Ant-Man #1 review

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.

Don Heck art from Tales to Astonish #41, and Tom Reilly/Jordie Bellaire homage from Ant-Man #1

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!

10 thoughts on “Ant-Man #1 review

  1. This is Ewing so the other Ant-man shouldn’t be a problem. I might dislike the premise of his Defenders, but remember the time tossed heroes against in a set of annuals or the AIMvengers? None of those possible future characters introduced have derailed present shenanigans.

    I do hope this mini somehow restores both Eric and Hank to flesh eventually, gives Scott his IQ back, and dials Eric back from psychopath to dick. Maybe it’ll also give fans and fans turned wirters something else to focus on besides The Slap. (Which Shooter can claim was artistic communication but has never explained his issues of Hank being classic abusive husband) Not even Busiek and Slott’s best efforts have done that so probably not.

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    1. I quickLy gave up on Al Ewing’s Defenders, and made it to issue 25 of Immortal Hulk… to many of his scripts seem influenced by Seventies concept albums. And Marvel future and alternate worlds just don’t work for me. But if there’s something brilliant I’ve missed…

      Excellent list of hopes for future issues, it would be nice were Marvel to celebrate the anniversary by being kind to the legacy.

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  2. Hank Pym is really a textbook example of what Grant Morrison did during his “Animal Man” run — show how characters are at the whims of creators who will pick and choose the continuity they want for their stories/suddenly decide to put characters through hell for “drama.” I understand that, looking back on his history, the ground work for Pym being “troubled” was maybe inadvertently laid in the Silver Age with all of his ID/costume switches and the creation of Ultron. And given he’s a Marvel character, such flaws work/make sense. BUT the “Shooter slap” was literally 41 years ago. Since then great talents like Englehart, Busiek and Slott have all in various ways rehabbed Pym, restored him as a hero, had him struggle with/make peace with his mistakes and also make piece with his wife, the Wasp. But some writers/fans just want to pretend none of that happened. Hoping Ewing is not one of those.

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    1. The problem is that Pym has very few truly iconic stories. I’d say Ultron brainwashing him to defeat the Avengers, The Slap, and Ultron destroying a country are it. Hard to move past that.

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    2. Me too, as our blog chums are pointing out, he’s been rehabilitated a fair few times, let’s just move on. I’d like to see Hank and Jan as the (classic) Ralph and Sue of the Marvel Universe, a fun-loving, happy couple out superheroing.

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      1. I have an idea to use continuity to undo The Slap. I also have to admit Scientific Adveturer should be Iconic Moment #4. The Ultron Unleshed I consider an Iconic Moment, not baggage. Honestly, the best way to stop people from going back to Nutty Hank or The Slap is to keep him in print with heroic actions. The Hank-Ultron merger was a step backward and honestly the story was not very good either.

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  3. When I began collecting comics back in the 1980s, Engelhart’s West Coast Avengers was one of my first series. His handling of Pym – having him contemplate suicide, then establish a new, costume-less heroic persona (Dr. Pym) – I’d argue was pretty iconic and a great way to “heal” the character and clear the decks for future use by other creators. Also, the Ultron storyline you refer to by Busiek wasn’t intended to be yet more baggage for the character to “move past.” It was Busiek’s way of having Pym confront, defeat and move beyond Ultron. This being comics of course future writers couldn’t leave well enough alone. But Busiek during his run on The Avengers was clearly intent on bolstering Pym’s status as a hero and leaving him in that position, not finding other ways to damage/complicate the character.

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    1. Busiek certainly tried. I was also fond of Dan Slott’s attempts to cement a new role for Hank as Scientist Supreme of the Marvel Universe. It probably wasn’t sustainable long term, but it should have gone on awhile longer.

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  4. But to your point about iconic stories, maybe the fact that Hank Pym has never been as popular as Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk and other major Marvel characters is the issue. All of those characters have had highs and lows, but they have decades worth of stories that fans – and creators – can pick and choose from. I mean, I’d argue the Hulk/Bruce Banner is guilty of some pretty bad stuff, but given there are so many Hulk comics/stories out there, the negative ones never seem to stick. Same with Iron Man, who launched the Civil War, got Captain America killed and contributed to the Skrull Invasion. It’s just easier for fans/creators to “move on.” But Pym has not carried his own ongoing since the Silver Age. So the negative stories from his appearances in The Avengers or elsewhere just stick to him more.

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    1. That makes sense, Brian. I do wonder why Hank’s Tales to Astonish strip never took off, especially once Jan was his partner. Sure, the stories could be low stakes, but they were quirky fun.

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