Friday, January 18, 2008

Hit and Run Comic Review: Ant-Man

In this issue, I will attempt to review a single issue of a comic book, assuming that I can get an entire feel for the gestalt of the characters and scenarios by just reading one issue.

For this installment, I review Ant-Man, issue #8, from March of 1973.

Main Character: Dr. Henry Pym/Ant-Man
Powers:
  • With the aid of a gas he developed, can shrink himself or anyone else to the size of an ant, and then re-biggen himself to normal size with a different gas.
  • Has developed a helmet with which he can communicate telepathically with ants. Seriously.
Love Interest(s):
  • Maria Pym (nee Maria Trovaya) - Wife, killed by Hungarian secret police on honeymoon in Hungary.
  • Janet Van Dyne - Daughter of Dr. Vernon Van Dyne, ditzy brunette with a taste for revenge.
Villains:
  • The creature from planet Kosmos
  • Reason
  • Realistic dialog
Issue #8 of Ant-Man provides a succinct collection of not only Ant-Man's origin, but the origin of his partner/wife The Wasp (Janet Van Dyne), provided in flashback form by the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I realize that Stan and Jack are the thunderbolt-hurling main gods of the Marvel Pantheon, but the writing and artwork in this issue is reminiscent of nothing more than an episode of Mark Trail in the daily funny pages.

The issue starts off with a framing story line about The Wasp reverting to her wasp-brain and attacking Ant-Man, her husband. While trying to escape, he falls and gets knocked unconscious, which opens the rest of the book to flashback scenes about his and her origins, which had already been recounted in other comics. So basically, this comic is 2.3 pages of new material, a bunch of reprinting of already shown storyline, and another 2/3 of a page of new material. The issue doesn't even conclude the Wasp-attacking-Ant-Man storyline, but leaves it as a cliff-hanger for the next issue.

Since I know none of you have ever read Ant-Man (neither had I until I won this issue by answering a trivia question), I'll now summarize his origin story as short as possible before you get bored and fall asleep: Dr. Henry Pym and his new bride, Maria, honeymoon in Hungary (during the Iron Curtain) because she grew up there and wanted to revisit her homeland. As soon as they step out of the airport, the secret police knock him out and kill her for trying to escape communism. After that, Dr. Pym decides to devote his life to finding a way to shrink himself to the size of an ant and learn how to communicate with ants.

No, really. That's it. I didn't make any of that up. The first thing you're going to ask yourself is: what super powers does he get when shrinking to ant size? The answer is: none, although he retains "much of the strength of a full-grown human". So, he's half an inch tall, but still almost as strong as he was. What's the advantage? He's stronger than the average ant?

Much of the rest of the issue is taken up with the Wasp's origin story, which is even lamer than Ant-Man's. In one of the most stilted-dialog scenes since a Robert Ludlum novel, Dr. Vernon Van Dyne comes calling at Dr. Pym's laboratory, seeking his help on a Gamma ray emitter he's working on.

First of all, Dr. Pym's research all has to do with shrinking and ants. Why Dr. Van Dyne sought his help in trying to send gamma rays to far off planets is beyond me, except that this comic was written in the early 70's, and anything having to do with science was pretty much voodoo to the lay public, so I'll let that slide. But Dr. Pym doesn't. He totally blows Dr. Van Dyne (and his lovely daughter, who looks oh so much like his late wife, Maria) off to get back to his ant research.

As you might expect, it's not too long before Dr. Van Dyne's gamma ray emitter attracts an unnamed alien from the planet Kosmos (calling Carl Sagan, your lawyer is on line 2) who "escaped down the path of your ray" from Kosmos to Earth. This alien was apparently kind of like General Zod and Jabba the Hutt all rolled into one, as he looks like mutant toad, and is out to conquer the Earth. But since he never actually got a name, you figure they'll dispatch him by the end of the issue.

So Janet arrives home to find her father killed by toad boy, and calls Dr. Pym, rather than, oh I don't know, 911? Dr. Pym doesn't believe that her father is dead because, you know, she's a woman, and this is 1973. But then he hears about Dr. Van Dyne's death from the freakin' ants. Given the expert ant testimony, he puts on his Ant-Man suit, shrinks down to ant size, and shoots himself out of a mini-cannon to the Van Dyne's domicile.

That's right. Ant-Man's main form of transportation is shooting himself out of a tabletop cannon he calls a "catapult" even though it's clearly a barrel-shaped object he crawls into and aims at his destination. As far as a safe landing goes, "the ants will be waiting for me to form a soft platform for me to land on!" Until this, I didn't realize there was anyone lamer than Aqua-Man.

Fortunately, Janet has no problem seeing, hearing and even believing an ant-sized super hero. Perhaps it's due to his shouting:

Ant-Man: Hello! I'm Ant-Man! Perhaps you've heard of me! I've come to help you!

Janet: I have heard of you, but ... I thought you were only a myth! My father ... he's dead ... in his laboratory ... There was a strange mist ... I came in and found him ...

(apparently Janet's innate super power is to speak in sentences that never end, just fade into one another)

Ant-Man: He's been murdered ... almost looks like he died of fright! There's something strange ... something eerie here! I can sense it!

Over the next few panels, Ant-Man senses a deep drive for revenge in Janet, and so chooses her to be his partner in microscopy and perhaps in love. He tells her about his secret identity, and shoots her up with enough genetically-modified cells to become The Wasp to help him find and kill her father's murderer.

At this point, I should recap: We have a scientist and his groupie, who have the power to shrink themselves down to insect-size, versus an intergalactic criminal who is made up of formic acid and is bent on taking over the world. How do we know he is made up of formic acid, you may ask? The ants told us, of course! They can sense that type of thing, and have the cognitive ability to relay it to Dr. Pym. Duh! Stupid.

You may wonder what in the fuck Ant-Man could do to stop the Man from Kosmos, and well you might. As it turns out, he's a scientist. And, while I am all for positive science role models in the media, this is just ridiculous (and I say that as a big fan of MacGyver). Dr. Pym devises an antidote for formic acid, loads it into a bunch of shotgun shells, and shoots the hell out of the alien.

But where do his ant-powers come in to play here? Not at all, except as a drawback. You see, after he loads up the shotgun and the shells, he and Janet shrink to insect size, just so it's harder for them to transport and fire the shotgun. He now has to call upon his army of ant friends to carry the shotgun and the box of shells many blocks to Wall Street to defeat the alien. Once there, rather than, say, reverting to human size and picking up the gun, he has the ants form an ant pyramid to aim the gun, while he pulls at the trigger with both arms. I am still not making this up.

After a few shots, the creature fades away into mist, leaving New York safe for the muggers and junkies once more.

If you're wondering where, in any of this, Ant-Man's powers came in to play, join the club. I can't think of a more useless super hero, and they're making a movie out of him.

Worst Part: Ant-Man gave The Wasp wings to be able to fly, yet he still uses his cannon to shoot himself around New York. What?

Best Part: The classic ads you find in comic books of the era, most notably:
  • X-Ray vision glasses: 75 cents.
  • "Boys sell GRIT for CASH PROFITS and FREE PRIZES". 7 cents profit per copy.
  • "Train with us for a HIGH PAY JOB IN DRAFTING!"
  • "I'll make you a master of karate", 99 cents. "Giant life-like karate practice dummy", also 99 cents. "Special money-saving combination offer": $1.98.
  • "Achtung! Reproduction German helmet. Includes liner and swastika decals" This from a company called "Adolf's". No joke.
  • A quick on/off combination mustache, sideburns and van dyke kit. Not for disguise purposes, but just to look good. $6.
  • "Too Skinny? New scientific discovery helps you put on weight". $4.98/100 tablets.
  • And of course the classic Charles Atlas ad on the back page, with the little cartoon of the dork getting sand kicked in his face in front of his girl at the beach. That one never goes out of style. "Oh, Mac! You are a real man after all!"

1 comment:

May said...

Great review of Ant-Man. I had a feeling he and The Wasp were pretty useless.

For every "good" character Stan Lee and Jack Kirby dreamed up, there are, like, twenty they crapped out. And the using-old-material in a "new" book is the most annoying part about reading old Lee/Kirby comics, even the good ones like Dark Phoenix.

Creepiest bit of info from the review: the German helmets from Adolf's. WTF?