Back Issues [Age of Ant-Man]: Tales to Astonish #27

In 1961, Marvel Comics readers were introduced to Doctor Henry “Hank” Pym, discoverer of the “Pym Particles” and who would soon gain notoriety not just as Ant-Man, founding member of the Avengers, but also a deeply disturbed and volatile individual. Over the years, the Ant-Man mantle has been assumed by a variety of other would-be heroes, with Scott Lang being one of the most beloved thanks to Paul Rudd’s performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). With his third movie finally due out this month, this seems like a good time to revisit some of Ant-Man’s debut appearances.

Story Title: “The Man in the Ant Hill!”
28 September 1961 (cover-dated January 1962)
Writers: Stan Lee and Karry Lieber
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
Although Hank Pym debuted in this story, he wouldn’t actually assume the identity of Ant-Man until eight issues later; the story’s premise of a man being shrunk down and hounded by insects did so well that the legendary Stan Lee thought it would be fun to return to the character, now in a more traditionally superheroic guise, and he soon became the focal point of the Tales to Astonish publication, gaining an attractive female partner and eventually helping to found Marvel’s premiere superhero team, the Avengers. All-too-soon, Pym’s mental and emotional stability began to be questioned; he rapidly switched between identities, such as Giant-Man, Goliath, and the ridiculously-named Yellowjacket, created one of the Avenger’s deadliest enemies in the sentient murder machine Ultron, and gained infamy for being abusive and hostile towards his wife. For such an obscure Marvel character, Ant-Man has often been a pivotal component to some of Marvel’s biggest stories and has featured fairly prominently in their animated ventures, while other characters have also assumed Pym’s mantle, especially during his periods of instability or death. Although the character was unable to appear in the MCU’s first big crossover movie, Ant-Man finally came to the big screen in 2015, with veteran actor Michael Douglas portraying Hank Pym as a volatile and flawed mentor figure while Paul Rudd took on the Ant-Man identity as his successor, Scott Lang.

The Review:
“The Man in the Ant Hill” doesn’t waste any time and begins with Dr. Hank Pym marvelling at the success of his mysterious chemical serum (now widely known as Pym Particles) which can shrink and grow any object at will. Pym marvels at his success and bitterly thinks back to how he was mocked and ridiculed by his peers in the scientific community, who saw his methods as little more than flights of fancy that distracted from more practical and realistic projects. Undeterred and resentful of their scorn, Pym refused to deviate from “things that appeal to [his] imagination” and vowed to show them up by becoming the greatest scientist ever with his incredible serum, which he believes will be a “boon […] for mankind” as any object, from food to even armies,  could be reduced in size to save on shipping costs and for rapid transport of vast quantities. So proud of his crowning glory is Pym that he doesn’t waste any time and jumps straight into human trials, dousing himself with his shrinking serum, but his elation quickly turns to horror as he realises that he’s shrinking too small too fast…and that he has no way of returning to normal!

Pym recklessly reduces himself in stature and narrowly escapes become dinner for some ants!

Reduced to the size of less than an ant and stumbling into the garden outside of his laboratory in a frantic state, Pym is further horrified when he’s spotted by an army of ants and chased into their vast network of dirt tunnels. Stuck in a pool of sticky honey, Pym faces certain death but is unexpectedly freed by an ant, only to be faced with a hoard of hungry insects eager to eat him up! Luckily for the misguided scientist, a lone matchstick sits in the cave and, with a well-timed throw of a rock-sized pebble, Pym is able to light a fire to keep his pursuers at bay. As he scrambles to safety using a make-shift lasso (which appears out of nowhere and with no explanation), Pym is attacked by another ant, which clamps him in its vice-like pincers. Thankfully, Pym has learned “the art of judo” and handily tosses the ant aside but, by the time he finally gets out of the dirt tunnel, he’s far too weal to climb up to his enlarging serum, much less fend off the ants. Luckily for him, the friendly ant carries him up to the window ledge and he leaps into the test tube, growing to full size once more. Relieved and elated to be normal again, Pym immediately dumps his serum down the drain, realising that it’s far too dangerous to be used ever again, and humbly agrees to turn his attentions to more practical projects in the future, leaving him to ponder the fate of that random ant that saved his life.

The Summary:
“The Man in the Ant Hill” is an exceptionally brief cautionary tale on the dangers of science and the foolish recklessness of man. Pym has very little characterisation beyond being a bit of an egomaniac; he’s ridiculed by his peers for his wild theories and so desperate to prove them wrong that he develops a serum that he fully believes will benefit the world for good, but doesn’t bother to test its success beyond the first few trials and thoughtlessly douses himself in it without a second’s hesitation. Shrunk to a fraction of his size, Pym doesn’t even allow his scientific reasoning or logic to keep him inside his laboratory, where his only hope of salvation lies, and stumbles outside where he’s easy prey to the ants that life in his garden.

A bizarre story full of conveniences and clichés about the dangers of scientific curiosity.

The artwork is simple and inoffensive; there’s a decent sense of scale at work here and  Pym is constantly portrayed as being smaller and weaker than the insects that hound him (at least until he’s actually caught by one, and then he’s somehow able to overpower it simply because the script says so and “judo”). Where the story falls apart for me, though, is in the random instance of one helpful ant; why is this one helping him when all the others want his blood? How did it understand that he wanted to be carried up to his window ledge? It’s awfully convenient to the story, for sure; about as convenient as a matchstick randomly being down in the tunnel and Pym’s uncanny throwing accuracy, but it’s a convenience that probably has to happen to allow Pym to safely return to full size and learn a valuable lesson in humility. Overall, it’s not a story that’s really going to blow your socks off with innovative art or complex themes; Pym suffers for his ignorance and arrogance as all reckless scientists must and the twist of an ant-sized man is fun, but it’s very much a product of its time and easily forgotten in the grand scheme of Ant-Man stories.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Ant-Man’s first tentative appearance in Marvel Comics? Did Hank Pym’s plight strike a chord with you or were you unimpressed by his recklessness and stupidity? Why do you think that one ant helped him out? What are some of your favourite Ant-Man stories and moments, and who is your favourite Ant-Man? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Ant-Man below, or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back next Friday for more Ant-Man content!

4 thoughts on “Back Issues [Age of Ant-Man]: Tales to Astonish #27

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