christmas comics cavalcade: ant man’s big christmas

Today we’re looking at Ant Man’s Big Christmas, a one shot from Marvel Comics‘ Marvel Knights imprint, published in 2000. It’s a square bound, prestige format book with a $5.95 price tag.

Have you ever noticed the very best holiday movies, songs, and stories are (at their hearts) sort of a bummer? George Bailey almost jumping off a bridge, everyone being a dick to Rudolph, and that “if the fates allow” line from the downbeat Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas all belie a hidden truth about the holiday season. Christmas can be a bummer. This is the starting point for Ant-Man’s Big Christmas, a somewhat strange but welcome addition to the Christmas Comics Cavalcade.

The plot: Everyone at Avengers’ Mansion is getting ready for the holidays

except for Hank Pym, a.k.a Ant Man, a.k.a Giant Man, a.k.a Goliath, a.k.a Yellowjacket… and so on.

Pym has a history of changing his superheroic identity every few years. At the time this book was published, Pym was heroing under the Giant Man name, but a letter from a child to the Avengers requests Ant Man help save his Christmas.

This plea prompts Pym to once again don the Ant-Man costume and fly out to suburban Connecticut with his wife The Wasp in tow to give the young kid a holiday helping hand.

It seems young Larry’s main problem is his extended family, who are a collection of annoying habits and stereotypes. With the help of Ant Man and The Wasp, Larry is able to deliver a “small” comeuppance to his kin (PUN).

Like I said, some of the best Christmas stories are downbeat. Here, we have a Christmas story that is at times gleefully sadistic. Take this scene for example, when Larry and Ant Man shrinks his chain-smoking great-aunt down to the size of a bug, Larry taunts her with equally foul-smelling items.

Even the main characters call foul on that one, and I can’t blame them. Bob Gale is the scribe here, a writer most famously known for the screenplays to the seminal ’80’s comedy Back to the Future. Gale worked on a couple of comic projects in the late 90’s/early ’00’s. He was one of the early architects for Batman: No Man’s Land and he did a short arc on Daredevil around this time. I have to wonder whether Gale was influenced by the success of Home Alone, another kid-friendly Christmas comedy which took extreme pleasure in meting out violent justice to a couple of deserving characters.

The action is sadistic at times, but it’s saved by the sense of wonder and playfulness that Gale builds into the story. Ant Man isn’t exactly an A-list superhero; I doubt you’ll find many kids who number Ant Man as their favorite comic book character. His powers do seem a little blah- he can shrink himself to the size of an ant and can, with the aid of a cybernetic helmet, control ants to his will. These are not powers that typically inspire much excitement in anyone… but Gale takes great steps to show how cool it would be to explore the world at a small size. Most definitely he is aided in this by the visuals provided from artist Phil Winslade.

I love Winslade’s pencils, which bring a ropey realism to the superhero medium. I’ve said this before and I’ll likely say it again- my preference when it comes to comic books and cartooning is artwork where I can see the ink on the page. Streamlined, photo-referenced, and computer enhanced work will always have its’ place, but when I look at a comic, I like to be able to see how the artist put things together. Winslade does that with his work and it’s a joy to look at. Some of my very favorite pages in this book are when Gale lets Winslade loose on the script and we see how the world would look when you are the size of an ant.

A pantry can look like a hyper-detailed futuristic cityscape.
 An evening supper can become an elaborate action sequence.

…and then there’s this page.

This is probably what endeared Ant Man’s Big Christmas to me so much. As a kid, one of my favorite things to do around the Christmas time of year was to shuffle my head underneath the Christmas tree and simply look up. I’d see the tinsel and the garland and the lights reflecting off those ornaments. I’d take in the smell of the pine needles.

It was sort of a private holiday moment, and one of my favorite parts of having a Christmas tree in the house. This page brought that feeling back.

If I’m remembering correctly, the scuttlebutt on the Internet at the time, Ant Man’s Big Christmas was originally slated to be published as a Treasury-sized edition, rather than a more traditionally sized comic. Although I guess I can understand why Marvel decided not to pull the trigger on a Treasury version of Ant Man’s Big Christmas (not a lot of people queuing up to buy an Ant Man series, let alone an expensively oversized one shot comic), it would have added an extra level to the reading of this already wonderful Christmas comic.

I don’t think this has been collected anywhere but it’s worth seeking out.

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One Response to “christmas comics cavalcade: ant man’s big christmas”

  1. Great single issue, thank you for making me remember it. I should add it to this list: http://thedynamicbuzz.com/2012/11/12/preview-batgirl-14/#comments. Do you agree with my choices?

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