Meet Eric O’Grady, a.k.a. The Irredeemable Ant-Man, the world’s most unlikeable super hero. Most super heroes, while flawed, tend to be brave, noble and selfless fighters for justice and the better good. Eric O’Grady is none of those things. He’s self-centered, perverted, cowardly and only acts with his own self-interest in mind. He’s what you might call a dirt bag.
And I absolutely love him for it.
The Eric O’Grady Ant-Man was created in 2006 by Robert Kirkman (of Walking Dead fame) and was featured in his own 12-issue series, The Irredeemable Ant-Man, with the “irredeemable” moniker naturally being a play off of the commonplace superlatives used, usually in a more positive fashion naturally, to describe Marvel’s superheroes, such as The Incredible Hulk or The Invincible Iron-Man or The Amazing Spider-Man. As expected from the name, he was intentionally created to be a change of pace from the rest of the super heroes. While most heroes’ powers come about organically or as a reward for their efforts, Eric O’Grady stole his.
Sure, like all humans, he had his good moments, and granted he wasn’t the worst person in the world – after all, he had to be likeable enough to carry the book – but most of the time he was just a shitty human being who put his own self-interest ahead of anything else. It’s no surprise he’s made several lists of biggest jerk characters in comic books.
I really only started getting back into comics about four years ago. As such, the Eric O’Grady version of Ant-Man only first came to my attention in the Deadpool/Thunderbolts crossover back during Marvel’s Dark Reign event. I didn’t think of him as much more than a mosquito-like nuisance during the crossover, mostly because I was reading the story for Deadpool, not for the Thunderbolts, so my allegiance was squarely on The Merc With A Mouth’s side, but I did find Ant-Man to be a bit humorous. He was also clearly the most undisciplined and semi-cowardly of the lot, which suggested that he wasn’t all bad and it certainly made him a more interesting character.
During the crossover I really enjoyed the back and forth, admittedly mostly one-sided, flirtation between Deadpool and Yelena Belova’s Black Widow II, so I started picking up Thunderbolts as well to check in with her situation, partially hoping she and Deadpool would cross paths again (I won’t go into my disappointment at the revelation that she ultimately turned out to be Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow in disguise, which effectively negated everything about the character and any chance of future interaction with Deadpool). While reading Thunderbolts, however, I grew to really like Eric O’Grady. I think the moment that really stood out was when he started questioning his involvement with Norman Osborn’s hit squad. It demonstrated to me that he had a conscience and that he was simply a guy in over his head, which made him stand out from the mercenaries or sociopathic killers that filled the rest of the roster.
My love for him was solidified in the pages of Secret Avengers, however. This was where his heroic nature really started to shine and his true attempts at redemption were showcased. But this wasn’t where my obsession started.
No, instead my obsession started recently when I started pondering a new Avengers-themed cosplay outfit for this years Dragon*Con. The movie-related Avengers were all removed from the table for various reasons, so I finally settled on Ant-Man. Naturally I wanted to be the Eric O’Grady version since I have no interest in wife-abusing Hank Pym and Scott Lang was during my non-comics tenure.
In researching the costume, I naturally started researching the man’s back story as well. Which then led me to buying the trades for Kirkman’s original 12-issue run and John Seeley’s Ant-Man and Wasp: Small World mini. This then led me to pull all of my Thunderbolts issues, and then my Secret Avengers issues.
And voila! An obsession is born!
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty to examine why exactly Eric O’Grady is such a dirt bag, but also a fascinating character.
Eric O’Grady was a nondescript surveillance officer for S.H.I.E.L.D. posted aboard the floating Helicarrier. He and his best friend Chris were asked to temporarily fill in as security officers, and in the confusion with their orders, Eric ended up knocking Hank Pym out cold and while messing with the new Ant-Man outfit Pym had been working on, Chris absconded with it when he accidentally shrunk and didn’t know how to re-grow. Chris went MIA for a few days, only to reappear in front of Eric at full size while the Helicarrier was under attack by HYDRA with several enemy combatants behind him. Both trying to get through the door to Eric’s room, Eric shoved Chris out of the way which resulted in Chris getting shot in the head. Though wracked with guilt, Eric’s need for self-preservation overruled any conflicting emotions and he stole the Ant-Man suit off his friend’s dead body to help him survive the Helicarrier’s crash landing.
Okay, so he may have gotten the Ant-Suit by cowardly and less-than-ethical means, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he does with a suit that can shrink him to the size of an insect.
Okay, not the best start. Maybe things will improve after this initial misstep. Surely things can only go uphill from here.
Okay, one last chance.
But I think you’re starting to get the idea.
I think what makes O’Grady an amusing character is that in many ways he’s the Id of every red-blooded male. He uses his new-found power and hero status to pick up women. He’ll either join in a superhero battle only to impress others or else he’ll use the brawl as an opportunity to loot from shops destroyed in the wake of the battle. While many of us may not loot, the desire to take advantage of an opportunity for our own benefit is pure Id. O’Grady places his own self-preservation and self-interest above all else.
And let’s face it, if we had the technology to shrink to microscopic size, the majority of us would be tempted at some point to use it to spy on women undressing or showering. Which, as you’ve already noticed, Eric does – a lot.
What’s also interesting is that he acts in a manner contrary to how most of society does in that he’s brutally honest in situations where it’s probably best to use more finesse and he lies in situations where most would come clean or be honest. Mostly he just lies, as it seems to be part of his nature, from telling Chris’ girlfriend Veronica that Chris had been cheating on her (which he hadn’t), to pretending to have no money so the lady he saved would pay for the dinner he had originally said he would buy, to faking his background and skills in his S.H.I.E.L.D. file all the way to lying his way out of going to jail for stealing the Ant-Man suit in the first place. Yet after finally sleeping with Veronica after pursuing her for so long, he brusquely dismisses her afterwards by telling her that he’s “been there, done that” and is then surprised when she slaps him for being honest. It’s almost as though his natural wiring is the exact opposite of what a normal human’s should be.
What’s important to remember, and perhaps Eric’s one redeeming quality – in spite of the “irredeemable” moniker – is that despite his immoral behavior, he’s a man who knows he’s a horrible person and often works hard to be a hero. He has a good heart, just poor intentions, a slacker mentality and a weak will. His problem is that he has trouble fighting his own natural impulses so he tends to backslide or relapse.
Now many would argue that anyone who has to try so hard to do the right thing or acts brave and noble purely for acceptance and recognition is not a true hero, and that is more than likely the case. But that’s what makes O’Grady so fascinating. He constantly teeters on that edge. He’s clearly not a villain, but he’s not really a hero either. You’d hardly call him an anti-hero either. And while he occasionally makes headway in acting as though he is doing the right thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he is actually becoming a better human being, which is something his ex-girlfriend, Abigail, calls him out on in the Ant-Man and Wasp mini.
It raises an interesting question, and one I hope gets explored more with his character: Does doing the right thing because society expects you to despite it being against your natural instinct make you a good person, or are you still just a bad person pretending to be good? And if you continue to do the noble thing, can you eventually overwrite your base instincts of being tempted to do the wrong thing?
And in Eric’s case, for all of the despicable things he does, he often manages to at least come close to balancing them out by doing something not entirely morally reprehensible. But I’ll let you be the judge of how well he balances it out with this listing of all of Eric O’Grady’s greatest hits and misses:
I’ve already mentioned how the Ant-Man suit came to be in Eric O’Grady’s possession, and how he tried to take advantage of his friend’s missing status right before that to hit on his girlfriend by claiming that Chris had been cheating on her. But after the Helicarrier crash, Eric O’Grady also stumbled upon an injured Nick Fury and dragged him to the infirmary, so he helped save his life.
He then ran into Veronica and was forced to break the news to her that Chris was dead, though he still didn’t admit that he lied about Chris cheating on her.
Eric and Veronic traveled to Chris’ hometown immediately thereafter and stayed with Chris’ parents during the funeral, where the two bonded over their mutual loss and helped each other grieve.
While first testing out the Ant-Man suit, Eric helped save the woman next door from her abusive husband, in the process discovering that his strength while small is proportional to his strength at full size. Unfortunately, upon injuring the abusive husband, he may have actually done more harm than good because the wife immediately became concerned for his welfare due to the gaping wound in his neck and told the police that it was nothing but a misunderstanding.
The day after Chris’ funeral, Eric and Veronica start making out on top of Chris’ grave, at least until Veronica came to her senses and put the brakes on any further progress when she realized what she was doing. Yes, you read that right. O’Grady tried to get it on with his best friend’s girlfriend on top of the freshly piled mound of dirt of said friend’s grave, a move so full of douchbaggery that it made the Cracked list for creepiest sexual encounters in comic books.
Upon arriving back on the repaired Helicarrier, he uses the Ant-Man suit to peek at the female personnel showering and toweling off in the changing room before getting spotted and making a hasty retreat.
He then learns he can communicate with ants and has them engage in races against each other.
Eric and Veronica go on a proper date and have sex. After that he brushes her off constantly before eventually telling her that he’s “been there, done that.” Unbeknownst to him, Veronica is pregnant with his child.
Mitch Carson, a S.H.I.E.L.D. security agent who was originally supposed to inherit the Ant-Man suit and a friend of Eric’s, takes on Eric wearing a prototype Ant-Man outfit in an attempt to get the stolen one back, only to have half his face disfigured when O’Grady tries to fly away and the flames from his jet pack burned Mitch’s face. Despite that, Eric immediately rushed Mitch to the infirmary to get him help.
Rather than take his lickings for stealing the Ant-Man suit and disfiguring Mitch, he instead uses the Ant-Man suit to escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Helicarrier.
He saves a woman, Beth, in an alley from a mugger and then uses her gratitude to score a dinner date with her, his treat. Of course, as soon as he shows up he claims to have lost his wallet and asks if she can pay. He also neglects to even ask her for her name, which she later points out when she introduces herself. He tells a series of tall tales about how he became Ant-Man and the two share a cab back to her place where she invites him up for tea. He agrees and whips out a ten for the cab, despite telling Beth he had lost his wallet earlier. Beth proceeds to rebuff him for sex and shows him to the door, at which point Eric takes note of her apartment number and street address.
Turns out he took her address because he planned on squatting in her house like an ant, and then proceeds to watch her shower. This arrangement is soon broken up though when Mitch Carson discovers his location and he is forced to flee.
He then hitches a ride in the purse of another woman, who unbeknownst to him at the time is Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), and proceeds to attempt to move in with her and watch her shower as well.
During one of the Mighty Avengers’ skirmishes, O’Grady runs from the fight and instead uses the opportunity to loot some broken parking meters. He does save a girl buried under rubble which earns him a job offer from Damage Control for his good work, but then uses the goodwill from his deed to rob the Black Fox of the jewelry he had stolen.
O’Grady joins Damage Control primarily to get closer to Abigail, one of the girls he had met the day before, at which point he feeds her lies about his real name, his code name, where he got the costume and so on. Though she believes the name part, she can tell the rest is bullshit but still agrees to go out with him, and they begin a relationship. After things start to get serious, Eric later dumps her when she reveals that she has a son, upset that she had lied to him this whole time (never mind that he lies about everything, the hypocrite).
In order to impress Abigail, he goes to assist She-Hulk against Mister Hyde but gets hit pretty hard and crashes into some debris. He then sits the rest of the fight out until the brawl has moved far enough away where Abigail can no longer see it and takes co-credit for putting a stop to Mister Hyde.
When the Hulk attacks the city, despite having broken up with Abigail, he still secretly protects her in his microscopic form while she and her son are attempting to evacuate the city. He also tries to take on the Hulk by himself by attacking him from the inside, but Hulk proves just as resilient inside as on the outside, so he is forced to crawl back out through Hulk’s nose. He then gets smacked hard and knocked out for his troubles.
Veronica finally tells him that she’s pregnant but Eric refuses to be the baby’s father because he doesn’t want the baby to become anything like him, and he figures the baby will be better off never knowing him. He makes it clear he isn’t ducking his responsibility though, stating he’ll pay child support.
Having been given the Ant-Suit officially and needing to go train to be a superhero as part of the Initiative, Eric visits Abigail to apologize and say goodbye since he’ll be gone for a year. He admits he loves her and that he wishes he could stay with her, and she agrees to wait a year for him if he can become a better person.
Of course, the whole redemption thing doesn’t really stick very well. During his time with The Initiative, Eric starts to badmouth his deceased predecessor, Scott Lang, using anecdotes from Eric’s own past in front of Scott’s daughter Cassie, who naturally takes offense and grows large in an attempt to step on Eric. Eric in turn grows large and knocks her down with a cheap shot by tricking Cassie into thinking she had stepped on someone. He lays the final touches on by mocking her with the phrase “Who’s your daddy now?”
He does manage to bring back key information to his teammates during the Skrull Invasion, but mostly from being cowardly and hiding to avoid the major action to begin with. Nonetheless, he ultimately does the right thing and is commended for it.
Much of his tenure with the Thunderbolts follows along the same lines of ups and downs with the occasional lewd behavior followed by getting things done when he’s most needed. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two.
Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers mostly has him acting as the team jokester and reluctant hero. He has little time to misbehave and he appears to be making a serious go of things, such as when he stumbles through a dimensional gate between Mars and Earth used by the Shadow Council and detonates the bombs prematurely inside the gate before they can use them on his teammates on Mars, thereby destroying the gate. Or when he hitches a ride on Shang-Chi’s hair and saves him from being beheaded by the Shadow Council.
But it is in Rick Remender’s Secret Avengers #23 where both his greatest and most heartbreaking redemptive moment occurs. Ant-Man, against all natural instinct, gives up his own life in exchange for a child’s.
It is one of my favorite comic book moments of all time, and Remender really knows how to capture the moment with Eric’s final thoughts:
“No matter what choices I made before this — Today I died saving an innocent child — And I didn’t think twice about it.”
Eric’s death appears to be confirmed multiple times in the next issue, but he suddenly appears at the end to save Hawkeye and Beast, and in issue #25 it is revealed that he may be spying on the Secret Avengers for Father, the leader of the Descendants. This has led many to wonder, myself included, whether Eric was in fact dead or if he had been replaced by a cybernetic duplicate.
In perhaps divine timing, an interview with Rick Remender was posted at the time I was drafting this blog up and revealed this about Eric O’Grady’s current status:
“In our first Descendants story, we set up this bubbling plot where Ant-Man, Eric O’Grady, was killed and replaced with a Life Model Decoy who basically has all of Eric’s memories. It’s almost like he died, everything went black and he woke back up with Father, the leader of the Descendants, standing over him,” said Remender. “I don’t want to reveal too much of the deal they make and how this all works out, but Eric is still Eric. He’s a Life Model Decoy dealing with the fact that he’s an artificial person. He has his own his motivations for serving Father and the Descendants and that’s going to play a huge role coming up because the Secret Avengers now have a spy within their ranks.
“Eric is a complex character,” Remender continued. “He was established to be a bad guy and sort of a dirt bag. Even when he attempted redemption, it always fell flat, like a selfish and slightly rotten person putting on a pose. This story is going to keep with that theme. It’s going to play into who the character has been as well as developing him into a new character known as the Black Ant, which Art Adams has designed and is amazing!”
So it would appear that he did indeed die and was replaced by a cybernetic clone, yet he is still Eric O’Grady, with all of his memories and abilities intact. It remains to be seen what this turn of events will hold for him in the future, but I trust Remender to handle it well, and I am very much looking forward to it.