Tales to Astonish (Vol. 1) 1964 Year In Review

Original art from Tales to Astonish #60

How Many Issues?

Twelve issues: Tales to Astonish #51-62. The main characters featured are Giant-Man and the Wasp. The Wasp has some back-up features throughout the year; first, she was used as an anthology story host in #51-56, and later as the lead character in #57-58. The Hulk takes over the back-up feature in #60.

Creative Team:

Giant-Man and the Wasp stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#51-62), Jack Kirby (#51), Dick Ayers (#52-53, 55-60), Don Heck (#54), Steve Ditko (#61), Carl Burgos (#62)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#51-62)

Pencillers: Jack Kirby (#51), Dick Ayers (#52-53, 55-60), Don Heck (#54), Steve Ditko (#61), Carl Burgos (#62)

Inkers: Dick Ayers (#51-53, 55-56, 62), Don Heck (#54), Paul Reinman (#57-60), George Roussos (#61)

Wasp solo stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#57-58), Larry Lieber (#57-58)

Scripter: Larry Lieber (#57-58)

Penciller: Larry Lieber (#57-58)

Inker: Chic Stone (#57), Larry Lieber (#58)

Hulk stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#60-62)

Steve Ditko (#60-62)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#60-62)

Penciller: Steve Ditko (#60-62)

Inker: George Roussos (#60-62)

Was It Good?

No, this title was pretty terrible. Let’s focus on the lead feature, first. At this point, neither Giant-Man nor the Wasp are likable characters. The Wasp is portrayed as man-hungry, ditzy, and petty; she doesn’t get involved in battles often, and accomplishes little when she does. Giant-Man is extremely bland; being a scientist is not the same thing as having a personality. Combined, these two have little to no chemistry, but they feature in plots that pretend that they have a strong relationship. It feels like Stan Lee and company don’t know what to do with these two. At times, they are standard superheroes stopping crimes. Sometimes they go on international missions, at the request of the Avengers or the government. Other times, they are wildly popular celebrities at home, with a prominently recurring fan club. I think Stan wants Giant-Man to have a “hook” to attract readers, and he’s struggling to find one that works.

The villains Giant-Man and the Wasp face don’t help matters. Their “top-tier” opponents in 1964 were the Human Top (who they once stopped by erecting a chain link fence), Egghead, the Black Knight, and Porcupine. Their lamer villains included a random communist (El Toro), a standard illusionist (the Magician), communist apes (the Beasts of Berlin), a thief that stole Giant-Man’s super-suit, and an alien. When the Human Top appears three times in a single year of comics —- especially when he is legitimately one of the better bad guys featured —- you know that this title need better villains.

The artwork was not very good, either. It’s not that Dick Ayers (who pencilled and inked most of these issues) is a bad artist, he is just not very exciting. With dull characters and stories, the artwork really needs to step up to make reading these issues worthwhile; there is a lot of potential to make Ant-Man/Giant-Man and the Wasp visually interesting —- perspective changes could make for some very cool visuals —- but this art is just the standard Marvel “House” style. Four other pencillers drew Giant-Man stories this year, and while some were better than others, even the odd Kirby or Ditko issue doesn’t stand out too much.

Okay, fine. Maybe Giant-Man and the Wasp are not deserving to headline their own comic. What about the back-up features? Well, we can ignore the “Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale” stories, because they are just repurposed sci-fi inventory stories that Stan Lee needed to use up; since there’s no superheroing in them, I’ll skip them. The Wasp’s two featured stories were not very good, but they were short. The art in the Wasp’s stories was pretty mediocre, and the story was definitely written to keep the artwork at its simplest.

Toward the end of the year, the Hulk started to become the regular back-up feature. The story wasn’t very good, but it does a couple of interesting things. First, all three of the issues with the Hulk are a continuing story; rather than trying to squeeze an entire story in 5-8 pages, the story rolls into the next issue, to be continued. This is something that Marvel hasn’t played with much thus far, and I think it’s a great idea, especially for a back-up feature. Second, this story is using mystery to propel the plot, another potentially good storytelling choice. So, while the story hasn’t been very impressive so far, I at least like the general idea of what Lee and Ditko are trying to do.

As for the Hulk’s art, Steve Ditko is not inking his own pencils. George Roussos is inking, and he doesn’t capture Ditko’s detail very well. Still, Ditko is better than “House” artists, but it’s a disappointment when you compare it to his other work.

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.

Giant-Man and Wasp stories:

  • Continuing the trend of “Hank Pym is an expert in whatever field the plot requires,” this year, Hank develops a complex cybernetic helmet that responds to his thoughts. That’s not exactly what I would expect from a molecular biologist.
  • The manner in which ants communicate with Hank continues to vary. At the end of 1963, ants would transmit images to Hank’s machines; by the end of 1964, the ants appear to be transmitting audio and video feeds to Hank’s machines.
  • They don’t do it often, but Giant-Man and the Wasp are getting slightly better at changing their size to fit the immediate problem. We are still seeing a lot of dumb situations that would be solved by them changing size, but it’s becoming slightly less frequent by the end of the year.
  • Hank and Janet continue to do a poor job guarding their secret identities. Their identities are not known to the public (Porcupine tries to learn them, for example), but the Wasp babysits for a family friend while wearing her costume. Hank and Jan hang out with their fan club while not wearing their masks, too. Also, they allow the government to send them on an international flight under the civilian identities. And yet, when a random criminal learns that Hank is Giant-Man, Hank essentially wipes the guy’s memory to protect himself. A little consistency would be nice.
  • It is unclear whether or not the general public is aware that Giant-Man and Ant-Man are the same hero. Their fan club definitely knows, because they cosplay as Ant-Man villains sometimes; Porcupine knew in #55; the crook who stole Giant-Man’s suit knew in #62, too. However, the Black Knight (in #54), the Magician (in #56), and Hank’s friend Lee Kearns (in #62) were all clueless.
  • I’d like to point out that Giant-Man’s lab in New York City is both known and open to the general public.
  • Giant-Man and the Wasp have a fan club; the fans appeared in five (!) issues.
  • Giant-Man’s ants no longer seem to require his explicit instructions to do things. They even report rumors to him now, but only sometimes.
  • At the end of last year, it seemed like Hank might be cockier and more dashing in his Giant-Man persona. That did not carry into 1964.
  • Hank has, once again, changed what controls his size transformations. Instead of pills, Hank now changes his size mentally, while wearing his cybernetic helmet. How this works in coordination with the chemical formula he uses to change size is never explained.  He can also change Jan’s size for her, which is weird. If she wants to control her own size changes, Jan still needs to use the pills.
  • “The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale” was a back-up feature in Tales to Astonish #51-56. These were standard science fiction stories that were already written and drawn (and the labor already paid) for publication, so Stan Lee wanted to make use of them, but the sci-fi market was disappearing with the increased popularity of superheroes. His solution was to have someone write and draw a brief framing scene that made it seem like the Wasp was telling these stories to someone. It’s an odd and kind of awkward feature.
  • Giant-Man protests the Wasp’s perceived ditziness in Tales to Astonish #55, saying that she is brilliant and brave. Unfortunately, this is the only time anyone (including Janet) seems to believe that.
  • Hank ignoring and dismissing Jan is a recurring theme in these issues.
  • Jan gets captured four times in 1964. I don’t recall this being a problem last year, so this bears monitoring.
  • Hank bought an engagement ring for Janet in Tales to Astonish #56, but does not propose. It is not mentioned for the rest of the year.
  • Even with the engagement ring, Hank and Jan do not seem to be a couple most of the time. When they appear in other titles, they are sometimes shown on a date, but in their own feature, their romantic yearnings are left unsatisfied.
  • We are reminded again that Hank is a widower, but they do not mention that Janet looks a lot like the late Maria Pym. That’s probably for the best, because it is creepy for him to want to marry a younger version of his dead wife.
  • The Wasp gets an offensive weapon, the “Wasp Sting,” in Tales to Astonish #57. It is basically a compressed air gun.

Hulk stories:

  • Hulk’s transformations are now controlled by stress. If either Banner or Hulk gets too stressed out, they transform. So, we’re definitely not at the point where the Hulk is a rage monster yet.
  • Bruce Banner and Betty Ross do not appear to be an official couple. It sure looked like they were dating by the end of Incredible Hulk in 1963, and they were shown kissing in Tales to Astonish #59, but they don’t act like a couple when the Hulk becomes the back-up feature.

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