NA-116801By Jarrod Jones. It’s not too surprising when Marvel Comics suddenly decides to toss a new on-going series into the fray. New takes on familiar characters by new creative teams is always a healthy and wise business. But when that series is released in lieu of an impending major motion picture that many are considering to be the riskiest gamble Marvel ever had, well. Confidence is key.

Maybe that’s why Ant-Man #1 is such a good comic book. There’s a stoic confidence that belies its socially awkward would-be superhero, a “can-do” attitude that makes this over-sized premiere issue such a joy to read. As a former career thief/currently unemployed wash-out with “internet connectivity issues”, Scott Lang is the Marvel Hero personified: he’s faced with  personally daunting obstacles but he hurtles through them with a smirk on his face. He has to, because there are people in his life he cares for, and in this case, that person is his younger daughter, Cassie (who many will remember picked up her pop’s mantle in Young Avengers… but that’s another story). Scott Lang may be a lot of things (broke, smug, morally ambiguous), but he isn’t a bad father.

Scott Lang is, however, in a bad spot. In spite of all his accomplishments, in spite of all his derring-do, Scott can’t seem to convince himself that he’s a superhero worthy of the A-list.  That he doesn’t have a job (or even a decent suit to wear to a job interview) doesn’t do much for his confidence, either. But his mind is ever on Cassie, and writer Nick Spencer does an admirable job of crafting Scott as a doofus with a heart of pure adamantium: as his daughter is ever at the forefront of his thinking, Scott’s actions – explaining to an interviewer at Stark Industries as to why his resume is double-sided (“… apparently, it’s the default setting at Kinko’s…”), or when he’s having a wrenching back-and-forth with his ex-wife in full Ant-Man regalia – give Ant-Man #1 real punch. (A sequence where he shrinks down into an near-empty tube of toothpaste to properly brush his teeth tugs on some unexpected heartstrings.) He’s a character we shouldn’t pity – no one could be that bad at life… could they? – but with Spencer’s thoughtful characterization, he’s a character we pull for. That’s no small feat.

AM01-504edFor a character with such a rich and storied history, Ant-Man #1 should be an undertaking easy enough to pull off, and with Nick Spencer, scribe of the critically successful Superior Foes of Spider-Man, it mostly is. Ramon Rosanas’ artwork is clean and consistent, and the facial expressions he supplies Spencer’s characters are subtle and affecting. It’s the happy marriage between Spencer’s words and Rosanas’ characterization that makes Ant-Man #1 feel so natural. That Scott is so awkward most of the time gives the creative team plenty to work with, but with so much effort going into his personal life, when it comes time for some action? It’s easy to not expect much from our hero. (Even Tony Stark doesn’t store much faith in him: “… no offense, though, Scott — I’m not betting on you.”) It would seem that everyone wants to underestimate Scott Lang. They almost feel comfortable in doing so.

That’s where Ant-Man #1 truly shines. Faced with one humbling experience after another, Scott is no stranger to taking it on the chin, but Spencer keeps on lobbing humility grenades at him: after begging for an opportunity to prove himself to Tony Stark, Scott has a place against the chosen candidates for the top position of Stark Industries’ Security Solutions, but even that serves to deflate him further. (“… See, this is the worst thing about being unemployed in this job market. Every time you go in for something, you’re up against a bunch of 19 year-olds…“) And since Scott is a notorious louse, he exploits an opportunity to infiltrate the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist’s penthouse, where – while copying files from the Iron Man helmet – he’s exposed to yet another belittling experience. (Though, being enveloped within Tony Stark’s spent boxer shorts would be enough to humble damn near anybody.)

AM02-56575There’s more than enough humor to go with the pathos, but when mixed with intermittent (and brief) action sequences, Nick Spencer’s narrative balance becomes precarious. (A sequence where the purportedly reformed Beetle tries to seduce and subsequently assassinate Stark becomes far too unwieldy far too fast, a tacked-on story beat that would have been better used for more quiet moments with Scott and Cassie.) So too do moments where shoving in exposition for the sake of new-found readers create bumps in Ant-Man #1’s narrative flow (there is a requisite flashback sequence to familiarize all to Scott Lang’s history, and it utterly disrupts an otherwise hilarious job interview). Even when considering those moments, they feel minuscule compared to everything else that’s offered within the pages of Ant-Man. There’s no need to gripe with this much fun going around.

With the release of Ant-Man #1 amid all the hype surrounding its cinematic endeavors, Marvel ought to be commended in executing such a clever and shrewd business move. But it’s Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas who deserve most of the credit here: their ability to humanize an Avenger in a manner that easily recalls Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is a feat unto itself. Their evident care and enthusiasm is what makes this business venture avoid feeling cynical. Because of them, making a C-lister relatable is no longer a tall order.

Marvel/$4.99

Written by Nick Spencer.

Art by Ramon Rosanas.

Colored by Jordan Boyd.

8.5 out of 10

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