Continuity vs. corporate synergy in 'Ant-Man' Vol. 1

Before picking up Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas' Ant-Man Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man, the last time I had seen its star Scott Lang was in the pages of FF.

There he had a sleek Mike Allred-designed costume -- perhaps the best Ant-Man costume of them all – and was Reed Richards' hand-picked choice to lead a temporary, back-up Fantastic Four and a school for young super-geniuses, The Future Foundation, in case something should happen to the team while they were exploring (something does). Ant-Man began dating Johnny Storm's ex, the beautiful young pop star Darla Deering, and went on to plan and execute the defeat of Doctor Doom, the world's greatest villain.

Wait, scratch that. That was the last place I saw Ant-Man Scott Lang in comics. The actual last place I saw him was at the movie theater, where he was a down-on-his-luck, good-hearted ex-con trying to do right by his daughter using his shrinking powers.

Guess which one of those two takes the new Ant-Man comic more closely resembles?

If you guessed that of the movie, you might just have what it takes to some day be a Marvel editor!

Now, it should be said that Second-Chance Man, which collects the first five issues of the new Ant-Man series (which is actually the entirety of it, as the comic will relaunch in the fall with a new #1 and new title but exact same creative team following Secret Wars), is actually very good.

If you read Spencer's The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, and you really should have, then you already know how good Spencer is at writing fun, funny comics about the C-lister characters operating on the periphery of the Marvel Universe. Like Superior Foes, Ant-Man has as its protagonist and narrator a perpetual loser trying to finally make good, and whose primary obstacles are his own character flaws and some of Spider-Man's lamer villains (The Beetle from Superior Foes shows up in the first issue, and The Grizzly becomes a supporting player).

Lang lands a job as head of security for one of Iron Man's companies, but has to flake when his ex-wife moves with his daughter Cassie to Miami, and he decides to follow. Employing The Grizzly and a bunch of ants, he starts his own small business, Ant-Man Security Solutions.

He and Cassie get swept up in a dangerous plot involving The Taskmaster and Darren Cross (who's right where he was the last time he appeared in a Marvel comic, and who, it is surely no coincidence, is also the villain in the movie). Neither Cassie nor Scott die – which is good, as they've both been dead and come back to life before – but it's still a remarkably down ending for what is otherwise a superhero comedy.

As Steve Lieber did in Superior Foes, Rosanas' artwork is remarkably realistic and straightforward, which naturally accentuates the absurdity of many of the characters and situations; the visual delivery of the gags is thus pretty deadpan. Unlike Lieber, Rosanas' art doesn't have the imaginary flights of cartoony fancy that often appeared in Superior Foes, but then, Ant-Man doesn't really need them. Because the character's powers are so fantastic, realistically rendering their often-imaginative uses makes for more than enough visual pop (like a scene of Ant-Man living in a toy set, because he can't afford rent; or shrinking down to brush his teeth inside a tube of toothpaste, thus making it last longer).

So Ant-Man, Vol. 1? Great comic. Four stars. Two thumbs up.

I'm fascinated by its relationship to the movie vs. that of the Marvel comics that preceded it, however.

Spencer seems to have had a pretty good idea of what the movie would entail, given how closely his book resembles it (a key part of his plan to save Cassie? A heist), and Ant-Man traded in his cool Allred-designed helmet for a new costume that more closely resembles that of the film.

And there's nothing wrong with that. It stands on its own as a great read, and this is surely the best thing a comics retailer can suggest to someone who comes asking for an Ant-Man comic, because they've just seen or heard about the movie. But as someone who read all of FF right to the end, I kept getting knocked out of this story by its strained relationship to continuity. Why is Tony Stark treating Ant-Man like such a nobody? (OK, this is Superior Iron Man, I guess, but let's not get into Axis and inversions or we'll be here all night.) Why won't the Fantastic Four and the Avengers won't help him save his daughter's life? (His daughter who was, remember, also an Avenger, albeit a "Young" Avenger and part of The Initiative.) All his rich friends -- the other three members of his Fantastic Four were a New York lawyer, a pop star and the queen of The Inhumans -- and no one will lend him enough money to buy a shirt and pants? (He never takes his Ant-Man costume off, as he doesn't have anything to change into.)

Spencer acknowledges continuity very selectively. He mentions Scott's time with the Avengers and Fantastic Four in passing (and in a way that doesn't really line up with those comics). He makes a joke about death's revolving door, and there's a bit about Cassie possessing Pym particles, but you wouldn't know that she's been a size-changing superhero off and on since 2005 from this book alone.

Meanwhile, when Spencer wants to reference specific stories in Scott Lang's past, he does so with nods that require asterisks and narration boxes pointing you toward decades-old issues of Iron Man. One need not have read any of these to follow the story, of course, but in a comic that barely acknowledges where Scott Lang was a few years ago, it's strange to see characters and plotlines from the '80s informing the story.

I suppose that's just the way Marvel comics are being made now, and will likely continue to be made, as long as the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" is extant and so much more influential and popular than the Marvel comics universe. It's a pretty big adjustment for a long-time comics reader to make, though, given that the shared-universe setting and history of Marvel's comics are inextricably woven into them all.

In this case, I guess we're lucky that the task of making an Ant-Man comic that so closely resembles the Ant-Man film fell to such talented creators, and that the resultant work is a book that stands so well on its own.

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