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Monday, November 21, 2005

'Tis the Season! Yes, Already.

Here's a conversation I had last night with my pal and frequent collaborator J. Kern:

"I got my tree up."

"Your Christmas tree?"

"Is there any other kind?"

"... So we're just going ahead and leapfrogging Thanksgiving then? Moving right to the main event?"

"Actually, I still have some Halloween candy sitting on the bookshelf next to the tree, so I'm figuring that when I'm having my turkey on Thursday, the convergence of three separate holidays will give me power the likes of which you could never dream."

The fact that I talk like Dr. Doom to my friends is probably why I have a hard time meeting new people, but that's beside the point, which is this:

I'm one of those people. The people that put up their Christmas Trees four days before Thanksgiving. The people that are waiting with the sweaty palms and twitching eyes of a heroin addict to put this year's Christmas mixtape into the stereo. The people who run down the street in the dead of winter shouting "MERRY CHRISTMAS, MOVIE HOUSE! MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU OLD BUILDING AND LOAN!"

Well, maybe that last one's just me. But I love Christmas (the whole Christmas season), and even though it's still more than a month away, I'm already starting to get in the mood. I even started my present shopping. Last week. What really sealed the deal, though, was hearing the first playing of Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song on the radio. Traditionally, that's what marks the season for the Sims family, although I don't think we've ever had the tree up within two hours before.

So, since I'm all geared up for the next month of glorious consumerism and increased suicide rates, I thought I'd take this opportunity to discuss one of my favorite aspects of the season, the Christmas Comic. Tonight, let's have a look at one of my favorites.

Click to Ant-Size it!  No, wait...Ant-Man's Big Christmas
December, 1999
Writer: Bob Gale
Pencils and Cover: Phil Winslade

The Plot

I'll be straight with you: I don't like Ant-Man. Nobody does. And it's for the very good reason that Ant-Man fucking sucks.

Not as lame as you might think, relatively speaking.Aquaman gets a lot of flak from the mainstream crowd for being lame, since his one big power is that he can talk to fish, but really; if you can get a Great White Shark to do your bidding, that's badass. They are nature's perfect killing machines, and according to the Discovery Channel, well worth a week of television programming. Ant-Man, however, talks to ants, which are at best a minor annoyance. And he had to build a helmet to do it. A stupid-looking helmet. Apparently, it was a lot easier to get into the Avengers back in '63.

That said, I love this comic. I read it every Christmas.

It's written by Bob Gale, who also wrote the Back to the Future series, which ranks just after the Kid as the second-greatest movie trilogy of all time. Phil Winslade's pencils are great, illustrating Gale's story of a kid who wants the sweet taste of revenge against his holiday-ruining relatives. And considering that one of my first pro writing gigs was a column about the disastrous family events surrounding Christmas '97, it certainly appeals to me.

See, Larry Magruder's father made a promise to his dying mother that he would always have the family over for Christmas, despite the fact that they're all wretched, petty, and inconsiderate people. So instead of trying family therapy or appealing to Dr. Phil, Larry does the sensible thing and writes a letter to the Avengers. Defying all logic, he's an Ant-Man fan, and wants him and the Wasp to help out. A few shots of shrinking gas and a healthy dose of righteous punishment meted out to reatives later, evil is punished, Christmas is saved, and everything works out okay.

It makes me like Ant-Man, and that's a Christmas Miracle.


  • The book opens with a big scene of the Kurt Busiek/George Perez-era Avengers trimming a Christmas tree in Avengers Mansion. I don't know what you guys are looking from your comics, but seeing Rage from the New Warriors in his spiked shoulderpads and a Santa Hat is what I'm in it for.
  • When they read Larry's letter, which asks for the Avengers "little heroes" to help out with his little problem, Hank immediately tries to backpedal, saying that he can't do it, since he's TOTALLY not Ant-Man anymore. You want Ant-Man, you'll have to talk to Scott Lang. See? Even Hank Pym hates Ant-Man.
  • When they finally decide to help Larry out, Hank calls his house to let him know he's coming, and Larry's mom hangs up on him because she thinks he's an internet pervert. Oh, Mrs. Magruder, if you only knew...
  • When Larry explains his family to Ant-Man and the Wasp, the list reads like every annoying relative you've ever had, starting with Great Aunt Sadie, who stinks up the house with cigars and perfume, refusing to put them out because she's a guest. This leads to the best line in the entire story: "My dad says Sadie's the reason God created lung cancer--except she doesn't have it. Which my mom says is proof that Satan exists." And a Merry Christmas to you too, Mister Bailey.
  • "Wacko Cousin Martha," who always brings a group of guests depending on what she's into at the time, shows up with a crew of Nihilists. No word on whether they threaten to cut off Larry's johnson.
  • Once all the guests arrive, Larry and the Avengers systematically torture them into behaving better with a combination of shrinking gas, tupperware, and good old fashioned spite. It's been a while since I've cracked open a Bible, but I'm pretty sure that's the true meaning of Christmas.

Defining Moment

For the last two evil relatives, essentially Larry's versions of Dudley Dursley, Larry forgoes the shrinking gas and--under the supervision of two super-heroes, mind you--takes them on with his own two hands. He lures them into a trap, then ties them up and pours sugar water on their pants before releasing a jarful of carpenter ants to bite them. So once again, thanks to Ant-Man and the Wasp for encouraging the true meaning of Christmas: Deathtraps and vengeance.

Final Thoughts

Even though it's not exactly the spirit of forgiveness you find in, say, the story where Superboy convinces the Legion of Super-Heroes to go look for the Star of Bethlehem, there are few things I like more than a story where a bad guy gets exactly what's coming to him, and if it has the word "Christmas" in the title, more's the better. And with the eerie similarities to my own family, there's a reason I pull this one out of the box and give it a read every year.

All right, it's good to have that out of my system. Now I can lay off talking about Christmas for at least a week or so. And I even did it without once talking about the time Hank smacked the Wasp around.

... Aw, peas.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Against all probability, I am a reasonably intelligent human being who happens to really like Ant-Man. I suppose it's his plucky can do attitude. He's the modern day equivalent of the Red Bee. Sure he sucks but he's got heart, and possibly a brain tumor, so just doesn't care!

11/22/2005 11:48 PM

Blogger Canton said...

Hey, now, don't knock the power of talking to insects. Just imagine. If you had that helmet, you could harness the power of a swarm of locusts, solve the Emerald Ash Borer problem by relocating them Pied-Piper style (or something), and convince box elder bugs to stop drowning in your bettas' bowls. And insects are practically everywhere, so the possibilities are endless.

Also, keep in mind that more people are killed by bees than by sharks. Really. Insect power trumps fish power any day...

(Word verification: aiphkx. Aphid kicks. Hmm...)

12/18/2005 11:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, bouncing from link to lik I found this review of Ant-Man's Big Christmas and I have to share: you see, I sell comics to Mr. Gale every other week or so and to tell you the truth? He hates everything, but in a curmudgeonly sort of style and grace. "I'm not going to buy a single book over $2.99!" "Don't put this Civil War crap in my pull!" "What are comics doing anymore!?"

This is exactly the kind of book he'd write.

12/21/2006 3:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever I think of Ant Man I think of Garret Morris in the SNL superhero party sketch saying, "Buy I have human strength."

12/22/2006 10:12 PM

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