Considering that Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen Versus the Ants” is one of the most anthologized adventure stories in the English language, and that it has been adapted for both radio and film, it is surprising that it has never been adapted as a comic book tale...or has it?
In the back of my mind, I dimly recalled running across a story in some comic or other that dealt with ants, but couldn't come up with the title. Then, while perusing Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 1, I came across the story presented below: “Von Mohl Vs. The Ants.” This tale was one of the last stories Ditko illustrated in 1954 before he temporarily left comics due to tuberculosis and his art carries the story quite well. Panel to panel storytelling is clear, he pulls what action he can from the script and there is an otherworldly quality to the backgrounds. Unfortunately, the style he uses here lacks the detail of some of his other early Charlton efforts (such as in The Thing title) and, in many aspects, is a precursor to the sparse style he would use in his Charlton work of the 60s (for those of you interested in the varying styles Ditko used at the beginning of his career, I would recommend finding a copy of the Strange Suspense volume: it is well worth the time and money invested in it).
The scripter’s name is unknown, but as one compares the two stories it becomes readily obvious that Stephenson’s classic was the source for the tale. The basic premise of both stories is the same and events fall in pretty much the same order. Both Von Mohl and Leiningen are German, both are warned of the ants and both refuse to leave. Water, oil and fire are used to try to stop the invading hordes with varying degrees of success. Obviously, however, our unknown scripter didn't want to be accused of plagiarism, so some alterations were made to the Von Mohl version of the story.
Unlike Leiningen, Von Mohl is portrayed as a very cruel man who cares not at all for his plantation workers. Von Mohl has his plantation in Africa, while Leiningen toils in South America. Stephenson’s story takes place over the course of several days, while the Von Mohl version takes place in one. Von Mohl is not nearly as astute as Leiningen and some of his attempts to stop the ants are rather ludicrous. And, of course, there is the ending, which deviates tremendously from Stephenson’s original and has an EC feel to it, although it lacks the EC sense of morality.
Prior to reading “Von Mohl Vs. The Ants!,” I would recommend that you read our presentation of “Leiningen Versus The Ants.” If you are not familiar with Stephenson’s original, it will give you a bit more insight into the similarities and differences between both versions and, hopefully, increase your enjoyment of the comic book story.