Thursday, August 22, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #36

"The Challenge of Comrade X!" by Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(October 1962)

Everyone has to fight communist agents in an early story, so here's one for the Ant-Man. It's actually a pretty simple tale of Ant-Man tracking down someone who needs his help, tangling with the legendary double agent Comrade X, and then saving the day. That's pretty much it entirely.

Rather than dissect what little story there is, I'm just going to go right into the observations, because I can't really make this whole thing hang together as a Marvels entry.

:: There is a lot of room in this story to explain how Ant-Man's powers work, which I enjoy. There's a neat little scene, for example, of Ant-Man unlocking a bank vault by shrinking, going into it, and moving the tumblers into place with his proportionate human strength. That's pretty handy.

:: Another neat Kirby diagram explaining a hero's headquarters.

But here's something that's going to bother me through issues to come.

See, the way Ant-Man learns he's needed is that ants across the city will catch something suspicious and send out their radio signals, which Ant-Man's computer intercepts. When he puts on the helmet, he can decipher the message. Then he gets in costume, shrinks, and catapults away, always sending out a signal for the ants to form in a big pile and break his landing. (Which, when you think about it, must be a horrific, eldritch thing to see when you're just walking down the street.)

Anyway, Henry always says something like "Just like landing on a cloud." Is it? Because all I can picture is this loud crunching sound. It goes one of two ways: either Henry's body breaks when hitting those hard exoskeletons at high velocity, or his proportionate human strength just squishes those ants into goo and antennae remnants. I feel like the science on this one is off somewhere. Can we get Neil deGrasse Tyson's opinion on this one, too? Seriously, can Tyson just take a few months and write a fun book about the science of Marvel Comics?

:: Also: Henry Pym needs a special machine to decipher the language of the ants, but they understand English enough to (a) assess when someone needs Ant-Man's help, and (b) give him coordinates and/or addresses.

:: Once again, it really looks like relying on ants to save you and help you fight crime is a painstakingly slow process. Comrade X has the obvious idea of just catching Ant-Man under a clear box and putting a weight on top of it. Seriously, if you can be defeated the same way as a mouse that gets into the basement, you're just not that cool a superhero. And then, instead of just enlarging to human size and thereby simply knocking over the box he's trapped in, he calls the ants to him. He's on a boat, and they have to figure out how to get out to the boat and then slowly drift towards it on pieces of wood and then eventually make their way to him just to help him knock it over. How many minutes do you think that took?

And it's not like he's only got the enlarging gas and then he can't reduce in size again, because he does it on the next page when he enlarges himself to radio the shore and then becomes ant-sized again so that he and his ants can fight Comrade X again.

:: While we're on this subject, how much time does he waste catapulting everywhere just to ride to the crime scene on an ant? How fast do Stan Lee and his brother Larry think ants actually are? How much crime happens while he's just slowly making his way across town on antback? Wouldn't it be faster to just drive everywhere and then shrink to ant-size? He could probably do it in a public restroom or something, right? Why not just drive to the docks and then become Ant-Man?

:: The depiction of the girl who needs Ant-Man's help against Comrade X is just dumb. First, her character never even gets named. Second, she's an American who fell in love with a man who turned out to be Comrade X, and sells out his location to Ant-Man because she wants revenge for him jilting her in favor of another woman, because what else would motivate a woman, it's not like they're patriotic or anything, right? And then, the woman turns out to have actually been Comrade X all the time, setting Ant-Man up for capture by the Soviet Union.

So, clearly she's one of the greatest spies of all time, because no one knew that the big, hairy Comrade X was a woman all along, right? Nope. Ant-Man says "I knew it all along" because he saw something in her pocketbook and somehow deduced it meant she was a spy. Sure you did, Henry. Sure you did.

:: It is kind of cute to see Ant-Man loping off on antback like a cowboy. Not as impressive when you realize he's riding an ant and that it will take him a long, long time to get out of sight. Also, you're on a boat, where are you even going?

:: Marvel communists are always smoking or eating ridiculous things, like mutton joints or an entire turkey. This panel makes me smile:

Mainly because I just hear Hank Hill irritably asking "Why are you holding your cigarette like some European Nazi in a movie?"

So far, being the Ant-Man just seems more like an inconvenience than anything else. To hear Marvel tell it, you'd think ants moved at blinding speed, but they just don't really seem that conducive to crimefighting. Larry Lieber's dull stories don't really help matters, either.

Next time: the Fantastic Four face the Puppet Master!

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