Friday, December 2, 2016

The (Truly) Terrible Traps of Egghead!

In his debut story, the criminal mastermind known as Egghead struck out in his attempt to fulfill a lucrative underworld contract to remove Ant-Man as a threat. Egghead escaped in the end, and fled to Manhattan's Bowery district to hide out (from both Ant-Man and the mob), where he seemed a broken man. But apparently a flophouse has amazing recuperative properties, because it wasn't long before Egghead was ready for Round Two with his ant-sized foe.

Both the issue's cover and its splash page might have you thinking that Egghead has had a bit of a makeover since we last saw him--"less bookworm, more diabolical!" you can almost hear plotter Stan Lee relay to his artists (Jack Kirby and Don Heck, respectively). But such is not the case--Egghead's cosmetic alterations are integral to this story's plot, and nothing more.

Also important to the plot is the Wasp, who has only just joined Ant-Man as his partner and almost immediately finds herself being used as a hostage. You'll definitely rate a place in Comics Heroines of the 1960s - Stan Lee edition, Jan.  Instead of rope and a gag, you'll likely be seeing corked jars.

As for Egghead, he seems to be in the process of being groomed for greater things. Egghead didn't exactly make a memorable impression in his premiere appearance--but just look at the narrative fanfare he receives at the opening of this story:

Good heavens, is this Egghead we're talking about, or Lex Luthor? He's not doing badly for only his second time out of the gate, is he? Though while we're on the subject, just a slight clarification seems to be in order: "No living man had ever defeated the sinister scientist before, except for the Ant-Man"--probably because, as far as we know, the Ant-Man is the first man (living or otherwise) that Egghead has ever come up against. Nor was it a good sign that the man's first defeat snapped him like a pencil.

But Egghead's luck changes when two thugs left over from a failed criminal venture duck into the same flophouse where he's staying, and one name comes up that rouses Egghead from his doldrums.

The impromptu meeting establishes a pattern of Egghead aligning himself with elements of the criminal underworld (that is, criminals who weren't foreign agents), the type of alliance of necessity that Egghead would make into a regular practice with such men in the years to come.

This time, Egghead's plan would be far more intricate and carefully considered, since neither Egghead nor his mob buddies want to have Ant-Man hand them their heads again. It breaks down like this:

  • Egghead sets up equipment to intercept and scramble any messages the ants send to Ant-Man; he then...
  • Creates a disguise for himself as a zoologist and begins giving lectures on insects that are sure to (and do) attract the attention of Ant-Man and the Wasp; in addition, he...
  • Prepares and publicizes an exhibit on wasps at the city zoo, designed to draw the attention of and eventually capture the Wasp to use as bait--but, curiously, chooses the reptile house for his exhibit and lecture;
  • At that point, Egghead and his two, er, associates, Twister and Ape, proceed to steal a priceless diamond--partly to placate the two gunmen, but also to further Egghead's plan to trap the Wasp; and to make sure the heist is successful, he...
  • Uses his scrambling equipment to prevent Ant-Man's ants from alerting the hero to the theft until it's too late to prevent it and the men make a clean getaway; which unfortunately leads to...
  • A mini-rebellion being quashed by Egghead, due to his men wanting to fence the diamond, take the profits, and forget about Ant-Man;
  • The men then string electrical wiring through every crack and crevice of the exhibit; and finally...
  • Egghead prepares a special "wasp's nest" that's rigged to capture both Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Jeez. At this point I can't blame Ape and Twister for wanting to take the money and run.  As it is, they've probably nodded off.

As the final touches are being put on this elaborate trap, Ape asks the question that's probably on all our minds: "This is a waste of time! Why don'tcha just step on him when he shows up?" Bravo, Ape! But you have to expect that a man known as Egghead would have an answer for everything: "He's not that easy to step on, my friend!" I'm frankly astonished that even Ape would settle for such an indistinct answer--but, then again, haven't we all.

Finally, it's time to spring the trap to capture the Wasp, and the bait happens to be the diamond from the heist which Ant-Man and the Wasp are still on the lookout for. Its location? Inside the rigged wasp's nest at the exhibit which Jan attends by herself, and who appears to be the only person in the crowd to notice a priceless diamond sparkling inside of it.

"Should I notify the police? No!" That's a future Avenger with NSC clearance talking, folks.

Under cover of darkness, the Wasp returns to the exhibit and enters the nest, only to find that she's entered a man-made trap, instead. It seems that Egghead has thought of everything so far; and when Ant-Man arrives to investigate, he literally falls into a trap of his own, and we see just why Egghead established his exhibit in the reptile wing of the zoo.

It's likely the first time any of us has seen an ant gallop, but Egghead is probably a lot more surprised than we are--especially considering what happens next, and how the tables begin to turn against him despite his careful, leave-nothing-to-chance planning.

As we can see, Egghead is building quite a grudge against Ant-Man, and would eventually carry that grudge to the Avengers title as well as others. The circle closes when he finally meets his death while battling his old enemy--sneering to the end.

Tales To Astonish #45

Script: Ernie Hart (as H.E. Huntley)
Pencils and Inks: Don Heck
Letterer: Art Simek


Gummboote said...

Actually the Wasp does get bound and gagged in a later story, but she's unconscious at the time.

Unknown said...

Egghead returned from death,
and just spent a couple of months
battling Ant-Man and Spider-Man in
the latter's comic strip.

Next up for the Spider-Man comic strip: Ronan the Accuser!

Warren JB said...

It might not have contributed to the theme, but from one POV I think Egghead might've been better off with a flamethrower than an anteater.

D.D.Degg: ah, the newspaper strip. I've heard many tales about it, especially with the old furore over One More Day and Brand New Day. (And does Stan Sakai still do the lettering?) But with that in mind, isn't it a seperate continuity? The 617 universe, or somesuch? If Peter's still married to MJ there, I guess it's small potatoes that Egghead wasn't killed either.

If you weren't speaking metaphorically, that is.

But that can of worms aside, I've read through that Antman/Egghead story (all the way back to July! Blimey.) and I think that Egghead has a slightly better handle on things, but still...

I think he might've been better off with a flamethrower than a handgun.