Tuesday, September 20, 2011

151: Tales to Astonish #57

Tales to Astonish #57
April 2, 1964

  • You can't say Stan didn't know when to hop on a trend. Once already in this week's releases - Daredevil #2 - Stan traded on the popularity of Spider-Man; now Tales to Astonish jumps on the bandwagon. Was Spidey's success really so meteoric that Stan felt justified aping or guesting the character in every mag needing a sales boost? Could be! (Although with the creatures being invoked here - ants, wasps and spiders - it's actually more surprising that such a team-up hasn't happened before now.)

    The Wasp tests out her new stinger.

  • And yet the real milestone for this issue isn't the guest-star, but the continued evolution of Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, as Hank Pym unveils his newest creation: a weapon for her which consists of shooting bursts of compressed air. This "Wasp's Sting" isn't quite up to the bio-electric one Pym would later invent, but it's a start. More importantly, when coupled with the relatively recent addition of the Invisible Girl's invisible force fields - which can be shaped and directed offensively as well - this shows a commendable effort on Stan's part to gradually turn the Marvel women from passive spectators into strong, involved players in their own right.

    You are now listening to Anthill Radio!

  • The plot (such as it is) is serviceable, if uninspired - but then, in a tale featuring both a hero upgrade and a hero guest-star, that's not too surprising. Hank Pym's main bad guy (such as he is), Egghead, returns to cause mischief with his own ability to talk to the ants, convincing them that Spider-Man plans to attack Giant-Man and the Wasp! When Pym's antennae-adorned network passes along this message, he and Jan go on the offensive, and the obligatory super-hero battle ensues.

    I assume this "natural enemies" joke was dropped the next time they met.
    Or at least - I certainly hope so!

  • Finally, the Larry Lieber backup tale rounds off the issue - and this time, not with another story-within-a-story of "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale!", but rather with a fully-embraced Wasp solo story! While the yarn is suitably miniature in scope - a story simply about Jan apprehending a jewel thief who tries to escape through the city sewers - the obstacles she encounters while Wasp-sized make it seem like one of the early Ant-Man stories, akin to Pym's battle against the Hijacker or the much-loved Scarlet Beetle battle. As a result, the Wasp spotlight story is actually quite refreshing and enjoyable, and makes one wish they'd started this feature a couple issues earlier! But as it turns out, next issue's backup story will also be her last....

    The bumbling hero seems a staple of Larry Lieber stories, from what I can tell.
    Or did that happen only in his Ant-Man tales?