A Marvelous Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
Trapped by the Protector!
November 21, 1962
In the quiet suburbs surrounding Center City, things were going about at their normal pace. The events of the world had seemingly no impact on anything as traffic moved at its normal speed. In one home in particular, though, things were not as normal as one would think.
Behind a modest looking spilt-level home was a greenhouse. This by itself was not uncommon in this particular neighborhood; however, the current occupant might have raised a few eyebrows of his neighbors if he ventured outside.
Hank Pym, better known to the underworld as Ant-Man, was busy. This was not uncommon for him, nor was his current interest. With winter already settling it, the ants (his sole means of protection) would soon be useless. Using the scanner built into his helmet, he was attempting to boast the strength.
"Come on, just a little more" he mumbled to himself as he carefully adjusted the control knobs. For his efforts he was rewarded with a burst of static. Sighing, he carefully powered everything down and removed the helmet. "Maybe I'll have more luck tomorrow." He gloomily thought as he slipped a lab coat on over his colorful red and blue costume. After making sure everything was hidden from any prying eyes, he left the greenhouse and made his way back into his home.
The inside of the house was just as messy as his makeshift lab. Stepping over the scattered bits of electronics and dirty clothes, Hank made his way into the bedroom. His wife Maria was presently curled up under the covers and sleeping soundly.
Shaking his head, Hank quietly took the red and black costume that was draped over the bed and slipped back out into the hall without waking his spouse. Tossing it over his shoulder, he made his way into the kitchen and started to clear away the mountain of dishes that had been slowly building in the sink.
"Shame to waste so much good fungus, but someone has to do the cleaning around here," he thought as he started to scrub away at the food encrusted dishes and plates. As he scrubbed, he thought back to the slumbering form in bedroom. Ever since he had taken the mantle of Ant-Man, his life had changed. His darling demure wife was now insisting on dressing up in a similar costume and accompanying him on his nightly patrols. Granted, she had saved his life quite a few times, but as the stack of bills on the counter reminded him, they were not exactly raking in the cash.
Silently giving thanks for the day he requested from Van Dyne Industries, he snagged the top few letters and took them over by the table as he sat down. "Bill, bill, junk, and…a letter?" he wondered aloud as he looked at the last one. It was addressed to him, but the return address was a mystery. "Who do I know in New York City?"
Tearing open the top, he unfolded the letter and silently read it. The news sunk in slowly, but as it did tears came to his eyes. "Dr. Marsh" he said softly as his tears splattered over the letter.
Two days later
The plane ride over was uneventful. Maria was silent, and frankly Hank didn't know if he should have been grateful for that or not. He had shown her the letter when she woke up. She saw no problem in attending the funeral, but there was an undercurrent of mystery to everything.
"Dr. Marsh was a brilliant man. Decades ahead of his time; really, that might have been the reason he would up where he did." Hank remembered saying as Maria packed a few things to take with them.
"I don't recall you speaking much of him. Was he one of your professors in undergrad?"
"No, no. He was a friend of my father. He used to let me hang around his lab when he wasn't busy. I still have an old toy robot he made for Christmas." Hank smiled again at the memory.
"How did he die?"
For that Hank didn't have an answer. Was it murder? That possibility crossed his mind. He knew Marsh's theories didn't exactly gel with the scientific community. His papers on robots had managed to generate more controversy than money, and it seemed the man just slipped away one night. He hadn't seen or heard from the man since he was a teenager.
"I should have stayed in touch," Hank thought as they grabbed their luggage and made their outside the airport terminal. As Maria hailed a cab, Hank ruefully smiled as a checkered beast came to the curb. "Let's hope this cab ride is less eventful than out last one," he thought to himself as a skycap helped him with his bags. He made sure to load the last one himself. Gently patting it as he loaded it, he felt reassured by the hard bulge underneath. "I hope Ant-Man isn't needed, but it's better to be prepared than sorry."
After a quick check-in and largely sleepless night, Hank and Maria took another cab to the cemetery. It was overcast and gray, which seemed to fit in perfectly with the small gathering near a desolate spot of the grounds. Hank nervously adjusted his tie as they moved into the back of the group with the other mourners.
The preacher began to speak, but Hank tuned him out as he spied another group arriving. The figure in the lead was dressed in a stylish mourning dress. A black veil covered her face, but Hank would recognize the swivel of those hips anywhere. The man behind her though, was another story. He was large, nearly twice the size of a normal man, and walked with the aid of a diamond tipped cane. His uncovered head was shaved smooth as he turned and gestured towards the trio of men following him. Without a word, the three men turned around and marched back to the awaiting limo.
The woman made her way to the casket and lifted her veil. "Gina" Hank whispered aloud as the woman gently placed a white rose on the casket. She silently took a chair near the front as the mysterious fat man stood off to the side.
"Gina? Who's that?" Maria asked when she saw her husband's reaction.
"Dr. Marsh's daughter. I haven't seen her in years" Hank marveled as the petite woman stoically stared at the casket as it was lowered into the ground. The preacher finished his sermon as rain stared to fall. As the few assembled started to leave, Hank found himself walking towards the young woman.
Gina Marsh stopped in her tracks as the taller man with the blond crew cut marched up to her. "Hank?" she said as recognition slowly dawned on her. "Hank Pym?"
Before Hank could answer, Gina threw herself into his arms. "Hank! I thought I would never see you again!" she smiled broadly as her embrace suddenly became more friendly than he (or Maria) would have preferred.
"Ah, yes, well" Hank found himself stammering as he tried to pry the young woman's arms off of him. "Been busy. Have you met my wife Maria?" He stammered as he could feel Maria's gaze burning a hole in his backside.
"You're married?" Gina sounded disappointed.
"Yes, yes he is" Maria interjected as she glared at the younger woman.
"Is there a problem?" came a deep voice from behind Hank. Turning around, he saw it was from the large bald man. "Gina, would you care to introduce me to your friends?"
"Sorry. Hank, this is Wilson Fisk. Mr. Fisk, this is Hank Pym and his wife."
Hank noticed the snub, but he ignored as Fisk swallowed his entire hand in a massive handshake. "Dr. Pym? I've heard about your theories. Brilliant ideas. Have you ever considered using some of your ideas in the private sector?"
"Thank you Mr. Fisk" Hank freed his hand from the meaty grip. "No, I'm afraid I'm still working some bugs out, so to speak. Tell me, how did you Dr. Marsh?"
Fisk sighed as he walked over to Gina and placed his massive hand on her shoulder. "Gerald was one of my employees, and a friend." Fisk bowed his head in respect as he ushered Gina back to the limo. "His death was tragic, as well as being unexpected." Hank noticed Gina's face hardening as Fisk spoke. As one of Fisk's men helped Gina into the limo, Fisk himself turned towards Hank and his wife. "How long are you planning on staying in New York?"
"Not too long really"
"Then would you be kind enough to accept an invitation to dinner tonight? Any friend of Gerald's is a friend of mine." Fisk drew a glossy card out of pocket and thrust it into Hank's hand. "Is 8 o'clock acceptable?"
"Sure" Hank almost stammered as Fisk strolled his way back to the limo.
"Splendid! I shall be waiting."
As the big black beast of a car drove away, Hank was stuck in a daze until Maria's prodding snapped him back to reality. "You never mentioned a daughter" Her tone was as cold as the air around them.
"She just a kid the last time I saw her!" Hank protested, but Maria's icy stare silenced any protests.
"She seems to have grown out a bit"
Desperate to extract himself from the situation, Hank tried to sift the topic to something more pleasant, he held up the card. "Hey, the card says Park Avenue. This Fisk guy must be loaded!"
"He certainly doesn't look like he's missed too many meals. How did he know Dr. Marsh?"
"He said he was working for him." Hank paused. "Hmm, I wonder" his voice trailed off as he started to walk. "I wonder how it is a man like Gerald Marsh would come to work for a high class guy like Fisk. And why is Gina so chummy with him?"
"Perhaps we should accept his invitation and find out?"
A few hours later and several blocks away
The sun was already setting. The skyline was in a perfect silhouette against the rays of the sun as the people hurried back and forth. One person in particular though, was ignoring the evening rush as he hurriedly flipped his OPEN sign around and drew down the shades of the small jewelry store.
Nick "Top-Down" Topollo wiped his brow as he shut off the lights in the small store. A muffled cry from the floor drew his attention. "Shut up you!" he grumbled as he lashed out with his foot. One meaty thud later and the cries stopped. Grinning, Nick stepped over the bound and gagged figure huddled on the floor and made his way over to the open register. "Don't worry about the mess pops. I'll be out of your hair in no time." Nick said cheerfully as he removed the cashbox and dumped the contents into an open bag.
Patting the bag carefully, Nick frowned. "Feeling a little light here pops. You know how the boss gets," he said as he carefully placed the bag down on the floor. Picking up the register, Nick slammed into the nearest display case countertop. Chucking it aside and ignoring the glass, he picked out some of the shiner necklaces and dropped them into the bag. "Yeah, these ought to do just fine."
Walking past the old man, Nick carefully checked the bag to make sure it was sealed tight. "Crud, I got to get going!" He cursed as he opened the back door. Stepping into the back alley, he turned around to make sure the door was shut. No sense in tipping off a passing patrolman. As the door slammed shut, somewhere in the alley a deep guttural voice started to laugh.
"Those really don't go with your outfit"
"Who's there?" Nick demanded as he drew his piece. Inching towards the street, Nick scanned the already darkened alley. The street seemed to be totally deserted as he broke into a run.
"Someone your kind may have heard of already. I believe the gentlemen's names were Costello, Lansky, and just last week a fellow by the name of Grissom."
Nick stopped running and threw his back against the wall. Clutching the bag to his chest, he thumbed the safety off. "Yeah, I think I know who you are now. Some kind hyped-up super, right? The boss said I might run into you."
"Boss? Why not call Mr. Manfredi by his real name? Or is he sticking with the that nickname Rigoletto gave him?"
"Pal, you just said too much" Nick thought to himself as he fired off a quick round before booking for the open street. He heard the bullet strike something, but that particular thought was pushed out of his mind as a large something just appeared before him, totally blocking his exit. The thing was roughly humanoid, but the torso was nearly twice the size of his, while the head was little more than a nub in-between two massive shoulders. The limbs were in proportion with the body, giving the figure a almost cartoon-ish look Two solid black lenses covered the eyes, while a purple scarf covered the lower portion of the creatures face.
"What are you?" Nick demanded as he squeezed the trigger once. The shot went true and struck the person directly in the chest. Aside from the small hole now visible in the green shirt, the figure didn't seem to be all that bothered by the slug.
"No sense in talking to a dead man, but since I love the sound of my own voice, you can call me the Protector" the figure said calmly as it snapped open the holster it wore on its chest and took out the single largest handgun Nick had ever seen. He couldn't imagine the caliber size as the Protector cocked the hammer and pointed the handheld cannon directly at him.
"Whoa, hey easy there man!" Nick suddenly found his courage leaving him, "maybe we can cut a deal, right? I mean, I mean" the words started to come slower to him as he fumbled with the bag. "There's a heap of cash in here. Why don't we just split it and call it even?"
"Even? Well, it does go against my better principals, but I don't see any problem. Provided I can return one favor."
Nick sighed with relief as he lowered the bag and his gun. "Sure, sure! Anything you want. Just name it!"
"The bullet you put in me." The Protector said slowly as it aimed the pistol and squeezed the trigger. The blast would have deafened anyone within earshot, and the pistol's recoil made even someone with the Protector's build move back. Nick was sent flying back down the alley, minus most of his blood and his loot.
"Time to move" The Protector said to the still smoking corpse as it picked the bag up in one massive paw. Holstering the piece, the Protector tore open the bag with ease and dumped the ill-gotten gains back inside the store they originated from. Hearing the shoots and roaring of a siren, the Protector dumped the bag over the formerly breathing body of Nick Topollo. Then, just as the blinking red lights could be seen from the shadows, the Protector took a standing jump and landed on the top of a nearby fire escape just the first officer made the scene. "Give my regards to the stiff coopers" the Protector silently joked as it silently climbed over onto the neighboring roof and sulked off.
Meanwhile, in a ritzy penthouse apartment
"Wow, this is some spread Mr. Fisk!" Hank couldn't help but be amazed at the food laid out by their host. A stuffed turkey lay in the center of the table surrounded by plates filled with steaming piles of mashed potatoes, green beans, casserole, and various baked goods.
"Thank the chief Dr. Pym. I know Thanksgiving isn't for a few more days, but since you and your wife are in town…" He trailed off as one of the many servants entered the room and approached him.
"A Gina Marsh to see you sir." The butler said flatly as he looked Fisk directly in the eye. "Shall I have her seated?"
"Please" Fisk ordered as he turned his attention back to Hank. "I apologize, but I took the liberty of inviting her." He glanced in Maria's direction as he spoke. To her credit, Maria simply ignored him and continued to chat with Fisk's wife. "I hope your wife doesn't mind. Gina has few friends in the city, and I though your presence might cheer her up."
"Very thoughtful of you" Hank began to say as Gina strolled into the room. Her evening gown was nearly as stunning as her figure. Mentally slapping himself, Hank decided to memorize the pattern on his plate before his wife caught him eyeballing her.
"Oh Hank!" Gina smiled brightly as the butler drew her chair back. She daintily sat down as the man placed her napkin in her lap. "I am so pleased you could make it!" Hank could feel Maria's eyes on him, and more importantly, on her.
"Just glad to be here, really." Thinking of something that might ease the tension, Hank decided to change the topic. "So…what have you been doing with yourself?"
Gina giggled. "Oh, not much. Studying for a degree. You know how that is."
Maria, meanwhile, decided to simply ignore Gina. Focusing her attention on Fisk's wife, she started to ask questions. "So Vanessa, did you know Dr. Marsh very well?"
Vanessa Fisk blushed as she poked at her empty plate. "Not very well I'm afraid. Wilson tends to keep his work and home life separate. Every since he decided to diversify the company he's been bringing new kinds of people in, scientists of all kinds. It's really rather exciting."
"Yes, I imagine so, but how did Dr. Marsh die? If you don't mind me asking."
Vanessa shot a glance in Gina's direction before she spoke. "A lab accident. Gerald was working on some kind new machine in his off hours and something went wrong. Poor man, Wilson was such a supporter of his work. His death has really affected everyone."
Seeing Wilson Fisk smiling and eating while Gina flirted with her husband made Maria doubt the accuracy of that statement. "I see." Glancing at her watch, Maria pushed her plate away and stood up. "We have an early flight to catch, but I wouldn't dream of taking Hank away from one of his friends. If you could tell him I've gone ahead to the hotel." She asked Vanessa as she made her way towards the door. Hank shot her a parting glance, one she returned with a wave.
"Of course darling, of course. I'll have the help call you a cab." Vanessa answered as she gestured towards one of the many servants.
"Thank you for the hospitality Mrs. Fisk. I just wish it was under better circumstances." Maria apologized to her hostess as she was helped into her coat. Seeing Hank still engrossed in a deep conversation with Fisk and Gina, Maria shook her head as she stepped into the private elevator. "I shouldn't be jealous, but I am" she thought as the metal booth made its way towards the ground floor. "That girl, Gina, she just gets under my skin. And the way she flirts with Hank!"
Trying to be civil about it, Maria marched out of the elevator and into the waiting cab with barely a glance back. "I need something to take my mind off of this." As the checkered cab merged with traffic, Maria leaned back in the seat and patted her purse as a smile found its way onto her face. "And I know just the thing."
At the hotel
Maria smiled as she stared down at the bed. Stretched out before was a slightly modified version of her husband's Ant-Man suit. She had been busy altering it during her off hours, and tonight just seemed the best time to field test it. The suit was more or less identical to her husband's red and blue, save for the color scheme now being black and red. The helmet was still a problem though, as noted by its' being half finished and scattered across the starched pillows.
"It's getting colder, so I may not find any ants to control anyway" she tried to rationalize as she slipped the costume on. "Maybe I could modify it to control other kinds of insects?" she thought as she slipped several pills of her husband's miraculous size altering formula into her belt. "But at least it can still pick up regular radio" she mumbled out loud as she picked up part of it and placed it near her ear. Fiddling with the dials, she slowly moved the dial as she tried to tune into an official radio band. "Come on, there must be something happening in this city!" she snorted when she was rewarded with more static.
Tossing it back on the bed, she scooped up the parts and carefully hid them in her bag. "Wouldn't do to have a nosy maid finding this, even though they probably couldn't tell what it was." She thought as she opened the window just wide enough to slip her fingers under it. Gripping the sill tightly with one hand, she reached into her belt with the other and took one of her husband's pills out. "Here goes nothing" she thought said aloud as she popped the pill into her mouth and swallowed it.
The amazing concoction kicked into her system instantly. The room heaved and swirled around her as everything, from the window to the chair, started to grow hundreds of time their normal size. Quickly reaching out, Maria grabbed the sill with her other hand and hauled herself up onto what was now a massive ledge overlooking a sea of carpet. "Time to do some exploring!" Maria said out loud to herself. Casually walking under the open window, with the crack now being tall enough from her perspective to allow a Mack truck safe passage, and stepped out into the chill New York night. "Get ready Big Apple, because the Wasp is on the prowl!"
Looking down from the ledge, Maria was suddenly struck by the sheer distance from the window to the ground. "Perhaps I should I just walk down" She sighed as she climbed back into the room and grew back to her normal height. Slipping on an overcoat, she pulled her mask off and drew the coat close around her. "No sense in tipping anyone off" she thought as she grabbed her room key off the nightstand and quietly left the room.
Making her way outside, she smiled as she mingled into the crowd. Passing by a newsstand, she glanced over the headlines. "Hmm" She hummed as she was met with brightly colored pictures of the various happenings in the city. A particularly colorful picture showed two women dressed up as Norse warriors and battling in what she was pretty sure was a neighborhood not far from the hotel. Another paper caught her eye, with its lurid headline of "Protector Strikes Again! 3rd Victim Found!"
Giving the vendor the proper change, Maria snagged the copy off the top and started to read it as she walked. Various mobsters and mob-fronted business were being targeted by a mysterious stranger called the Protector, who was apparently not burdened by a conscious, as judging by the bodies left in his wake. "Another hero perhaps? But why such tactics?" Maria wondered as she found herself walking back to the hotel, the taster for adventure suddenly leaving her. "Granted, those men were hardly saints, but do they warrant death?" Thoughts began to form in her mind as she made her way back to the room.
Once inside, she paused as she saw the sprawled form of Hank sleeping soundly on the bed. Smiling, she slipped off the coat and started to undress as she looked down at her sleeping husband. "Such a violent hero" her thoughts continued as she slipped under the covers. "Should we get involved? I know Hank's heart isn't in this, but maybe I could ask around tomorrow." Glancing over at the paper perched neatly on her clothes, she made a mental note as she turned the light off. "I could start at the scene of the last crime and maybe work my way around town. This Protector fellow might be too dangerous. Violence can only bring more violence, but isn't that the way the world is?" she tried to sleep as images started to replay in her mind. During her youth, the Communists seemed to be unstoppable, but her days as a freedom fighter taught her that no enemy is unbeatable. The methods she used were not so different from this Protector, so who was she to judge? Granted, mobsters were hardly the caliber of men she had faced, but what if she was wrong?
"I'll check on it in the morning" she mumbled sleepily to herself as she rolled over and went to sleep.
The next day
Maria opened her eyes to find Hank already dressed. "Darling, what time is it?" she sleepily asked as she forced herself up.
"Half past seven. Gina offered to take us out to breakfast. Are you coming?" Hank asked as he slipped on jacket and gave his tie once final effort before yanking it off and tossing it back into his bag.
"No, you run along. I've got some things I want to check on before we leave."
"Really? Alright, I'll see you back here by noon, ok?" Hank kissed her on her forehead as he left.
Climbing out of bed, Maria yawned as she looked over the dresser. She snapped awake as she saw a note that Hank had scribbled down. Picking it up, she read it carefully as she started to dress herself. "Marsh-robotics, cyber augmentation. For Fisk?" (She noticed that had been crossed out, along with a small sketch of a man with extra long limbs) "Must investigate. M-going to chat with Gina, hope she knows something. Taking suit with me, will contact if anything goes wrong. Destroy this note-H."
Crumbling the piece of paper up and setting it on fire with a nearby match, Maria silently swore to herself as she tossed the burning note into the metal wastebasket. "Alright Hank, you want to go and play detective? Fine. You investigate your leads, and I'll investigate mine."
Maria, slightly worn copy of last night's paper in hand, exited the cab and paid the driver, who's concern for her well fare vanished as he pocketed the money. Standing before her was a slightly run down bar with the charming name of 'The Drowned Pigeon'. According to what little information she could find, the first victim of the Protector was found just out back. "Well Maria, here goes nothing" She silently prayed as she entered the bar.
It was a cliché in the movies to have everyone and everything stop just as a stranger walked into the room, and here was no exception. She could feel every eye on her as she made her way to the bar. Carefully sliding up to the beer-stained counter, she fluttered her lashes as the bartender approached her. "What'd you want?" he demanded.
"Information and a beer please." Maria asked sweetly, briefly flashing back to her days as a freedom fighter. Places like this were always a hangout for the various lowlifes, yes, but they were also the perfect place to get a feel of what was going on.
"Fifty cents for one, and I don't think you can afford the other darling." The man grumbled as he slammed a dirty glass bottle down on the counter. Maria dutifully tossed him the change as she took her drink. Glancing around, she was aware of a man behind her.
"Information, eh? Now tell me, what would a tall drink of beautiful like you be doing in a joint like this, huh? Are you a cop? Or maybe one of those nosey reporters?"
Turning around, Maria found herself face to neck with a burly man in a cheap and ill-fitting suit. "Neither, and I'm not looking for trouble either. A man was killed around here recently by someone calling himself the Protector. I'd like to know why."
The man looked down on her with suspicion clearly written on his face. "Why don't you bring your drink to my table, and we'll talk."
Following the man to a booth set far in the back, Maria took a seat as the man coolly eyed her. "Alright, I'll bite, what do you want to know?"
"I was curious about this Protector. I read that he killed a man here not long ago, and I wanted to know why."
The man, his expression never wavering, leaned back against the torn leather of the seat and started to talk. "The bum's name was Lansky. He and two other stiffs used to hang out here, mainly on account" the man stopped and took Maria's hand in his. It was like sticking a porcelain doll in a vice. "Before I say anything else lady, who are you?"
Maria smiled sweetly as she ignored the pressure on her hand. "Just a concerned citizen, that's all. I have my doubts about this Protector person, and if I'm right he may need to be stopped."
The man smiled and let go of her hand. "Alright. I knew you're ok. Right, like I was saying, mainly on account of their respective employer. Lot of their employer's boys hang out around the neighborhood you see, so when someone pops one of them, well, people tend to get nervous. Lansky was shot in the back of the head as he was leaving by the back door. Those two other guys were popped too just as they were leaving."
"You mean as they were leaving here?"
"Naw, I mean as they were leaving some spots where their services were required, you understand?"
"Ah. Continue please."
"Right, so this muscle bound gorilla just nails them with this cannon. And get this, he marches right up to us and tells us we're next."
"But it's only been the members of a certain person, and no one else?"
"That's right toots. It's making a lot of other businessmen kind of nervous, you know? Kind of suspicious too. I mean, whenever those union suit weirdoes start cracking down, they tend to go after everyone. This? This was like a professional job."
Maria furrowed her brow in thought. This was beginning to sound more and more suspicious. "Thanks for your time." She said as she tossed a small roll of bills on the table and left.
The man smiled as he scoped up the money. "No problem babe. You find that wacko, you tell him Johnny sent you."
"Oh Hank, isn't this wonderful?" Gina asked as she leaned back in the carriage. An early morning carriage ride in the park had been his idea, as Hank had hoped to get more information out of her. He did appreciate the schematics she had given him though, but he would have to find time to tinker with robots later.
"Yes it is, but tell me Gina, and I'll understand if those is too painful, but how did your father die?"
A dark look took over Gina's face as she stared out of the carriage. "I know you told it was an accident, but it was murder."
Making a mental note of this conversation, Hank gently took her hand. "What happened?"
Sighing, Gina continued. "Daddy was working on a new project for Mr. Fisk when he died. There is a lot of dirt in this city. Daddy died projecting Mr. Fisk from one of his rivals."
"I'm sorry to hear that. But why didn't Mr. Fisk just say so?"
"It's not something he likes to advertise Hank. But don't worry about a thing. Have you heard about our new hero?" Gina smiled as she stared into Hank's eyes.
Hank decided to test a theory that had growing in the back of his mind. "The Protector? He sounds a bit too bloodthirsty if you ask me."
Gina shifted away from Hank. "The Protector is going after the real criminals Hank. The kind of criminals that murdered my father!" She hissed as the ride stopped. Without a look back, she got out of the carriage and stormed off.
Hank softly muttered to himself as he followed suit and hailed a cab back to the hotel.
Maria popped her back as she glossed over the newspapers spread out before her. While Hank had gone off to do his own investigations, she decided to take a more subtle approach and scan newspapers at the library. "All those men were connected in some way to a man named Silvermane" she thought to herself as she started at the photo of an old white haired man, with several of the recently deceased gangsters all clustered behind him. "That snitch was right, this is too much of a coincidence. Perhaps this Protector is just another hit man, or someone with a grudge. Whoever he is, he's no hero."
Standing up, Maria snagged her purse with one hand as she left, her heels clicking on the smooth tiled floor. "The question is now, what do I do about it? Regardless of this man's motives, it's not he's targeting women and children." Stepping out into the cool afternoon, Maria hailed a cab. "I'll talk it over with Hank. Maybe we should just stop meddling."
Hank stared at his wife as she told him of her findings. "Sounds like you an eventful day." He said at length.
"You're telling me. From the description, sounds like Gina might be hiding something. You don't think she's really this Protector, do you?"
"After Comrade X, I wouldn't rule it out. Besides, from what we've learned about this Protector and the work that Dr. Marsh was doing before he died, well, I would be shocked if she wasn't involved on some level."
"So what are we going to do?"
"I'm not suggesting anything without proof. I never knew Gina to be violent, but if you could have seen the look on her face…"
"Alright, how about 24 hours? If we can't prove a thing, then we leave and let the local authorities handle it."
"Sounds like a plan honey." Hank agreed as he carefully eyed the Ant-Man costume he had laid on the dresser.
Silvio Manfredi was no stranger to violence. He was already a hardened criminal when he got off the boat from Sicily all those years ago, and his time in America had done little to soften him. He ran a wrinkled hand through his silvery hair, which had earned him the name "Silvermane", as he sat and listened to the reports that were coming in from the street.
"So" he said as the last underling had reported, "What you're telling me is that some freak is wasting my boys, destroying my merchandise, and doing a damn good job of muscling me out of my own turf?"
"Yeah boss, pretty much."
"Idiots!" he slammed his fist down on the table. Had he been younger, he would have killed the men in front of him with his bare hands. Things were different now. "Call everyone in. I don't care if we use every favor we have with every two-bit cop and politician in this town! I want this Protector's guts to be feed to my dogs! Get me some professionals!"
The sound clapping made every man in the dimly lit bar reach towards their guns instinctively. The clapping was quickly replaced with the sounds of heavy footsteps as the Protector walked into sight with his massive gun drawn. The hammer was already cocked as he scanned the room. "That was the worse epithet I have ever heard old man."
Silvermane's face turned bright crimson as his bodyguards took defensive positions around him. "Waste him!"
The Protector calmly stood there as the men fired their weapons. The bulky figure of the man was unaffected by the slugs as they passed through his limbs. In response He calmly aimed his own gun at the closest group and squeezed the trigger. The shot was deafening as the heavy shell tore its way through the closest gangster and continued on its bloody path. It exploded as it struck the wall, sending a deadly wave of shrapnel into the room.
The Protector wadded through the room, ignoring the screams of the injured and dying as he stomped his way through the blood and guts. Silvermane hobbled his way out of the booth and grabbed a discarded sawed-off shotgun. "Alright you freak, let's see how you handle this!" He cursed as he fired at almost pointblank range into the giant man's covered head. The goggles exploded and the cloth covering the tiny head disintegrated as the buckshot tore through the head.
Any feelings of victory were short lived as the Protector continued to move. It lifted its hand up and brought the pistol down on Silvermane's head before he could he even try to reload. The old man went down without a sound.
Two tiny figures sat hunched up near slightly rusty rain gutter as the sounds of fighting and gunshots slowly stopped. "Well, is this enough?" Maria asked.
"It is, darling, it is." Hank wistfully agreed. It had been Maria's idea to tail Gina. When one can shrink down to the size of an ant, the task becomes fairly easy. During their ride, both Hank and Maria had learned perhaps more then they wanted to know about Gina's activities.
It had been a tag tem effort, with Hank and Maria switching out when needed. They had seen Gina take orders from a payphone (neither of them recognized who was on the other line) and then followed her unseen back to her apartment. The suit of the Protector was carefully hidden behind a bookcase. The rest had been simple.
"I still can't believe it." Hank slipped his helmet off as he saw the Protector, minus a head, stomp outside and head towards a collection of barrels.
"Better convert quick husband, because I have a sinking feeling I know what she is going to do next."
Maria's fears were coming true as the Protector lifted two barrels and dragged them back inside. Hank slipped his helmet back on as they stared to climb down a nearby drainpipe. They heard the sounds of metal being ripped apart coming from within the building. "She's going to douse the whole place in gas!" She shouted to Hank. At their current height, there was little chance of anyone hearing them, or making out what was being said, but Maria mentally snapped at herself for her volume.
"Then we have to stop her." Hank Pym was not ready to deal with something like this, but Ant-Man was another story. Nodding to his wife, he started to twist the dial on his helmet as she continued to climb. Given the cold though, there were few ants that could heed his call. He stopped after a few seconds. All the effort had succeeded in doing was giving him a headache. "I guess I had to dirty my hands at one point or another."
Maria, or the Wasp, as she had decided to call herself, had already entered the building. Looking up, she could tell the Protector had the almost every advantage, save for one: the advantage of surprise. Sneaking carefully along the bodies of the dead and dying, she crept her way past spent and smoking shells as she spied the Protector hauling an unconscious man up by the scruff of his neck and slamming him down to a chair.
Crawling closer, she could a deep rumbling voice emanating from the Protector's chest. "So, how does it feel to be helpless, huh old man? Are you going to beg me for mercy, like you made my father beg?"
Seeing the Protector pick up the opened fuel drum, the Wasp gasped in horror as she saw the giant figure dump the remaining gasoline over the old man. The fuel served to wake the man up, but not to calm him down. Seeing the Protector walking towards the door, she had an idea.
Waiting by one of the bodies, the Wasp waited until the Protector's foot was in reach before leaping onto it. Grabbing a tattered piece of cloth that hung down over the giant boot, Maria clung to it like a lifesaver. "Here goes nothing!" Maria thought as she gulped down one of the pills and started to slide down the leather. She was already growing as she hit the floor. Seeing the boot coming down, she held up her hands as she grew, hoping to upset the still giant figure's balance.
The plan did not work, but it succeeded in that the Protector was distracted. Looking down, as the Wasp was still growing back to her full height, The Protector laughed at the sight. "What, does Silvermane have Tinker Bell on his payroll now?
"Sorry to disappoint" the Wasp gasped as she finished growing and backed away from the Protector. The boot proved to be too heavy for her, as evidenced by it smashing into the floor. "By the way honey, the name's the Wasp."
"Perfect, I'll crush you like one!" the Protector shot back as the sound of footsteps took the Protector's attention away from the Wasp. "Another one?" the Protector didn't even bother to turn to face the newcomer. "You hero types make me sick. You say you protect people, but you let guys like him," Silvermane moaned in pain in back, "run free! I'm the Protector, the only protection decent people have from slime!"
"You're wrong." Ant-Man said as he entered the room. "Would your father approve of this?"
The Protector whipped around suddenly at the sound of Ant-Man's voice. "What would you know about my father? He died, simply to prove a point! And now, I think I'll take all three of you fools out right now!" The Protector laughed sharply as the gun was now pointed directly at the gasoline soaked floor.
"You'd die too!" The Wasp argued.
"Oh, don't worry about me darling. Worry about yourself!" The Protector continued to laugh as Ant-Man suddenly lurched forward and shrank. "What?" the confused gunman questioned as a strange tickling sensation began to make its presence known.
Ant-Man ran as fast as he could. Granted, given his size that meant very little, but he was thankful that he was close enough to the Protector that the distance wasn't too great. Leaping just as he neared the one-inch mark, he luckily snagged a loose bit of cloth that was dangling over the Protector's boot. He was thanking his luck when the Protector reared back and kicked. The force may not have been much to a regular sized human, but at his size it was like finding yourself stuck on the end of a cannonball. The cloth slipped away from his hands as he struggled not to throw up. The ground and the surrounding area sailed by him as he tried to adjust his helmet, but the g-forces and gravity kept him from doing anything.
As he soared through the air, he felt, not as Ant-Man but rather as Hank Pym, the absurdity of his impending demise. Here he was, a man with a PhD, a loving wife, and a decent job to boot, and he was about to meet his end not by old age or a lab accident, but by getting kicked into a wall by a giant. If he hadn't sailed out the open door and plummeted down the nearby sewer grate, he might have had a good laugh about it.
The Wasp was a stranger to death. Maria Pym, however, was not. Seeing the tiny red and blue form callously kicked away, something happened to Maria that the old pulp writers would have classified as "seeing blood".
Screaming in her native Hungarian, Maria dodged the Protector's clumsy swing at her and instead focused her attack on where she figured the true Protector's weak spot. Ducking under the oversized arm, the Wasp reached out and sunk her fingers into the Protector's chest. They sunk in deep as she twisted them around. With a pained cry, she ripped the green cloth away, to revel the shocked face of Gina Marsh.
"You meddlesome floozy!" Gina cursed as she back up. A metal chest plate still protected her, but given the look in the Wasp's eyes, Gina doubted it would be enough to protect her. "If you had just stayed out of my business nobody would have been hurt!"
While a fight raged only scant feet from him, Ant-Man was distracted at the moment. His fall had been broken, and thankfully not his body, by a pile of something he could not quite identify. It smelled like something he knew was a bad idea to stand in, but since it was soft enough to prevent him from being killed or crippled, he ignored it. A new problem presented itself, however, in that his only means of escape was now several feet above him. He thought about popping a few pills to make him grow, but one quick of his pockets had reveled nothing. During his flight, they must have tumbled out.
"Well Hank, you're really in it now." He thought as he tried to climb out, but found the walls too slick. Looking around, he saw salvation in a long white pole sticking up from the muck. Carefully making his way over, he grasped it with both hands and dragged it out from the filth.
He almost laughed when it cleared the muck and he saw what he was holding: a lollipop. "I will never knock littering ever again!" Ant-Man swore to himself as he tugged the rancid confection free of the filthy trappings. "Hmm, not enough room to get a running start, so pole vaulting is out of the question" he tried to rationalize a plan of escape. Seeing the still intact candy portion gave him an idea. "That's it!"
Balancing himself carefully, the diminutive hero dragged the sweet over to the grate and placed the lollipop at the base of the sewer wall. Making sure the candy shell was adhered to it, Ant-Man gripped the soggy white stick with both hands and dragged himself up the wall hand over hand until the grate was within reach. "Maria will never believe this," he mused as his fingers touched the metal bars. "Assuming I live through this."
Gina swore as she tried to shake the costumed fury off of her arm. "Let go you crazy witch!"
The Wasp just spat as a response and then suddenly vanished. Gina threw her back to the wall as she tried to spot her adversary. "What the? Where did you go?" she demanded. Only the dazed form of Silvermane greeted her, and she knew he wouldn't be much help.
Remembering her original mission, Gina pointed her gun at the bound old man. "So long. Give Nitti my regards in Hell!" she smirked when her right arm suddenly shorted out. "What?" she cursed as the oversized limb fell limply to her side. Pulling her real arm out of the mechanical suit, she spied a tiny figure running down into the depths of the limb. "You little!" she spat, but that was as far as she got as she smelled smoke coming from within the hand portion of her armored suit.
"So, trying to be firefly as well as a wasp? Well it won't work!" Gina smugly assured her unwanted guest as she pressed a button on her collar. With a loud hiss the malfunctioning arm popped off and lay into a puddle of gas. Gina stepped back as the fire from the glove spread across the floor and made its way towards the helpless figure of Silvermane. "Now I can get rid of two pests!"
"No, you don't." Came the annoying reassuring tones of Ant-Man.
"What do I have to do to get rid of you?" Gina howled as she picked up the flaming limb and held it like a club. She swung it around, but only saw an empty doorway before her. "Oh no!" she panicked as she realized the where of the voice. While she dropped the limb and started to swat at her neck and back with her free hand, she was unaware of the now fully sized Wasp standing behind her. As she turned around to try and stomp her attacking, she came face to face with a battered and bloodied heroine.
The Wasp didn't say a sound as she swung with a sharp left hook that would have made Cassius Clay wince as her fist connected with Gina's jaw. The Protector stumbled backwards and fell like a redwood. She smiled at the sight as she scoped up her tiny husband and gently placed him on her shoulder. Braving the flames, she grabbed the back of Silvermane's chair and dragged the old man outside as she heard the welcome sirens of the police intermingled with those of the fire trucks.
Dashing back inside, although she was sorely tempted to leave right there, she kneeled down near Gina's body. Hank jumped off her shoulder and ran along the intricate looking chest-plate before stopping a large button near her lower ribcage. Squinting, she could see him pointing to another section just across from him. "Hope he knows what he's talking about" she thought as she pressed the twin buttons. The chest-plate swung open with a hiss, allowing her to remove the unconscious woman. Grabbing her husband again, Maria slung Gina over her shoulder in a fireman's carry as the fire spread to the walls.
Rushing outside, she was confronted by the first of many policemen and firemen. "Holy Hannah! What's going on here?" the closest officer asked as the Wasp dropped Gina to the ground without ceremony.
"Long story officer, long story." The Wasp said tiredly as she popped another pill and shrank before his eyes. In the confusion, the two tired and battered heroes slipped away into the night.
Wilson Fisk was not a man known for his temper. He got angry, much like any other man, but he had learned the value of facades. He was having a difficult time keeping those lessons applying those lessons to himself as he sat reading The Daily Globe. "Protector Arrested!" He silently seethed as he ignored his breakfast. It would not do to have anyone learn of his connection to Gina Masters, or Silvermane. Fisk had built up a nice little empire out of the New York families, and he wasn't about to lose it all due to some costumed glory hound.
Crumbling the paper up and throwing it away in disgust, Fisk knitted his brows in thought. It would take money to hush everything up of course, but it would be worth it. A true kingpin always planned three moves ahead of everyone else.
Notes to Astonish
Well, despite some technical difficulties, here we are again. I lost the ending and redo it, but here it is. This particular tale was loosely based "Trapped by the Protector", which was first published in Tales to Astonish #37 (November 1963). Credits go to Stan Lee (story) Larry Lieber (script) Jack Kirby (pencils), and Dick Ayers (inks). All rights reserved.
On to the fan mail:
From Aaron C. Wade
Good job Cambot! You're really developing your characters well. I wish you luck in your hobby or career. It's likely more than what others here will say.
Thanks! I wish I could make money off of this, I really do.
Hmmmm...Very interesting, that said as someone who basically knows squat about the lions share of older comic characters. I'd say this ones a good read all in all, I'm not much of a critic after all. Right I'll stop wasting everyone's time now.
You did fine N. Thanks for the C &C
From Agent 0
Loved the new TtA story! But where's the 3rd installment of The Hulk?
I'm patiently waiting for it!
Well, I hope the wait was worth it Zero. Hope you liked this one too.
And of course, from the #1 lady of the Dungeon, Tiffani:
I've been trying to decide on how to post and such here but I can't
let your story go uncommented on by me.
You did a great job with this story and I enjoyed it, even though I
too don't possess the knowledge of older characters others here have.
Thanks for sharing. :)
Well thanks for reading milady. Hope you liked this one
From new reader hellion:
Good, fun little romp with the awesome but often overlooked Ant-Man. You've got some pretty good stories here.
Thanks! Sorry about replying so late.
And from the ever excellent Danrilor:
When you are talking about good you are talking about your stuff :). Things I loved about this issue include such realistic touches as Hank worrying about his Ant companions going into hibernation in the winter not to mention comrade X trying to do him in with a can of DDT. The morbidly funny and unflinchingly faithful homage to the source material is a fascinating and increasingly addictive read. My only gripe regarding your writing has nothing to do with your writing so much as your keeping each issue as a self contained story rather than arranging each story consecutively through the chapter manager. It would make is much easier for the common reader to be able to find and read your issues from beginning to end. As it is, a typical brower might find your third or fourth issue in a series first and not read it because they do not want to start in the middle. Keep up the good work and don't be a stranger.
True, but I do have this fear of deleting my work when if I should try to move them around. Don't worry though, as I'll be starting on a new series (and it will be properly managed through the chapter manager). Thanks for the kind words, and congratulations yourself on your excellent stories.
Well folks, that's all the time we have this month. Be sure to check out the upcoming books, and while you're at it, be on the lookout for the next issue, where Ant-Man and the Wasp face their deadliest foe yet in "Betrayed by the Ants!"
Amazing Adventures #1-I am the Fantastic…Reborn! The rebirth of Marvel's FIRST hero, don't miss it!
Sensational Comics #5-Beatuy and the Beast!
Journey Into Mystery #6-The Vengeance of Loki!