The Original Ant-man and Wasp in Marvel Masterworks

Marvel Masterworks Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume 1 collects material from Tales to Astonish #27, 35-52. Extras include an introduction from Dick Ayers from 2006, house ad from Fantastic Four #14 (May 63) promoting Marvel’s line of heroes: Thor, Spider-man, Iron Man, Ant-man and the Human Torch, Original art from Tales to Astonish #40 page 5 (Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky), #44 page 13 (Kirby and Don Heck), and #47 page 3 (Don Heck).

Tales to Astonish was one of the five sci-fi/monster thriller anthologies that the pre-Marvel/post-Atlas comic company produced (among other genre titles). These anthologies featured one-shot wonders by future Marvel Age signature artists Kirby, Ditko, Heck (among others) and many of the stories written and/or edited by Stan Lee. The anthologies would feature 2 to 4 stories, usually 5 pages each, but some of the Kirby stories would be multi-part features.

Ant-man was never one of my favorite Marvel characters but knowing that Kirby did the first few issues and the promise of a Marvel Cinema movie made me finally get this softcover Masterworks. Just like the movie, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed these early issues. Jack Kirby used forced perspective to brilliant effect.

From Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962) “The Man in the Ant Hill”. Artwork by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

With a cover date of November of 1961, the Marvel Age dawned with Fantastic Four #1 (though Martin Goodman didn’t call his publishing outfit that quite yet). Two short months later, Tales to Astonish #27 hit the racks with a cover date of January 1962 featuring “The Man in the Ant Hill”. Doctor Hank Pym discovers a shrinking formula and finds himself trapped in the world of insects where even ants tower over him. Will the hero scientist prevail or will he made enslaved to toil in the sugar mines for his giant ant overlords?

Tales to Astonish #35 “Return of the Ant-man” (September 1962). Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

Fast forward eight short months later and Tales to Astonish #35 hit the stands with a shocking Kirby cover featuring Ant-man in costume “talking” to ants and a menacing gunman pointing the barrel of his pistol both at Ant-man and the reader. The three-part feature must have shocked comic readers of the 60s. Here was a scientist communicating with insects, having an army of hundreds of biting ants helping him subdue the communist bad guys.

So was Ant-man Marvel’s second Marvel Age creation after the Fantastic Four? January 1962 was the cover date for “Man in the Ant Hill” and May 1962 had The Incredible Hulk #1 and Namor’s return in Fantastic Four #4. Thor debuted in Journey into Mystery #83 in August of 1962. One month later, September 1962 was Tales to Astonish #35 with the name Ant-man and he was in costume for the first time. Whatever the case may be, Ant-man was definitely one of the first wave of Marvel Age heroes and predates Iron Man by several months.

The cover of #36 highlights the vulnerability of Ant-man: a normal human presses a glass case over Ant-man and an ant he’s riding. The cover is gripping but also makes Ant-man appear like the weakest hero in the bunch. I really enjoyed the Cold War spy thriller of Comrade X and the ending was surprising.

#37 had the Protector (or Protecter as he’s spelled on the splash, though spelled right elsewhere) wearing an interesting suit and multiple weapons. The ending was a bit silly (the guy was wearing goggles, after all) but he had the makings for a repeat villain, if they changed his name.

Tales to Astonish #37 “Trapped by the Protecter” [sic] (November 1962). Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers.

#38 featured the debut of his arch-rival, Egg-head. I never liked Egg-head before, but I found him to be a cool and complex villain in these early issues. Years later, other writers turned him into a caricature.

#39 takes the Atomic monster trope and creates the super-intelligent and ruthless Scarlet Beetle. Ah, nothing like waging pint-sized war with a popsicle stick, a drinking fountain and several shots of good ol’ DDT.

#40 is titled “The Day the Ant-man Failed” with more great Kirby forced perspective and Hank Pym ingenuity, Ant-man flies across the city after being shot out of his homemade catapult.

Tales to Astonish #40 “The Day That Ant-man Failed!” (February 1963). Art by Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky.

#41 has Don Heck debut as penciller in “Prisoner of the Slave World”. Though Heck’s artwork is solid, he didn’t have Kirby’s knack for showcasing our diminutive hero’s adventures. This time, Ant-man has to contend with aliens and alien insects that don’t respond to his radio waves.

From Tales to Astonish #41 “Prisoner of the Slave World!” Artwork by Don Heck.

#42 In “The Voice of Doom”, Heck does a better job with the miniature world and forced perspective. How can Ant-man overcome a man who can control people through the sound of his voice?

#43 “The Astonishing Ant-man Versus the Mad Master of Time” has Ant-man battling an embittered adversary who ages Hank Pym.

#44 Features the debut of the Winsome Wasp (here called the Wonderful Wasp.) Though the Creature from Kosmos was a forgettable foe, the Wasp shone in her first appearance. Ernie Hart did the scripting for the next few issues. Hank Pym’s life is fleshed out in this issue, giving him more of a tragic backstory and introducing Vernon van Dyne and his daughter Janet. When her father is murdered, she turns to Hank for help. The events leading up to the Wasp are contrived and stretch believability, but after he takes Janet as an ally, things really heat up.

From Tales to Astonish #41, the first appearance of Janet van Dyne, the Wasp. Art by Don Heck.

#45 Is an early gem. “The Terrible Traps of Egghead” starts off by exploring his villainous personality. He then sets out to capture Ant-man and Wasp. I liked Don Heck’s rougher art style for this issue.

From Tales to Astonish #45, “The Terrible Traps of Egghead!” Art by Don Heck.
Like a knight of olde, except he’s wearing a cybernetic helmet, riding a charging ant, and using a hatpin as a lance… Great Don Heck art on the lizard. From Tales to Astonish #45.

#46 is a fairly forgettable issue with Cyclops and aliens. Heck’s art takes a dip in this one as well, except when he’s drawing Wasp. I did like the alien’s armor, except for their ridiculous boots. Wasp commands a hive of wasps!

#47 “Trago the Man with the Magic Trumpet”. I’m not kidding. The cover is great, though it shows piano keys. Much of the interior art is very good with Heck returning to the rough style he debuted to good effect in #45.

#48 Porcupine might look and sound silly to readers of today, but I liked him when I first came across him in the Defenders. In the least, he’s more menacing than Trago’s trumpet. This is Heck’s best art yet on the title too.

Tales to Astonish #49 “The Birth of Giant-man!”. Art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.

#49 “The Birth of Giant-Man” has Pym growing larger and also marks the return of Jack Kirby to the title with Don Heck inking. Their new foe is the alien known as The Eraser. I know, I know — he’s silly. The effect of his erasing powers is cool looking. Still, he’s better than Trago. Also, page 5 has Hank showing Janet a bizarre “size chart”. At quick glance, the home movie could be seriously misconstrued…

Hank Pym explains the different sizes to young understudy, Janet van Dyne. Tales to Astonish # 49 “The Birth of Giant-man!”. Art by Jack Kirby and Don Heck.

#50 Giant-man and Wasp battle the Human Top. Jack Kirby with Steve Ditko inking but neither turn in their best performance here. Ditko uses a very light inking style here much different than his inking of Kirby on Hulk or Fantastic Four. It’s good, but not his best. Maybe Steve thought the Human Top just looked too silly. Every time I see his helmet, I can’t help but think of a giant green onion bulb. It’s especially silly when the Top spins upside down on his head.

The Human Top or “Sir Green Onionhead” as I like to call him. I get dizzy spinning in circles a few times. From Tales to Astonish #50 “The Human Top!”. Artwork by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

#51 Dick Ayers inks Kirby with a much heavier hand, giving the art a more traditional Kirby feel. Fortunately, the Human Top doesn’t spin on his head in this one. The feature “The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale” debuts this issue, with art by Larry Lieber and George Bell.

#52 Drawn by Dick Ayers and written by Stan Lee, Giant-man and the Wasp battle the Black Knight. Ayers did great art for this issue, especially with his flying horse.

From Tales to Astonish #52 “The Black Knight Strikes!” dusts off a character from the Atlas Era, but now skewed as a villain. Art by Dick Ayers.

Another Wasp featurette closes this volume.

Overall, I can see why Ant-man wasn’t as popular as the other heroes, why the change to Giant-man occurred (after all, you can’t spell Giant without Ant). The raw material was there to create a good title, on par with the others.

I gave it five stars for the raw ideas that were there and the amazing ability for the art to make the reader believe in the world of a man an inch tall. The characterization of Egghead was better than I expected. Some of the interplay between Hank and Janet is bizarre, heavy-handed and, at times uncomfortable, but no more so than the writing on early Avengers for these characters. If anything, Wasp is shown more favorably in this title.

Finally, I love seeing these titles at the dawn of the Marvel Age. They’re raw, definitely, with art and writing. More so than the pre-Marvel monster material. But with these baby steps, the world of comics was changing as society was changing. Nestled in these pages are the seeds of that change as catalyzing ideas are explored month to month. Everything was fluid.

I would give this collection a cautious recommendation. It’s probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it and a few people that I’ve recommended it to have also enjoyed it.

Purchase Ant-man/Giant-man Masterworks on Amazon


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