By Nick Spencer, Brent Schoonover, Ramon Rosanas, and Jordan Boyd
At the time of writing, Marvel Comics is deep into their universe-reshaping event Secret Wars. As Secret Wars has already been announced as a platform to reboot the Marvel Universe, a lot of ongoing comics have entered into a bizarre sort of limbo state while universe continuity has almost completely imploded. Case in point, Ant-Man Annual #1 seems to take place outside of any continuity other than its own. It seems to mark the conclusion of the previous Ant-Man ongoing comic, though it’s honestly quite hard to tell. The best way to look at this is a one-off; an Ant-Man special that’s being released to coincide with the film as a means of cross-promotion. The only comics it actually connects to are the previous Ant-Man ongoing and another bizarre one-shot that came out around the time of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron that most other books ignored. With all that baggage, it’s honestly pretty amazing that Ant-Man Annual #1 is as funny and moving as it is.
The situation revolves around Scott Lang, current Ant-Man, discovering that Hank Pym is missing and presumed dead in the aftermath of his most recent fight with Ultron. From there the book is fairly contained to a flashback adventure that Scott had with Hank Pym against classic Ant-Man foe: Egghead. The ensuing adventure, like most of the comic, isn’t really focused on thrills and fight scenes so much as it’s designed as a buddy cop type of story. Like the Ant-Man ongoing, the emphasis here is on comedy and character interaction with the world of Z-list villains and C-list superheroes as a convenient backdrop for hilarity and humanity.
It’s a fun adventure tale and Nick Spencer’s very unique blend of self-aware humor mixed with exploring the bizarre and humorous idiosyncrasies of superheroes as real people works very well. What really elevates the story though, is the relationship between Scott Lang and Hank Pym. It’s a kind of adversarial friendship that provides a ton of opportunities for the two to bounce jokes off one another. It’s a tricky line to walk character wise as it’s far to easy for either character to slip from being a lovable and honest friend to a straight up jerk, but Ant-Man never falls into that trap. Ultimately it’s the characters individual egos and needling that tends to bring them closer together. It also helps that a lot of the key defining aspects of their identities ends up coded into the story itself.
Hank Pym in the comic ends up mostly defined by the schism between his overinflated ego and his less than impressive history, so having the central villain of the piece be his archenemy Egghead is a stroke of genius to constantly illustrate his comedic shortcomings. Hank ends up the serious one by default, but it’s a role that suits him; Scott Lang under the current Marvel banner is much more well suited to the goofy, ‘along for the ride,’ type of character. His freer nature and more well-adjusted personality makes him a good foil for Hank, especially in how much Scott likes being Ant-Man compared to how desperate Hank was to escape the role. Where the issue finds real heart however, is actually in addressing Hank’s past.
For those who don’t know Hank Pym has always been kind of a mixed spot in the Marvel Universe between serious storytelling and depressing emptiness. Aside from his multiple personas the character predominant defining attribute has always been his mental issues and domestic abuse. Neither of those things are directly addressed as they’re both the opposite of comedy, but in a comic meant to be about the fallout from Hank’s death they kind of need to be picked up on. This mainly comes in a twist near the end that really digs into the difference between Scott and Hank and how they relate to their roles as heroes and as people. It’s a fascinating side-by-side comparison between Hank, for whom Ant-man is his most embarrassing moment, and Scott, where being Ant-Man is honestly the best thing he’s ever done.
Artwork wise this is one of those unfortunate cases of good, strong artwork that there’s not much to say about. Brent Schoonover does a good job in the flashback sequence and manages to avoid any perspective traps that might’ve been a problem given the varying character sizes. Ramon Rosanas does great detail work in the present day sections that help every panel feel full and real. Finally, Jordan Boyd’s colors are vibrant and engaging. Everyone does laudable work, it’s just that the story and characters are where are Ant-Man Annual #1 really shines.
The ending is fairly ambiguous as to what the future holds for Scott Lang and there’s still been little to no word on where his ongoing will fall in the post-Secret Wars days. So if this is intended as the cap to his time as Ant-Man before Marvel dusts him off again in however many years, it’s a pretty fun send off to the character. It highlights what makes him a unique and engaging counterpart to his predecessor and even what serves to make him a superior Ant-Man in a lot of ways. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s got a lot of heart, and it’s a solid send off to Marvel’s littlest hero.