By Jan Strnad & Gil Kane, with various (DC Comics)
Wonderfully reminiscent of his superlative Blackmark paperback venture (collected in Blackmark: the 30th Anniversary Edition ISBN: 1-56097-456-7), artist Gil Kane was inspired in this retooling of Silver-Age B-List hero The Atom, removed from his comfort zone of scientific crime-busting to become the sword-wielding champion of a barbaric fantasy kingdom.
Starting off with a four issue miniseries and followed by three giant-sized Specials, the sword and lost science saga revitalized a once great character who had fallen on very lean times and set him up for his eventual return to the big leagues (I apologise for the puns – lowest form of wit, I know!).
Following the break-up of his marriage to ambitious lawyer Jean Loring, size-changing physicist Ray Palmer departs on a research trip to Brazil to think things through. Unfortunately he falls foul of drug-runners who down his plane. To the world he appears dead, but in reality he has stumbled upon an alien civilisation, populated by golden humanoids no more than six inches tall.
Lost for uncounted decades in the verdant vastness of the Amazon on a planet of giants, the aliens have built a city around the ruins of their crashed ship, a vessel powered by White Dwarf star matter. Regrettably, since the incredible star-stuff powers and constitutes the Atom’s size changing outfit, the mighty mite finds himself trapped at the same diminutive height and must rely on his physical prowess and a sharp sword to survive…
In the epic manner of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, Palmer rescues and woos the exotic Princess Laethwen and saves the hidden city of Morlaidh from a usurping dictator in a classic romp of action-packed derring-do. It’s a fabulous dose of ultimate escapism perfectly executed by Kane and writer Jan Strnad, and subsequent sequels continued the magic.
Without wishing to give too much away, the first of these sees a disgruntled and displaced Palmer back in our world, longing for the simplicity of Morlaidh and the love of Laethwen; the second finds Jean doing her own size-shifting (this is probably when she learned the skills she used in Identity Crisis, ISBN: 1-34576-126-X, fans!) as the Tiny Titan is forced to choose between his old life and his current one. The book concludes with Kane replaced by Pat Broderick and Dennis Janke for a rather wordy tale of despots, plague and monstrous afflictions devastating the diminutive jungle kingdom which only the Atom can combat.
Despite the rather tame final tale Sword of the Atom is a flashing, vital burst of graphic excitement that clearly shows what can be done with moribund characters if creators are bold enough and given sufficient editorial support. It’s also a hugely enjoyable read that will make your heart race and your pulse pound – just like comics are supposed to.
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