Friday, January 29, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: Let's Get Small and Escape from New York

Doug: Today's storytime will include the first appearance/origin of that latter-day Avenger, the Astonishing Ant-Man - Scott Lang! Lang debuted in the pages of Marvel Premiere #47 (April 1979) from the hands and minds of author David Michelinie and picture-guys John Byrne and Bob Layton. I'm using the pack-in to the Marvel Legends Ant-Man figure as my resource. While I had several issues of Marvel Premiere as a kid, like many of my Bronze Age odds-and-ins they went the way of the sell-off mission to raise cash to finish the complete run of Avengers I own. But I digress...

This is a nice origin story, with everything you'd want: action, odds stacked against the good guys, a likable hero who comes to his powers without too much suspension of disbelief, and some mystery super-baddies. Oh, and a cliffhanger ending, too -- unfortunately you're on your own there, as I don't have #48 to throw your way. Byrne's pencils are unquestionably his, but Layton's inks give it a different look than Joe Sinnott's or Terry Austin's. This pairing is a success.

We begin with a big battle inside an operating room. Ant-Man has attacked some armed (and armored) guards who look like refugees from Roxxon or AIM. In the course of the battle, we realize that this isn't Hank Pym - who had recently been in the suit in Avengers #161 (July 1977) - largely due to the fact that this guy really doesn't know how to work the powers in the costume. As the battle takes a turn for the worse, Ant-Man reflects on how he came to this point:

Scott Lang was an electronics genius who had taken to burgling as an occupation. Upon release from his 3-year sentence, Lang was re-introduced to his daughter Cassie, 9-years old. As they got back into life together, Cassie suddenly took ill and was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta. It's interesting as scribe Michelinie has a doctor describe to Lang the laser surgery that might save Cassie's life -- what was cutting edge in 1979 is commonplace today. However, as Lang pays a visit to Dr. Erica Sondheim, who is the specialist he needs, he discovers that not only is her office being moved by some heavies but she is being kidnapped as well.

Lang tracks the unsavory types to Cross Technological Enterprises, where he uses his past skills to bypass the security systems. Once inside he discovers, in a scene reminiscent of Avengers #144, an Ant-Man suit. Donning it Lang finds that it's fully-functional and it's Game On! with the kidnappers. The story ends with the ringleader of the kidnappers rising from an operating table to confront Lang and to tell him in no uncertain terms that Ant-Man was not going to unkidnap Dr. Sondheim. It's to be continued (but not by me, sadly)!!

Karen: I'm back with another tale of cyborg woe, from Astonishing Tales #28 (Feb. 1975). If you recall the last time we saw Deathlok he was trying to shoot himself, but found that his computer programming would not allow him the luxury of taking his own life. This issue's story, courtesy of Rich Buckler as both writer and artist, picks up with Deathlok roaming around a war-torn New York city. He surmises that, during the 5 years he was 'dead', a revolution occured, but has left the city devastated, and filled with roving packs of cannibals. While he explores, Ryker is using his spy cameras to track the cyborg's every move. He sends a tank, partially controlled by the mind of his former lover, Nina, out to destroy Deathlok. Ryker's plans have changed -"It's not a death-machine the world needs now - or an army of death soldiers as I had once envisioned - but a savior machine!"

As Deathlok evades the tank, he encounters a man with a gun who tries to take him hostage, but the cyber-soldier realizes that the man isn't going to kill him and so ignores him. There's an interesting bit of dialogue as the man follows Deathlok, explaining that he is supposed to bring the cyborg with him. When Deathlok asks why, the man tells him, "The grapevine has it that there's a new savior machine built by Ryker! We -the people supporting the rebellion against Ryker - we figure you're it!" This provides Deathlok w
ith a laugh, as he tries to figure out a way to escape from the still-oncoming tank. But our anti-hero encounters a vast wall and appears to be seconds from being blown to pieces.

This issue was much improved over the previous one. Buckler gives us more insight into Deathlok's world and was has happened between the time Manning died and Deathlok was born. We discover that Manning's friend Mike Travers is still alive, but held captive by Ryker. Deathlok also begins to contemplate the idea that if surgeons turned him into the mess he is now, perhaps they could also restore him. In such a despa
ir-filled world, the monster still has hope, which may be all that keeps him going.

Buckler continues to push the art, including a two page section done sideways -something John Byrne would do for an entire issue of Fantastic Four many years later, but this might possibly be the first time it was done. At least Buckler seemed to think so in the foreward of the Masterworks edition.
That being said, I don't think Buckler is the best inker for his art. It has a very light, sketchy appearance. However, that will change dramatically in a couple of issues when the awesome Klaus Janson begins working on the title. We also see Deathlok rip off the American flag on his chest, which I am sure had more resonance with readers in 1975 than in 2010! But the symbolism, that Deathlok is his own man, is timeless.


Edo Bosnar said...

Marvel Premiere was always a personal favorite of mine at the time (like Mr. Gump would say, it was like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get...), but right around the time that 2-issue Ant-man arc appeared it was particularly awesome: just before there were those Man Wolf issues drawn by Perez, and then just a little after there was the famous Alice Cooper issue, and then that 3-issue Black Panther story. Great fun...

Karen said...

I miss those books too. It was a great chance to feature lesser-known characters. Some very creative work came from books like Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight, Marvel Presents.


Matthew Bradley said...

For the record, the location into which Scott breaks, and where he finds the Ant-Man suit, is not the CTE complex but Henry Pym's house, which makes much more sense. I know the point is obscured in the actual issue, having experienced the same confusion myself. But a close second reading clarifies that, thinking he'd need money to get into CTE, Scott then returns to his burglar-mode, and enters a private residence.

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