Saturday, August 10, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #35

"Return of the Ant-Man" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(September 1962)

Dr. Henry Pym, the scientist who reduced himself to ant size in Tales to Astonish #27 ("The Man in the Ant Hill"), is now back as a superhero. Again, I'm still not sure if that story was simply a test of the concept, or if Stan Lee went back to it and decided to turn Pym into Marvel's latest superhero, the Ant-Man. (Everyone says it like that, too: "the Ant-Man.") It took almost a year between Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1, so obviously there can be some lag time in the bullpen. Maybe it's just been in the works for some time and Stan had other stuff to take care of first.

After a brief recap of that story and an explanation of Dr. Pym's reducing and enlarging gases, we're shown that Pym continued to study ants. Lately, he's been able to crack the way they communicate and built a helmet that translates their electronic vibration signals into English words.

But before his work can continue, he and a team of scientists are tasked with creating a gas that makes people immune to the effects of radiation, because that sounds like a plausible thing. Dr. Pym and his team are set upon by Soviet spies trying to steal the formula, and it's then that Henry Pym must become the Ant-Man and head to the police for help head back to the ant hill and gather an army of ants.

In short order, Henry learns to communicate with the ants, befriends them, saves them from an attacking beetle, and then uses them to fight off and capture the spies.

That's all there is to it, really. Along the way, in the Stan and Jack style, we learn about Ant-Man's powers and abilities, and just what the ants can do when they're fighting bad guys. (Answer: not much so far. They jam up gun barrels with honey, bite and sting a guy's ankles, and untie Henry's friends. This issue doesn't really make an army of ants look like a valuable ally in the Cold War.)

So, Ant-Man saves the day, but has yet to reveal himself to the public. Will he have to become the Ant-Man again? You know the answer to that one, dear reader.

Other observations:

:: You can tell Stan Lee wrote this issue, because there are a lot of asides about Ant-Man's equipment and how they work.

It's interesting to keep in mind that Henry Pym doesn't really have superpowers, he's just a brilliant scientist who has created something possibly useful that he uses to hang out with ants and punch bad guys.

It doesn't quite piss me off as much as Peter Parker creating miracle adhesive fluid and never thinking to patent it, but seriously, Doc--the reducing gas alone could revolutionize mechanics. Hell, he created the stuff in the first place for military applications, but there's so much more that could be done with it. He also has created this cybernetic helmet that lets him communicate with an animal species! Why stop with ants? This could be the first step to true animal-human communication.

But really, the only thing Henry has that could be considered a superpower is that when he's ant-sized, he retains all of his human strength. Which, honestly, makes it seem like he could have just walked up to any one of those communists and knocked him over instead of setting ants on him, but what do I know? I'm not a professional comics writer and there are ants to be used!

Also, Henry still knows judo, which as we see for a second time is an important skill when fighting an insect with a hard exoskeleton.

Henry's suit, we're told, is made of unstable molecules and also lined with steel mesh, which is why the mandibles of the ant he fights don't rip his arm off.

:: I have to admit, I do love the Ant-Man costume. It's one of my favorites in all of Marvel Comics, for some reason. It just really captured my imagination as a kid. It looks very much of its time to me, which is probably why I like it: it's like how an artist in 1962 might imagine some kind of space suit. Retro-futuristic.

:: Unfortunately, in application Ant-Man is pretty lame. These are going to be some of my least favorite comics going forward, honestly. Great concept, but the writing won't always be very inventive and Henry Pym as a character will be fairly shallow and dull. To be fair, his stories are about a third of the space in an anthology book, so there's not a lot of room to really deepen the guy like there is in Fantastic Four or The Incredible Hulk. But much like Thor, I think they waste Ant-Man for a while on more mundane threats.

Coming next: Kurrgo, Master of Planet X!

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