Movies & TV / Columns

411 Comics Showcase: Ant-Man (Scott Lang)

September 9, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

Last week, I wrote about Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and my personal favorite. But while Hank Pym will probably always be the name most closely associated with Ant-Man for longtime comic book fans, comic books are not the dominant platform for superheroes any longer. While 2015’s Ant-Man film was one of the lowest grossing MCU movies to date, it exceeded expectations both critically and financially. The film survived a troubled development history that included a falling out with “geek god” Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and somehow came out smelling like a rose that had people like me wondering if Marvel Studios is ever going to have one outright failure of a movie. It has to happen eventually, right?

Right?

Anyway, while Hank Pym is certainly a major part of the MCU’s Ant-Man story, the main character of the film is in fact the second Ant-Man from the comics; career burglar, recently released convict and wannabe good father Scott Lang. So, for better or worse, to a generation who is being raised on comic book movies the way kids used to be fed on Westerns, Scott Lang is likely to be the definitive version of Ant-Man for them. After all, if you didn’t catch the movie on its release, chances are you probably still saw Captain America: Civil War, saw how entertaining and awesome he was in that, and probably checked out his debut film on Blu-Ray. That’s just kind of how Marvel works with its ingenious marketing plan.

And, let me be fair; there’s nothing wrong with Scott Lang being your favorite Ant-Man. After all, this is comic books, and there’s a fine tradition of “legacy” heroes who aren’t the first versions of the concept. After all, everyone knows Hal Jordan and Barry Allen as Green Lantern and the Flash, but how many people outside of the hardcore comic book fan base know who Alan Scott and Jay Garrick are? And heck, when I was growing up in the 1990’s, Green Lantern and the Flash were Kyle Rayner and Wally West. None of these characters are bad characters, and most of them, in one way or another, had to step out of the shadow of their predecessor. And in my opinion, Scott Lang has managed to do just that, carving a unique place for himself in the pantheon of superheroes that makes him one of my favorite characters in the MCU.

Scott Lang first appeared in The Avengers #181 (March 1979) as a Stark International employee helping to install a security system in Avengers Mansion. But in the next month’s Marvel Premiere #47, Scott proved to be much more than a background character in the story “To Steal An Ant-Man”. In the two issue story (back when most stories usually wrapped up in an issue or two), Scott’s daughter Cassie becomes seriously ill, and the only person Scott can turn to for help, Dr. Erica Sondheim, is kidnapped by Darren Cross. In desperation, Scott steals Hank Pym’s Ant-Man suit and uses the powers to rescue Sondheim and defeat Cross. When he tries to return the suit to Pym and turn himself in, Hank suggests that he keep the suit and uses it to fight crime, since the world could always use more superheroes. Scott becomes the new Ant-Man and works primarily as an Avenger, but also works with other groups like the Fantastic Four.

Scott Lang’s comic book history is one of a respectable B-Lister, but it’s not really a surprise that the debut story is the one that sticks out the most. It’s been adapted with minimal changes both for the MCU movie and in one of the best episodes of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I think the main reason for this is that it showcases the two things that really make Scott stand out from most other characters; he’s a reformed burglar and a devoted parent. While Scott is far from the only thief in comic books (Catwoman and Gambit come to mind), he is one of the only ones who would probably prefer to reform. He’s got a natural talent for it, but he would much rather have an honest job and take care of his kid. In this way, Scott Lang embodies the “everyman” better than most superheroes. What happens when a normal guy becomes a superhero?

Ultimately, it’s those reasons that turned me around on Scott Lang, as far as being the Ant-Man for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I love Hank Pym, and always will, but I realized pretty quickly that Scott is just very different from everyone else in the MCU, and that’s to his benefit. Hank is a man of science and business; is there much to separate him from Tony Stark in function? We don’t need a poor man’s Tony Stark. Scott comes from a completely different background than a typical hero. He’s older, he’s made some mistakes, he’s got to worry about paying bills and child support and visitation rights and things that never enter the mind of Captain America or Thor. Even Hawkeye’s basically got his life together; Scott’s life is a wreck. That background makes him easy to relate to, gives the audience a fresh perspective in this sprawling universe, and Paul Rudd really nails the lovable loser trying to get his life turned around.

What really resonates with me when I think about Scott Lang is that he is a parent who messed up his family life and wants his daughter to think of him as a superhero. What decent parent doesn’t want their kid to think the best of them? To not let them down? That’s ultimately what motivates Lang. This kind of really nails why fans still cling to superheroes as we get older. It’s not hard to explain the appeal of superheroes to kids. But for parents, they want their kids to think of them as being as strong as Superman or as smart as Batman, as good as Captain America or as cool as Iron Man. Scott Lang isn’t any of those guys, but he’d like to be. And that’s what makes him work.

Special Project Announcement
While I enjoy focusing on one character or storyline at a time, it does mean that I go through characters very slowly. As such, I think it might be helpful to create an easy access reference for who my favorite characters are and where they rank; starting in October, I will be compiling a list of the Top 50 DC Heroes, the first of a series of four lists. However, before I start the project, I want some input from the readers regarding something that DC has a knack for doing. Should the list include anti-heroes like Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, etc., or are these characters better suited to a villains list?

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Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, Michael and I debated the merits of the 2002 science fiction film Equilibrium. This week, Michael takes me to Brazil for City of God.