Friday, July 1, 2016

The Deadly Nemesis of... Giant-Man!?

Iron Man had the Mandarin; the incredible Hulk had the Leader; the Fantastic Four battled Dr. Doom; for Spider-Man there was the Green Goblin; the mighty Thor clashed with Loki; Captain America faced off against the Red Skull; the X-Men battled Magneto; Dr. Strange was beset by Baron Mordo. For decades, archenemies had been a time-tested guarantee of sales spikes in comic books ever since super-heroes had been on the scene--and with few exceptions, Marvel had given many of its heroes a nemesis that challenged them unlike any other. Believe it or not, there was a time when Marvel made an apparent move to do the same for Giant-Man--yes, that Giant-Man, a hero you can't quite picture meriting an archenemy who would consider his defeat a necessity prior to carrying out their plans, and whose career and comics exposure didn't really continue past the disbanding of the original Avengers.

You might of course be tempted to name a certain metal fiend as his archfoe:

Except that Ultron was more a nemesis of Goliath--and while technically you could boil both Goliath and Giant-Man down to Henry Pym, who went on to create Ultron, it was Giant-Man who Marvel seemed to feel needed a foe to distinguish himself while he was still building his rep with double exposure in The Avengers and Tales To Astonish.

And that brings us to a giant-sized

Marvel Trivia Question

What super-villain was chosen to be Giant-Man's most dangerous enemy?

Even Pym can't believe he has anything to worry about from the new crook in town, but Marvel begs to differ!

Yes, Dave Cannon, the Human Top, who's honed his super-speed ability since childhood and now branches out into pulling heists that will allow him to live the easy life. You wouldn't think there would be many Marvel heroes who would take seriously the fact that the Top was their archfoe--but if anyone could convince himself that a villain named the Human Top was their deadliest enemy, it would probably be Henry Pym. The Top must be doing something right if he's made Public Enemy #1 in so short a time--and now that Giant-Man has been brought onto the case, it appears the Top has moved into the big leagues. But with the laughing stock he soon makes of Giant-Man, the Top looks like he's in a league of his own.

Cannon's instincts about Giant-Man's determination to bring him in appear to be right on the mark, as Pym takes steps to improve his fighting ability through both chemical means as well as intense training following his poor showing against the Top. Why the Top has gotten under Pym's skin isn't entirely clear, since Giant-Man's adventures in his solo career as well as with the Avengers have begun to give him both experience and confidence, nor does Pym consider the Top unbeatable. On the other hand, having the ability to become a giant isn't a guarantee of success in battle, and the Top's abilities have demonstrated there are ways to evade and escape a lumbering pursuer and to turn his size advantage against him, a fact that Pym understandably may not want to face so early in his identity as Giant-Man.

At any rate, Giant-Man continues to have difficulty adapting to the Top's fighting style--to an embarrassing and certainly humiliating degree.

So far, Pym's efforts to improve his ability to tackle the Top don't seem to be panning out. And when the Top again manages to make a mockery of Giant-Man in full view of witnesses, Pym finally realizes that the way to victory doesn't always involve facing a foe on their terms.

Despite the Top's defeat, Marvel has only begun grooming him to be Giant-Man's nemesis. Just a few issues later, when Giant-Man is giving a complimentary presentation to the Giant-Man Fan Club--yes, the Giant-Man Fan Club, with lettered jackets and regular meetings--we get an indication of just how much the Top has risen on Giant-Man's informal list of dangerous adversaries.

And when the Top makes a daring escape from prison, Giant-Man and the Wasp react as if the most dangerous foe they've ever faced is now at large.

Unfortunately, the Top again makes it seem like he's ten steps ahead of Giant-Man--and, seemingly more powerful than ever (but not really), he delivers an embarrasing defeat to both size-changing partners, by taking the Wasp prisoner and locking Giant-Man in... wait for it... HIS OWN CLOSET.

"He thinks he's beaten us!" (Dude, you're a super-hero locked in a closet. HE HAS beaten you. Again.)

Once Giant-Man regroups--after his ants have come to his rescue and released him from captivity--he manages to track down the Top, who remains at giant-size thanks to one of Pym's growth pills he ingested. Again, Giant-Man realizes the folly of battling the Top's powers head-on, and so resorts to a plan that will see to his capture.

Now with two stints in prison under his belt, the Top begins to see Giant-Man as an impediment to his plans, and starts thinking of ways to take him out of the picture. So when Giant-Man heads to New Mexico in a futile attempt to get the Hulk to rejoin the Avengers, Marvel takes the opportunity to spruce up Cannon's profile and make him more diabolical. He's kept out of costume for the duration of the story--it's the Hulk vs. Giant-Man on the cover, after all--but the story still makes certain to remind us that the threat of the Human Top is waiting in the wings.

Cannon has a prominent role in the story nevertheless, heading to New Mexico to do what he can to sabotage Pym's efforts with the Hulk and even prodding the military to fire on them with a nuke in the hopes of putting an end to Giant-Man once and for all. Presumably we're seeing Cannon featured in this story rather than the Top, since Cannon is on parole (though I'd like to see how Cannon arranged with his parole officer for a trip from New York to New Mexico); but Cannon still makes use of his spinning power while in the desert in order to manipulate both the Hulk and General Ross, the latter thinking there's nothing out of the ordinary about a spinning civilian warning him of the Hulk's movements.

It takes several more issues before the Top reappears, by which time Giant-Man has moved on to his altered costume complete with helmet; he'll also be moving on from Tales To Astonish, with the issues featuring the Top being his last two issues of his appearance in the series. By this time the original Avengers have disbanded, and so for all intents and purposes Giant-Man is being phased out and, for the time being, going on hiatus. But as Pym continues to experiment with his waning size-changing powers, he unknowingly comes under attack by Cannon, who again chooses more conventional methods to eliminate his enemy.

(Good lord--if colliding with a pine tree while in super-giant form knocks him out, it's easy to see why Giant-Man's career is coming to an end.)

Pym has no idea that the airplane was a form of attack, much less that its pilot is an old enemy--and as for Cannon, even though he has Giant-Man at his mercy he has no way of ending his life while he's giant-sized. And so he chalks it up as a loss and leaves the scene, with Pym none the wiser.

Back at his lab, the Top decides to modify his spinning ability to gain an advantage of flight:

Even though, in a much earlier story, the guy was already able to take flight.

Nevertheless, in one of the more cringe-worthy costume changes on the books, Cannon decides that altering his costume is the key--and before you know it, Bat-Top is born.

"Bat-Top" isn't what he really named himself, of course--"the Human Top" is ludicrous-sounding enough without making us double-over with "Bat-Top." Of course, if he somehow ends up inhaling some of that helium gas contained in his new costume, he'll sound ludicrous anyway when he threatens Giant-Man with "Prepare to die!" and comes off sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

And speaking of Giant-Man, Cannon gains entry to Pym's lab disguised as a reporter and launches a daring attack, disabling Pym (whose size-changing powers are now in such a state that they can no longer be used on the spur of the moment) and again taking the Wasp captive. And in this penultimate issue to his departure from the series, Giant-Man is given a dramatic cliffhanger moment that probably comes too late to do the character any good with any readers he might have left.

With the Top no doubt laying an elaborate trap for Giant-Man, and with Giant-Man ready to cut loose on the Top, it still rings a bit hollow to paint their upcoming battle as some sort of clash of classic comic book enemies whose reckoning has been long in coming--though frankly, there aren't a great deal of memorable villains in Giant-Man's solo career to substitute in the Top's place. The Porcupine? Madam Macabre? Egghead? The Black Knight would have made for a better visual over Egghead or the Human Top, but that would leave Giant-Man always having to find a way to get to the Knight's altitude, and do his fighting by somehow hanging onto the Knight's winged horse; and he wouldn't be able to carry off the graphic of "Giant-Man" if there are no buildings around to get a sense of how giant-sized he is.

So we're stuck with the diabolical plan of the Human Top, which amounts to... building a giant pit for Giant-Man to fall into.

As is evident, it's all pretty standard villain fare, with the Human Top finally reaching the pinnacle of his grooming as the villain to challenge Giant-Man. And to enhance the drama of the danger that both Giant-Man and the Wasp face, we can see in each of them a level of desperation that has rarely been seen in this happy-go-lucky super-hero couple whose previous battles have been hard-fought but seldom had them feeling the end was near.

And so the trap is sprung, with the Top certainly proving to be accurate in terms of his thoughts on going up against Giant-Man: "Do you really believe the mind that outwitted your beloved Giant-Man cannot outwit him again... and again, if necessary!" To probably no one's surprise, Giant-Man indeed is again "asleep at the switch" when it comes to the Top catching him unawares.

In true heroic fashion, the Wasp breaks away to join Giant-Man in the specially prepared room that, when activated, freezes both heroes and encases them in epoxy to form a gruesome monument to the deadly power of the Human Top. Of course, what better time for our heroes to rally, than when their foe believes that he's won?

With the time and effort taken to establish him as a major villain, it's hard to believe we may have seen the last of the Human Top here, even though he's now the Human Popsicle at least for the time being. But the character gets thawed out just a few months later in order to join a host of peeved wedding crashers--and not to rub salt in Giant-Man's wounded pride during his long conflict with the Top, but this villain's cred takes a serious dive when we see just how easy it is to take him down.

The classic 1963-65 covers to the Giant-Man vs. Human Top battles!

A major upgrade for the character, as the Human Top whooshes into--Whirlwind!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had been unaware of Whirlwind's...ah..."history," I guess you'd call it. Strictly a "ham-n-egger" as they used to say.
In fact, I think all the guys working for Egghead got paid with a gift certificate for Denny's.

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