I really liked Marvel's reinvention of Ant-Man as sexist scumbag Eric O'Grady in Robert Kirkman's Irredeemable Ant-Man, so I was pleased to see the character given a new mini-series, teamed with the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, who's now (rather confusingly) calling himself Wasp in memory of his dead wife.
Hack/Slash creator Tim Seeley provides both script and art. I've never read Hack/Slash, but from its title I imagined it to be one of those shallow, flashy, ultra-violent Image books of the 90s, so Seeley's work here is far more traditional than I expected. His art is solid, if unspectacular, and his script, while containing flashes of wit and innovation, isn't quite as enjoyable as Kirkman's. (Bizarrely, I don't rate Kirkman as a writer, he has a tendency to overwrite and use gobfulls of unnecessary exposition - but Ant-Man was the best title I've seen from him.) The problem with a character like Eric O'Grady is that he's only really entertaining as a scumbag - redeem him too much and he's just another generic shrinking superhero. But storytelling is all about developing character, making characters grow through changes. Thank god for Stan Lee's "illusion of change" ethos... you can take Eric so far as a good guy, but his efforts towards self-improvement must ultimately fail. Pairing him with Hank Pym makes for an interesting contrast, since Pym's redemption (from alcoholic wife-beater) has been a continuing theme of his adventures in recent years. Will Hank improve Eric... or will Eric drag Hank down? I reckon Seeley could have made more of this, the story he does give us is fun, but ultimately inconsequential. Maybe I was expecting too much.
Three issues doesn't make for a particularly chunky trade paperback, so Marvel have backed the main strip up with five reprints of the original Ant-Man / Wasp adventures from Tales to Astonish #44 - 48. I always think I've read all the original Stan Lee Marvel books in one reprint or another, yet I'd never seen these strips before. Obviously, they're nowhere near the best of the Lee/Kirby or Lee/Ditko stuff. Partly that's because Lee provides plot only (scripts are by H.E. Huntley, aka Ernie Hart) and while Kirby does layouts on the first two stories, the rest of the art is by the king of scratchy pens, Don Heck. I found myself enjoying them despite this. There are some wonderfully loopy ideas in these old stories. For example, Ant-Man can't fly, so he devises a huge catapult to rocket him across town to the scene of a crime, then radios ahead to his ant buddies to get together and create a soft, cushiony landing spot. There's a kooky 60s villain called Trago, a mad jazz musician who Ant-Man can only defeat by climbing inside his trumpet. And best of all, in his first battle with the Porcupine, Ant-Man is almost defeated when the villain drops him in a bath-tub full of water and the sides are too slippery for him to climb out. Plus, there's all that typically sexist Mad Men style guff Stan always dropped into the Reed & Sue dialogue of early Fantastic Four...
"Wasp, don't you hear me? Oh, she's looking at the diamond! Just like a woman! Tell me, Jan, what do females find so fascinating about jewellery?"
"If only you'd buy me some, Big Daddy, I'd be happy to explain it to you!"
Ant-Man & Waspis pretty good value at £7.69 on Amazon (or a penny less from the Book Depository). Neither strip is a classic of its era, but there's enough fun to be had to make them worth the price... or less, if you can find it cheaper.