Scarlet Beetle

Scarlet Beetle
The comic book history of the Scarlet Beetle, an enemy of Ant-Man and the Wasp, from Marvel Comics.

So I recently read a Reddit thread where someone posed the question of why aren't there as many dead bugs on our windshields these days. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid in the 90s, I remember the windshield of the car being absolutely filthy with dead bugs after a road trip. Like, all sorts of weird textures and colors but...I just got back from a 16-hour round trip's not clean, but there aren't as many bugs.

Now, I guess there's a lot of speculation as to climate change, pesticides, and if we're on the verge of an extinction event in our lifetime. Really, don't worry about all those terrifying, unusual things that could potentially change our lives for the worse and will definitely affect future generations. You know why? Bugs are jerks.

Getting Antsy

Case in point: The Scarlet Beetle. You accidentally dose one beetle of middling beetle intelligence with radiation, and what do you have? Bugs that are going to take over the world. Yeah, turns our they're mad about being killed with impunity any time they dare show their antennae in the surface world.

Hank Pym, AKA Ant-Man, discovered this on what had to be the slowest of Saturday afternoons. I mean, who usually just sits around reading the electronic waves from ants, and you might be like, Jason, electronic waves from ants? Does that even make sense, to which I'd say - I'm sorry...I can't hear you this is a podcast. It's one way.

Anyway, needed to investigate the ant waves, Hank shrunk down and rode an ant into the sewer to find...a gathering.

More than one insect? How atypical and unexpected! Image copyright Marvel Comics.

Because insects never congregate anywhere for any reason. Hank was suspicious. Then, he noticed the glowing beetle.

A red beetle, slightly larger than the rest, was communicating with the bugs using telepathy. I guess because Hank was in the same room he could pick up on it, but he learned the shocking truth: thanks to atomic experiments, this beetle had been mutated and developed a brain equal to that of a human. Under the red beetle's sway, the insects, who number in the trillions, would rise up and become masters of the world.

Hank Pym goes for this, too, because I guess he can do basic math that took me confusing Siri quite a bit before I was able to work it out. According to a Google search, there are 10 quintillion individual insects on the planet earth. If you're wondering how many zeros that's too many. It's an absurd amount of zeros. So much so that when you divide 10 quintillion by 8 billion, the approximate population of earth, you get 1.2 billion insects per every individual human. Yeah, presuming the radioactive super bug could get everyone on board, that's it for us. That's the game. It wouldn't even be close.

So, part of early Hank Pym's deal was that he could shrink down to the size of an ant and control bugs. There's a really easy solution to killing the budding bug tyrant, and it's how most people kill most bugs. Unfortunately, the bug bodyguards got the jump on Hank and stole his helmet, knocking him out. Now only that, but they took the gas that returns him to human size.

Yes, of course it's a powerful weapon. It's dynamite. Image copyright Marvel Comics.

So, I went into this joking, but the Scarlet Beetle...plays things pretty well. It uses termites to take down telephone poles. Has venomous spiders attack world leaders to sow chaos and uncertainty, steals dynamite for some reason, and begins his attack on the surface world.

Because just sending a billion bugs per person to munch the humans out of existence was both too quick and too brutal for a 1960s comic, Scarlet Beetle announces the takeover on TV.

The Resist-ants

He didn't count on one thing, though: the ants.

He stole Ant-Man's gas, but left the helmet. Breaking out of his cell, Ant-Man gathered the ants, and launched an all-out attack on the Scarlet Beetle's forces.

Now, it's too many, but Ant-Man was able to level the playing field with water, which they bugs were afraid of, and the wonders of DDT, a pesticide and known carcinogen that was outlawed in the 1970s. Sorry, Ant-Man.

I too narrate bad things in real time. Image copyright Marvel Comics.

Anyway, in a fun little turnabout, the human-sized bug was attacking the bug-sized human. Get it because...yeah. So clever. It ended when Hank Pym outsmarted the Scarlet Beetle because he knew his own suit better than a beetle did. Great job, Hank. The beetle had the return gas, but it also had the shrinking gas. Hank hit that gas canister with a toy javelin, stuffed him in a sack, and took him back to the lab...the Scarlet Beetle apparently not remembering that, at any size, he still possessed his greatest weapon: the ability to control the quintillions of bugs.

A Study in Scarlet (Beetle being such a ridiculously long-lasting character even though it's a talking beetle)

He wouldn't have to live with that for long, though, because Hank Pym apparently had a way to reverse the effects of the radiation which, pulling a whole Flowers for Algernon thing on the Scarlet Beetle, Hank reverted it back to its normal beetle intelligence and ability to control things telepathically.

This isn't the end of the Scarlet Beetle's story, though. He made an appearance in Spider-man, where the dormant Pym particles in him became active, and he grew to the size of a city block. He wasn't super smart - just a bug, but remember: bugs are jerks. The Scarlet Beetle attacked New York until Spider-man took him out and he shrank out of sight.

We remember, Stan. We remember. Image copyright Marvel Comics.

He showed up, again, to menace Hank, having regained his intelligence and radioactivity, and he tried to bring the insects under his control. It was the choice of his base location that did him in this time, though, because he just so happened to have set up shop...under a shop where the owner was burning the place down to collect the insurance money. The Scarlet Beetle was crushed by a gas can.

He wasn't dead because of course not, and, in probably the weirdest turn for the character, synthesized the Pym particle from his own body and used it to embiggen a bunch of other beetles and aid the government of Communist Hungary in the 80s. They were beaten up by the West Coast Avengers.

Yeah, turns out they could. Image copyright Marvel Comics.

He appeared, again, to the Scott Lang Ant-Man, where he revealed that the years that had passed had only increased his mental powers. He could now control a human mind and, with the aid of the Ant-Man helmet, he would be able to control, like, five more human minds. The Beetle would have a butler and stuff it would be great.

Remember, that he can still just control all the bugs and end things for us immediately, but he had a pincer to grind with Ant-Man and that kept leading to his undoing. Scott Lang commanded the ants to come to his aid, but because The Scarlet Beetle was half in control, the ants just fought each other and brought down the hideout with Ant-Man being the only survivor because he wasn't a bug.

Scarlet Beetle is still out there, though, still plotting. Probably. I mean, it's been 60 years, and he keeps coming back so really, go nuts with the pesticides. Dump them in the storm drains. Bug bombs running in your house 24/7. Thin out their numbers before the war starts.

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