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.

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