Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #608

Time, Time, Time -- See What's Become of Me

  • Chronos strikes with art by a Legend!
  • By Roger Stern, John Byrne & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics's Winter 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #6!
I've been griping about flashbacks and recaps for seven straight episodes, so why am I so enthused about an issue that's pretty much nothing but that? Maybe because it's something of a greatest hits clip show drawn by one of the all-time greats? He's not great in this particular issue, and in fact it's so bad that I'm really questioning the skills of his inker on this, but even a bad Beatles number is going to be better than a good Yoko Ono one. I have to assume that this issue was drawn by single most popular artist in comics at the time, John Byrne, as some sort of personal favor to his old friend and collaborator Roger Stern. When Byrne finally quit Superman in a huff and passed on further work from the company, as he is wont to do, Stern took over writing that title. Presumably, Byrne's "World of..." mini-series had been scripted in advance, and he was already taking work on Marvel's New Universe line to dance on the grave of Jim Shooter's reign as editor-in-chief. I believe this was his last published DC job while prepping to take over Avengers West Coast and launch The Sensational She-Hulk, so he wasn't hurting for work.

Speaking of leaving titles abruptly with ill will, it isn't hard to read between the lines in an interview that remaining creative team gave to Amazing Heroes magazine. Editor Mike Carlin subtweeted that Dwayne Turner's replacement was "good, reliable, and cares about the job he's doing," implying that he hadn't. The new guy, Graham Nolan, was far less diplomatic. The transcript reads, "the stories were fun, but the artwork was really [makes rude noise] atrocious." I've judged Turner harshly on this podcast, but the truth is that he got a lot better after this first assignment, and whatever his failings, I think bagging on him in print is deeply unprofessional. Nolan also dismisses the value of his Kubert School education, seems to pointedly emphasize his preference of John Romita Sr. over his son's work, rips on the Carlin-edited Doc Savage book, and generally comes off as a jerk. I mean, we all know John Byrne is one of the biggest jerks in comics, but he's John Byrne. Graham Nolan doesn't get to swagger like this just because he got lucky enough to design a para-militaristic luchador for a well-publicized stunt that's netted him royalties ever since. I've bought comics because of Dwayne Turner and dropped them because of Graham Nolan. Dwayne Turner went on to work on a-list films, while Nolan just gets a contractually obligated thanks in the fine print of the ones with Bane in them.

Ray Palmer was enjoying a day out with Normal Brawler at the Ivytown Festival without getting swarmed by press, even though he had an entire C.I.A. detail following him unnoticed. Regardless, Ray got snatched in broad daylight out from under his noticed by men working for Chronos. Kept under sedation, Chronos seeks revenge by trying to emotionally break the Atom by forcing him to relive his most traumatic moments while in a dream state. They start with the rainy night he catches Jean Loring stepping out on him, then move to his childhood dog getting run over, his father's death by cancer while in his teens, the mission against Mr. Memory that saw him join the Justice League of America, his solo run-in with Dr. Light, his initial battle with Chronos, the destruction of New Morlaidh, and they even put a pin in his mother's death. Meanwhile, Chronos also recalls his early encounters with the Mighty Mite, and then a recent confrontation with Blue Beetle that left him stranded in the age of the dinosaurs. In an admittedly impressive move, Chronos cobbles together enough technology to put himself in intermittent stasis, roused at various points in history by equipment failures. Imagine all the untold stories of Rip Van Clinton scavenging for replacement parts in various ages. Never forget that Chronos looks like Richard Nixon but is named David Clinton. It's like that meme connecting Lincoln and Kennedy, except nowhere near as intricate or interesting. I apologize for bringing it up.

Ray Palmer's strong connection to Princess Laethwen and general lust for life break him out of his conditioning long enough for the Atom to shrink and extricate himself from the device manipulating him. The Tiny Titan then jumps around clobbering the fuchsia fascists working under Chronos in his sprawling headquarters. See, Chronos's stasis finally petered out seven years in the past, so he Biff Tannened himself a fortune on the speculative markets. Why he didn't shoot graduate student Ray Palmer in the head I'll chalk up to temporal paradox, but his not doing it while Ray was sleeping today is pure Dr. Evil nonsense. Anyway, Chronos had been called away from giving his archenemey...sad dreams... to hear about how Australia was being pummeled in an assault by an extraterrestrial alien alliance. Despite being at Rog 2000 drawing levels at best, Byrne's layouts and the traces of his style are just so much more dynamic and pleasing than the previous issues that it's enough for me to overlook how this issue does literally everything that I've been griping about on the story front. Kind of how Atom has to overlook being jerked around by Chronos so that they can team up to fend off the Invasion!

Jean Loring,Sword of the Atom,Ray Palmer,Chronos,POTAcast,Justice League of America,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #607

Comings and Goings

  • Guest-Starring The Elongated Man, Maxwell Lord & Oberon!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics's December 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #5!
I somehow missed covering this story on Shag's Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast this week. Probably on account of how I didn't do any research beforehand, only looked at the assigned issue the day of recording, and never read #5 before today. That'll do it. Maybe a week of daily podcasts has worn me down, but I just can't get mad at this one. Skipping the flashbacks in favor of editor's notes probably helps, but I figure it's mostly that I like the Atom hanging out with his old Satellite era Justice League buddies. The "bold new direction" horse is well out of the barn by this point, so might as well take comfort with the sheep on the pasture. Not like that. I'm clearly not good at metaphoring. Metaphorizing. Websters says "metaphorizing." Who knew that kid would pick up such big words around Alex Karras?

In this issue, Ray phones into the C.I.A. office of Everett Bailey, who freaked out over both the security breach and the prospect of having the perpetrator in his stable of operatives. However, Ray "nah dowgs" the C.I.A., then phones out with little explanation. Bailey pitches a fit, and lets slip that he might have had something to do with Operation Fireball in front of a non-corrupt subordinate. Scene shifts to the sunny beaches of San Clemente, California, specifically a cliff-side mansion. A mobster and his tower henchman make a bunch of time puns and prepare for a well researched confrontation with the Atom like we didn't already immediately know that this was Chronos. It's the only Atom villain that anyone can name, assuming they could name an Atom villain, which is not a safe assumption. You're more likely to get someone like Vandal Savage from a DC's Legends of Tomorrow watcher. It's been over a decade since the last attempt at an Atom ongoing series. If you don't teach your kids at home, there's no telling what they'll pick up on the streets.

The Atom next phones in to the New York Embassy of Justice League International, a call that startles Oberon right off his bar stool. Despite scoring a direct extension to the super-team at their current number, the Atom still plays off like "I don't recognize any of these team members" from the onscreen duty log. What, you couldn't ask Norman Brawler, "yo, who's J'Onn J'Onzz and the Batman been teaming with since I've been gone?" Plus, Ray's one of those "The Batman" people. Dude, you were never cool with Batman if you're "the"ing him. Fake familiar. Ray's all like "I'm just here visiting, not looking for a job, where's everybody and what's your 401k matching plan?" Also, Ray stays eye-to-eye with Oberon, which is courteous, except he instantly jumps up to full size the second Maxwell Lord walks through the door. I see you, Ray. Eyes on you, bruh.

Despite making all the overtures of being on the market, Max Lord is way too thirsty for the Atom. He's oily to begin with, but Ray has got to know by now that nobody that hot for the Mighty Mite is offering a good scene. Maxwell Lord once used his superhuman persuasion powers to force the Huntress onto the team, and her super-hero ability is crossbow. She can use a mechanized weapon from 650 B.C. I don't think she's a master with it or anything, and I think archers laugh at their accuracy, and there's barely a competitive sport for crossbow, so it's kind of like being able to set the recording time on a VHS at this point. Related: my father is too cheap to spring for broadband, and still uses multiple VCRs to tape his broadcast shows each night to avoid commercials. He's the Huntress of VCRs, but I'm not recruiting him for my super-team.

Most of the JLI are in outer space trying to fly to Apokolips, which seems inefficient, and that's what Oberon tells Ray. Mike's Amazing World then lost its mind over the glaring continuity error of only part of the team being in space and the other part staying on Earth to fight Lobo and don't even get him started on the European team, I guess. Whoops, JLE forms after Invasion, so my joke has a glaring continuity error. Calm down Mike. When people ask me how I'm doing, I don't bring up my hemorrhoids acting up because of all the time I spend sitting to work on podcasts. Thank you for your interest, but the League is in outer space at this time. That's all you have to say. We'll pass a message to Martian Manhunter when he gets back, because The Batman damned sure won't be calling.

Ray's still playing off the "Who's this Captain Atom that stole my name while I was gone" despite knowing he came out a year-and-a-half after the Charlton hero, but "I don't know him," right? Despite there being a perfectly good phone that he came in on, the Atom has to walk out the front door of the JLI Embassy in front of a gaggle of reporters camped out there and still be like "no comment." You know what you're doing, Ray. "Oh these paparazzi follow me everywhere I call to tell them where I'll be. Everybody wants desperately to work with me according to my solo title and nowhere else." The Atom is the Lindsey Lohan of super-heroes over here.

Ray Palmer then goes to a diner with a hat on, pretending that he hopes not to be recognized while racking his brain for anyone else who might be excited that he's back, and could tell him how much they enjoyed his biography before he pulled a Greta Garbo. "Oh, don't speak of my New York Times bestseller, I only want to live my life in anonymity while seeking out publicly known super-heroes to be photographed with." He peruses a newspaper, which I guess is like the MSN homepage, but nobody who looks at the MSN homepage hasn't held a newspaper before, probably that very morning at Denny's. There's an article about how the Elongated Man and his literal better half who everyone prefers to him are vacationing in Florida, so Atom makes some more phone calls. Slag on the Tiny Titan all you want, but instantaneous transport by telephone is one of the best powers. I've been on a plane for a literal day. I'll take that over eye beams, thanks.

Ray finds his old pal Ralph Dibny, and asks how he deals with being a celebrity without a secret identity. Ralph explains that he's a fame whore who married a rich debutante who leaks is vacation itinerary to the media and will happily upend his life and move to France at Max Lord's beckoning in a few months. Ralph is named Ralph. Why even try to front. Elongated Man and the Atom team-up to confront parrot smugglers on the high seas. You think I'm kidding. Like me, the writer has given up any illusions that Power of the Atom will last much more than another year, so we're going with armed parrot smugglers who wear Penny Loafers. Ray Palmer isn't looking for fame, so he keeps his name out of the papers when the Dibnys are interviewed on the dock with the perpetrators in Dockers. I'm sure that was entirely down to privacy concerns rather than not wanting to be associated with parrot pushers in print like sad, desperate Elongated Man. And talking on sad spectacles, the issue-closing teaser is tubby middle-aged Chronos burning his old clown costume in favor of a bland tunic that hides his spare tire. Not gonna lie, I'd wear it, too.

Ray Palmer,Chronos,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Elongated Man,Justice League International,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Friday, April 2, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #606

What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?

  • Featuring Hawkman and Hawkwoman!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics's November 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #4!
Years ago, my buddy the Irredeemable Shag bought a set of Power of the Atom off eBay or something and tried to blame me for recommending them when his read-through fared poorly. I've never read this series before. What I have read, I would never recommend. When I made a guest appearance on his Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast this week, he also tried to take me to task for slagging Roger Stern's work on the Will Payton Starman series. I read a few issues of each, they were lousy, and I frankly don't need to eat the entire meal if the first few bites taste like a dish sponge pulled out of a drain in a truck stop diner kitchen. The issue we're covering today is one of the ones I bought decades ago, when I was collecting Hawkman appearances. To say that it was better on the second read is damning with faint praise.

I had my own Hawkman reboot and redesign in mind way back in the day. My take was an acknowledgement of previous continuity, but with a new Hawkman in a different setting with a redesigned costume. Focus on telling stories that I felt were clearer, isolating the hero from the greater DC Universe to explore what I felt were his strengths. Boil off the accumulated crud and get back to the inherent appeal of the property.

Not so much with the Atom. Besides never having a multi-arc "run" on a series in mind, the truth is that I don't think the Atom property has inherent appeal. Pop culture was filthy with shrunken people narratives in the 20th century, and there's a good half-dozen tiny super-heroes to choose from. The Atom only matters because of who his creators were, and when he was created, and how he was one of the foundational Silver Age science heroes when Julie Schwartz offered the first true shared universe of DC properties in the 1950s. If you're not emphasizing Ray Palmer's unique flavor of shrinking heroes and his connections to the Justice League of America, there's not much else to sell readers.

So the issue opens with Ray Palmer telling the story of how he was warned as a child of a dangerously rocky gorge near a waterfall in his home town that he could now safely dive into because he was action figure sized. It's a nice human moment, but also has this weird meta quality of making The Atom feel like a trifling figure in a shallow pool. Three pages of story are devoted to Potter's Gorge, as Ray somehow fails to recognize that the low-flying bird he bounded out of the water to ride is in fact a very large and muscular man with a bird-themed helmet who co-starred in the same comics as Atom's for decades. It makes Ray look incredibly dense in a non-white dwarf matter way, and Hawkman having his honor wings ripped out of his helmet for the entire appearance does him no favors either.

I read the Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series, the one-off special that followed, and about half a year into the ongoing series before losing interest. That volume of Hawkman last one issue less than Power of the Atom, so I wasn't the only reader who felt that way. I would have benefited from a few pages of recap of the Hawk's Shadow War and the resolution I'd missed. We got three pages of recap alright-- but of the previous Atom issues instead. Apparently, all those Hawkman fans that powered a whole seventeen issue run a year earlier would require orientation on the four glacially paced stories of this run, as if there was no crossover between the Hawkman and Atom audiences. What's worse is Hawkman keeps talking about all they'd lost and how ashamed they were of their home world of Thanagar, without readers ever being context of what events led them to that state. Frustration and apathy were probably not what the creators of this title should have been shooting for.

Ray Palmer's life was a mess of his own creation because he'd outed his double life most publicly, and he was seriously considering taking the C.I.A.'s offer as their agent under a new identity. Hawkwoman especially thinks its a terrible idea, as the couple had just broken ties with an authoritarian regime that they'd disagreed with. At least, that's what I could gather from the context in the dialogue. Anyway, the Hawks had been staying at a friend's place in New Orleans while on vacation from having a title, though they were appearing in Justice League International by this point. It would have been a really good idea to discuss their experiences with the JLI, but everyone gets distracted by their room getting tossed by crooks. Among their missing belongings were their melee weapons and a pair of spare flight belts.

In this incarnation, the Hawks were sleuths who'd once had a perch in Detective Comics, but here they just follow the energy signature on their belts. You'd think we'd get some aerial combat with crooks wearing the belts, but when the Hawks locate the thieves, a positive-gravity trap is sprung instead. Their old foe I.Q. had planned the whole thing as a booby trap, but had not reckoned with their having the Mighty Mite in tow. Despite his advanced technology and presumed high intelligence, the Tiny Titan suckers I.Q. into damaging his own equipment and leads him right into the Hawks' custody. Even though I.Q. dressed like a dandy pre-World War II aviator, I'm still going to claim this as another case where the Atom fights dudes with weapons in street clothes.

Cut to another page of mildly homoerotic foreshadowing of disgraced former president Tricky Dick Nixon and his lumbering houseboy planning a confrontation with the Atom. Cut back to our heroes, also in casual wear, just spending the day together. Shayera Hall and Ray Palmer are a couple of jokesters gently ribbing unyielding rigid straight man Katar Hol, and that's the best part of the book. Ray expresses that the Halls' open cooperation and understanding is in sharp contrast to his own failed marriage, and that as part of his desire to emulate their healthier lifestyle, he would also try to do the work of navigating his new life as a public figure. Frankly, as expected, the combination of the Atom and the Hawks as old friends was greater than the sum of the parts of another low stakes outing in this title.

Chronos,Hawkgirl,Hawkman,Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #605

Skulduggery

  • The Atom in DC Bonus Book #8!
  • By Joe Calchi, Jim Balent, & Dan Schaefer!
  • From DC Comics's November 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #4!
Comic books were pretty much all anthologies in the early days, and very nearly entirely staffed with new and unproven talent. After all, it was a new and unproven medium. Once the industry got some successful properties under its belt, they got a little pickier about who got to do what. A lot of art was produced by studios back then, so an assistant could train up to a larger role on a more successful feature. The price of comics stayed the same for decades, so they got smaller and smaller for the same dime, with fewer opportunities for younger, unpolished talent. Most typically, they landed in the oldest type of comics, the anthologies; usually horror, romance, or some other genre that allowed for short stories or rotating creative team on done-in-one tales. Truth to tell, the tendency to use less desirable creatives on anthologies probably helped destroy the viability of that format going into the 1980s. DC still wanted to have a farm team, but with anthologies dying off, they had fewer avenues to developing talent in house and in print. Ultimately, the '80s indie comics boom subsidized small press feeders where the Big Two publishers could cherry-pick from other publishers' best prospects. In 1988 though, DC still had that nursery club mentality, and tried to facilitate it through their Bonus Book program.

The New Teen Titans was arguably DC's biggest success story of at minimum the early '80s, and it launched with a 16-page original preview story given away as a bound-in premium with DC Comics Presents #26 at no additional cost. DC tried to replicate that hit formula throughout the first half of the '80s to no avail. Then DC took two failures and tried to mash them up with 1988's Bonus Book program. Put simply, they'd try-out green talent in the free bonus stories, and hope that the added value would help sales on a given book while potentially offering exposure to the next great talent find. Rob Liefeld was the biggest name to come out of the program, but he'd already been producing work for Megaton Comics, and was already booked for the Hawk and Dove mini-series the month after his Jennifer Morgan solo story ran in the low-selling Warlord title. The next biggest was Jim Balent, the oldest rookie in town. He'd been kicking around the industry since 1984, failing to catch on with back-ups in DC war titles. He spent most of the late '80s doing heavy metal inspired cheesecake and splatter covers for Malibu titles, and the odd assignment for First or Dark Horse; just another one of those guys who seemed to spend too much time on a gigantic stylized signature. He finally started getting traction with the 1990 vampire series From The Darkness, which survived multiple volumes and publishers on his now trademark blend of buxom babes and gothic fantasy adventure. That gave him an in for the Batman family of titles, which led to his 6 1/2 year run on Catwoman, his moonlighting at Chaos! Comics on Purgatori, and finally his self-publishing Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose for twenty-one years and counting.

In 1988 though, Balent was still lucky to do the occasional Ex-Mutants cover. No, I'm not taking a did at the X-Men franchise-- there was literally a franchise of post-apocalyptic titles that was the biggest hit Eternity Comics ever saw based mostly on infringing Marvel trademarks and the early work of Ron Lim. Marvel had the last laugh though when they stole Ron Lim and bought out Eternity's parent company. Like main series artist Dwayne Turner, Jim Balent was part of the generation who lost years of income in serve to the principles of the book How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. In the 1970s, there were only three kinds of comics-- the good Marvel ones, Brand Ecch, and stoner comix with an x. Nobody wanted to drawn Brand Ecch, so scores of young artists tried to draw as much like John Buscema and John Romita as possible with an over-emphasis on realistic anatomy, perspective, and background. The Marvel house style was a more dynamic take on standard issue commercial art, and it was as rigidly applied in the Bronze Age as DC's clinical Swandersonization in the Silver Age. The alternative was '70s Jack Kirby, and nobody was buying that. The tyranny of the Marvel Way was so fascistic that every artist on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was inked by Josef Rubinstein to make sure they looked uniformly "right." Neither Turner nor Balent garnered fans until they threw off those shackles and got jiggy with it, as was the fashion of the coming times.

While Turner probably had more "correct" fundamentals in 1988, Balent had a lot more energy and fun going for him, even considering how dodgy and crude his work was on the Atom Bonus Book. Balent is really a poor man's amateurish version of his future self, but there's an enthusiasm that patches over the rough patch that is every single panel of this story. Low rent and basic as the faux cover is, it still betters most of the actual run's, and the splash page of a human-sized Katarthan Skul-Rider on a giant bird crashing through the window of the Palmers' former suburban home at least rivals any other in the series. Writer Norman Brawler isn't who the yellow-skinned barbarian is looking for, but it's immediately odd that his main concern is more about Jean Loring than the former Atomic sword-wielder best known in Morlaidh. I talked too much on the front of this episode to now explain to a highly hypothetical young listener what a Rolodex is, so just know that it was equally weird for the barbarian to figure out how to find Ray Palmer via the analog version of Brawler's email contacts. It all seems to turn out to be a nightmare Ray's having anyway, though he was oddly upset about having slit the barbarian's throat, which isn't the Ray that you and I know.

The only part of the nightmare that wasn't real was Ray's victory, since Brawler was being taken out of his rental by EMTs after the Skul-Rider's attack. Given the rider's ranting, Ray's most concerned with Jean's safety, but she's incommunicado at that moment. Cut to day drinkers at a first class hotel heading back to his room for favors. When the male of the two appears to shrink in stature, the soon to be murdered female gently mocks his sudden shrimpyness. As blood ran down her limp wrist in the next panel, I have to figure someone was influenced by such woman-killing luminaries of the day as "The Death of Jean DeWolf" and Major Force introductory arc in Captain Atom. They sure knew how to brutally murdered women to the furthest extreme the Comics Code Authority would allow in the '80s, let me tell you. These cold chops were to bloody for the refrigerator, y'knowahmean?

Cal Thornton is maybe five feet as drawn, but the poor little rich boy is still so homicidally entitled that when the ur-generically named Labtech Research Incorporated can't guarantee their ability to keep adding a foot in length indefinitely due to his increasing tolerance of the experimental size-altering procedure, he goes all White Boy Summer on the world. Oh hey, you probably thought I meant that he got rapey. I can't say for certain that didn't happen, too. There's a lot of bedroom action at play in this story, but I should specify that this will primarily be grievance-based mass murder. I myself am technically a white boy, and this is kind of our thing, especially lately, but also the entirety of human history with all the colonization and genociding and stuff. Cal Thornton is the one man Mickey and Mallory of last chance YOLO spree killing, starting with blowing the scientist's head off with a Magnum and turning the dial up to "11" on full body girth enhancement. It turns out that he was Jean Loring's stalker ex before Ray Palmer, which tracks, until Ray beat him bloody, which also tracks. Ray is the Chad of advanced theoretical physics, let me tell you. Even though Cal only adds about a foot, his raptor steed Deodata gets into Them territory when it gets hit with Vita Rays.

Cal Thornton rides his bird to the penthouse apartment of his ritzy parents, changes into a robe and pajamas, bursts into their bedroom, makes his being slightly below average height the cause of all the world's troubles, changes clothes again, single-handed bare-handed Menendez-Bro'd his folks extreme Mo Howard style. Next morning, smears himself in yellow greasepaint head to toe, cosplays as a Skul-Rider, flies to Ivy University where Ray is teaching a class under an alias unconvincingly before being called out by a student. Cosplay Cal crashes class, Ray somehow shrinks them both plus the bird, and they all tumble into a replica of Mayan temples Ray was using as a teaching aid. We're running on Golden Age, Fletcher Hanks logic here. Just go with it. Ray flips the bird with a power cable. The fake Skul-Rider literally pulls the plug. We're not going to get into Skul-Rider feeling like a double entendre but doesn't make sense as such. That's a Sword of the Atom joke and we're already running long here.

The Atom doesn't buy the Skul-Rider act for a second and immediately makes Cal Thornton. This is the most realistic thing to happen in the Power of the Atom series to date. No amount of body paint is going to render your ex's creepy stalker unrecognizable, and you never forget an ass you kicked. Those are Hallmark moments in life. The fight moves underwater, and the Atom has to punch a fish. I'm not going to lie, being more exciting than 1988 Dwayne Turner is not actual very good in the grand scheme of things, and it was at this point that I had to go back a couple of pages to be reminded that this was not a local Ivy Town lake but the model in the classroom. Also, isn't it some form of animal cruelty to keep a common aquarium fish in the tiny sliver of actual water within a scale model of Mayan civilization in a college classroom. Balent's a good man who makes a point of drawing the water filtration system for that poor fishy.

Cal Thornton isn't as good a marksman as he thinks he is with a bow and arrow, plus when it comes down to swordfighting, the Tiny Titans does that density shifting thing that allows him to shatter Cal's blade. The Mighty Mite even breaks dude's arm in the same blow. Ray Palmer then threatens that he could execute this mother-murderer and no jury would convict him, but he's a civilized man now. That's code for they're both white guys. Cal Thornton was just having a really bad day, ya'll. Besides, it's not like he's literally an extremely rich madman who can hire the finest lawyers to get him the lightest possible sentence. He's only been nursing a homicidal grudge against Jean Loring and Ray Palmer since college. Why would the Atom see this Caucasian man as a more immediate and indefinite threat than a six-inch yellow guy from an opposing tribe who was probably only raiding New Morlaidh for rations whose body Atom dumped on a pile of corpses he personally delivered to Katarthan Hell five issues back.

Wow, the art has gotten really bad by this point. Like, printed locally so you have to buy a few pity copies to collect dust on the most poorly lit and remote part of the comics rack bad. Yet somehow still better than looking at Dwayne Turner's creepy weird disproportionate talking heads on supporting characters. Also, this is scripter Joe Calchi's second and last Bonus Book and also book full stop which operates on sometimes literally dream logic and I'd still rather read his Power of the Atom over what Stern's offered so far. I'll take insanity over numbing predictability, plus the only flashback is actually necessary and provides new information. File "I wish this mainstream comics series had the creative team from Ex-Mutants instead" under sentences never before uttered. I bet Ron Lim would have been a blast on the Atom.

Random fact, I think Joe Calchi went on to become General Manager / Advertising Director for Southern Jersey's Daily Journal and the Courier-Post. All thanks to his DC Bonus books, I'm absolutely certain. Sword of the Atom,Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Jean Loring,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #604

15 Minutes of Fame!

  • The Atom versus Strobe!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' October 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #3!
What looks to be a middle aged white dude with a chip on his shoulder managed to get a golden armor described as "looking like a high tech football player" starts robbing armored cars and such. Despite making off with half a million dollars, he's ticked because his time in the regional news is squeezed by the return of the Atom. Like an old west gunslinger, Strobe decides to make his name by taking out Ray Palmer, whose identity is publicly known. Consequently, Palmer and people associated with him are being hounded by a host of hyper-aggressive press. Despite checking into a hotel under an assumed name, the press were banging on Ray's door at six in the morning. Later, he has to rescue his old friend and mentor Professor Alpheus Hyatt from the same. But who will save the readers from a page-&-a-half of recapping the first two issues in some old man's kitchen?

On pages 6-7, the press gets to Jean and Paul Hoben on courthouse steps, and it's only then that they even learned Ray was back from the Amazon. You can tell on these pages that the artist is losing interest, because the already middling quality is going to an early Valiant WWF Wrestling comics place. It's page ten and we're still checking in with the C.I.A. spooks who have been surveilling Atom and jerking his chain. Comics like this are the reason the Chromium Age happened. Bland drawing of dull people in plain clothes talking about how they feel about stuff that happened in other bad comics. This is why comic books gave up on secret identities and supporting characters and lifelike subplots in favor of speed lines and Bondian villains with spikes and speedos. We were collectively so tired of comics like these that the only response was to demand hyperstimulation from kinky sexualization and extreme violence.

So halfway through the book, the Atom finally gets in a fight with a lameoid named Strobe on a suburban lawn. The dude create bright light bursts and concussion blasts. The Atom beats him twice, because while he was getting tied up the first time, he blinded everybody with a, y'know, his thing. Then Atom shrunk to climb into his equipment to disable it. The Atom couldn't just sock a guy named Strobe and be done with. He had to get extra with Strobe. Oh, and an older middle-aged guy getting a massage watches on TV and plots his own attack against the Mighty Mite. To the degree that the artist can do likenesses, which is not up to the standard of early Valiant WWF comics, I guess he vaguely resembles Richard Nixon if you're not wearing your glasses and are a little tipsy. Excited yet?

Agent Bailey, an even older late middle aged white guy with white hair, where he has any at all, gives Ray Palmer a call at Professor Hyatt's house. Making no connection, Ray happily shakes the hand of the C.I.A. creep who's secretly been messing with his life as he's offered a new identity and position within the agency...

Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Jean Loring,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #603

"Just Like Starting Over"

  • The Atom returns to super-heroing!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' September 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #2!
We all agree that Ray Palmer would have hated John Lennon, right? I figure Ray's one of those "I'm not into music" people, or maybe a jazz guy, like Julie Schwartz. Anyway, the C.I.A. is put out by how the vast majority of information they have on Palmer came from his biography, and how those Justice League guys are really good about hiding their identities. Meanwhile, three-foot-Ray got checked out by family doctor Alvin Jeffries, who gives him a half-sized bill of health, excepting the shrinkage. Ray had a lens sizer that he'd developed with the Hawks secreted into a wall, but it didn't work in his current predicament. With a bit of time to kill, Ray perused Norman Brawler's leftover magazines to catch-up with the times. He was surprised to learn about the Legends event where a demagogue temporarily turned the population against their super-heroes. Also, the Hawks' identity had been publicly exposed, but their whole existence would get retconned soon, so no big loss there.

The next day, Ray and Norm visited Ivy University to meet with the newly named Associate Professor of Physics, Dr. Enrica Negrini. She had once been Ray's lab assistant, and the envy of all the ladies on campus, but Ray only ever had eyes for Jean. Ricki ran some tests and determined that Ray's body had been impregnated with white dwarf matter and the remains of his old costume. Ray stayed in her lab alone overnight to work on his problem, and determined that he could use intense bio-electric activity on his brain's frontal lobe via an encephalo-cybernetic web in a revised costume to merge with his old one and regain his lost mass. It's weird that they would specifically reference a method that would require that Ray wear a skullcap mask when they new his new costume for this series would air out his top. The other ill-considered alteration to his classic suit was explained by Norm messing up the dye pigments, and Ray not caring if it was pink and green so long as it fixed his powers. Part of what made the original suit so great was that he was the rare hero who wore full pants and that the points on it indicated forward motion for an always acrobatic character. The new suit emphasized his crotch in panties that now seemed to point all the way up his chest. Seriously, the worst thing about this book forever shaking DC's faith in the Atom as a solo character is that the best thing about the entire property is the costume and they haven't stopped messing it up for a fourth straight decade and counting.

The revised suit work in restoring Ray's height, but he immediately passed out from being up for something like 36 hours straight to get it done. Ricki volunteers to sit watch over this handsome man while he slept, until he was roused by an alarm. Quraci terrorists had taken hostages in the library, and the campus was being evacuated. The Atom reflexes went straight there, and because these are swarthy Middle Eastern types, he tries to manipulate them by pretending to be Allah and a genie, in that order but interchangeably. It doesn't work on all the terrorists, but it does on some, so go ahead and shake your head at the Bill Maher of it all. At least the Tiny Titan managed a decisive victory against numerous men with sub-machine guns, even if this is the second issue of the Mighty Mite fighting plain dudes.

In the end, it turns out the C.I.A. had tipped off the terrorists that Amir Lashgary, nephew of the late President of Qurac, had been pursuing a graduate degree at Ivy U for two years under an assumed name. The spooks had endangered all those lives solely to draw the Atom out of hiding, and none of us batted an eye. Later, to help sell the dud duds, we learn that the new costume will remain visible at full height, can disappear or reappear at will, and the Atom's neurological connection to the costume makes his powers more responsive than ever. He'll needed it, since the Amir respected Atom's request for discretion regarding his rescue, but the C.I.A. leaked Atom's return to the media to put pressure on the hero...

Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis

Monday, March 29, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #602

Home Is the Hero!

  • The last Ray Palmer Atom ongoing series begins!
  • The destruction of Morlaidh!
  • The conclusion of Sword of the Atom!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' August 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #1!
Ray Palmer's last bid to star in his own ongoing series is launched off the back of the bird he was riding before colliding into three nondescript men with handguns. He's still in a variation of his classic costume, aside from having the open hair mask from his Sword period, though we know from the Secret Origins cover and promotions that he will soon duplicate Superman from the waist down. I suppose it's a dynamic cover for what it's depicting, but it doesn't seem like readers were buying what was being sold here in 1988. Actually, it wasn't selling in '68 or '78 either. In POTA's defense, nobody's out there swiping Jackson Guice's Flash #1 cover, either.

The splash page has more punch but less fanboy-friendly detailing, as Atom burst out of a rotary phone in an explosion of plastic and speaker parts. Ray then grows to about half his normal human size and his costume disappears. The call answerer was Norman Brawler, the author of Ray Palmer's authorized biography, who is to Norman Mailer as this comic is to the books it was being sold as emulating. Theoretically, Ray had gotten messed up be traveling through a satellite signal rather than his usual land line, but he was a short, sweaty mess who swiftly passes out.

A few hours later, Ray gives Norm the first chapter of his next biography. Well, given that this is Ray's last solo series, probably just a updated and expanded edition of The Atom's Farewell. They should also add an "s" to plural "Farewell". In case you missed it, they recap the present day material from Secret Origins #29 where Ray finds the white dwarf matter in the Amazon Jungle. Ray discovers that the material is "psycho-sensitive" at close proximity, and that was how Ray had "willed" himself to survive size-changing where the objects he tested in his early research just exploded.

Soon, full-sized human Don Brice stumbled into the shrunken barbarian kingdom of Morlaidh where the Atom's been swording and promptly died. Ray knew Brice as one of his C.I.A. contacts from the old days, and took seriously his warnings of a coming threat. I bet the dying part really sold it. Anyway, the Atom mounts a birdy and flies off to survey the area, and finds a base camp where random dudes are planning to napalm the rain forest. It's night time, so nobody's going to be doing anything until daybreak, at least. The Atom wisely, sabotages the napalm supply, returns to his kingdom, and swiftly crafts a device that uses the white dwarf particle to grow himself and the alien Karathan race that he's been living amongst.

Oh, that's not what happened? The Atom just landed on a meeting room table in a sweaty tent at six inches tall and yells at Portuguese-speaking workers in English? They can't understand his intent and react especially badly to his chopping at them with a sandwich sword? The Atom decides to investigate the napalm launching device while he's being actively pursued by a cowardly and superstitious lot with itchy trigger fingers? The napalm supply explodes and consumes the entire area? The Atom is knocked out and survives by landing in mud? He wakes up hours later to find New Morlaidh razed, with no survivors and a bunch of Karathan remains unidentifiable as, say, his comrade Voss or his lover Princess Laethwen? Is the titular "Power of the Atom" the ability to get everyone you know killed indirectly as a result of your actions while you do literally nothing to help and aren't even an active participant in your singular, personal salvation?

The one thing the Atom is able to salvage after days sifting through the physical evidence of his abject failure is the white dwarf matter, which he shrinks to tuck into his glove. It takes him days at six inches to reach civilization, which leaves him in a delirious state akin to that "Tales of the Black Freighter" dude. In the second most unlikely coincidence in human history, the Atom accidentally walks into a police station where the main guy from the rainforest clearing camp is the first person he sees. Ray picks another fight with a bunch of armed Brazilians that only leads to his wrecking havoc and fleeing the business ends of their pistols. This time, he finds a rotary phone in an office and calls the first number he can think of-- his biographer that he only met in the first Sword of the Atom Special. Also, Norm bought Ray's old house from Ray's ex-wife at a good price when she moved to Shopton after Ray lost it in the divorce settlement that Ray triggered when he completely abandoned his wife for the Princess that he also just lost. I'm thinking Roger Stern learned a lot of wrongheaded lessons from "Born Again," not the least being that we already knew that he wasn't Frank Miller from how laughable it was when they tried to sell Power of the Atom as being on a par with Batman stories we're still talking about decades later. Actually, the ironic part is that even DC knew better, because they left "Year One" off the Atom ads.

Because we haven't made Ray Palmer look bad enough so far and robbed the story of most of its impact by telling it in flashback, the Atom costume and white dwarf material get lost in the carpet somewhere Ray and Norm can't find it. Also, it looks like maybe the C.I.A. engineered this whole thing, and the Atom predictably jumped through every one of their hoops. Ray is still at child size like Scott Lang in that lame Ant-Man sequel and gets mad at how badly he's screwed everything up that he breaks the fireplace with his otherwise futile punch of frustration. So hey, the not-as-Tiny-as-usual-Titan got super strength. You totally want to buy this guy's book because he's got the totally unique power of super strength now, right?

Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Jean Loring,Sword of the Atom,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis