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Tales to Astonish 49
"The Birth of Giant-Man!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Marvel Comics Group; Nov. 1963; featuring "The Birth of Giant-Man!"

This tale featuring the former Ant-Man, Henry Pym, and his partner-in-peril The Wasp is written and edited by Stan Lee, pencilled by Jack Kirby (who had left the strip some time back but returned for this special relaunch story), inked by Don Heck and lettered by Sam Rosen. "Beginning in this special super issue...Ant-Man Becomes GIANT-MAN!" the cover blurb announces. But that's not all; "Featuring the super-menace of THE LIVING ERASER!" He's a green-skinned alien who somehow,by waving his arms back and forth, wipes out of existence portions of Giant-Man's legs, as a shocked Wasp, standing on GM's outstretched hand, exclaims, "Giant-Man is actually being ERASED!" (Remarkably, GM neither falls over despite having no visible means of support, nor starts bleeding from his truncated lower extremities.) The cover is signed down in the corner by Don Heck.

The Ant-Man series had been running just over a year at this point and apparently wasn't catching on as well as some of the other Marvel hero strips, as Stan kept tinkering with it. He added the bubbly Wasp as a sidekick and love interest for the sobersided Henry Pym in ASTONISH #44, which made the strip more fun to read but evidently didn't hype sales enough. Ant-Man and the Wasp joined the Avengers as charter members of that team in issue #1 of that title two months before this issue, but Lee and Kirby must have noticed a problem; not only were the two insect-powered crusaders dwarfed in sheer power by Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk, but they were even more dwarfed in size; any panel showing the rest of the full sized Avengers shrank Ant-Man and Wasp into virtual invisibility. Maybe that had something to do with the next "big" change in the strip.

For some reason there are a lot more midget heroes than giant ones in comics.... Doll Man, the Silver Age Atom, the Legion's Shrinking Violet, and, up until this issue, Ant-Man. Once he made the big size switch, Henry Pym had the Big and Tall Men's section of the costume store virtually to himself, except for the Legion's Colossal Boy. Maybe it had to do with David and Goliath, Jack the Giant Killer, and centuries of other folklore in which giants are bad guys and a bad big guy can always be defeated by a good little guy. Anyway, Pym would buck the downsizing trend starting this issue, with what would turn out to be only middling success.

On the splash panel, Henry Pym's giant, red-costumed figure bursts out of "a quiet house on the New Jersey Palisades". Helplessly lying on the ground, Pym asks for aid from a startled gardener mowing the lawn, but the panicked man fless to call the police. Fortunately, the Wasp appears, and Pym confesses, "My experiment backfired! I -- I must have taken too big a dose of my new enlarging fluid! I'm still growing!" The Wasp slips a shrinking capsule into Pym's mouth with the jibe, "I always said you had a big head, but this is ridiculous!" Shrinking back to normal human size, Pym is by no means ready to give up on his growth experiments, but concludes that "I must never allow myself to grow bigger than TWELVE FEET... any bigger than that, and I become too big to support my own weight!" "As far as I'M concerned, Henry Pym, I like you just the way you are! You're a perfect HUG-SIZE now!" "Be serious, Jan! This is no time for that kind of talk!" "You big, unromantic dreamboat! I AM serious!" But Hank Pym (who is apparently unconcerned with the fact that his house on the Palisades has been thoroughly wrecked by his growth experiment) insists on concentrating on perfecting his growth and shrinking potions, rather than on romance; "Honey, you're just in love with the idea of BEING in love!" "Even when you call me 'Honey" you make it sound.... MEDICINAL!" But after more lab work, Pym succeeds in distilling his potion into a growth pill that safely and instantaneously changes his size from his normal six feet to his 12-foot maximum. (The costume he's been wearing all along, by the way, is a new Giant-Man model that replaces his former white Ant-Man helmet with the builtin microphone for talking to ants, with a red cowl sprouting insect antennae.)

Meanwhile, the gardener has run to the police to report "a giant wrecking Henry Pym's house!", but they're too busy to answer such a crackpot complaint because all the cops are out on another call; "So you saw a GIANT, huh? Well, we're followin' up a report about a life-size PIXIE that's runnin' around ERASING people! The NEXT nutty call will probably report a GREMLIN stealing city hall!" The skeptical police fan out to search a local park for "the Eraser", but the green-skinned "pixie" avoids discovery by using his strange power to wipe a nosy hot-dog vendor out of existence. After the police search is dropped, the Eraser rubs out his next real victim, "Professor Ebbhart, the renowned atomic genius! The LAST name on my list in HENRY PYM, the experimental wizard!" Back at the "wizard's" lab, he's busy drilling a bored Wasp on the size and shape of the various shrinking and growth capsules so that she can make the desired size changes instantly. Suddenly the Eraser appears and wipes his hands across Pym's lab-coated form, and he finds "I've been transported to another WORLD!" "No! To another DIMENSION! Welcome to Dimension Z, human!" It seems that the green-skinned aliens' world inhabits the same space as Earth in another universe, and for ages the aliens have observed the "savage antics" of Earthmen.... but now we backward Earthlings have developed something the aliens want, namely atomic power. And so they have used their "erasing" ability, which is really a form of dimensional travel, to bring atomic scientists to their world and force them to give up the atomic secret.

"So that you can invade our dimension by FORCE? So you can attack us with our OWN WEAPONS? Mister, you've got the wrong boy!" Pym declares, and he struggles to escape his alien captors. But he is subdued by clinging bands shot from an alien weapons. Lying bound and helpless, he hears a welcome voice-- that of the tiny Wasp, who was on his finger when he got "erased" and got transported along with him. He urges her to slip him a reducing capsule, and she gets a bit of revenge for his earlier nit-picking about which capsule to use; "I think the 'twelve inches tall' capsule would be just right for you, Hank! Or would you prefer a DIFFERENT capsule! How about...?" "For Pete's sake, DROP that blamed thing and stop yapping!" "Hmmph! Next time I'll let you STAY tied up, you big ol' grouch!" "ONE BILLION females in the world, and I have to pick that exquisite empty-head for a partner!" Shrunk to one-foot size, Pym manages to escape his bonds and evade the aliens and their "hunter hound" until he reaches his size-control capsule belt (conveniently left in a corner) and shrink further to ant-size. Searching for a way out, he and the Wasp discover the prison where the rest of the atomic scientists are being kept (along with the hot dog vendor, who gripes, "A fat lot of good I'LL do your scientists!") Ordering the Wasp to disable the ceiling scanning device that enables the alien jailers to keep tabs on the cells, Ant-Man urges the scientists to stall the aliens while he looks for a way out of their dimension. But when the aliens, alerted by the disabling of their scanner, show up in force, Ant-Man directs the Wasp to remain safely insect-sized; "What must be done NOW can only be done by one's time for our little friends to meet... GIANT-MAN!"

Giant-Men gathers up a squad of aliens and deposits them in a departing mo norail car, then evades a capture device ("My reflexes are sharper than ever when I obtain giant size!"-- a judgment that would be called into question in later issues) and climbs a building where he does a King Kong act disabling a swarm of alien spacecraft. But meanwhile it's the Wasp who actually accomplishes what needs to be done -- she identifies the chief alien scientist who knows how to return the humans to their home dimension. Glorying in his new abilities-- "I never realized the sense of POWER giant size can give you! I feel as if I can accomplish ANYTHING!", Giant-Man accompanies the Wasp to the chief scientist's lab. But his new euphoria leaves him overconfident; he is captured in a glass cage, as the original Eraser shows up, kills the "weakling" chief scientist, and boasts that only he has the power of dimensional travel through an "atomically-powered circuit on the back of his hand". (Wait a minute-- if the aliens already have the secret of atomic power, why are they kidnapping humans to get it?) Once again the Wasp saves the day, as she finds the switch to open Giant-Man's cage. He seizes the Eraser and removes his dimensional circuit before sending him to "dreamland". Our heroes return to ant-size to rejoin the other human prisoners without being seen by the guards ("This is the part I don't like! I MISS it when men don't whistle at me!") and use the erasing circuit to return the scientists (and the hot-dog guy) to Earth, and then themselves. "This is silly.. at a dramatic moment like this, all I can think of is, it TICKLES!" Pleased with themselves, Hank and Jan read a newspaper headline announcing "Missing Scientists Found", and Hank predicts, "Now that Giant-Man has come into existence, they'd better start printing more editions, my pretty little pest!"

Succeeding stories would take the boastful Giant-Man down a peg or two, as he found himself clumsy and untrained in his new giant size and nearly suffered defeat at the hands of the super-swift and nimble Human Top. Making Ant-Man grow apparently didn't make sales of ASTONISH grow-- not enough, anyway-- and in subsequent issues Stan would shoehorn the Hulk into the book as a backup feature, shrinking Giant-Man's space, tinker still more with GM's costume and powers, and finally drop Hank and Jan altogether in favor of the Sub-Mariner strip. Nonetheless, despite being one of the less successful efforts of the early Marvel Age, (and despite some fairly lame story plots, such as the alien-invasion plot in this issue) the Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Wasp strip was generally a fun read, thanks mainly to the Hank/Jan repartee. The entire run of the strip (including the Giant-Man issues) is now in print in an ESSENTIAL ANT-MAN volume, and I recommend it to those who don't own the original ASTONISH issues.

The 18-page Giant-Man tale squeezed out one of the two fantasy backups that generally appeared in ASTONISH at this time, but there was still "The End of a World!", plotted by Stan Lee, scripted and pencilled by Larry Lieber, and inked by George Bell (Roussos). In this tale, we meet Zarku, a mighty but aging monarch of a faraway world who fears that he will be forgotten after his death unless he performs some utterly unprecedented feat. He resolves that he will have his court scientists create the mightiest nuclear bomb of all time and set it off in a star to create a supernova, creating a chain reaction which will in turn destroy an entire uninhabited galaxy. Though shocked by their king's plan to cause such destruction merely to gratify his own ego, the scientists have no choice but to obey, and they accordingly create "the instrument which will make the world remember me for all time to come!" The bomb is set off, the galaxy is destroyed, and Zarku exults, "My deed will be remembered forever and my name held in awe throughout the ages!" Little does he know that his feat has been watched from above-- by an Earthly kid looking into his microscope, who momentarily thinks he has observed a "tiny atomic explosion", but concludes, "Looking through a microscope at all that tiny stuff can make you start IMAGINING things! Whatever it was, it can't have been anything important!"