The Big and The Little Mix In Spencer And Rosanas’ “Ant-Man #1″ [Review]
This week sees Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas, Jordan Boyd and Travis Lanham launch a new book over at Marvel in the shape of Ant-Man. Featuring the Scott Lang version of the size-changing hero, the series is pitched as being about a C-List Avenger trying to turn around his post-Avengers career and get a new job, so he can provide for his daughter, Cassie. He has an upset ex-wife, a crappy apartment, a criminal past, and no hopes – and that's how the series begins.
With this first issue of the new series - which is on sale now - Spencer takes the jokey tone of his Superior Foes of Spider-Man series and downplays things significantly. While Foes was about villains trying to keep a criminal career going, here we have a hero trying to keep a heroic career going. Or, well, any career at all. It's a familiar concept for anybody reading Marvel at the moment, as most of their solo books are about the very same idea, played out in different ways.
The issue is a little shaky at first, as the creative team jump around in time, establishing all the various bits and pieces that go into life as Ant-Man. After getting a huge exposition dump out the way early on about Lang’s past – in the form of a job interview, which makes the sequence more interesting – the book settles down into a small-scale heist story, and proves itself to be an entertaining take on a seldom explored aspect of the Marvel Universe. It fits nicely into Marvel's current direction, although it doesn't quite stand out in comparison to Hawkeye, or She-Hulk.
Interestingly, this issue has a similar story beat to She-Hulk’s first issue, pitting Lang against Iron Man’s corporate structure. Lang spends most of the issue trying to apply for a job at Stark Industries, while Stark pushes back against him. Ol' Tony seems to have become the go-to antagonist for Marvel’s solo heroes of late, which perhaps marks the way that the comics have moved away from heroes versus villains punching and into a real-world struggle against the higher-ups within your own society. Ignore Doctor Doom – the real problem for Ant-Man is making money in a world where Tony Stark has set up a monopoly on the job market, and Hank Pym is your only reference.
It is a little jarring to go from the figure seen in FF, which reclaimed the character and gave him a new personality, motivation, and drive – and then pick up this new issues which gives him a new personality, motivation and drive. Spencer’s take on him is that he’s a struggler with a heart of gold, and can’t quite make good on all the legitimately well-intentioned promises he makes. He’s a little bit cynical in the head, and that small spark of cynicism stops him from quite achieving all that he could. He's an everyman, in other words, the Jimmy Stewart of the Marvel Universe.
With the comic now falling more in line with the forthcoming movie, another wrinkle in the issue is that Scott Lang is making a part-way return to his origin as a thief, and Spencer manages to handle this quite nicely. The juggling act here is connecting the established comic-book hero version of Scott Lang to the movie’s thief-tastic origin story, without regressing him too much. And the comic more or less succeeds in straddling those two entities. There’s a proper sense of try-hard characterization to Lang, bolstered by Rosanas’ slumped-over depiction of his body language. Spencer establishes a sad-sack who still has the heart of a hero, and Rosanas matches that panel-for panel with a Scott Lang who flips from looking defeated to looking alert every other panel.
The artwork is best when following the characters’ moods from the script and building them up. Rosanas has a knack for twisting the viewpoint between panels, catching characters at the best moment for expression, and throughout the issue he turns the reader round each scene, creating a real sense of perspective for each. However, things falter a little in sequencing, sometimes. Some of the action sequences – some of the conversational scenes, even – prove hard to follow because the perspective twists and turns so often; and these scenes have to be re-read a few times before the action becomes clear. This is exemplified at the end of the issue, in fact, with a charming final idea which doesn’t quite come across clearly for readers because of the storytelling choices.
Perhaps inappropriately for a book about someone who can shrink, the issue feels cramped. Spencer has a lengthy story to unravel across an extended number of pages, but even at thirty-odd pages the comic seems like it could use a little extra space. The wordiness of the script cramps up Rosanas’ panels, adding to some of the difficulties with storytelling that readers will encounter in the issue. Lanham is given a hugely difficult job to do as letterer, and manages mostly to keep things together. At several points he’s lumbered with huge amounts of narration to cram into panels, but he retains a decent sense of flow across each page, where a lesser letterer would struggle.
Where I may see tightness, though, others will see density. The creative team fit a lot of material into this one issue. Rosanas and Spencer squeeze in the complete origin story for the character, establish his family life, set up a heist caper, create a new sense of personality and attitude for Lang, and then send him off in a completely different direction by the end of the issue. There’s a lot in here, and you do get some fun dialogue, neat characterization, and a sense of connection with Lang and his daughter. That relationship's going to prove to be the core of the series, it seems, so it’s good to see that Spencer has a good grasp on both characters.
In fact it’s quite nice to see a (relatively) positive relationship between father and daughter in the Marvel Universe, and the issue is most enjoyable when it shrinks away from all the other material and simply focuses on these two, bantering about movies and trying to create a healthy relationship out of an unhealthy situation. There are times when this comes as a result of portraying ex-wife Peggy as overly-shrill, and hopefully that’ll be contained as the series goes on – for the most part, however, the book sets itself up attractively.
By the end of the first issue, you'll have decided whether this is a premise you want to follow forward. It feels like a book aimed at an older audience than something like Hawkeye or Squirrel Girl - and that's one of the most interesting aspects of this first issue. Lang has been round the block once, and now he's coming back again for a second shot at things, and that proves to be an interesting hook for a new comic set in the Marvel Universe.
Ant-Man #1 is a little different from what you might expect - but charming for it.