Sword of the Atom

By Jan Strnad & Gil Kane, with Pat Broderick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1553-8 (TPB)

Wonderfully reminiscent of his superlative Blackmark paperback venture (collected in Blackmark: the 30th Anniversary Edition), supreme artistic stylist Gil Kane was a man inspired in this retooling of Silver-Age B-List hero The Atom. In a radical re-think co-authored by Jan Strnad, here the urbane scientific adventurer is removed from his comfort zone of cosy costumed crime-busting to become the sword-wielding champion of a barbaric lost kingdom.

Starting off with a 4-issue miniseries from 1983 and followed by three giant-sized annual Specials, the swashbuckling 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, but extremely hard to resist!).

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 ponder on his unsatisfactory life. Unfortunately, he falls foul of drug-runners who down his plane… To the world at large he appears dead, but in reality, the disheartened adventurer 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, these alien outcasts and fugitives have built a city around the ruins of their crashed ship: a vessel powered by White Dwarf matter. Regrettably, since another batch of the incredible star-stuff powers and constitutes the Atom’s size-shifting outfit, the mighty mite finds himself trapped at the same diminutive height and must rely on his physical prowess, raw courage and flashing blade to survive…

In the epic manner of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars, Palmer rescues and woos 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 scripter Jan Strnad, with the subsequent sequels continuing the stunning transformation.

Without giving too much away, the first of these sees a disgruntled and displaced Palmer returned to our world, longing for the simplicity of Morlaidh and the love of Laethwen; the second finds Jean doing her own size-shifting (probably when she learned the skills she used in equally-iconoclastic miniseries Identity Crisis, fans!) as the Tiny Titan is forced to choose between his old life and his current one. The saga concludes with Kane replaced by Pat Broderick & Dennis Janke for an overly wordy tale of despots, plague and monstrous afflictions devastating the hidden jungle kingdom which only the Atom can combat.

Despite it’s rather tame finale Sword of the Atom is a superbly dynamic, vital burst of graphic excitement that clearly shows what can be done with seemingly tired and moribund characters when 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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