Author Archives: Paul O'Connor
You may have heard there’s a new Marvel movie coming out this week — Ant-Man!
More so than any previous Marvel movie, Ant-Man represents a tremendous risk. With the startling success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proved they can turn C-Level characters into A-List stars … but Ant-Man seems a reach even for a studio on such an unprecedented hot streak. Ant-Man has little name recognition; he was lampooned by Saturday Night Live long before superheroes were cool; the movie started as a passion project for a director who has since left the picture; and the hero himself has a history so tortured even he can’t be bothered to keep up with it.
If they had it to do all over again, Marvel might well have given a miss to Ant-Man, but the franchise machine grinds on, and so ready or not, here he comes …
I will be there, of course. Marvel has earned my trust with a string of very entertaining movies, and I expect Ant-Man will open just fine. To prepare myself for the film, I went back to read the original Ant-Man adventures — a task not so easy as it seems. Which Ant-Man was I to read, exactly?
Ant-Man as seen in the early days of the Avengers?
Ant-Man as the stolen identity of Scott Lang, the character at the center of the movie?
Only the original vintage will do for Longbox Graveyard!
I went all the way back to before Ant-Man was Ant-Man … when Hank Pym was the Man in the Ant Hill!
The original Ant-Man — as we would come to know him — debuted in Tales to Astonish #27, cover dated January 1962.
Tales to Astonish was a Marvel science fiction anthology mag, mostly concerned with monster-of-the-month stories staring creatures with names like Rommbu, Gorgilla, and Groot (yes, that Groot).
Those early issues of Tales to Astonish were obsessed with huge creatures running amok. In spinning a story where an ant-sized man was menaced by regular-sized insects, co-creators Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby might have been taking a break from giant-sized monsters … or they may have been co-opting another popular science fiction trope, explored to brilliant effect in the classic 1957 film, The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Or maybe they were sticking with the formula after all, aping Them, from 1954, where giant ants ran wild in Los Angeles.
hmm … that fleeing woman may have given Marvel the idea for Hydra’s catchphrase!
Ant-Man certainly works as a B-picture science fiction idea!
Whatever the origins of the idea, Ant-Man’s comic book debut wasn’t especially auspicious, save in hindsight. Like most issues of Tales to Astonish, this was at best a competently-executed high concept tale.
We began with an ambitious scientist who might have been whistled up out of central casting — a white guy laughed at by the establishment for his mad dream …
… in this case, a serum that could shrink items and then restore them to their original size. It worked on a chair, so of course the next step was for Hank Pym to conduct a human-trial-of-one …
… and given that this was Tales To Astonish, no sooner has Hank shrunk down to ant-size than he was locked out of his lab and menaced by (to him) giant ants!
(Sometimes I just love the Silver Age!)
There followed some B-movie derring-do, including anti-ant judo (!) …
… but then came the magic. Trapped outside his lab, and with no way to scale the wall to get back inside, Pym hitched a ride on the back of an ant that was mysteriously more friendly than the rest.
In short order, Pym was returned to human-size, and vowed never to step on an ant hill again!
That might have been the end for Ant-Man … before he was ever called Ant-Man! … but for two things.
One, that image of Hank riding an ant up the side of a building was very cool. I suspect it stuck in Stan Lee’s head.
Two, there was this thing called The Fantastic Four … which debuted two months before this tale, and proved to Marvel that superheroes — and not goofy monster books — represented the future of the company. Suddenly, creating new superheroes was Job One.
Insects would prove fertile ground for the newborn Marvel age of comics …
… and just a month after Spider-Man debuted, Hank Pym was back, now sporting a costume and called — for the first time — Ant-Man!
Tales To Astonish #35 provided a more full-featured superhero origin story for Ant-Man, recapping Pym’s previous tale, and adding to the character an entirely-reasonable newfound fascination with ants.
Even more interesting was Pym’s impossibly cool Ant-Man helmet, a classic Jack Kirby design that was quickly put to the test, as Communist agents intent on stealing research secrets took Pym and his colleagues hostage, prompting our hero to swing into costumed action.
Hank plunged into the ant hill again, finding that his helmet let him communicate with ants …
… and that he retained his human strength even while ant-sized, in a kind of inversion of Spider-Man’s famous “proportionate strength of a spider.”
And with that, Ant-Man was a superhero, and a part of Marvel’s nascent shared universe (there’s even a reference to “unstable molecules” as an explanation for why Ant-Man’s costume shrank with him, a concept that would be co-opted to account for the miraculous capacities of the Fantastic Four’s costumes).
Now all that remained was for Ant-Man to roll out his own super-heroic schticks, first by leading an army of ants to the rescue …
… then showing how an army of ants could muck up a gun, and swarm over a gunsel.
Add a secret identity and the promise of more adventures to come, and a superhero was born!
Living in the shadow of early Marvel hits like The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, Ant-Man would prove a modest success for Marvel, headlining a respectable thirty-issue run in Tales to Astonish (though he would share top-billing with the Hulk starting with issue #60, by which time Ant-Man had become Giant-Man in the first of many identity transformations for this star-crossed character). So significant a character was Ant-Man that he was made a founding member of the Avengers, along with his partner, the Wasp, and top-tier Marvel characters like Thor, Hulk and Iron Man (and in this case, I know that “top tier” = “anyone Marvel could round up that wasn’t Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four,” but still). In fact, while largely forgotten today, I’d argue that Hank Pym was the most interesting character in the first year or so of the Avengers, and with his many changes of identity, feelings of inadequacy, stormy relationship with the Wasp, and his creation of the mad robot Ultron, Hank Pym might be one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel Universe, full stop.
Alas, Hank’s history seems bound to be forgotten. Hank’s ever-changing, shades-of-grey personality veered into the black with his depiction as a wife-beating asshole in the Ultimates, and then his long-gestating solo movie project cost Ant-Man his charter membership in the Avengers, with Tony Stark ultimately usurping Hank’s semi-mad scientist role and letting loose the Age of Ultron. In every way that counts for modern audiences — that is to say, the people who go to the movies — it will be Scott Lang that is Ant-Man, with poor Hank reduced to a supporting character (and possibly the bad guy, to judge by the movie trailer).
Ah, well, it is a modern miracle that we have an Ant-Man movie at all — it is churlish to complain that we aren’t getting the right guy. I just hope it’s a decent picture … or at the very least that we finally learn how to pronounce, “Pym,” after all these decades!
I hope you like the move! Let me know what you think in the comments section, below. And maybe spare a moment to enjoy Ant-Man’s very first adventures, available in digital form via Marvel Unlimited.
- Title: Ant-Man (Tales To Astonish)
- Published By: Marvel Comics, 1959-1968
- Issues Reviewed: #27 & #35, January/September 1962
- LBG Letter Grade For This Issue: C-plus
NEXT MONTH: #150 The Core of the Four
I’m delighted that the show is staying in San Diego. I share the opinion that moving Comic-Con to Los Angeles or Las Vegas would rob it of it’s very specific charms. Comic-Con is more than just the show — it’s also the climate, the Gaslamp, and the decades-long tradition of fans flocking to San Diego to get their geek on and reaffirm old friendships.
Fortunately, there is a solution. And unlike the on-again, off-again plans for San Diego’s Convention Center expansion, this solution is entirely within the control of the Comic-Con committee.
It all comes down to … programming.
I actually think Twilight was a net gain for Comic-Con, as it introduced a new generation of fans to the show, but I understand why some feel differently.
But I do think the pendulum has swung too far away from comics at Comic-Con. With WonderCon recently departed for Los Angeles (alas), the opportunity exists to kinda-sorta restore Comic-Con’s comic book roots. Gradually upping the non-comics media content at WonderCon — while reducing the same at Comic-Con — would allow the two shows (run by the same committee) to approach a kind of crowd equilibrium.
As a Spring show in Los Angeles, WonderCon seems ideally suited to the kind of big media movie and television presentations that have (frankly) overwhelmed Comic-Con. WonderCon’s new Los Angeles location makes it more convenient for Hollywood to attend, and WonderCon’s Spring date is better suited for promoting that summer’s movies (the summer movie season is half-over by the time Comic-Con rolls around in July).
Comic-Con should keep a hand in the big media events — which are after all as much a part of this show as Artist Alley or the Eisner Awards — but adjusting the programming balance by 20-30% in favor of comics or nostalgia media at the expense of current TV and movies would go a long way toward changing the character of the show, and I think for the better.
Over time, Southern California could have two powerhouse shows — a Spring show in Los Angeles that is about film/TV and pop culture and also comics, and Summer show in San Diego that is about comics and pop culture and also film/TV. WonderCon in L.A. gets the big movie announcements and the fans swooning over TV heartthrobs, while Comic-Con in San Diego gets the big comics publishing announcements and one or two big media moments from studios still looking to build that Comic-Con buzz.
And the 501st Legion would fit in fine at both events!
What do you think? Would gradually re-branding these two shows prove a benefit to all? Am I just a cranky old guy who wants Comic-Con to pointlessly reverse the hands of time? Let me know your thoughts, in the comments section, below.
And enjoy your time at Comic-Con, if you are fortunate enough to go! (I will be there Saturday, grumbling about the crowds, no doubt!)
Happy 4th of July from the Falcon, Captain America, and Longbox Graveyard!
(Not comics, but close enough).
Sick at home and feeling nostalgic, I watched the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.
I didn’t like this series when it was first aired. In fact it was a profound disappointment. I was an Original Series guy — and always will be — and this “new” Star Trek did not meet my space opera expectations. I watched an episode or two and checked out.
Re-watching this first episode again, almost thirty years (!) later, brought a few surprises.
It was remarkable how much like silly old Original Series Trek this really was. We had John de Lancie swanning around in an Elizabethan captain’s outfit, and a catastrophically bad stunt double standing in for Denise Crosby when she did a little Kirk-Fu on a courtroom full of fur-clad extras that might have walked off the set of The Omega Glory.
The Enterprise was captured by something that looked very much like a shower curtain.
Add to this the usual planet-of-the-week shenanigans and you had a story that might have been as comfortable in 1967 as 1987, albeit one with a substantially larger budget.
But there was more, of course — the skillful introduction of a whole new cast of characters, and the re-introduction of the Enterprise (with more than a bit of ship porn, what with all the undocking and docking of saucer sections). The show also took pains to show us how it would differ from what came before, with its ask-questions-first-and-shoot-later captain, families on the ship, a more diverse crew, and not a Vulcan in sight.
It had been long enough that I’d even forgotten about DeForest Kelley’s delightful cameo.
In all it was quite a bit better than I’d remembered, probably because I’ve mellowed these last three decades, and am more willing to take my Star Trek where I find it.
There were things that rankled, of course, like a captain too eager to surrender, and a tiresome doe-eyed empath staring into the middle distance and telling us how much pain she was sensing.
The ship’s bridge looked like the interior of a 1987 Chrysler 5th Avenue, and there were hints of elements that would hurt the Trek franchise in years to come (technobabble and the Holodeck, rocks upon which writers would later wreck themselves). But there were some real advantages, too, like the marvelous Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, clearly the best actor to ever command a starship, and whom I realize was 47 when this series debuted … he seemed so ancient and distinguished to me then, and now I’ve got 47 five years in my rear-view mirror.
It was very entertaining, and a pleasant surprise. I’ll watch a few more. If there are now suddenly several seasons of mostly-unfamiliar Star Trek ahead of me, then that is a good thing.
(and back to comics in my next post)
Longbox Graveyard has gone ad-free!
I’ve used WordPress’ WordAds here at Longbox Graveyard for the last couple years. It never amounted to much — scarcely a dollar a day when the planets all aligned — but I kept it going because along with comments and hits it was another way to “keep score” with my blog. I’m a metrics guy, and I like watching little numbers go up.
Besides, I grew up in an era where comic books carried pages that looked like this …
… and so I rationalized that the increasingly ugly ads integrated into the flow here at Longbox Graveyard were just part of that tradition.
But … ugh … those WordAd serves were pretty tacky. Chances are you didn’t even notice them, but as the guy who looks at this blog every day, I was getting worn down.
Ads used to appear at the top of this page, in the top spot on my right sidebar, and at the end of most posts. Some ads were fine, but I really didn’t like the chumbox stuff:
And so they are gone.
I won’t promise they’re gone forever … WordAds only pay off when they’ve hit $100, and I might someday get sick of seeing my account stuck on fifty bucks, and decide to turn it on again. If my traffic really picks up again and I feel like I am leaving money on the table, ads might return. But I don’t need income from this blog, and giving up seven bucks a month in ad revenue is a small price to pay to be rid of this obnoxiousness.
(If it was your convention to click on ads to support Longbox Graveyard … thanks! If you are still in a supporting mood, consider purchase of a graphic novel from my sales page).
I turned a blind eye to ads here at Longbox Graveyard for a long time … if you are interested in what finally changed my stance, check out this article from The Awl.
See ya later, Chumbox!
UPDATE: Even after disabling ads, I’m still seeing them from time-to-time. Letter of complaint is pending to WordPress, I’ll let you know what happens!