Ant-Man’s Charisma Problem: Why Early Ant-Man Was Unpopular

Gather to me! Hear my words! I, Jason Cragg, speak truth! Truth! – The Voice

Journey Into Marvel – Part 85

Today's issue

Today’s issue

Extremites, Ant-Man stories are haphazard and make little sense.  Hank is unlikable. He’s reclusive. He’s quick to anger and downright abusive. Today’s story pits cold, uncouth Ant-Man against an antagonist who’s power is his radioactive charisma. It shows that Ant-Man is never going to be a darling of the public. 

When we first meet Jason Cragg, in the cold open, we are presented a character in a top hat, ascot, and garb of the Civil War. He sets up a soapbox and delivers vitriol against Ant-Man. The public is so against Ant-Man that Hank throws himself into the river. This cold open is the best so far in this journey. 

When it comes to villains, there is a recurring theme.  The best villains always have a powerful personality. Dr. Doom, Namor, Loki: these characters can hold a room. In Spider-Man, Peter’s greatest nemesis is J. Jonah Jameson who uses his Now Magazine (Daily Bugle) as a vehicle for propaganda against the hero. Triple J is more successful in this endeavour then any of the villains of the month. Stan Lee, having witnessed the rise of Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini, knows the power of a compelling speaker. This is an important trait of an influential character. In the case of Ant-Man, he has trouble because the nature of a reclusive scientist is to be … well… prickly.

Reclusivity can be over come. Jason Cragg, we learn from his backstory, was once a desperate radio personality who couldn’t cut it on because of his ineffectual voice.  One day a bolt of radioactive energy bursts through his microphone and amplifies his voice to have an ‘otherworldly’ power to compel people to do things against their will. At one point Cragg compels listeners to not only buy dog food, but if they don’t have a dog, to buy it for their own personal consumption. I love the backstory.

I don’t buy why crag opposes Ant-Man.

Cragg works out his plans.

Cragg works out his plans.

One day, strolling through what is still called ‘Central City,’ a pre-Earth-616 location for Ant-Man stories, Jason decides to turn the populace against Ant-Man for no reason. With all the development time spent on Cragg I wish a greater motivation then ‘just because’ was created for this face off.

What is lacking in story development is made up for in artist experimentation. Don Heck who is taking over more and more titles from the very overworked Jack Kirby veres off the Kirby style, a uniform that Stan Lee fostered in his staff, to use more surreal story telling techniques. In one panel Heck draws the townspeople chasing Ant-Man in the foreground while Jason Cragg is in the background yelling commands in a different location. This is the first time thus far that I have seen break in uniformity of time in the art at Marvel.

There’s another startling break in this issue: Stan Lee or Lieber uses magnets correctly. Stan Lee loves to explain everything away as magnetic power. At times he even uses the power of magnetism to attract biological matter. In this story, Lee and Lieber show people using magnets to find Ant-Man’s metal helmet. This is possible. The helmet, would be attracted to magnets. It’s moments like this that make me wonder if Stan Lee is as ignorant as some of his stories seem.

Stan isn’t afraid of delving into darkness provided that is in one of the less popular comic lines. Hank Pym not only pretends to hold up Cragg with a gun, but there is also a bleak moment when Cragg compels Hank Pym to suicide. The Comic Books Moral Code was against the idea of heroes using guns or death as a means to defeat their antagonist.

Cragg’s power doesn’t make sense. The townspeople become mental zombies when he speaks but when he compels Hank to drowning Hank is still mentally there.  His body is under the influence of Cragg. This is convenient because it means that Hank can stop his compulsion. This narrative conveniences cheapens a good plot.

Hank Pym comes off as less likeable then other Marvel characters because there was less attention paid to his early issues. As I’ve said before Hank Pym was very much an afterthought for the overworked creatives at Marvel so when it came to character development he was often way behind the mark. Lots of time is spent establishing Jason Cragg in this story, but very little is spent on Hank. And this is Hank’s vehicle.

Story I Read:The Voice of Doom!” (Tales to Astonish #42 Apr. 1963)

Rating: 2 out of 5

Pros: Jason Cragg is great from everything from his garb to backstory, Don Heck’s inventive storytelling, Stan Lee uses magnets right!

Cons: Hank Pym is undeveloped, Jason Cragg’s powers are not clear, and the ending falls flat.

Next Review:Iron Man vs. Gargantus!” (Tales of Suspense #40 Apr. 1963)

Last Review:The Red Ghost And His Indescribable Super-Apes!” (Fantastic Four #13 Apr. 1963)

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 August 1, 2015, in Ant-Man, Marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ant-Man is more good than great, and while that’s disappointing when compared to some of the better Marvel Studios flicks, it could have been a lot worse and that in itself is a small miracle. Marvel Studios, creatively-speaking?

  1. Pingback: Monkeying Around On The Moon: The Fantastic Four and the Space Race | THE EXTREMIS REVIEW

  2. Pingback: Iron Man’s Second Issue: Abandon All Logic Ye Reader! | THE EXTREMIS REVIEW

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