Monday, September 21, 2015

Marvel Premiere 48: Let's Get Small -- the Conclusion

Marvel Premiere #48 (May 1979)
"The Price of a Heart"
David Michelinie-John Byrne/Bob Layton

Doug: Almost six years ago (!) I wrote a review of Marvel Premiere #47. I obtained that comic as a pack-in with the Marvel Legends Ant-Man figure. But I did not back in 1979 nor did I in the present ever have a copy of Marvel Premiere #48... until now! Last Tuesday I received my copy of the Marvel Pocketbooks The Astonishing Ant-Man: Origins, published by Panini Books. As Edo Bosnar has long sung the praises of these little tomes, I'll again echo his encouragement. They are so compact, yet contain the same number of reprints as would a regular size trade. And you cannot, cannot beat the price -- under $8.00 (free S&H) for this, which is less than a buck a book! The contents, you ask?

  • Marvel Premiere #s 47-48
  • Iron Man #s 131-133
  • Avengers #s 195-196 and 223
  • Marvel Team-Up #103
Doug: I'll get a couple of first impressions off my chest as we begin. David Michelinie tired me out real fast with his constant references to the pop culture of 1979. He mentioned the Dino diLaurentis King Kong film in this issue, but in part one he'd subjected me to Steve Martin (you know that's where I stole the title), Raquel Welch, James Whitmore, Bobby Riggs, and E.R.A. If that's what "holds up" means, then it didn't. It was just a bit much at times.  The art, on the other hand, was absolutely beautiful. Many of us have remarked through the years that as big fans of John Byrne's Bronze Age art, we're even bigger fans when he's inked by someone as polished as Terry Austin or in this case Bob Layton. It's a fantastic pairing, and one we should see more of (like on Hulk Annual #7).

Doug: So as we finished the last issue, our new Ant-Man Scott Lang was on a mission to enlist the aid of a Dr. Sondheim. She might have been the only physician on earth who could save Lang's daughter, Cassie. Cassie suffered from a heart ailment where the aorta had grown inward and created severe complications. Lang had gone to find Sondheim, but upon locating her was dismayed that she would not see him and was under the protection of armed toughs. Pressing the issue, Lang got himself slugged by some shadowy dude the size of the Hulk... but with a pink arm (?). So, having been a former burglar Lang decided he'd just trail Sondheim to wherever it was they took her. Her destination happened to be Cross Technological Enterprises, a company that made just about anything that could make its owner richer. And that owner just happened to be the body on the other end of that pink arm -- one Darren Cross, who really was as big as the Hulk!

Doug: Once inside CTE, Lang had stumbled across a closet that contained an Ant-Man suit. It seems Hank Pym had some association with CTE, so had apparently stashed a costume there. Lang stole it, took it back to his apartment and tried it on. The next thing we knew, he was superheroing. Accosting Dr. Sondheim in an operating room (after roughing up some of the goons standing guard), Lang was shocked to see Darren Cross rise from an operating table and state in no uncertain terms what was and was not going to happen. So as we pick it up in the conclusion, Cross and Ant-Man battle for a few panels before Cross knocks Ant-Man out of his senses. Using tweezers to pick up the tiny hero, Cross uses the growth gases on the front of the suit to return Ant-Man to his normal stature. Breaking the antennae on the helmet and ripping the gas canisters away, Ant-Man is tossed into a cell. Cross later comes by to visit his prisoner, and it's here we learn his origin.

Doug: Darren Cross was a successful businessman who had amassed a fortune. Driven, the tension in his life eventually caused his heart to malfunction. Seeing doctors, he was of course told to slow down, take a vacation, etc. Cross would hear none of it, and so sought a solution within his own company. He found it, in the form of an experimental device called the Nucleorganic Pacemaker. Immediately undergoing the implant, it was not long before Cross began to experience side effects. His strength and senses seemed heightened, but his complexion was turning a pink hue. Going into seclusion, Cross implored his doctors to cure him. They transplanted a heart... and another and another. Still no good, as the pacemaker was now basically eating the hearts. So Cross enlisted (involuntarily) Dr. Sondheim to help him with her knowledge of laser surgery. Ant-Man stopped Cross's monologue and asked how this would end -- if the pacemaker were to be removed, wouldn't that kill Cross immediately? Affirmative. But he'd never run out of replacement hearts, as Cross revealed a room filled with homeless men, kidnapped to be his endless supply of spare parts!

Doug: Cross left Ant-Man alone after telling all the dark secrets -- after all, that's what super-powered and over-confident knuckleheads do. Lang was nothing if not resourceful. He'd stashed a couple of spare antennae in his boot, just in case (Deus. Ex. Machina.). Getting the cybernetic helmet back up and running allowed him to call for troops. The ants came quickly, helping to also get the gas canisters back. Lang immediately went into attack mode, knowing that he had to a) stop Cross, and b) get Dr. Sondheim out so she could operate on Lang's daughter. The action over the next several pages is outstanding -- extremely well-delineated, choreographed, and paced. One of the treasured shots from Marvel Premiere #47 was a growing-and-punching Ant-Man -- Byrne and Layton repeat that here a couple of times, to great effect. As the fisticuffs continue to rise in intensity, Cross suddenly seizes up, then collapses. Dead. Ant-Man whirls toward Dr. Sondheim, incredulous. She says that it wasn't anything Ant-Man did (which was actually the answer Lang was looking for), but something she had done to Cross earlier. You see, she knew of Cross's "source" for the constant heart transplants. And so when Ant-Man had interrupted her surgery, she had just finished leaving Cross's old heart inside him, rather than giving him a new one. She told Ant-Man that she knew her oath, but she also knew the horrible truth about Cross. Do no harm, indeed.

Doug: But wait, there's more! The creators don't leave us hanging in regard to Cassie's surgery, which was good since this is a try-out book filled generally with one-shots. Dr. Sondheim was able to get Cassie's heart back in functional order. But as Lang was breaking his conversation with her, a voice from behind him made an address. It was none other than Yellowjacket -- the very inventor of the Ant-Man technology. Lang stuck both his hands out in front of him as if waiting for cuffs, assuming the Avenger had come to reclaim what was his and to take Lang back to prison for the burglary of CTE. But no -- Hank Pym had sought out Scott Lang only to give his blessing. Pym explained that he'd actually watched, through surveillance cameras, Lang steal the suit. Keeping an eye on Lang, YJ had followed him into CTE on the quest to find Dr. Sondheim. However, the more experienced hero had been knocked out while trying to move about in stealth mode and was not able to give Lang any back-up. Since Lang had won the day on his own, it only made sense to Pym to welcome Lang into the fraternity. And thus, as they say, was born a hero!

Doug: Shame on me perhaps, because the entire time I was watching Ant-Man this past July I made no connection to the Darren Cross in the film with the big pink guy here in Scott Lang's origin story. But I'm going to give myself a pass on it, since as I remarked at the top I had never seen today's issue until just a few days ago. So the meat-and-potatoes of the comic book version of Cross were largely unknown to me. But I was surprised at how much of this two-issue introduction formed the backbone of the Ant-Man film. That Pym saw Lang steal the suit, that Pym and Cross were connected, that Pym gave Lang his blessing -- all of that made the final cut. So really, if you think "comic accurate", the writers and creators of the film really honored the source material. It's refreshing to now know that. This was a really fun two-parter, and to those of you who got to read both sides of this tale back in the day, I'm envious. This would have hit the spinner racks only several months before I took my high school hiatus from collecting. My loss, as I'd have liked to have been able to spend some more time with our new hero, Scott Lang.

PS: The Ant-Man costume is a classic design, isn't it?


Edo Bosnar said...

Excellent review, Doug. As I've stated before, this little 2-parter in the wonderful Marvel Premiere was a personal favorite of mine back in the day - yes, I had 'em both back then, so you may envy me at your leisure ... :P

Anyway, I'm looking forward to finally re-reading this after many years, as my own copy of the Panini digest just arrived about 2 weeks ago! I've only flipped through it so far, but as usual, it looks great. I think my only criticism of this volume in particular is that it includes those two issues of Avengers (which I already have in another reprint book) - I wish that instead of those, it had Marvel 2-in-1 #87 and Iron Man #151, which are in the Ant Man: Scott Lang tpb. (Just as a sidenote, I've noticed that Book Depository apparently gives you North American residents better deals for these Panini digests than it does for buyers in this part of Europe; for example, my copy of the Ant Man book cost something like $9.10. Still a steal in my book, but I certainly wouldn't have minded an even lower price...)

As to the story itself, I pretty much agree with your generally glowing assessment: it's really fun, action-packed and thoroughly enjoyable. I recall re-reading this quite often when I was a kid, savoring the art in particular. I really liked the characterization of Yellowjacket in the epilogue: that's the way Hank should always be portrayed. I loved how he was so cool about Scott swiping the Ant Man gear and then gave him his blessing to go on heroing with it.
Just one correction, by the way: I realize it's been years since I've last read this story, but I seem to recall that Scott stole the Ant Man suit from Hank's private lab, rather than from the Cross facility. Hank basically says so in that last page you posted.

Doug said...

Edo --

I think that makes more sense. I did a very quick re-read of MP #47, and to be honest I recall being a bit distracted when I did. I'll check it out when I get home this evening, but that certainly seems more in line with how it should have played out in regard to Scott coming into possession of the Ant-Man suit. I am thinking that in the first post years ago I'd made a reference to the Cat costume being in a store room at Roxxon Oil -- maybe I thought the same thing of the Ant-Man suit.

Anyway, thanks for your comments!


david_b said...

Agreed totally with Edo, this is the Hank I remember, along with his avenging days back in around the first 20some issues after his origin and the pre-Shooter days.

I enjoyed the fact that there **could** be more ant-type heroes besides ol' Hank, and this was a very enjoyable ending, which seems to resonate more than the story itself.

Yes, great art to boot..!!

JJ said...

I balked at the size of an Avengers Panini digest a couple of weeks ago but I think I'm going to pull the trigger on the Ant-Man book after reading another positive reference here. And thanks, Edo, for the heads-up on the Book Depository. What a gem of a site, especially for an American living in Scotland. Prices tend to be higher here but I've found some good deals there.

Just the other day I saw John Byrne post on his forum that his art in Hulk Annual 7 was "demolished by the inks." I'm with Doug; they make a good team to my eyes. I really need to pick up this Ant-Man book. The character, combined with the art team, makes this a must-have.

And I'm happily surprised to read that the Ant-Man film did in fact draw from the comics. I figured they crafted their own take on him and just used the character names and the concept. This disappointed me a bit because beyond that I thought it was a terrific movie. It was quite the palate cleanser after Avengers: Age of Ultron. -JJ

Karen said...

Great review partner. Doug had invited me to join in on this one, but unfortunately this book was in a box that was lost when I moved from California to Arizona. So I couldn't participate, but he didn't need my help. Reading this reminded me how much I enjoyed this two issue tale. It was just a well-done, fun story. And I had not remembered the elements that were actually included in the Ant Man film. Darren Cross was quite different, but it's surprising how much of the film did come from this story.

Ozone-aka JJ - regarding Byrne's remarks about his Hulk Annual 7 art, I forget where I read it, but I distinctly remember Byrne stating that Layton's inks made all his men look "queer" -that the way he inked the lips made the men look like they were wearing lipstick, and other such nonsense. I always thought it was a great pairing, and I found the comments disappointing.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, I remember seeing Byrne's comments about the art in Hulk Annual 7, and Layton's inks on his pencils in general, at his Byrne Robotics site a few years ago. My reaction then, and now, is basically: ??? (or perhaps in the spirit of the late '70s: "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Mr. Byrne?!").

Otherwise, I really need to get around to seeing the Ant Man movie...

Doug said...

Off-topic --

Multiple news outlets are reporting the passing of Jack Larson, television's (1950s) Jimmy Olsen.


david_b said...


Whew, good, I thought I was the only guy NOT to have seen AntMan yet in the cinema.

Hugh sadness over Larson's passing.., his character is as woven into the Supes lineage as much as anyone. Jack did a superb job with the 'Golly, Superman' lines, creating such a great embodiment of that character from that point forward.

Martinex1 said...

I too really enjoyed this story, when I bought it off the spinner and when I read it again recently. I think Doug hit it on the head with his review. I will also echo that the Byrne/Layton art was a nice pairing. It is definitely different than Byrne/Austin with more defining lines and facial creases, etc. I didn’t see Byrne’s comments about lipstick, but I did notice how sometimes Layton outlined the lips more and emphasizes the lower lip. I don’t mind it though, the lines decrease some of the cartooniness (I’m sure that’s not a word). Considering Scott wears a helmet covering much of his features, his expressions of shock, fear, and awe all come through. I think the art team did a great job that way. I am not sure if I like Cross’s coloring; I find the pink distracting for some reason. Regarding the digest, I am glad that they include the Taskmaster stories From Avengers and Team Up as it seems Taskmaster was a key Lang villain; I hope he shows up in future movies.

Regarding the film, I see it just passed Captain America: The First Avenger domestically, and in worldwide revenue has bridged the $400,000,000 mark. And it doesn’t even open in China until October. That seems like a pretty decent haul for a “small” picture, and one that had a lot of questions around production. I really enjoyed how they tied the film to this origin. It definitely had some modifications with aged Hank and Yellowjacket, but the spirit was definitely in line. Marvel Premiere is missed; I liked the way they floated concepts, and with these two issues I really like how Marvel understood that both Ant Man and Yellowjacket were viable characters.

dbutler16 said...

First of all, I’d never heard of Marvel Pocketbooks, but they sound awesome, so I will have to look for them.

I’ve always enjoyed my limited readings of Scott Lang’s Ant-Man. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a single father superhero, or a reformed con (but NOT a reformed supervillain!), but I’ve always pulled for Scott.
Also, I think I’ve come across Dr. Sondheim in Iron Man, where she tried to help Tony Stark cure Bruce Banner of being the Hulk. Guess how that went.

Hey Doug, you took you comic hiatus just as my comic collecting was kicking into high gear, thanks to the discovery of my LCS.

P.S. I haven't seen Ant-Man in the theater yet, either. Not from lack of desire, just because reality often gets in the way.

Redartz said...

Great review, Doug; and I agree with Martinex1 that Marvel Premiere's loss is still felt. Haven't read this story since it first appeared, but am getting in line with the rest of you to check out the Panini digests...

William said...

Nice review, Doug. This is one of my all time favorites. I have the original issues, digital scans of the original issues, and the recent Ant-Man Scott Lang TPB. I always loved Ant-Man and this story totally blew me away when I originally read it. (And I have probably re-read it around 5-7 times since then). After this Scott Lang instantly became one of my favorite characters, and I would pick up any comic that he appeared it.

It was also around this time that I was really starting to take notice of John Byrne and he quickly became my favorite artist. The writing was excellent as well.

This story was so good they even adapted a version of it for an episode of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and threw in Power Man and Iron Fist for good measure. (Two of my other favorite characters). It remains my favorite episode of the series.

And just to really drive home the coolness of these comics, they (loosely) based the Ant-Man motion picture on this story as well. I knew it was awesome when I first read it, but I never dreamed it would leave such a lasting impression.

Comicsfan said...

Excellent recall, Karen--and you can find those comments about Layton in Byrne's extensive interview in The Comics Journal No. 57 from 1980.

Anonymous said...

Man, I gotta get me some of those Marvel Pocketbooks if it's anything like this story! Yeah we get a great tale here; when I heard the name Darren Cross I said to myself 'waitaminnit ain't that the same dude who was Yellowjacket in the recent movie?, only here he's a pink version of the Hulk!

Yes it was quite refreshing to see that many of the original story elements here made it to the big screen, along with some other hidden Easter eggs (like the Milgrom hotel! That had me in stitches - when I saw that I was wondering how many people in the movie theatre caught that reference).

As for Byrne's comment about Layton's inks 'demolishing' his layouts, well, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder here. I'm with Doug and most of the people here in that I think Layton enhances Byrne's pencils. If Byrne has a problem with how Layton drew lips, well, what else can you say?

- Mike 'wondering what would have happened if Hulk was really coloured pink' from Trinidad & Tobago.

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