Review by Bill Henley. As a diehard fan of Henry Pym aka Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket etc.etc.etc., I own most of the original issues of his ASTONISH run. But recently I picked up a cheap copy of Marvel's ESSENTIAL ANT-MAN collection, which contains in convenient form, albeit black & white, the entire Ant-Man and Giant-Man series. Upon leafing through the book, I took a notion to review this story, and pulled out the actual comic so I can include the backup stories.
"He called it 'The Voice of Truth', but to ANT-MAN!, it turned out to be 'the VOICE of DOOM!" Per the credits, the story is plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber, drawn by Don Heck (who had taken over the Ant-Man art assignment from Jack Kirby-- something which I don't imagine enhanced the feature's popularity). At this point, Ant-Man is still a solo act. The Wasp would make her debut two issues later, in ASTONISH #44. The splash page is a prelude to the cover scene, with the wielder of the Voice of Doom commanding a despondent-looking, helmet-less Ant-Man to "go to the edge of the pier, fall in the water, and drown--DROWN!" The ordinary citizens on the scene are complaining, "It's about time that horrid little villain was punished!", and, "He's a sinister menace! We'll all be safer with him gone!" They're not talking about the Man with the Voice of Doom, but about Ant-Man!
Who is this man? On the next page we are introduced to him as Jason Cragg, a fellow which appears to be a "harmless oddball" but is in reality "THE MOST DANGEROUS MORTAL ON EARTH!" Dressed in an old-fashioned suit and top hat, and sporting a bushy beard and mustache, he mounts a soap box in the midst of a city street in order to make a speech. The bystanders laugh and wonder what he's selling-- "It's a cinch it's not RAZOR BLADES!" But the laughter stopps when Jason Cragg begins his oration; "Listen to me! Hear my words! I, Jason Cragg, speak truth! TRUTH!" And his audience is placed in a credulous trance; "Never have I heard such a SINCERE voice! He's on the level! I KNOW he is!" But one man in the vicinity is not swayed. He is Ant-Man! "My helmet must in some way filter out the hypnotic element in his voice!" But then, Cragg's pitch to the crowd takes an unexpected turn. ""HEED ME! The Ant-Man is a sinister villain who must be driven from our city!" From the crowd, "I HEAR! I BELIEVE! Jason Cragg speaks the truth! The Ant-Man is a menace to our city!" Ant-Man (who lacks the experience his fellow arthropod Spider-Man will soon gain, of facing public scorn) is horrified but baffled as to how this man can turn the masses against him "without logic or evidence".
The scene shifts to a few weeks earlier, and we are introduced to Jason Cragg as an aspiring radio announcer "who just didn't have what it takes!" His commercial pitches for "Peppo Dog Food, the food for discriminating dogs," go over like a "wet sponge," and he is on the verge of being fired when an accident at a "nearby stomic experimental laboratory" (could it be the same one that had a spider crawling around a little while earlier?) occurs. The reactor has a brief radioactive overload, but the scientists think they have damped it down in time. Unknown to them, however, "by a million-to-one accident, a tiny stream of electrified particle-ionized atoms did escape, and were picked up by Jason Cragg's microphone, where they were amplified, and..." Jason Cragg becomes... The Amazing Microphone-Man! Well, not exactly, but he does have a "strange feeling" and then start giving his radio pitch in a new and "unnatural" tone. And now his pitch for Peppo Dog Food is so convincing that customers flock from their homes to buy the stuff. One customer declares, "We don't even have a DOG, but we can eat it OURSELVES!"
The makers of Peppo are delighted with their 300% rise in sales, and they offer Jason Cragg a raise in pay, but instead, he quits! "But you can't quit! We NEED you!" "Of COURSE you do! But I don't need YOU! As a matter of fact, with my fabulous new vocal power, I need never work again!" He begins wandering around, using the power of his voice to persuade people to give him whatever he wants, from subway rides to steak dinners. He grows a bushy beard and adopts an archaic outfit befitting "the flamboyant appearance of an orator". But one day on the street, he is upstaged by someoe who is even more flamboyant in appearance than he (though harder to spot). The Ant-Man makes an apperance to capture a couple of crooks, with the help of his swarms of obedient ants. The cops on the scene and the civilian bystanders are all impressed; "You did a terrific job! Thanks, Ant-Man!" "The way he commands those ants thru his cybernetic helmet-- it's terrific!" (I noticed in rereading these stories in the ESSENTIAL book that the early Ant-Man stories make quite a big deal of what a highly admired public hero Ant-Man is. I have to surmise that this was Stan and Larry's attempt to convince the reader that this tiny-sized hero, with a rather goofy modus operandi, was nonetheless a big-time hero whose adventures were worth following. As I've noted in reviews of Archie's THE FLY, that comic also tried to depict the Fly as the idol of millions despite his origins as the avatar of an annoying nuisance.)
Upon observing how Ant-Man is "respected by the police" (and) "loved by the people," Jason Cragg seems to get an attack of hubris, or perhaps jealousy. "If I can defeat HIM, then I can defeat ANYONE! I must test my mettle against Ant-Man!" (Well, no, Jason, you don't must. If you had more sense, you'd go on your way and stay out of Ant-Man's way. If you get tired of cadging stuff from random people, you could "persuade" an aging billionaire to bequeath you his wealth, thereby insuring that you would be set for life even if your voice power goes away. You could go into politics. You could do lots of things besides taking on a costumed superhero just to prove you can. But like so many other comic-book villains, Jason Cragg has a rackless urge to fight the hero rather than finding safer ways to parlay his power into wealth and fame.)
And so,, Cragg begins using his radioactive larynx to badmouth Ant-Man. "He pretends to be your friend, but he secretly despises you, as he does ALL who are normal-sized! He catches criminals only to DECEIVE you... to keep you from suspecting that HE HIMSELF is the worst of all criminals!" As Ant-Man is receiving a service award in a police station, Cragg barges in and shouts, "What mockery-- to honor a base villain! Instead, the Ant-Man should be ARRESTED!" And under the irresistible influence of Cragg's voice, the cops indeed call for Ant-Man's arrest, despite the lack of any criminal evidence against him. Our hero is forced to use a rubber band to fling himself out of a window to where his loyal ants have converged to grant him a soft landing. (Good thing THEY aren't affected by Cragg's voice. Do ants even have hearing, anyway?) Ant-Man hitches a ride on a kid's roller skate and attempts to escape into the city crowds, planning to reach his lab and resume his full-sized identity as Henry Pym, who can look for an antidote to Cragg's "awesome power". But Cragg sets not only the police, but vigilante mobs of citizens, on Ant-Man's trail! Some of the hunters complain that it's like looking for a needle in a haystack, but, as Ant-Man attempts to escape through a park where tall grass hides his tiny form, Cragg comes up with a new plan. He orders his minions to equip themselves with hand-held magnets, capable of attracting and scooping up his metal cybernetic helmet! Ant-Man's only chance is to remove and discard the helmet, even though he will be left without his ability to contact the ants.
And he has another new vulnerability as well. After the searchers find the tiny helmet, Cragg realizes, "Without (his helmet), he's vulnerable to something far stronger than magnetism-- MY VOICE!" "Ant-Man, wherever you are hiding, heed my words! I Jason Cragg, command you to reveal yourself! Come out of hiding! You cannot resist my enchanted voice! I am your master!" And though our hero tries to shut out the sound, he is unable to do so, Ant-Man comes into sight and declares, "Here I am! I can resist no longer!" Jason Cragg is determined not only to defeat and humiliate the Ant-Man but to destroy him as well. And so he orders Ant-Man to walk to a nearby pier, dive into the river and drown, making no attempt to swim or save himself! In a procession to the pier, Ant-Man and a gloating Cragg are accompanied by citizens who are also delighted with our hero's fate; "He pretended to be our friend, but he was a loathsome little criminal! And he'd still be deceiving us now if not for Jason Cragg!" (This is really another variation on the old business of the comic-book villain placing the hero in an "inescapable" trap rather than just killing him while he has the chance. If Cragg wanted Ant-Man dead, he could easily step on him or pick him up and squish him with his fingers. Is Cragg too squeamish to do that? Does he fear that an overt act of murder might revolt the crowd enough to counteract the effect of his voice?)
And so, Ant-Man reaches the end of the pier and leaps off; ""So powerful is Jason's spell, that it overcomes even the Ant-Man's basic instinct to survive!" Fortunately, the hostile, entranced crowd of humans have not been the only witnesses to Ant-Man's march to doom! As he sinks in the water, he is gripped by "a powerful pair of mandibles" and a stream of ants, loyal to him even without the cybernetic impulses from his helmet, carry him to safety! An enraged Cragg spots the ants screams for his voice-slaves to catch and destroy the Ant-Man, but the ants succeed in carrying their leader safely into hiding before the mob can reach them. As the effect of Cragg's voice on Ant-Man wears off, he "wends his way through sewers and underground tunnels" until he reaches the secret entrance to Henry Pym's lab.
Cragg is still determined to find and destroy the Ant-Man, who he figures is being hidden by "someone who has not yet heard my all-powerful voice!" And so, Cragg makes arrangements to be heard on a city-wide TV hookup so that the entire city will become his slaves! But this fits right in to the plan being developed by Henry Pym! (In a thought balloon, our hero reflects that "none suspects that the colorless scientist, Henry Pym, is also the fugitive Ant-Man!" An interesting on-panel admission that Pym was a distinctly "colorless" character compared to the lively personalities of the other emerging Marvel stars. Soon, Stan Lee would try to remedy this by introducing the Wasp and making the sobersided Henry Pym a foil for her bubbly, seemingly airheaded persona.) Ant-Man reaches the TV studio first and makes certain preparation for Cragg's anti-Ant-Man speech! As Cragg prepares to make his speech, Ant-Man (now protected from Cragg's voice by his helmet) warns Cragg that his ants have put in place a pistol that is aimed directly at him! Cragg will be shot unless he recants his denunciation of the Ant-Man! Cragg sneers that "whatever I say now, I can contradict LATER ON!" but he complies and tells the crowd, "Listen, my friends! I have made a serious error! I MISJUDGED the Ant-Man! He's an honest, law-abiding citizen, worthy of your respect and admiration!"
As "the voice of truth" persuades the hostile hordes to rejoin the Ant-Man fan club, our hero confesses to Cragg that the gun aimed at him is unloaded! Enraged at having been tricked, Cragg starts to deliver an even more vitriolic speech against the insect crusader, but finds that his voice is halting and has lost its hypnotic quality! Why? "Before you got here, I covered that microphone with MICROBES... microbes that cause LARYNGITIS!" Ant-Man timed it so that Cragg would have just enough time to undo his spell before losing his voice and his power. Unwilling to give up, Cragg croaks and gasps, "The Ant-Man is EVIL! He must be destroyed! Believe the voice of truth!" But the only response he gets from the crowd is, "What are you, some kind of NUT, or something? You can't make speeches inciting people to violence here!" "Run the bum out of town!" And that is just what happens. As Jason Cragg stumbles away, he regretfully reflects "The Ant-Man has defeated me! Even when I REGAIN my voice, the chances are a million-to-one against it ever again having the same hypnotic quality!" And watching him go, the Ant-Man reflects in turn, "He had a great power! He might have done so much GOOD with it!" (Really? Frankly, Pym, the idea of a man having the power to override the free will of others sounds creepy and dangerous to me, even if he's trying to do good with it. Maybe even ESPECIALLY if he's trying to do good with it, depending of what his idea of "the good" is.) "But instead, he made the wrong choice! And now, his power, his Voice of Doom, is stilled forever!" (Apparently it was. I don't recall Jason Cragg ever making a return appearance. Though a while later, DAREDEVIL #4 introduced a villain called Killgrave the Purple Man who had similar mind-controlling abilities.)
At this point, ASTONISH featured two short non-series fantasy stories to back up the main superhero feature. The first of these in this issue is, "The Eyes of the Mummy!", plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and drawn (pencils and inks) by Joe Sinnott, some time before Sinnott became a Marvel mainstay inking FANTASTIC FOUR and other titles. This is the story of one Harry Craig, a man who, unknown to his doting mother and loyal girlfriend, is a crook! And his latest target for robbery is a valuable jeweled amulet hanging on the neck of the mummy of Egyptian Pharaoh Tut-Am-Tut, on display in the Natural History Museum. Harry, along with other onlookers, wonders why such a valuable object is on display without any guards or special precautions against theft. A museum guide explains; "The gem has been taken many times... but it doesn't matter, for it's always been RETURNED!" Harry's thought; "Yeah? Well, I"m sure not gonna return it! When I cop something, it's for KEEPS!" He concludes that the other thieves "couldn't get rid of such a hot item," but he has his "connections" and is sure of finding a "fence" who will buy even a famous gem from him! And so, that very night, he sneaks into the museum and grabs the gem without diffficulty.
At least not until afterwards, when every person he sees on the street wears the grim, staring face of the Egyptian mummy! Even his girlfriend and his mother have the dreaded face of Tut-Am-Tut! Harry concludes that the gem carries a curse and that he must get rid of it. But even after he tosses the jewel in a trash can, he still sees the mummy everywhere. His only hope is to return the stolen gem to its owner, the mummy Pharaoh, and this is what he does-- after which the people around him are back to normal. He vows not only to leave the mummy's gem alone but to go straight from now on. But does the mummy really carry a supernatural curse? No, says the museum guide to a new crowd of onlookers; but ""When anyone takes the amulet, they come within the range of the mummy's eyes... and Tut-Am-Tut was the greatest HYPNOTIST of ancient Egypt!"
The issue of ASTONISH closes out with one of the atmospheric little fantasies written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko which had been the stock in trade of the short-lived AMAZING ADULT FANTASY. This one is, "I Am Not Human!" The splash page shows an otherwise normal looking man tearing apart his clothing to reveal a metallic, robotic chestplate! ""What really is a human being? I HAD to learn the answer! And I did learn part of the answer... the HARD way!" This is the story of Robot E-1... E for "Experimental". "I have been masquerading as a human being... but my masquerade is ended! The game is over! And now, before I pay the price, let me tell you the whole story, while I still can!" It seems that E-1 is the recent creation of an unnamed scientist who has built him to be able to do almost everything that a human can do-- "speak, move, and THINK!" But nonetheless, the scientist warns, "You are NOT human! You are only a robot!" But E-1 wonders, since he is shaped like a human and can do the things humans do, ""Why should I not BE a human?" And so one night, while his creator is sleeping, E-1 devises for himself a humanoid rubber mask, dons clothing, and goes forth to live the life of a human being!
Having already learned that human beings need jobs to survive, E-1 obtains one, though his employers are reluctant to employ a stranger without references. He does his best on the job, working without rest as his robot nature allows, but this causes suspicion and hostility among his co-workers, who think he is trying to win a promotion and "make everyone think you're better than the REST of us!" E-1 quits the job and discovers more disillusioning aspects to human life, as he wanders among men and women. He watches them bicker with each other and treat each other badly, and hears news reports about "crime, war, poverty and disease"! He is increasingly baffled by the species he seeks to join. "They occupy this beautiful, rich, fertile planet, with birds and flowers and other wonderful living things! And they have the greatest of all gifts-- the gift of LIFE! But they do so little WITH that gift! So little that is worth while1 They worry, and struggle, and try to out-do each other! What is WRONG with the human race?"
Disgusted, E-1 tears off his humanoid mask. "Whatever is wrong with them... I no longer want to be part of that madness!" Without his human disguise, he is soon spotted by the scientist who created him and escorted back to servitude in the lab. "You should have known that NO robot can ever be the equal of a human being!" "Has the thought never occurred to you, my friend... that perhaps no robot would ever WANT to be!"