Most people who know me know of my absolute love for the super hero genre.
I love super heroes. People in masks with powers and costumes who go out and fight crime and evil are probably my favorite extension of fiction in any form. Like most people, I love the top tier super heroes like my favorite, Superman, my very close second favorite, Spider-Man (I consider the first forty issues of The Amazing Spider-Man to be among the BEST runs in all of comic book history.), Batman, Green Lantern, Captain America, and others. There is, however, a lot of fun to be had with the lower tier super heroes too. I’m talking about those scrappy second stringers who might never have had their own books or if they did, it wasn’t for very long and maybe then only meaningful to their hardcore fans. Maybe they were part of a team or just a frequent guest star here and there making occasional but very memorable appearances or cameos in the books of other characters with a bigger profile.
Some of my students at the Kubert School have heard me talk about a few of my favorite second stringers. I know I’ve spoken more than once about one of my favorite X-Men, Iceman and I can go on and on about my love for the poor, abused Moon Knight (That’s a whole OTHER post!). I don’t know if I’ve ever really mentioned though about my love for the Insect Avenger, the Astonishing Ant-Man.
Why Ant-Man? Okay. Let’s go by the numbers…
- I like shrinkers. There are certain power sets that I’ve always been a fan of… ice powers, lightning powers, and guys who shrink. I know on the surface shrinking just sounds like one of those lame powers like breathing under water or stretching, but to me it’s one of those powers that DEMAND some creativity from both the characters who shrinks and the writer writing his adventures. Anyone can use super-strength or the ability to shoot beams from your hands to take down a bad guy, but you have to be especially sharp if you’re going to go up against aliens or bank robbers by shrinking down to half an inch. Its just such an off-beat, non-obvious power.
- Okay. It was ’82 and I picked up The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 for two reasons. First, it was Spider-Man and by that point, I was a pretty steady reader of all things Spider-Man. Secondly, it was the introduction of a brand new character, Monica Rambeau, the all-new Captain Marvel. In those early days, I was usually up for getting in on the first appearance of new characters. After all, you never knew when a new character was going to blow up big and their first appearance would become worth millions of dollars! So I picked up ASMA#16 and I liked the new Captain Marvel enough to follow her to her next appearance The Avengers #227 where she would join the World’s Mightiest Heroes as an “Avenger-in-training.”. By that time, I still hadn’t started reading The Avengers but #227 seemed like a good point to start. In fact, it actually proved to be the perfect issue to start. You see, around that time, Hank Pym was in the middle of his ultimate fall and disgrace as an Avenger and he was in jail! (It’s a long story!) While he was stewing in the clink, Hank went over his whole history as a super hero in all of his various identities. Being a founding member of the Avengers as Ant-Man, Hank’s career was very intertwined with the history of that team so as he went over his career, he was also filling in a new reader like myself on the history of the Avengers themselves. It was a great issue to start with and it went a long way to cementing my fondness for Hank in any of his identities. Ant-Man would remain a favorite although I also liked Yellowjacket, whose costume would be one of my favorite Marvel designs. Incidentally, at this time, Scott Lang was running around as Marvel’s active Ant-Man. I liked Scott and I thought his burglar-turned-hero story was pretty interesting but his story didn’t match the rich history of Hank Pym.
- The potential! OH! The potential! As I said earlier, the first forty or so issues of The Amazing Spider-Man are some of my most favorite comics ever. Around the same time those were being published, the early Fantastic Four issues were spinning absolute gold. The Avengers were also a lot of fun. Unfortunately, not ALL of those early Marvels were as good. One of the clunkier series at the time was the Ant-Man feature in Tales To Astonish. The potential, however, was there. I keep hoping one day Hank Pym will get his due, but given my feelings on contemporary super hero writing, I’m not optimistic an new Ant-Man series would be anything I’d be interested in. I hate to be a downer but most of the post 90’s super hero comics that I’ve given a shot to have just turned around and bitten me on the ass.
There you have a few of the reasons why I dig Ant-Man. I know for a lot of people… especially younger and more casual fans… Hank Pym will forever be that super hero who beat his wife (No one ever remembers that he was being mind-controlled by Egghead when he did that!) or the screw-up he was portrayed as in The Ultimates. To me, he’ll always be one of the more colorful Avengers and a founding father of the Marvel Universe!
Who are some of the second stringers you like? Who else should I draw? Please let me know in the comments below!