Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Ant-Man 1, originally released January 7th, 2015.
Taylor: As long as stories have been told, people have enjoyed hearing about clever heroes. Perhaps the prototype of the clever character in western literature is Odysseus — a man who more than made up for physical shortcomings with the power of his mind. And while many people nowadays might not feel a close kinship to Odysseus, they still appreciate a clever hero — and a clever story. Marvel, as a publisher, has taken this love of cleverness and has essentially turned it into a multimillion dollar business. While the Marvel movies embody this philosophy to their core, there are a number of comic series which also are banking on this appreciation for wit. The reboot of Ant-Man is no exception to this formula, but does it have anything all that clever to say?
Scott Lang used to be a criminal but now he’s the new Ant-Man. He’s aware of all the baggage that comes with donning the antennal helmet, but he feels up to the challenge. So trusting in his skills is he that he decides to apply for the head of security job at Stark Industries. His main motivation for doing this is he wants to be able to provide both financially and emotionally for his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife. With the help of some typically atypical Scott Lang improvisation, he gets the job. However, before he can celebrate he learns that his ex-wife is moving to Miami and taking their daughter with her. Not wanting to abandon his daughter, Scott gives up the job at Stark Industries to live close to his daughter.
Right from the first panel, Scott makes it known that he’s well aware of the lineage of his superhero persona.
He’s goes on to mention that there has been a whole mess of Ant-Men, most of whom have turned evil. This is essentially writer Nick Spencer’s way of telling the audience that yes, he is well aware of who Ant-Man is and the baggage that comes with a writing about a superhero who in many respects is pretty silly. While I’m generally game for this kind of candor, I found it a little off-putting in this instance. This reason for this is that the tongue-in-cheek style of storytelling is already well worn by other Marvel titles. One has only to look at Spencer’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man or anything written by Brian Michael Bendis to understand what I’m talking about. When I picked up this title I guess I was hoping for something new and different. Instead, I found that it’s mostly more of the same type of cleverness already used by so many Marvel titles.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the issue. While I find myself struggling to accept yet another clever title meant to emulate the tone of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, there are still some genuinely and truly witty scenes in this issue. After Ant-Man sneaks into Tony Starks apartment to steal computer codes to help him win an interview, Beetle reveals herself to be an assassin trying to kill Iron-Man.
Luckily, Ant-Man is there to disarm her by shrinking down and destroying her gun. Tony then throws on some armor and pursues the fleeing Beetle while congratulating Scott on his hiring bonus. What makes this scene clever is just how run-of-the-mill all of this is for all the characters involved. In most situations, seeing a man shrink down to the size of bullet would be comment-worthy. The same could be said about Iron-Man jumping out of a window in pursuit of an assassin. In this case, however, no one is shocked. This is what normal is to these people. As with Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Spencer has done a wonderful job of taking the world of superheroes and making it all seem so mundane. There’s a cleverness to that whole idea which I think the summer blockbuster movies will never capture, despite (or because of) all of their bombast and fanfare.
Taken in and of itself, this title is enjoyable and its oh-so-clever self-awareness isn’t so bothersome. Unfortunately, we live in a world where nothing can just exist in its own context, which makes this issue less fun than if it had come out five or ten years ago. Perhaps the fault lies with me and my inability to totally submerge myself in the issue, so I’m curious to here what you have to say, Spencer. Did you find the tone of this issue old-hat or did you enjoy it more than I did? Did you enjoy enjoy Ramon Rosanas’ artwork? Also, what do you think the effect of moving the series to Miami will have on its characters?
Spencer: Well, the ideal result of a move to Miami would be an Ant-Man/Golden Girls crossover, but since we obviously won’t get that (much to the disappointment of both myself and Deadpool), I’ll settle for just seeing how long Scott can last in his Miami “apartment” without air conditioning. Okay, more seriously, I think the move to Miami is meant to separate Scott and Cassie from their allies so as to better establish Ant-Man as a solo hero with a rogues gallery all his own. It’s an interesting move and I look forward to seeing what Spencer does with it, though I hope this doesn’t exclude Darla Deering from showing up soon.
Anyway, Taylor, I am all about “clever”, so yeah, I adored this issue. I will admit that Ant-Man‘s fun tone is no longer as novel as it once was in the wake of books like Batgirl, Hawkeye, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, or even this week’s other new title, The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl (which I look forward to discussing with you on Tuesday, Taylor), but as long as the story is told well, I really couldn’t care less if other titles are striking a similar note — and this is definitely a well-told story.
What I like best about Nick Spencer’s work on this issue is the specificity of it all. Spencer never settles for generic anything, be it dialogue or world-building. His characters all have distinct voices (even bit players like Prodigy and Beetle), and all their decisions are grounded in the reality of living in the Marvel universe. I suppose some of these references could just be seen as easy jokes, but they’re also a natural consequence of living in a world that’s nearly destroyed on a weekly basis, and I’d rather see that acknowledged than swept under the rug.
The near-mundanity of even Scott’s superheroic life is almost perfectly summed up by how Spencer and Rosanas portray his shrinking abilities. There’s only one panel where Rosanas actually shows Scott shrink; otherwise, Scott always shrinks between panels, and he’s just as likely to shrink for some silly reason than he is to go into battle. Scott’s got superpowers and nothing to hide, so why wouldn’t he shrink to brush his teeth, or travel, or even just to hide when he’s feeling sad and embarrassed on public transit?
I also appreciate that, for all its cleverness and humor, Ant-Man is full of heart. Scott Lang is a relatable character in the same vein as Clint Barton, in that his many foibles humanize him, but it’s Scott’s relationship with his daughter, Cassie, that forms the heart of the book (and it’s that father-daughter relationship at its core that differentiates Ant-Man from other titles of a similar ilk). Scott is far from perfect, but the moment he passes up his dream job to be with his daughter shows that his priorities are in the right place, giving us more reason than ever to root for the character.
Actually, though, if I have one minor quibble with the issue, it’s with the handling of Cassie. I understand that she just needed to be a normal 14-year-old-girl for this particular issue, but it still feels a bit strange how Spencer glazes over not only her past as a superpowered Young Avenger, but also her recent death and resurrection. The fact that Cassie just came back to life is really important information, and explicitly stating it would have added some important context to the issue that would flesh out Cassie’s mother especially, whose actions might come across as a bit drastic otherwise.
Still, that’s ultimately a small complaint in an issue that I otherwise found to be a nearly perfect character-based story. Ramon Rosanas’s art and Jordan Boyd’s colors, meanwhile, are an excellent compliment to that story. Boyd’s colors are lush and cheerful, and Rosanas has a perfect facial expression on hand to suit pretty much every scene; Rosanas also seems to be having some fun with the few action scenes he gets, throwing out some inventive poses and camera angles. I especially love the second image Taylor posted, where the top of the panel cuts off Beetle as she flees — combined with the broken glass it feels like a really intuitive way to demonstrate her speed.
So, does Ant-Man reinvent the wheel? No. But I don’t really think it needs to; it’s still a smart, funny, inventive, dense read that’s full of heart and personality. That’s no small feat.
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