Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Ant-Man Annual 1, originally released July 15, 2015.
Taylor: Mentorship is an ancient practice. Any of us who have had the pleasure of reading Plato’s Republic (or were assigned to read it for class) know that the practice of an elder teaching a younger the ropes is something present in almost all societies. It’s natural then that we see this same master-apprentice relationship present in comic books. Batman, the Ninja Turtles, Wolverine, Jean Grey – they’ve all had someone there to mentor them and help them become heroes who save the day. We generally like to think of those mentors knowing it all, often forgetting that they are still human and far from perfect. Ant-Man Annual 1 examines what it’s like to find this out in typical witty fashion.
Scott Lang is out for beers and football with his employees (not friends, they insist) from Ant-Man Security Solutions. While there, Scott sees news of Hank Pym’s death on the TV, which causes him to reflect on the last time he saw the man who gave him his powers. In this encounter with Hank, Scott joins his pseudo-mentor for an adventure to stop the evil Dr. Egghead. They are successful, naturally, and in the process Scott learns just why he was chosen to be the next Ant-Man. Back in the present day, Scott learns he’s in Hank’s will and is now the proud owner of the micro-lab encased in the Ant-Man helmet.
The role of the mentor takes center stage in this issue. Scott has always wondered why he was chosen to be the next Ant-Man. Even though he makes a show of being confident and competent, deep down Scott is pretty insecure and questions why he — of all people — would be deemed worthy as Hank Pym’s successor. We’ve seen this subject broached many times in this series, usually in comedic fashion, and the same happens in this issue when Scott takes down Porcupine. As usual, Scott is made fun of for not being the the real Ant-Man (Hank Pym). While it’s funny in the moment, this and all of the other similar episodes have taken their toll on Scott and have allowed writer Nick Spencer the opportunity to explore the topic with large dividends in this issue.
After defeating Egghead, Scott finally gets to ask Hank directly why he was chosen to be the next Ant-Man. The answer, it turns out, isn’t exactly the one Scott was hoping for.
Hank chose Scott to be Ant-Man not because of his talent but because he’s a perpetual fuck-up. In this way, Hank is hoping to ensure that his run as Ant-Man is remembered as the best. This turns the idea of Hank-as-mentor on its head for me. My natural inclination is to think that Hank will say something along the lines of Scott’s potential and his will to succeed and so on. However, what this reveals is that Hank is every bit as insecure in his abilities as Scott. Hank, for all of his smarts, isn’t exactly the mentor and guide that I, or Scott for that matter, would have thought he would be.
This is a great example of Spencer’s knack for crafting hero-characters who possess a level of pathos that is less Batman-my-parents-were-killed-now-I’ll-avenge-all-evil and more relatable to average people like me. While Hank doesn’t make a great mentor, I love the reveal that he feels self-conscious being an Avenger since his coworkers all possess amazing powers. I can relate to this because it’s similar to how I feel here at Retcon Punch sometimes. I work and write with some amazingly knowledgeable and talented writers and sometimes that’s intimidating. Hank and I have that in common and I can bond with him over that. Wolverine living for hundreds of years and dealing with other mutant stuff is harder to relate to.
Ultimately I think this is what makes Spencer a unique and fun writer. He breaks down superheroes and makes them wonderfully human and relatable – a none to easy task when you think about it. He makes it look easy and keeps it fun though, as is evidenced when we get the details of have Raz ended up working for the Marvel equivalent of Geek-Squad.
When Hank Pym denounced all artificial intelligence, that basically spelled the end of Raz’s career. This is the type of thing that is overlooked a lot in comic book stories, this focus on the little guy. Sure, that’s kind of a necessity when writing a story about superheroes, after all a comic about Thor should follow what happens to Thor. However, I love how Spencer takes the world superheroes inhabit and makes it real with instances like Raz. It’s funny, relatable, and poignant. Few writers are doing what Spencer does and that alone makes him worth ready.
Spencer, do you relate to any of the characters in this issue? And what the reveal that Raz is going to be the next Giant-Man? And man, I’m always surprised by how much heart these issues have in the end. Any idea how Spencer (ha!) achieves that every time?
Spencer: All I can assume is that Nick Spencer’s prowess comes from his super cool last name — or, at least, that’s what I’d like to believe (for obvious reasons). Seriously though Taylor, you hit the nail on the head when it comes to what makes both Ant-Man Annual 1 and Spencer’s writing in general so damn charming: there’s an accessibility, relatability, and down-to-Earth humor to all Spencer’s endeavors that’s downright refreshing.
While these are qualities you can find in most of Spencer’s works, they’re also something Ant-Man as a concept brings to table on his own. I’ve always been fond of sidekicks and B-List heroes because they’re generally more flawed and able to grow more than the big iconic heroes — this is certainly true of Ant-Man (be it Pym or Lang), especially the flawed part.
Between Lang’s criminal past and Pym’s creation of Ultron (amongst other failings), flaws and checkered pasts are practically as integral to the identity of Ant-Man as shrinking and talking to ants. Not only does that give Spencer a lot of material to work with, but it helps establish the natural rapport between Hank Pym and Scott Lang. As much as they may pick on each other and genuinely not always have each others’ best interest at heart (even down to Scott initially stealing Pym’s suit and Pym hoping Scott would never outshine him), these two also understand each other in ways that someone like, say, Steve Rogers never could.
The fact that both Ant-Men have fallen to such lows makes it impressive whenever they do triumph, but it also helps illustrate not only what Scott and Pym see in each other, but what they see in the others they choose to help as well. Raz Malhotra may not be as self-destructively dysfunctional as Scott and Pym can be (or even as Scott’s employees at Ant-Man Security Solutions, whom Scott decided to help for similar reasons), but he’s still someone who’s gotten a bum deal in life but has the heart to rise above it all. He’s exactly the kind of guy Scott would pick to carry on Pym’s legacy — he meets all the requirements to be Giant-Man, but also has enough differences to be an intriguing new entry to the legacy in his own right. I look forward to seeing more of him soon.
The dense, witty repartee between Scott and Pym and between Raz and Egghead also highlights another strength of Spencer’s: taking goofy sci-fi/comic booky premises and making them palatable for modern audiences without losing any of their inherent charm.
Scott, being the younger, hipper hero, get a good laugh at Pym’s Silver/Bronze Age-esque nemesis, yet Spencer still uses Egghead’s clearly retro personality and plans as the story’s central conflict. Spencer knows how to mine these elements for humor without making them an actual joke, which is an impressive balancing act, and one that allows for quite a bit levity in his stories without sacrificing drama.
As you can probably tell, I enjoyed this annual quite a bit for quite a few reasons. There’s only one minor issue I have with the story, and to be honest, it’s more of a continuity concern than a problem with anything Spencer or the rest of his creative team (including Brent Schoonover and Ramon Rosanas on art) do. Normally I wouldn’t even bring it up, but since I have the space, I might as well.
Hank Pym’s disappearance/death took place in the recent Avengers: Rage of Ultron OGN (which I didn’t even realize was supposed to be in continuity), and supposedly both it and this issue take place before Secret Wars. Yet, Pym shows up (as Yellowjacket) in Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers up until the destruction of the universe, essentially contradicting what just happened in this issue. Again, it’s something I can mostly ignore (especially since Hickman’s books tend to ignore the rest of Marvel’s line more often than not anyway), but it definitely set-off my nerd alarms. Plus, if Pym ends up still being around after all, that leaves less room for Raz to stretch his (newly giant-sized) legs as the new Giant-Man, and as I said, that’s something I’m eager to see.
Still, that’s only a very, very minor quibble. Straight-up, Ant-Man Annual 1 is a charming, fun, down-to-Earth story that I fully recommend.
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