6 Mar 2015

Testing, Testing... ANT-MAN #1, ANT-MAN #2

Stewart R: These days I'm confronted by a few changes in my reading and reviewing habits. Firstly there are multiple brand new series kicking off nearly every single week of the year. Secondly, there is only so much time in a four or five day span - including earning a living - to read these new books along with regular passengers on my pull-list and decide which ones to review. It’s also become harder to make swift decisions on what to drop and what to continue with, not least when 3 and 5-issue arcs are becoming more commonplace. To that end, I’ve started looking at new series and ongoings in a slightly different light; sure the debut might be a superb introduction, but how well does the sophomore effort do in securing that accomplishment, complimenting the initial release and pushing on with story and character development, thereby convincing me that further issues are worth my money?

In Testing, Testing I will be giving brief reviews on the first two chapters of a new series (ideally the week before the third issue hits shelves), giving an honest opinion on whether I’m going to continue to read on and also a few points on what the series appears to be offering at an early stage.

And so here we go with…

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Ramon Rosanas & Jordan Boyd
Marvel $3.99 - Released Jan 7th 2015

There’s a Marvel movie out this year! Well, three actually, but one we already know is big enough to stand on its own without comic book pre-loading (umm, hello, it’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron!) and the other we know will be getting NO comic book help whatsoever as it creeps onto the big screen (yeeeah, that’d be Fox’s reboot of Fantastic Four in August). So that leaves us with Peyton Reed directing Paul Rudd as Scott Lang in Ant-Man come July of this year. With this new cinematic property, it’s clear that Marvel want to raise the profile of the character greatly and possibly set the tone for a film, likely to lean heavily on comedy and co-written by Anchorman, Step-Brothers and The Other Guys scribe, Adam McKay. In that case there’s no better comic book writer to turn to than Nick Spencer. Fresh off of a grin, giggle and guffaw-fest run on Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Spencer wastes no time in applying his deft hand for humorous dialogue as we bear witness to Lang’s current state of affairs.

Having been brought back from the dead, and having had his daughter, Cassie (former Young Avenger, Stature) go through the same terrible event in recent times, Lang is now striking out on his own once more, heroism failing to stake a stable influence in his life and the ex-wife worried that his super-powers will once again bring ruin to young Cassie’s. Spencer really does work his magic here, selling Scott as something of a bumbling doofus, trying to do the right thing, but constantly putting his size-changing foot in it at nearly every step. His inner monologue even tells his mouth to cease its destructive ways without success during one early sequence. This helps to disguise what is essentially a history recall of every important part of the Lang story to date as a smile-inspiring job interview and it really works well.

From there we great a view of the bigger picture as Scott’s family problems go from bad to worse, just as his occupational troubles seem to get some respite. Spencer manages to find that balance between comedy and family drama which ensures that the overlap of divorced life and superhero antics mesh seamlessly and gives a drive and purpose to the story. Rosanas’ art styling also helps in this regard, scattering the subtle visual laughs here and there, but keeping the conversation-filled moments interesting with a variety of angles and expressions. It’s an incredibly consistent first issue from him and Boyd and I’d bet that they’ll maintain that consistency as the series rolls on. Spencer too, hits a high point, setting out the premise and giving this a different, charming sheen to the usual, clich├ęd relaunch that you can occasionally get from Marvel (a pitfall of having to do them so often I guess!!). 9/10

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Ramon Rosanas & Jordan Boyd
Marvel $3.99 - Released Feb 4th 2015

Following the events of the first issue there’s a relocation and a change of focus for Scott as he tries to get his affairs in order and be there for his daughter. Of course he goes about doing it in his usual way and that’s with one pocket full of self doubt and another full of bluff. Spencer is really defining Scott as a guy who a) will try to blag his way out of most situations, and b) has trouble finding him on a regular basis. That really does help to solidify ex-wife, Peggy's fears about Scott's influence on Cassie as well as setting this Ant-Man up as a charming, yet misguided protagonist. It’s hard to say if it will remain a continuous plot device, but bookending the wolf’s share of the ‘Earlier’ story between two segments of the present ‘Now’ story has worked well through two issues, echoing that sentiment of trouble finding Scott and this time bringing something of a threat with it that leaves us guessing just how things will descend into that particular patch of chaos later in the issue.

The apparent early calm is time once again for the Spencer dialogue to shine and this time he replaces the Stark Industries interviewer for a room full of bankers to conduct the character assassination of Scott as he sits there and lets the contemptuous atmosphere wash over him. It’s his ability to remain unfazed by veiled, and then not-so-hidden insults that really has me warming to him and there’s an uncertainty that persists as to whether Lang is perhaps one ant short of a full nest when it comes to his smarts. Certainly his ideas to impress people and confidence in convincing them of his ability to do a job borders on delusional at times, entertainingly so. Suffice to say, things take a left-turn pretty quickly and Ant-Man’s ineptitude results in the need for some super-heroics to jump into the fray. 

At this stage it appears clear that any danger entering the life of Scott Lang is going to be on the lighter side of perilous and certainly isn’t likely to be city, or even truly neighbourhood endangering for the moment. The action here is a small jolt of adrenaline to mix it up a little amongst all of the great interactions and slower paced plot work, and helps to highlight that Ant-Man can be a capable hero when he puts his mind to it, albeit from situations of his own making half the time. Rosanas once again delivers the goods visually and has shown that he has the shrinking/enlarging aesthetics down pat, delivering a great variety of viewpoints - the large, staring faces of nondescript bankers peering at a shrunken Ant-Man was one of my favourite panels here. His technique even manages to make a guy in a helmet with antennae and a guy in a bear costume seem like a semi-legitimate sight at a Miami deli! That’s where Ant-Man is truly winning as a new comic book for Marvel: Rosanas’ art is complimenting and allowing Spencer’s comedy-laced scripting to shine through rather than the publisher give us a book leading with cartoony, visual gags. That scripting is really shining through and I believe it is likely to continue in that vein. 9/10

In Summary:
- Big on laughs, with lashings of family drama as an ongoing theme.
- Great characterization from both writer and artist.
- Consistency in tone.
- Should appeal to fans of She-Hulk and Superior Foes Of Spider-Man.
- Light on action and genuine peril at this stage.

Added bonus - Terrific Mark Brooks covers!

Verdict on Ant-Man#3 (released Wednesday March 11th)?

- On the BUY PILE!

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