Ant-Man #1 is a heist story. It is literally a heist story in that a plan is enacted in order to steal something of value. Scott Lang’s background as a thief and con man is certainly important, but the greatest trick this issue achieves comes in the interaction between the reader and the story itself. This debut issue makes you believe it is one thing before reversing those expectations twice in less than thirty pages. Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas establish a clear tone and premise for Ant-Man and then deliver something else on both fronts. By the last page, Ant-Man is nothing like what you expected it to be, it’s even better.
Spencer has proven himself to be a masterful writer of comedy in The Superior Foes of Spider-Man (a series that we at ComicBook.Com loved very, very much). Taking Boomerang and his mislabeled Sinister Six, he showed a verve for both monologue and dialogue driven gags within his scripts. Whether it was Fred Myers narrating his failures or the entire team taking verbal potshots at one another, the series’ words were always landing big laughs. Ant-Man #1 is the comic that proves this success was anything but a fluke. While the back and forth between narration and repartee is similar, the style of the characters is vastly different. Both Ant-Man and Boomerang may be down on their luck, but that’s where the similarities end. Earnestness has replaced deceit and dedication has replaced laziness in a leading man that is truly heroic, yet the comedic core remains consistent.
There are plenty of laughs to be found in Ant-Man #1. I don’t find myself laughing out loud at most comics, but Spencer and Rosanas’ work elicits loud guffaws on a regular basis. There aren’t one or two funny bits, but a steady stream of verbal jokes, sight gags, and other schticks as the issue proceeds. The opening sequence in which Scott Lang is shown interviewing for a job contains plenty of jokes that work on multiple levels. An explanation about the printing process at Kinko’s alongside a double-sided resume will leave readers recently familiar with job searching both sympathetic and laughing loudly. Yet Lang’s missteps here don’t even come close to reaching the hilarity of a pair of boxers discovered later in the issue.
All of these jokes are tied into Lang’s job search, struggling through interviews against highly qualified applicants. It’s the sort of premise that sounds mundane if you forget that this all occurs in the Marvel universe where interviews are done in costume and the other applicants have super powers. As entertaining as this all is, it also serves to provide a great deal of insight into the character of Scott Lang. The process of selecting an appropriate career not only helps to detail Ant-Man’s skills and personality, but also what drives him to succeed. It is the perfect introductory challenge. The clever use of a resume alone serves to naturally raise questions about a complicated continuity involving time spent as a thief, an Avenger, and a member of the Fantastic Four (as well as a death and resurrection).
This is also where Spencer and Rosanas create their first reversal. Despite the excellent sense of humor throughout the issue, they are building a sense of pathos the entire time. You laugh both with and at Scott Lang, but by the end of the issue you know him as a complete human being. There’s genuine emotion and sympathy injected into a comic that previously had you believing it was just here to make you smile. In the process of following Lang’s pursuit of a new job, you come to understand more about what makes him lovable (and what makes him weak) than you ever could if he were just pitted against a random villain. The decisions he makes draw forth an honest emotional response, forcing you to recognize that you now care about a second string Ant-Man.
Scott Lang is one of my favorite Marvel superheroes. His role in Matt Fraction and Mike Allred’s FF is one of my favorite in the past decade of superhero comics. He’s about as far from an A-list superhero as you can get though. Much of the beauty of Ant-Man #1 lies in its ability to both introduce and make you care for a character who many readers may not have been aware of before the announcement of the Marvel Studios film. Even better, it’s all done under the guise of a top notch comedy.
Comparing style and tone to The Superior Foes of Spider-Man sets a very high bar for Ramon Rosanas. Spencer’s collaboration with Steve Lieber on that title created some of the most inventive panel constructions and storytelling devices in superhero comics this decade. Yet Rosanas does not disappoint. His transitions between and within sequences are crystal clear. There is never a lack of clarity as to what is occurring or why two panels are set together.
Rosanas work in Ant-Man #1 shows him to be a fine draftsman and a highly capable storyteller. However, it does not provide many examples of experimentation. While the narration of the issue is playful, the panel layouts are all very safe. That safeness is disappointing because its clear that Rosanas is a very capable comics creator and someone whom you desire to see flex his artistic muscles and try new things.
Brief glimpses of this style appear in several sequences. Early in the issue Ant-Man tumbles through a series of lasers using ants for support. Between his maneuvering and the text placement by letterer Travis Lanham, it’s an exciting display of acrobatics that dizzies the eye. Rosanas seems to be at his best when Lang is at his smallest. His displays of shrunken bravado are great, but so are the quieter moments. Lang is depicted at a smaller stature when he is feeling small and these moments land with surprising resonance.
Jordan Boyd enhances Rosanas’ work with a palette that complements the line work very well. Most of the hues are rendered with relatively little shading; this is an excellent match for the direct, uncluttered linework found in Ant-Man #1. Boyd also establishes distinct sets of colors to set apart both flashback and what if sequences. The choice of a salmon pink for the latter is inspired.
I suspect that as Rosanas confidence grows and he becomes more willing to adjust and adapt Spencer’s script, his work will become increasingly impressive. His skill as a storyteller is clear in this first issue. There’s no reason to doubt that he is capable of achieving even greater dramatic and comedic highs as he pushes his panel layouts and compositions to become more inventive and challenging.
Ant-Man #1 is that perfect debut that manages to both introduce the character to unfamiliar readers and tell a compelling story in the course of a single issue. It is a caper that transforms a comedy into an emotionally invested drama and a seemingly straightforward superhero story in New York City into something much more exciting and original. It starts by giving readers what they want, and then delivers something far better. Spencer and Rosanas have created a great start here made all the more exciting by how much the series has yet to grow.