Ant-Man: bad superhero or worst superhero ever?
Of all the characters in the Marvel Comics Universe, few are as pathetic as Ant-Man. Although he has the prestigious status of co-founding the Avengers, sporting more superhero aliases than anyone else, and specializing in creating sentient death bots, he has generally been the red-headed stepchild of the Marvel Universe.
Ant-Man made his first debut separate from the Marvel Universe. In a 1962 issue of Tales to Astonish, Doctor Hank Pym created a technology that allowed him to shrink to ant size while retaining his human strength. The result of this experiment was that he nearly got killed by insects. It was a cautionary tale warning against scientists who pursued the mad goal of shrinking to insect size. Sure, it sounds glamorous, but then you get your blood drained by a spider and your mother gets worried because you haven’t shown up for dinner in a month.
For some reason, maybe due to the drug craze in the 60s, the issue sold very well. Stan Lee decided to bring the character back as a superhero, giving him a helmet that allowed him to communicate telepathically with ants. The power was sort of like Aquaman’s ability to speak to sea creatures but was even less useful. Aquaman can at least ask a shark to eat somebody. Ant-Man can only ask his insect friends to build a nest in someone’s pantry and cause a minor inconvenience. Ant-Man had his own half of a comic in Tales to Astonish for about two years, and was later joined by his girlfriend Janet, who, thanks to Hank’s science, became the Wasp. She was slightly less useless than Ant-Man, because she could also fly. Somehow, Ant-Man and the Wasp served as co-founders to the Avengers, along with the Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor. I don’t know how the strongest man on Earth, one of the world’s most brilliant inventors, and a Norse god get teamed with those two. I think the conversation went something along the lines of, “And we shall be known as the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! Oh, damn, those stupid bug people got into the picture while we were taking the publicity photo.”
It didn’t take long for the writers at Marvel to realize that you can only do so much with a guy who is basically an insect. Eventually, they decided to reverse the concept of Ant-Man, having Hank Pym create new technology that increased his size. Thus Ant-Man became Giant-Man. Unfortunately, his super size and strength really meant nothing in a group that had Iron Man and Thor in it. He couldn’t even be the guy to get hard-to-reach things, because most of the other Avengers could fly. Hank tried a few other tricks to make himself seem cooler, changing his name from Giant-Man to Goliath while retaining the same powers. Alas, nothing seemed to work.
Eventually, Hank turned away from his size-changing experiments and began working on his second love: giant killer death-bots. He created the robot known as Ultron, who worked incredibly well except for the fact that it gained sentience and tried to destroy all of humanity on repeated occasions. Ultron also self-replicates, creating new units for the rare occasions when an old one is destroyed. So in his attempt to become useful, Hank Pym ended up creating one of the Avengers’ most deadly foes.
His failure to do anything but threaten all of humanity led Hank to go through a nervous breakdown. He took on yet another superhero identity, Yellowjacket. For some reason, none of the Avengers immediately clued in to the fact that the crazy guy with size-changing powers was the same person as that other crazy guy with size-changing powers who built the death-bot. None of the Avengers, that is, except for the Wasp, who took advantage of Hank’s temporary psychosis to get married to him. If that seems immoral, take solace in the fact that she would live to regret that.
Hank recovered from his insanity, but retained the Yellowjacket personality for a little while. He was eventually kidnapped by his very own death-bot Ultron, though, who brainwashed him to become Ant-Man and take on the Avengers. I don’t have that issue, but it must have been a laugh. “Oh man…that ant guy is trying to kill us all. Does anyone have a fly swatter?” Ant-Man’s attempt to destroy the Avengers was naturally foiled, and Ultron’s brainwashing was undone. Hank was still crazy, though, and wound up becoming the first Avenger to be court-martialed and suspended from duty by his fellow super-heroes.
In order to get back into the good graces of the superhero community, Ant-Man went back to the only thing he did halfway well: creating death-bots. He decided that he would create a robot that was capable of defeating the Avengers and program it with a weakness only he knew how to exploit. Hank’s wife Janet suggested that maybe creating another giant killer robot wasn’t the way to solve his problems. In response to this bit of sanity invading his otherwise perfectly insane plan, Hank smacked Janet and told her to stay the hell out of his affairs.
Naturally, incompetent Hank’s idea failed. He didn’t exploit the death-bot’s weakness, and it was up to his wife to solve the problem. She disabled the robot and then divorced Hank. Tossed out of the Avengers, Ant-Man was later manipulated by an old enemy into committing crimes that would wind him up in jail. Meanwhile, Janet started a relationship with Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, moving up the white trash ladder from abuser to alcoholic.
Hank eventually recovered from being a total psycho and began pursuing a relationship with Janet once again. The relationship hit the skids recently when Hank got replaced by a shape-shifting skrull as part of an alien invasion of the Earth. So powerful were Hank’s mental problems, though, that the skrull impersonating him started to go insane. He was replaced by another skrull, which was summarily killed in the massive battle between Earth’s heroes and the skrull army. Janet, however, wound up as one of the casualties of battle.
With Janet dead, Hank has decided to take up a new mantle in her honor: he has become the new Wasp. So now Hank’s back to his original power of being really tiny and useless, but this time he can fly. I’m sure that combined with his obvious psychosis, his tendency to become violent and abusive, and his massive inferiority complex, he will continue as a shining example to all pathetic heroes out there that no matter how pitiful they might seem, no matter how useless their powers are, they will never be as bad off as Hank Pym.