Sunday, March 7, 2010

Showcase #35

It's ten o'clock p.m. Do you know where your Silver Age Sunday is? After a lethargic weekend, I'm trying to get this thing knocked out while it still is Sunday. As badly as I want to get work done, internet arguments, a misguided schedule, and a general malaise on my part makes it hard for me to get going with any of my blogs right now. I'll try to mellow out with the convenience store MD 20/20 Electric Melon I settled for mixing into my Pepsi Max. What I really have a taste for is some Arak, but stupid blue laws shut down the liquor stores this Sunday in the Bible Belt.

To be honest, I've never been much for Gardner Fox. I've yet to read a Golden Age Justice Society of America story I liked, and I find his over-lauded Justice League of America unintentionally hilarious in its inanity. My recollection of his Hawkman material is a hazy neutrality, leaving only Red Wolf a Fox series I genuinely liked. So color me surprised by "The Dooms From Beyond!" This is the first ever full length Atom script, and a darned solid read.

Doctor Gordon Doolin is a mighty handsome man, with his delicate coif, neat goatee, and stylish suits. As lovingly rendered by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, you'd be forgiven for thinking him the hero of the tale at a glance. He's in Ivytown soliciting donations to build a hospital on an impoverished South Seas island whose populace he serves. Doolin's efforts are largely falling on deaf ears, so it's his seeming good fortune to learn he's actually descended from big money that comes with a curse.

As Doolin explains to Jean Loring, the executor of the Heath estate, in 1692 Judge Myles Heath sentenced a woman to death during the Salem Witch Trials. While she claimed innocence, Goody Wilson still cursed the Heath family males to forevermore perish by elemental forces. That very night, the judge died when his horse slipped in mud during a torrential rain. Ankles over elbows, he still had time to moan "Ohhh! The curse of water..." on his way down. The judge's eldest died young in a cave-in, while his junior had an air bubble in his blood. They could detect that sort of thing in the 17th Century?

The curse seemed to continue for generations, until Gordon's pop chucked deuce on the family fortune, changed his name to Doolin (which I hope was his mama's maiden name, at least,) and raised a family in the South Seas. Gordon went to medical school in Australia, then devoted his life to caring for islanders. In need of funds, "Doolin" uncovered his roots, and approached Jean Loring about securing his inheritance.

Now, I've taken some heat for dropping the b-word in reference to Jean Loring, so with a swipe of my brow I'm pleased to report she does nothing to earn that slur this round. Jean's actually extremely helpful to Gordon, explaining that he's running out of time before the estate is to be willed to his departed grandfather's house staff, and filing the necessary motions to secure his claim. I'm sure this had nothing at all to do with Gordon's being a stunningly handsome doctor, humanitarian, and claimant to ten million dollars (earmarked for a new hospital.) So forget I said anything.

No, what's noticeable about Jean here is how she warns Gordon about the peril he faces due to the supernatural curse. You know, the modern, professional woman whose first major case revolved around "the genie defense?" Gordon wasn't having any of that nonsense, though. In the excitement (*ahem*,) Jean forgot she had a lunch date with her boyfriend, Ray Palmer. The couple followed Gordon's car to the Heath estate, only to watch it lose control and sail off a bridge. "Ohhh! Has the witch's curse from beyond-- struck him so soon?" Oh, Jean. Really?

Cue chapter two, and there's no mistaking that Ray Palmer is our hero here. Still in his own smart suit, he dives right off the bridge without even taking off his penny loafers. Now that's a man of immediate action, and he's all scowl and dynamic pose on the way down. Once in the drink, Ray finds Gordon unconscious and his door sealed tight. Ray goes for his belt, in an image that's one-part Ditko Dr. Strange, one-part Wood Dynamo, and one more part Sheriff Bart "Excuse me while I whip this out." The World's Smallest Super-Hero then climbs in through a gap in the window, and uses Tiny Titanic strength to budge the door handle and release Gordon. Reverting from the Atom back to Ray Palmer, our hero drags Gordon to safety. Police are already awaiting on the bridge, with press soon to follow. In a nice touch, just as I was thinking "man, Atom can seriously hold his breath," a soggy Ray begs off a reporter with, "Just as soon as-- I get my wind..." It's also nice that Ray isn't so paranoid about his secret identity, he won't allow himself a little positive recognition in his civilian life.

Gordon invites Jean and Ray to stay with him at the Heath family home (no self interest there,) and a list of suspects is read off amongst the estate staff. Now, the Atom isn't known as the Diminutive Dick, so this sequence is superfluous.  We're here to see the Atom save Gordon from attempts on his life like deadly gas being pumped into his room. While Ray's smart enough to figure out this is done by mechanical means, it's refreshing that he remains a scientist, not a crime detective like half of DC's line-up.

In an especially unsubtle play, a black cloud appears over the rechristened Dr. Gordon Heath in his garden and rains down fireballs. You'd think this was Middletown (a.k.a. Apex City.) Like the not-Final Girl in a slasher flick, Gordon twists his ankle, and has to be carried into a cave by the ever impressive Ray Palmer. The gardener's son has also taken refuge there, and at the request of the Atom, fires the Mighty Mite at the black cloud with his slingshot. The Tiny Titan finds a miniature rocket launching dirigible hidden within, and rips into it with his gloved hands. Disabling the small craft, the Atom adjusts his weight to glide on air currents to a soft landing.

Crazy bird Jean Loring had been taking this all in stride, last seen reading through the newspaper reporting on the accident on the bridge. With Dr. Gordon now wheelchair bound, they settled into his den to play a rousing game of cards. Not one to let his guard down, Ray connects the remaining elemental threat, earth, to a large globe in the room. Sure enough, when the Atom shrinks small enough to pass through the molecules of the globe's surface, he finds and disables a time bomb. Seeing his chance to sweat out the guilty party, Ray returns to have Dr. Gordon call a staff meeting into the room, where Bates the handyman pulls a gun to escape before he thinks his bomb will go off. Bates is tackled by Palmer, whom he clubs with his revolver. Palmer recovers in  time to phone himself to the main gate before Bates can drive away. The Atom uses a desk fan to launch himself with extraordinary precision out the window at Bates' convertible, then giving him what for. Under police interrogation, Bates revealed that he had set all the traps, and was carted away. A week later, the new Dr. Gordon Hearth was far richer, had given the family home to the non-felonious staff, and walked onto a boat bound for the South Seas, with Ray and Jean there to wish him well.

It's eleven thirty-six p.m.Your now tipsy host is off to the next blog. Join us later this week for Sword of the Atom #2, where I may or may not say rude things about Jean again...


LissBirds said...

This plot sounds somewhat similar to early Phantom Stranger stories. I'm surprised Dr. Thirteen didn't show up here...

LissBirds said...

"I'm trying to get this thing knocked out while it still is Sunday. As badly as I want to get work done, internet arguments..."

I forgot to mention it earlier, but *olive branch.* Hope all my playing devil's advocate didn't leave you too drained.

"The judge's eldest died young in a cave-in, while his junior had an air bubble in his blood. They could detect that sort of thing in the 17th Century?"

How do you even GET an air bubble in your blood stream in the 1600's, is what I'm wondering. Spontaneous over-oxygenation of the blood? Build up of CO2?

Diabolu Frank said...

Jeez Liss, you know that wasn't directed at you. Writing rebuttals that are multiple times longer than the original offending article are draining. Since you made reasonable arguments, my replies were similarly concise, and weighed on me far less. I've just got to work on my time and polemic management.

LissBirds said...

Well, okay, just wanted to make sure I wasn't taking the wind out of the sails of your new blog.

Polemic management...that sounds like a potential career choice for me...