Friday, April 18, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #47

"Music to Scream By" by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart & Don Heck
(September 1963)

I've said it before, but I really like what Ernie Hart and Don Heck are trying to do in a limited space with Ant-Man and the Wasp. It's turning into these adventures of a brilliant but stuffy professor and his hip sidekick. Last issue, they went on a Mediterranean vacation that, in its way, played out like a hi-fi sci-fi version of a New Wave picture. This time, the landscape the story plays out on features jazz music and a touch of Indian mysticism. It's another way that Marvel Comics is set firmly in its present.

This issue's villain is Trago, a jazz man, trumpet player, who is caught robbing a club after his set. He goes home to India, where he finds a man named Ghazandi, who has mastered some of the mystic arts. Trago learns to play notes that will hypnotize snakes, and then to play notes that will hypnotize humans. Ghazandi himself won't even play those notes, because one false note could mean hypnotizing the player rather than the audience. Which, of course, is what happens when Ant-Man and the Wasp finally face him. He's hypnotized people and is going to make them rob banks for him (always comes down to the banks), but Ant-Man gets inside his trumpet and bends one of the plungers, producing an off-note that hypnotizes Trago and wipes the memory of his entire career as a trumpeter, including the robbery attempt, the trip to India, and learning his hypnotic powers. Hank and Jan decide, eh, no harm done. His crime spree never happened, and now he's just a happy guy playing trumpet in jazz clubs.

The real tragedy, apparently, is Ant-Man's faithful ant friend Korr. I guess we can assume that this is the same ant that Hank's been riding around on for the past year, but he's never been named before, and other than seeing him talk that time, we've never really explored his role in the stories. Generally, the ants are just mindless ants. But Ant-Man calls to Korr to save he and the Wasp from Trago's music, and Korr even gives his life trying to defend them from a snake. Hank is really, really shaken up by the loss, so much so that he leaves the jazz club during the happy ending so he can go home and mourn.

It's a really nice attempt to flesh out the cast, but the sacrifice isn't really felt, since the ants had never been, well, humanized, so to speak. We never even knew Korr's name before, or if it was even meant to be the same ant every time. Though Ernie & Don have proven quite good at pulling off a breezy, involving story in a limited space, there just isn't enough room in these stories to pull off that kind of gravity. It's another thing that makes me wish this creative team had more room to grow this incarnation.

Alas, it's only one more story to go before the next shake-up.

Stray notes:

:: I know Orientalism isn't cool, but it is nice not to have any of the pidgin English you expect from comics in the 1960s. Other than the massive one about India being full of occult powers, there aren't any other stereotypes at play, which is nice.

:: Unless, of course, you count Jan's fascination with diamonds and Hank's condescending annoyance with it.

Sheesh. That's still one of my problems with this book. Admittedly, it's a lot worse when Stan Lee does it, because he just doesn't seem to have a mode for her yet outside of "spunky" and "girl."

:: When Hank first goes to the jazz club, Jan tells him about the music. He doesn't even know who Count Basie is. In 1963? Daddy-o, you are impossibly square.

:: There are two separate occasions in battle where Ant-Man realizes he's forgotten his gas cylinders. Always be prepared, dude. You're a crime fighter, remember? Interestingly, the second time he realizes his mistake, he implies that he had been preparing to fight Trago while human-sized. I thought that was Ant-Man's big no-no? What is even the story with that anymore? Is he even maintaining that illusion now? Because it's kind of silly. And people have seen the Wasp human-sized already, anyway.

:: The text narration keeps referring to Ant-Man as "Antman."

:: This is the part where I always tell you how much I love Don Heck's artwork.

But look at it! How can I not love this? Oh, man... sadly, Ernie & Don only have one more issue together before Stan Lee reclaims the book and turns Ant-Man into Giant-Man, but how I wish he'd instead kept the creative team and given them more room and just turned it into one of those great 60s spy-fi thrillers. The Ant from UNCLE. Look at Heck's art; it's just begging for it! Or at least I am!

At least we have this issue to enjoy.

Next time: the Strangest Super-Heroes of All!


Roger Owen Green said...

Somehow, that first graphic reminded me about episodes of Dragnet, c. 1970, when they'd deal with the "hippies"

SamuraiFrog said...

Haha! I get exactly what you mean.