Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Astonishing Ant-Man 8, originally released May 18th, 2016.
Taylor: Recently, the Music Box Theater in Chicago hosted an event called Is It Still Funny? The purpose of this event was to determine why various movies of the past and present are or aren’t funny anymore. Regardless of what people came away thinking, the very idea behind the event is an intriguing one. Humor is such a contemporary thing; what was funny last year is stale today. Creating something funny that stands the test of time is incredibly difficult, but you wouldn’t guess that when reading Astonishing Ant-Man. Writer Nick Spencer makes this humor look criminally easy. After all, it takes talent to return to what is essentially the same joke issue after issue but continue to spin it in a way that is both entertaining and funny.
Unsurprisingly, issue 8 finds Scott in trouble once again. Also unsurprisingly, the manner in which he tries to get out of trouble is perhaps the worst possible. His daughter, Cassie, is now working for a supervillain, so Scott does what any worried father naturally would: he hires a group of henchman to go get her. Predictably, this backfires, but not before the issue unleashes some of the trademark humor that has made it such an entertaining read.
When the four henchman meet up for the first time after receiving their job from Scott through the Hench app, they quickly fall into conversation. They learn that one of them, the Magician, is a rookie villain. They are quick to offer him advice (which it turns out is a plot to take his poker winnings) on what it takes to be a successful villain. They give several anecdotes regarding this, but the best is saved for when they tell the Magician where to work if he’s in New York.
Depending on where you decide to burgle, a villain can expect to meet a specific hero. Obviously you don’t want to meet the Punisher because of, you know, death. Meanwhile, Spider-Man just wraps you up in some web and isn’t so bad if you laugh at his lame jokes. This joke about territory is the exact same type of joke that Spencer has used time and time again in his work at Marvel. A significant portion of the jokes in this title revolve around the idea of heroes and villains treating their extraordinary lives like ordinary day jobs. In this case, just as with many jobs, where you work greatly determines how happy or successful you are. For us norms, that might mean moving to the right city or finding the right office to work at. For these villains it’s about how bad they get beat up.
So if this joke is so familiar, why is it still so funny to me? For one, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing superheroes and villains just acting like regular people. Heroes are set apart from regular Joes by definition, so it’s always a treat to see them act like the rest of us schlubs . This feels like a peek behind the superhero/villain cowl and that sense of taboo lends itself easily to humor. More than that, though, Spencer’s humor offers surprising insight into the Marvel universe. It’s clear in this scene that Spencer has taken the time to view the Marvel universe not only through the lens of a villain, but a fan as well. Of course it would suck to be punched by Daredevil — that just stands to reason. Better yet, of course “Luke Cage isn’t so bad.” For some reason that sentiment just jibes with Cage’s character.
These observations are funny on their own, but when paired with Brent Schoovoner’s pencils, they’re golden. The design of the supervillains’ costumes in this issue are wonderfully ludicrous. Schoovoner clearly is taking a lot of cues from the golden age of comics in his designs. Each villain has references to his particular skill set incorporated into his costume. The Voice even has a big “V” emblazoned on his torso.
These designs are funny because they run so counter to the design of superhero outfits in modern comics. These days, a hero or villain is expected to have a uniform that above all seems feasible or at least practical. The joke here of course is that there is no such thing as a practical superhero/villain costume. What they are and they are doing is in itself ludicrous. Having someone named the Hijacker wearing a feasible costume just doesn’t make sense. The long and short of it is that these visuals add a certain something to the silliness of the scenes in this issue. I mean really, how can I look at the above panel and not laugh?
Drew, do you still find Ant-Man as funny as I do or has the humor grown old to you? I focused a lot on just that aspect of this issue, is there something else you noticed that really stood out to you?
Drew: I think you’ve really keyed in on what it is that makes this series so funny: we’ve come to accept huge leaps of logic in supervillains, so bringing them down to earth exposes the absurdity of those conceits. Why would any sane person agree to be a henchmen for Red Skull of Baron Zemo, given their penchant for treating their underlings as nothing more than cannon fodder? Why would a guy walk around in a mask in the middle of Miami? These are already common enough parts of the Marvel Universe to be accepted as mundane, but an actual closer look at the people making these decisions forces some amusingly convoluted reasoning.
Of course, the biggest source of laughs might just be the one you already identified, Taylor: seeing supervillains in big, goofy costumes doing everyday things. It’s a conceit that always tickled me in The Venture Bros., but takes on an added level of verisimilitude (and thus, incongruity) here. Take the Voice working as a salesman at Brooks Brothers, for example:
Seeing dudes in costumes doing everyday tasks is always funny to me, but this also highlights a facet of supervillains we don’t often see: a non-costumed alter-ego. Peter Parker can take off his mask to lead a relatively life as a struggling photographer (and/or CEO tech mogul), but that’s not an option that’s afforded the Voice — or many, more well-known, villains. They are villains, so they always look like villains. There might be some interesting points to be made on that attitude as a comment on morality, but for my purposes, I’m happy to let Spencer simply accept this fact of supervillainy in the Marvel universe.
Of course, the Voice actually is using his abilities here, so maybe he needs to wear the costume? Either way, using a superpower that has the potential for so much destruction to break a non-existent sales record at a day job he doesn’t even care about is hilarious. As is his clarification on his nametag that he shouldn’t be confused with reality singing competition The Voice.
The result is a portrait of supervillainy that is truly pitiful. It’s ground Spencer tread with The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, but is far too fertile to ignore — especially in a series so focused on the pitifulness of superheroing. I would happily read an issue focused on the Voice, but Spencer offers us something so much more interesting here. The page I included above is our re-introduction to the Voice, a self-contained page that cues us into his day-to-day struggles, but each villain in the issue gets a similar treatment. It lends the first half of the issue a refreshing structure that is unified in tone, but largely unpredictable. Spencer expertly navigates that structure, shifting us into the poker game, then the ensuing fights, before ultimately leaving us with that stinger Stinger.
That’s the plot hook to get us back next issue, but honestly, I’d be super happy with more portraits of supervillains just walking around Miami. That single page of the Voice is more entertaining to me than many whole comics, which makes this series one of the best values on shelves. But, you know, I’m a sucker for the jokes Spencer loves to tell.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?