A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!
January 14, 1963
Hank Pym cracked his neck as he stared at the racks of test tubes and various machines that stretched out before him. His days since hanging up his Ant-Man costume had been like this; repetition after repetition, checking variables and measuring amounts. His lab was quickly becoming more familiar to him than his own home. His musing was broken when a slight pinging issued from a locked cabinet over in the far corner. Shaking the cobwebs free, Hank locked the door to the lab and drew down the shade. Taking a special key out of his lab coat, Hank unlocked the cabinet.
Inside it was a special machine. In the event of a fellow coworker getting curious, Hank could explain its presence as a side project, which it was to an extent. A slightly larger version of his Ant-Man helmet, Hank and his wife Maria had built it in order to monitor the insect world. A row of lights lit up and the noise increased as Hank slipped a helmet over his head and began to fiddle with a group of knobs.
"What's this?" Normally the machine just picked signals thanks to a few planted relay towers scattered around the city, but what he was hearing was something new. A series of beeps, not unlike Morse code, came out of the headpiece. "I must be doing something wrong." The machine was meant to pick up the electromagnetic signals generated by ants and other insects, but what he was hearing was a series of very explicit instructions.
Grabbing a pen and a notepad, Hank began to write out the message. "Seems to be on a loop. "Ant-Man and Queen come here and face me?""
Switching the machine off, Hank returned the helmet back to its place and locked the cabinet. His palms felt sweaty. How could someone be sending him a message? The relay towers were carefully hidden, plus the fact that they were all little more than eight inches in height. A sudden disturbing thought entered his mind. "What if it isn't a human who's sending the message, but an ant?"
Maria sighed as she stared at the kitchen table. The bills were taken care of and the house was certainly clean enough, but both of those things were not even on her mind. Before her lay her husband's Ant-Man helmet and a set of blueprints. "Blast it father, why couldn't you have made this thing smaller?"
Toiling away, she didn't even acknowledge Hank when he stepped into the kitchen. "Hi honey." His tone was cheerful, but without even looking she could tell something was wrong.
Stopping her work, she turned around as her husband opened the fridge and helped himself to last night's leftovers. "Ok, so should I guess or are you going to tell me?"
Hank put the various bowels down and looked straight at her. "I got a message at work today."
Fear seized her. "From whom?"
"More like from what. A coded message came in over my spare helmet, and it was directed at Ant-Man and 'the Queen'. Even had coordinates."
"The Queen? Do they mean me?" Maria blinked. The fear quickly faded and in turn was replaced with curiosity.
"It seems that way. Maria, someone is trying to lure us into a trap."
"I figured that out Hank, but who? Egghead?"
"Doubt it, but you never know. I'm going to check it out."
Maria stood up from her seat and looked at her husband. "Oh no. Hank Pym, you retired, remember? The Wasp can handle this."
"Maria, this is more than likely a trap by who knows what."
Maria put her foot down. "And you said you were giving up being a hero. Hank, we have a tool to help humanity. I'm not some frail female who faints at the first sign of danger."
Hank relented. "Alright, alright. Just promise me you'll keep your radio on, ok? Ant-Man can be there in a flash." He smiled nervously and kissed her. As their lips met, Hank had a vision of some old movie he had caught part of when he was younger. Some black and white war picture with a fresh faced young man going off to war and meeting with his sweetheart at the train station. He recalled the young man didn't return from the war. As Maria gathered her tools and equipment and left the kitchen, he felt stirrings of panic. Who or what was sending that message, and was Maria the Queen?
Having quickly put on her costume, the Wasp popped a pill and quickly shrank. The carpet around their bed now looked like an endless sea of grass around her. "Time to go to work." Pressing on a small section of the wall, her actions were rewarded with a tiny hiss as a door opened. "Hank thought I was nuts to build this." She smiled as she remembered the look on Hank's face when he caught her tearing down the bedroom wall. "But then how else would the Wasp leave the house without attracting attention?"
Stepping inside and pressing a few buttons, the door closed and a light came on. The room shook as the lift began and within seconds the Wasp as carried up to the top of the house. "Third floor, everyone out." She joked as she stepped out of the tiny elevator. Above the window frame, she had built another addition. Walking out onto the frame, she pressed another hidden switch.
Another door opened in the wall and the Wasp stepped inside. If one were observing from outside the house, one might have noticed a small barrel shaped protrusion sticking out from under the gutter. The Wasp made a final check of her equipment before strapping herself to a braced chair and hitting a switch. With a minuscule explosion, the chair and its occupant were fired from the house and towards the area designated by the strange message.
As the Wasp soared through the air, her thoughts drifted back to what Hank had said. "The message called for Ant-Man and a queen. Also, who could have sent it in the first place?" The chair flew through the air like a bullet as she loosened her straps and pressed a hand to the cybernetic helmet under her cowl. "I'll just summon some ants to help cushion my landing."
Slipping free of the seat, the Wasp fell into a freefall as she saw a gathering mass of ants near a sewer grate. Spreading her arms and legs; she landed softly on the living carpet as she dropped down to the sidewalk. "Alright, those coordinates would place it about a block or so from here."
Climbing down into the sewers, the Wasp mentally requested aide as the ants followed her. "Might as well bring back up."
The trip was quick. As they neared the destination, the Wasp was suddenly thrown from her mount. Quickly recovering, she stood up and braced her back against the slimy wall as the ants went wild and stampeded. "What was that all about?"
"Simple, I ordered them to join me." A voice spoke out in her mind.
"What's going on?" The Wasp turned around, desperately trying to figure out where the voice was coming from.
"Just follow the ants, and all shall be revealed."
Her head throbbing, the Wasp followed the last ant inside. She put her hand over her mouth to keep from gasping. Before her, on a waterlogged matchbook, was a red beetle. It paced back and forth on the book like a hellfire and brimstone preacher as it waved its antennae in the air. "Surprised human? Allow me to explain."
The crowd of insects, which included ants, beetles, bees, and many more groups and species, parted and allowed her to move closer. The beetle looked down at her and glowered. "My beginning of my story is the end of yours human. Years ago, I was nothing more than a simple beetle, until the blast from one of your blasted atomic weapons reached my home and transformed me. The radiation made me intelligent." Its eyes narrowed. "And it also made me realize that you humans are far too destructive to be in control of this planet."
"So exactly are you intending to do about it?" The Wasp put up a brave front, but within her heart she had no idea what to do. Fighting humans was one thing, but this?
The Scarlet Beetle, having christened itself that as it issued orders, chuckled. "Simple, I am going to lead my army to the surface world, and you are going to help me."
With a mere wave of its forelegs, the Scarlet Beetle sent ants and beetles alike after the Wasp. Realizing the danger she was in, the Wasp reached out to contact Hank with one hand while another lashed out and caught the nearest beetle directly between the eyes. Her call for help was cut off, however, as a pair of pinchers clamped down on her arm. Another set encircled her waist and lifted her above the ground. "See human? No one can withstand our attack." The Scarlet Beetle smugly stated as it marched towards her.
"Yeah, real tough. What happens when the human use DDT or a pair of shoes?"
"The answer to that lies with you. Why do you think I called Ant-Man? From the ants I learned about his ability, and I knew he would inform his queen. I am curious to see how your amazing particles work on my kind."
"What? You can't do that!" The Wasp thrashed in her captor's grip, but she was unable to escape. The Scarlet Beetle loomed over her and with one fell swoop yanked her belt off and sliced open her cowl. Removing the growth pills and radio, the Scarlet Beetle issued orders to the insects. The Wasp was half-dragged/half-carried past the swarming masses and quickly dumped down a nearby pipe. "Goodbye human. Your advances to our cause shall not be forgotten."
As the Wasp struggled to regain her footing against the slick walls and filth covered grate, her thoughts briefly turned to despair. "Great, my first real solo action and I help doom humanity." Running her hands over every surface, her search caused more despair. "No holds or anything that I can use to help climb out of here. Looks like everyone is on their own unless I can get out of here but fast."
The Scarlet Beetle dragged the belt before itself as it lead the other assorted insects out of the sewers and into the streets. "Go my children, go and conquer! Remembering what it had read from the Wasp's mind, the beetle careful opened up one of the belt pouches and dumped the contents on the sidewalk. "One of these pills turns them back to normal size. So all of them shall make me a god among both insects and human!" It mentally cackled as it bent down and slurped up all the scattered pills. Within seconds, another change took place with the insect's body as it started to grow. To nearby passersby, it resembled nothing more than a large beetle, but as the seconds ticked by, it grew larger. From mere inches it grew to feet. Swelling up like balloon, several people dismissed it at first as a toy. When it spoke in their minds, however, their opinion changed.
"Attention pitiful humans! I am known as the Scarlet Beetle, and I shall destroy all of you!" It roared mentally as it easily dwarfed the tallest man on the street. "Brothers, workers, and drones, attack!"
Bees swarmed over the people, stinging wildly as waves of cockroaches crawled over and into various motors. The panic was immediate as people struggled to flee from the hideous horde. "Yes, yes! Follow me my army, and we shall destroy all who oppose us!"
Batting aside any human unlucky enough to be caught out, the Scarlet Beetle issued commands to every insect. Ants and beetles swarmed into buildings and caused chaos. Valuables were lifted straight from their owner's bodies as power lines were cut. Food was destroyed by roaches millions of the filthy fiends cascaded over any foodstuff and devoured it. Vehicles were wrecked as their panicked owners tried to fend off the stinging wasps and hornets that had flown in through open windows and air conditioning vents. Within minutes the panic and chaos had spread from the downtown area into the surrounding neighborhoods.
Within one suburban home, Hank Pym bolted all the windows and doors. DDT soaked towels were wadded up and put in all the nooks and crannies around the house. All attempts to contact Maria failed, which did little for his state of mind. Glancing at the costume that had fallen on the floor, Hank kicked at it with his foot. "Sorry, Ant-Man is going to have to set this one out." His earlier efforts to contact or control the ants had proven futile. For his trouble, all he got was a bragging message from the Scarlet Beetle. "Maria had all the formula with her and I don't have the time or materials to make any more. Hank old buddy, you are in it deep." Dragging what equipment he could carry, Hank sequestered himself within his attic and barricaded the door. "I've got to pull through, for Maria's sake."
The Wasp was in it deep. Digging through the filth and the muck had rewarded her with a paperclip and not much else. "Alright, radio's gone and my weapons were in my belt. I've only got one chance at this." Taking the tattered remains of her sleeve and ripping it further into shreds, she took the makeshift rope and tied one end around the bent piece of metal.
Standing back from the wall, she gave the grappling hook a few test twirls. Pleased at its sturdiness, she spun it around and aimed for the mouth of the pipe. Letting it fly, he heard it connect to something. When the rope began to move upwards, she quickly latched onto it. "Some of the insects must have stayed behind. I'll worry about them after I'm out of here."
As she neared the mouth, she gripped the edge and pulled herself out. She saw the clip dragged away by an ant. The ants stood around without bothering her. "Maybe the Scarlet Beetle's control isn't as strong when he's not here?" She tried to rationalize why the ants weren't attacking her, but she also didn't take the peace for granted. Dashing in between them, she spied her cowl and helmet in the center of the room and made a line for it.
Yanking it up, she dashed for the outside. "I've got to get in touch with Hank." Hearing the sounds of explosions coming from the street above, she stopped. "What's going on up there?"
Putting the helmet on, she radioed Hank. The explosions from above grew worse and the static from the radio did little to sooth her nerves. "Maria?"
"Hank? Thank Heaven you're all right! What's going on topside?"
"Like something out of Matheson. Bugs are attacking everyone, and some kind of giant beetle is calling the shots. I'm barricaded inside the house, but I can't get to my lab or anything else for that matter."
"It'll be ok darling. Just stay there and keep low. I'll contact you again when this over." The Wasp sighed with relief as she shut off the radio. "Alright, that bug has caused enough damage for one day." Retracing her steps, she made her way back to the sewer grate. Enough dirt and rubble had fallen down to provide a sort of natural steps that she used to climb out. Snagging a half-buried Popsicle stick, she climbed out onto a street straight out of a nightmare.
Cars were overturned and on fire. Storefronts were destroyed and a few grisly bodies lay scattered on the pavement. Clouds of wasps, bees, flies, and other flying bugs swarmed over the area, creating a thick living blanket. "I've got to the find the Scarlet Beetle. There must be a way to stop him."
Making her way past the devastation, she ran as fast as she could when she heard the evil bug's words in her mind. "Destroy the humans! Bring forth the valuables and let us bask in the glory of our victory!"
The Wasp spied the now massive beetle as it held court near a birdbath in the park. It didn't seem to notice her as it ordered its followers. "Go forth, bring the dynamite and use it on the bank. Soon we shall spread across the land and then the world!"
The Wasp ignored the voice in her mind as she spied what was dangling from the Scarlet Beetle's foreleg. "My belt!"
Her torn belt was wrapped around the Scarlet Beetle's front leg like a trophy. As she crossed the street, the Beetle took notice of her. "So, you escaped from my trap? Pity. Now I shall" his mental words were cut off as the sticky stick flew through the air and struck one of the creature's eyes. In its momentarily blindness, the Scarlet Beetle trashed in pain, causing the belt to slip from its leg and land safely on the pavement. With its mental hold broken, the insect army was confused as the Wasp dashed past the legions of bugs to grab the belt.
"Scarlet Beetle, I challenge you! Defeat me in combat, and I shall aid you in your quest!" The Wasp shouted as she darted through the grass towards the outskirts of the park.
"Bah! You forget, I can read your mind human. I know you would never aide me, and that you are unaware of the pills exact makeup. That said, I shall still crush you, so as to make a example out of you before my army, and to convince your drone Ant-Man to aide us as well."
She giggled at the thought of Hank being a "drone", but that was pushed aside as she dropped down to the street and dashed across the blacktop and into a toy store. "I need some breathing room." She panted as she pushed a stray lone roller-skate and hoped on for a ride. Opening up her belt, she dumped the shrinking pills in her hand. "That thing took all of the growth pills, so using all of these should do the trick. But how can I get them down that disgusting gullet?"
Hearing the breaking of glass and the monster's mental roar, she climbed out of the skate and spied a seltzer bottle on the counter near the register. "Good enough, now to get there." Placing the pills back, she scurried up the shelves. Finding a large plastic bow and arrow set, she quickly tied a loose string around the arrow and took careful aim. Putting both feet on the plastic bow and stretching the thin bowline, she fired. The arrow struck the cash register near the bottle. The suction cup held fast as she slid down the line and jumped onto the bottle.
"Hey bright eyes, looking for me?" She shouted as she ground the pills up. Dumping the powder into the water, she waited until the Scarlet Beetle's hideous head was drawing close enough. Slipping back around to the trigger, she rocked back and forth. Tipping the bottle backwards towards the register, she held fast to the trigger as the bottle fell towards the register. She grunted when she hit, but the force was enough spray the loaded water into the face and mouth of the enraged beetle.
"No, no, what have you done?" It mentally shrieked as it quickly dropped past her sight. Squeezing out from between the bottle and the register, she marveled at how fast the beetle had shrunk. Using a nearby stick pony as a pole, she slid down to the floor.
The Scarlet Beetle was almost an infinitesimal speck. The once mighty creature was now scarcely bigger than her foot. It's now pathetic voice begged and cried in her mind. "No, please! Restore me, restore me to me true size, and I swear I shall never bother your kind again!"
The Wasp looked down at the speck. One quick glance out the shattered door showed a city in chaos as insects still swarmed in great black clouds. The Scarlet Beetle's mental hold was weakening fast, but for many people it had come far too late. She turned her full attention back to the quivering red dot. "No. You talk of freeing your kind, but what you did was worse anything I've ever done. I corral, yes, and even cajole, but I have never harmed any ant nor have I ever used them for a selfish purpose. You? You're as bad as any human."
Picking up a broken piece of floor tile, the Wasp stood over the squirming horror. With one quick motion, she brought it down over the insect's body, crushing it. It's death rattle made her ears bleed as she brought the tile down over and over again until nothing was left. Disgusted, she dropped it and walked away. "A fitting end for such a monster."
Maria sighed as she slipped back into the bathtub. It had taken several hours, but she was finally restored to full size. Radioing Hank to pick her up, it had still taken some time for him to brew the chemicals and make more pills. Reaching over the side of the tub, she flicked on the radio and tuned it to the local news program. Sitting back, she let the warm water wash over her as she listened.
"-And reports are still coming in from all over Center City. For those just tuning in, a pandemic has gripped the city and the surrounding county as insects, for reasons yet to be explained, rose up and attacked humanity. The invasion, if that is what it can be called, seems to have stopped, but police and National Guardsmen are warning everyone to stay in their homes and not to venture outside. We now go live to the Mayor's office to get an official word."
With that, Maria flicked the radio off. The city was almost destroyed thanks in part to her belt, and during her first real solo mission. Rising out of the tub, she wrapped herself in a towel and headed downstairs to watch the television.
Hank was on the couch and the set was blaring. The Mayor was blasting the insects, but the real target of his tirade was Ant-Man. "And I say to you my fair citizens, how much do we really know about this Ant-Man character anyway? During our time of greatest need, where was he? Why, for all we know, he could have been in league with the bugs the whole time!"
Hank angrily shut the set off. "Last time I vote for that windbag." He grumbled as Maria looked on. "All the good we do, and that's the thanks we get?"
Maria patted the cushion next to her. "Well, to be fair, you did retire. I guess the Wasp is just going to have to step up to the plate. Maybe I should hire a spokesperson?"
Hank laughed despite his mood. "Yeah, maybe we could call a press conference before you stop a bank robbery?" Sitting down, he looked his wife in the eye. "You really want to continue doing this, don't you?"
"Why not? If neither of us had been there, that strange insect would have conquered us all."
"I suppose, but look darling, this is a dangerous business! You out there, risking life and limb, and who knows what kind of strange things are still out there." Hank placed his hand on hers and Maria could tell he was struggling to say something. "Maria, I love you. I loved you from the moment I first saw you, but this is crazy. I don't want to flip open the paper and see your obituary."
Maria was nonplused. "Hank my darling, you worry too much. Yes, this is dangerous, no doubt about it, but look at the facts. If we sit back and do nothing, we're just letting the evil of men go unpunished. I have to do this Hank, for my father and for you."
Hank rubbed his brow. "I understand how you feel, but how can risking your life make me safer? If you insist on being the Wasp, then Ant-Man is coming out of retirement."
"Oh Hank, you would do that for me?"
He nodded and put his arm around her shoulders. "Alone, and with me here to worry is no way to go about it. At least let me ride along for a little bit. I'll let you call the shots."
Maria raised an eyebrow. "And you're perfectly fine with being the, eh, sidekick?"
"As long as I get wear my old costume and not some short pants get-up."
Maria laughed and leaned in closer. "Aw, I was hoping The Wasp and the Amazing Ant-Boy would be the next big thing. Why must you crush a girl's dreams like that?"
"Sorry about that, but you know how cruel I can be." Hank smirked as he flicked off the lights and kissed his wife. Things were shaking up again, but with the two of them together out there, there would be some hope restored to the city. The Wasp was just going to have to be properly introduced to the public, that's all. All she needed to do was leave a good first impression.
Notes to Astonish
First, the mail:
Great job on this latest story. It was pretty cool to see a story
that had these lesser used characters.
Great dialogue and descriptions.
Thanks for sharing. :)
Take care yourself Tiff, and thanks for reading. It's nice to know someone is enjoying this.This story is based on "The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle", which was first published in Tales to Astonish #39 (January 1963) with credits to Stan Lee, Larry Leiber (script), Jack Kirby (pencils), Artie Simek (letters) and Dick Ayers (inks). All rights reserved
Tune in next time when the Wasp meets the Hijacker…and fails!
Also, be on the look out for the following issues!
Amazing Adventures #3-Droom meets Zamu!
Journey Into Mystery #8-Lady Thor battles the Carbon-Copy Man!
Sensational Comics #7-The Hulk VS the Fantastic Four!