Story I Read: “Music to Scream By” (Tales to Astonish #47 Sept 1963)
Recently, there was a commenter, on one of my reviews, who took me to task for reviewing these issues by modern standards. I replied back that I do not seek to understand these stories in a 60s zeitgeist context, but to judge their reading worth for today. We all know, some literature is not worth reading today, beyond historical research, because of its backward ideologies and racist overtones. Just pick up a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or watch the movie The Birth of a Nation, and try and explain their worth without sounding like a pundit on Fox news. Hank Pym is the picture boy of this type of writing.
The most troubling character for Marvel to rectify and keep current, over the years, is, without a doubt, Hank Pym. Not only is he an extraordinarily cold, unpleasant character, he is also a racist and misogynist to the point of being a perpetrator of spousal abuse. It is still fresh, in all us Marvel fan’s minds, that horrible moment when Henry reached out and hit Janet. I don’t need to rehash that moment here, as it, no doubt, will feature in a later review.
This is an interesting issue as it is a ‘one off’ storyline that, I think, was always intended as a one off. Often, I get the sense with this period that some one-off issues were intended to create a new reoccurring villain that didn’t pan out. This is not the case with Trago: the Horn Player.
Trago is rather interesting. He is a petty thieving jazz musician who goes to the darkest part of India to learn the art of ‘musical charming’ to use in a massive heist. I gotta say that this is both a brilliantly cool and wildly creative concept. If it wasn’t for the fact that every person he meets, including the mystic that imparts this wisdom, is caucasian looking, this story could have been a ‘barn burner.’ May be the turbans they wear were supposed to mean they were somehow ethnic? I am not sure. Turban or no, it seems in this issue, everyone in India is white.
This wasn’t the only piece of blatantly racist art/slash writing present in the issue, by a long shot. Not only does Hank Pym refer to jazz music as “jungle music,” but the one black musician seen, is drawn with both accentuated lips and a large gummy smile. This is 1963 and yet the most frightening ‘Minstrel art’ undertones are present. Even these stereotypes were considered taboo, at least above the Mason-Dixon Line and, therefore, in California by this point. These moments made it hard for me to focus on the story and racism is very hard to look past.
As for Wasp, poor Janet is called everything from a “simple girl” to an “old ball and chain.” This is not done ironically as it ‘may be done in an Iron Man story, but is presented as a matter of a fact. At one point, Hank is ready to leave the club after defeating Trago and he calls for Janet to accompany him. She does not respond. The next panel then depicts Janet caught in a trance beside a large diamond. Hank then says, and I kid you not: “So like a woman to be obsessed by a diamond.” The supposed vanity of Janet has been brought up before, but never this blatantly insulting. What does she see in Pym anyway? He spends the whole issue moaning about how he hates jazz and thinks her hobbies are worthless.
I certainly don’t get the attraction.
I would normally write this issue off with a complete zero, but there is one worthy component within its useless 60s trash pages. Ant-Man rides on a flying ant named Korr. This is a far better mode of transportation then that improbable catapult that seems to boom Pym anywhere he wants in the world. During Trago’s charm of New York, Korr is killed by a ‘tranced garter snake’ wile saving the miniature pair. This is a bittersweet moment. It doesn’t last long though. Hank says within one thought bubble
“My dear Korr has sacrificed himself for my life! Never mind that, we have more important things to deal with.”
Well, doesn’t that just endear Henry into the cockles of your heart. He further suffers a moment of grief at the end of the story, but his terseness over the freshly dead carcass of his supposed good buddy was cold beyond belief.
So who’s responsible for this mess?
I don’t know. Let’s chalk this one up to to.... what did one of the other commenters say?
Marvel’s overwhelming work schedule.
I chalk it up to plain and disgusting backward writing.
Let this issue die. Will will not miss it.
Rating: 1/2 of 5.
Pros: The Korr moment. Trago’s potential.
Cons: The Racism. The Sexism. Hank Pym’s dickishness. The terrible minstrel like art. Just about everything.
Upcoming Review: "The Menace of the Miracle Man" (The Fantastic Four #3 Mar. 1962)
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