Tales to Astonish (Vol. 1) 1963 Year In Review

Image from Tales to Astonish #44

How Many Issues?

Twelve: Tales to Astonish #39-50

Creative Team:

Plotters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (#39-40, 44, 49)

Scripters: Larry Lieber (#39-43), H.E. Huntley (#44-48), Stan Lee (#49-50)

Pencillers: Jack Kirby (#39-40, 44, 49-50), Don Heck (#41-43, 45-48)

Inkers: Dick Ayers (#39), Sol Brodsky (#40), Don Heck (#41-49), Steve Ditko (#50)

Was It Good?

I didn’t enjoy Tales to Astonish in 1963, but I will admit that it had some decent moments. The addition of the Wasp to the book changed Henry Pym’s character noticeably, so that was worth noting. I liked the evolution of Pym’s powers as he gave up his Ant-Man identity to become Giant-Man. Outside of those two developments, though, this was not a fun book to read.

Part of the problem is that Henry Pym doesn’t have much personality. He doesn’t have a personal life until the Wasp shows up, and he spends most of his time being snotty and dismissive to Janet after they become a team. The Wasp is definitely a more engaging character; although her defining trait is “boy crazy,” at least she has emotions.

The biggest problem with this title is the story quality. The best Marvel stories at this point (Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four) spend most of their time on character interactions; doing this makes good plots into great stories, and silly plots far more enjoyable. Henry Pym doesn’t have much personality and, for most of the year, no supporting cast to interact with. Because of this, the formulaic nature of these stories is much more noticeable, and few (if any) work well with a miniature hero.

What About the Sub-Plots and Continuity?

It can be fun to track the minor story points throughout a year’s worth of comics to see what ideas were developed and which were quietly dropped.

  • In 1963, Ant-Man battled aliens four times (the Eraser, Kulla, the aliens controlling the robot Cyclops, and the random alien from the Wasp’s debut), and random normal people with gimmick powers five times (Elias Weems & his aging ray, the Hijacker & his disintegration ray, Trago & his hypnotic music, the Voice & his irresistible voice). To say that there was a lack of inspiring villains for Ant-Man would be an understatement.
  • Henry Pym is a molecular biologist that specializes in miniaturization. In 1963, he was asked to assist with a gamma ray-powered extraterrestrial communication device, atomic science. He manufactures gas masks for the military and a vault for a bank. In other words, his speciality is whatever the writer finds convenient.
  • The manner in which ants communicate with Pym changes throughout the year. At one point, he wears a bracelet that alerts him when ants are communicating with his machines; the machines translate the communications into words. The bracelet was quickly forgotten, but the ants typically communicated via a translated audio feed. At some point, that was forgotten, and by #50, the ant signals are translated into primitive pictures.
  • For the first time, someone tries to step on Ant-Man. It doesn’t stop him, but I cannot believe that isn’t everyone’s first reaction.
  • Ant-Man is directly responsible for Kulla’s death; he orders his ants to trigger a ray gun to kill him. It isn’t brought up again, but I just want to keep this memory fresh, because at some point, I just know Henry Pym will say something like, “heroes don’t kill.”
  • Ant-Man is the famous protector of Central City (first identified in #42), until his hometown is retconned to be New York City (#44).
  • One of the more frustrating aspects of this title is the fact that Ant-Man can change his size at will, but doesn’t, even when it would be extremely useful. There’s no in-story reason for it, either (most of the time). The first time Ant-Man solves a problem by returning to his normal size was in #43, nine issues into this run!
  • Two people saw Ant-Man’s without his helmet/mask this year: Janet Van Dyne and Elias Weems. Henry did it on purpose with Jan, so they could be partners. Weems removed Ant-Man’s helmet when he was ant-sized, but didn’t have his glasses on, so he never learned Ant-Man’s secret identity.
  • Janet Van Dyne debuted and became Ant-Man’s partner (and love interest) in #44.
  • Henry Pym is apparently a grieving widower; his wife, Maria, was killed by Hungarian Communists. He just didn’t mention her or exhibit signs of grief until #44 for…reasons.
  • The introduction of Maria to Henry’s backstory retcons his motivations for becoming Ant-Man. Before, he was driven by pride, now he is driven by grief and revenge. You would think Ant-Man would target Communists, in that case, but apparently not.
  • Janet Van Dyne apparently has a strong resemblance to the late Maria Pym. This is only mentioned in #44, so I think someone realized that it would be creepy for Henry Pym to be interested in his wife’s doppelgänger.
  • There is confusion over whether or not Ant-Man’s ants can act without his explicit instructions. They cannot in #48, but at least they warn the Wasp that Ant-Man is in danger (why can’t she command them instead?). In #39, though, they save Ant-Man’s life, even when he is without his communicating helmet.
  • Henry changes his superhero identity (and costume) to Giant-Man in #49, and starts specializing in becoming large, rather than small. His practical limit is twelve feet tall; larger than that, and he might have health issues. He can still shrink, but he now has more control over his size.
  • Giant-Man appears much bolder and confident than Ant-Man did. Is this a plot point, or a result of having Stan Lee script the last two issues of the year?
  • The method of changing size has changed. Before he became Giant-Man, Henry used gas canisters to shrink and grow, but he could only be normal- or ant-sized. This changed to tablets when he became Giant-Man, and the tablets offer more control, presumably because the dosing in the tablets is more precise.

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