Wednesday

OMU: Ant-Man -- Year Four

Over the next year of the character’s life, Henry Pym, known variously as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket, transitions into an early retirement. Long a reluctant superhero, he finally makes a concerted effort to distance himself from that life, though his status as a founding member of the Avengers complicates matters. So, too, does the fact that his crimefighting partner and wife, the Wasp, is not eager to give up her life of adventure, and this tension will only grow as time goes by. Beyond scattered guest appearances in various titles, Hank & Janet Pym were given a brief try-out series in Marvel Feature, but, like their original run in Tales to Astonish, it generated little excitement and offered only third-rate villains. Ant-Man and the Wasp would then return to comic book character limbo for nearly two years before making yet another comeback.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.


Continuing with… The True History of Ant-Man!


January 1965 – Hank Pym is living and working in Alaska as part of a government research project on the effects of oil drilling on the native flora and fauna, along with his research partner, Bill Foster. Hank’s wife, Janet Pym, occupies herself as best she can and tries to be supportive of her husband’s efforts, though she longs to return to New York City. While heading up to check in at a remote scientific outpost in the Arctic wilderness, Hank becomes concerned when they lose contact with the personnel there and decides that he and Jan should investigate as Yellowjacket and the Wasp. They are astonished to find a circle of primeval jungle surrounding a tall tower. An energy beam emanating from the tower causes Yellowjacket to devolve into an ape-like hominid, and he takes the Wasp prisoner. Several hours later, he fights off the outpost personnel, who have been similarly transformed. Shortly afterward, they are rescued by four Avengers—Goliath, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision—along with Captain Marvel and Rick Jones. They destroy the tower, causing the jungle to quickly succumb to the arctic cold. Feeling useless, Hank tenders his formal resignation from the Avengers, intent on giving up his superhero career once and for all. The Wasp reluctantly resigns as well. The Avengers then return the Pyms and the three technicians from the outpost to their main research base.

A week or so later, Hank receives a call from the Avengers summoning the founding members to an emergency meeting. Since Jan has come down with the flu, Hank leaves her in Alaska and returns to New York alone. With his Yellowjacket costume destroyed, he attends the meeting in his original identity as Ant-Man. Upon arrival at Avengers Mansion, Ant-Man finds Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America standing over the inert form of the Vision. As the world’s foremost authority on synthezoids, Hank agrees to enter the Vision’s body in order to affect repairs. While there, he is surprised to see components that he recognizes as World War II vintage, since by all accounts the Vision was constructed only last year. Hank has no time to ponder this discovery, though, as the Vision begins to revive as soon as the repairs are complete. Ant-Man then bids farewell to his teammates, agreeing to provide his scientific expertise as the need arises but not wanting to involve himself in their battles.

That night, though, while crossing the city, Ant-Man is attacked by the same mutated scarlet beetle that he fought two and a half years ago. When Hank’s anti-radiation treatment wore off, the beetle regained its human-level intellect and is now once again intent on conquering the world. Ant-Man is captured and his cybernetic helmet confiscated, but he is able to escape when the building they are in catches fire. Climbing up through the floorboards, Ant-Man discovers that a shop owner has torched the place in what looks like an insurance scam. The beetle tackles Ant-Man, but he manages to get free. Just then, one of his ant allies bites the arsonist’s ankle, causing him to drop his kerosene can onto the scarlet beetle. The villainous insect is crushed to death, enabling Ant-Man to escape from the flames. The fire department has arrived on the scene and the police take the arsonist into custody. Rather than make his presence known, Ant-Man slips off and heads for the airport to catch his flight back to Alaska.

February 1965 – Hank’s research is interrupted by a call from the Vision, who is seeking aid in curing Hercules of total amnesia. Unfortunately, Hank is unable to come up with anything likely to help. A day later, Ant-Man and the Wasp are summoned to meet all other members of the Avengers, past and present, at Garrett Castle in England. Reluctantly, Hank agrees to go, and he and the Wasp soon meet up with Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye (who has abandoned the Goliath identity), Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, the Black Panther, the Vision, the Black Knight, and even the Hulk. The Black Knight leads them into the depths of the castle, where he summons up the spirit of his ancestor, Sir Percy of Scandia, the original Black Knight of legend. Sir Percy’s ghost reveals how Ares, the Greek god of war, came into possession of the Ebony Blade and teamed up with the Enchantress to conquer three worlds: Earth, Asgard, and Olympus. Their first move was to transform the gods of Olympus into crystalline statues and banish Hercules to Earth, bereft of his memory. Suddenly, the Swordsman swings down from the rafters and claims his Avengers membership, demanding to help stop Ares. Ant-Man is not inclined to trust the Swordsman, but Thor accepts him into their ranks. The thunder god then chooses Iron Man, Hulk, Black Knight, and Vision to accompany him to Olympus while the rest remain behind to guard Earth. Ant-Man’s squad soon detects an interdimensional portal opening in the center of London and speeds to the scene, where they find an army of demonic creatures pouring through a hole in space. The demons are quickly driven back into their own realm, at which point Thor’s squad emerges through the portal, having rescued Hercules and defeated the villains. However, Hercules must remain in Olympus to help Thor close the portal. Having won the day, the Avengers go their separate ways, and Ant-Man and the Wasp return to Alaska.

April 1965 – After six months, Hank completes his research project and they all return to New York. Jan buys a house in the Long Island resort town of Southampton, where Hank sets up his new laboratory. She also buys a lab facility elsewhere in the city for Bill Foster to use, charging him a modicum of rent so he doesn’t feel like a freeloader. Thrilled to be back in civilization after her sojourn in the Arctic wilderness, Jan rehires her old chauffeur, Charles Matthews. She also buys Hank a highly trained white dog named Orkie. Hank is glad to abandon his superhero identities and continue devoting himself full-time to biochemical research.

August 1965 – Hank collaborates with Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, and Peter Corbeau to figure out a way to counteract the dimensional instability accidentally caused by Banner’s green-skinned girlfriend Jarella when she traveled to Earth from the Microverse. The instability is threatening to cause the sun to go supernova. Hank remembers the super-concentrated shrinking formula he used a couple years ago to help the Fantastic Four pursue Doctor Doom into the Microverse, but realizes it would be too unstable to use after all this time. He informs Banner that the solution is so dangerous that he keeps it locked in the vault in his private lab. Even so, the scientists’ efforts are ultimately successful—Jarella is returned to the Microverse and the sun quickly stabilizes.

Hank agrees to make a personal appearance as Ant-Man at George Washington University in Washington, DC. However, he is forced to cancel at the last minute when the government recruits him to work on their Virus Nine Project. Virus Nine is a biological weapon captured from HYDRA that the government is eager to find a means to combat. Worried that the terrorist organization will attempt to take their weapon back, Hank installs a state-of-the-art security system in his lab.

October 1965 – While driving along the Long Island Expressway, Hank and Jan receive an alert signal that their laboratory has been broken into. Hank pulls over and changes into Ant-Man, then races back home astride a flying ant. He arrives to find his vault door smashed open and the Virus Nine papers missing, but is surprised to also discover the vial of super-concentrated shrinking formula shattered on the floor. A quick test confirms Hank’s suspicions that the serum has deteriorated into a highly unstable state. He activates a microscopic homing device planted in the Virus Nine papers, which leads him to an underground base being used by HYDRA. There, Ant-Man is shocked to find a miniaturized Hulk battling the terrorists. After starting a fire to drive the HYDRA agents outside, Ant-Man tries to convince the Hulk to come back to the lab with him so they can find an antidote to the unstable serum. Hulk refuses, determined to reach Jarella’s world in the Microverse. Suddenly, the jade giant changes back into Bruce Banner as his shrinking accelerates, only to have the Chameleon emerge from the shadows and step on him. Ant-Man is horrified, believing Banner has been killed, and quickly knocks the Chameleon unconscious. Outside, as the Chameleon and his HYDRA employers are taken into police custody, Ant-Man informs some reporters of Bruce Banner’s apparent demise. Hank speculates that, even if Banner wasn’t crushed to death, he may be lost forever in the Microverse. Two weeks later, though, the Hulk reappears.

Over the course of the month, Hank works on a new government-sponsored research project with Dr. Curt Connors, a herpetologist from Florida, studying certain psychoactive drugs. Jan takes the opportunity for an extended shopping trip to the west coast. While she’s gone, Hank agrees to mentor an Empire State University science major named Peter Parker. When Connors returns to Florida for a couple of days, leaving his wife and son at a local hotel, gangsters kidnap the boy and demand the drugs as ransom. With Parker’s help, Ant-Man tries to rescue Billy Connors, but the gang’s leader, a French drug lord known as M’sieu Tête, reveals that he’s injected his hostage with a deadly virus. Ant-Man surrenders, and he and Parker are taken to M’sieu Tête’s hideout, where Hank is impressed by their highly advanced technology. Unexpectedly, Billy slips away, steals a car, and drives off into the night. Realizing he won’t get what he wants if Billy dies, M’sieu Tête sends Ant-Man to bring him back, while holding Parker hostage. However, not willing to trust the hero to keep his word, M’sieu Tête injects both Ant-Man and Parker with the same virus. With Orkie’s help, Ant-Man tracks Billy to a construction site on the outskirts of the suburbs, only to find the boy has become delirious. Attempting to return to normal size, Ant-Man is horrified to discover that the virus has apparently knocked out his size-changing abilities. Even so, he manages to get Billy back to the villains’ lair, where Parker reports that Spider-Man had turned up and captured M’sieu Tête’s henchmen. With M’sieu Tête defeated, Parker administers the antidote, though Ant-Man, surprisingly, remains trapped at roughly the size of a field mouse. After Parker has taken Billy to the nearest hospital, Ant-Man is attacked by a hawk and wrecks his costume and cybernetic helmet while escaping. By an amazing coincidence, he then stumbles upon his old nemesis, Egghead, menacing a teenage girl in a junkyard. The girl turns out to be Egghead’s niece, Trixie Starr, and she and Hank flee into the woods before the villain can shoot them. After building a campfire, Trixie sews a new outfit for Hank to replace his ruined costume. During the night, though, Egghead sends a couple of robots to recapture Trixie. Hank follows and rescues her from a machine designed to drain her intellect into Egghead’s computer banks. Egghead appears to get caught in an explosion, but Hank suspects he may have escaped. As they hike back to town, Trixie tells Hank about her relationship with her mad uncle and why she’s run away from home.

At dawn, Hank and Trixie catch a bus out to Southampton, where she drops him off at his house before going on alone. Hank enters and finds Jan lying on the floor unconscious. He gets stuck inside a heating vent as the chauffeur, Charles Matthews, comes in and revives Jan. Hank is annoyed that Matthews tries to convince Jan that her missing husband must be dead, clearly hoping to get his hands on Jan’s fortune. Once Matthews has left, Hank fashions a crude slingshot out of a hairpin and a rubber band and fires his damaged cybernetic helmet out of the vent, alerting Jan to his presence. She is relieved to see him and helps him out of the vent. Hank explains his predicament to her, and she helps him run some tests to determine what’s keeping him trapped at his diminutive size.

November 1965 – After a great deal of experimentation, Hank finally discovers the mysterious x-factor to be a microbe still in his bloodstream, but before he can make another move, his old enemy Whirlwind tries to kidnap Jan. Hank manages to drive his foe off, then wonders whether Whirlwind and the chauffeur might be in cahoots. Jan refuses to believe it. Worried that other villains might try to attack them, Hank takes the time to repair his cybernetic helmet before getting back to work on his size-changing problem. Eventually, he synthesizes an antidote, but Jan loses her patience with his cautiousness and, hoping to spur him on, drinks some of it before it has been fully tested. She instantly shoots up to giant-size, hitting her head on the ceiling, then shrinks to insect-size and collapses. Hank is frustrated when Jan proves to be trapped at wasp-size now as well, and vows to find an antidote that works for both of them.

Over the following days, Hank rebuilds his lab equipment to scale so he and Jan can operate it at their tiny size. However, Whirlwind attacks again, determined to get his hands on the Van Dyne family fortune one way or another. When he again fails to nab the Wasp, Whirlwind sets the house on fire and departs. With great difficulty, Hank and Jan escape from their burning home and collapse in the front yard. Sadly, Orkie dies in the fire.

In the morning, the Pyms find a newspaper in the grass and are alarmed to read that both Ant-Man and the Wasp are now presumed dead. Seeing that Charles Matthews is claiming to have made a valiant effort to save them, Hank becomes even more convinced that the chauffeur is working with Whirlwind. Unfortunately, while hiking across the yard, Hank and Jan are captured by a man with a butterfly net and gassed into unconsciousness. When he revives, Hank finds that he and his wife have been imprisoned in mason jars by an addle-brained, middle-aged man called Boswell, who is dominated by a strange green-and-yellow robot that insists on being called Para-Man. At the first opportunity, Hank breaks out of the glass jar and frees Jan. Para-Man tries to recapture them, but Hank manages to turn a gasoline can into a makeshift bomb. Enraged, Para-Man carries Boswell outside, then rushes back into the fire to punish the tiny humans who have destroyed his home. Hank and Jan have both gotten out already, though, and the house suddenly explodes in a massive fireball, blowing Para-Man to pieces. However, due to the chemical cocktail she drank, the stress causes Jan to mutate into a monstrous half-human, half-insect form. She viciously attacks Hank before regaining a measure of self-control. He makes a run for it, and she chases him through the grass, until he chances upon his cybernetic helmet, lying where it fell when Boswell captured them. He summons a swarm of soldier ants to keep Jan busy while he adjusts his helmet’s controls, hoping to be able to use it to control her. Luckily, the powerful cybernetic signals cancel out the mutation, temporarily reverting Jan to normal. She worries, though, that the next time she transforms, she may kill Hank.

The beleaguered couple heads for a nearby mobile home, where they are attacked by a kitten. The stress causes Jan to change back into her monstrous form, but the kitten swats her and knocks her out. Hank quickly uses his cybernetic helmet to cause ants to swarm over the kitten, driving it away. A man in a colorful costume then emerges from the mobile home and, announcing himself as “Doctor Nemesis,” takes the Pyms into his laboratory. Twenty-four hours later, Doctor Nemesis succeeds in restoring Hank’s ability to grow and shrink at will. Though happy to be cured, Hank’s mood grows darker as Doctor Nemesis reveals that he was associated with M’sieu Tête’s gang and now wants Hank to steal secrets from Avengers Mansion in exchange for the Wasp’s life. For his wife’s sake, Hank agrees to the scheme. Doctor Nemesis leads him to the team’s headquarters through a pneumatic tube constructed by the subversive organization A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics). Hank is unnerved to learn that A.I.M. has been spying on him all this time. Having duplicated Hank’s size-changing formulas, Doctor Nemesis intends for them to enter the mansion unnoticed, but when they arrive, Hank turns the tables on the villain and captures him. Iron Man, Captain America, the Black Panther, and the Vision arrive on the scene, having been drawn by the commotion, and are shocked to see that Ant-Man is still alive. Hank leads them back to the mobile home, where they rescue the Wasp. Hank administers the final treatment himself to restore her body chemistry to normal. The Avengers once again invite the Pyms to rejoin the team, but Hank declines, saying they prefer to lead their private lives.

Hank and Jan check into a ritzy hotel, and the next day they meet with Bill Foster, who is relieved to find they are still alive. Bill explains that he’d suspected they had survived the fire and were merely trapped at insect-size, but was unable to convince Iron Man to pursue the matter. Worse, he reveals, one of Jan’s lawyers, Mr. Blackburn, had conspired with Charles Matthews to seize control of her fortune and threatened Bill to try to make him keep quiet. Furious, Jan immediately fires both Matthews and Blackburn. Learning that his suspicions about Matthews were correct, Hank feels vindicated. But after all their recent traumas, he is happy to leave the life of a superhero behind him.


Notes:

January 1965 – After a fifteen-month hiatus, Hank Pym returns in Avengers #90–91, in which his Yellowjacket costume is destroyed. He then turns up as Ant-Man in Avengers #93. Readers would have to wait until Avengers West Coast #50 (a full 18 years later!) to learn what it was that so startled Pym during his mission inside the Vision’s body. Ant-Man then appears in an odd little back-up story in Iron Man #44. During this period, Pym makes several references that reveal him to be an old fan of William M. Gaines’ EC Comics, which he must have read in high school.

February 1965 – Ant-Man appears briefly in Avengers #99–100.

March 1965 – Towards the end of the month, Ant-Man and the Wasp find themselves dealing with the end of the world—along with everyone else on the disintegrating planet—during Thor #185–188, but luckily Odin erases those events from the timestream, so they never happened.

August 1965 – Pym’s conference call with Bruce Banner is seen in a flashback in Hulk #154, which takes place during the events of Hulk #148, in which Pym remains behind the scenes. In Hulk #151, Banner sees a poster advertising Pym’s appearance at George Washington University, though the reason for the cancellation is not made clear in the story as written.

October–November 1965 – Ant-Man teams up with the Hulk to battle HYDRA in Hulk #154–155 before getting another shot at a solo series in Marvel Feature #4–10. In the first issue, which guest-stars Spider-Man, Curt Connors does not appear, though his wife Martha does. Their son is erroneously called both “Timmy” and “Bobby” in the story. M’sieu Tête’s technology is provided by A.I.M., which Pym learns at the conclusion of the series. We will discover in Giant-Size Defenders #4 that the treatment administered by Doctor Nemesis is only a partial cure, and the microbe remains dormant in Pym’s bloodsteam. Strangely, the Pyms remain unaware that “Charles Matthews” is really David Cannon, a.k.a. Whirlwind, even though they clearly saw his face several times back when he called himself the Human Top. I can only assume he had a nose-job or something that makes him unrecognizable. In Avengers #139, Hank reveals that “Matthews” was fired for betraying Jan’s trust.


Jump Back: Ant-Man – Year Three

Next Issue: Captain America – Year Four