By Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & various (DC Comics)
Super-Editor Julius Schwartz ushered in the Silver Age of American Comics with his Showcase successes Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern, directly leading to the Justice League of America which in turn inspired Fantastic Four and the whole Marvel Empire and â€¦
However his fourth attempt to revitalize a â€œGolden Age Greatâ€ stalled when Hawkman (debuting in Brave and the Bold #34, February-March 1961) failed to find an immediate audience. Undeterred, he back-pedalled and persevered with the Winged Wonder, whilst moving forward with his next revival. Showcase #34 (September-October 1961) retooled the pint-sized strongman of the 1940â€™s Justice Society of America into a fascinating science-fiction champion and eternal underdog.
Ray Palmer was a young physicist working on the compression of matter: a teaching Professor at Ivy Town University. He was wooing career girl Jean Loring, who wanted to make her name as a trial lawyer before settling down as Mrs. Palmer (yep thatâ€™s what the 1960s were like for the fillies; years of striving and achievement followed by glorious, fulfilling days cooking meatloaf and changing nappiesâ€¦)
One evening Ray found an ultra-dense fragment of White Dwarf Star Matter, leading his research into a new direction. By converting some of the degenerate matter into a lens he could shrink objects, but frustratingly they always exploded when he attempted to restore them to their original state. As fiercely competitive as his intended bride, Ray kept his progress secret until he could perfect the process. Meanwhile the couple took a group of youngsters on a science hike to Giant Caverns, where a cave-in trapped the entire party.
As they all lay trapped and dying Ray secretly activated his reducing lens to shrink himself, using the diamond engagement ring he was carrying to carve a tiny fissure in the rock wall into an escape hole. Fully expecting to detonate any second, he was astounded to discover that some peculiar combination of circumstances allowed to him to return to his normal six foot height with no ill effects. With his charges safe he returned to his lab to find that the process only worked on his own body; all other subjects still catastrophically detonated.
Somewhat disheartened he pondered his situation – and his new-found abilities. Naturally, he became a superhero, fighting crime, injustice and monsters, but Ray also determined to clandestinely help Jean become successful as quickly as possible using his suit made from White Dwarf material, which could alter not only his height but also his weight and massâ€¦
This second volume collects the Atom #18-38, the remainder of Palmerâ€™s solo stories (with issue #39 the title merged with another struggling Schwartz title to become The Atom and Hawkman – an early casualty of declining interest in superhero comics at the end of the 1960s) and explodes into action with the first of two short tales scripted as always by Gardner Fox, penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Sid Greene.
â€˜The Hole-in-the-Wall Lawman!â€™ (lead feature in Atom #18, April-May 1965) found the Tiny Titan tracking a safe-cracker who had inadvertently stolen a miniaturised thermonuclear bomb whereas â€˜The Atomic Flea!â€™ saw the hero lose his memory while fighting thugs, wrongly deducing that he must be part of the flea circus where he regained consciousnessâ€¦
Clever whimsy, scientific wonders, eye-popping action, perspective tricks and simply stunning long-shots, mid-shots and close-ups with glorious, balletic, full-body action poses are hallmarks of this fondly regarded, dynamic series, but #19 brought a whole new edge and dynamic to the Atom when he became the second part of a bold experiment in continuity. â€˜World of the Magic Atom!â€™ was a full-length epic featuring a sexy sorceress in a world where science held no sway.
The top-hatted, fish-netted, comely young sorceress appeared in a number of Julie Schwartz-edited titles hunting her long-missing father Zatarra: a magician-hero in the Mandrake mould who had fought evil in the pages of Action Comics for over a decade beginning with the very first issue. In true Silver Age â€œrefitâ€ style Fox conjured up a young and equally gifted daughter, and popularised her by guest-teaming her with a selection of superheroes he was currently scripting (if youâ€™re counting, her quest began in Hawkman #4 and after this chapter moved on to Green Lantern #42, and the Elongated Man back-up strip in Detective Comics #355 as well as a very slick piece of back writing to include the high-profile Caped Crusader via Detective #336 – â€˜Batmanâ€™s Bewitched Nightmareâ€™, before concluding after the GL segment in Justice League of America #51).
Issue #20â€™s â€˜Challenge of the Computer Crooks!â€™ found the Tiny Titan again battling ingenious robbers attempting to use one of those new-fangled electronic brains to improve their heists whilst in â€˜Night of the Little People!â€™ impersonating a leprechaun to sway a reluctant witness to testify in court. A recurrent theme in the Tiny Titanâ€™s career was Cold War Espionage. The American/Soviet arms-and-ideas race figured heavily in the life of physicist Ray Palmer and in the collegiate circle of Ivy Town where even Jeanâ€™s father was a scientist carefully watched by both CIA and KGB.
Issue #21â€™s â€˜Combat Under Glass!â€™ pitted the Man of Many Sizes against soviet spies and an enraged housecat, whilst â€˜The Adventure of the Canceled Birthdayâ€™ was another enchanting â€œTime-Poolâ€ tale wherein the Atom traveled to England in 1752, meeting Henry Fielding, helping to establish the Bow Street Runners, as well as solving the mystery of 11 days that dropped off the British calendar (for the answer to this mysterious true event look up the Julian Calendar on line – although buying this book would be far more entertaining and rewardingâ€¦)
Ray Palmerâ€™s mentor and colleague Professor Alpheus Hyatt created a six-inch wide energy field that opened portals to other eras. Hyatt thought it an intriguing but useless scientific oddity, occasionally extracting perplexing items from it by blindly dropping a fishing line through. Little did he know his erstwhile student was secretly using it to experience rousing adventures in other times and locations. This charming, thrilling and unbelievably educational maguffin generated many of the Atomâ€™s best and most well-loved exploits.
â€˜Bat Knights of Darkness!â€™ introduced the Elvarans, a subterranean race of six inch feudal warriors who had lived in Giant Caverns since prehistoric times. When these savage bat-riding berserkers fell under the mental sway of cheap thug Eddie Gordon, all of Ivy Town was threatened. This visual tour de force is a captivating early example of Gil Kaneâ€™s swashbuckling fantasy epics and a real treat for anybody who loved Blackmark, Star Hawks or even the 1983 classic Sword of the Atom.
Issue #23 opened with a smart science-fiction teaser as the Mighty Mite played a peculiar joke on the police in â€˜The Riddle of the Far-Out Robbery!â€™ but it was back to blockbusting basics when he stopped the â€˜Thief with the Tricky Toy!â€™ and more so in #24 when he saved the entire planet from plant Master Jason Woodrue in the feature-length thriller â€˜The Atom-Destruction of Earth!â€™
The Camp/Superhero craze triggered by the Batman TV show was infecting many comic-books at this time, and a lighter, punnier tone was creeping into a lot of otherwise sound series. â€˜The Man in the Ion Mask!â€™ is far more entertaining than the woeful title might suggest; a solid heist-caper featuring another crook with a fancy gadget, and even the espionage romp â€˜The Spy Who Went Out for the Gold!â€™ is a smart, pacy rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills, but thereâ€™s really not much I can say to defend the ludicrous yarn introducing costumed nut the Bug-Eyed Bandit.
Feeble felon Bertram Larvan built a robotic mini-beast to rob for him and despite some wonderful artwork from Kane and Greene â€˜The Eye-Popping Perils of the Insect Bandit!â€™ in #26 remains an uncharacteristic blot on Gardner Foxâ€™s generally pristine copy-book.Â The art quality grew in leaps and bounds during this period, as seen in the romantic tryst-come-slugfest described in crime-thriller â€˜Beauty and the Beast-Gang!â€™ accompanied by spectacular historical high-jinks as Atom used the Time Pool to visit the Montgolfier Brothers in 1783 Paris, saving Benjamin Franklinâ€™s life and becoming a â€˜Stowaway on a Hot-Air Balloon!â€™
It was non-stop costumed criminal action when Chronos returned in #28â€™s â€˜Time-Standstill Thefts!â€™ with a side-order of scientific mystery when ordinary citizens began to change size in â€˜The 100,000 â€œAtomsâ€ of Ivy Town!â€™, and the sheer drama intensified when the Mighty Mite teamed up with the Earth-2 Atom for a cataclysmic clash against one of the worst villains of DCâ€™s Golden Age in â€˜The Thinkerâ€™s Earth-Shaking Robberies!â€™
Nasty thug Eddie Gordon returned in #30, which wouldnâ€™t really have been a problem except he had once more gained control of the diminutive flying berserkers in â€˜Daze of the Bat-Knights!â€™ whilst old comrade Hawkman guest-starred #31â€™s â€˜Good Man, Bad Man, Turnabout Thief!â€™ to battle a phantom menace hidden within the brain of an innocent man, and issue #32 saw a most astounding episode in the Tiny Titanâ€™s career as he became the giant invader of a sub-molecular universe in the enthralling fantasy thriller â€˜The Up and Down Dooms of the Atom!â€™
Bert Larvan inexplicably won a second appearance in â€˜Amazing Arsenal of the Atom-Assassin!â€™ and it must be said, comes off as a far worthier opponent the second time around, whilst the outlandish comedy-thriller â€˜Little Manâ€¦ Youâ€™ve Had a Big-Gang Day!â€™ produced the daftest assemblage of themed villains in DC history – each has a gimmick based on the word â€œbigâ€. Led by Big Head, Big Bertha is strong, Big Wig uses weaponized toupees – and wait till you see what Big Cheese can doâ€¦ Despite all that, this lunacy is actually hugely enjoyable Big Fun!
Issue #35 led with a sterling crime-caper â€˜Plight of the Pin-Up Atomâ€™ and closed with the gripping â€˜Col. Blood Steals the Crown Jewels!â€™ following the Mighty Mite into another Time Pool adventure in 1671 London. The Earth-2 Atom returned for one of the very best team-up tales of the Silver Age in â€˜Duel Between the Dual Atomsâ€™ as a radiation menace played hob with victimâ€™s ages on both worlds simultaneously, before the artistic team signed off in mind-blowing style by adding a new ally to the Atomâ€™s crime-fighting arsenal in â€˜Meet Major Mynah!â€™ in #37.
A trip to war-torn Cambodia saw the diminutive hero adopt a wounded Mynah bird who, with a few repairs and alterations from Winged Wonder Hawkman, transformed the faithful talking bird into both alternative transport and strafing back-up for the Tiny Titan.
This volume concludes with a classy and extremely scary transition tale from writer Frank Robbins and artists Mike Sekowsky and George Roussos. â€˜Sinister Stopoverâ€¦ Earth!â€™ is an eerie alien invasion mystery perfectly in keeping with the grimmer sensibility gradually taking over the bright shiny world of comics at the time and still one of the spookiest tales of the Atomâ€™s captivating run.
With the next issue the changing tastes and times forced The Atom and Hawkman series to merge (see Showcase Presents: Hawkman volume 2), but even then the move only bought an extra year or so. Superheroes were once more in decline and different genres were on the rise. The Atom was never a major name or colossal success, but a reading these witty, compelling tales by Gardner Fox, where Gil Kane first mastered the fluid human dynamism that made him a legend, youâ€™d be hard-pressed to understand why. This is sheer superhero perfection. Why not try a little Atomic Actionâ€¦ just a tiny bit?
Â© 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2008 DC Comics.Â All Rights Reserved.