I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.
Along the way in Marvel’s Ant-Man, during the scene where Darren Cross is showing off “his” new invention and talking about the legendary historical Ant Man, he suddenly just seemingly randomly shouts out “Tales to Astonish!” Though it may seem like a fairly random phrase to use, it actually is a shout out to the character’s origin in the comics of the early 1960s.
So here’s the deal: back in the late 50s and early 60s, Marvel wasn’t publishing superhero comics. Instead, a huge part of their output was sci-fi and monster mags, and one of those titles was appropriately titled Tales to Astonish.
TTA introduced a number of monsters, including one that may, if you’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy, seem just a little familiar. (Yes, he was a little more talkative back then, but as you can see from the cover, he already was working on his now famous catch phrase.)
Anyway, Tales #27 told the story of a scientist named Henry Pym who made a very interesting discovery: how to shrink himself down to the size of… well, I suspect you can guess. Though in this particular story, the little critters weren’t exactly friendly.
Of course, at that point, the story was really simply meant to be a one-off sf thriller, likely never to be thought of again, However, the story proved popular, and this was around the same time that Marvel was transitioning its focus from monsters to superheroes. Therefore, it made sense, since he was simply sitting out there waiting be used, to bring Hank Pym back with a bit of a difference.
The Ant-Man proved popular enough to continue starring in the book, and eventually he even got a female sidekick.
Things carried on this way for awhile…
…until in #49, Hank gained a new power, and the first of many new identities.
Another interesting fact about Marvel’s output at this time is that they were limited in the number of comics that they could publish in any given month, so they began to use titles such as Tales to Astonish to feature two of their ever-growing list of characters. In TTA, as of #60, the pairing was Giant-Man and The Hulk.
Unfortunately, for Hank Pym, however, this only lasted for another 10 issues before he was displaced from the book that had been his home for so long by a certain Atlantean interloper.
So there you have it. A quick history of the Ant-Man (or at least the Hank Pym version) told through the covers of Tales to Astonish.
Oh, and for those of you who may be wondering where Scott Lang, who is the focus of the current Ant-Man movie came into the picture, well, that wasn’t until many years later, and, no, it wasn’t in Tales to Astonish, but in another book that Marvel was using to try out new characters and new variations of older characters.