First Published: February 2002
Contents: Ant-Man/Giant-Man & Wasp stories from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962), and #35 (September 1962) to #69 (July 1965)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, and Bob Powell
Key First Appearances: Dr. Henry ‘Hank’ Pym/Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Egghead, Janet Van Dyne/Wasp, Porcupine, Human Top (Whirlwind), Nathan Garrett/Black Knight
Overview: Doctor Henry Pym is a research scientist looking to find a way to miniaturize objects. After proving that it works on objects, Pym tries his formula on himself, shrinking down to the size of an ant. Unable to defend himself from the attacking ants looking to defend their home, Pym runs for his life until he can get back to his lab to retrieve the antidote. Putting aside the formula for months, Pym revisits his project as he learns more about the ants. He converts the formula to a gas, attaches the gas canisters to a costume, dubs himself the Ant-Man, and a new hero is born.
In the issues to come, Ant-Man develops a decent rogues gallery. While many opponents in these issues were one-and-done, some of his foes such as Egghead, Porcupine, the Human Top (later renamed Whirlwind), and the first Black Knight would have long-lasting spots in the Marvel Universe.
In Tales to Astonish #44, we meet Janet Van Dyne, the daughter of a fellow scientist. When Janet’s father is murdered, she seeks help from Pym. Donning his costumed identity, Ant-Man rescues Janet and reveals his identity to her. Pym uses his current research to mutate Janet’s body, giving her the ability to shrink down to insect size while wings sprout from her back. Taking on the name of the Wasp, the duo avenges the murder of Janet’s father, and a new partnership is formed.
Shortly after joining the Avengers, Pym feels inadequate in comparison to his other teammates in Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Pym theorizes that what can be shrunk can also be enlarged, and Giant-Man is born. This is the first of many costume identity changes that Pym will make over his career.
What makes this Essential?: There are very few original ideas in comics. Everything is inspired by what has come before, or as an unapologetic attempt to duplicate success at a rival publisher. DC had found success by resurrecting the Atom identity with Ray Palmer in Showcase #34 (September/October 1961). Henry Pym first appeared in January 1962 and dons the Ant-Man costume and identity in September 1962. Over at DC, the Atom joined the Justice League in Justice League of America #14 (September 1962), and Pym (with Van Dyne and others) found the Avengers in November 1963. So whether Lee & Kirby were directly trying to duplicate DC’s success, or just wanting to have their own size-changing hero, the timeline that Henry Pym follows seems to mirror that of Ray Palmer, just one year behind.
Despite being founding members, Ant-Man and the Wasp often get pushed to the side in modern retellings of the early days of the Avengers. These stories help justify their place on that team. Pym is a brilliant scientist who gets overshadowed in other comics by his contemporaries in the Marvel Universe. The Wasp was not a sidekick, but a truly equal partner with Ant-Man. She earned her own ongoing backup feature, which may have been the first female-led super-hero stories at Marvel. Lee and Kirby do the bulk of the stories in this volume, but they get overlooked by all of the other legendary stories that were coming out in this era. This volume is worth taking a look!
Footnotes: Henry Pym was just one of the tenants in Tales to Astonish during the 1960s. Initially, the book was a science-fiction anthology title. When the super-hero movement took off, Pym became the lead feature each month with various backup stories. Starting in issue #50, the Wasp was given her own solo story feature, giving the book two super-hero stories per issue going forward. With #60, the Wasp feature ended and her space was given their former Avenger colleague, the Hulk. In 1965, the Giant-Man feature was replaced by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, beginning in #70.
If you like this volume, try: the Mighty Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest collection, available as both a hard cover or a trade paperback. Following the events of Secret Invasion, Henry Pym has once again adopted a new costumed identity, this time as the Wasp. Pym’s ex-wife was believed to have sacrificed her life in stopping the Skrull invasion of Earth, and Pym wants to honor her memory by keeping the Wasp name alive. A new Avengers team is formed, by what appears to be the long missing Scarlet Witch. Can this new team of Avengers come together to help save the Earth? This is one of the best story lines involving Henry Pym and the Avengers. Pym is confident in his abilities, he steps up as a leader of gods and warriors, and he proves that his intellect is just as great as Reed Richards and Tony Stark. Over the last 10 years, this was the one Avengers title that felt most like the Avengers of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.