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: 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?