A Marvelous Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
The Man with the Voice of Doom!
November 26, 1962
Even among the sagebrush the Christmas season could be felt. Stores from Winona to Flagstaff were all busy preparing for the holiday rush. Ad space was at a premium, as newspapers and radios were quick to make room for the various products being sold. In this mad rush for ads, there was one man who felt neither the spirit of the season or the possible profits either.
Jason Cragg was a portly man. His voice was often muddled, and far too often he had opportunities slip through his fingers due to his fouling up a speech or an introduction. That was how, largely due to the kindness of a distant cousin, that he was in a remote stretch of the desert working as a graveyard shift disk jockey at a small public access radio station.
Yet miracles often happen at this time. Several miles away, in one of the dozens of secret atomic research facilities, an experiment was underway. The exact nature of it would never be revealed to the public, and for good reason.
They say the most terrifying word in the world of radiation is 'oops'. A hairline crack, barely noticeable to the delicate machines and sensors, had developed in the safety chamber hosing several isotopes. A handful of atomic particles, barely enough register on the Geiger counters, escaped through the crack and drifted on the wind. While the technicians panicked and phone calls were made, Jason Cragg sat blissfully unaware in his sound booth, dutifully reading off the time and weather.
Feeling the lack of air conditioner, Jason opened the window and yawned as he looked out over the bleak desert landscape. As his mouth opened, the particles, unbeknownst to him, were carried on the night wind and sailed directly down his throat. Coughing slightly, Jason went back to flip the record.
"And that was the latest single from Johnny Cash. Folks, while you're up this late, please remember to think of your dog this Christmas season, and get him the best gift a master can give-Lucky Pooch dog biscuits. Made only from the finest materials available in the United States, and a lucky pooch in one who eats Lucky Pooch. And now here's something slightly different, Bill Haley and 'Rock Around the Clock'".
Sales of Lucky Pooch tripled overnight. Jason's employers were so thrilled they soon put him on the morning shift. Every product he endorsed sold like mad the next day. Companies from all over the state were rushing to have him advertise for them, and so Jason was rich.
In a three month span he had more money in his account than he had ever had before in his entire life. He became bored, and yet it was during this ennui that he discovered a rather thing. Whenever he spoke well about a product, people would suddenly fight themselves just to grab hold of it, regardless of what it was or even if they needed it. When he spoke ill of something, the same mob mentality took hold, and people would lay waste to the offensive object as if their very souls depended on its destruction.
On a whim he entered the swankest restaurant he could find. With a few phrases, he not only had the best table, but his entire meal was free. As he sat, having polished off the juiciest prime rib he had ever tasted, a sudden idea came to him. A wonderfully wicked idea; something so devious and original, he was shocked that he hadn't thought of it before.
He was going to rule the world.
April 17, 1963
Spring was in the air and Center City Park had a fine turnout. Couples lounged under shady trees while dogs frolicked in the grass. Birds chipping, bees humming all contributed to the picturesque scene.
It was odd, then, when the man appeared. He was dressed a rather old suit. It was bright green, with a maroon vest and matching tie. On his head was a tall stovepipe hat. His beard was neatly groomed and his hand was a small carpetbag. Marching purposefully towards the gazebo, he ascended the steps and turned towards the crowd. A few onlookers had stopped and stared at the man. More than a few giggled at his outfit and his puffed up swagger. He ignored them as he opened up the bag and pulled out a collapsible chair. With a yanks he assembled it and stood on it. Removing his hat and gently placing it upside down, he looked to the crowd and cleared his throat.
"Friends, my name is Jason L. Cragg, and I come before you a humble man. I have walked and listened, and yes, bore witness to, something evil that lurks in your fair city."
The crowd stopped moving. All eyes and ears were focused on Jason. He continued with his speech. "Brothers, sisters, take heed! For among you lurks an unspeakable evil. This evil has a name though, and there is still time to stop it before disaster claims us all. The evil that I speak of is none other than…" He paused as nearly everyone leaned forward, in utterly rapt attention, "the Ant-Man!"
The crowd collectively gasped as he continued. "Yes friends, the Ant-Man! This foul rapscallion, this diminutive demon, has wormed his way into your fair city, and why? So that he and his foul agents could take it over!'
"He's right!" A few voices clamored. "Find that little monster and run him out of town!" More voices joined the fray, until the entire park was filled with a shouting mob. Jason smiled under his beard. Gesturing for silence, he stepped off his chair and walked into the crowd.
"Brothers and sisters," He passed his hat among the men and women as they eagerly shoved money and coins into it. "All that I ask is a small donation and the directions to the nearest television station, where I might spread the good word and warn more people."
Maria almost gagged on her coffee as she unfolded the morning newspaper. "Hank, have you seen this?" In bold print, the headline read:
"Courageous Cragg to Ant-Man: Get out of town!"
Hank's face faulted as he read over the article. "Who is this guy?"
"I don't know. An old rival maybe?" Maria stood up and snagged her costume out of the hamper where she had dumped it last night. "An old crime boss? Maybe a lieutenant?"
"I doubt it. I would have would remembered. Maybe someone you fought?"
Maria ducked into the hallway for some degree of privacy as she shucked off her housecoat and slipped the black and red costume on. "No, I never saw him before, and besides, do we even know anyone named Cragg?"
"Maria, wait, where are you going?" Hank jumped from his seat as the Wasp entered the kitchen. Downing the last of the coffee, she slipped on her helmet. She kissed him on the check.
"The article says that character is going to be appearing down at the television station tonight. I think the Wasp should be there for, shall we say, an opposing view." She popped a shrinking pill before Hank could protest and vanished before his eyes.
Hank sat back down (after checking carefully around his feet) and looked at the article. "Who are you?"
The Wasp stretched out in the air-conditioning vent. Alternatively shrinking and growing on her way towards the station, she covered a great deal of ground before slipping inside. It was a simple matter to tie a rope (or a sturdy piece of nylon) to one of the slats and repel down the metal shaft. After she found the right vent that overlooked the studio audience, she secured herself to the grill and waited.
After several hours of waiting, during which she gave thanks that her costumed was insulated, the crowd stood to its feet as Jason Cragg stepped onto the stage. Checking her line, she slipped out of the vent and daggled over the crowd as the man spoke. He was still decked out in his suit from the park, but his visage was more professional and slicked back.
Jason smiled to himself as the cameras started to roll and the director gave him a nod. Walking out into the spotlights and the crowd's applause gave him a warm feeling inside as he stepped to the podium. It had taken merely a kind words and the station manager was more than happy to preempt the scheduled debate and allow him the time.
Lightly touching the podium, Jason gestured for silence. "Friends, it does me glad to see so many faces out there in the audience here tonight, and to know that so many of you care about your city."
Pausing for dramatic effect, he stepped away from the podium and took his microphone with him. "But I ask you, those of you at home, where is the Ant-Man? Is he here?" He lifted up his shoe to a thunderous applause. "Or maybe here?" He lifted the other shoe. The crowd roared with laughter. "No, the Ant-Man is not here tonight folks, and why? Because he is a coward!" The roaring of the crowd was deafening. Jason had to gesture for silence before continuing. "Criminals have been trapped, yes, but where were the trails? Did the Ant-Man ever pass any sort of entrance exam for any kind of law enforcement agency? Has he ever looked, for one split second, over any kind of law book?" The crowd began to talk among itself.
"No!" He pumped his fist in the air. "Ant-Man is a coward, a thug, and dare I say, a criminal himself! Think about it, the man targets lower level criminals, but does he go after the big bosses? No! Crime is still rampant, and no feels safe!"
The crowd was nearing a riot as Jason continued to speak. The Wasp, dangling from the vent, had her helmet fastened securely. She had wanted to both keep it on her head, as well as protecting her ears from the loud noise. What little she heard disgusted her as she tuned the noise out. "How can people believe this?" But the more Jason talked, the more she found herself agreeing with him. She wasn't sure why, she knew her husband far better than any of the people below her, but she was oddly finding herself cheering and booing with the rest of them.
"And I say, if the Ant-Man were any kind of a man at all, he'd throw himself into the nearest river this instant!" Jason bellowed. The crowd was in a total frenzy as he walked off the stage. The security had to rush forward to keep the crowd from tearing the studio apart. While high overhead, the Wasp blinked under her helmet.
"What happened to me? For a minute there, I hated Hank like I never hated anything before. This Cragg, can he control minds?" Looking down, Cragg had stepped back onto the stage and calmed the crowd down. That cinched it for her. "With my helmet blocking most of the noise, I was able to resist, but" A sudden realization made her shiver. "Hank!"
The Wasp shimmed up the vent and quickly slipped into the nearest ladies room. Enlarging, she slipped on a simple dress over her suit and slipped her helmet into her purse. Taking out two wads of cotton, she slipped them into her ears as she exited the room and quickly made her way back home. "I have to keep my ears covered!" She planned her actions out as she opened a side door and ducked out into the street. "Anyone who hears this Cragg instantly believes whatever he's saying."
Flagging down a taxi, she hurriedly told the cabbie her address and slipped him a ten. Slumping against the seat, she focused on what to do next. "Calm down. Hank almost never watches television, so why would he start now? He never cared about being Ant-Man to be begin with, so he's safe, right?"
The cab ride over was silent but nerve racking. Before the yellow-checkered cab had even come to a halt, she darted out and ran towards the front door. Her stomach flipped flopped as she saw the door resting open in the cool night. "Hank!" She screamed as she dashed into the darkened house. Shrinking as she ran, she rounded a corner in case anyone was waiting on her.
Silence greeted her as she enlarged again. Her throat felt like it was constricting as she ransacked the house. "Hank, where are you?" Charging into the living room, she first spotted that the television set was still on and that the backdoor was open. Leaping over the coffee table, she darted through the house, snagging the keys off of the counter as she ran into the garage.
Hitting the door button before sliding behind the wheel, she turned the motor on; backing out into the street, her mind was racing as she tried to think of Cragg's words. "Nearest river? The closest pier over three miles away." Putting the car into drive, she slammed her foot on the pedal as she tore through the city streets. The lights zipped by her in a blur as she entered the wharf district.
"He couldn't have walked, but could he gotten a ride? What kind of state was he in?" She bobbed and weaved in and out of traffic as she got off the main street and barreled down a side street. "This shortcut should help, but which pier would he be on?" Her thoughts were interrupted as she spied a crowd of onlookers near the end of one of the piers.
Jumping the meridian, she skidded into open parking space before climbing out through the window. The fact that the crowd hadn't moved despite her entrance worried her all the more. Snagging her purse and helmet, she ran towards the crowd. "What's happening?" She almost screamed at a passerby.
"Stay back lady, some guy went nuts and drove off the pier!" The man wiped his brow. "Craziest thing I ever saw, this nut knocked me out of my cab and just went right over!" Maria ignored the rest of his words as she shoved her way past the crowd and without a moment's thought, leapt over the edge.
She hit the cold water hard. The rear end of the car was still above water. Within the murky blackness, she struggled to see anything. Feeling her way towards the car, she tried to yank on the passenger side door, but the pressure was too great. "I can wait, let the car fill first, then open the door," She shot that plan down. "No, Hank may drown before that."
Slipping her helmet out of her purse, she lightly touched the pointed top of it before thrusting it forward. The glass easily cracked and gave way. Shoving her arms inside, she snagged Hank's unconscious form. His seat belt floated uselessly beside him as she pulled him free. Her lungs were burning as the salt water scorched her eyes. Bracing her feet against the cab, she pushed off from it and shot towards the surface.
They surfaced under the pier. Swimming up to the beach, she dragged/floated Hank to shore. When he failed to respond, she bent down and pressed her lips to his. Breathing in, she sat up and pressed her hands over his chest. "Come on Hank, breathe!" She silently pleaded as she pressed down again.
Seconds stretched like hours before Hank coughed up a load of water and gagged. "Maria?" His voice was weak. "What happened? The last thing I remember was watching TV." Maria had no words. Tears welled up in her eyes as she collapsed on the sand next to him.
The next day, things were busy at the Pym household. No one had seen Hank leave, and the description gave by the cabbie was too vague. Calling in sick, Hank and Maria poured over all the information they could gather on Jason Cragg. "Hmm, it seems that every product Cragg ever sponsored would report triple business the day after his ads aired."
"That proves it." Maria closed her eyes and pushed the pile of newspapers away. "And the ants haven't been saying too much." Leaning back in her chair, she adjusted her helmet and put it back on the counter. "We know where he's staying, but so far he's sitting still." Tapping the morning paper, she read the headline. "'Ant-Man tries suicide? Cragg to speak to nation', Honey we have to stop him. If he gets on the air and talks to the nation, there won't be a safe place for you anywhere."
"He probably heard about my little misadventure last night, so he knows I'm still alive. How can we stop someone we can't listen to?"
A smile adorned Maria's face. "Hank, that's brilliant!"
"Here." Reaching into a drawer, she pulled out a wad of cotton. "Stuff these in your ears and don't use the television or radio tonight." Standing up, Maria popped her back and took her helmet with her.
"Maria? Where are you going?"
She smiled as she walked down the hall. "First, a shower. Then, my dear, I am going to speak to Mr. Cragg."
Hank gave a low whistle as she walked away. He could guess what she meant, but he figured it would be more interesting to sit back and watch. He stuffed the cotton in his ears as he started to work around the house. "If anyone asks, I'll say I have an ear infection."
Jason smiled as he sat before the makeup table. The ratings were a smash hit. Yesterday he was only on the local market; now he was going to be seen along the entire west coast live, with a taped version going towards the Denver market. "Yes sir, Jason, now is the time. First I'll get rid of Ant-Man, and then I'll think I'll go into politics. Maybe I'll run my gang from the behind the scenes, just in case."
"Or maybe you can rot in prison for five to 10?" A small voice whispered in his ear.
"What? Who said that?" He started to rise, but the voice spoke again.
"Don't make any sudden movements, but turn round slowly." Jason slowly turned around to see what was behind him. He almost gagged.
On the floor was a pistol; that in unto it self was odd, but the fact that it was being supported by swarms of ants and pointed at his head was what made the scene. Jason stammered. "If, if you shoot me, it will only prove everything I said about you!"
The voice buzzed inside his ear. "Who said anything about shooting? You see my troops. Do you have any idea the sheer number of ants whose venom is deadly to humans? Or other insects for that matter?"
Jason shook with fright. "Please, I'm sorry! I'll cancel my speech, I'll leave town, the country, anything!"
"Stand up." Jason felt a strange tickle on his face. "I want you to go out there and tell the public that you were wrong. Ant-Man has done many great things for this city, and you were only trying to sway public opinion. Don't try anything funny, either, as I have almost inch of this studio covered. One wrong word, and you'd never get off the stage alive."
Jason's throat felt parched. He silently stood up when the page called for him. When he shot a glance back before leaving, he saw only a meticulously clean rug behind him.
Jason silently approached the podium. The crowd was restless, as if they could read his mind. His chest felt heavy as he took the microphone. "Friends, it is good that so many of you could make it." His speech suddenly seemed stilted. "Friends, let me say that it takes a big man to admit when he was wrong, and folks, that man today is myself." The crowd murmured in confusion; he continued. "Ant-Man is no villain. He is no rouge, coming to steal away your valuables in the night. No, Ant-Man is a hero. A true, red-blooded American hero, in fact, I doubt you could find anyone, man or woman, more heroic or outstanding than the Ant-Man!" He shouted the last few words as he felt something tickle his knee. "In fact, dare I say, Ant-Man is the single greatest hero alive today, and should be showered with praise with each and every exploit."
The crowd cheered. The voice returned. "You did good Jason. Now, take a bow and walk off the stage." He did so, and as he was about to disappear behind the curtain, the voice spoke up again. "By and by Jason, that gun was never loaded."
"What?" He stopped in his tracks.
"Yes; are you surprised? I'm not a killer Mr. Cragg, no matter how much someone deserves it."
Sheeting, Jason turned around and dashed back onto the stage. "You miserable little insect! When I get through with you, the public will demand your head on a platter!" He coughed as he yanked the microphone away from a confused technician. "Give me that!"
"Oh Jason, I do fear you've said pretty much everything you are ever going to say." The voice spoke. One brief tickling sensation later it was silent. Jason shook his head and addressed the confused crowd.
"People, listen to what I have to say!" His voice was husker than normal. "Ant-Man was threatening me, forcing me to say all those lies! Please, take heed!" He panted with every word. With each breath, his throat seemed to close a little more. He was coughing loudly as a burning sensation in his throat forced him to drop the microphone. Through bleary eyes, he saw the crowd. No one was cheering. No was smiling or egging him; in fact, all he saw in the studio audience was a sea of angry confused people.
He wasn't sure who started booing. It could have a boy in the back or maybe someone in the balcony, but it spread like wildfire through the crowd. A thunderous, deafening wave echoing throughout the studio and he was powerless to stop it.
He tried to speak, to say anything, but his voice was little more than a wheeze. His vision swam as he tried to leave the stage, but a thrown soda bottle struck his shin, knocking him down. "Help me, Ant-Man poisoned me somehow," he sputtered as his voice faded away. "Please, listen to me!" A cold realization hit him as he was dragged off the stage. Those tickling sensations…
He silently screamed as he ejected from the building.
Maria glanced down at the morning headlines as Hank drove off to work. "Hmm, 'Cragg Busts', nice ring to it." Further reading made her smile. "So, Mr. Cragg comes down with acute laryngitis. With his vocal cords damaged, Mr. Cragg has cancelled all public appearances." Tossing the paper on the table, Maria helped herself to a tall glass of orange juice. "All in all, a good night's work I think, but this does make me wonder, should the Wasp start getting some credit?"
Looking at the ants Hank had in his lab, she smiled. "Well, I suppose Ant-Man did help after all." She went back to her breakfast as the day began, with untold adventures waiting around every corner.
Mail to Astonish
This story was based on "The Voice of Doom!" which first appeared in Tales to Astonish#42 (April 1963), with credits to Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (script), Don Heck (pencils and inks), and Art Simek (letters). All rights and characters owned by Marvel Comics and their respective owners. No profit was intended
Fan Mail (May 8)
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Be sure to be here next time when the Wasp tackles The Mad Master of Time!
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