The Old 52: The Irredeemable Ant-Man

If you haven't read it, it's new to you. Every month I try to supplement the New 52 with a series from the Old 52. Series I've never read, but have always meant to.
When it was new: Running 12 issues between December 2006 and November 2007, this Marvel series was written by Robert Kirkman with art by Phil Hester for 10 of the 12, with Cory Walker subbing on issues 7 and 8.

Premise: Eric O'Grady is a rather bad SHIELD agent who steals Hank Pym's new Ant-Man suit and uses it, well, mostly to look at naked chicks in the shower.

A small package: I'm of course a fan of Robert Kirkman's Invincible, Super Dinosaur and, most recently, Thief of Thieves, but somehow, I'd completely missed that he was the writer of Irredeemable Ant-Man. I was initially attracted to it for the Old 52 Project by Phil Hester's art (and of course, its length), so... bonus! Though only 12 issues, Ant-Man does tell a complete and satisfying story, that of a less than scrupulous man's journey towards becoming a good superhero... and not sort of kind of making it. Because of Mark Waid's Irredeemable, one might imagine this Ant-Man to be some kind of killer, or extreme anti-hero, but he's not. He's a flawed human being, selfish, greedy, lascivious, scared of commitment, and maybe even friends with one of Spider-Man's less evil villains. Nevertheless, Eric O'Grady has some measure of bravery, is a masterful liar, and though he makes a lot of bad decisions, he really WANTS to do better.

The brilliant thing about Irredeemable Ant-Man is that it uses a lot of small, claustrophobic panels when it isn't doing bold superhero action. It makes for a dense reading experience - you get a lot of story for your buck - but it's also thematically perfect for a book about a tiny superhero. The "smallness" of Eric O'Grady as a man gives way to bigger splashes when he goes into action, contrasting his pettiness with the epic nature of his adventures. He's also a man trapped by circumstances, on the run and flying by the seat of his pants. Those tight panels work to the book's advantage in a number of ways. And as a small cog in the Marvel Universe's machine, this Ant-Man becomes the perfect guy to reflect on (and take the piss out of) Marvel's big crossover events, whether that's how "Civil War" was really more of a street fight, or having Ant-Man crawl into the Hulk's nose during the Green Goliath's fight with Iron Man in World War Hulk. No wonder Ant-Man becomes a member of Damage Control (which had a similar function).
And then there's the recap ant that begins every issue with an amusing rendition of what has gone before, each recap funnier than the next. Other than the ant, the book never feels like a spoof. People get hurt, we cheer Eric's ethical successes, and shake our heads at his failures. He's a great trickster archetype. As I was reading the series (neatly collected), O'Grady seemed to be killed in Secret Avengers. Though it would be a tragic and appropriate end to his journey, having just read its opening chapter, it makes me want to see it continue longer.

Trade in for one of the New52? If Blue Beetle is intent on retelling an already told story, why not go bug-for-bug and give Irredeemable Ant-Man a chance? It's also a "becoming a hero" story, but it zigs where others zag.


Martin Gray said...

Hmm, I know I have issues of this but can't remember anything other than Eric stealing the suit. I may be in for a treat...

I'm hopeful he'll be OK after Secret Avengers this month - given his stint on The Atom, we know Rick Remender likes the short and feisty.


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