Ant-Man 101: Who is 'The Man in the Ant Hill'?

Tales to Astonish cover - P 2014
<p>Tales to Astonish cover - P 2014</p>   |   Jack Kirby/Marvel Entertainment
If you're wondering why Michael Douglas playing Hank Pym in "Ant-Man" seems to be important, enjoy this small (of course) catch-up on Marvel's multiple Ant-Men.

Hank Pym? Scott Lang? Just how many Ant-Men are there -- and how can you tell them apart? If today's announcement of Michael Douglas signing on for the new Marvel Studios movie has left you a little confused, here's a quick guide to what you need to know about the world's tiniest heroes.*

To date, there have been three different Ant-Men in Marvel Comics continuity: Hank Pym, Scott Lang and Eric O'Grady. Of these three, only two have been mentioned in conjunction with the movie, with poor Eric being the odd one out -- although his origin story, which essentially boils down to "bored S.H.I.E.L.D. agent steals the technology from a S.H.I.E.L.D. base," dovetails so well with the spy-organization-obsessed Marvel Studios mythology that it's hard to imagine it won't be worked in somewhere in the movie.

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Hank Pym playing a large role in the movie should be no surprise. He is, after all, the original Ant-Man. In fact, his shrinking career started before the "Ant-Man" name was created, with the character making his first appearance in 1962's Tales to Astonish #27, in a story by Stan Lee, his brother Larry Lieber and artist Jack Kirby titled "The Man in the Ant Hill!"

That story, in which Pym discovered a size-changing formula that he tested on himself (because this was a 1960s monster story), saw him pouring his discovery down the drain, convinced that it was too dangerous to exist in the world. Eight months later, he'd apparently changed his mind -- helped, no doubt, by the success of that first story and Marvel's desire for more super hero properties -- and returned in a story appropriately titled "Return of the Ant-Man," in which he used his size-changing formula (and a newly-created helmet that allowed him to communicate with ants) to battle communist spies hell-bent on destroying America.

Pym's superheroic career is a troublesome one on numerous levels. Creators could never seem to settle on a direction for the character, leading to his assuming multiple heroic identities (among them were Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Doctor Pym and the Wasp), a tendency that was soon translated into the character having multiple mental breakdowns, multiple personalities and a legacy as a wife-beater thanks to an infamous miscommunication between writer and artist on a 1980s Avengers comic.

Scott Lang is, in his own ways, equally troubled. An "electronics expert" -- it was the 1970s -- who stole Pym's size-changing formula and Ant-Man costume in order to save his kidnapped daughter, Lang was a part-time superhero for a number of years, working with both the Avengers and Fantastic Four on occasion before being killed as part of 2004's "Avengers Disassembled" storyline. (It was following this that O'Grady's short career as Ant-Man took place.)

The character was brought back to life in 2012's Avengers: The Children's Crusade, thanks to time-travel and the quick reaction of his now-teenage daughter. Unfortunately, said daughter was then killed during a subsequent superhero battle, leaving Lang as a tragic hero obsessed with living up to the legacy of his dead child. As such, he has appeared in the short-lived Defenders series of 2011 and is currently in the Fantastic Four spin-off series FF.

The unfortunately tragic turns of both of these comic book Ant-Men is at odds with the perception of Wright's debut with Marvel Studios being an action comedy. It's worth remembering, however, that Marvel Studios' movies have to dateshied away from the more downbeat moments of their comic book counterparts -- Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark isn't the alcoholic that the comic incarnation is, the movie Captain America appears untroubled by the belief that his sidekick Bucky is dead, unlike the Steve Rogers of the comics, and Thor… well, Thor has always been a relatively light character in the comics, all told.

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Of course, when it comes down to it, Ant-Man isn't necessarily the kind of character to evoke a fiercely loyal fan base, meaning that Wright has the freedom to essentially recreate the Ant-Mythos as he sees fit for the big screen. There are already rumors that Hank Pym will be the villain of the new movie, so for all we know, all bets are off when it comes to who and what we'll see come summer 2015. We can only hope that it'll include a talking, flying smart car called Rover.

(*Okay, theoretically, DC's Atom is smaller, in that he tends to shrink to sub-atomic sizes on a more regular basis than Ant-Man, but still.)