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Ant-Man And The Wasp

Ant-Man And The Wasp buzz into theaters this week!

To celebrate the return of what might be Marvel’s most unlikely cinematic smash series, I’ve updated my article on Ant-Man’s origins as “The Man In The Ant Hill!”

Click HERE to read all about Ant-Man’s first appearance (and the origin of that groovy Jack Kirby ant helmet!)

Enjoy the movie!

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Avengers Infinity War: The Bride of Ultron

Longbox Graveyard’s run-up to Avengers Infinity War continues with today’s look back at one of my favorite classic Avengers tales — The Bride of Ultron!

Avengers #161

Jim Shooter’s Avengers are best remembered for the Korvac Saga, but my personal favorite portion of Shooter’s run is this two-part story from Avengers #161-162. Featuring rich characterization, explosive action, and extraordinarily tight pencils and powerful visual storytelling from artist George Perez, these issues represent the soul of late-1970s Avengers.The 1970s were a golden age for the Avengers. The brand had not yet been diluted by West Coast Avengers or today’s endless spin-off books, and with only one place to go for Avengers action, Marvel lavished the title with their top talent. The decade began with Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, and continued under Steve Englehart in a series of stories that would test the Avengers both without and within. The era would conclude with a Roger Stern/John Byrne run where the Scarlet Witch would start to show some of the awesome power (and instability) that would later haunt her in Marvel events like The House of M.

Jim Shooter’s editorial reign at Marvel remains a controversial period, but there’s no disputing that Shooter was a superior comic book writer. A genuine savant, Shooter began his career at the tender age of thirteen, writing and drawing for DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, which he would write through that book’s mid-1970s signature run. With Legion, Shooter demonstrated that he could handle ensemble stories that were rich in complicated backstory — skills that would serve him well in this tale of fathers, sons, and Oedipal yearnings.

The action kicks off in issue #161’s “Attacked By The Ant Man!” where Hank Pym has evidently suffered some kind of mental breakdown, accusing the present-day Avengers of being imposters attempting to replace the original vintage versions of those characters, who had first come together with Ant Man to form the team in the pages of Avengers #1.

Avengers #161
The fight is on! This being a Silver Age-style Marvel comic, our heroes solve their differences by beating the tar out of each other, showcasing Shooter and Perez at the top of their game. Perez orchestrates the visually-complicated team fight with relish, while Shooter demonstrates his deft touch with expository dialogue — making sure that readers know who each character is, and making clear why a seemingly-insignificant character like Ant Man poses a threat to earth’s mightiest heroes. In the span of four perfect panels, we see how Ant Man can summon a swarm of ants to do his bidding; how those ants exploit Iron Man’s weakness by flooding through the eye-slits of his mask; and how Ant Man retains enough of his full-sized strength to clout Captain America on the jaw.

Avengers #161

Shooter isn’t content just to recycle old tropes. After making clear that the Vision’s powers are based on making himself insubstantial, he follows up with a power trick (never used before or since?) where the Vision defeats a swarm of ants with an electrified shock. But that does nothing to stop Ant Man from taking out a pair of Avengers with his patented, grow-suddenly-to-full size sneak attack, expertly set in motion by Perez’s pencils. Part of Shooter’s ethos was to make sure that any readers picking up a comic for the first time would not be completely lost, and this awkward speaking of characters’ names and out-loud restating of action and results is part of that agenda. But it also serves to provide a verbal, character-driven rhythm for these stories, where even veteran readers had something to see, nodding along as familiar characters behaved in believable ways. It’s the kind of storytelling that comics can do especially well, and a strength of the form that is rarely used by current creators. Likewise, having characters speak aloud their internal monologues and footnote the uses and limitations of their powers would never wash on film, but when well-executed in a superhero comic, it is pure four-color fun.

Avengers #161

Here Shooter employs his mastery of backstory, rooting Hank’s breakdown in the character’s checkered history. Madness isn’t too much to expect of a character who’s brain has been stressed by a career filled with growing and shrinking powers, and poor Hank has had breakdowns and multiple personalities in his past.The timely arrive of Hank’s wife — Janet Pym, the Wasp — allows the Avengers to get the upper hand, and take stock of what drove Hank off his nut.

Avengers #161

Even a transitional scene affords room for Shooter to provide characterization. Here we see the Beast — having only recently joined the team — struggling to fit in with the rest of the Avengers. The Avengers, of course, take all of this in stride, and quickly act to help their fallen friend.

Screen-shot-2013-03-23-at-12.21.51-PM

Looking back on these tales, of course, we know that they are Ultron stories, but at the time, his reintroduction was a bit of a shock. His appearance was hinted-at in the preceding issue #160, but Ultron had been out of action since taking a powder in Fantastic Four #150, three years before. That’s a long time for a Marvel super-villian to stay on the bench. While making an indelible mark in his introduction arc circa Avengers #55, I’d argue that it is in these Shooter/Perez stories (which would continue in Avengers #170-171) where Ultron became an A-list Marvel bad guy.

Avengers #161, Ultron

It’s perfectly appropriate for a megalomaniacal rage case like Ultron to state his name during his dramatic entrance (which again helps new readers), and in the fight that follows demonstrates through action the villain’s extraordinary strength and the invulnerability granted by his adamantium body. Iron Man gets humiliated a second time, having cleared those ants out of his helmet only to have his transistors drained by the bad guy. Again we see Shooter’s touch with exposition, leaving no doubt about how Ultron has felled Iron Man.

Avengers #161

Round One to Ultron!

Avengers #161

It is in issue #162 that the emotional undercurrents of this story are fully realized, as we learn of Ultron’s scheme. Ultron’s plan is deeply disturbed, and revolves around deceiving his creator/father, Hank Pym, into working his will …

Avengers #162, Ultron

Hank’s brains are still too scrambled to see what is coming, but certain of the Avengers begin to entertain dark concerns.

(And as an aside, I think Perez proves himself an especially great Iron Man artist in this issue — I feel like I can see my own reflection in Iron Man’s face plate thanks to the way Perez draws the character).

Avengers #162

Meanwhile, back at Ultron’s secret lab, Hank abets his monstrous creation in draining the life force from his own wife, Janet (who by extension is Ultron’s mother!) into the unnamed shell of Ultron’s intended bride. This is the first appearance of Jocasta, a largely-forgotten part-time Avenger who would go on to feature in some pretty decent comics in this era.

Avengers #162

But by investing his affections in this mechanical obsession, the previously-impervious Ultron also inherits a liability. His love of his bride makes Ultron vulnerable in new and disturbingly-human ways — a weakness Iron Man is quick to exploit.

Avengers #162, Ultron

It is a mean-spirited way to defeat a villain — a point Shooter skillfully drives home when Black Panther later admonishes Iron Man for attaining victory in such dishonorable fashion — and the Avengers don’t seem to win this battle so much as they attain a temporary reprieve. Ultron quits the field but this conflict is far from resolved.

Avengers #162, George Perez

This two-issue tale has plenty of loose ends … but they’re the right kinds of loose ends, deliberately-unresolved plot threads designed to bring you back the following issue. Hank Pym is still insane, and no one is sure what to make of Jocasta, who as the final panel of this issue indicates played a pivotal-but-secret role in defeating Ultron. How will Janet Pym react to having part of her life force drained into a mechanical being? As far as our heroes are concerned, Captain America, the Beast, and the Scarlet Witch are all dead. Ultron is still on the loose. There’s even a subplot featuring Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid (!) that is ready to boil over!

A great Avengers run lays just over the horizon, and these issues are a great place to jump on board. You can get each of them in decent condition for just a little bit more than a contemporary comic book, which is a bargain for a pair of the most iconic Avengers stories ever published. These issues are also a part of Marvel’s growing digital library. They may be non-canonical, insofar as the movies are concerned (where it is Tony Stark — and not Hank Pym — who conceives of Ultron), but they remain among the finest Avengers comics ever published. Excelsior!

This article originally appeared at Stash My Comics.

Ant-Man

Longbox Graveyard #149

You may have heard there’s a new Marvel movie coming out this week — Ant-Man And The Wasp!

More so than any previous Marvel movie, the first Ant-Man was 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 seemed a reach even for a studio on such an unprecedented hot streak. Ant-Man had 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 later left the picture; and the hero himself had a history so tortured even he can’t be bothered to keep up with it.

Hank Pym

Remind me never to doubt Marvel! The first movie was a hit, and the character was a delight (practically stealing the show in Captain America: Civil War). So of course, here comes the sequel!

I will be there, of course!

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?

Hank Pym names the Avengers

Nah.

Ant-Man as the stolen identity of Scott Lang, the character at the center of the movie?

Marvel Premiere #47

Nope.

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!

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

The original Ant-Man — as we would come to know him — debuted in Tales to Astonish #27, cover dated January 1962.

Tales To Astonish #27

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).

Tales To Astonish #13

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.

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.

Them!

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 …

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

… 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 …

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

… 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!)

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

There followed some B-movie derring-do, including anti-ant judo (!) …

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

… 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.

Tales To Astonish #27 by Lee, Lieber, and Kirby

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 …

Amazing Fantasy #15

… 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 by Lee & Kirby

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.

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

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.

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Hank plunged into the ant hill again, finding that his helmet let him communicate with ants …

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

… 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.”

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

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 …

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

… then showing how an army of ants could muck up a gun, and swarm over a gunsel.

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

Add a secret identity and the promise of more adventures to come, and a superhero was born!

Tales To Astonish #35 by Lee & Kirby

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.

Marvel has shown they will cherry-pick this history for their films. 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 (however ably played he may be by the great Michael Douglas).

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. And on top of which, we get a sequel? With the Winsome Wasp? Truly, this is the age of Peak Geek!

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

The Bride of Ultron

Longbox Graveyard #146

Welcome back to The Dollar Box, where I look at single issues and short runs of comics with a cover price of a dollar or less. With the Age of Ultron dawning in theaters this week, I thought it a good time to revisit this classic Ultron story from the pages of Avengers #161-162.

Avengers #161

But in between was a two-year run helmed by Jim Shooter, where he brought his finely-honed Silver Age sensibilities to Marvel’s premiere superhero team. Shooter’s Avengers are best remembered for the Korvac Saga, but my personal favorite portion of Shooter’s run is this two-part story from Avengers #161-162. Featuring rich characterization, explosive action, and extraordinarily tight pencils and powerful visual storytelling from artist George Perez, these issues represent the soul of late-1970s Avengers.The 1970s were a golden age for the Avengers. The brand had not yet been diluted by West Coast Avengers or today’s endless spin-off books, and with only one place to go for Avengers action, Marvel lavished the title with their top talent. The decade began with Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, and continued under Steve Englehart in a series of stories that would test the Avengers both without and within. The era would conclude with a Roger Stern/John Byrne run where the Scarlet Witch would start to show some of the awesome power (and instability) that would later haunt her in Marvel events like The House of M.

Jim Shooter’s editorial reign at Marvel remains a controversial period, but there’s no disputing that Shooter was a superior comic book writer. A genuine savant, Shooter began his career at the tender age of thirteen, writing and drawing for DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, which he would write through that book’s mid-1970s signature run. With Legion, Shooter demonstrated that he could handle ensemble stories that were rich in complicated backstory — skills that would serve him well in this tale of fathers, sons, and Oedipal yearnings.

The action kicks off in issue #161’s “Attacked By The Ant Man!” where Hank Pym has evidently suffered some kind of mental breakdown, accusing the present-day Avengers of being imposters attempting to replace the original vintage versions of those characters, who had first come together with Ant Man to form the team in the pages of Avengers #1.

Avengers #161
The fight is on!This being a Silver Age-style Marvel comic, our heroes solve their differences by beating the tar out of each other, showcasing Shooter and Perez at the top of their game. Perez orchestrates the visually-complicated team fight with relish, while Shooter demonstrates his deft touch with expository dialogue — making sure that readers know who each character is, and making clear why a seemingly-insignificant character like Ant Man poses a threat to earth’s mightiest heroes. In the span of four perfect panels, we see how Ant Man can summon a swarm of ants to do his bidding; how those ants exploit Iron Man’s weakness by flooding through the eye-slits of his mask; and how Ant Man retains enough of his full-sized strength to clout Captain America on the jaw.

Avengers #161

Shooter isn’t content just to recycle old tropes. After making clear that the Vision’s powers are based on making himself insubstantial, he follows up with a power trick (never used before or since?) where the Vision defeats a swarm of ants with an electrified shock. But that does nothing to stop Ant Man from taking out a pair of Avengers with his patented, grow-suddenly-to-full size sneak attack, expertly set in motion by Perez’s pencils.Part of Shooter’s ethos was to make sure that any readers picking up a comic for the first time would not be completely lost, and this awkward speaking of characters’ names and out-loud restating of action and results is part of that agenda. But it also serves to provide a verbal, character-driven rhythm for these stories, where even veteran readers had something to see, nodding along as familiar characters behaved in believable ways. It’s the kind of storytelling that comics can do especially well, and a strength of the form that is rarely used by current creators. Likewise, having characters speak aloud their internal monologues and footnote the uses and limitations of their powers would never wash on film, but when well-executed in a superhero comic, it is pure four-color fun.

Avengers #161

Here Shooter employs his mastery of backstory, rooting Hank’s breakdown in the character’s checkered history. Madness isn’t too much to expect of a character who’s brain has been stressed by a career filled with growing and shrinking powers, and poor Hank has had breakdowns and multiple personalities in his past.The timely arrive of Hank’s wife — Janet Pym, the Wasp — allows the Avengers to get the upper hand, and take stock of what drove Hank off his nut.

Avengers #161

Even a transitional scene affords room for Shooter to provide characterization. Here we see the Beast — having only recently joined the team — struggling to fit in with the rest of the Avengers.The Avengers, of course, take all of this in stride, and quickly act to help their fallen friend.

Screen-shot-2013-03-23-at-12.21.51-PM

Looking back on these tales, of course, we know that they are Ultron stories, but at the time, his reintroduction was a bit of a shock. His appearance was hinted-at in the preceding issue #160, but Ultron had been out of action since taking a powder in Fantastic Four #150, three years before. That’s a long time for a Marvel super-villian to stay on the bench. While making an indelible mark in his introduction arc circa Avengers #55, I’d argue that it is in these Shooter/Perez stories (which would continue in Avengers #170-171) where Ultron became an A-list Marvel bad guy.

Avengers #161, Ultron

It’s perfectly appropriate for a megalomaniacal rage case like Ultron to state his name during his dramatic entrance (which again helps new readers), and in the fight that follows demonstrates through action the villain’s extraordinary strength and the invulnerability granted by his adamantium body. Iron Man gets humiliated a second time, having cleared those ants out of his helmet only to have his transistors drained by the bad guy. Again we see Shooter’s touch with exposition, leaving no doubt about how Ultron has felled Iron Man.

Avengers #161

Round One to Ultron!

Avengers #161

It is in issue #162 that the emotional undercurrents of this story are fully realized, as we learn of Ultron’s scheme. Ultron’s plan is deeply disturbed, and revolves around deceiving his creator/father, Hank Pym, into working his will …

Avengers #162, Ultron

Hank’s brains are still too scrambled to see what is coming, but certain of the Avengers begin to entertain dark concerns.

(And as an aside, I think Perez proves himself an especially great Iron Man artist in this issue — I feel like I can see my own reflection in Iron Man’s face plate thanks to the way Perez draws the character).

Avengers #162

Meanwhile, back at Ultron’s secret lab, Hank abets his monstrous creation in draining the life force from his own wife, Janet (who by extension is Ultron’s mother!) into the unnamed shell of Ultron’s intended bride. This is the first appearance of Jocasta, a largely-forgotten part-time Avenger who would go on to feature in some pretty decent comics in this era.

Avengers #162

But by investing his affections in this mechanical obsession, the previously-impervious Ultron also inherits a liability. His love of his bride makes Ultron vulnerable in new and disturbingly-human ways — a weakness Iron Man is quick to exploit.

Avengers #162, Ultron

It is a mean-spirited way to defeat a villain — a point Shooter skillfully drives home when Black Panther later admonishes Iron Man for attaining victory in such dishonorable fashion — and the Avengers don’t seem to win this battle so much as they attain a temporary reprieve. Ultron quits the field but this conflict is far from resolved.

Avengers #162, George Perez

Unlike most of the stories I review at The Dollar Box, this two-issue tale has plenty of loose ends … but they’re the right kinds of loose ends, deliberately-unresolved plot threads designed to bring you back the following issue. Hank Pym is still insane, and no one is sure what to make of Jocasta, who as the final panel of this issue indicates played a pivotal-but-secret role in defeating Ultron. How will Janet Pym react to having part of her life force drained into a mechanical being? As far as our heroes are concerned, Captain America, the Beast, and the Scarlet Witch are all dead. Ultron is still on the loose. There’s even a subplot featuring Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid (!) that is ready to boil over!

A great Avengers run lays just over the horizon, and these issues are a great place to jump on board. You can get each of them in decent condition for just a little bit more than a contemporary comic book, which is a bargain for a pair of the most iconic Avengers stories ever published. These issues are also a part of Marvel’s growing digital library. They may be non-canonical, insofar as the movies are concerned (where it is Tony Stark — and not Hank Pym — who conceives of Ultron), but they remain among the finest Avengers comics ever published. Excelsior!

This article originally appeared at Stash My Comics.

NEXT WEEK: #147 Top-10 Super-Dogs!

Top Ten Manliest Superheroes!

Longbox Graveyard #54

Comic book heroes are usually rendered in an impossible physical ideal, but today’s superheroes go beyond Olympian physiques and into some crazy realm where even their muscles have muscles. Trying to pick the fittest and strongest amongst them is a mug’s game. Even Forbush Man looks like he’s been working out!

Manliness is something else entirely. You need a lot more than a square jaw and chiseled abs to join this particular club — you need a manly attitude, too. And since we’re talking comic books, we’re looking for exaggerated manliness, while stopping short of being — ahem — too manly. Stubbly chins, stogies, and gravelly voices all count for a lot. So does pimp style, womanizing, and a tendency to think with their fists.

It also helps to be kinda sorta a regular guy, or at least as regular as you can get while infused with gamma radiation, cosmic rays, or a super-soldier serum.

Who is the manliest superhero of them all? Joining me for today’s oh-so-serious nerd debate are Tom Mason, comic book scholar extraordinaire (and when he isn’t doing more important things, you can find him over at Comix 411). Also here is Chris Ulm, last seen at Longbox Graveyard as a part of my WonderCon panel, and also my co-host for the blog I did on Deathlok several weeks ago (and it occurs to me that Deathlok is pretty damn manly, too, but dead men are excluded from consideration).

(Both of these gentlemen will join me at my upcoming Comic-Con panel, so if you don’t like their choices below, c’mon by our panel and throw rotten fruit at them).

Our goal is to come up with a list of the ten manliest superheroes, but knowing these guys, it’s going to be a chore to stay on target …

PAUL: Who gets an honorable mention before we get to the list?

ULM: Aquaman might get my vote — the fact that he has the sheer swinging stones to show up riding a seahorse and spends his time talking to sea-spiders says a lot about his confidence — he obviously doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks — not even Batman.

PAUL: Not Aquaman, no — not since he went sitcom on us. Plus he let his wife push him around during that family RV vacation. No one can be hectored by his spouse and make the list. That’s the reason Spider-Man doesn’t make it — Gwen Stacy, MJ, and Black Cat are the holy trinity of comic book girlfriends but Peter’s a mommas boy and he’s whipped.

TOM: Everyone knows Flash and Atom are whipped.

PAUL: Flash is SO whipped! I spent half a review column on Iris bugging Barry about being late and not the man Flash is and blah blah blah. It goes beyond the Lois Lane trope into some kind of power exchange fetish play.

TOM: Flash has never appealed to me because of this weird henpecked way they wrote him in the Silver Age. I like strong female characters, but they made Iris some kind of naggy harpy and turned Flash into a guy who was constantly fretting about getting in trouble. The whole recurring “Barry’s late again” with Iris standing in a doorway checking her watch is just too much. All those 60s DC editors, especially Weisinger and Schwartz, always put out comics with these bizarre male-female dynamics that seem mean-spirited and misogynistic and out of touch with reality.

And the Atom, the Ray Palmer one, is another weird 1960s domestic drama, with a guy who has the powers of a man but’s just six inches tall. I’m not buying it and no one else is.

ULM: Speaking of little guys, Ant Man has to go to bars explaining that he’s … Ant Man. And he STILL nailed the winsome Wasp. That’s MANLY. If he had manned up and just stayed Ant Man, he’d definitely get my vote. After all, he did create Ultron in his spare time. But since Henry Pym keeps changing his name like a giant pussy (“Oooh, check me out: I’m YELLOWJACKET! I’m GIANT-MAN now!”) he’s off my list.

plus, being a dick does NOT make you manly!

TOM: How about a lady’s man like The Spirit?

PAUL: The Spirit is interesting. Because of the femme fatales?

TOM: I think yeah because of the femme fatales. He’s got chicks falling all over him – most of them are evil and trying to kill him and he doesn’t catch on until it’s almost too late, but they keep a’coming. And he likes it. After fifteen beautiful women have tried to kill you, you might get suspicious of #16, but The Spirit welcomes her with open arms. That’s a special kind of guts, or the biggest lack of self-awareness for at least seven pages of every eight page story.

PAUL: By that criteria we’d have to include Daredevil. He notched up Black Widow, Electra, and pre-crackwhore Karen Page. Plus he holds his own with crap powers, and wears a costume only a blind guy would think is cool (and pulls it off).

TOM: What about Green Arrow? No powers, but he took stupid equipment and made it work. He’s got some manliness/sexist issues that often threaten to overwhelm him, but for awhile he had a love arrow for Black Canary.

PAUL: Good one, it crossed my mind, I suppose every case I make for Daredevil would apply here too.

TOM: Exactly. Plus, Green Arrow has very strong opinions about a lot of life issues and isn’t afraid to point his finger into anyone’s chest for emphasis. It takes a special kind of man to make an arrow with a boxing glove on it. Oliver Queen is always ready for a fight.

PAUL: All right, I’ll put The Spirit, Daredevil, and Green Arrow on the list at number ten. It’s my list and I can break the rules!

10) The Spirit, Daredevil, Green Arrow (half-mad chick magnets)

If stupid gear is going to score manly points, how about Guy Gardner? Moe haircut. Bad attitude. Jerkwad. But no way is anyone manly enough to pull of a Green Lantern costume.

Anyone else?

TOM: Fawcett’s Capt. Marvel is like the Tim Tebow of super-heroes. He gets the job done, but he’s not going to clear out the biker bar in the middle of the night.

PAUL: How about that other big boy scout — Superman?

ULM: Superman technically should get credit for being manly because one can only imagine the damage a swarm of super-sperms could do to Metropolis. That alone should give him high standing in the manly sweepstakes. However, as an alien, technically he’s not a man, so forget it.

PAUL: Superman’s seemed a little limp to me since that Brandon Routh picture. I don’t much like Zack Snyder but if anyone is going to give Superman a testosterone injection, he’s the guy. Though I expect he’ll go all 300 and make Superman just a little … too manly.

TOM: Superman’s now this wistful nostalgic character content to sit atop tall buildings, smell flowers and pick out shapes in the clouds. He’s like Dr. Manhattan in the early parts of Watchmen. He’s like Xanax in a cape now. At least in the old days, Jimmy would turn himself into a giant turtle or Lois would throw herself out the window to make his life interesting.

ULM: Since you mention Jimmy …

PAUL: We didn’t. C’mon, I need someone for number nine.

TOM: How about Lobo?

PAUL: Never read Lobo. Whaddya think?

TOM: Lobo is technically some kind of alien freak biker badass. He doesn’t take crap from anyone and doesn’t fight fair. He’s manly in the same way that a Hell’s Angel is manly at 2am Sunday. He would totally own Burning Man and those people would follow him anywhere.

PAUL: I’d put him on the list but Ulm’s already disqualified Superman for being an alien. And if a motorcycle was enough to get you in I’d pick Ghost Rider. With that flaming skull head, he’s like a living tattoo on the back of a mass-murderer’s neck. Leather. Hotline to Satan. Charter member of the Legion of Monsters. Problem is that Nick Cage has played him twice and he’s also a charter member of the Champions, the lamest superhero team of all time.

TOM: How about Wildcat? My understanding is that he is/was a boxer. He’s got no super powers except brute strength and a mean right hook, so he’s a little like Batman in that regard (but without any gadgets). I’d say it’s manly for a guy to put on a cat costume to fight crime. That’s the nine lives of brass balls.

PAUL: Plus I think in one of DC’s innumerable reboots, Wildcat is the guy who taught Batman how to fight. OK, I don’t know if he belongs or not, but we’re not making a lot of headway so he goes on the list.

9) Wildcat (are YOU going to tell him he’s NOT manly?)

Wildcat seems like a regular guy, too. Like Ben Grimm. Ben’s got the stogie and you could drink beer with him and he’d pay. He’s got the New York street kid gang thing going on. Test pilot. He’s approachable but too much like your uncle to make the list.

ULM: The manliest super-hero is Thundra. You know she has penis, but maybe you’d still date her for the story …

PAUL: Sorry, you need to have a Y chromosome to make the list.

Thundra is NOT amused!

OK, since this is going nowhere fast I’m going to just start putting names on the list. Like … Black Panther. So, so cool. African king. Many wives. Pimp style and for awhile he was a hip hop guy (maybe still is). Downside: Token Avenger.

8) T’Challa (but you can call him Black Panther)

If pimp style counts, then we have to consider Sub-Mariner. Goes to work in his underwear (and when he doesn’t he wears the Pimp Suit and pulls it off). Perpetually pissed off. Royal blood. Has a giant octopus for his wingman. Fought Nazis AND the Japanese. Attacked New York a bunch of times. Downsides — Shares many of Aquaman’s negatives, he’s a Pretty Boy, plus couldn’t steal Sue Storm from Rubberman and he’s a fish. And if being a fish or an animal knocks you out, then there goes Howard the Duck, who has a stogie and no pants, but there was definitely something happening with Bev.

And it’s apropos of nothing, but I think we have to include Thor. Divine hammer. Muscles out to here. Can drink the whole mead hall under the table, got the whole viking thing going on. Downside: Cute little wings on the helmet and talks funny. Pretty. But I thought the movie last year did a decent job of making Thor seem like a regular guy, that he wouldn’t cockblock you or make you feel like a sidekick. He’s got those Warriors Three always hanging around and they don’t seem any worse for it.

7) Thor (long hair, thees and thous, but still manly)

I guess Gods are in, while aliens are out. Any other edge cases I’m forgetting?

ULM: What about Black Bolt? He is the ultimate version of the tall silent type. Apart from the occasional tear slowly crawling down his cheek, he keeps his lips zipped and only opens his mouth to destroy ancient Kree cities.

PAUL: Not sure I’d pick him over someone like Orion of the New Gods. He’s heir to the throne of a deathgod. Bad dad issues. Messed-up face and wants to fight everyone. But all the New Gods are kind of sissified — not as bad as Seraphim, but still …

How about someone more down-to-earth. Like Luke Cage! First, he’s Luke Cage! Should have been played by Samuel L. Jackson, but now he’s too old. Defends the ghetto and has a steel chain for a belt. Curses by saying “Christmas!” Downside: Curses by saying Christmas!

6) Luke Cage (Christmas!)

Who am I missing?

TOM: Judge Dredd?

PAUL: Dredd definitely, completely forgot about him. He’d in the running for #1 if he had even one lady on his dance card. His one-dimensionality holds him back, if you consider being the fifth manliest superhero being held back. He wears that helmet to bed, you know. Not sure if that helps or hinders his case.

5) Judge Dredd (he is the Law … which means no time for the ladies)

And if ladies are part of the equation, then you have to give it up for … Iron Man. Fought the Commies, and he’s a merchant of death.

ULM: Iron Man. Heart condition. Drinks. Smokes. Womanizes. Builds cool shit in his garage. Drives fast cars. Hangs out with thunder gods, super-soldiers and Nick Fury. Most importantly, Tony Stark has man-servants like Happy Hogan to do his taxes and drive him around to bang super-models. C’mon — is this really a contest? Think about what Bruce Wayne does in his spare time — obsess about crime and train young men to be his “ward.” NO CONTEST.

PAUL: Yeah, but there are some drawbacks, especially as he compares to Batman. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are a push on the millionaire playboy thing, but Batman scores points for working without a net. How manly do you have to be to take on bad guys in what is essentially the battlesuit version of an F-15? Plus, Batman has the stubble while Tony has that pencil-thin mustache. And he can’t hold his booze.

Still:

4) Iron Man (manly enough for this room)

But technology only gets you so far. Guts counts for more than gears, and Wolverine gets points for the stogie, the hair, the tortured past, and the chip on his shoulder — more than enough to make up for the showtunes thing.

3) Wolverine (despite the Hugh Jackman thing)

Keep the stubble and the attitude, remove the Canadian thing, and add a whole bunch more women and you get …

2) Batman (despite the Val Kilmer thing)

Man points up for the gravelly voice and stubble (when Jim Lee draws him at least). Major playa with disposable starlets and supervillainesses like Cat Woman. Put a bun in the oven with Talia al Ghul, and probably Talia Shire too. No real powers. Loses points for hanging out with Robin.

manly pajamas

ULM: Really, all this stuff is just throwing you off the track. The real manliest man is JIMMY OLSEN. Yes, the alter ego of multiple super-heroes through the years including (but probably not limited to) Mr. Action, Giant Turtle Boy, Elastic Lad, Flamebird, Speed Demon, Insect Guy, Morbidly Obese guy, Gorilla, Viking guy, etc.

When not solving crimes in one of these guises, Jimmy has to always be on call and kowtow to a his “best friend,” a homoerotic alien fixated on a crazy woman desperately climbing the office ladder of a two-bit newspaper. Non-stop drama with no escape in sight. The fact that Jimmy Olsen is not swinging over a drain makes him, by far, the manliest super-hero in any universe.

PAUL: Sorry, Ulm, I’m not buying it. Maybe you could squeeze Jimmy in at number ten with that kind of logic but you missed your chance. We’re talking about numero uno now, and that means just one person …

1) Nick Fury (Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

He’s number one and it’s not even close. Eye patch. Stubble. Stogie. Actually IS played by Samuel L. Jackson. No super powers but he’s still The Boss. Pretty sure he nailed Madame Hydra and he had that tragic lost love in the old Sgt. Fury comics.

played by Samuel L. Jackson AND the Hoff? THAT’S Manly!

TOM: Also, Nick fury has the Infinity Formula so he will live forever.

Nick’s got a special kind of manliness. He fought Hitler, founded a secret agency, built a secret base that hovers in the air, he gets to boss around the superheroes despite having no actual powers, and he carries a gun, even when he’s on his giant secret hovercraft base. I’ll say it again: He bosses around the Avengers, and they like it.

PAUL: Damn right they like it. And you know why? Because Nick is MANLY, that’s why, manlier even than Giant-Sized Man Thing!

And that’s the list! Thanks to Tom and Ulm for their wise contributions (notwithstanding the whole Jimmy Olsen bit).

Agree, disagree …? Sound off in the comments, below!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #55 — The Amazing Spider-Man

LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS

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