Tales to Astonish #44
November 10, 2014
Shouldn't this be Tales to ANTstonish?
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall where bad comics burn, and welcome back, my friends to Secret Origins Month.
("Secret Origins Month" title is shown)
Linkara: Last year, we talked about the first story of Hank Pym, who would go on to become the superhero Ant-Man. This year, let's talk about his partner, sometimes wife, and founding Avengers member, Janet Van Dyne.
(A montage of shots of Van Dyne, AKA the Wasp, are shown)
Linkara (v/o): Frustratingly, I've been unable to unearth any interviews that actually explain why Janet was created. Ant-Man, we know the reasoning behind: "Tales to Astonish #27" had been a bestseller for Marvel at the time, so Stan Lee decided to bring Hank Pym back as an ongoing superhero. The Wasp, however? Can't find the reasoning behind her character's creation. I don't know, maybe it was an attempt to appeal to girls... (low voice) back in the days when comics actually recognized that both boys and girls were reading them. (normal again) Maybe it was just to give Hank Pym a confidante who could also join in on the action. Maybe it was just a "Eh, why not" kind of thing. Whatever the reason, the Wasp is a popular Avenger in her own right, with many fans decrying her lack of inclusions in the Avengers films, despite the awesomeness of Black Widow.
Linkara: But let's just see how she got her start by digging into "Tales to Astonish #44" and the first appearance of the Wasp.
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has "Maria" by Blondie playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Our cover is okay, naturally filled with text boxes, because this is the Silver Age, and the idea of not having text on your cover during the Silver Age is like having a Golden Age character who doesn't toss a car around or a modern age character who wears normal clothes instead of a friggin' superhero costume. Ant-Man and the Wasp are being grabbed at by this giant living pile of green mashed potatoes, and the Wasp is carrying Ant-Man away to safety.
Text: ANT-MAN and the WASP battle "The Creature from KOSMOS"!!
Linkara (v/o): Double exclamation points because one wasn't enough and three is just overkill. Also, "Kosmos" spelled with a K.
Because Poor Literacy Is... KEWL... which is very strange to see in this time period.
Linkara (v/o): Or maybe "Kosmos" is the name of its planet, which must be very confusing for the poor people in this world when we refer to the universe by that name.
Text: MEET THE FLYING WASP...
Linkara: (confused) The flying white Anglo-Saxon Protestant?
Text: ...ANT-MAN'S GORGEOUS...
Linkara (v/o): Unnecessary comma...
Text: ...NEW PARTNER-IN-PERIL!
Linkara (v/o): Actually, I do kind of like the unnecessary comma, since making that a phrase in itself implies that the cover text is saying that Ant-Man is gorgeous. And who couldn't love a man whose spine twists him into a D-shape?
Text: A DOUBLE-LENGTH ANT-MAN SUPER EPIC!
Linkara: Double-length in those days actually being eighteen pages, so still less than the modern length of a comic book. And yet probably containing more story than one.
Linkara (v/o): So, let's talk about the Wasp's costume, which is... ehhh? The funny thing about the Wasp is that she actually rotates through lots of costumes later on, making it a regular fashion thing for her to not have a single iconic outfit. I have two problems with this outfit. One, the red-and-black are not particularly wasp-like. That should be yellow. Two, the hat or helmet or however you want to call it. It just looks... silly. I mean, superhero costumes already are kind of silly, but the headgear pushes it over the edge: the headphones on the side, the pointy top, the antennae that make her look like the Great Gazoo, it's just goofy. Otherwise, I do like the overall design, and the W in her collar is integrated well, and she's actually fully covered. Although, I can't help but notice that some of the curves are... poorly placed. I'm sure it's not the intention, but her right breast, with that line on the side, appears to be as large as her head. And I'm pretty sure that wasn't a regular thing in comics in the '60s.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open with the standard issue splash page to set the tone and tease us before we actually start the story.
Linkara: So already, the first page in our (makes "air quotes") "double-length super epic" is redundant.
Linkara (v/o): And it seems the cover was lying a bit in regards to Janet's costume, since now it has bits of blue all over, like blue gloves, blue leggings, a blue W... I guess to match the Ant-Man costume, although at this point, I'm actually more wondering what the hell she's doing in that pose. (...which is reaching her arms out awkwardly while leaning to the side)
Linkara: (imitating her pose) I feel like I should be playing the MST3K "falling at a 60-degree clip", but that might actually be what's happening here with how weird this looks.
Narrator: Throughout history there have been men who have become legends...
Linkara: (as narrator) Like Robert C. Baker, who invented the chicken nugget.
Narrator: ...men who have possessed powers beyond mortal ken...
Linkara: I don't think normal people can shoot hadoukens like Ken.
Linkara (v/o): No, but seriously, was that a typo, and they meant "mortal men"? Or is that just a really old expression?
Narrator: ...so that, in time, those men have become superheroes who thrill the entire world!
Narrator: We are about to tell you of such a man, the scientist known to the world as Henry Pym, but, known to you as the astonishing Ant-Man!
Linkara: (as narrator) Known to his neighbors as (makes "air quotes") "that guy who's bringing down the property value"!
Linkara (v/o): The comic also promises Hank Pym's backstory beyond what we've already seen in the comics, as well as the addition of the Wasp.
Narrator: Come with us now, as Ant-Man and the Wasp battle the unhuman thing from beyond space and time... THE CREATURE FROM KOSMOS!
Linkara: Ugh! These two are so bigoted towards immigrants!
Linkara (v/o): We truly open in Henry Pym's laboratory. Turns out, in the intervening time we last saw him, he's used his helmet to enslave a bunch of ants to do his bidding.
Narrator: Through his cybernetic helmet the tiny man sends electronic-wave commands to his hymenoptera companions... and the ants far away!
Linkara: (as narrator) The ants far away are in the process of cleaning his house. They should be done in the next 28 years.
Linkara (v/o): He grows back to normal size and collapses in a chair.
Narrator: He is tired... so very tired! If only he had help... human help!
Linkara: (as narrator) He tried getting ant help, but they just recommended he nibble on some stale bread crumbs.
Linkara (v/o): We get a flashback that explains the true backstory of Henry Pym. He was married to a woman named Maria, whose father was a scientist. The two had escaped from Communist Hungary. Naturally, she thought it would be a good idea to spend their honeymoon back in the place where she had escaped. You can guess how well this plan goes.
Pym: Y'know, darling, this honeymoon is the first vacation I've taken in years! Now I feel as though I never want to work again... just spend every moment of my life with you!
Maria: Ha! You are becoming a lazy husband! My father always used to say, Go to the ants, thou dullard!"
Linkara: (as Maria) My father had weird expressions and spoke in "thees" and "thous", despite this being the twentieth century.
Pym: Here's a taxi to take us to the hotel! And perhaps you are right! No one will know you were once Maria Trovaya now that you are Mrs. Henry Pym!
Linkara: (as Pym, shouting) LET'S KEEP SHOUTING THAT IN THE STREETS OF THE COUNTRY THAT JUST RECENTLY HAD THOUSANDS OF POLITICAL PRISONERS!
Linkara (v/o): Naturally, their idiocy resulted in Maria getting taken by armed goons and Pym knocked unconscious. An hour later, at the American Embassy, he gets word that both Maria and her father were murdered as a warning for anyone attempting to flee from behind the Iron Curtain.
Pym: Maria... dead? No! She... She was so young, so beautiful, so wonderful!
Linkara: (as Pym) And our honeymoon suite at the hotel is nonrefundable!
Linkara (v/o): Pym swears vengeance upon her killers, but of course, within a few days, he hasn't found anyone and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But with Hank Pym, that's kind of a regular thing. He doesn't take stress well, is what I'm saying. He's sent back to America by the officials and considers what to do next.
Pym: (thinking) She said something... Maria said something, but I can't remember!
Linkara: (as Pym, sadly) Maria, you moved like you don't care! Smooth as silk! Cool as air! Ahh! It makes me want to cry!
Pym: I remember what she said... "Go to the ants, thou sluggard!"
Linkara: Actually, she said, "Thou dullard," but you were hit on the head.
Pym: Yes, she was right! I sit here doing nothing while throughout the world, criminals prowl, injustice is rampant, tyranny tramples the underdog!
Linkara (v/o): You know, I could've sworn this whole thing was just about giving the middle finger to a bunch of disbelieving guys at a science convention.
Linkara: (spreads arms out) Retcons: a superhero tradition even back then!
Pym: So I will strike back at all of it, wherever rottenness exists!
Linkara: (as Pym) I will invent Tilex removal spray!
Narrator: And so, alone, he threw himself into his work, driving always to keep the painful past from his mind, a man possessed, a man pushed beyond the limits of scientific reason by memories...
Linkara: (uncomfortably) We're still talking about the hero, right?
Pym: It works... The reducing gas works! Living cells can be reduced in size by chemical means... and my growth gas will enlarge them again...
Linkara: (as Pym) Even though it was a liquid in the first story! (beat) Man, I really was hit on the head hard, wasn't I?
Pym: Yes... I became the Ant-Man and developed clothing of unstable molecules to wear...
(Cut to the obligatory shot of the Hitler Clones in "Superman At Earth's End")
Hitler Clone: Of course. Don't you know anything about science?
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Unstable molecules, as you read comics, are pretty much the go-to of the Marvel Universe to explain away a bunch of crap, mostly related to costumes. Anyway, Pym says that too often, he comes close to defeat, and he needs a partner to help things out, but doesn't know who to trust with his secret identity. A few weeks later, a guy arrives at his door.
Man: Ah, you are Henry Pym! I am Dr. Vernon Van Dyne! You are quite famous, Mr. Pym!
Linkara: (as Dr. Van Dyne) Tilex has really taken you places!
Dr. Van Dyne: So I have come to visit, for we are both scientists and perhaps have much in common!
Linkara: (as Dr. Van Dyne) My life was also destroyed by Communists, and I decided to become an insect-themed superhero.
Linkara (v/o): Naturally, he brought along his daughter, Janet.
Pym: (thinking) She... She looks somewhat like Maria!
Linkara (v/o): Yeah, in that they're both women, I guess. Otherwise, they look nothing alike. Vernon says he's working on a new method of using multimodal reflection sorting to detect alien transmissions, but in a rare event in fiction, Pym turns him down because his scientific field is different from Vernon's. Vernon says he does need his particular expertise, but then decides to leave when he notices that Hank clearly does not care. While Pym goes back to work with his network of ants who supply him with information about things happening – I am not kidding; his informants are ants scattered throughout the city – Vernon continues his experiment in a high-rise laboratory, no doubt located next to Dr. Sivana's radio-silencer. Janet decides to head out.
Janet: Daddy, I'm going out... someplace where there is music and laughter and gaiety!
Linkara: (as Dr. Van Dyne, waving) Have fun at Chuck E. Cheese, honey!
Linkara (v/o): After Janet has stepped out, Vernon uses his cosmic thingy to spot something coming towards him, vast and shapeless, until he's blasted back by pink energy!
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers)
Zordon: Too much pink energy is dangerous!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): And indeed, the creature from the cover has appeared before him.
Narrator: A creature so unearthly that it is almost more than human eyes can bear!
Linkara: (as narrator) But we're gonna draw it for you anyway, because the comic would be boring otherwise.
Narrator: Malleable, a viscous flowing, a presence that fills the room, conscienceless, hostility emanating from it like a cloud of snakes...
Linkara: (as narrator) But enough about its OkCupid profile...
Narrator: ...the thing answers in a slithering voice that is no voice, that is a touching of the human brain with waves of meaning!
Linkara (v/o): For the record, everything starting from "malleable" was all one sentence. Try to diagram that one, and you'll be consumed by Lovecraftian madness.
Creature: I am from the planet Kosmos, deep in space!
Linkara: As opposed to the planet Kosmos, deep in the heart of Brainerd, Minnesota.
Creature: We of Kosmos are a fluid form of life! I escaped down the path of your ray to this, your planet!
Linkara: (as creature) Being fluid, we are capable of traveling down light rays. (looks up in thought)
Linkara (v/o): So, Jabba the Kosmos explains that he's an escaped criminal who failed in trying to enslave his people. He destroys the machine and kills Vernon by... uh... making Vernon look at it. I am not joking. This thing is a Lovecraftian monster. Later, Janet returns home to find her dead father, and naturally, instead of calling the police, she calls Hank Pym, the guy she met for five minutes. Pym doesn't believe her, thinking that she's just a "bored society playgirl".
Linkara: It's Hank Pym's ability to listen to women that made him such an appealing man to Maria.
Linkara (v/o): But then he gets confirmation from the ants that Vernon is indeed dead. And he gets that transmission via that headset.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching The Undead)
Mike: (as Pendragon, who dresses as a knight) There, sure glad I don't look stupid in this.
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): And then he decides this is a job for Ant-Man and shrinks down in the costume.
Ant-Man: It's a mission for... Ant-Man!
Linkara: (as Ant-Man) It should only take me three weeks to get there if I hurry!
Linkara (v/o): Oh, no, because get this: he has a tiny cannon that he launches himself out of that shoots him at enough power to send him FLYING ACROSS TOWN and land on a bunch of ants that he summoned to act as a soft landing spot.
Linkara: Ants: nature's pillows!
(Cut to a clip of Look Around You)
Narrator: Thanks, ants. Thants.
(Back to the comic again)
Ant-Man: Hello! I'm Ant-Man! Perhaps you've heard of me!
Linkara: (as Janet, putting his hand to his ear, yelling) WHAT? I-I CAN'T HEAR YOU NOW! WHAT?
Janet: I have heard of you but... I thought you were only a myth!
Linkara: (as Janet) As such, I'm really taking this well, especially in light of my dead father and all.
Linkara (v/o): Ant-Man investigates the area, wondering what could have smashed all the machines. In addition, Janet states that she loved her father, thought he was the finest man on Earth, and swears to avenge him.
Ant-Man: (thinking) This is so like Maria...
Linkara: (as Ant-Man) Maria swore swift and terrible vengeance upon things all the time!
Linkara (v/o): She also talks about how she suspects his death was linked to his attempt to find life on other planets.
Ant-Man: (thinking) She's changed! The bored flighty shell she wore is gone!
Linkara: Literally the only words you heard from her before were (makes "air quotes") "How do you do, Dr. Pym?" and "Let's go, Daddy!" How exactly did you come to the conclusion she had a "bored, flighty shell"?
Linkara (v/o): Ant-Man instructs Janet to call his contact in the FBI and then to go to Hank Pym's laboratory. In the meantime, he notices that his army of ants has withdrawn and asks them what the deal is.
Ant: The creature that was in there... The mist it left... It contains traces of formic acid! It must be kin to us, the ants, for we secrete formic acid, too!
Linkara: Thank you, Professor Cliquey of the Ant Biochemistry Division.
Ant: But, it is alien and we are afraid!
Linkara: (as ant) Also, our speech and emotions are easily translatable for you. That's a thing, apparently.
Linkara (v/o): Using the fastest mode of transportation available to him, an ant, Hank Pym returns to his lab to wait for Janet. She arrives and Hank meets her at the door.
Pym: And I know you want to avenge his death! Are you really serious? Would you risk anything for justice? I must know!
Linkara: I would have opened with ("air quotes") "hello" and some condolences for her dead father, but hey, revenge pact; that works, too.
Janet: I meant what I said! I shall dedicate my life to finding his murderer! Coming here, I had time to think! I wish I could track down all the criminals, the human wolves who prey on honest people!
Linkara: Decisions made in the heat of grief and loss – (holds up index finger) that's when you know you're making good choices.
Linkara (v/o): Pym reveals his identity as Ant-Man to her and says she can use the same stuff he uses to turn her into a superhero, too: The Wasp!
Ant-Man: I can give you wings, antennae, I can make you a human wasp!
(Cut to the title for the movie The Wasp Woman, then cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): She agrees to this so she can avenge her father's death. And thus, it's time for some superhero-making.
Ant-Man: Do you see those synthetic cells in the microscopic field? They are specialized cells! I can implant them below your skin tissue! It will leave no scar, but when you are reduced to the size of a wasp you will grow wings and tiny antennae!
(Cut to Dr. Insano doing an ad for an Anti-Magic Field Generator)
Dr. Insano: How does it work, you may asking? How? With science, of course!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Janet is placed in this yellow Speed Racer-looking outfit as she undergoes the procedure, though all I can notice is the Jack Kirby artwork in the device, with wavy lines and circles. It's a really cool-looking mad science thing.
Linkara: I think this comic missed a golden opportunity to be named ("air quotes") "Bride of Ant-Man".
Linkara (v/o): Nearby, the creature from Kosmos has begun a rampage on the city, and Pym's ant network informs him of the attack.
Pym: Janet, in the closet is a costume woven from unstable molecules that will expand and shrink as you do!
Linkara: (as Janet) Why did you have that already? (as Pym) Look, I'll be honest with you: I have unique tastes, and I know a lot of prostitutes.
Linkara (v/o): While Janet gets dressed in the costume, Pym gets word that the monster is indeed responsible for her father's death, along with video footage of the monster heading toward the George Washington Bridge.
Linkara: Don't worry, it just wants to watch the latest repeat of Spider-Man's girlfriend or wife falling off the bridge and Spidey having to catch her to make up for Gwen Stacy's death.
Linkara (v/o): The final piece of the Wasp costume is the belt, which has two cylinders on it. One contains the shrinking gas and the other the growth restorer. After they shrink down – because being even smaller against the giant monster makes perfect sense – Pym explains how her antennae will help her translate the insect world into speech she can understand. From there, they fly out to confront the monster.
Wasp: Ant-Man... I think you're wonderful! I want you to know, in case this creature kills us, as it did my father, I-I'm falling in love with you!
Linkara: (incredulously) You have known him for less than a single DAY! You're giving romance comics a run for their money in how quick and contrived this relationship is!
Linkara (v/o): Pym, however, has a different reason for telling her not to say that.
Ant-Man: You're only a child!
Linkara: Yes, a mere child of... twentysomething. (shrugs in confusion)
Linkara (v/o): Really, it's how he doesn't want to lose another loved one, but now he's pissed off Janet with the "child" remark, and she intends to prove herself. They meet up with the ants who want to help, but sadly, something is repelling them from the creature. Nearby, the military is attacking the Kosmos creature – and somehow, its Lovecraftian kill-you-if-you-look-at-it power is no longer working – but nothing seems to hurt it. The Wasp briefly charges at it, compelled towards it, but Ant-Man pulls her back. They retreat back to the lab, since he's got an idea. The creature is actually made up of formic acid entirely, so he'll use a counter-chemical to destroy it. Oh, and they keep saying to not look at it, as if that will kill them, too, except clearly, tons of people have looked at the thing by now without negative repercussions. The counteragent is loaded into a rifle and its shells... with the ants carrying them towards the creature. And I know I keep harping on this, but ANTS MOVE REALLY SLOWLY!! HALF OF NEW YORK IS RUBBLE NOW INSTEAD OF YOU GUYS DRIVING OUT THERE AND THEN SHRINKING! Speaking of, Ant-Man insists on staying shrunken while they load the rifle and fire it at the Kosmos creature, because both of them are kind of idiots at this point. However, it works and the creature fades away. And so, our hero bravely kills a sapient being.
Linkara: (holds up hands) I know, I know, it was an evil creature intent on enslaving and killing us. I just find it very amusing that (holds up two fingers) two weeks in a row now, the heroes are very casual about killing living, thinking beings.
Linkara (v/o): The two celebrate, though Ant-Man quickly recomposes himself, since he's supposed to be (dramatically) Stoic Scientist Man and all. (normal) Because fiction is under this really stupid impression that scientists don't feel emotions.
(Cut to a shot of "The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research")
Linkara (v/o): Or ethics, if "The Thing From Another World: Questionable Research" is to be believed. And it shouldn't be, given all the ethical oversight in professional scientific research.
(Cut back to the Ant-Man comic)
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, the day is saved, and our story ends with the Wasp promising to stay with Hank, and eventually she'll make him realize he loves her.
Linkara: And then he'll have another mental breakdown and hit you, which will forever taint the character's reputation. Anyway, despite my snark, this is actually pretty good.
Linkara (v/o): Let's get the negatives out of the way first. Janet falling in love with Hank Pym is less than is stupid and out of left field. Pym's assumptions about Janet are also completely idiotic when he knows absolutely nothing about her or her likewise to him. However, the bigger problem with this story is that for her introduction, the Wasp doesn't actually contribute much to the defeat of the creature. It seems like she should be the one to at least come up with the idea of how to beat it. Otherwise, she's just a tiny lady helping Hank Pym load a rifle. However, there are still really good positives. The story itself is suitably epic in its scope, requiring some intelligence instead of just brute force to stop the monster. The Wasp's origin establishes her in a simple manner, but shows she's not a jerk or insufferable and wanting to go into superheroing out of a desire for justice. Really, her origin's no different from Batman, except only one parent and involving an alien acid monster. Hell, it matches up even more if she really is a child. The retcon to Pym's backstory is kind of weird, but not actually contradicting anything in his first story, though I do have to laugh about him having a dead wife when Marvel didn't want to have Peter Parker be a widower or divorced out of fear of "aging the character later". Overall, a flawed but enjoyable first outing for Janet Van Dyne, who has had her own fair share of awesome adventures later as a superheroine.
(End credits roll)
Wanted to make a joke about the "Maria" connection and mistaken identity in regards to Silent Hill 2, buuut couldn't make it work.
Got to love how they took the time to fly out to the creature... and then immediately turned around and went back to the lab.
(Stinger: A panel showing Hank Pym talking on the phone to the FBI is shown)
Voice on phone [Kearns]: Ant-Man, listen... I want to meet you, talk to you! We're both fighting the same things! We can help each other! Look, you can't keep going it alone...
Pym: I'm not going it alone, Kearns... not anymore...
Linkara: (as Pym) And we can't have (holds up three fingers) three people fighting together! Next, you'll be suggesting some kind of... avenging superhero team, and who the hell would be interested in that?