Saturday, February 14, 2009

Retro-View: Marvel Feature #6 (Nov. 1972; Marvel Comics)

Valentine's Day is for lovers, even storied ones like Hank Pym & Janet Van Dyne aka Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket and the winsome Wasp of the Mighty Avengers.

If you ever wondered whether a hero called Ant-Man might borrow a page or two from the 1950’s sci-fi classic "The Incredible Shrinking Man" you weren’t alone. Writer Mike Friedrich took venerable Avengers founding member Hank Pym, variously known as Giant-Man, Goliath and originally Ant-Man, and basically cast him in a similar predicament as the doomed protagonist of that earlier movie mite, over the course of a year-long, seven issue run of Marvel Feature (1st series) between 1972 and 1973. [Note: This series also served as the launching pad for "The Defenders" and "Marvel Two-In-One".] You see, Hank Pym had long been accustomed to shrinking (or growing, depending upon which mood struck him), when he was inadvertently exposed to some other weird chemical that counter-acted his famous "Pym Particles" and permanently trapped him at ant-size.

Marvel Feature #6’s "Hellstorm!" begins when Henry Pym returns to his wrecked lab and discovers his lovely wife and fellow Avenger, Janet Van Dyne aka The Wasp, unconscious and about to be impaled by falling shards of skylight. The Astonishing Ant-Man, because that’s how he’s billed in this short-run series, springs into action and pops open a nearby umbrella to serve as a make-shift shield for Jan, then he leaps into a drainage culvert to protect his own little self from the "mammoth" debris. No, I don’t know why he too didn’t simply cower beneath the umbrella. If it was good enough to spare Jan from suffering injury, it could've served two for the price of one? Soon, Hank hears Jan’s regular chauffeur rushing in to aid his fallen wife (who is mistakenly under the impression that Hank is missing and/or dead), when Ant-Man detects an edge of greed and desire in statements made by the chauffeur, Charles. The driver stalks out upon being spurned by Ms. Van Dyne, and Hank takes the moment to slingshot his cybernetic helmet into Jan’s wrist, both getting her attention and cluing her in that her dear old hubby is still alive & kicking. A happy reunion ensues, and then with some intrepid lab work the tiny twosome are able to successfully isolate the unknown chemical factor which is keeping Dr. Pym trapped at bug-size.

Oops, this discovery comes a bit too late, as they are immediately assaulted by their old nemesis, Whirlwind (although this story doesn't specifically allude to the fact; long-time fans should know that chauffeur Charles and Whirlwind are one and the same), who fails to make effective use of his bigger size and tornado-inducing speed, to kidnap Janet. The ever-astonishing Ant-Man pulls a fast one by killing the laboratory lights, and then diverts a gas jet onto Whirlwind’s handy match flame, to force the villain to flee the scene. With little time to test their formula, Hank balks at ingesting it before reviewing the data that led them to create the potion, when suddenly the Wasp takes matters into her own hands – swallowing the brew before hubby Hank can react.

That was not a very smart move, as Jan then blows up to giant-size, slams her head into the ceiling and collapses back to bug-size herself, permanently it seems, the result of her ill-advised sampling of the newly-devised elixir. Before the Pym’s can begin to adjust to their now shared fate, they detect a commotion at the front door and Hank hops aboard his faithful dog, Orkie to go and see what gives. Unfortunately, the returning Whirlwind gases Hank & Orkie, and unleashes a horde of de-oxygenating pellets to rid the lab of breathable air. The Wasp is able to survive by quickly donning her husband’s self-contained Ant-Man helmet, but somehow both Hank (and Orkie, it is presumed) are able to keep breathing during this ordeal despite having no convenient air tank.

Adding insult to injury, Whirlwind then torches the lab, forcing the Pym’s to flee the room upon the tides of a ruptured water pipe. Nothing else is said about poor Orkie, and the issue closes out with the Pym’s passing out for the night on the grounds outside of their incinerated lab. The issue ends with the heroes awakening to see the headline of a discarded newspaper that details their supposed "death" in the fire from which they had actually escaped. Sheesh!

Mike Friedrich does gets credit for an entertaining story, even if there are some apparent plot holes present, and the penciled art is provided by Marvel Comics staple, Herb Trimpe, but get this, the inking is done by … Mike Trimpe. Now, I don’t know if that Trimpe was son, brother, father or whatever to Herb, but the art is overall pretty serviceable, if not noteworthy. Let me mention that Ant-Man does sport a slightly different uniform during this run of adventures, that is pretty funky-looking, but right in line with 1970’s style designs.

No comments: