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Tales to Astonish #39: Review

Jan 1963
Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby

Story Name:

The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!

Review & Comments

5 stars

Tales to Astonish #39 Review by (August 30, 2022)

Review: It makes perfect sense—until it doesn’t! Ant-Man has an enemy who is a bug. And a bug that talks, at that. It’s the answer to the question, “Can we tell prospective buyers that this comic is stupid without putting that word right on the cover?” And inside, it’s even more of a hoot. Last issue we were told that insects lack the emotions of greed and vanity and so they could not be plotting against humans; here, though, it seems that bugs must have some kind of similar emotions to lead them to join a scheme to overthrow the human race. On the face of it, this could happen as 80% of the living creatures on Earth are insects but real motivation is lacking. But the Scarlet Beetle, his intelligence increased by radiation (and there must be more such out there as it’s impossible to believe only one bug could have been exposed in that undescribed incident), is able to marshal the insect swarms and create a battle plan, etc, etc. The story seems so incredibly dumb at every point that I stopped thinking about it, my brain was hurting too much. Which earns this issue a perfect score of 5 for its unsurpassable level of silliness. Final note: If Hank Pym can counteract the effects of radiation on a bug, is it possible the same method, enlarged, could do the same for the Hulk?

Comments: Ant-Man story: First appearance of the Scarlet Beetle who, surprisingly, will return; his next appearance is in IRON MAN #44. Really. For the record, spiders are not insects, they are arachnids; just ask Peter Parker. DDT is a now-banned pesticide used widely in the 1960s. Second story: Text story with two illustrations.


Synopsis / Summary / Plot

Tales to Astonish #39 Synopsis by Peter Silvestro

Hank Pym receives several messages from the ants, suggesting that trouble is brewing in the insect kingdom. As Ant-Man, he goes to check it out and the ants take him down a sewer where he discovers a huge swarm of insects (“Hundreds of them!”) gathering around an oddly glowing scarlet beetle. The Scarlet Beetle, communicating with the others (and Ant-Man) by mental telepathy, reveals how exposure to radiation endowed him with human-level intelligence and now he wants to organize the world’s insects into an army to conquer the world. Ant-Man’s presence is detected and he is overpowered and knocked unconscious by bugs. The Scarlet Beetle seizes the hero’s vials of gas and enlarges itself to human-size….

Hank awakens trapped in a hole without his helmet, unable to summon the ants to his rescue. Meanwhile in the outer world, termites are destroying telephone poles to sabotage the nation’s communications, other bugs are stealing dynamite from armories, venomous spiders are biting public officials, and the giant beetle is terrorizing the humans, backed up by bees stinging the police….

Meanwhile, the ants have discovered Ant-Man’s missing helmet and tracked him to his tiny prison. They release him and he picks popsicle stick to fight the bad bugs. But the Scarlet Beetle has seen him coming and dispatched a bug squadron to fight the hero. Honey ants sticky up the enemy beetles while Ant-Man jumps into a drinking fountain and uses his popsicle stick to spray a jet of water at the attacking grasshoppers. The ants bring up a spray can of DDT to chase off the bees. The human-sized Scarlet Beetle challenges Ant-Man to personal combat so the hero leads his foe into a toy store. There, Ant-Man drives a toy car to take a toy knight’s lance and hurl it at the bad guy, puncturing the tank of reducing gas it is carrying, causing the Scarlet Beetle to shrink back to his normal size. Hank wraps the Beetle up in a deflated balloon and carries him back to his lab where he finds a method of counteracting the radiation, turning SB back into an ordinary beetle. He sets it free in his backyard while the police survey the situation and wonder why Ant-Man never showed up….

Characters: Ant-Man (Hank Pym), Scarlet Beetle,

“The Remedy Oil”
Writer: Unknown. Art: Marie Severin.
Synopsis: An old lady whose clothing shop never sells anything sees a strange little boy who can’t talk but can do amazing arithmetic so she gives him a dose of her special medicinal oil which cures his strange behavior. His parents, visitors from the planet Mechanica where everyone has a robot brain, are grateful that she has taken care of him and cured his malfunction with her oil so they buy everything in her store!

“Ozamm the Terrible!”
Writer: Larry Lieber. Plot: Stan Lee. Art: Don Heck. Colors: Stan Goldberg. Letters: Artie Simek.
Synopsis: Earth is invaded by a fearsome alien called Ozamm who has the mental powers to repel bullets, hurl bodies around, and threaten to drop a river on everyone. Joe, who was recently replaced by a machine, notices that when Ozamm uses his powers, electrical devices nearby short out. So the sneaks into Ozamm’s spaceship and shuts off the power, rendering the villain helpless. And Joe gets his job back!

“The Toy Soldiers”
Writer: Stan Lee. Art: Steve Ditko. Colors: Stan Goldberg. Letters: Artie Simek.
Synopsis: Young Billy’s hobby is building a large Civil War diorama with toy soldiers. One night, Zogg, a villain from the Sixth Dimension, appears and tries to kidnap Billy and his father but suddenly the lights go out and when they come on everything is back to normal so Billy and Dad assume they have had a nightmare. Then Billy discovers a tiny Zogg locked up in his Civil War prison!

Jack Kirby
Dick Ayers
Stan Goldberg
Jack Kirby (Cover Penciler)
Dick Ayers (Cover Inker)
Stan Goldberg (Cover Colorist)
Plot: . Letterer: John D'Agostino.


Listed in Alphabetical Order.


(Hank Pym)

Plus: Scarlet Beetle.

> Tales to Astonish: Book info and issue index

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