Review: Ant-Man Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

Though it's mostly through coincidence, there's a lot in common between Ant-Man Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man and this summer's excellent film. They have the same plot on a macro scale and share specific plot beats -- an interview ruined by Scott Lang's prison record, a job gained by cracking another hero's complex safe, a motley crew of good-intentioned thieves that operates a robbery out of a van, and so on. The villain is even Darren Cross, making his return after thirty years of stasis. Because there are few Ant-Man stories in trade form, Nick Spencer made the wise decision to tie this story back into Scott's origin, the one story casual fans will most likely have read in reprints like the Ant-Man Prelude trade.

Another major connection is Scott's reconfigured status quo. In much the same way that the Ant-Man film lost its director and had to be changed on the fly, Scott's past since his death in Avengers Disassembled had to be cleaned up. Since his resurrection, he's lost his daughter Cassie, led the Future Foundation, beaten up Doctor Doom, and regained a younger Cassie through the efforts of an Axis-inverted Doom. The end result is a Scott Lang with a wide open past, an ex who despises him and a daughter who admires him without the baggage of Young Avengers. In a sense, it's regressive ... but watching Scott struggle with his history and forge his way forward is more compelling than his unhinged state in Matt Fraction's otherwise quirkily fun FF.

With his death causing an unsightly gap in his resume's employee history section, Scott starts off on his journey of renewal by interviewing for the security chief position at Stark Enterprises. He goes up against two younger geniuses -- Prodigy from Kieron Gillen's Young Avengers and Victor Mancha from Avengers AI -- along with a familiar face: Janice Lincoln. With Ant-Man set a bit after Superior Foes of Spider-Man, I at first thought that I had spoiled that series' ending by finding out that the new Beetle had gone legit. That ends up not being remotely true and she exits after an assassination attempt on Tony Stark; she'll be back in the pages of the relaunched Ant-Man later this year.

What ends up really uprooting Scott's life is his ex-wife's decision to move down to Miami; while living out of a dollhouse temporarily, he tries and fails to get a security consultant business started up. That's when the alchemy-powered Nazi robot shows up to remind the reader that every once in a while, Nick Spencer can go off the rails in a good way. There's the start of a subplot here concerning gruff but ultimately beneficent bank owner Mrs. Morgenstern and her role in the robot's capture. It unfortunately doesn't get a chance to be put into motion before the title ends, but the relaunch will hopefully address this. The focus instead goes to another character featured in Superior Foes of Spider-Man: the once formidable but now pitiable Grizzly.

In Superior Foes, Grizzly was at a Supervillains Anonymous meeting, and that organization continues to appear in various ways in Ant-Man. Grizzly treats his supervillain activities as a drug and goes "off the wagon" to attack Scott, thinking that he's the Eric O'Grady version of Ant-Man ...  who is dead. Scott brings him Grizzly on as hired muscle for his security company and later recruits Machinesmith when taking on the Cross family. Another subplot that never got a chance to emerge is the existence of "Hench," an app akin to Uber that allows villains to hire underlings, which Grizzly introduces to Scott. My prediction is that Scott's seeming turn to villainy in the new series is that he's using Hench to find and rehabilitate villains and give them the second chances he's always looking for.

That's a distant thought at the moment; in Second-Chance Man, Scott finds himself fighting his arch-enemy, the Taskmaster. The skull-faced mercenary doesn't quite hold Ant-Man in equal regard and he ends up being a distraction while Cassie gets kidnapped. There's been some controversy about Cassie getting aged down as part of her rebirth, but as a result, she's just vaguely annoying instead of the pain she's been in other books. Spencer makes it clear that she loves her father and that her relationship with her parents has been and likely always will be complicated. This is in contrast to the villainous Augustine Cross, who is sycophantically devoted to a father who barely acknowledges him when he's brought back to life.

Darren Cross' return brings back one last character from Scott's origin story: heart surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim. Before she went on to bring Tony Stark back from death so that he could don the Modular Armor, she was the surgeon trying to save Cassie's life with a heart transplant. While Darren has a unique look as a pink giant, if Marvel does want to bring the villainous Yellowjacket armor into the comics, Augustine seems like the obvious choice to wield it. Artist Ramon Rosanas portrays the action of Ant-Man in a style similar to Superior Foes artist Steve Lieber, albeit with a slightly more muted color palette from Jordan Boyd. The real stand-out art is Mark Brooks' covers, including Scott escaping from a snow-globe and a "Miami Vice" parody with Ant-Man and Grizzly in the requisite suits.

Though it was stunted by the crossovers going on around it, Ant-Man Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man starts strong, and the fact that its continuation is confirmed eliminates many of the flaws. There's still an annual, a special, and a Guardians Team-Up issue with Drax to be collected in a second trade; as a result, I'm not sure if they'll restart the trade numbering with the relaunch.

Next week, the Marvel Universe continues to end with Loki's version of Ragnarok.
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  1. Wait, what's being collected in the second volume?

    1. They haven't announced a second volume, but there are loose ends that need collecting: the Annual, the Last Days special and an issue of "Guardians Team-Up". With a vintage story or two (or maybe an issue of "FF"), that's enough to make a second trade.