The Avocado and the Man in the Ant Hill: Tales to Astonish #27

Welcome to Marvel Librarian. Having missed out on comics in my formative years, I’m reading Silver Age Marvel comics for the first time, and writing about their highs, lows, and general weirdness.

One strategy Marvel used a few times in its early years was to introduce a new hero concept as the main story in one of their anthology books. It was presumably lower risk than launching a new book like Fantastic Four – if the idea wasn’t popular, they could simply treat it as a one-off story and continue on with the anthology story.

So this is the first appearance of Henry Pym, the original Ant-Man. This initial story doesn’t really have superhero content. It seems as though this was just intended as any other anthology tale, that they later decided to expand upon for a new superhero.

It’s also very silly.

This is a great title page, though. While “The Man in the Ant Hill” is not all that interesting a title, this illustration conveys all the menace and tension needed.

The story starts with a stock setup: Henry Pym is a brilliant scientist, but the rest of the scientific community laughs at him for his outlandish ideas. He vows to perfect his new invention, shrinking and growth potions, and get the last laugh. He lists some of the practical applications for a shrinking potion, such as shipping freight and transporting troops, which are actually fairly sensible given he’s a semi-mad scientist in a Marvel comic.

His inventions work perfectly on furniture, and he decides that the next step is to test it on a living creature. Instead of trying it out on a bug or mouse or anything like that, he takes the totally reasonable action of pouring some of it on himself.

You know, sometimes when people are shunned from the scientific community there’s a good reason for it.

Henry Pym, brilliant scientist, completely failed to plan ahead and left his growth formula on the window ledge instead of any place he could get to it after shrinking. This seems like a very important thing to forget.

He also runs out of his front door and down the steps for no other reason than to further the plot.

His yelling attracts the attention of nearby ants, who attack him for some reason. In the latest of a string of stellar decisions, he decides he should hide from the ants in the ant hill.

He trips into an open shaft and falls into a pool of honey. While there is such a thing as “honey ants,” they normally store the “honey” in their bodies and not in their ant hill like bees store honey in a hive, but sure. A surprisingly friendly ant pulls Henry from the honey and does not attack him. However, the rest of the hostile ants are swiftly approaching.

Even if you grant that the ants conveniently dragged a matchstick into their anthill, this doesn’t seem like it would work.

It does anyway, of course, and Henry escapes with a lasso he got from… somewhere… only to be menaced by another ant.

But while you were reading comic books, Henry Pym was studying the art of judo.

Henry makes it out of the ant hill, but there’s still the small matter of his enlarging formula. Thankfully, the ant that helped him before appears once more and gives him a ride up the side of the building. Henry Pym is human-sized once more.

Henry decides that the potions are too dangerous, and so pours them down the drain. Gee, that seems extremely safe to introduce into the groundwater.

Also, why aren’t the potions growing and/or shrinking the sink or pipes? I guess you could say it’s because they cancel each other out, except they’re being poured in different spots. For that matter, why don’t the potions shrink or enlarge the test tubes they’re contained in?

Probably best not to think too hard about these things.

As I mentioned above, there’s no real indication here that they intended Henry Pym to be a superhero. My guess is that, when Fantastic Four hit it big and they were looking for more superhero ideas, someone came up with the idea of a miniature superhero, and they remembered this “Man in the Ant Hill” story and decided to roll with it as the core concept. We’ll see that in a later edition of this column.

Since this is an anthology book, there are a few more stories to go. This one has a suitably creepy title page.

This one is about a husband shopping for a birthday gift for his new wife. He visits an antique store and dismisses everything inside as unsuitable, except for an antique mirror in the back. The shop owner warns him that the mirror was enchanted by an evil sorcerer, but the husband is like, “Actually my wife will think that’s awesome.”

Surprise! The mirror is evil. The wife begins to spend all her time staring into it, and starts to turn evil, signified in the art by a sour look on her face and bold makeup.

Somehow, even at this point, the husband still doesn’t realize that the evil mirror enchanted by a sorcerer is to blame.

The wife begins a ritual to free the evil sorcerer from the mirror, locking her husband in another room so she isn’t interrupted. He pounds on the wall hard enough to knock the mirror down, shattering it and releasing his wife from the spell. They have a good laugh about how breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck, instead of grappling with the fact that they’ve now encountered proof that magic and the dark arts are real.

The next story is about a cruel jockey who mistreats horses and cheats people out of money. He finds a talking horse, who asserts that he can definitely win his next race. The jockey is thrilled and takes out loans with unsavory types in order to bet as much as he can that he will win.

It turns out that the horse was just boasting and is actually nowhere near the best in the field. The jockey loses, and, infuriated at the talking horse, raises his crop to beat him. The race official catches him about to beat his horse and bans him from racing. The jockey tries to show that he’s a talking horse, but of course the horse keeps his mouth shut and everyone thinks the jockey is insane. The story ends with organized crime goons bearing down on him, looking for their money.

The prequel to Dead Space. Solid use of the classic blue-and-orange contrasting color scheme here.

This is about an alien race that lives for battle and conquering other worlds. To fail to conquer a world is considered the ultimate disgrace. One of their kind lands on a planet where his sensors detect life, but he cannot find it, even after years of searching.

Finding no one to battle or conquer, he dies of loneliness. It turns out the life he detected was sentient rocks who were simply hiding in plain sight.

Next time! With great power comes great responsibility. Join me as I struggle to come up with something new to say about Amazing Fantasy #15.