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From Silver Age to Silver Screen: Ant-Man, a Hero Spidey Looks Down On

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From Silver Age to Silver Screen is a feature that highlights a Spider-Man team-up with a Marvel hero (or villain) who is currently starring in a major motion picture or television show. In celebration of Ant-Man’s opening, this installment looks at Marvel Team-Up #103

Ant-Man Movie 01Even the staunchest, most die-hard Spider-Man fan in the universe has to admit that it’s very rare for our favorite Web-Slinger to be made to look like a “pro’s pro” when standing next to another Marvel superhero. But that’s exactly what 1981’s Marvel Team-Up #103 offers in bringing together Spidey and Marvel’s then-new Ant-Man, Scott Lang.

Lang is one of the few Marvel characters to have an origin story that’s more blue-collar and inexplicable than Peter Parker’s. A single dad and ex-con, Lang steals the original Ant-Man/Giant-Man Hank Pym’s equipment in order to free a doctor who could save his daughter’s life. In his first few handful of appearances — which include this specific issue of MTU (the issue came out about two years after he first debuted) — Lang is portrayed as a likeable but not entirely effective guy who is lacking the skill and grace that typically accompanies a superhero. It’s because of that characterization that I think that Paul Rudd was an excellent choice to play Lang in Marvel’s new “Ant-Man” movie (which opened this weekend), because like Scott, Rudd is likeable in pretty much everything he does despite the fact that I don’t necessarily like all the movies he’s in.

MTU #103, which was scripted by Lang’s co-creator David Michelinie (who would later go on to enjoy one of the more famous stints scripting Amazing Spider-Man in the book’s history), follows the template put forward by the vast majority of the 102 issues that preceded it in attempting to give a new-ish or under-appreciated Marvel hero more mainstream exposure by pairing him off with arguably the company’s flagship guy in Spider-Man. We get some exposition that explains Lang’s backstory (he’s got a precocious young daughter that he has to take care of; he is a former criminal trying to turn over a new leaf; he’s the new Ant-Man), before Spider-Man is introduced and seen fighting a villain (in this case, Taskmaster, another Michelinie creation). Certain circumstances bring Spider-Man and the MTU team-up partner of the month together, and thus a story has been created.

Ant-Man Movie 02What makes MTU #103 fairly unique for the series is how it couches Spider-Man vis a vis Ant-Man. During his initial battle with the Taskmaster, Spider-Man is shockingly overmatched by the villain’s photographic reflex memory, which allows him to physically mimic the skillset of any hero he studies (or as Spider-Man puts it, “it’s like fighting all of the Avengers at the same time”). 

By the way, when are we going to get the Marvel Cinematic Universe of the Taskmaster who seems like such a wonderful fit in this world — or maybe Taskmaster already exists in the MCU (a working theory of mine is Grant Ward from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will eventually become the villain)?

Fortunately, Lang, who previously fought the Taskmaster during a great three-issue arc of the Avengers, shows up (while investigating the murder of a former prison buddy of his) just in the nick of time to shrink and protect Spider-Man from being unmasked (though if Michelinie was reading his Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spidey, he’ll occasionally use his webbing to keep his mask adhered in the unlikely case he gets knocked unconscious and can’t prevent an unmasking). With Spider-Man’s new found freedom, he and Lang are then free to join forces and fight the Taskmaster — if only the Taskmaster stayed in one place long enough to battle.

In the comic’s final FINAL confrontation, Lang appears uncertain in how he can help Spider-Man defeat the Taskmaster. However, he’s smart enough to realize that the key to beating the Taskmaster is to hit him with something unexpected. So rather than following the example set by Pym, Scott uses his growing potion on one of his ants, em-biggening it and shocking the Taskmaster. The clever villain still finds a way to escape via a magnesium flare, but Spider-Man and Ant-Man can count MTU #103 as one successful team-up (that’s accomplished in a single issue no-less). 

Ant-Man Movie 03Still, as the comic is wrapping up, Spidey, who has frequently been overshadowed in MTU by the likes of Thor, Captain America, Nick Fury, etc., gets a tiny jab in on his new little buddy when he points out that Lang never bothered to re-shrink his giant ant (and the ant proceeds to jump off the top of the building they were standing on). It’s one of those rare instances where Spidey gets the last laugh, chuckling about how the new Ant-Man might be a good hero, but he still has a lot to learn (a lesson you would have thought rang true with Silk when she was introduced last year, but I digress).

Lang wouldn’t have a proper team-up with Spider-Man again until nearly a decade later when he showed up in 1990’s Amazing and Spectacular Spider-Man Annual issues (Michelinie naturally penned the ASM appearance). That’s unfortunate because based on the dynamic established in MTU #103, as well as Lang’s characterization as a down-on-his-luck, almost reluctant superhero, there’s potential for this duo in terms of compelling storytelling possibilities. It’s great to see Spider-Man interact with a hero that’s not depicted to be 10,000 leagues above him on the prestige and power scale, while Spidey is still relateable enough for a hero like Lang to not look like a total chump or loser standing next to either.

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