Side by Side with the Astonishing Ant-Man!
Written by Will Murray
The Plot: Ant-Man, wary of the new adventurer Spider-Man, sends a message to his ants to bring him any information on Spider-Man. Egghead intercepts the message and hatches a new scheme. Soon, a giant tarantula appears in Manhattan, sending an arachnid-specific message to Spider-Man, offering a partnership. Spider-Man investigates and runs into Ant-Man, who assumes he’s responsible. Ant-Man overwhelms Spider-Man by shrinking him and setting him against an ant colony. After investigating the tarantula and realizing it’s a robot, he discerns Egghead’s involvement. Calling a truce with Spider-Man, the heroes team up and defeat the villain.
Web of Continuity: According to the Continuity Guide in the back of the novel, this story takes place in-between Amazing Spider-Man #2 and #3.
“Huh?” Moment: Ant-Man’s costume is repeatedly described as being red and purple. Purple?
Review: There is a strong premise here, although the story drags in places. Set during the days before Spider-Man established himself as a hero, Ant-Man learns of this new costumed adventurer and wonders if Spider-Man’s identity has been inspired by his own. After all, there aren’t that many costumed characters around yet, and spiders and ants are natural enemies.
Egghead learns of his curiosity and takes a page out of the Chameleon’s book by somehow using a spider to communicate with Spider-Man. How long exactly he thought he could convince Spider-Man that this phony robotic spider was his ally is questionable, but his scheme is utterly plausible by Silver Age standards. And it’s that innocence and charm of the Silver Age that Will Murray is trying to evoke. It’s not hard to imagine this as a Tales to Astonish issue that never made it to press. And while the story is filled with great moments, such as Spider-Man’s guilt over hurting an ant he accidentally throws out of a window, it feels like it runs on for too long. Perhaps because it’s the first story in the book, an inordinate amount of time is spent patiently spelling out each character’s costumes, powers, and gimmicks. That’s understandable, but the lengthy exposition helps to push the story to a full twenty-one pages of prose, making it one of the longest stories in the book.
After the First Death…
Written by Tom DeFalco
The Plot: When sibling thieves Kent and Wayne fight Spider-Man on a rooftop, older brother Wayne accidentally falls to his death. Shaken, Spider-Man leaves the scene. Soon, Kent has informed Wayne’s estranged wife Jeannette of his death. As Peter Parker sinks into a depression, Jeannette visits Jonah Jameson, who helps her file a wrongful death suit against Spider-Man. Later, Spider-Man’s given a chance to redeem himself by rescuing a group of hostages at a grocery store. And when Kenny learns that Jeannette has cut him out of the lawsuit, he concocts a story that implicates himself in his brother’s death. Spider-Man is officially cleared, but he knows he’ll always carry the guilt.
Web of Continuity: This story takes place “in the general vicinity” of Amazing Spider-Man #10.
Review: Tom DeFalco would’ve been a more obvious choice to write the campy Spider-Man/Ant-Man team-up, but I’m glad he’s been given a chance to show another side. This is one of the least “comic-booky” stories in the novel, as DeFalco takes advantage of the prose format and creates a grim psychological drama for the young Peter Parker. The only levity in the story comes from a handful of in-jokes, all of the villains in the piece are named after DC characters or staffers, which the average reader probably won’t catch. After setting up the dark premise, DeFalco drives the knife deeper into Peter’s gut when he’s forced into selling photos of the event in order to make an overdue mortgage payment for Aunt May. Classic Spider-Man melodrama, of course; he’s already mentally convicted himself of manslaughter, and now he’s making blood money. There isn’t a clean way to get Peter out of this dilemma, so DeFalco ends the story by giving him a small victory and opportune advice from Aunt May about the importance of acknowledging your mistakes and moving on. Nice work; probably one of DeFalco’s best Spidey stories.