Back Issues [Age of Ant-Man]: Tales to Astonish #44

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 Creature from Kosmos!”
5 March 1963 (cover-dated June 1963)
Writers: Stan Lee and H. E. Huntley
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
After featuring in the pages of Tales to Astonish #27, the legendary Stan Lee thought it would be fun to revisit the incredible shrinking man, Hank Pym, and recontextualise him as a size-changing superhero eight issues later. Ant-Man soon became the focal point of the Tales to Astonish publication and eventually help to found Marvel’s premiere superhero team, the Avengers, but he wasn’t alone in these endeavors. Created by Lee and H. E. Huntley, Janet van Dyne/The Wasp was only the second of Marvel’s female superheroes; fuelled by a need to avenge her father and a successful fashion designer in her own right (reflected in her many wardrobe changes), Janet became enamoured by Hank Pym (and seemingly every male hero in the Marvel universe) and, after years of will-they-won’t-they and petty spats, the two finally married in 1969. Life as a superhero and with Pym wasn’t easy for Janet; frequently depicted as some scatter-brained bimbo, Janet was forced to watch on helplessly as Pym rapidly switched between identities and created the deadly sentient murder machine Ultron, and was also infamously depicted as suffering physical abuse at Pym’s hands. Still, Janet made a bit of a mark in her own right over the years; she was the leader of the Avengers for a time, was believed dead for a short period, and an alternative version of her gave birth to a daughter, Hope, a supervillain known as the Red Queen. Although the character was unable to appear in the MCU’s first big crossover movie, the Wasp has featured in cameo roles in Marvel videogames and has shown up alongside Ant-Man in Marvel’s animated efforts; a brief cameo in Ant-Man (Reed, 2015) established that Pym (Michael Douglas) was devastated by her loss but he was overjoyed to be reunited with her in the sequel, where she was brought to life by veteran actor Michelle Pfeiffer.

The Review:
“The Creature from Kosmos!” (or: “Ant-Man and the wasp! Vs. The Creature from Kosmos!”) begins innocently enough in Dr. Hank Pym’s laboratory. By this point, Pym has fully embraced his role as Ant-Man; he’s got a snazzy form-fitting costume, has his Pym Particles (now in the form of gas pellets) built into his belt, and can control ants using a special cybernetic helmet that transmits “electronic-wave commands” to the insects. It’s not made clear exactly what Ant-Man is up to in the lab, and the first few panels seem to be there simply to give us some fun small-scale visuals to open the story. Whatever he was up to, Pym quickly grows to full size and broods over his lost love, Maria; I wasn’t aware of this until now, but Pym was previously married to a Hungarian immigrant and, when returning to Hungary for their honeymoon, Maria was abducted and killed to send a message to “those who attempt to escape from behind the Iron Curtain!” Grief-stricken and enraged, Pym took to the streets in a desperate bid to find those responsible and make them pay, only to end up in jail on the verge of a complete mental and physical breakdown. Filled with a burning desire to stamp out injustice, Pym threw himself into his work and the story retroactively states that his entire reasoning behind his shrinking serum and becoming Ant-Man was to make up for being unable to save Maria all those years ago. However, for all his scientific genius and passion, Pym despairs at how many times he’s cheated death and longs for a partner, someone to carry on his legacy should he fall in battle, and forgoes food and sleep working to equip this partner with the means to do so by studying the biology of wasps.

After losing his wife, Pym finds a kindred spirit (of sorts) in society girl Janet, who’s also suffered a loss.

Pym’s research is interrupted by the arrival of Doctor Vernon van Dyne, a fellow scientist who comes asking for Pym’s help with a Gamma ray beam he hopes to use to detect signs of life on other worlds. Pym, however, is not interested in the project since it’s a little outside of his field of expertise, and van Dyne leaves amicably enough, but Pym is left rattled by the startling resemble of van Dyne’s young daughter, Janet, to his lost Maria. Janet also feels an attraction towards Pym but dismisses him as another scientific bore and longs to connect with a more adventurous type of man. Van Dyne returns to his laboratory to try and boost his ray through his own method, but is stunned when an unspeakable, horrifying, malleable alien lifeform that is so monstrous to behold that van Dyne can scarcely lay his eyes on it. speaking through telepathy, the creature exposits that it is an outlaw from the planet Kosmos who was ostracised for trying to enslave its race. Having escaped along the path of van Dyne’s ray, the creature atomises the hapless scientist, leaving only smouldering remains for the heartbroken Janet, who had popped out for some revelry, to find. With no one else to turn to, Janet calls Pym for help but his dismisses her story as the ravings of a “bored society [playgirl]” and only springs into action as Ant-Man after news of van Dyne’s death reaches him from his network of ants across the city. Ant-Man catapults himself across the city using a pistol-like device that effectively allows him to travel vast distances much like Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk’s superhuman leaping, his landing safely cushioned by a gaggle of ants he commands to catch him. Rather than grow to full size to talk with Janet, Ant-Man remains shrunk down while he investigates van Dyne’s body and his wrecked machine, quickly coming to the conclusion (despite such things not being in his wheelhouse) that an alien lifeform was behind the grisly murder. Ant-Man is struck by Janet’s vow to avenge her father’s death, which has changed her demeanour (or, at least, his perception of her) from a “bored, flighty shell” to one of determination that only further reminds him of his beloved wife. After instructing Janet to call the federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), Ant-Man finds that his insectile companions are afraid of the alien since it secretes a mist containing traces of “formic acid” and is thus, apparently, analogous to an ant. Nevertheless, Ant-Man commands his ants to seek out the monstrous beast responsible for van Dyne’s death and returns to his laboratory to greet Janet in his civilian identity (since he told her to go to Pym after calling the F.B.I.).

Pym recruits Janet to help him defeat a horrifying alien, despite her inappropriate feelings towards him.

When Janet reaffirms that she is determined to hunt down her father’s killer, and to dedicate her life to the pursuit of all criminals, Pym is convinced that he’s finally found the partner he has longed for and reveals his duel identity to her, forcing her to swear to stand by him in the pursuit of justice as the Wasp. Pym radically implants synthetic cells below Janet’s skin tissue that all her to shrink to the size of a wasp and grow tiny wings and antennae to communicate with insects and furnishes her with a belt full of his special gas and a ridiculous costume to wear into battle. Janet is then forced to endure  atrial by fire as the ants report that the alien has been running amok through the city and is currently advancing towards the George Washington Bridge. Janet is so overjoyed by Pym’s generosity and the thrill of her new abilities that she blurts out a confession of love! Thankfully, I’m not the only that finds this incredibly shallow and inappropriate as Pym quickly rebukes her since she’s so much younger than him and he has no desire to fall in love again, but his thought balloons betray his harsh statements and Janet sees his rejection as a challenge to prove herself worthy of him. With the ants too afraid to directly oppose the creature, and the military’s full might useless against it, the Wasp throws herself at the alien in a bid to avenge her father and win Ant-Man’s affection, only to be captivated by the alien’s pheromones. After rescuing (and reprimanding) his headstrong new partner, Ant-Man stumbles upon a way to defeat the alien and rushes them back to his lab, where he whips up a chemical antidote to the monster’s formic acid, which he loads into the shells of a 12-gauge shotgun (!) to fire at the creature. With the alien rampaging through Wall Street, Ant-Man and the Wasp scurry on over with their weapon and give the creature both barrels, dispelling it and ending its threat once and for all. Both are so overjoyed at the result that they embrace and, while Ant-Man insists that such displays of emotion aren’t “proper”, the Wasp can’t help but see that he’s blushing beneath his helmet. The story ends with Pym elated to finally have a partner to fight crime alongside, and with Janet secretly vowing to make Pym realise that they’re meant to be and to fight by his side until they’re together as a loving couple.

The Summary:
Gee…well…where to start…? So, it was great to see a more familiar version of Ant-Man this time around. By this point, he’s firmly established himself as a costumed adventurer; he’s got the snazzy outfit, the fancy gadgets, and even a contact in the F.B.I. whom he liaises with. Ant-Man’s relationship with the ants is also far more amicable now thanks to his special helmet, which instantly translates his thoughts into commands for the ants and their “language” into English so he can easily get a lead on crimes and have a near-limitless communication network all across New York City. While his superhero career might be on the up, however, Hank Pym is given far more emotional depth through the tragic loss of his first great love and his desire to have a protégé to carry on his legacy. Heartbroken by Maria’s death, Pym his not interest in losing anyone ever again and is thus resistant to falling in love again; his only concern is opposing the forces of evil and stamping out criminal scum using his fantastic abilities and he simply wants a partner who will take up that mission should he fall in the line of duty.

I can’t decide which is worse, Pym and Janet’s unhealthy relationship of the forgettable alien villain.

He’s thus completely knocked for a loop when Janet enters his life and he’s instantly torn between her striking physical resemblance to Maria and her youth and perceived shortcomings. It’s only after the violent death of her father than Pym starts to see Janet differently; van Dyne’s death changes her, hardens her edge, and motivates her to not only avenge him but hunt down criminals everywhere much like Maria’s death motivated Pym, which makes it seem like they’re kindred spirits but actually is the beginning of a very toxic and unhealthy partnership. Pym is only interested in giving Janet the means to have her revenge when he sees her suffer a tragic loss; literally nothing else except her determination and likeness to Maria qualifies her to be his partner, yet he kits her out anyway and then admonishes her for flying head-first into battle without considering the consequences. Even worse, his need for a partner is so strong that he continues to let her tag along even after she randomly blurts out that she’s in love with him (despite dismissing him earlier) and continues to sweep her affections (and his own obvious attraction for her) under the rug in the hopes that they can focus on the greater good. It’s all very rushed, is what I’m getting at, and their relationship is off to a pretty bad start as Janet is only sticking around for the thrill of her new abilities and in the desperate hope to force Pym to admit her loves her, rather than actually following through on her promise to prove herself to him. The unnamed alien monster is thus pushed way to the background and sticks out like a sore thumb; it’s interesting that even the ants fear it and that it has all these vague, fear-inducing powers and appearances, but it doesn’t take much to dispatch it and I can’t help but feel like a more grounded threat, like gangsters or something, would’ve been better for the story. It seems like the alien’s simply there to “astonish” readers and be this visually alluring monster for the cover art and splash page as it seems completely out of place and overly fantastical for a story that’s trying to be this drama of love, loss, and legacy and ends up being this weird melting pot of manipulation and denial.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the Wasp’s debut story? Did knowing Hank Pym suffered such a tragic loss change your perception of his character? What did you think to his motivations in recruiting Janet van Dyne and her characterisation in this story? Do you agree that the strange alien monster was out of place here or did it make the story more appealing for you? What are some of your favourite Wasp stories and moment? Sign up to leave your thoughts on Ant-Man and the Wasp below, or drop a comment on my social media, and be sure to check back next Friday for more Ant-Man content!

7 thoughts on “Back Issues [Age of Ant-Man]: Tales to Astonish #44

  1. trippydaisy 19/02/2023 / 02:28

    Nice review as always


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