Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #43

"The Astonishing Ant-Man Versus the Mad Master of Time!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck
(May 1963)

It's another Ant-Man filler tale--the last one before next issue retools the character--but this one's better than usual. In this story, the Ant-Man doesn't really have a villain to face. In fact, the villain here is really just an angry and misunderstood old man.

Although this story is sure to start with a couple of pages showing us how amazing Ant-Man is, the real main character in this tale is a scientist named Elias Weems. He can't wait for his grandson Tommy to come and visit, so he can take Tommy to the lab where he works and show him all the scientific research he's working on. He just wants the lad to be proud of him... which is why he feels derailed when his boss unceremoniously fires him for hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65. He tries to get another job in science, but is rejected for being too old.

Angry and in the mood for revenge on any society that would cast aside its senior citizens so mercilessly, Weems invents a ray that speeds up the atomic processes of organisms, giving him control over the aging process. I like that his first instinct isn't to make himself younger, but to make everyone else older so that they'll know what it's like. He tests his ray on a tree, then on an elephant in the zoo, and then on a young lady walking down the street, each time setting them back to their true ages. He's pissed off, but he's also conscientious about leaving lifeforms the way he found them.

His ray ready, he sends a letter to the police demanding control of the city or else he'll prematurely age everyone in town. He signs it "The Time Master." Ant-Man is able to quickly track down Weems (these stories never have the room for actual detective work), but Weems makes Ant-Man 65, takes away his helmet and sticks him in an empty flower pot. Ant-Man, now too weak to climb out, enlarges himself and, wearing an overcoat, walks down to city hall before shrinking himself again and trying to reason with Weems.

But what actually brings Weems back to his senses is the sight of his grandson, who is hit with the ray in the crowd and who ages into an old man. He's so upset that he drops his ray, which is about to smash to the ground before the ants catch it. Ant-Man reverses the ray and de-ages everyone, and then Ant-Man even speaks to a judge on Weems' behalf. Weems gets his job back, keeps his grandson's respect, and we all learn a lesson about not only appreciating our youth and strength while we have it, but also not making assumptions about someone's worth based on their age. That's not a bad couple of messages, I think.

I like how unconventional this issue is. It feels like it has something to say that connects with me as a reader, and that's honestly the first time I've ever felt that way about an Ant-Man tale. I'd love to see more of that. Maybe, you know, we could get some character-based stories now and again, because the premise has never been that interesting on its own.

Notes:

:: Ant-Man says that the public doesn't know that Ant-Man can change his size. I didn't realize that everyone was supposed to think that he was just an ant-sized person instead of someone who shrank himself. That seems like a weird, pointless secret to keep, but I guess it explains why he's always riding in and out on ants rather than doing something actually helpful, like driving somewhere and then shrinking. So, I guess they've explained it okay, even if I do think it's still stupid.

:: When the ants catch the falling ray, Ant-Man calls out "Quickly, my pets!" Hey, what happened to the ants being your friends, not your servants? Not cool, Hank.

In the next Ant-Man story, we'll see an overhaul of the approach, and get introduced to Ant-Man's partner, the Wasp! But next Marvels, the Fantastic Four face the menace of the Mad Thinker!

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