The Man in the Ant-Hill: Investigating the Trivial Birth of Marvel’s Ant-Man

By: Julian Munds

Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_27It’s been a big few weeks for fandom. 

Matt Smith regenerated into Peter Capaldi on Doctor Who and Joseph Gordon Levitt officially announced his involvement in a big screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Not to mention, the jolly old elf stopped by my house (and hopefully yours) to drop off a lot of great nerdy gifts.

Side Note: I do hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas.

Prying my eyes away from the TARDIS and the prospect of darkly awesome comic adaptations, there was one major story that really caught my gaze: Paul Rudd was finally confirmed as Hank Pym in the upcoming Kevin Feige/ Edgar Wright film adaptation of Ant-Man

This is fantastic news!

I worried that the actor  that would inevitably take on the controversial role would not be able to find the humour in Ant-Man. We all know, from my many prior articles on the Ant-Man of the the Silver Age, that Hank can be coldly unpleasant. Sometimes so unpleasant that it seems Stan Lee threw his hands up in the air and declared “I do not know what to do with this character.

I thought that in light of this recent news, it is a prefect time to reexamine Hank’s first debut.

The later confused trajectory of Hank Pym, the same confusion that created the bi-polar nature of the character, is a direct result of his rather unassuming and unplanned debut.

Throughout the 50s, Tales to Astonish was the definition of the pulp comic. It featured cheesy sci-fi and horror stories. Most of the stories bore many similarities to the mawkish B-movie serials that flooded the youth oriented Saturday matinees. Stories of science experiments gone awry and dark monsters from black lagoons flooded the panels of its twenty or so pages. Hank’s debut is a member of the former.

The word ‘science’ is used in this period of Marvel to describe any character that specializes in astronomy to medicine. All these specialities are one in the same. That is why a character like Don Blake, who specializes in medicine, can suddenly is a robotocist.

Marvel scientists are also extraordinarily under appreciated. Hank Pym fits all these cliches.

Pym begins the story feeling under appreciated and blocked professionally. No one seems to believe that Hank  can make the shrinking potion that he claims he can. When Pym finally figures it out and gets thrown into a nutty adventure with the ants, it all feels wildly whimsical, yet inconsequential.

The Henry Pym of this story is a two dimensional stereotype. All this whitewashing of Pym creates his character to be a bland hero that leaves no lasting effect on the reader.

The story is good: a man shrinks, find’s himself in an ant hill under threat from the ants to only have one of the ants save him. Despite this rather cheesy B-Movie trope: that ants are sentient beings like humans, this story is an excellent example of 60s sci-fi.

Hank Pym conveys none of the coldness and angsty aloofness that would later come to define the character. He is naive and wonderfully bright eyed.

There is no suggestion of the later Earth-616 importance of Henry. He’s just a scientist who has a wild and crazy day with some ants.

The ants of this story fill a different function then they do in their later appearances. In this issue the ants are willing partners to Henry Pym, not his slaves.

A brilliant predicament.

A brilliant predicament.

Pym, in the final panel, refers to these ants as equals. Furthermore, in the moral post amble, he is said “to never step on an ant hill again.” The moment is almost an early sixties revelation of environmentalism.

As time goes on this environmental message is lost from the Hank Pym stories and I wonder why.

Ant-Man makes so much sense as a champion for animal life.

It is clear, that this story was not intended as an origin story. There is a full satisfying conclusion in the final panel.

Stan Lee later indicated that this story was never meant to be drawn upon again. Let alone be the basis for a lengthy mythos.

Surprisingly, to Stan, this issue sold extremely well spurring on a plan, eight issues later, to bring Hank on as a member of the Marvel superhero guild. The longevity of the character immediately posed problems; as there were only so many situations that could be written where the main character was hampered by his height.

The triviality in his creation maybe the reason for the haphazard and bi-polar nature of future Ant-Man. Accidental genius and success is not always the best grounding for a character.

If Ant-Man was tired in his creation, then where has his development to go?

Journey Into Marvel

Story I Read:The Man in the Ant Hill!” (Tales to Astonish #27 Jan. 1962)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: The story is wonderfully self contained. The narrative is strong. Ayers and Kirby’s art is sensational and whacky.

Cons: The whole thing feels inconsequential and Hank is pretty cliche (this is not really the fault of the writers as they were not intending to create a mainstay.)

<– Previous Review: Skrulls From Outer Space” (The Fantastic Four #2 Jan 1962)

–> Upcoming Review: “The Menace of the Miracle Man” (Fantastic Four #3 Mar. 1962)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on January 1, 2014, in Ant-Man, Marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Things Matter and commented:
    Some interesting background for that Ant-Man movie coming up. I dare say it won’t adapt this particular origin story…

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