introduction to probably my favourite iteration of Ant-Man; Scott Lang is far more stable, far more relatable, and far more interesting than his volatile counterpart and his debut in the role was far more entertaining than Pym’s. Admittedly, this has a lot to do with the era in which this story was written but good writing and good characters speak for themselves and this two-issue arc did more to make me interested in Ant-Man than anything I’ve seen of Pym so far.
What did you think to Scott Lang’s debut as Ant-Man? Did you find him and his plight with his sick daughter relatable or do you prefer Hank Pym’s turn on the character? What did you think to Darren Cross and his monstrous condition? What are some of your favourite Scott Lang stories and moments, and who is your favourite Ant-Man? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Scott Lang’s time as Ant-Man below, or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back next Friday for more Ant-Man content!