It’s 60 years since Hank Pym was ‘The Man in the Ant Hill’, star of a one-off suspense short in Tales to Astonish #27. Either reader response was great or someone at Marvel saw potential, but plainclothes boffin Hank Pym soon returned… as a superhero.
It’s safe to say Hank has had his ups and downs since then, hopping from one heroic identity to another, but this four-issue series is concentrating on his original identity as Ant-Man. And the opener is huge fun as writer Al Ewing and artist Tom Reilly go super-retro with a Silver Age style story. The self-consciously Stan Lee narration is a delight, while the dialogue is a hoot.
The story sees Hank and lady love Janet Van Dyne – the Wonderful Wasp – trying to have a quiet night at the pics. Well, she’s into the movie, he’s being a bit of a stuffed shirt.
Throwing the popcorn is… well, let’s leave that a surprise, but it’s one of two cameos by future Marvel heroes (one more heroic than the other).
The annoying snack wastage does lead to a more serious confrontation as Hank finds himself kidnapped by a fistful of former foes – Trago, the man with the magic trumpet! The Time Master! The Protector! And, er…the Phony Window Washer! Together they are (wait for it!) The Ant-Agonists!
Of course, Hank’s not totally at their mercy, he has a secret weapon, his partner in crime-fighting.
Oh, I loved this. Al Ewing finds just the right tone for ‘Alone agains the Ant-Agonists!’, channeling the uncomplicated earnest fun of early Marvel series, never winking too much at the modern reader. The knowingness of Stan Lee, the campiness, is timeless, while the gimmick of old enemies ganging up on a hero always works. Hank and Jan are fun companions, while their ant pals help out in ways big and small. And the tie-in to Fantastic Four #9, in which the Sub-Mariner turned movie mogul, is genius.
Tom Reilly gives us a neat Don Heck homage, Jan and Hank are pretty much spot-on, while the likes of the Phoney Window Washer are equally on model.
And there’s a nice bit of Steve Ditko influence in the popcorn-tosser. The only panel I don’t like is a close up of a hand, and while I know Hands Are Hard, a professional comic artist should be able to manage something better than a deformed rubber glove.
The yellowed gutters add to the feel of an old comic, as does the unflashy colouring – it’s great work from Jordie Bellaire. Likewise, Cory Petit keeps the lettering basic, and the approach works wonderfully well.
But look at this.
A future-set sequence at the beginning of the book which is picked up again at the end. On the one hand, it does allow the creators to show their versatility; on the other, nah… I don’t want a future Ant-Man, I care not for the writing style of Marvel decades hence. I get that an overarching narrative thread is deemed necessary to persuade readers to buy every issue of this mini-series, but it doesn’t half take away from the olde worlde charm.
The cover by Reilly and Bellaire is a clever graphic idea, well executed, but oh for a shot of Hank, Jan and their ant steeds flying into battle against those fearsome(-ish) felons.
Still, I recommend this issue if you’re a fan of fun superheroics. If I may join Ewing in the awful pubs department, it’s ant-tastic!