Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Your eyes do not deceive you-- two text heavy posts in one week! I'm trying people, really. I also reckon that if you were a fan of the old Tiny Titan blog, you're like "Dude, Damian covered these books already! Aren't there other Atom comics out there that need the love?" To those, I say, "Dudes, the original Sword of the Atom mini-series was such sweet action, I've got to love it two times before I go away!" My game plan is to do story synopsizes in three eras-- the earliest Silver Age stuff, modern books starting with Identity Crisis, and '80s work starting right here. Also, Damian didn't make it past these first four issues to the three specials that followed, so it makes sense to offer this reminder/primer. Besides, I'll be doing more opinions and observations here. For a detailed look, go read Sword of the Atom - Book One: Stormy Passage.
The Atom was another solid seller for editor Julius Schwartz's line of Silver Age reinventions of Golden Age characters, lasting throughout the 1960s, with a bit of help in the last seven issues from incoming co-star Hawkman. Not to diminish the inherent appeal of the World's Smallest Super-Hero, but the Atom was likely selling respectably in the 200K realm due to the artistry of the great Gil Kane. Hawkman was faring less well on his own, and once their combined book began to be drawn by the agreeable Dick Dillin, it wasn't long for this world. The Atom spent the 1970s in the occasional back-up strip, and as a member of the Justice League of America, whose book hosted his wedding to Jean Loring in 1978. Meanwhile, Gil Kane spent the '70s at Marvel Comics, before joining the exodus of creators to DC after the former company appointed the unpopular Jim Shooter its Editor-In-Chief.
Gil Kane loved sword & sorcery tales, and had spent a good many of his Marvel years drawing Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian. Happy to reunite with a character he co-created and likely reticent to give up his favored fantasy setting, Kane suggested new life could be injected into the Atom by radically changing his milieu. Jan Strnad of Heavy Metal fame provided the script, and Sword of the Atom was born.
The book started with two gorgeous splash pages, one previewing the action to come, and another laying down the basics of the Atom's story. The book then cuts immediately to a troubled Ray Palmer and his marital strife as he catches his bride making out in a car with her law office partner Paul Hoben. Two things established in the very first Atom story were that Jean Loring was highly intelligent, and that she was a total bitch, with Ray wrapped around her finger. Unlike the mature heroic couples that helped define Julie Schwartz's other titles, this pair remained unmarried for nearly twenty years, and Jean was more a ball-breaker than a loving partner. In real time, the pair were only married for five years, which given Atom's then-decades long career being better than halved per the story, meant they were still practically (doomed) newlyweds. Once Ray deduces Jean had been carefully planning her affair for half a year, you just know he deserves better than this scheming Veronica Lodge/Lucy van Pelt.
Even though the Atom made and consistently buoyed Jean Loring's (she never took the Palmer name) law career, she threw in Ray's face his using the profits for one of her cases to buy a portable scintillation detector. I don't know what that is, but Ray used it to track a white dwarf fragment to Brazil on a research expedition/holiday from the harridan. Unfortunately, Ray ran afoul of drug dealers, and ended up lost in the Amazon, his malfunctioning size-altering belt trapping him at just six inches. Braving the hazards of the jungle, the Atom ends up surrendering to a troop of similarly pint-sized, yellow-skinned savages. Ray is escorted to the city of Morlaidh, and after rising to the defense of fellow captive and rebel leader Taren, is also sentenced to death at the teeth of a swarm of rats. While this is going on, Jean Loring is informed by Brazilian authorities that all evidence points to her husband's death,
Besides looking absolutely fantastic, the opening chapter of this story moves at an exciting pace. The proceedings don't feel rushed, as all the necessary time is taken to explore this turning point in Ray Palmer's life, but the action never lingers too long. Shrinking heroes are usually scientists, and by extension often dismissed as boring cerebral types by readers. Despite the soap opera, the opening of Sword of the Atom is fast-paced and visceral, drawing readers deep into what would prove to be an unrelenting epic.