Was Hank Pym Marvel’s Afterthought?

Journey Into Marvel – Part 56

300px-Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_37Extremites, Ant-Man since his creation has felt like a pathetic attempt to get readers. From his early character changes to the lack of decent storylines Tales to Astonish was a sea if character discrepancies and unpleasantness. Ant-Man was Marvel’s afterthought. After the creatives had made great stories for all the rest of the titles, they (usually Stan) devoted little time to creating a compelling issue for Hank. This is once again shown in today’s issue.

Today’s issue is yet again another character redefinition for Hank Pym. Stan Lee often moulded character definition to fall in line with fan feedback. Although, this openness to suggestion would lead to a creative blossoming unseen anywhere else in comic book history, it also created — in the first few issues of any character’s tenure— an environment of incoherent discontinuity.

When we first met Hank, at the beginning of 1962, he was an inquisitive scientist that was working to some high goal. Then he became a narcissistic vainglorious overlord of ants who used for vendettas against those who wronged him. In this issue, Ant-Man is now the local sheriff of his neighbourhood. There is no reason shown for this new sense of justice that seems to have just entered the comic out of nowhere.

I know that the word scientist in Silver Age Marvel is a blanket statement for anybody ranging from Dr. Don Blake (who is an MD) to Tony Stark (who seems to know everything), but in this issue you would not understand that Hank Pym is anything but a crazy miniature guy. He no longer searches and studies but now commands the armies of ants to punish criminals. The first few panels show him punishing a group of black hats robbing a bank. It is said that “with the power of ant instinct, Hank Pym, the Ant-Man defeats the worst dregs of society.” There is no concern as to how he may do it. He just does. In the past we readers would get a lengthy description of how Hank would use his scientific knowledge to better every idiot he comes across.

Is this a Stan Lee rush job?

I wonder if Stan has decided to abandon the science side to his stories because he’s cranking out to many stories. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the stories that had a lot of thought behind them verses the stories that were cranked out to meet a deadline. Reducing Hank Pym to a community policeman is his way to cutting corners to create a story.

What often occurs in the rush jobs is they often descend into gimmicky plots that pander to the readers. A rush job story is filled with inconsistencies like character role changes, stupid fantastical gadgets that make no sense — never mentioned again in the lore — and wild tangents that go nowhere. This issue possesses all three.

I wrote an article about the changing role of the ants from the debut to the second issue. The original Hank Pym story was environmentalist, with a message that the littleness ant is as essential to the world as any human. The second Hank Pym story changed that theme from equality to dominance. Hank Pym from that issue on treats his ants as slaves. He uses them not as willing partners in a superhero scheme but as tools to achieve his goals. In this issue this alienation goes even further. The ants are now a nameless unclear mass of dots. What once was a defined friend of Ant-Man has become a nondescript mass.

It is real folly to judge Silver Age comics through lens of modern day science. These issues were written and drawn by men who had little to no scientific understanding. Comics are fantasy. In later years they’d begin to swing closer to science fiction, but during their Silver Age heyday, they were plain and simple fantasy. In the rush job stories it was common to focus on gadgets that are so whimsical that they give Dr. Seuss a run for his money. In this issue, aside from Hank Pym’s infallible catapult, we are introduced to a belt that disperses shrinking gas – Hank, in the last issue, had take a potion to shrink — a ray gun owned by the Protector that disintegrated jewelry into sand, a new Ant-Man helmet that reads police reports, and combines it with ant communication. None of these technologies are mentioned again. Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber introduce these technologies to fill panels. The story is empty so it needs anarchic whimsy to fill all 14 pages.

The greatest example of tacked on whimsy comes mid pages, To get to the crime scene that Hank, has been called over the ant radio, he hitches a ride on the front bumper of what looks to be a garbage truck. What would be pleasant single panel, turns into seven panels, where Hank riffs on the nature of metropolitan travel and how fun this all is. I look a this page and wonder why this moment was kept in the story. Stan Lee calls himself an editor, but he doesn’t really edit does he?

There is so much superfluous stuff going on that I wonder if Marvel ever thought about hiring an editor for the editor. Really, all these things, this focus on gimmicky gadgets, reduction of the participation of the ants, and the extended garbage truck travel fantasy are by products of blatant pandering.

The plot is bad; it centres on a run of the mill villain of the week. If Ant-Man wasn’t explicably shown as the hero in this story I’d say this plot was ripped off from Scooby Doo — even though it predates the show by a couple of years.

There’s an armour clad criminal threatening businesses all over Hell’s Kitchen. He is extorting friendly managers for protection money, hence his ever creative moniker theProtector_(Gerald_Marsh)_002
Protector. If they refuse he turns all of their wears into sand or dust or something. It turns out that the Protector is the jewelry manager who called Ant-Man in the first place. He would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that meddlesome Ant-Man!

These 14 pages are spent setting up a villain who is captured on the last page and never mentioned again. I can’t help but wonder why I read this story. Nothing in it affects Hank again. The stupid antagonist is caught. Ant-Man goes home. The peasants rejoice!

At this point in Ant-Man lore, he still did not have a decent nemesis. Each issue thus far has featured a pointless villain of the week.

Why was Hank Pym getting a short shrift?

Why were his plots so pointless, gimmicky and unclear?

Part of it had to do with the overwhelming work Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were required to complete during this period. A lot of it was the result of Stan’s, and to some degree, Kirby’s inability to cede issue control to other writers and creatives. Not to mention, Ant-Man should really never have happened. Whatever the reason, this is one of those issues that could be forgotten. If it weren’t for my honest nature, I would have just ignored this issue and not have written about it.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read: “Trapped By The Protector” (Tales To Astonish #37 Nov. 1962)

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Pros: Some snickers were had at some of the dialogue.

Cons: Just about everything. The pointlessness of the whole story. The pathetic and empty villain.

Next Review:Prisoner of the 5th Dimension” (Strange Tales #103 Dec. 1962)

Last Review:Prisoners of the Puppet Master!” (Fantastic Four #8 Nov. 1962)


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

  1. Maybe this was a weaker story but I don’t think Ant-Man was an afterthought. Apparently, Stan Lee loved Ant-Man and was constantly rewriting him. Personally, I like Hank Pym and his later alter-egos, but the whole Ant-Man thing never grabbed me. So, he gets smaller, and then what?
    One more Pro for this issue: it’s got a great cover!

  2. I’m sure that Stan Lee’s primary concern when writing this story was making certain that something — anything, really — was ready to be sent off to the printers by the deadline. He could never have possibly imagined that half a century later we would be performing in-depth criticial anlyses of stories he casually knocked out to fill pages.

    • Oh I’d never think he intended these things. I know the crunch these fellas were under was immense. Not only did they have obtuse deadlines but they had a limited number of publications and colouring and just weirdly absurd restrictions. Thanks for stopping by.

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