Tuesday, February 28, 2017

For Ant-Man, Two Letters Make a BIG Difference

Hank Pym was able to become a whole new superhero just by adding two letters to his name.
In Tales to Astonish 49 (Nov. 1963), his 15th adventure, Ant-Man became Giant-Man. I remember enjoying the story by writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Don Heck at the time. The switch seemed to give the character a whole new range of powers and possibilities, and firmly differentiate from DC’s Atom, who was busy battling a tiny phantom double that month.
The story opens with a literal bang — Pym, experimenting with increasing his size, has burst through the walls of his Cape Cod house on the New Jersey Palisades overlooking the Hudson River, and must feebly ask his panicked gardener for help.
While Pym learns to control his new powers with the aid of the Wasp, a menace arises from a desk at the Marvel bullpen. Like Paste Pot Pete, the Eraser would seem to have been inspired by artist tools. He’s a green alien invader who “erases” scientists into another dimension, and the effect is made more intriguing and striking by one of Jack Kirby’s signature multi-panel progressions.
Fighting to rescue the victims, Giant-Man exults in his new powers, leaping from one futuristic rooftop to another, manhandling a half-dozen alien troops at once and tearing apart a ray-gun emplacement while sneering that it’s a “toy.”
Giant-Man’s next few adventures provided a fresh angle on super-heroics by suggesting, logically, that super powers might involve a learning curve. Pym proves awkward with abilities that are the opposite of the ones he had mastered as Ant-Man. He finds himself unable, for example, to defeat the mutant Human Top in repeated battles.
Yet the character somehow never achieved the dramatic potential suggested in that debut, and in Tales to Astonish 70 (August 1965), his feature was replaced by the Sub-Mariner’s, which I never much cared for. Despite his status as a milestone hero of comics’ Golden Age, Prince Namor in the 1960s seemed reduced to a tedious single note of haughtiness.
Ant-Man’s expansion would have one distant, happy echo. Fifty-three years later, the surprise transition from Ant-Man to Giant-Man would delight film audiences in Captain America: Civil War ($1.153 billion at the box office).

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