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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.  Read the rest of this entry

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Understanding Ant-Man’s Only Nemesis: The Dastardly and Brilliant Egghead

Journey Into Marvel Part 60

The Marauding Brilliance of the Egghead!

The Marauding Brilliance of the Egghead!

Extremite, American sensibility is said to be different from the rest of the world because it elevates practicality over theory. Americans do things and Non-Americans think things. Although, I dislike this just on the grounds of generalization, I can see what and where this idea comes from.

What does any of this have to do with comics? Read the rest of this entry

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. Read the rest of this entry

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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The Man in the Ant-Hill: Investigating the Trivial Birth of Marvel’s Ant-Man

By: Julian Munds

Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_27It’s been a big few weeks for fandom. 

Matt Smith regenerated into Peter Capaldi on Doctor Who and Joseph Gordon Levitt officially announced his involvement in a big screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Not to mention, the jolly old elf stopped by my house (and hopefully yours) to drop off a lot of great nerdy gifts.

Side Note: I do hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas.

Prying my eyes away from the TARDIS and the prospect of darkly awesome comic adaptations, there was one major story that really caught my gaze: Paul Rudd was finally confirmed as Hank Pym in the upcoming Kevin Feige/ Edgar Wright film adaptation of Ant-Man

This is fantastic news!

I worried that the actor  that would inevitably take on the controversial role would not be able to find the humour in Ant-Man. We all know, from my many prior articles on the Ant-Man of the the Silver Age, that Hank can be coldly unpleasant. Sometimes so unpleasant that it seems Stan Lee threw his hands up in the air and declared “I do not know what to do with this character.

I thought that in light of this recent news, it is a prefect time to reexamine Hank’s first debut.

The later confused trajectory of Hank Pym, the same confusion that created the bi-polar nature of the character, is a direct result of his rather unassuming and unplanned debut.

Throughout the 50s, Tales to Astonish was the definition of the pulp comic. It featured cheesy sci-fi and horror stories. Most of the stories bore many similarities to the mawkish B-movie serials that flooded the youth oriented Saturday matinees. Stories of science experiments gone awry and dark monsters from black lagoons flooded the panels of its twenty or so pages. Hank’s debut is a member of the former.

The word ‘science’ is used in this period of Marvel to describe any character that specializes in astronomy to medicine. All these specialities are one in the same. That is why a character like Don Blake, who specializes in medicine, can suddenly is a robotocist.

Marvel scientists are also extraordinarily under appreciated. Hank Pym fits all these cliches.

Pym begins the story feeling under appreciated and blocked professionally. No one seems to believe that Hank  can make the shrinking potion that he claims he can. When Pym finally figures it out and gets thrown into a nutty adventure with the ants, it all feels wildly whimsical, yet inconsequential.

The Henry Pym of this story is a two dimensional stereotype. All this whitewashing of Pym creates his character to be a bland hero that leaves no lasting effect on the reader.

The story is good: a man shrinks, find’s himself in an ant hill under threat from the ants to only have one of the ants save him. Despite this rather cheesy B-Movie trope: that ants are sentient beings like humans, this story is an excellent example of 60s sci-fi.

Hank Pym conveys none of the coldness and angsty aloofness that would later come to define the character. He is naive and wonderfully bright eyed.

There is no suggestion of the later Earth-616 importance of Henry. He’s just a scientist who has a wild and crazy day with some ants.

The ants of this story fill a different function then they do in their later appearances. In this issue the ants are willing partners to Henry Pym, not his slaves.

A brilliant predicament.

A brilliant predicament.

Pym, in the final panel, refers to these ants as equals. Furthermore, in the moral post amble, he is said “to never step on an ant hill again.” The moment is almost an early sixties revelation of environmentalism.

As time goes on this environmental message is lost from the Hank Pym stories and I wonder why.

Ant-Man makes so much sense as a champion for animal life.

It is clear, that this story was not intended as an origin story. There is a full satisfying conclusion in the final panel.

Stan Lee later indicated that this story was never meant to be drawn upon again. Let alone be the basis for a lengthy mythos.

Surprisingly, to Stan, this issue sold extremely well spurring on a plan, eight issues later, to bring Hank on as a member of the Marvel superhero guild. The longevity of the character immediately posed problems; as there were only so many situations that could be written where the main character was hampered by his height.

The triviality in his creation maybe the reason for the haphazard and bi-polar nature of future Ant-Man. Accidental genius and success is not always the best grounding for a character.

If Ant-Man was tired in his creation, then where has his development to go?

Journey Into Marvel

Story I Read:The Man in the Ant Hill!” (Tales to Astonish #27 Jan. 1962)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: The story is wonderfully self contained. The narrative is strong. Ayers and Kirby’s art is sensational and whacky.

Cons: The whole thing feels inconsequential and Hank is pretty cliche (this is not really the fault of the writers as they were not intending to create a mainstay.)

<– Previous Review: Skrulls From Outer Space” (The Fantastic Four #2 Jan 1962)

–> Upcoming Review: “The Menace of the Miracle Man” (Fantastic Four #3 Mar. 1962)

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What Ant-Man Can Teach Us About Management

Journey Into Marvel

By: Julian Munds

ant-man-1-e1334917704111It seems everywhere I look on the internet, if you have a blog, you are writing about business practices.

Therefore I thought, in an effort to gain more followers, I’d throw Extremis’ into that ring.

Those of you who read The Extremis Review on the regular know we choose to focus on what in those sites’ eyes might seem frivolous.

But since you are already some one who knows who Ant-Man is, or at least have an idea, and are attracted by the prospect of a discussion about a comic character’s effect on business practices, I am most assuredly preaching to the choir.

On this site you can find countless articles digesting how comics shape our opinions of politics, history and even religion.

Surely they have something to say about business.

Most particularly, proper management skills.

Those of you who read these reviews on the regular are probably well aware of my less then friendly opinions of Ant-Man. I have written countless pieces that address unfavourably Hank’s misogynist and sexist demeanor or the rather anti-social way he treats everybody in his life. As some in their comments have informed me, Hank Pym in later years, was retconned as a sufferer of bi-polar disorder. This was news to me, being a rather green Marvel reader, and it gave me pause.

While it is lovely to see a superhero that actually suffers a mental illness, something we have experienced again most recently in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, I rather prefer a Henry Pym that just happens to be prickly.

In Marvel, DC and other literature, there are many examples of unlikable heroes that were able to attract enough fandom to carry them on through many different incarnations. We all know Sherlock Holmes is a handful to deal with and Bruce “Batman” Wayne would probably be a psychologist’s dream. The fact that Hank is just an unpleasant ass without illness has much precedent. One of the benefits of this narrative is when Stan Lee has Hank do something uncharacteristically nice, it is an extraordinarily powerful moment.

Supervillains are spawned in many ways, but what I have noticed over the countless stories that have flooded my 25 or so years of comic book fandom, is that most supervillains are born out of a need to be recognized. They feel somehow grossly under appreciated in some part of their life and this leads them to start acting irrationally out of revenge, or some other goal, to achieve fame.

The Porcupine has a valid point.

The Porcupine has a valid point.

In this issue we are presented with a character named Alexander Gentry. Gentry works for an arms maker. Not Stark Industries. Just a faceless corporation. Alexander is considered a genius, as most scientists are in the Silver Age, and he applies this genius into developing a suit covered in poisonous gas filled spikes with other gadgets and weapons concealed in it. He doesn’t develop this suit for his employer however. Rather he uses it to exact revenge on the management of the company by robbing a bank whose security was designed by them. At one point, Gentry claims he does this crime because he was not being paid enough and no one cared about him. Gentry says that he has worked for the company for years without a raise and has seen no respect from those who “boss him around.”  If someone at the company had appreciated the considerable genius that was working for them, perhaps, the Porcupine would not exist.

On the other hand, we have the duo of Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. Ant-Man and the Wasp have had a tough tumultuous relationship so far. That is probably because the two of them have feelings for each other and for some reason do not admit it. They also both contend with the extraordinary mood swings of Hank.

Something which is often forgotten when discussing these two, is that Janet is Hank’s employee. Like many assistant and manager relationships they have allowed their close working ties to define their interaction. But with all the turmoil, why does Janet still work for Hank aside from the sexual attraction?

Janet in this issue falls ill from what appears to be a regular cold, yet she still insists upon helping Ant-Man in his quest to defeat the Porcupine. What could inspire such loyalty?

Wasp loves asking Hank for recognition after she aids him on a mission but he doesn’t often return thanks. However at the end of this issue, he gives up his vendetta on the prickly villain to take Janet back to bed and force feed her antibiotics. This little episode shows he deeply cares about Janet’s well being. He appreciates her. Ant-Man doesn’t adorn her with gratuitous rewards, such as the jewels she always asks for, but he does respect her and her contributions enough to care about her health.

There’s a very simple lesson being taught here; appreciate and respect those who support you. 

Always give thanks where thanks is due but not extravagantly lest your company be full of little entitled Sub-Mariners.

If only Alexander Gentry had been shown some respect for his ideas.

Clearly, he’s a genius.

When did you last invent a mega suit that turns an entire banking clientele into a sleeping mass.

Maybe the terror of the Porcupine would never have been unleashed on the world if he’d been given some kudos.

If you treat your employees well, may be when you too are drowning in a bathtub and need the help of your sick colleagues, they will be there to fill the gas spikes of your nemesis with plaster and save you.

A good management lesson for anyone.

Story I Read:The Porcupine” (Tales to Astonish #48 Oct. 1963)

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5.

Pros: The heart-felt moments with Wasp. The Development of Porcupine. Ant-Man nearly drowning in a bathtub.

Cons: The really run of the mill plot. A bank robbery? That’s kind of boring.

Upcoming Review:Face to Face with the Lizard” (The Amazing Spider-Man #6 Nov. 1963)

Previous Review:Prisoners of the Pharaoh!” (Fantastic Four #19 Oct. 1963)

Ant-Man: The Zeitgeist Superhero

Story I Read: “Music to Scream By” (Tales to Astonish #47 Sept 1963)

TA047coverRecently, there was a commenter, on one of my reviews, who took me to task for reviewing these issues by modern standards. I replied back that I do not seek to understand these stories in a 60s zeitgeist context, but to judge their reading worth for today. We all know, some literature is not worth reading today, beyond historical research, because of its backward ideologies and racist overtones. Just pick up a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or watch the movie The Birth of a Nation, and try and explain their worth without sounding like a pundit on Fox news. Hank Pym is the picture boy of this type of writing.

The most troubling character for Marvel to rectify and keep current, over the years, is, without a doubt, Hank Pym. Not only is he an extraordinarily cold, unpleasant character, he is also a racist and misogynist to the point of being a perpetrator of spousal abuse. It is still fresh, in all us Marvel fan’s minds, that horrible moment when Henry reached out and hit Janet. I don’t need to rehash that moment here, as it, no doubt, will feature in a later review.

This is an interesting issue as it is a ‘one off’ storyline that, I think, was always intended as a one off. Often, I get the sense with this period that some one-off issues were intended to create a new reoccurring villain that didn’t pan out. This is not the case with Trago: the Horn Player.

Trago is rather interesting. He is a petty thieving jazz musician who goes to the darkest part of India to learn the art of ‘musical charming’ to use in a massive heist. I gotta say that this is both a brilliantly cool and wildly creative concept. If it wasn’t for the fact that every person he meets, including the mystic that imparts this wisdom, is caucasian looking, this story could have been a ‘barn burner.’ May be the turbans they wear were supposed to mean they were somehow ethnic? I am not sure. Turban or no, it seems in this issue, everyone in India is white.

This wasn’t the only piece of blatantly racist art/slash writing present in the issue, by a long shot. Not only does Hank Pym refer to jazz music as “jungle music,” but the one black musician seen, is drawn with both accentuated lips and a large gummy smile. This is 1963 and yet the most frightening ‘Minstrel art’ undertones are present.  Even these stereotypes were considered taboo, at least above the Mason-Dixon Line and, therefore, in California by this point. These moments made it hard for me to focus on the story and racism is very hard to look past.

As for Wasp, poor Janet is called everything from a “simple girl” to an “old ball and chain.” This is not done ironically as it ‘may be done in an Iron Man story, but is presented as a matter of a fact. At one point, Hank is ready to leave the club after defeating Trago and he calls for Janet to accompany him. She does not respond. The next panel then depicts Janet caught in a trance beside a large diamond. Hank then says, and I kid you not: “So like a woman to be obsessed by a diamond.” The supposed vanity of Janet has been brought up before, but never this blatantly insulting. What does she see in Pym anyway? He spends the whole issue moaning about how he hates jazz and thinks her hobbies are worthless.

I certainly don’t get the attraction.

I would normally write this issue off with a complete zero, but there is one worthy component within its useless 60s trash pages. Ant-Man is rides on a flying ant

This is the moment of grief.

This is the moment of grief.

named Korr. This is a far better mode of transportation then that improbable catapult that seems to boom Pym anywhere he wants in the world. During Trago’s charm of New York, Korr is killed by a ‘tranced garter snake’ wile saving the miniature pair. This is  a bittersweet moment. It doesn’t last long though. Hank says within one thought bubble

“My dear Korr has sacrificed himself for my life! Never mind that, we have more important things to deal with.”

Well, doesn’t that just endear Henry into the cockles of your heart. He further suffers a moment of grief at the end of the story, but his terseness over the freshly dead carcass of his supposed good buddy was cold beyond belief.

So who’s responsible for this mess?

Stan Lee?

H.E. Huntley?

Don Heck?

I don’t know. Let’s chalk this one up to to…. what did one of the other commenters say?

Marvel’s overwhelming work schedule.

I chalk it up to plain and disgusting backward writing.

Let this issue die. Will will not miss it.

Rating: 1/2 of 5.

Pros: The Korr moment. Trago’s potential.

Cons: The Racism. The Sexism. Hank Pym’s dickishness. The terrible minstrel like art. Just about everything.

Previous Review: “X-Men” (Uncanny X-Men #1 Sept 1963)

Upcoming Review:The Lava Man” (Journey Into Mystery #97 Oct. 1963)

Ant-Man’s Egghead: All Talk, No Walk

Journey Into Marvel

The Story I Read: “The Terrible Traps of  Egghead” (Tales to Astonish #45 July 1963)

Tales_to_Astonish_045_-_Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_-_01As I look back through these 75 issues, I can say I have learned quite a bit about the heroes that headline each. Most of their moral codes and motives are firmly established in my mind. When it comes to their rogue galleries,  I am not as content. With the exception of a very few, mostly the rogues of Spider-Man, these villains have no origin story and still are no more then two-dimensional foils. This ambiguity of creation is very intriguing for one or two characters, but a whole gallery of undeveloped villains, lend to tired, ‘going through the motions’ narratives. Underdevelopment may be an explanation for the over whelming sense of coincidence that permeates this period in the Marvel Universe. In these issues, written in the summer of 1963, I have noticed an attempt to explain these villains just a little bit more.

If there is an arch nemesis to Ant-Man, so far, I’d say Egghead has the best chance of being it. He is the only character in Pym’s stream thus far, that is able to create a premeditated thought out conspiracy. How thought out is entirely a matter of degrees however. In the full spectrum of the Marvel Universe to July 1963, Ant-Man is very much the campiest member. This may be because of his rather absurd power which is easy to be seen as more a hindrance then an advantage. Being able to communicate to all things insect by manipulating energy waves is a pretty wild idea, not to mention the fact that he seems to be able to catapult literally anywhere while being the size of an ant. Ant-man is so dangerously close to parody that the reader has to struggle not to write each storyline off as an expression of surrealism.

It is telling, that Ant-Man was Andy Warhol’s favourite Superhero.

Egghead is very much a creature of his environment and might be the most bumbling arch-nemesis in comic book history. He is the only villain, I can think of, whose power is rhetoric. Egghead can talk circles around anything. He’s first introduced through a meandering soliloquy about his last encounter with the miniature hero. His story could have been covered in two or three panels, but in this case it becomes three whole pages. After Egghead is done recounting his first downfall, we then cut to him delivering yet another lecture, but this one instead in the guise of a zoologist. I know all this soap boxing is the reason for his name, but it does slow down the momentum of the story.

When the momentum finally picks up we find our hero and heroine, stuck enacting the ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship that permeates pretty much every comic couple in history. I thought Wasp and Ant-Man had already admitted their mutual love. In the last issue they were quite chummy. Did I just misunderstand this or was it not made clear? I am not sure.

From this point on, the story picks up. Egghead attempts to get his pointy brain in  between the miniature couple by attempting to attract Janet, first, to a diamond

The Ant-Eater. The perfect weapon against the Ant-Man.

The Ant-Eater. The perfect weapon against the Ant-Man.

robbery and then to a lecture about wasps. He stages a full blown lecture in a chance to torture the Ant-Man. Perhaps, he’ll talk him to death. When the traps of the title finally appear they, in true Ant-Man fashion, are the obvious traps he’s been up against before, like an aquarium or flypaper. But there is also an Ant-eater. How has it taken this long for a villain to figure out that this is the perfect weapon against Pym. It’s in the animal’s name for Pete’s sake!

What’s wonderful about this issue is Hank is not the one who finally saves the day. Wasp, carrying a sharp needle, pokes Egghead while he is, yup you guessed it; talking.  The roles of women are changing ever so slightly and the Marvel Universe isn’t even two years old yet.

With an extremely verbose villain and a clear three act story, this is a very solid issue. It certainly has pacing issues and Ape’s cameo makes little sense, but it is solid. Nothing outstanding occurs in it, Egghead lives to fight again, Ant-Man comes out on top and all is righted in the end. This is an unremarkable issue, if a bit tired. Certainly nothing to write home about.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

Pros: Wasp saves the day, The Anteater, Don Heck’s lush and detailed animals

Cons: The extraordinarily slow opening. Hank Pym’s apathy. Egghead’s uninteresting verbosity.

<— Preceding Review:  “The Living Bomb” (Strange Tales #112 Sept 1963)

—>Upcoming Review:On The Trail The Amazing Spider-Man” (Strange Tales Annual #2 1963)

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