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Wednesday, January 29, 2014 

Ant-Man movie will spotlight Scott Lang instead of Hank Pym

A writer for Comic Book Resources wrote about the decision by Disney studios to make Scott Lang the star of the new Ant-Man movie instead of Hank Pym (who'll still be in the movie, played by Michael Douglas), and he thinks they're right to make it the second guy in the role rather than the first:
By making Scott Lang the protagonist of the film, [Edgar] Wright has removed a potentially huge, dark encumbrance off the "Ant-Man" concept, opening the film up to explore a spirit of free-wheeling adventure rather than burdensome emotional angst.

The original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, was one of Marvel's premiere heroes, pre-dating Marvel luminaries Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men. Pym's early adventures, while not played for laughs, were pretty footloose and fancy free with a sense of fun and high adventure. His banter with the Wasp made for fun, fast paced, rollicking superhero tales set in the Cold War. Then, when Ant-Man lost his own feature in "Tales to Astonish," he became a regular player in "The Avengers." There, Marvel creators created story elements and plot developments which moved the character forward rather than keeping him as the outdated Cold War adventurer. While these new elements to Pym's character created such legendary stories as the coming of Ultron, they also made the character a rather tragic figure saddled with intense guilt and emotional baggage.

The creation of Ultron, bouts with mental illness and spousal abuse came to define the character, and it's very difficult to find a modern Hank Pym story that does not reference this trifecta of character flaws. Forget that he was being emotionally controlled when he struck the Wasp; the action came to define Pym as a character. While these elements certainly added layers to Pym's backstory, they also succeeded in completely robbing the character of the airy lightness that helped define the Ant-Man character. The power to shrink (or grow) is fantastical in nature, a power which should be filled with joy and humor -- a tone that came across in the early Pym stories. It's hard to capture that tone when focusing on a character whose defining moments were spousal abuse and accidentally creating robot Hitler.

By settling on Scott Lang as the film's primary hero, Wright has freed himself from having to deal with these elements; instead, the story can focus on the joy of Ant-Man's abilities rather than the past sins of a broken man. "Ant-Man" has the potential to put the fun back into a concept weighed down by decades of melodrama, a formula that can mean huge things for the potential franchise.
Why does he think the director would have to deal with these elements at all? Sure, some of those past storylines are troubling and disappointing, but that wasn't the character's fault. It was, for the millionth time, the fault of numerous writers/editors who should be held accountable if CBR's writer thinks the stories like Hank Pym smacking down Janet VanDyne for trying to stop him from building a berzerk robot in a ploy to win back a full-time spot on the Avengers were tasteless. He may not think so, but if the screenwriters want to, they can cast Hank as star without referencing all the embarrassing baggage they speak of.

The writer misses some very vital points: the whole 1981 Hank-as-abuser story was something that should have been put to rest long before, but successive writers kept dragging out the references to it repeatedly, which was ill-advised, and in Brian Bendis's case, completely wrong. Of all the writers who could've dredged it up repeatedly, he did it in the worst way possible: in Avengers: Disassembled, there was a line where Hawkeye made an insulting crack, "don't you got a wife to beat?" that only perpetuated a stereotypical perception few others managed to do as badly. Shouldn't the CBR writer be faulting writers like Bendis for only adding fuel to the defamation fire?

I suppose the reason why most readers were able to move past the original tale from 1981 was because the Marvel staff of the times did try to fix the damage as best as possible, by writing that some of the mental insanity he was going through in the late 70s-early 80s was the result of Ultron's manipulations, and as a co-star in West Coast Avengers, he strove to redeem himself. But as 2000 came in, all prior efforts to redeem Hank were thrown away by Quesada's staff.

And if assault and building Ultron are Hank's defining moments, I'd say it's because later writers did nothing to conceive better ideas that could offset what came before, and editors did nothing to lay a moratorium on referencing a storyline that was embarrassing in retrospect. To date, I don't know if this story was ever reprinted in trades, and I don't expect to see one specially dedicated to it, since it is a very problematic tale. (Update: it turns out it was reprinted in 2012, in a large trade similar to the Epic Collections beginning production at the time.)

Should all this get in the way of making Hank the star of an Ant-Man movie? Mileage can vary, but I'd say that on the surface, no, and it is possible to make a movie without getting into all that mishmash.

However, it reminds me that the 3rd Spider-Man movie recreated the notorious scene from the Clone Saga where Peter Parker knocked Mary Jane Watson against a wall, wounding her. You can find some panels of that scene here, and the worst part is that some writers and artists whom I usually respect were in on this, making it all the more awful; a true blot on their careers. If the Ant-Man screenwriters draw any ideas from the early 80s Avengers story for Hank the same way the Spidey screenwriters did with their film, they'll be making serious mistakes, even though there is every chance moviegoers would learn about the story anyway, thanks to all the referential sites on the web today. What they'd think of the source material then is anyone's guess.

In the end, no matter what we think of these past storylines, we have to remember that the writers are the guilty party for any stories we think are poor, and that's why the fictional characters can't be held responsible for any bad steps taken. And maybe that's why screenwriters shouldn't let it get in the way of using characters like Hank Pym as the stars in the spotlight either. I do think that if really bad stories can be dropped down the memory hole for several years and not mentioned again, it can make it much easier to redeem a lot of characters who were wronged by editors with no respect for the properties in their care. That's why it's high time the Big Two's comics publishing arms found better owners who could see to it that terrible tales aren't hammered on everybody's heads again like recent writers have done. There's plenty of comics characters major and minor with potential who shouldn't have to be tarnished as badly as what Quesada and DiDio have done to them.

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Not sure how I feel about having Scott Lang as the main character instead of Hank Pym. Not too sure about the casting, either Paul Rudd as Scott Lang? Michael Douglas as Hank Pym?!

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