Wednesday, May 24, 2017

When Strikes The Scarlet Beetle!

Every once in awhile in comics, it's always fun to encounter a new antagonist for our hero(es) who's played for laughs--a list of troublemakers that's included, to name a few who have been profiled in the PPC, the Impossible Man, Captain Ultra, the Black Fox, and of course Fabian Stankowicz, as well as the hapless Rasputin. And who could forget the utter chaos of the Defenders' membership drive from hell that saw trouble from both hero and villain? We also have writer Peter David to thank for making even more serious villains capable of evoking a chuckle or two from readers--foes who at times exchanged rant for wit, but were no less deadly.

And then... *sigh*... then there's the Scarlet Beetle, one of the most minuscule would-be conquerors ever, who dates all the way back to 1963 and was--is--obsessed with making insects the masters of Earth. Mock the Scarlet Beetle as you will, but his tenacity, arrogance, and sheer presumption have been long-standing trademarks of also-ran villains of the more human variety whose reach, like the Beetle's, exceeded their grasp. The Beetle might remind you a little of Salamar, the Sustainer, the sinister albeit mechanized oversized crab that lurked in the sunken ruins of Atlantis and turned out to be the construct of Namor's fiendish cousin, Byrrah. In the Beetle's case, it's no surprise that he was not only sentient, but intelligent, since such monsters were plentiful in not only Tales To Astonish but other "Tales" mags which were slowly transitioning to featuring super-heroes; and of course the scope of the Beetle's plans was on a far greater scale than Salamar's.

The Beetle was mainly a foe of the Ant-Man--and though he would also encounter Scott Lang in that identity, he began his reign of terror by battling Henry Pym, who was just getting his feet wet as Ant-Man and was still using gas vials on his belt to change his size. In essence, the Beetle's plan to conquer the world isn't a bad one, since the number of insects on the planet could overwhelm the human population if guided by a sinister mind like the Beetle's. And Pym learns as much when, encountering the Beetle in his lair, he inadvertently hands his foe the means to make him even more of a threat.

With Pym out of the way, the Beetle proceeds to begin his invasion, and indeed the city's population seems to have no defense against the Beetle's well-thought-out plan of attack. But Pym eventually escapes captivity and confronts the Beetle, luring him into a toy store and using the "weapons" at hand to pull victory from defeat and end the Beetle's threat, seemingly for good.

But in a 1972 story by Roy Thomas, the Scarlet Beetle returns, as malevolent as ever--and though Pym would face the creature once again, a dejected shop owner turned arsonist named Wilbur would also play a crucial part in how things play out.

It doesn't look as if the Beetle's changed his approach to conquest--nor does he really need to, providing he doesn't allow Pym the chance to upset his plans. And when Pym appears to have foiled him in one aspect of his scheme, the Beetle handily adapts and perhaps becomes even more dangerous.

Pym deserves a little credit for at least making sure that no can take advantage of his size-changing gas anymore, though it's clear he hasn't covered all the bases as far as having his abilities co-opted. His cybernetic helmet would represent a significant advantage for the Beetle, since it was Pym's control over the ants that helped him prevail against the Beetle in their prior battle.

Fortunately for Pym, Wilbur has plans of his own--which not only manage to save Pym's life, but also bring an undignified end to the Scarlet Beetle.

Wilbur's end, as it turned out, was also on the undignified side, though less, er, crushing. As for the Beetle, he went on to make several more appearances in one form or another, always seeming to come close to realizing his dreams of conquest but never quite escaping his fate as comic relief. Or, to put it another way:


Anonymous said...

Scene at Avengers Mansion:
Hank Pym: "Hey, Thor, what have you been up to?"
Thor: "I defeated Loki and the mighty Mangog and saved the universe entire. And yourself?"
Hank Pym: "Ah, nothing much...there was this, uh,...oh, never mind."


Comicsfan said...

M.P., yes, Ant-Man's rogues gallery is probably something Pym makes an effort to steer the conversation away from!