Ant-Man’s Ants: Slave or Ally?

Journey Into Marvel – Part 45

Pym debuts as Ant-Man on the cover of Tales To...

Pym debuts as Ant-Man on the cover of Tales To Astonish #35 (Sept. 1962). Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Extremites, around Christmas, as part of my Journey Into Marvel series, I discussed Hank Pym’s unassuming debut in Tales to Astonish #27 in which Hank is introduced as a mild mannered doctor who creates a potion that makes him shrink to the size of an ant. The issue follows his adventure as he gets lost in an anthill. At the conclusion, Hank has a pro-environmental epiphany that all animals should be respected no matter the size because some good-hearted insects saved his life.  As we all know from history books, or from casual viewings of AMC’s Mad Men, people had little regard for the environment in 1962. A character discovering that  other animals on the planet are important is a novel idea. Kudos to Marvel for breaking the barriers.

Snap to nine months later. SNAP!

It’s September 1962. You picked up this month’s Tales to Astonish and you find a very different Hank Pym. You find a Hank is no longer a mild mannered scientist but a miniature warrior for justice.

He’s now Ant-Man: the scourge of Red Communists everywhere.

The environmental message has changed as well. The ants are no longer equal. Ant-Man now governs them as his slaves.

Ant-Man’s conception is unique in the early Marvel Silver Age. He’s special because his character was never intended to be a recurring face.

The fan reaction to the story of Hank Pym was enormous. After his simple debut, the readers were desperate to see what happened next. As a result of the positive fan reaction, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created another member of their fledgling superhero gallery. The Pym shrinking potion was made a super ability and Ant-Man was on the scene.

The first official Ant-Man story has all the marks of a Silver Age rush job.  It has a haphazard and cliched villain, a lofty proclamation of justice, and a diagram of Ant-Man’s office with unique travel method. Ant-Man’s catapult is the most absurd method of travel in the Marvel world. He is said to be able to shoot anywhere in New York. I can see about ten problems with this method and don’t want to waste your time going through them. Let’s all just agree that this catapult is nuts.

That’s not the only change that is nuts. Ant-Man’s changing relationship with the ants is just as absurd.The first thing Hank Pym says to the ants, the same ants that saved him last time, is: “all right, slaves, do Ant-Man’s will.” Nature is no longer to be embraced but dominated.

Hank dominates these ants through his helmet which manipulates electric impulses to emit orders to the miniature creatures rendering them automatons under his control. He uses their collective to drive to take down Comrade X’s gang, our hackneyed gang of antagonists.

In comics of this period, the Soviets, and sometimes Chinese, are often faceless zombies. What is marvellous, excuse the pun,  is Ant-Man’s ants act in exactly the same way. Ant-Man’s treatment of the ants as drones is no different then the way Nikita Kruschev, who appears in this issue, is said to treat his comrades.

American historical jingoism, of the period, often reduces Soviet Communism to a mass of drones doing whatever the dear leader dictates. This depiction looks something like a mass of people hurtling themselves into situations like lemmings to the sea. The stereotype results from two places. One, the astounding and frightful ‘Scorched Earth’ policy that was so effective for the Soviets in World War II, and two, a belief in a false sense of U.S. individualism.

It is unclear why there is such a drastic change in the relationship between Ant-Man and the ants. Perhaps, it comes from a need, on Stan Lee’s part, to create a unique power for Hank Pym but feeling dry of inspiration.

As the title progresses, as you know, having read some of my other articles on the Silver Age Ant-Man, Hank Pym’s character changes from issue to issue. The way he treats his ants does as well depending upon their role in the story. In 1963, the ants even start to disappear from the story line all together

I have read that Stan Lee and his creatives found this character hard to write, and Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers both found his stories difficult to draw, often forgetting to scale his size.

The slaves and their honey.

The slaves and their honey.

Something never quite works about Ant-Man’s character because the powers that be at Marvel never had their hearts in the character and were always writing to the demands of the readership.

Having just come off a desperate issue of The Incredible Hulk and seeing what fan demand does to many of these characters in the near future, I am beginning to grasp what it looks like when the writers are not writing for the passion of it, but rather to sell issues.

Writing for the fans does not lend itself to good creation.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds

Story I Read:Return of the Ant-Man” (Tales to Astonish #35 Sept. 1962)

Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5

Pros: Neat depictions of Ant-Man running with the Ants. Absurd ideas.

Cons: Hackneyed and desperate ideas like the catapult. Lack of antagonist.

Preceding Review: Captives of the Deadly Duo” (Fantastic Four #6 Sept. 1962)

Upcoming Review: “The Mighty Thor vs. the Executioner” (Journey Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on March 14, 2014, in Ant-Man, Marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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