Marvel is working very hard this week to make sure you know who Ant-Man is. This was both inevitable and necessary—inevitable, because there’s an Ant-Man film headed our way in six months’ time, and necessary, because, well, Ant-Man is a pretty complicated comic book character.
Enter Ant-Man #1, Marvel’s new comic series dedicated to the story of Scott Lang, the Ant-Man we’ll meet in movie theaters this summer. Should you pick up the comic? The short answer is yes—written by Nick Spencer, with art by Ramon Pasanos and colors by Jordan Boyd, Ant-Man #1 is a very funny, well-executed first issue that tells a complete story (something few first issues manage to nail) and sets up a fun new status quo for Scott Lang.
That’s the ant-sized version, at least. The whole story is a bit longer, and considerably more complicated.
How much you enjoy Ant-Man #1 will depend on why you’re reading the book. If you’ve never heard of or never really cared about Scott Lang, then yes, Ant-Man #1 is wonderful; this book is very much for you. In keeping with what was teased in the film’s trailer, Scott Lang is a guy who’s got a lot potentially going for him—but hasn’t really made anything of himself. He desperately wants to be a better father to his daughter and to make an honest living. To that end, he tries to land a job working for Tony Stark. The job application, however, ends up being a bit more than he bargained for.
It’s a tight, well-constructed story that allows Spencer to deliver Scott Lang’s history to the reader in an unobtrusive and entertaining way: He’s a reformed criminal who obtained the Ant-Man suit from original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Lang is actually the second Ant-Man. No one really talks about the third anymore). Lang has gone on to become the Marvel Universe’s primary Ant-Man, with stints in the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to make anything stick.
Spencer delivers a well-paced, very funny script that sets Lang up as an underdog with all the odds stacked against him. Ramon Pasanos’ art is fantastic, with a style reminiscent of Spencer’s previous collaborator Steve Lieber (albeit a tad more conventional—but hey, there’s time). Newcomers should pick this up without reservation. Okay, maybe one reservation: $4.99 is a bit much. Even with the additional page count, publishers are flirting with $5 comics way too much.
But what if you’re actually super into Scott Lang as Ant-Man? You know, you read Matt Fraction and Michael Allred’s excellent FF, or the first volume of Young Avengers, or The Children’s Crusade, all of which have either Scott or his daughter playing a very large part. Will you be into Ant-Man #1?
This is gonna call for some spoilers.
One of the things Ant-Man #1 does is heavily recontextualize the character’s history. It’s the softest of reboots. Everything about Scott Lang’s past is the same—even the convoluted bits, like his death way back at the start of Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure on Avengers. But as I hinted above, Spencer’s Lang is an underdog who has a bit in common with Boomerang from Spencer’s last book—the absolutely excellent Superior Foes of Spider-Man. He’s broke, down on his luck, on terrible terms with his ex-wife, and no one really seems to take him seriously. Which is all fine—if Scott Lang hadn’t just been built into one of the warmest, most aspirational figures in Marvel comics during his last major role a year ago.
In case you never read Fraction and Allred’s FF (which you totally should): A big part of that story was Scott Lang dealing with depression over his daughter’s death, learning to cope whilse slowly, reluctantly, becoming a role model and caretaker of a bunch of gifted children that had been adopted by the Fantastic Four. It was a moving story, warm and full of pathos.
But just like that, in this story, Scott Lang is a guy who’s barely got his act together. Suddenly, he has zero social cachet in a world full of superteams he’s been a huge part of. Once more, he’s a good-for-nothing schmuck who has to prove to the world he can be great, that he can do something right. It’s beyond jarring.
But asi es la vida. Superhero comics are like big cities: while their geography rarely changes much, they’re in a state of constant churn as shifting demographics cause neighborhoods and fashions to rise and fall. Each generation tries to leave a mark, to make these stories their own. Railing against such change is often futile, and sometimes even detrimental—while it stings to see something you love fade away, that doesn’t mean the city is dying. On the contrary, it often means it’s very much alive.
I’m a bit uncomfortable with this new Ant-Man. It’s not quite the Ant-Man I love, the one that I wanted to see get a chance at a bigger stage. But it’s a good comic. A really good comic. And hey, those old ones aren’t going anywhere.