Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ant-Man's Comic Book History

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Marvel’s Mite-iest Hero makes his movie debut this month!  So in honor of Ant-Man, this is the first article in a series to help the casual moviegoer know a little more about Ant-Man and his place in Marvel Comics.  This first article will offer an overview of the history of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, along with some idea of how Pym Particles actually work.  Next week will be the TL;DW (“Too Long; Didn’t Watch”) recap of everything that’s happened in the MCU to date along with viewing suggestions (it’s a short list).  The following week I will have 2 articles for you:  an overview of all the various characters in the comics who have made use of Pym Particles as part of their regular suit (leaving out things like Beast taking a group of mutant students on a field trip using Pym Particles—yes, that happened), and then my expectations for the movie.  First up is a brief history of Hank Pym.  Note:  if you want a more detailed overview, you can also check out Wikipedia or Marvel Wiki.  Be warned:  Either site is addicting, so you might get lost!

To start off, Hank Pym is one of the most brilliant scientists in the Marvel Universe, on par with the likes of Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, etc.  He is a biochemist who discovers a subatomic particle that he names for himself, “Pym Particles.”  Hank works the Pym Particles into two different serums, one of which will shrink something to a tiny size, and the other of which will restore it to its regular size.  However, the first time that he tests the formula on himself, he gets attacked by ants and decides that the formula is too dangerous.  He eventually reconsiders the decision and adapts the serum into capsule form, constructs a cybernetic helmet that allows him to communicate with insects, and becomes a superhero as Ant-Man.  While in insect size, someone using Pym Particles retains the same strength and speed as they have at normal size.

Hank meets his longstanding partner, love interest, and eventually wife when his colleague Vernon Van Dyne contacts him for help in contacting alien life.  Hank refuses, but is approached by Van Dyne’s daughter Janet after her father is killed by an alien criminal.  Hank reveals his superhero identity to her and uses his Pym Particles to construct a suit for her and graft wasp wings onto her back.  The wings do not change size when the rest of her body does, so they are unnoticed at regular size, but fully functioning at insect size.  In addition to flight, Wasp also has the ability to shoot bio-stings (my wife described her as having the powers of being “cute, tiny, sassy, and zappy” after watching Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes).  The two avenge Janet’s father by defeating his killer before teaming up and eventually becoming founding members of the Avengers (which Janet actually names), alongside Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk.

While with the Avengers, Hank discovers how to use Pym Particles to grow in addition to shrinking and adopts his first alternate identity, Giant-Man, which he eventually changes to Goliath.  As Giant-Man, Hank can become up to 12 feet tall and gain a proportionate level of strength (based on the increased mass).  However, Giant-Man or Goliath was only the first alter ego that Hank used.  After inhaling chemicals that gave him schizophrenia (because mental illness apparently works that way), he suffered a personality crisis (meaning this is actually more like multiple personality disorder) and reinvented himself as Yellowjacket, a hero with the same flight and bio-sting abilities as the Wasp.  However, his personality is altered to become far more cocky and abrasive than the demure Pym.  Eventually Pym chooses to use all three of his hero personae as the needs of the mission dictate.

Hank Pym has been involved with many of the most important storylines in Marvel Comics.  As mentioned above, he and Janet are founding members of the Avengers.  However, Hank is also the comic book creator of Ultron, who wiped Hank’s memory to make him forget ever having created him.  This actually leads to some interesting plots involving Ultron’s obsession with his “father” and “mother.”  Among other things, Ultron attempts to implant Janet’s brainwaves into a robotic body he names “Jocasta” (as in Jocasta, the mother/wife of Oedipus.  Who says Ultron isn’t creative?), whom he created to become his bride.  Hank and Janet were also involved in an infamous incident in the 1980s when he slaps Janet and is subsequently expelled from the Avengers:
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 During the Skrull invasion, Hank was replaced by a Skrull, which became a key player in the Civil War as a supporter of the Superhuman Registration Act.  The Skrull worked with Tony Stark and Reed Richards to create a clone of Thor, which they deployed against the anti-registration heroes.  Ironically, the clone turned the tide of the war against the pro-registration group when it killed Bill Foster, Hank’s successor as Goliath, causing a number of pro-registration heroes to switch sides to the anti-registration group in protest.  Following the conclusion of the Civil War and defeat of the Skrull invasion, the real Hank Pym was discovered along with a number of other replaced heroes.  However, Janet was seemingly killed in the final battle against the Skrulls, and Hank elected to take on her identity himself in her memory.

Recently, Hank founded and led the Avengers Academy to train young superheroes.  Among other things, this placed him in the unenviable position of breaking up a super-sized fight between Stature (Cassie Lang) and Ant-Man (Eric O’Grady), both of whom were giant-sized, when O’Grady made a disparaging remark about the “dead” Scott Lang.

Pym has also been a member of several superhero teams, including the Defenders, the West Coast Avengers, the Mighty Avengers, and the Secret Avengers.  He also founded the Avengers A.I. to defeat an evil A.I. created when he unleashed a virus on Ultron to prevent him from taking over the future (comics can be confusing sometimes, can’t they?).  He is also a member of the Illuminati, the group consisting of the leaders of all the major superhero teams and races on Earth.

There’s a quick rundown of Hank Pym’s comic book history.  So how do his Pym Particles work?

Pym Particle-based Powers

In their original iteration, Pym Particles essentially make a person or object shrink to a couple inches tall or less.  Pym synthesized the Particles into capsule form, so that they are easy to swallow in order to shrink.  Pym then synthesized a second capsule which the person swallows when he wants to return to normal size.  This technique can also be used to shrink down to microscopic size, as the heroes do when they visit the Microverse.  While shrunk, the user retains the same strength level as they would have at normal size.  Over time, Pym experimented with the Particles and discovered a way to use them to grow instead of shrink, allowing him to grow to first 12 feet tall and then 25 feet tall.  His successors as Goliath learned to use the Particles to grow to 100 or more feet tall.  Originally, Pym retained his normal strength level at Giant size, but since then it has been established that the person’s strength level increases proportionate to their size.  Thus far, the promotional material for Ant-Man has not showed anyone growing; it has primarily focused on Ant-Man and Yellowjacket’s ability to shrink and retain their normal strength.

Prolonged exposure to Pym Particles has given some characters—Hank, Janet, and Cassie Lang, among others—the ability to shrink and grow at will by generating Pym Particles within their own body.  Thus, these characters can properly be classified as “Human Mutates”—not to be confused with “Mutants.”  “Mutants” are born with a genetic abnormality; “Mutates” have their body altered biologically through science.  I doubt that the movie is going to go this route, as the MCU likes to keep things as grounded as possible.  However, it’s entirely possible that Hank will reveal this ability at some point.

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The second key power associated with characters like Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne is the ability to shoot “Bio-stingers.”  The “Bio-Sting” harnesses the body’s natural bio-electrical energy and releases it in bursts.  Though Janet originally needed a device built into her suit to allow her to emit her Bio-Stings, exposure to Pym Particles has also allowed her to develop the ability to generate Bio-Stings naturally.  In the movie, it appears that the “Bio-Stingers” are going to instead be plasma cannons which stick out from Yellowjacket’s suit and fire streams of plasma.

Flight is another ability which heroes like Wasp and Yellowjacket possess and which is only activated by the use of Pym Particles.  As mentioned above, Pym implanted wasp wings into Janet’s back when they first teamed up.  These fully-functional wings are unusable at her normal size, but when she shrinks they remain the same size.  As such, when she is tiny her wings can support her, enabling her to fly.

The final way in which Pym Particle-enhanced characters can operate is with the use of a special utility belt.  The utility belt is filled with pre-shrunk tools and weapons, which are the proper size for use once the character has shrunk.  This method can also be employed by a character who doesn’t normally shrink to fight:  the utility belt can be filled with tiny tools and weapons, and when one is needed it is restored to full size for use.  I have not been able to locate characters who use this technique, but I know that there are a number in Marvel Comics who have done so in the past.  This would be a very easy way for Pym Particle abilities to spread out to the rest of the MCU:  some of the characters could acquire utility belts filled with miniaturized weapons which they can expand when needed.

Did you find this information helpful?  What is your favorite Ant Man-related ability?  How much of a part do you think this comic book history will play in Hank Pym’s MCU back story?

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1 comment:

  1. I removed the previous comment for containing a link to (what I assume) is an illegal stream of Ant-Man, here's the comment (translated):

    "Marvel hits again in a light adventure, charismatic and interesting, where the film stands on its own, with small well-placed references to the Marvel universe for the first time a climber walls is citado.Excelente movie !!!"