Ant-Man: A Mini-History of a Mini-Hero, by Stan Lee

The tiny titan rallies his troops in ‘Ant-Man’ (Disney/Marvel)

From Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Daredevil to the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men, former Marvel Comics editor-publisher Stan Lee has helped create the most indelible collection of heroes in any universe. Along the way, he also dreamed up dozens of lesser lights, but even some of them are getting their moment of shine.

Take Ant-Man. Lee, along with his younger brother, Larry Lieber, and ace illustrator Jack Kirby, originated the character of an accidentally shrinking scientist for the January 1962 issue of Tales to Astonish. Eight months later, that scientist, Hank Pym, returned in the guise of a pint-sized superhero. Now, more than a half-century since his debut, the wee do-gooder is fronting a would-be blockbuster.

Ant-Men new and old; Paul Rudd as Scott Lang and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym in ‘Ant-Man’ (Disney/Marvel)

With the Marvel movie version hitting theaters Friday, we asked Lee, who is an executive producer on the film, to give us a miniature oral history of the mini-superhero.

We begin our story in late 1961. Lee and his mighty Marvel minions had a runaway hit on their hands with Fantastic Four, and they had a powerhouse lineup of Hulk, Spider-Man, and Thor primed for debuts the following year.

Take it away, Stan the Man.

STAN LEE: I was trying to think, What could I do that is different.” We had a character with the powers of a spider. We had a hulking monster. We had a god. We had all those things. Then I thought, What if there’s a guy this big [holding his thumb and index finger together].“ And I said, “Why not?”

So I made up this really smart scientist, Hank Pym, and he develops the Pym Particle, which lets him shrink down. Right away he gets stuck in an anthill and has to figure out how to escape.

Pym’s initial appearance in the 27th issue of the anthology comic Tales to Astonish was titled “The Man in the Ant Hill.” But it wasn’t until his return, eight issues later, that he donned his trademark supersuit.

LEE: A few months later, we brought him back, and he invented this special helmet — we called it the Cybernetic Helmet — that allows him to talk to ants. And he became the Astonishing Ant-Man.

By 1963, it was clear Ant-Man wasn’t a huge hit on his own. So in the grand tradition of comic books, Marvel gave him a partner. Another Lee-Kirby creation, her name was Janet Van Dyne.

LEE: We teamed him up with a superheroine called the Wasp. She had a shrinking suit, too, but she also had wings and could fly.

In the beginning, Ant-Man and Wasp were strictly business. They’d bicker one moment, then tangle with a B-list baddie the next. But a shakeup was in store.

LEE: The trouble with Ant-Man was his size. I always had to make sure that the artists would put objects in the panels so the reader would know how really small he was. They never drew him right. I was always saying, Put in a coin or an apple or a matchbook.” Because if you didn’t have something like that [to show the scale], you’d just be staring at a guy in a funny-looking costume.

I liked Ant-Man, but he never really became one of our best-selling heroes. After a while we decided to change the character — make him really big to fit in the Avengers with Thor and Hulk and Iron Man — and he became Giant-Man.

The transformation to the towering Giant-Man was the first of many for Pym. Giant-Man and Wasp became founding members of the Avengers in 1963 and eventually struck up a tragic romance. Through the years, Pym became one of Marvel’s most tortured characters, teetering on the brink of sanity as he assumed such alter egos as Goliath, Yellowjacket (the eponymous villainous Yellowjacket in the film, played by Corey Stoll, is not the same as Pym’s heroic identity in the comics), and even Wasp after Van Dyne’s death.

In 1979, the Ant-Man character was rebooted with Scott Lang — Paul Rudd’s protagonist in the movie — taking over the mantle.

But that’s another story…

Watch: Ant-Man Instant Commentary Paul Rudd Discovers the Supersuit:

Stan Lee is the former editor and publisher of Marvel Comics, credited with co-creating hundreds of characters. He currently runs POW! Entertainment and makes cameos in every Marvel-based movie, ‘Ant-Man,’ included. (POW! Entertainment)