Thursday, October 21, 2010

83: Tales to Astonish #48

Tales to Astonish #48
July 2, 1963

  • In this issue - the birth of The Porcupine! Yes, that's right: The Porcupine. I'd be tempted to wonder if this newest creation is the weirdest or most laughable terror that's featured in the pages of Tales to Astonish, but let's remember - this is Ant-Man we're talking about. On the subject of lame baddies, this guy fits right in! Although, honestly, it is a bit surprising to realize that Porky is in fact only the fourth character Ant-Man has gone up against who could rightly be called a super-villain, given how many times Pym has gone up against spies, aliens, and mutated beetles. And the previous three super-villains were Egghead, the Protector and the Hijacker! Like I said: Fits right in.

  • As to the Porcupine himself? Alex Gentry, an army scientist designing a combat suit for American troops, hits upon an unusual bit of inspiration while alone in the lab. "Yes, the porcupine is nature's perfect fighting machine for attack or defense," he ponders, "a creature that wears its weapons, and then shoots them at his enemy! So simple, so direct ... so foolproof!" Er. Except for the fact that they don't. At all. Ever. But hey, you wouldn't expect an army scientist to do his own research, would you? It's not like he had Snopes back then. In any case, apart from the name, design and inspiration, the idea itself isn't too wonky, as his suit doesn't just fire sharpened quills, but rather a varied assortment of weapons and aids: stun pellets, liquid fire, sleeping gas, fog pellets, liquid cement and more. It's such a multi-use approach that you can't help but wonder if the character could have become something more ... if he'd just been named something other than The Porcupine. Still, they're careful to have the villain make his escape at the tale's end, and it's far from the last time we would see this character. As perplexing as that thought might be.

  • What we do see the end of, however, is Ernie Hart's run as scripter, having done a decent job on these past five issues. As with fellow scripter Robert Bernstein, he was good enough for what was needed; Hart's later issues may not have impressed as much as his first, featuring the introduction of the Wasp - but he also never came up with the kind of howlers that would crop up in many a Larry Lieber script. Note, however, that Hart's last script for Ant-Man comes at the same time as Bernstein's last script for Thor, and replacement scripters aren't forthcoming for either one. Instead, beginning with the next issue of each series, Stan Lee will take over the full writing duties on each, providing both story and script, rather than just the plot. There's been talk in the comments as to how the summer of '63 really seemed to be the time when Marvel started firing on all cylinders, and this may very well be a large reason why: Faced with Marvel's growing success, Stan finally began to pay more attention to the lower-tier characters he had previously somewhat neglected. It may not have worked in every case - Pym would never quite be a sales giant, for instance, and would eventually be nudged out of the title entirely - but the fact that this is when all the stories began to be written by Stan (as opposed to story-by-Stan, words-by-Other) should not be overlooked.

    Y'know, this is one of those cases where the villain probably should have known
    it was a bad idea from the start....