Last month I had the privilege of reviewing the first issue of Al Ewing and Tom Reilly’s Ant-Man, a miniseries designed to celebrate 60 years of Marvel’s pint-sized hero. That first issue was one of the most confident debuts I had seen in a good while and a perfect distillation of the style and tone of Silver Age comic books. This month, the story marches forward with the second issue focusing on another iteration of Ant-Man; Eric O’Grady.
I’m sure that many who will be reading this series will have no idea who Eric O’Grady is at all. The MCU focuses squarely on Scott Lang, with Hank Pym as the retired former Ant-Man and the comics have followed suit incentivizing these two most of all. However, there was a third Ant-Man who has historically been far less utilized, the aforementioned Eric O’Grady. O’Grady was introduced in 2006. Created by Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester, O’Grady was immediately a figure of controversy; his origin was similar to that of Scott Lang, in that he steals the Pym’s suit and stumbles into being Ant-Man. However, where Scott Lang is a thief with a heart of gold looking out for his daughter, O’Grady is a far more morally questionable character.
He’s a sarcastic wiry pervert who spies on women in the shower and leaves a fight if he’s losing. He’s Marvel’s foremost scumbag hero, a character who looks out for himself and often fails while doing so, the Irredeemable Ant-Man. This was a stark contrast to the previous two Ant-Men, which led to him being less popular with fans and to his book being cancelled after 12 issues. He quickly fell out of the spotlight after this but with this issue, Ewing and O’Reilly flashback to those 12 issues to make a case for this character and his unique position within the Ant-Man legacy.
This issue immediately opens with a wonderful throwback to the Irredeemable Ant-Man series with an ant recapping the events of the previous issue, something which happened in those old issues. It’s a great example of the loving reverence that is Ewing’s bread and butter. A lot of callbacks and references can feel trite, relying entirely on fan service to attract readers instead of adding anything to the material. But what makes it work here is that Ewing has such genuine affection for the character and these earlier stories. This intro immediately establishes that this issue is designed to stand next to those original stories and fit within their narrative relatively seamlessly. As such, this story takes place somewhere between those 12 issues and follows O’Grady as he tries to evade being captured by S.H.I.E.L.D and Hank Pym.
What’s fun about this is that Ewing factors in the continuity of this period in the Marvel Universe. This issue is set in 2006 before Secret Invasion revealed that Hank Pym had been replaced by a Skrull for some time. So the issue follows O’Grady as he tries to regain his shrinking ability and a Skrull who believes O’Grady has caught onto the fact that he’s an invading alien. It’s a fun premise and a great example of the kind of retroactive continuity Marvel is so suited for and that Ewing in particular excels at. The issue layers on different aspects of continuity and ties together different stories and events from this period to create a cohesive look at what Ant-Man was during this time. It makes the entire universe feel more alive and spontaneous and gives credence to the idea that these characters are having adventures in between the issues that manage to make it to print. The creative team approach the story with the idea that it very well could have been an issue from this period, just one that was lost to time.
I adored the first issue so much because of how well it managed to replicate the style of comics from a very specific period, the creative team manage to do the same here but manage to get even more specific. Instead of trying to capture an era of comics this issue aims to replicate the aesthetic of the Irredeemable Ant-Man series. Ewing has the perfect voice for Eric, imbuing him with a great deal of relatability while still making him just a massive doofus. However most impressive are the efforts of the issue’s artistic team. The Irredeemable Ant-Man was largely pencilled by Phil Hester who has a strong angular style that is immediately recognizable. Tom Reilly manages to excellently capture that style with strong poses and a similar approach to sequential storytelling. He also absolutely nails Hester’s approach to shadow. Hester often shrouds his characters in deep shadows to accentuate certain features on a character and to heighten the drama. Colourist Jordie Bellaire compliments this with bright colours and deep dark blacks which fit the same aesthetic. You could look at these pages and assume Hester had come back to draw the character, it’s that good.
What the team really nails here is the appeal of those 12 original issues with O’Grady. He’s like an Always Sunny in Philadelphia character inserted into the Marvel Universe. Seemingly nothing is too low for him, he’s petty, quick-tempered, lazy and just a total blast to read. The issue just gets what made him such a compelling contrast and I can’t wait to see how Ewing throws him into the fray with the other Ant-Men later. O’Grady often seems to be forgotten when discussing Ant-Men and it’s clear that the creative team thinks he very much shouldn’t be. Ewing chooses to celebrate all of Ant-Man’s history and that includes this gross, messy character. The last issue looked at the very first era of Ant-Man and celebrated the innocence and naivety of that time in comics. In this issue, he pays respect to a gnarlier and less traditionally heroic part of Ant-Man’s legacy. What’s so great about this series is that it loves Ant-Man and all of the things that he’s been through throughout Marvel’s history, no one version of the character is more important or more deserving of love than the others. For Ewing, O’Grady is as much a part of the Ant-Man legacy as those old stories from the 60s, it’s clear from this issue that O’Grady deserves to stand tall next to his predecessors as a unique, albeit nasty Ant-Man.