Marvel’s newest big picture is finally out – the stakes are a lot smaller than in the Avengers flicks, but there are still huge connections. Is [REDACTED] alive? Where did [SPOILERS] go? Did you notice the first Ant-Man? (Not so) short answers, below.
This film had a rocky origin, as it began – sort of – before Iron Man premiered when director Edgar Wright wanted to make a quirky superhero flick. The test footage shown at Comic Con in 2012 was amazing, but creative differences between the indie director and the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe forced the auteur to split ways with the burgeoning franchise.
Personally, I liked the film. It had its slow points, but every scene with Paul Rudd was gold.
It’s too bad Ant-Man didn’t get made in MCU Phase One, because Ant-Man, along with Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and Ant-Man’s girlfriend the Wasp, were the original founding Avengers in the comics. Captain America didn’t join until Avengers #4, but he’s been such an important member he’s been listed retroactively as a “founder” in official Avengers meetings.
In fact, in his first appearance, Ant-Man wasn’t even Ant-Man, he was just Dr. Hank Pym, “The Man in the Ant Hill” in Tales to Astonish #27 (you’ll note Darren Cross makes a none-too-subtle reference to the title in his first scene). At the time, Marvel Comics were barely able to publish eight comics per month as part of an agreement with their distributor, DC Comics (yes, that DC Comics), and only some could be superhero comics. Hank Pym premiered as a sci-fi/horror character, and returned as a superhero. Due to some retroactive continuity, he also appeared in other pre-superhero stories, including one with a pre-Bruce Banner Hulk, in which the main character’s name was changed to “Hank Pym” for reprints.
When the film opens in 1987, Hank Pym is tendering his resignation to SHIELD, talking with Cap’s ex Peggy Carter, Iron Man’s estranged (and not dead yet) father Howard Stark, and new guy Mitchell Carson during the construction of SHIELD base Triskelion (destroyed during Captain America: Winter Soldier). You know Carson will be important later simply because he’s the only character audiences don’t know yet.
Mitchell’s comic book counterpart was also a less-than-scrupulous SHEILD agent. He was tasked with down Eric O’Grady, an (almost) irredeemable successor to Pym and Lang as Ant-Man. O’Grady was a horrible person, but Carson was worse. For the record, Carson was co-created by Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman, so there’s that.
We eventually learn that Hank had been a superhero for a few decades, operating alongside SHIELD in secret using his size-changing Pym Particles as the Astonishing Ant-Man, eventually joined by his wife Janet as the Winsome Wasp. As Coulson said in Iron Man, the Armored Avenger wasn’t SHIELD’s first superhero rodeo. Just as in the comics, Janet had to convince Hank to let her join him on missions, and her suit was made slightly different from his, as it included wings for flight and wrist-mounted lasers.
The Wasp apparently died stopping a terrorist ICBM from hitting the US, as she shrank “between molecules” going into what Hank repeatedly refers to as the “Quantum Realm.” Pym speculates that the human mind can’t handle existing at that level outside of our space and time (even exposure to Pym Particles without proper protection can cause mental problems, according to the film). Interestingly, this is exactly how the Wasp died in 2008’s Marvel crossover, Secret Invasion. Wasp was affected by tainted Pym Particles and seemingly killed. Hank spent a long time trying to find her, even discovering what he thought was his ex-wife in the space between universes (turns out it was the girlfriend of cosmic threat Korvac, but whatevs).
It was eventually revealed that the Wasp wasn’t dead – she was just too small to be detected. See, in the Marvel (comics) Universe, if you shrink far enough, you enter another dimension accessible only through size manipulation. Originally there were several different dimensions, including Subatomica (home of Fantastic Four baddie Psycho-Man) and Kosmos (which is where the excess matter used when Pym Particles enlarges things comes from). Many of these dimensions were merged into a single Microverse in the amazing Marvel crossover Small X-Pectations (which was never actually published, so don’t bother looking for it!).
Jumping ahead to the present, we meet Scott Lang on his last day at San Quentin Prison. It seems Scott burgled the unscrupulous big wigs of Vista Corp and gave the ill-gotten money back to the people Vista swindled. After serving his time, Scott got into a friendly fight with fellow inmate Peachy and moved in with his old cellmate Luis, before meeting up with fellow ex-cons Kurt and Dave. In the comics, Scott had to kill a man in prison to survive (the incident traumatized him); he still has trouble keeping a job due to his record. Vista Corp wasn’t originally in the comics, but interestingly Disney has a film division called Buena Vista. Coincidence? Luis later whistles “It’s a Small World” because of course he does.
Scott is not supergenius like Stark or Pym, but he does hold a masters in electrical engineering and can figure out amazing things on the fly. Similarly, he’s not one of the eight smartest people in the Marvel Universe, but he does figure out things that even Pym didn’t realize. Recently Scott realized he could use Pym Particles to remain the same size while still manipulating his mass, durability and strength, enabling him to singlehandedly defeat Doctor Doom!
Scott visits his ex-wife Maggie and her new fiancée Paxton to see his daughter Cassie. In the comics, Scott’s wife Peggy left him while he was in prison and raised Cassie on her own. Cassie, of course, eventually becomes the superhero Stature, and a member of the Young Avengers. Phase 4 or 5, maybe? Anyway, several years back Scott Lang died, then Cassie helped bring him back to life only to die herself thanks to Doctor Doom, then Doom had a change of heart and brought Cassie back to life. Comics everybody!
Meanwhile, over at Pym Technology, the long-absent company founder Hank Pym returns to see what his protégé Darren Cross is up to. In the comics Cross was an evil businessman scientist, but is most remembered for being the cousin of the villain Crossfire, basically a low rent Deadshot (who doesn’t hold a candle to Bullseye). In the original story, Darren Cross kidnapped a heart surgeon and forced her to perform surgery on him, but Lang needed the doctor to help save his daughter, who was suffering from a potentially fatal heart condition as well. Scott broke into Pym’s home to find money, but stole the Ant-Man suit instead and used it to save the doctor (and in turn his daughter) and stop the evil Cross. Pym was so impressed he let Scott keep the costume. Things go down fairly similarly in the movie, though Cassie isn’t sick, and Hank actually tricks Scott into robbing his house.
In the film, Cross intends to found Cross Technology with Pym’s daughter Hope, who has had a very strained relationship with her father since her mother’s apparent death. In the comics, Hank and Janet don’t have any kids in regular continuity, though there are little Pyms running around in alternate realities: in the near-future world of MC2, Hank Pym Jr. is the Big Man (seriously) and Hope Pym is the villainous Red Queen. The Red Queen hates the Avengers (or more accurately, the Avengers Next of the future) and seems to harbor a lot of resentment towards heroes in general – hopefully her cinematic counterpart will be better adjusted.
In the film, Cross attempts to recreate the Ant-Man technology using his Yellowjacket, which is actually an article of clothing, and it’s yellow, so the name makes sense. Pym is understandably upset that his technology is being compromised, but is more concerned that exposure to Pym Particles causes mental instability overtime. He seems to believe the Ant-Man suit will protect the user from this, but explains that he has already been affected by years of exposure. In the comics, Hank Pym is Yellowjacket – shocker I know. See, in the comics, Hank has a long history of mental instability – some of it’s been blamed on technology, some on time-traveling shenanigans, but the cause isn’t as important as the effect. See, when Hank went really nuts one time, he concocted the Yellowjacket alias and began strutting like an alpha male jerk. He claimed to have killed Hank Pym, but the Avengers let him in the “dead” Pym’s place at the insistence of the Wasp. She then married him, knowing full-well he wasn’t in his right mind at the time (that’s messed up), and in an incident that would become the stuff of comic book infamy, Yellowjacket hit his wife. It’s been said time and again that this was not the intention of the comic creators, but the comic is what it is. Pym is often singled out for this when other “heroes” were just as guilty. Since clearing his mind, Hank Pym has spent the intervening years trying to make up for his behavior.
By the by, Hank Pym has had a lot of costumed identities (but fortunately, most were while he was in his right mind). He’s been Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and even went by the Wasp for while! Similarly, there have been several others who have used each of his identities, not just Scott Lang.
In the film, Yellowjackets are planned as an army of armored soldiers to be sold to the highest bidder (re: Hydra). Interestingly, Hydra is getting so routinely routed in the MCU that their inclusion doesn’t even merit a second take in this film. Carson wasn’t among Hydra leaders mentioned last season in SHIELD, so presumably he was working for Grant Ward.
After stealing the suit, Scott has the requisite getting-to-know-his-powers scene which ends when he falls on a cab driven by – Ant-Man! That’s right, the cabbie is the original live action Ant-Man from the famous(?) Saturday Night Live skit!
Scott eventually learns about Hank’s control of the ants and flies on Ant 247. Hank says there are too many ants to name, but Scott persists, naming 247 “Antony” (poor Antony…). In the comics, both Hank and Scott name their ants, and there are sooo many of them: Crosby, Stills, Nash (one through twelve), Korr, Spa Fon, Axel, Blitzen, Emma, Gambit , Indy, James, Jezebel, Kenny G, Mara, Martha, Prince, Purdey, Silver, Silver Streak, Steed, Van Halen, Vixen, Whitmore, and so many more…
Upon learning of the gravity of the situation, Lang suggests calling the Avengers, but Pym doesn’t trust Stark (presumably any Stark), especially with the Avengers busy “dropping cities.” Instead, Scott is sent to an old, disused Howard Stark storage facility in upstate New York – which turns out to be the New Avengers headquarters, guarded by Falcon. The fight was fun, but for the record, Ant-Man has defeated the Avengers single-handedly before – heck, he was the first Avenger to beat Loki!
Pym gives Lang weapons that allow him to quickly shrink and enlarge objects. Cross, meanwhile, is unable to get his technology to work on living tissue until he places the test subject inside an airtight container. In the comics, Pym Particles work on anything, but importantly, affect the size of things in the immediate vicinity as well (clothing, handheld items, etc.). Also, when things enlarge, they gain mass, strength and durability – which is why Thomas can destroy a police car or the ant can have the consistency of a dog. Speaking of, that means two things: a) Pym particles work on living creatures (unlike Cross’s formula) and b) Pym Particles make things giant size. Lang better turn into Giant-Man by his next appearance!
The climatic battle between Lang as Ant-Man and Cross as Yellowjacket was pretty amazing, and seemed almost as much a parody of superhero films as it is a participant. Two powerful beings locked in deadly combat, throwing destruction in their wake – and it mostly destroys dollhouses and toy train sets. In the comics, Hank Pym made use of his particles in a silly-but-serious way when he created the Big House, a prison for hundreds of superhuman criminals, shrunk down small enough to fit in one SHIELD-monitored room.
Pym also pulls a fully functional (and gassed up?!) tank out of his pocket, something the comic book Pym does all the time, usually with vehicles of his own design.
The film seems to have three closers – in the first, Falcon spreads word that he wants to talk with Ant-Man (Spidey reference and Stan Lee!), in the second, Hope gets her own Wasp costume (let’s hope she doesn’t become the Red Queen), and in the last, Falcon and Cap examine a captured(?) Winter Soldier, Cap says they can’t trust Stark, and Falcon says he knows a guy (presumably a small guy).
Civil War, anyone?
Kevin Garcia is a professional educator and freelance writer whose work has appeared in Marvel Comics, the Associated Press and on various blogs. As a fan, he doesn’t get paid to write Secrets of SHIELD posts about Marvel shows – or any other geeky posts for that matter – but hey, wouldn’t that be nice?