Thursday, November 28, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #42

"The Voice of Doom!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck
(April 1963)

Ant-Man's villain in this issue is Jason Cragg, a soapbox preacher who has walked into town. He has a power, though; a voice that can make people do whatever he wants them to. And what he wants them to do is turn against Ant-Man.

Cragg's origin is one of those things that kind of sounds like science but more accurately sounds like magic: he was a radio commercial announcer whose microphone picked up ionized atoms accidentally released by a nearby lab. Amplified by the mic (why not?), the radiation changes Cragg's voice, giving it "an unnatural tone" that makes people do whatever he tells them to. Armed with this, Cragg quits his job and goes around the country making people do things for him.

This guy's small time right now. He's just scamming free train fare and ordering unsuspecting housewives to make him steak dinners. Then he decides, after seeing Ant-Man in action, that he could defeat Ant-Man and take over the city. "If I can defeat him, I can defeat anyone!"

Pal, some day someone with a fly swatter is going to defeat Ant-Man, alright. I know you think this is a grandiose plan, because you think demanding a steak dinner and getting people to buy dog food is a grandiose plan, but you're still going small. Now, if you could defeat Thor, well, then you could defeat anyone!

I shouldn't scoff so much, because it does actually almost work. He turns the city against Ant-Man and has the citizens chase Ant-Man down into park with magnets (so they can find his helmet in the grass). Henry actually takes off his helmet so he can hide, cutting him off from the ants, but removing his helmet also leaves him susceptible to Cragg's voice. Cragg orders him to leap off the pier and do nothing to save himself, and only some quick intervention by his loyal ant friends save him from dying. So I guess I can't pooh-pooh Cragg too much.

And, to be fair, the way Ant-Man defeats him is equally lame, with an extra side of silly. (I know, you're surprised.) When Cragg goes on stage to address the town, Ant-Man has a gun trained on him (the ants are ready to pull a string that will trigger the gun... yeah.) and orders him to tell the crowd that he was wrong about Ant-Man. He does so, but when Ant-Man reveals the gun's not loaded, Cragg goes to contradict himself... only for his vocal powers to be gone. Yes, Ant-Man also took the precaution of lacing Cragg's microphone with microbes that cause laryngitis. Now Cragg's just another hobo bum who gets run out of town.

Live by the microphone, die by the microphone, I guess.

Stray notes:

:: For the first time, Ant-Man's home town is named as Center City. In just two issues--the retool issue, actually--we're told he lives in Manhattan. It's a retcon, I guess, but I'm glad they ignored the whole Center City thing. Part of what makes these comics work so well is the emotional realism and the sense that they take place NOW in YOUR WORLD, DEAR READER! Center City sounds like something out of an old DC book where there are no consequences.

:: And starring Zach Galifianakis as the Doctor as Jason Cragg.

:: I love when the city is searching for Ant-Man, and there's a guy on his hands and knees with a magnifying glass. I do enjoy that kind of silliness.

:: Heck does a better job this issue than usual of switching up the perspective, making Ant-Man's size more obvious--Ant-Man standing in front of a matchbook, for example, or walking under a pill bottle that towers over him, or even standing in Cragg's ear to talk to him. That's something that's been less interesting with Ant-Man; we see him on his own level too often, without a real sense of perspective to make what Henry does seem truly amazing.

Another less-than-stellar menace for Ant-Man, easily solved and easily forgotten. There'll be one more solo Ant-Man story before Stan Lee steps in to retool the book, give Henry Pym a real back-story, and partner him with the Wasp. From there on, the stories start getting much, much more entertaining. Once again, Stan and Jack figure out the problem: the readers need stories about a man they know and can care about, rather than just the fantastic adventures of a blank slate.

Marvel's not going to make the same mistake they made with the Hulk again.

Next time: Spider-Man fights one of his greatest villains, and one of his weakest.

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