Sunday, February 28, 2010

Showcase #34

Sweet baby Jesus in a manger Praise Ha'Shem! It's been nearly a month since my last substantial post here! So much for regularity! Well darn it, I'm going to do my best to start up a Silver Age Sunday, and finishing up Atom's first appearance seems a good place to get to it!

After introducing Ray Palmer, girlfriend Jean Loring, and his shrinking lens in the first story of the book, "Birth of the Atom!", the costumed Mighty Mite was due to debut in the second feature, "Battle of the Tiny Titans!" Once again by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson, this tale started out with hot blond Ivytown Bank teller Alma Wilson getting robbed by a six inch tall bald man wearing nothing but Adam Warlock's metal bikini briefs. Just as suddenly as he appeared, he disappeared-- with a bundle of dough. Of course, nobody believed Alma's story about the little genie man, so she got tossed in jail. Well, almost nobody.

Now, you and I probably tend to look at all these Silver Age characters as being middle-aged, seeing as they were all married professionals whose adventures began in the '50s & '60s. What you find while reading these old Atom stories is an emphasis on how green the characters are, at least for their jobs. Ray Palmer is never just a scientist, but a "young physicist," and though Jean may be a lawyer, she's so fresh that her very first case will be defending her friend in the pokey.

"Alma always tells the truth! If she says there was a-- genie-- then there was!" Oh Jean, you know who unquestioningly believes stories about genie bank robbers? Crazy people, that's who! Even Ray tries to talk Jean into letting a more seasoned lawyer handle such an uphill case, but "I intend to make my mark in the legal profession, Ray-- and I'm going to start with Alma Wilson!" You know, her close friend, who no other lawyer could adequately defend, even though she's never tried a case before, much less one pursuing a "not guilty" plea involving tiny genie thieves. Crazy people, welcome Jean Loring to your ranks, if you haven't already.

Jean might not recognize her own limitations, but Ray does (at least, partially.) So, Ray's a struggling young scientist who can't quite get a handle on monetizing this shrinking thing he's been developing. Say he uses white dwarf meteorite material to fashion an elastic, invisible, intangible suit (which he can still hold, inexplicably) that becomes visible and solidifies as it shrinks. Think you could do something with that besides employee it as your newfangled super-hero union suit? Well, Ray can't, but then he's really committed to marrying Jean Loring, so he's obviously on his own wavelength.

Now garbed as the Atom, Ray tests another aspect of the belt he's designed to control his size and costume's appearance: he can now alter his weight, allowing him to leap like a grasshopper, but land with the impact of a full grown man at will. While testing this out, the Atom spies that same genie that ruined Alma's career loitering in his laboratory. The other tiny titan was after chemicals in the lab, but a few blows later, and his little tin britches are settled. Through telepathy, he explains that he's Kulan Dar of the planet Julnar, "many thousands of light-years away." Through the ingestion of the metallic element Europium, Dar's people can teleport across worlds at will, making them natural explorers. Unfortunately, Kulan Dar got caught in a cosmic ionization field during a trip, and landed on Earth. Dar was found by an unscrupulous ex-con who was informed through Dar's unconscious mind of his history and abilities. The crook found a device called a Dominator that allowed Dar to control creatures on Julnar's colony worlds, but used it on Kulan himself. The little alien was then forced to begin a crime spree.

Before the Atom can help, Kulan Dar is forced to return to his "master." Ray then calls Jean up with what he's learned, omitting any reference to his own shrinking side job. Loring also swallowed this mess without a critical thought in her head, but knew her boyfriend couldn't exactly take the stand and try to sell it to sane people. While Ray Palmer poured through the local police "mug book" looking for Kulan's captor, Dar continued robbin' & stealin'. Ray had seen a mental image of the crook through telepathy, and recognized him from his picture as Carl Ballard, who had a cabin overlooking the lakefront. Ray shrank a special bottle in his lab that he'd have to use before it exploded, then suited up and headed out.

Using his noggin, the Atom called Ballard, who was greeted on the other end by the sound of a metronome. Sound waves propelled an especially Mighty Mite electronically through the phone line. The Atom confronted Ballard who tried to use the dominator against our hero, unaware it had no effect of earthlings. Ballard then summoned Kulan Dar to battle the Atom to the death. After a brief struggle, the Atom's furious fists overwhelmed the alien. Ray then grew the ionized bottle he'd brought with him back to its normal size, then sealed Dar inside, where he couldn't teleport. The Atom tossed the bottle in the lake, to further stymie Dar should he get loose, but Ballard sent the dominator flying inti the drink as well. The crook figured Kulan Dar would get loose and finish the Atom before the dominator could be recovered, not realizing A) he'd have a heck of a time finding it himself later & B) Kulan Dar is kind of a wussy.

The Atom punched Ballard's lights out, then dove under water in search of the dominator. Kulan Dar got free, and pursued, but was freed from Ballard's influence through the recovered dominator.

An hour later, Jean Loring was fighting a losing battle in court. Somehow, the novice lawyer with a girlfriend for a client sidestepping diminished capacity in favor of the "Genie Defense" wasn't winning the hearts and minds of jurors? Color me surprised. Good thing Kulan Dar materialized in the prosecuting attorney's palm in open court, in order to serve as a surprise witness for Alma and against Ballard. In her twisted little mind, Jean declared "I've done it! I've won my first case!" Yeah, because Ray hadn't set everything up, while being discreet enough to hide his alter ego from everyone save the soon-departing Kulan Dar. Genius that she is, Jean failed to connect Ray and the Atom, but wanted to thank the Tiny Titan for helping her win her case. Helping. Not handing her the case on a silver platter, but "helping" her "make my mark!" Hate her yet, folks? "A few more courtroom victories and-- I might even consider marrying you!" All the encouragement Ray needed to continue as the Atom! Not wealth, not fame, not the common good, but Jean Loring's delusional hand in marriage. But hey, at least Ray was smart enough to keep his Atom identity secret, "until we're safely married!"

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