Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crisis On Earth-Blog: The DC Challenge

Welcome to The Atom's "The Tiny Titan" blog, launched on Monday, November 19, 2007 by the actor Damian Maffei. While stabs were taken at covering the Golden Age Atom Al Pratt, Red Tornado and other heroes, the blog was really concerned with the stories and merchandise produced for shrinking super-hero Ray Palmer, his successor Ryan Choi, and their avian buddy Hawkman. I discussed here how that blog went on a two year hiatus, before I asked its creator if I could resurrect it as part of a blog crossover event, Crisis On Earth-Blog: The DC Challenge

"The DC Challenge" was a rambling mid-80s mini-series where different creative teams would craft a chapter in a twelve part story, each ladling on plot complications with few bothering to resolve anything. I thought that sort of contrivance could also apply well to blogging, which makes me kind of an idiot, because that stinkin' thinkin' set me up as the guy trying to negotiate all these shenanigans. You see, there's a group of bloggers who throw together comic book style "events" to connect one another's wares, and I decided this tomfoolery would be my contribution to the irregular shindig.

Not being completely mental, my original notion was to just have everyone come up with some kind of puzzle or quiz for their readers, with answers linking to other blogs. That never came together, and after a couple months and much gnashing of teeth, the result is a jumble of interactive fan fiction bouncing between authors, characters and blogs, interspersed with random leftover puzzles and other such trivial pursuits. If you stick with it long enough, you'll find some sort of resolution, and maybe some nice scans.

The Atom seemed to me the perfect character to launch my story stream, with a direct connection to the DC Challenge mini-series as a major plot device. I'll be writing a bunch of other heroes and streams, usually with an introduction to the characters for new readers. However, since I just covered an article about Atom comics from 1961-1989, plus Damian posted The Atom: Who's Who Entry from years ago, let's just get started...

The year is 1982. Ray Palmer is a happily married scientist, working on projects in his Ivy Town laboratory, when not stepping out occasionally with the Justice League of America as the Atom. Today though, Palmer is busy studying a piece of unbelievably sophisticated machinery sent to him by an anonymous party. Almost magical in nature, the 3" X 4" brick is capable of opening access to the Plane of Holes, a dimension of connective tissue between a seemingly limitless number of wormholes extending to various points in space and time. However, the longer the device is active, the more directly the "holes" integrate into our reality, contaminating all related points in space-time. Also, the device only offers access to the holes, not a means of determining where they led.

That's where Ray's own brilliance came in. Partially disassembling the "warp-box," Palmer extracted some seemingly non-essentially elements and married them to other super-sophisticated technology he'd encountered in his super hero adventures. This allowed him to form a sort of "key," which would help guide passage through the wormholes and quickly re- & de- activate access. That way, an explorer could reasonably guide their self and minimize damage to the space-time continuum while doing so.

Of course, the liability associated with the very existence of such a devise is staggering to consider. This would explain the extraordinarily elaborate security system put in place around Palmer's lab when he began work on this project. This would also explain the sickening lurch in Ray's stomach when the claxon alerted him to the presence of a fast approaching super-human intruder.

Ray had to think fast. The warp-box couldn't fall into villainous hands, but there was no time and, most likely, no earthly means of destroying the devise. It could not be shrunk by the process through which the Atom was conceived, and there was no way Ray could escape on foot from whatever could surmount his security measures. Ray thought he could perhaps turn over the devise while secreting the "key," which he could then use to track the warp-box, and insure some complication in its immediate use.

There were three problems with this notion. The first was Ray's considering the amount of damage even limited use of the warp-box could have, the so-called butterfly effect ravaging history and even reality as we knew it. The second was the unreasonable assumption Ray would be left alive to do anything with the key. The third and most immediate was that, impossibly, the "key" was nowhere to be found.

What should Ray Palmer do next?

For More Challenges, visit these fine blogs!

The Anti-DiDio League
The Continuity Blog
The Aquaman Shrine
The Atom: Tiny Titan
Being Carter Hall
Comics Make Me Happy
Crimson Lightning
Dispatches from the Arrow Cave
El Jacone's Comic Book Bunker
Firestorm Fan
Girls Gone Geek
I Am The Phantom Stranger
The Idol-Head of Diabolu
Justice League Detroit
Once Upon a Geek
Pretty, Fizzy Paradise
random picture day
Reilly2040's Blog
Supergirl Comic Box Commentary
when is evil cool?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Atom in "Decisions, Decisions!"

The year is 1960. Physicist Ray Palmer has come to regret taking on development work for Heywood Defense Industries. Palmer had been working from the plans of a scientist out of Gotham City named Hugo to create a device to control the minds of synthetic troops Heywood had developed. Hugo had taken seemingly mad leaps in logic with his designs, which was part of why Heywood had dismissed him, and now put pressure on Palmer to make up for the lost time. As Palmer toiled in his Detroit lab, the building was surrounded by F.B.I. agents and uniformed police officers, demanding anyone inside surrender themselves. Though Palmer had questioned the ethics of his assignment, he was supposed to be working on a government authorized project, and had no desire to find himself in jail because someone had misled him. While Palmer debated his impulses to run, hide, fight or negotiate, a phone call came through to his office. Startled, Palmer bumped his head on a counter before answering. It was Heywood, demanding Palmer release the synthetic troops to fight off the authorities. Heywood seemed a bit mad himself, and Ray wasn't the kind of man inclined to let himself get fooled twice.

What should Ray Palmer do?

Surrender himself to authorities?
Release the synthetic men?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"The Mighty Mite Returns... Again... and Again... and Again"

I'd feel bad about the gaps between posts here, but I'm my own only follower right now, so I figure I'm sharing the construction of an actually blog with nobody. It ain't built yet, so nobody's came. Anyway, inspired by the Amazing Heroes #162 article "The Tiny Titan Returns... Again," I gave a history of Ray Palmer from the 1960s-80s. Since I'm not quite ready to properly relaunch this blog, and I wanted to get a full history to date up, hypothetical ya'all's gotta wait.

Ray Palmer's second ongoing series, Power of the Atom got canceled at #18 in 1989, and our little guy had no place to go. An Atom named Adam Cray had been enlisted to help Palmer bust the Micro-Squad, and joined the Suicide Squad, where he died. Ray got a one-shot special, and flirted with rejoining the Justice League, but even with Superman on board that team was still a mess. Dan Jurgens had taken over the League and was still trying to write them halfway funny, and failing that, brought the Atom and other Satellite era members back for a grim & gritty revival. Jurgens left the book to do the big event mini-series Zero Hour in 1995. There he de-aged Ray into a teenager, made him wear a stupid Marty McFly-cut leather vest, and had him lead the least popular incarnation of the Teen Titans ever. They got canned after two years in 1998, though somewhere along the line, the teen Atom got himself another special (1995.)

Aside from guest appearances, Ray's life was lived through reprints of his old adventures for years. The Atom did get to become a grown-up again, and through sporadic JLA appearances, showed a new generation of readers how bad ass he could be. He even sorta kinda rejoined for a bit. Then Identity Crisis happened in 2004, where just as Ray had begun cozying back up with his ex-wife Jean Loring, he learned she'd "accidentally" murdered their mutual friend Sue Dibny in order to facilitate their reunion. Jean got tossed into Arkham Asylum, while Ray pulled his usual avoidance act, and found himself a nostalgic world in the Multiverse far from the modern DC Universe to live on. While Ray was away, Jean Loring got possessed by the god of vengeance Eclipso, and wrecked all kinds of havoc before getting un-possessed and eaten by sharks.

As usual, some super-heroes had to ruin Ray's vacation, tracking the Atom down and dragging him into the quagmire of the Countdown and Final Crisis events. By that time, a fella named Ryan Choi had become the All-New Atom, and Ray seemed cool with that. Yet, Ray Palmer has since raised his profile in modern comics by joining a new Justice League team led by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and mixing it up with zombie Black Lanterns, including Jean Loring, as part of the very popular mini-series Blackest Night.

That brings us up to date, so I finally feel like I can get this blog moving, since I can jump around in this timeline however I please. Look for more frequent posting now, and also shorter, for God's sake!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Amazing Heroes #162: "The Tiny Titan Returns... Again"

I've been trying to figure out where I want to start with this blog. Do I do a week of posts to get things started? Should I make sure to spread the love to Al Pratt, Ryan Choi, and/or a random DC C/D-lister or two? Should I offer posts over decades of publishing, or do a bunch of #1s? Do I prime the pump, or just throw folks in the pool to sink or swim, or maybe just sit here mixing metaphors?

Six days later, and I've read this article from a 1989 magazine about the then-current Power of the Atom series and go "yeah-- okay-- that."

Okay, so the article is called "Never Underestimate the Power of the Atom-- The Tiny Titan Returns... Again" by Darwin McPherson. It explains that Ray Palmer is a scientist super-hero who shrinks, and that he got his start in a three issue Showcase run in 1961 before doing 38 issues in his own series and another seven co-starring Hawkman before finally getting canceled. In the 70s, he mostly appeared in Justice League of America, and even got married to lawyer Jean Loring in #157. Besides that, he had a back-up in Action Comics,  did some issues of Super-Team Family and occasional guest spots.

In 1983, the Sword of the Atom 4 issue mini-series busted up Ray's marriage, but he got a new girlfriend when he got trapped at six inches and joined a tribe of tiny yellow-skinned barbarians from a lost civilization of Littles, or really fit but jaundiced Smurfs, or whatever. Starting in 1984, Ray got three Sword extra length specials, where he stayed shacked up with Laethwen, while his ex Jean remarried the guy she was cheating with, fellow shyster Paul Hoben. It just occurred to me she'd been a ho,  but never took the name Hoben, or Palmer, for that matter. Should I make a palm her crack? Just did.

In '88, an issue of Secret Origins queered Ray sword and sorcery gig, so he returned to civilization and more straightforward super-heroing in the new Power ongoing. A big deal was made of the revival by DC in ads, comparing it to the hot revamps of Superman (John Byrne,) Wonder Woman (George PĂ©rez,) the Flash (Baron & Guice,) and Justice League International. The Atom got Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner, and a wet slap across the cheek. Turner, who hadn't developed his style beyond "bland" yet, left after just five issues. He was followed by Graham Nolan, who you may remember as the more cartoony and boring artist on Knightfall/quest/end, when Bane broke Batman's back and left him to get replaced by Azrael. Nolan held on to Detective Comics with Chuck Dixon for years until he was pried loose with a crowbar.

Meanwhile, Roger Stern had written a bunch of great Spider-Man and Avengers stories, but nobody cared about writers back then, so Power sold limp. The book was edited by Mike Carlin, whose idea it was to bring Atom back to super-hero life, and then saddle him with lame art. Yay Carlin. Stern decided that since Palmer had written this bestselling autobiography then booked it to the jungle boogie, he'd return as a celebrity, but his life in the real world would now be a wreck. Little details like Atom's costume disappearing when he returned to normal size were discarded, so he could be another hero in crowd scenes during event books, instead of being the little guy sitting whimsically on the shoulder of one of those guys. Stern somehow thought making Atom just like everybody else would make him more visually interesting, which is probably why he's a writer.

The Atom's biggest villain was Chronos, who seriously had the ugliest costume of all time. He could travel through time, and ended up seven years in the past, giving him time to amass a fortune, buy one of the dullest super-villain costumes of all time, and fail to concoct a plan to defeat a foe standing half a foot tall.

Power of the Atom #7 was dubbed the "official re-launching" of the book, with Nolan on pencils, and Atom a more x-teme hero who would fire himself like a bullet through the chest of disposable aliens in a crossover event, but not asshats like Chronos. Somehow, and I know you can't believe this, but readers were not impressed. So much for grim n' gritty gremlins.

The article promised the creative team would take advantage of Atom's "tight ties" to the DC Comics super-hero community, a.k.a. use guest stars to up sales. This failed though, since Atom's ties were mostly to other DC Silver Age properties that hadn't sold in years, though he did take time to take a poop on JLI, one of the best-selling team books of the day. It was kind of like when a serious news show takes a look at "sensational" news shows, making sure to reference as many lewd aspects of those shows as possible. Sure Ray, you're totally above that. *snicker*

Stern promised to bring Jean Loring more heavily into the series, thinking she was an "interesting, positive character" who'd been given a bad rap. They noted all the letters that were coming in trying to explain to them that Jean was no good, and everybody hated her, but they ignored the consensus opinion anyway. Stern loved all the strong female supporting characters Julie Schwartz used to edit, like Carol Ferris, Iris West and Shiera Hall, who'd been much maligned in later years. Unfortunately, Jean actually was an awful human being from the very beginning, so that defense doesn't really fly.

The staff went on to warn that new husband Paul Hoben had his own size-changing belt (also: a mustache,) which would make him a threat in future issues. Nothing sells comics like treating a guy who looks like Dabney Coleman, with no special abilities or powers of his own, and putting him up against your veteran hero. It's not like he's got a miniature flamethrower and a mad sparkle in his eye, y'know.

It's also good to undercut your femisist cred by referring to Ray's "hot-looking" new Italian associate/love interest, Enrica Negrini. I can't believe spell-check let half that name go without objection. Oh, Ray's friend and confidant Norman Brawler would also be on hand, and how's that for two names that don't sit right together. Ray's teacher and occasional back-up feature Professor Hyatt would be back, and with back-up like that, it's inevitable you yourself will become somebody else's occasional back-up. Finally, there's surrogate father Ted Ralston, a "Theodore Roosevelt type." I'm sure children of the 80s ate references to U.S. presidents serving from 1901–1909 right up.

The best part, and obviously there was so many to choose from, was editor Mike Carlin's sales pitch to readers not already onboard his poor-to-middling series, to be cancelled within the year. He talks about how much readers could relate to their thirtysomething domestic soap crap, how his new artist was "good, reliable, and cares," plus the book was "a good read." With that kind of superlative laden hype, how could anyone this side of Frank Miller meet those elevated expectations?

The magazine then segued into an interview with artist Graham Nolan, and both articles were peppered with his uninked pictures, doing only slightly less favor then offering a finished Gil Kane masterpiece for contrast. In "The Nolan No One Knows" (still so true,) Graham talked about his love of Batman, and his admiration of John Romita Sr. and Curt Swan. He was a Kubert school drop-out who'd done work for Eclipse's Skywolf and The Prowler. Nolan suffered through some work on Transformers and Psi-Force before jumping ship to do fill-ins on Doom Patrol.

In the "one to talk" column, Nolan described Dwayne Turner's Power of the Atom art as "really [makes rude noise] atrocious." I don't know how to get brackets into my own conversations, so kudos to Nolan on that skill. Anyhow, Nolan aspired to replace Turner in private, only to have editor Carlin call up and offer him just that. Providence? Synchronicity? Serendipity? Lower expectations from life and art on everyone's part? Who am I to say?

Yadda yadda Roger Stern a favorite writer yadda yadda K.S. Wilson his best inker yadda yadda his father was a detective yadda yadda spec western writing proposal yadda yadda loves Batman hates DC's take on Doc Savage yadda yadda. Oh, and he keeps a normal working schedule to be with his loving wife and live a vanilla life.

The End.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The search for Ray Palmer... blogging.

Friday, October 13, 2006
Rob Kelly started The Aquaman Shrine, a daily blog about a DC Comics super-hero who talks to fish.

Saturday, September 1, 2007
Frank Lee Delano ripped off The Aquaman Shrine's basic format, applying it to an even less interesting DC Comics super-hero, who acts as a cell phone between Justice League of America members when he's not too boring to live.

Monday, November 19, 2007
Damian Maffei also ripped off The Aquaman Shrine's basic format, but applied it to a DC Comics character billed as "The World's Smallest Super-Hero!" That misapplied exclamation mark managed to appear on dozens of comic book covers and some other merchandise.

Thursday, March 6, 2008
In no way dispelling the truism about the staying power of a "Tiny Titan," Maffei offers his last post about the Mighty Mite. Kelly and Delano in no way dispel the truism about bloggers having no lives by continuing to post about a "Sea King" and "Alien Atlas."

Friday, January 1, 2010
After getting the consent of Maffei and with numerous ulterior motives not limited to being sick of seeing the same "Hombre Atomico card" for nearly two freakin' years, Delano resurrects the Atom blog at a new address.

Fact: Delano's main blog is titled The Idol-Head of Diabolu, a blog for J'Onn J'Onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. He's reviving The Tiny Titan. Clearly, there's a difference in writing styles, so adjustments will have to be made.

Introduction: I'm going to try to write in a lighter, more humorous style along the lines of Damian Maffei, but I'm a human being with my own thoughts and feelings, so don't try to make me be somebody I'm not! Since Damian later branched out into fellow D-List DC Heroes like Hawkman (a close Atom associate) and Red Tornado ('cause Damian had crappy taste,) I'll do that too (even for Mr. Miracle, who no one on Earth ever liked all that much.) I'm less concise than Damian, so my posts will be longer, and I run multiple blogs, so my output will be more sporadic.  Stop by once a week or so, and we'll bring you a six-inch atomic punch of posting, or y'know, just slip innuendo your way.