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Sunday, July 19, 2015 

Two newspaper columns that shrink any chance for redemption

The propagandist Andrew Smith wrote two columns about superheroes who shrink, to coincide with the new Ant-Man movie. And neither is impressive, since they both conveniently leave out important info on some of the topics. Here's the first one, which doesn't begin well in its list of top 10 tinies:
10) Leonard "Doc" Samson (created 1971): "Incredible Hulk" supporting character Leonard Samson doesn't shrink physically, but he is a psychiatrist for superheroes. Get it? He's a "shrink"! Ha ha!

OK, that was lame. But honestly, the competition for this 10th slot is immense, because there are so many terrible shrinky characters in comics history to choose from. In the 1940s alone you had, among others, the original Atom from All-American/DC (who didn't shrink at all, but was just short), Harvey's Fly-Man (not be confused with the later Archie character of the same name, who didn't shrink) and Midgetman (who rode a pet rabbit named Bucky).
I think this whole article is lame. If I want to learn some history, I shouldn't bother using this laughless drivel. If he's trying to say all these heroes who're either short or shrink to miniature size are "terrible", he's only distorted history without making clear comparisons, or stating what was written well or badly. The part about a Legion of Super-Heroes member is no better:
8) Shrinking Violet (1961): Violet -- real name Salu Digby of the planet Imsk -- was created as a member of the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes, and I guess by the time they got around to her they had run out of cool powers. Anyway, Salu could shrink because all Imskians could, so one wonders why Imsk didn't find a more impressive specimen to send to the Legion, like maybe a weight-lifter or an acrobat or something.

In some incarnations, Vi has been toughened up some, like in one scenario where she was a rough lesbian with an eye-patch. No, I am not making that up. In other scenarios, her superhero name has been Atom Girl, Leviathan and Virus. I was always hoping they'd change her name to Shrinking Violence, but nobody ever listens to me.
Nobody should have to listen to somebody who sensationalizes history this way. He's only hinting he dislikes Salu, and didn't want repairs made. The lesbian alteration came in the early 1990s, when Salu was turned lesbian along with Lightning Lass. This was later abandoned, but in recent times they apparently restored it, and it'd come as no surprise if today they'd be less likely to cut out that nonsense, no matter how insulting it'd be to co-creator Jerry Siegel, who was still working for DC in 1961 and introduced her as a future fighter.
3) The Atom (1961): DC Comics was on a roll in 1961, having rebooted various 1940s characters by dropping everything about them but the names, creating new, sci-fi versions of Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman. In "Showcase" #34 they did the same with the powerless Al "Atom" Pratt mentioned earlier, by giving the name to a new guy named Ray Palmer, a physicist at Ivy University who had developed a shrinking process. With it, he could reduce to any size (even microscopic), whereupon he donned a costume with the same color scheme as Doll Man and fought crime as The Atom.

The best part of the new Atom's origin to me was that Palmer had to use white-dwarf-star matter to stabilize the process. Coincidentally, he stumbled across a white dwarf star meteor in his very first issue. When Palmer picks up the cantaloupe-size meteor, he says, "So heavy ... I can hardly lift it!"

Yes, I imagine so. A white dwarf star is one of the densest forms of matter in the universe, with a typical white dwarf being as massive as the Sun but with a diameter only slightly bigger than the Earth. If a white dwarf star meteor had ever actually hit the Earth, it probably would have been about as heavy as our planet, exploding both objects into, ahem, atoms.

But, OK, it's comic book pseudo-science. And later versions of the origin wrote that part out. The Atom deserves a high spot on this list for his longevity (he's been with the Justice League off and on since the early 1960s) and for being one of the most versatile of shrinky heroes. Not only can he reduce to any size, but he controls his weight as well.
Curious he doesn't bring up the shoddy treatment of both Ray and Jean Loring, in contrast to what he did bring up about Shrinking Violet. Is there any reason the audience can't know about the lurid motions Ray and Jean were put through during and since Identity Crisis? Or how the New52 changed and reduced Ray to a minor supporting character who's no longer a superhero? That's not what I'd call longevity.
2) The Wasp (1963): In the early 1960s, Janet van Dyne was a wealthy socialite who dated Henry Pym, the biochemist who shrank and fought crime as Ant-Man. He gave her the power to shrink like himself, but also implanted specialized synthetic cells in her body so that when she shrank she grew wings (to fly) and antennae (to talk to insects). It's never been explained why Pym didn't do this for himself but was comfortable disfiguring his girlfriend. He also invented wrist-mounted, compressed air "stinger" guns so Jan could live up to her namesake, because in comics brilliant biochemists are also brilliant garage mechanics.
Excuse me? He may have been depicted bruising her in that questionable story from 1981, but he was never written disfiguring her. What kind of insulting insinuation is that? There's a difference between disfiguring and physical implants. And how come no complaint whether the writers of any era handled Jan unfairly?

Now, here's the second column, and it's no better. For example, it says:
We can only guess how and why Lee and Kirby opted to lift the Pym character out of obscurity, because most history-of-Marvel books tend to skip over Ant-Man entirely.
Not the ones I read years ago. I recall reading one by Ron Goulart that brought up Ant-Man, and if so, there's bound to be more books that reference both Hank Pym and Scott Lang too. But, this article does get worse:
1981: Pym has a mental breakdown, attacking a foe that had surrendered. Faced with a court martial, Pym builds a robot to attack the Avengers so he can save the day. In the process, he strikes Janet, forever labeling him in fan circles as "Hank the Wife-Beater." He is expelled, and Van Dyne divorces him.
Yep, it's just like such a phony fan to label all fan circles as people who can't distinguish between fiction and reality, and the scriptwriters living in the latter who made a mess out of the former. He's basically saying nobody's mad at Jim Shooter or David Michelinie or anybody else who had a hand in scripting that problematic storyline. That everybody's only mad at imaginary Hank Pym. My, how my cerebral cortex feels insulted and stung. If there's anybody to be let down by, it's the writers who couldn't keep themselves from conceiving all those tales where Pym had mental breakdowns and other stuff that complicated his use as a cast member. And this article does nothing to elucidate that. What it does say is:
2009: When Van Dyne appears to be dead (she gets better), Pym starts calling himself "Wasp" because ... well, because he's a really messed-up guy.
And Smith is a really messed-up journalist. No criticism of whether this compounded the farce they were turning Hank into as a creation, and no criticism of whether the writers involved, like Brian Bendis, were managing things poorly. Just a whole lot of childish, sugary babble that offers no intelligent insight into past history or comparisons of good/bad storytelling.

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