1. Comrade X
So if you’ve seen the Ant-Man movie, you know the big bad villain is (wait for it) a greedy businessman who wants to use our hero’s technology to build military weapons and later dons a suit similar to our hero’s to fight him in an epic final battle. If that sounds a lot like the plot to Iron Man… well, that’s because it does. But trust me, you would much rather want that than a movie starring any of Ant-Man’s early villains. “Daft” doesn’t begin to describe the lot. Exhibit A: Comrade X, Soviet Russia’s premier super-spy. When word of Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities reaches the Kremlin, they send their top man to America to capture him. Or should I even say “man” because, in the big reveal, we find out Comrade X is… a woman??!? No, there’s no explanation offered for why a woman would dress up like Stalin’s lost twin while chasing after superheroes; I guess readers in 1962 were supposed to have their minds blown by the idea of a woman (with lady parts and everything!) being a master spy. Simpler times.
2. The Protector
Or is that the Protecter? No, really, they spelled it both ways in the story. What can I say, Marvel’s quality control was somewhat lacking in those early days. Anyhow, this was Ant-Man’s first masked adversary (if you don’t count Comrade X’s cross-dressing), a super-villain variation on the old protection racket. Wearing a mask with a purple jumpsuit and beret (huh…?), the Protector threatened businesses with his “disintegrator ray” if they refused to pay up. I won’t spoil the ending for you; let’s just say Scooby Doo fans will figure out who he is in no time. His plans foiled, at least he can take comfort in knowing he almost took out a superhero using nothing more than a water pistol. Betcha never saw Thor or Hulk call a lollipop stick their “only chance,” huh?
3. Scarlet Beetle
Aside from shrinking, Ant-Man’s only other secret weapon is his ability to command ants to do his bidding. So it was only a matter of time before a super-villain came along with his own insect army to challenge him for the title of king of the (ant) hill. The Scarlet Beetle is literally a red beetle who, through a quirk of radioactive fate, gains human intelligence and plots to take over the world with the trillions of insects at his command. So I bet you’re expecting the insect equivalent of Hitchcock’s The Birds, right? Humans fleeing in terror, insect clouds blotting the sun, that kind of thing? Well, hold on to your excitement hats, kids, but his evil plan involves… stealing dynamite! Downing phone lines! Sending public officials to bed with mysterious spider bites! Wait, I thought spiders were arachnids. Whatever.
4. The Hijacker
Oh, for the love of… YOU DID THE EXACT SAME STORY JUST TWO ISSUES AGO, GUYS! Masked bandit on a crime spree? Check. Police useless in catching him? Check. Use of scientifically questionable devices to commit crimes? Check. Ant-Man threatened by everyday objects? Check. “Shocking” reveal of villain’s identity that deaf-blind children in undiscovered jungle tribes would have seen coming six pages earlier? Check. All that’s missing is someone yelling, “And I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that Ant-Man and his meddling ants!”
It’s at this point you start to suspect Lee cracked under the strain of publishing all the new books his office was pumping out in those early days. Probably because battling grasshoppers with Popsicle sticks lacked a certain grandeur, Lee and brother Larry Lieber sent Ant-Man to become “Prisoner of the Slave World!” Seems a tyrant on an other-dimensional world is trapped in his fortress by the “liberty-loving fools” he once conquered, so he kidnaps a bunch of Earth scientists to build him an “electro-death ray.” And how does he kidnap them? Why, by enlisting the help of a criminal on Earth who douses the scientists with a “paralyzing liquid” and uses fancy headphones to travel between dimensions. No, no — we will not entertain your fanciful questions based on “logic,” like “how did Kulla even know Earth existed” or “how did he contact this Earth criminal in the first place” or “if he had access to dimension-hopping headphones, why not use them to, you know, escape his fortress.” Just sit back and enjoy the insanity of Earth’s greatest scientific minds saying things like, “If anyone can stop Kulla, [Ant-Man] can!”
6. Jason Cragg, the Man with the Voice of Doom
Good gosh, is there anything radiation can’t do? Just one simple mishap involving a nuclear reactor and a studio microphone is all it takes to turn an unassuming radio announcer into a super-villain with the power to control people with his voice. So after scamming free train rides and steak dinners, what does he do? Why, he decides to take down Ant-Man after watching the local police gush over his latest arrest. “He is indeed a powerful figure! I must test my mettle against Ant-Man!” he says of a hero who was once almost wiped out by a water pistol. “With Ant-Man disposed of, this city can be mine!” No, really. He says that. He believes the only thing standing between him and ruling the city is a guy who talks to ants. And here’s the weird part: he doesn’t even need to get into a pissing match with an inch-high man because he’s already hypnotized the whole city into following his orders. That’s how sad this guy is; not only does he pick a fight with a guy whose biggest super-power is herding ants, but he doesn’t even have to do it.
7. The Master of Time
Time-themed villains are tricky. There’s not much you can do with time besides speed it up, slow it down or travel through it — and if you accomplish any of those feats, then you seriously ought to rethink the whole super-villain plan and just book your ticket to Oslo for the next Nobel Prize ceremony. Embittered by his company’s policy to retire employees over the age of 65, Professor Elias Weems invents a ray that can age or de-age living tissue, and he threatens to turn the whole city into senior citizens unless they give in to his demands. Don’t worry, though; it ends on a happy note with his mean ex-boss realizing the error of his ways and congratulating Weems for inventing “the most fantastic invention of our time.” Which of course was never used or discussed by anyone in the Marvel universe ever again for.. reasons.
8. The Creature from Kosmos
Tales to Astonish #44 marked the first appearance of Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp, in a tale that’s as heart-pounding as it is ridiculous. Her father is a scientist searching for life on other planets, and somehow his research attracts an alien who just happens to be a criminal on the run from his home planet’s authorities. Murdering Janet’s father so that no one knows he’s on Earth, the creature then smashes his way through a wall and goes for a swim in the city’s harbor before rampaging through downtown. Yep, that’s how you keep a low profile, all right. Sigh...
9. Trago, the Man with the Magic Trumpet
What is it with comic writers turning musicians into bad guys? Stan Lee
totally rips off pays homage to DC’s Fiddler by giving Trago the exact same origin, except with a trumpet instead of a violin. Arriving back in America, Trago uses his hypnotic jazz music to command audiences to give him their valuables and rob banks for him. And then… well, that’s it, really. The story ends with Trago not able to remember anything about what just happened. We should all be so lucky.
I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but if I put all the animals in a list from Most Dreaded to Least Dreaded, the porcupine would be somewhere in the back. Maybe not right at the back, but somewhere way, way down in the list. Yeah, sure, they’re prickly and you don’t want to mess with them when they’re cranky, but it’s not like they hunt you in your sleep or wreck your credit rating if you piss them off. Anyhow, a bitter defence contractor builds a porcupine-themed combat suit that’s “the ultimate in weaponry” and decides to use it for his own personal gain instead of handing it over to Uncle Sam. Which is a real shame, because personally I love the idea of American soldiers walking around like human-shaped piles of shag carpet samples.
11. The Living Eraser
Ever feel like the people who put together our comics are just as prone to writer’s block as the rest of us? The large number of office supply-themed super-villains would suggest more than one artist was staring at something in their office when they realized, shit, they gotta move these pages out the door now. For instance, I can imagine Jack Kirby — already exhausted from putting together every other Marvel story that month — looking at this assignment, then looking at his trusty eraser on his drawing table, and thinking, “Meh, what the hell.” From another online source: “The Living Eraser uses a device known as the Dimensionizer which can transport people to other dimensions…. As the Dimensionizer passes over a surface, it turns it invisible, making it appear as if the victim is being erased. When the entire surface has been ‘erased,’ the being or object is transported across dimensions to its destination.” So now you know. Personally, I like the idea of the Living Eraser trying to turn his signature line (“You have been… erased!”) into a famous catchphrase, like that “You are the weakest link!” gal from a few years back: “You have been… erased! Goodbye! Peace! Living Eraser out!”