Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Atom in DC Special Series #1 (September, 1977)

At Ivy College, Professor Werner fretted to his friend and colleague Ray Palmer over discovering a display of Alexander Graham Bell's telephone prototype on loan from the Smithsonian had been replaced by a contemporaneous fake. Palmer passed through the office of his preoccupied associate Professor Alpheus Hyatt ("Chuckle... Knowing the Professor, he's already forgotten I'm here!") to access his Time Pool as the Atom.

Traveling to 1876, the Mighty Mite saved Bell from an alleyway assault by Elisha Gray, a murderous nutcase who claimed Bell had stolen the patent on the telephone from him. Palmer thought he'd stumbled onto a major lead in his own case, and followed Bell to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. The Atom spotted Gray and his thugs, but lost them in a crowd of a quarter million after almost getting stepped on my President Ulysses S. Grant's size thirteen shoe.

The Tiny Titan located Bell and his partner Mr. Watson tied up under some dangerous looking machinery, but opted to trip Elisha Gray and cause him to smash his head on the ground. Gray had intended to plant the phony phone to discredit Bell, which explained its existence and the Smithsonian's later possession. However, the Tiny Titan had forgotten that the President was about to activate Machinery Hall with the Corliss Engine, whose pistons would flatten Bell and Watson. The Atom swiftly untied them, then returned to the present to ease Professor Werner's worries about the phony phone, since he'd gotten it from the Smithsonian. Ray figured, "with some searching, I should be able to find the real phone in Philadelphia when I get back to me own time.

"The Telephone Tangle" was by Paul Kupperberg, Steve Stiles & Bob McLeod. It was not only a textbook terrible Atom story, but also an example to damn all of Western literature. The Ray Palmer Atom spent most of his solo series battling the sort of plainclothes, unexceptional crooks abandoned by most super-heroes during the Golden Age, except his were often even more boring and pathetic. Here, he travels through time with thin motivation, only to engage in a defamatory duel with a real life scientist. Worse, Elisha Gray probably did invent the telephone, only to be screwed by Bell. Demonizing an historical figure because his true life deviated from what schoolchildren had been taught for generations as fact about Bell is fairly sickening. We've got Emperor Dom Pedro of Brazil using Bell's phone at the end of the story, so why didn't it turn up at the Smithsonian? Did he steal it? The Atom's so busy fighting Elisha Gray that he forgets the whole point of taking the trip through time, which is written off with a bit of unconvincing monologue in the final panel.

The art in the story is better than it deserves to be, but it still suffers from drawing based on the Atom's weaknesses instead of his strengths. The splash page captures the hero from an ass view, and he's typically drawn in action as a small figure amidst average goons, rather than showing the world from Ray's perspective. He's just beating up schmucks from hiding and his greatest struggle is against a shoe and a knot!

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