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Comic Book Movies 101: Ant-Man

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Don't get too antsy. Ha ha. Ha. Get it?

With comic book movies, it’s not always easy keeping up with all the influences and references that the filmmakers draw upon from the wealth of source material. Comic Movies 101 serves as a primer for newcomers to the movies and a refresher for fans. 

Ant-Man is arguably Marvel's riskiest move to date. Based on a longstanding character who's been considered C-list for years, Ant-Man as a film property largely exists because of Edgar Wright, who lobbied for the chance to lend his quirky, unique vision to the character for years – even predating the concept of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe." When Marvel finally bit and brought Wright aboard to bring his vision of the shrinking hero into their shared mega-franchise, it was a coup on the level of getting Joss Whedon to direct Avengers – Ant-Man might not be a character with a lot of cultural cache, but the director's reputation and following would be enough to get some curious moviegoers into seats. Of course, since Wright's high-profile departure from the project in May 2014, the movie has been more a subject of skepticism than anticipation, with many wondering if the big shakeup would mean Ant-Man ends up being Marvel Studios' first high-profile bomb.

That said, the time is here to finally find out the answer to that question, and if you're planning on checking it out this weekend you might need a quick lesson (or refresher) on who these characters are. Sit back, strap in and relax: We've got your back, and we'll try our best to boil the complex history of these characters down to the highlights.

Henry "Hank" Pym, aka Ant-Man, aka Giant-Man, aka Goliath, aka Yellowjacket, aka Wasp

First appearance: Tales to Astonish #27 (1962), created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

Who is he? After discovering an unusual set of subatomic particles, Hank Pym found that he could combine these "Pym Particles" with certain serums to create formulas that altered an object's size. Testing them on himself, he winds up trapped in an anthill, which inspires him to study the insects. This leads to the creation of a cybernetic helmet that allows Pym to communicate with and control ants. So basically he can talk to bugs, shrink real small, and grow real big (with some attendant strength abilities thrown in for good measure). Naturally, he decides to use these abilities in tandem to become the superhero known as Ant-Man. He partners with socialite Janet Van Dyne, who becomes a superheroine known as The Wasp. The two, often romantically linked, are later founding members of the Avengers.

Despite being one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Universe and comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby having a hand in his creation, Hank Pym is something of an also-ran. His most notable character trait is his crippling self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy next to heroes like Thor and Iron Man. Over the years, this has led to him adopting a near-revolving door of superhero identities, all variations on the "guy who can grow really big, shrink really small and talks to bugs" theme – Giant-Man, Golaith, Yellowjacket (for a time when Janet was believed to be dead, he took on the Wasp identity as well). 

Those feelings of inadequacy certainly aren't helped by his most notable contribution to the Marvel Universe – the villainous robot Ultron. The fact that Pym accidentally created artificial intelligence that's constantly trying to destroy his friends in the Avengers (as well as humanity as a whole) is a lot to handle, and naturally the dude has had a rough go of it since then. This eventually culminated in a full-on mental breakdown in which he strikes his then-wife Janet, who subsequently divorces him. He's also expelled from the Avengers for his trouble (and gained a reputation that's dogged him ever since). Since then, Pym has sort of rotated in and out of prominence in the Marvel Universe, serving on the Avengers off and on, but he's never quite been able to shake the stigma that he's kind of a lame, sadsack jerk.

More recently, Pym led a splinter team of Avengers – made up of various forms of artificial intelligence – in the short-lived Avengers A.I. series, which spun out of Age of Ultron (the comic, obviously, not the movie). That book saw Pym and his team striving to stop a rogue AI from destroying humanity, as well as navigating the question of whether artificial life was truly "alive." Most recently, Pym-as-Yellowjacket was involved in the lead-up to Secret Wars, Marvel's currently-running mega-crossover which destroyed and (at least temporarily) remade the entire universe, discovering that the ancient and powerful Beyonders are the ones behind the mystery of various worlds of the Marvel multiverse crashing into each other.

Most most recently, Hank Pym appeared in the Avengers: Rage of Ultron original graphic novel by Rick Remender and Jerome Opena. That book was all about the complex relationship between Pym and his robot creation, and ended with the hero merging with an early iteration of Ultron and flying off into space. Marvel has confirmed that this story "counts" – as in it takes place within the official continuity of the rest of Marvel's comics line – but it's not yet known where this takes place in the grand scheme of things or what that merging actually means for either character. Since Pym appeared all human and whatnot just before the onset of Secret Wars, safe money is on all of this happening sometime after that event wraps up.

Portrayed in the movie by Michael Douglas, it seems unlikely that Ant-Man will delve too far into all of this backstory, though it's possible some of it may be intimated through flashback. Whether the Pym will have had any kind of history as a superhero at all in the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains to be seen.

Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man

First appearance: Avengers #181 (1979), created by David Michelinie and John Byrne

Who is he? Reformed thief Scott Lang was living on the straight-and-narrow – after a stint in prison, he'd turned his life around with a job with Stark International, even helping Tony Stark himself install a new security system in Avengers Mansion.That was all jim dandy until he discovered that his daughter, Cassie, was dying of a rare heart condition. Desperate, he broke into Avengers Mansion and stole Hank Pym's Ant-Man gear, hoping to use it to enlist the help of Dr. Erica Sondheim, a heart surgeon capable of helping his daughter. Of course, this being comics, Lang discovered that Sondheim was being held hostage by Darren Cross, a billionaire-turned-monstrous-supervillain stealing hearts to fuel his superpowers. Lang stopped Cross and saved Sondheim, who in turn saved Cassie. Pym, at using the Yellowjacket, overlooked Lang's theft considering the circumstances and condoned his continued use of the Ant-Man identity, provided he use his abilities only for good.

So Lang acted as the second Ant-Man for years, serving as a respected member of the Avengers and assisting them on various adventures. At one point he also served as a replacement leader for the Fantastic Four when several members were trapped in the Negative Zone. His daughter Cassie lived with him for much of this time, though she eventually moved in with her mother and stepfather when they feared that being around the superhero lifestyle was too dangerous for a young girl.

And perhaps they were right – at the start of the divisive "Avengers Disassembled" storyline, Scott is the first Avenger taken down by the machinations of an unstable Scarlet Witch, killed in an explosion. This being comics, though, it didn't stick. A few years later, Cassie – now a superheroine in her own right, the shape-changing Stature – traveled back in time to rescue her father at the moment of the explosion, saving her father without altering history. Cassie was killed in an ensuing battle with Doctor Doom, leaving Scott broken, angry and vowing revenge on the supervillain. 

He got his chance not long after. Appointed as a stand-in leader to the Fantastic Four's Future Foundation while that team was away, Scott decided to use the abilities and resources of the school's students to take down Doctor Doom and exact revenge, which he manages to do. Later, a repentant Doom uses the Scarlet Witch's abilities to resurrect Cassie and atone for his crime.

After Cassie's return, her mother moves her to Miami to keep her away from the superheroic madness in New York City. Hoping to reconnect with the daughter he thought he'd lost, Lang turns down a lucrative job as Tony Stark's head of security in order to set-up shop in Florida, where he can stay close to his family.

Portrayed by Paul Rudd in the movie, Lang's story in Ant-Man seems to follow his comics origin relatively closely, if not exactly. Scott's past as an incarcerated thief appears to have been preserved, as has his relationship with his daughter. The only notable change seems to be that Scott is recruited by Pym to become Ant-Man, rather than stealing the tech himself.

Darren Cross 

First Appearance: Marvel Premiere #47 (1979), created by David Michelinie and John Byrne

Who is he? In the comics, Darren Cross is your run-of-the-mill executive-turned-supervillain. Cross, millionaire founder of Cross Technological Enterprises, is diagnosed with a rare heart. To survive, he uses an experimental pacemaker which mutates him and gives him superpowers – the catch is that using those powers destroys his heart. He captures heart surgeon Erica Sondheim to replace his heart while capturing "donors" to keep the supply rolling in. The problem he runs into is the fact that newly-minted Scott Lang was seeking Sondheim's help in order to save his daughter's life. The ensuing battle leaves Cross supposedly dead – although this year's new Ant-Man series by Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas revealed that Cross' son Augustine saved his father in cryogenic stasis, kidnapping a now-teenaged Cassie to take her heart.

In the movie, Cross is portrayed by House of Cards' Corey Stoll. The primary difference seems to be that Cross is directly connected to Hank Pym, who was once his mentor and business partner. Cross doubles as the villainous Yellowjacket (another divergence from the comics), and is Scott Lang's primary nemesis in the film.  

Cassandra "Cassie" Lang, aka Stature

First appearance: Marvel Premiere #47 (1979), created by David Michelinie and John Byrne

Who is she? Cassie Lang is indirectly responsible for her father taking up the mantle of Ant-Man; diagnosed with a congenital heart disease as a young girl, Scott steals Hank Pym's Ant-Man gear and Pym Particles in order to rescue Erica Sondheim, the only doctor who could save her. Since then, Cassie more or less grew up around Scott and his superheroic pals, even living with the Fantastic Four and Heroes for Hire for a time. Alas, the young girl's mother feared for her safety, so Cassie was sent to live with her mother (played in the movie by Judy Greer) and stepfather. This caused all sorts of friction in Cassie's relationship with her non-superhero parents, especially after Scott was killed by the Scarlet Witch in "Avengers Disassembled."

Not long after, it was revealed that Cassie had been stealing Pym Particles from her late father for years, and as such had recently come into size-changing powers of her own. She joined the first iteration of the Young Avengers as the teen superheroine Stature; however, she quickly learned her powers were slightly different from her father's, and could potentially be activated by her mood (rage is big, guilt is small). It's around this time that Marvel's big Civil War event kicks into high gear, and in the aftermath of that she joins the Initiative, a program for young registered heroes to receive training in preparation for becoming bona-fide superheroes. 

Cassie has a bunch of adventures with other young superheroes during her time, including the Avengers. But the next big event for her comes as a part of Young Avengers: The Children's Crusade, the long-delayed finale for the first iteration of the team. Basically, two members of the team – magic-wielding Wiccan and speedster...uh, Speed – are the reincarnated souls of the Scarlet Witch's twin sons, and seek her out to help controlling Wiccan's powers. With the help of Iron Lad (a teenage version of the Avengers' time-traveling nemesis Kang the Conquerer), Cassie is also able to travel back in time to save her father before his death in "Avengers Disassembled." Later, during a battle with Doctor Doom (who'd been hiding the Scarlet Witch away since her disappearance), Cassie is killed. This being comics and all, it doesn't stick – a few of years later, Doom was feeling altruistic and used wacky science to bring her back to life (seriously, read that last paragraph and say it with me – comics are weird, y'all).

These days, Cassie is living with her mother, who moved her to Miami to keep her away from all of the superhero craziness that got her killed in the first place (not that that did much good in that department). It's unlikely most of her superheroic history will play a role in Ant-Man – there Cassie is played by Noted Young Girl Abby Ryder Fortson, which makes sense considering the film seems to cover Scott Lang's origins more than anything else.

Janet van Dyne, aka The Wasp

First appearance: Tales to Astonish #44 (1963), created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Who is she? The socialite daughter of a wealthy scientist, Janet van Dyne gets into the superhero game when her father is killed by an alien. She turns to Hank "Ant-Man" Pym for help, who uses Pym Particles to give her shape-changing powers and insectoid wings that sprout on her back when she shrinks. After the two team up and avenge her father, they're inseparable – from then on, they're Ant-Man and the Wasp. After Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Wasp team up to take on Loki, Janet is the one who suggests the team-up become a regular thing, and even gives the newly-formed Avengers their name.

Janet has powers similar to Hank, Scott and Cassie – thanks to Pym Particles, she can shrink and grow at will, and gains a certain amount of super-strength while in that state. Unlike those heroes, though, Janet grows wasp-like wings in her shrunken state, which allows her to fly. She also has the ability to harness her bio-electric energy into offensive energy blasts, which she calls "stingers" or "wasp stings." Janet is also known for her keen intuitive and deductive, which has made her an essential strategist and leader to the Avengers over the years. 

Like Hank, Janet's tenure with the Avengers is sporadic, often taking breaks and sabbaticals from the team. That said, she's always been a prominent hero in the Marvel Universe, popping up to team up with just about every hero out there, and she has the distinction of being the longest-tenured leader of the Avengers behind Captain America. Throughout her career, her partnership with Hank has become romantic multiple times; at one point the two were even married. However, that marriage dissolved when, in the midst of a mental breakdown, Hank struck Janet, spurring her to divorce him.

Like just about every character in the Marvel Universe, Wasp was "dead" for a time. In the climax of the Secret Invasion crossover, Janet realizes the villainous Skrulls have used Pym Particles to turn her into a biological bomb. With Thor's help, Janet is able to diffuse the situation without destroying the city, but at the cost of her own life. Hank takes up the mantle of the Wasp for a time in her honor, but since this is comics, it was only a matter of time before her return – just a couple of years later, she was found alive and well in the Microverse, a subatomic universe that exists within our own. Since then, she's served on the Avengers Unity Squad in Uncanny Avengers, where she fell in love with team leader and longtime X-Man Alex "Havok" Summers. In an alternate future in which the Unity Squad fails to save the planet from being destroyed, the two marry on the mutant paradise Planet X and have a daughter; however, in traveling back in time to prevent the Earth's destruction, that future is erased and their daughter is lost to them. The two still remember that, of course, causing no small amount of emotional trauma for the characters (comics are weird, y'all). 

It should be noted that it's not currently known whether Janet will actually appear in Ant-Man at all. That said, Evangeline Lilly's character is named Hope van Dyne, which suggests some kind of connection – a child or other kind of relative, perhaps, or maybe just an homage to the character. It's possible Janet might pop up in some flashbacks or get name-dropped, but don't expect any full-on Wasp action this time around. 

Afterword

There you have it; hopefully this gives you a not-too-confusing primer into the world of shrinky-growy superheroes before you head into Ant-Man this weekend. As always, take these recaps with a grain of salt – they're meant to give you some highlights and let you know where those characters stand in the comics currently, but it's also likely a lot of this stuff will be glossed over in the movie. Don't take it too seriously and have fun at the movies. Enjoy!

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Matt Liparota
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