Saturday, April 24, 2010

49: Tales to Astonish #43

Tales to Astonish #43
February 5, 1963

  • After signing off from his monthly duties on the Human Torch and Thor, we have here Larry Lieber's last regular story for Ant-Man as well. And, much as I dislike saying it, we won't really miss him. I do feel bad ragging on the guy, as his scripting abilities aren't terrible. But neither are they anything special, or what you would actually call good. Certainly he suffers unfairly in comparison to his brother Stan Lee, who has the ability to convey a complexity of character with just a few choice words. Larry, however, never seemed to pick up on this ability for nuance - the main innovation, it could be argued, which made the Marvel books different from everything else on the stands.

  • But, surprisingly, he does at least leave us with a fairly clever twist. After Ant-Man is stricken with an aging ray that leaves him a frail, elderly man, he is then deposited in an empty flower pot: a simple prison out of which he could easily climb under normal circumstances, now unscalable due to his aged muscles. However, it's pointed out that no one actually realizes Ant-Man is a normal-sized man who can shrink down and then re-enlarge, rather than a superhero who is simply tiny all the time; as a result, he's able to simply use his enlarging gas to return himself to normal size and escape. It's a surprisingly inventive use of noticing the reader's natural assumption - that everyone else in the story knows what we know - and effectively subverting it.

  • Most interesting about this issue, however, is the theme of ageism. Elias Weems is initially shown to be a pleasant, hard-working scientist, eagerly awaiting a visit from the grandson who looks up to him. He suffers a shock, though, when he is summarily fired from his job as part of the company's blanket disdain for elderly workers; they're now only interested in employing young, fresh minds. His response of declaring war on the world and aging everyone else to infirmity may be typically melodramatic, but the theme is still poignant, and makes for a somewhat more sympathetic villain than we're used to seeing. The last two decades have seen the society-wide idolization of youth surge forward to a frankly alarming degree, so - for the unusual prescience of mind, and deft handling of such an issue - it's nice to see Lieber go out on a high.

    The innocent daydreams of an Ant-Man...