Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

27 May 2016

Ant-Man, v. 1: Second-Chance Man

Collects: Ant-Man #1-5 (2015)

Released: June 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $15.99 / ISBN: 9780785193876

What is this?: Ant-Man moves to Miami, following his ex-wife and daughter, and tries to set up his own security company.

The culprits: Writer Nick Spencer and artist Ramon Rosanas

I enjoyed writer Nick Spencer’s Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which followed the adventures of the new Sinister Six, led by Boomerang. (To get an idea of the group’s competence level, the Sinister SIx had only five members for the entire book.) When Spencer started writing Ant-Man with what promised to be a similar tone, I was eager to try it.

Then I lost track of the book and didn’t pick up a trade until the title morphed into Astonishing Ant-Man. I totally missed that Ant-Man gained an adjective after the latest Secret Wars. Comics!

Ant-Man, v. 1: Second-Chance Man coverAnyway, after I realized my mistake, I went out and bought Ant-Man, v. 1: Second-Chance Man. The reviews were correct: Spencer gives Ant-Man the same sort of cheerfully oblivious voice that he gave Boomerang; each protagonist knows he’s seen as a joke, but he keeps smiling, sure that things will work out. The main difference is that Ant-Man has people who he could disappoint, such as his daughter Cassie, which raises the stakes and makes the trade paperback feel like it has been soaked in Ant-Man’s flop sweat.

I mean, I want to like Ant-Man and this book. It’s funny. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite Ant-Man’s powers and accomplishments, he’s a more down-to-earth character than most Marvel heroes, with his teenage daughter helping to keep him grounded. But it’s hard to like someone with such low self-esteem; he agrees with others’ assessment so often that he doesn’t matter much that the reader begins to believe it.

Ant-Man buys into everyone’s narrative that he has been a failure, which seems like it’s taking modesty much too far. I understand the mockery — I mean, he’s Ant-Man, and not even the original (but he is the best) — but no one, including Scott, seems to remember his successes. He was a real, bona fide Avenger. Before that, he helped install Avengers Mansion’s security system. He was a member of the Fantastic Four a couple of times, and the Fantastic Four is still the most exclusive superteam in the Marvel Universe. He devised and executed a plan that defeated Dr. Doom by delving more deeply into the nature of Pym Particles than anyone else. Before that, he returned from the dead. (OK, he only appeared to be dead. Still!)

And Scott uses his powers well in Second-Chance — he beats Tony Stark’s security, he uses his powers to save rent by living in a toy house, he prevents his daughter from rejecting a transplant, and he defeats a Nazi robot. A Nazi robot, for Byrne’s sake! But whenever anyone heaps abuse onto Scott, he takes it, even implicitly agrees with their assessments. (He doesn’t call Stark on Stark’s accusation that Scott can’t stick with one team for very long; Scott thinks about how much team-hopping Tony’s been doing, but you get the feeling Scott’s inferiority complex would stop him from actually saying it.) It’s infuriating, and at times it’s difficult to read about this sad sack.

Everyone but Cassie takes the opportunity to dump on Ant-Man. That’s understandable for most characters, who have little interest in the man, but it’s difficult when his ex-wife, Peggy, does it. Peggy’s not cartoonishly bad in her interactions with Scott, but she’s still inconsiderate at best and often much worse. She decides to move to Miami with Cassie, and from the narration, it seems that if Scott hadn’t decided to visit the day she packed up, she wouldn’t have told him his daughter was moving more than a thousand miles away. She denigrates Scott for being a loser and a super-hero, which feels contradictory; she thinks Scott’s superheroics will cause Cassie to get wrapped up in the machinations of supervillains, but if he’s a loser, who’s going to pay attention to him? Peggy wants Scott to be “normal,” and no one gets to demand that of another human being, even if they share a child’s visitation rights.

Spencer brings some interesting villains into the book. Grizzly, a strong guy in a bear suit, attacks Scott, but Scott ends up hiring Grizzly for his new security firm. Scott also hires Machinesmith, a robot with the consciousness of a former Mr. Fear, to help his security firm. As you probably guessed from the book’s vibe, these two are pathetic; Grizzly attacked Scott, not knowing Scott wasn’t the Ant-Man who defeated him, and Machinesmith was working as an entertainer at children’s birthday parties after his parole from prison. Fortunately, Spencer brings in the new Beetle from Superior Foes of Spider-Man, and she doesn’t lack for self-confidence.

Scott having no confidence in his accomplishments doesn’t mean that Spencer’s not aware of what Scott’s career. Spencer brings two of Ant-Man’s old rivals into the book: Taskmaster, whom Scott has fought alongside other heroes, and Darren Cross, whose kidnapping of a cardiac surgeon inspired Scott to become Ant-Man in the first place. Taskmaster is a great villain, and his sneering at Scott feels earned: he is out of Scott’s league when Scott hasn’t had a chance to prepare, and Taskmaster’s noseless face is great for conveying contempt. I’m less sure about resurrecting Cross, who died in his first appearance, but I suppose Scott needs an adversary, and Cross’s son’s exuberant pride in his own supervillainy is hilarious.

Ramon Rosanas’s art is nice. It’s simple, but it remains evocative. Rosanas manages to convey a lot of emotion from a guy who spends most of book in an ant helmet, which is impressive. Rosanas is able to keep conversation scenes from getting boring, which is vital, given how many conversation scenes Spencer writes. Rosanas knows how to draw battle scenes — mostly, as I’m not sure how Ant-Man foils the assassination attempt — and his pages are filled with nice character touches.

Unfortunately, Rosanas art is marred by the lettering — specifically the lettering of the book’s dialogue. The font is … well, I want to say “ugly,” but “distracting” is probably fairer. It bears a resemblance to Comic Sans, and no one wants that in a font. Pick a new style next time, letterer Travis Lanham.

In the end, what the book needs is more scenes with actual superheroics, the stranger the better. The book’s high point was when Ant-Man defeated the Nazi robot that spewed molten gold, and Scott’s sangfroid during the battle suggests he could handle weirder villains. Actually, the book improved greatly when Scott was actually in action; the rest of the time, when people made fun of this character I was supposed to care about, was uncomfortable.

Rating: Ant-Man symbol Ant-Man symbol Ant-Man symbol (3 of 5)

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