The Story I Read: “...When Cyclops Walks The Earth” (Tales to Astonish #46 Aug 1963)
I can’t remember where I first heard this, it might have been in the movie Unbreakable or a class I took on Greek mythology, but it has been said that comic books are the natural heirs to the myths of old. Spider-Man and Ant-Man are our modern day Perseus and Hercules. I have always enjoyed this comparison because it means, that we comic readers, are participating in an age old tradition that goes back to the birth of the written word. Heck, back to before the written word. What an astounding thought. It, therefore, makes perfect sense that these modern day heroes would cross over with the old and, in the issue of Tales to Astonish I am looking at today, that is exactly what happens.
It all begins with a vacation, which seem to be all the rage in the Marvel Universe of late because the Fantastic Four just went on one too and got attacked by Namor. Ant-Man and his possible lover, their relationship is still really confusing, Wasp head off to Greece to cool their heals when the action in New York seems to quiet down. When they arrive, they are greeted by cold and distant Greeks that tell them that they best not tour the beautiful islands, that surround their Greek locale, for there is ancient dangers that exist in them. Not ones to be told what to do, Hank and Janet head out into the very islands they were warned away from. This whole episode, with the forbidding pastorale Greek sea people warning off the foreigner, is a perfect mythological trope. Before every great journey there is some sort of bad omen or at least an omen of what’s to come. Look in Beowulf, the Iliad, King Kong, even Young Frankenstein, and you will find this moment. It’s brilliant that it is utilized here to so ably set up what will surely be a magical yarn.
The yarn begins to unfurl as Ant-Man and his trusty “feminine sidekick,” (my favourite sexist piece of writing in the issue) head out into the Aegean to find monsters. Suddenly, out of nowhere the ship gets lifted by gigantic hands and hurled toward shore. Surely this is the work of the most dastardly monster of antiquity: a Cyclops! Hank and Janet immediately shrink and get ready for battle. Luckily, there are some flying ants on board who can help out. There is so much happenstance and coincidental writing going on in this issue, but I couldn’t care less. At this point it was so fun, that I was ready to go along with the idea that the two smallest characters in Marvel and their winged hexapods were going to do battle with a humongous one eyed beast. Strap me in for what will surely be a wild and absurd Silver Age ride.
Then Stan Lee had to go and screw it all up. You see, there is no Cyclops. Well, there is a humungous giant and it did lift Pym’s boat out of the briny sea, but he’s actually a robot. Yes, the Cyclops is a robot and not only is he a robot, he’s also a weapon that is being utilized by an alien race to invade the Earth. The A-Chiltarians, the name of these aliens, are rounding up Greek fisherman for no apparent reason and placing them in shoddily built prisons. Long story short, Ant-Man and Wasp do battle with the aliens and they fly off back to A-Chiltaria or whatever their home planet is called.
‘What a wasted premise,’ seems, sometimes, to be the mantra of these reviews but surely Stan Lee can really destroy his own comics. What he had here was a great story that seemed like it was going to be a big battle between Hank, Janet and ancient Greek forces. This would have been brilliant. Imagine, what could have been said about the new myths defeating the old. Instead, this story turned into the overused and boring invasion plot line. It seems whenever Stan can’t think of a good gimmick for a new villain he just blandly writes “and then Aliens came down from space to enslave mankind.” I know these comics were written for young children, namely young boys, but surely even they could see through the cheapness of this device. This whole thing evokes the scene in Misery when Kathy Bates’ character Annie Wilkes recounts her childhood experience of taking the “cock-a-doody” conveniences of plot to task. It really destroys perfectly good comics. Plus, it makes me feel cheap for reading it. Stan Lee is his own worse enemy and in this case he pulled Hank down with him.
Oh well, on to the next issue.
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5.
Pros: The opening sequence, the intriguing mystery of the beginning, the references to greek mythology and Janet’s wit.
Cons: The Aliens, the robot cyclops, the plot twist and Stan Lee.
Upcoming Review: “The Fantastic Four Meet The Mole Man” (Fantastic Four #1 Nov 1961)