Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tales to Astonish (1959) #27

Cover Date January 1962
On-Sale Date 28 September 1961
Cover Price $0.10 US
Pages 32 (23 comic story pages, 2 text story pages)

Cover Credits
Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Dick Ayers. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Script: Stan Lee. Letters: Artie Simek.

Story Title
The Man in the Ant Hill! (7 pages)

Story Credits
Plot: Stan Lee. Script: Larry Lieber. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Dick Ayers. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Letters: Artie Simek.

Plot Summary
Scientist Henry Pym, after being mocked by his peers for his outlandish ideas, invents a serum that can shrink objects and decides to test it on himself.  He shrinks faster than he had expected, and after a panicked flight he finds himself trapped inside an ant hill.  It is only with the help of a friendly ant that he is able to make it back to his lab and use the antidote to return to normal size.  He flushes his serums down the drain and vows to only pursue practical projects from now on.

Flashback 1
At a science convention several months before the main story, Henry Pym is mocked by his peers for his ridiculous, impractical theories.  He vows to become a greater scientist than any of them, and begins work on a shrinking serum.

Other Stories
Tales of Suspense is an anthology, and contains several other stories that have no bearing on the Marvel Universe (even though most of them could easily fit within Marvel continuity).
  • Mirror Mirror, On the Wall... (7 pages; Larry Lieber/Don Heck; a housewife falls under the sway of the necromancer inside her mirror)
  • The Talking Horse (5 pages; Larry Lieber/Bob Forgione; a crooked jockey gets into all sorts of trouble when he meets a talking racehorse)
  • Dead Planet! (5 pages; Stan Lee/Steve Ditko; an alien warrior dies of loneliness on a planet where he can find no-one to conquer, not realising that the planet is home to a race of sentient rocks)
  • Trouble Bubble (2 text pages; reprinted from Journey Into Unknown Worlds (1950) #49; writer unknown; a boy invents a formula for creating unbreakable bubbles, and traps his father's boss inside one by accident)

House Ads
The final page of "The Talking Horse" has ad copy running along the bottom, and reads as follows: "You've never read a comic like "The Fantastic Four"! Get your spine-tingling copy today!"  There's a similar ad for Amazing Adult Fantasy elsewhere in the issue.


Henry Pym (1st appearance)
From the outset, Henry Pym is a conflicted character.  He only wants to use his scientific abilities on projects that appeal to his imagination, despite the mockery of his peers.  He claims that he wants to use his shrinking serum for the good of mankind (although he probably means the USA given that he fantasizes about transporting shrunken armies), but he also openly declares that his motivation is to become a better scientist than those who ridiculed him.  He's never outright villainous, but there are a number of panels that depict him with in ways that Kirby would typically use for bad guys.
  Upon finishing the serum, Pym displays some prudence by first testing it on a chair.  Said prudence is cast aside when he tests it on himself immediately thereafter.  The experience of shrinking throws him into a panic, but he proves to be incredibly resourceful once he has gathered his wits.
  After regaining his normal size he destroys his serums, claiming that they're too dangerous to be used again.  He also returns to his fellow scientists to admit that they were right, and that he plans to stick to practical projects from now on.  Pym displays remarkable compassion towards the ants, vowing to never knowingly step on an ant-hill for the sake of the lone ant that saved his life.
  Background: Pym has studied science in the past (presumably involving some sort of chemistry), and has learned the martial art of judo.  He has established a reputation in his local scientific community for impractical theories that never work.
  Powers and Skills: Pym displays remarkable scientific skill, particularly in the field of chemistry.  His judo skills are sufficient that he is able to flip an ant that is larger than himself.

Friendly Ant (1st appearance)
This ant saves Henry Pym from a pool of honey, and also helps him climb the wall to reach his laboratory window.  The ant is intelligent enough to understand Pym's basic gestures, but it's motives for helping him are unknown and inscrutable.


Hostile Ants (1st appearance)
These ants live in Henry Pym's backyard.  All but one of them are hostile to the tiny human invading the vicinity of their ant hill, and they pursue him relentlessly.  Their nest has an area that contains honey, which they store for food.  (Honey ants are a thing in the real world, but they store their honey in their abdomens rather than in large pools in their nest.  In a world where men can shrink down to ant-size, however, this is a difference that shouldn't be all that hard to accept.)  They are afraid of fire, and susceptible to judo.


Henry Pym's Scientific Peers


Henry Pym's House and Laboratory (1st appearance)
Henry Pym's house has a scientific laboratory with a window and door that open into a grassy backyard (populated by ants, of course).  The house appears to be made of bricks.


Size-Changing Serums (1st appearance)
Henry Pym invents these two serums for the first time: one to shrink objects, and an antidote to return them to their normal size.  The serums work on a wooden chair, and on Pym himself.  Pym fantasizes about using them to shrink food, and an army.  Although the serums are only shown to affect organic matter in the story proper (unless Pym's clothes can be counted as inorganic), Pym seems to believe that they'll work on just about anything.  (They don't work on Pym's test tubes or his sink, though.)  A few drops of the shrinking serum are enough to reduce Pym to the size of an ant.  The antidote restores him to his regular size, but is not shown to be able to grow an object past that point.
  Both serums are destroyed at the end of the story, but Pym will recreate them between this story and Tales to Astonish (1959) #35.

Pym Particles (not yet named) (1st appearance)
These special particles are the key to Henry Pym's size-changing powers, and as such they make their first uncredited appearance here.


In a one-on-one contest, man vs. ant, Pym proves that his power of judo is enough to win out.  Against multiple ants, he runs away, recognizing that he would have little chance of survival.


The main story happens an unspecified amount of time before Pym becomes Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish (1959) #35, naturally.  Flashback 1 takes place months before the main story begins.


This story doesn't have any links to later stories, aside from being the first appearance of Henry Pym and his Pym Particles.


It's the first appearance of Henry Pym, though as a mad scientist rather than a super-hero. Pym will later adopt a whole slew of super-heroic identities, the most significant of which are Ant-Man, Giant-Man and Yellowjacket.  (At the time of writing, he's had five different identities, having been Goliath and the Wasp in addition to the previously named three.  He also had a recent stint as Ultron, apparently)  Even though he never had much success as a solo star, as a founding member of the Avengers he's been an integral part of the Marvel Universe for decades.
  Pym Particles also make their debut here, although they're not named in this issue.  These are the particles that grant Pym his size-changing powers, and here they are represented by a shrinking serum and its antidote.  Pym will use them extensively in his super-hero career, as will his partner the Wasp, and a bunch of other heroes and villains.


Pym is  incredibly careless in testing the shrinking serum on himself, although this is more a flaw of the character than a flaw in the story.  His decision to hide from ants inside an ant-hill must also rank as one of the all-time dumbest decisions in comics history.
  It's not clear how a solitary match with no other flammable materials nearby could create as much flame as is seen here, but that can be chalked up to artistic license.
  As alluded to earlier, there's no explanation given for the ant that aids Pym's escape and saves his life.  The rich inner life of this solitary ant is understandably not the focus of this story, but as depicted it comes off as incredibly coincidental and fortuitous.


It's the first appearance of Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man aka Giant-Man aka Goliath aka Yellowjacket aka the Wasp aka who the hell knows these days.  On the other hand, it really isn't.  There's nothing to distinguish this from any one of dozens of Marvel stories from this period in which a mad scientist's invention backfires on him. You could safely skip ahead to Pym's debut as Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish (1959) #35 without  missing anything of genuine importance.


It's a standard Lee-Kirby mad scientist/giant monster story, of the sort they churned out by the cartload in the early 1960s.  They're very good at this sort of thing, but it's not going to set your world on fire.  It also has a rather dubious message, ending as it does with Pym renouncing scientific creativity in favour of practicality.  That said, it also has Pym judo-flipping an ant, which is pretty great.

  • Interviews about the creation of Ant-Man are scarce, but here are Stan Lee's customarily vague recollections from 2008: "I did one comic book called 'The Man in the Ant Hill' about a guy who shrunk down and there were ants or bees chasing him. That sold so well that I thought making him into a superhero might be fun."
  • Stan's brother Larry Lieber (who scripted the story) has a much better memory, as evidenced by this excerpt from his deposition in the 2011 Kirby Family vs. Marvel lawsuit (go here for some lengthy highlights):

    Q: Let's talk about Ant-Man.
    LARRY LIEBER: That was another one I wrote, and I came up with his name too.
    Q: What was Ant-Man’s name?
    LARRY LIEBER: Henry Pym, P-Y-M.
    Q: And how did you come up with his name?
    LARRY LIEBER: I think I probably — in the back of Miriam Webster somewhere there was somebody Pym. And I thought “Henry” sounded like a scientist and “Pym” made it catching and different and exotic. So I came up with that.

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