Iron Man #44 (January 1972)
"Armageddon on Avenue 'A'" (Ant-Man back-up story)
Roy Thomas-Ross Andru/Mike Esposito
Doug: Hi, friends. It's another solo review from yours truly to greet you on a Monday. At the BAB, we've had several editorial meetings over the past few weeks, and we need to be up front in telling you that our partner reviews may be on an intermittent basis for the foreseeable future. Personal and professional considerations for both Karen and I are necessitating an evaluation of our present schedules. As most of you know, the partner reviews require a longer commitment of time than a solo review does, due mostly to the wait time involved in someone writing up the plot summary, tossing it to the partner for color commentary, and then back to the originator to clean some things up/make it sound more conversational/add the artwork. Rest assured that our partner reviews are not a thing of the past... but your getting a steady, consistent stream of our partner reviews may be. Of course we will keep you in the loop of any developments of which you need to be aware.
Doug: It was a Saturday evening, 24 May 2014 to be exact, when I became aware that this story even existed. I was laying in bed reading through Back Issue #71 when I came to a summary of the life of Marvel Feature. In that story, as the author (Dewey Cassell) detailed the Ant-Man strip replacing the Defenders after their 3-issue run, it was stated that Ant-Man was featured in a back-up tale in Iron Man #44. So, possessing the Iron Man dvd-rom I hurriedly (well, honestly 15 hours passed in the wake of this epiphany) brought that issue before my eyeballs and hey -- what do you know? There it was! So, since I reckon that many of our readers either a) are like me in this ignorance or b) are like me in that even if they did know they forgot, I figured we'd give it a look. I'm a first-timer on this, so you are getting the emotions raw, baby! Let's roll...
Doug: Ross Andru isn't the first guy I'd expect to draw Ant-Man, and I really have no idea why this story was created in the first place. I'm assuming it was one of those stock stories that Marvel kept handy. It's anyone's guess -- did George Tuska take ill and fault on his page count for the main Iron Man story? At any rate, we open with a splash page that sort of summarizes Ant-Man's career and to a note from Roy Thomas at the end basically telling us to ignore the page! So alrighty -- this 8-pager just became a 7-pager. Now that's weird. So on the real first page, we're introduced to a fella named Wilbur Grabowski. Wilbur seems to have been infected with whatever the Black Cat metes out -- a lifelong case of bad luck. Wilbur's a doofus. We see several panels of him, throughout his life, moving from one screw-up to another. But tonight, Wilbur's going to change his luck. Wilbur owns a candy store that's been failing. But, thinks Wilbur, with money from the insurance policy his life could turn. So, he ponders a little arson and...
Doug: Outside the candy store, riding a flying ant in the beam of a street lamp, is one Dr. Henry Pym. He's dressed as Ant-Man. To give you a little temporal compass, Neal Adams famously drew Ant-Man in Avengers #93 (cover dated November 1971); this story was sold only two months after. Coincidence? Roy Thomas was the author of both tales. Or was this, again, already in the can so to speak? I have no clue. Ant-Man seems to picking up some strange emotional waves through his cybernetic helmet. His "steed" apparently does, too, and begins to drop toward the candy store. At first I thought all this was coming from Wilbur, but upon entering the store -- and hearing Wilbur go on about how he's "going to do it, going to do it" -- the ant flies Pym down to the floorboards, and in between to the crawl space (my guess -- really no idea here). Pym now feels some really bad vibes, and immediately spies some big nasties. Can a brother get a can of Raid?? It's so bad, in fact, that he orders his steed back to the anthill.
Doug: As Hank ascertains the subterranean situation he can still hear Wilbur muttering to himself upstairs. But guessing that Wilbur is harmless, Hank allows himself to get caught by a cricket. He calls it the oldest trick in the superhero handbook -- "take me to your leader", so to speak. But when the cricket begins to spirit Hank toward a light, our hero suddenly becomes quite alarmed at the bug he sees ahead. *Editorial interlude: I am having a really hard time taking this story seriously. Not a reader of very many Silver Age Ant-Man/Giant-Man books, but this seems in that vein.* It turns out that Ant-Man's foe is an old nemesis, dating all the way back to Tales to Astonish #39! We're in the presence of the Scarlet Beetle. I can feel you trembling as you read this. Apparently the Scarlet Beetle wasn't just any old beetle -- nope, this dude had radiation-based powers (it was the 1960s, after all). But the Scarlet Beetle assures Pym that his powers are back. Indeed, the beam that drew Pym to this spot is the same transmission that will draw insects to him. We get a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds.
Doug: The S.B. tells Pym that insects will eradicate humans from the planet and again dominate the world. And then to hammer his point home, S.B. grabs Pym's belt away from him -- he says that a man's dominator ought to be larger than life. Pym says go ahead, dude; the gas had been perfected to only work on Pym. S.B. says no big deal -- he really wanted the cybernetic helmet anyway. Now Hank started to get nervous. But suddenly, he smelled something -- yup, Wilbur was about to do the dirty deed upstairs! With chaos reigning beneath the floor, Pym strikes the Scarlet Beetle across the mandible. S.B. flips onto his back and Pym makes a break for it. He thinks to himself as he races for the main floor that the S.B. is super-dangerous and humanity is at risk. Not buyin' it, but anyway... Roy has some uncomfortable dialogue for some African-Americans in the proximity of the fire, but maybe it was just a sign o' the times.
Doug: As Hank had paused to survey the growing fire, the Scarlet Beetle caught up to him and grabbed him. But Hank, still possessing his full-grown strength easily flipped S.B. back onto his topside again. And wouldn't you know it -- right in the path of Wilbur's dropped kerosene can. S.B. was crushed, killed -- because one of Hank's ants had crawled up Wilbur's leg and irritated him. And wouldn't you know, ol' Wilbur's luck didn't change after all. As he went to run out of the burning candy store he was met by the police and firemen. Bad luck again. But as Hank mused to himself, maybe that guy had saved the world!
Doug: This was a decent-enough story; it certainly was a heritage sort of tale in that it looked back to Marvel's monster days and the dawn of the Marvel Age. The art team of Andru/Esposito was steady, but I have to declare that I didn't always get that "Ross Andru Amazing Spider-Man" vibe from his work here. Occasionally I could see in a face the Andru tendencies, but the figurework didn't to me evoke his Spidey work. As has been well-documented around here, I'm a big Hank Pym fan. So although this was a quirky story, it was nice to see Hank star in a strip where he was actually the hero, and with no clay feet. How about that?
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May 1: Redartz looks at tensions between Cap and IM in the 70s.
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons. The oldest was married on June 21st, 2015, making for a great Father's Day.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
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