Sunday, March 28, 2010

The "Disappearing Act" Robberies!

The second story from January-February 1962's Showcase #36 by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson on the second Silver Age Sunday in a row! So, expect the entire blog to go cold for a couple weeks after this, given my pattern to date!

A harvest moon and a canoe for two inspires Ray Palmer's 61st proposal of marriage to Jean Loring.
"Yes... I will!"
"YES!? You mean you really will?"
"Will what, Ray? Oh, I was thinking about Alma Wilson and her fiancé-- and I've just decided I will take the case! Now-- what were you saying?"
"Oh, never mind! What's this about Alma's fiancé?"

Alma Wilson, who you'll remember from "the genie defense", actually listened to her boyfriend during their romantic getaways and accepted his proposal. Admittedly, she was just a bank teller who stated in open court she'd been robbed by a tiny man in a bikini, so she was probably less concerned about keeping her options open. Plus, Jim Barnes probably seemed like a catch, before that expensive wedding ring he was looking at "disappeared" in plain sight at the Ivy Jewel House. Then again, Jim was present with Mayor Andrews at the parade to crown a Cameo Queen, until the world famous Elgin Cameo "disappeared" in plain sight. Nobody could prove nothin', especially the involvement of a genie, but "a cloud of suspicion" fell upon Barnes that Jean Loring was going to dispel! There are no actual charges filed for a lawyer to defend in court, and Jean's neither a p.i. nor in p.r., but Jean the crazy person will "take the case" and do what she can... which is tell her boyfriend, who'll do all the actual work.

"Obviously, Jean is completely absorbed in her latest case! If I'm ever to get her to concentrate on me-- I'd better help her out again-- as the Atom!" After dropping off Jean and heading home, Ray reads an article in the Ivytown Herald about how Jim Barnes is the local chess king set to play a visiting European champion at Ivy Hall the next day. You'd think Jean would have mentioned that, especially the part about their playing with a platinum chess set on loan from a millionaire. But hey, she's on the case!

The Atom stows away inside a rook, and is levitated with the other chess pieces faster than could be seen with the naked eye during the match. Left on a high ledge overnight, the Atom and the pieces languish while a search of the building by authorities misses them. At "the first pink rays of dawn," the pieces are levitated out of the building and dropped swiftly into the back seat of a convertible, knocking the Atom out.

Now, in the flashback to the wedding ring scene, Ivytown Herald feature writer Greg Phillips was in the background. He even announced himself and his departure to police. At the Cameo Queen coronation, Greg Phillips was there. When the convertible driven by Greg Phillips drives away, you expect an explanation. Was Phillips working backwards from the chess match to frame Barnes for his main heist? Was Alma Wilson the love of Greg Phillips' life, so he just took every advantage against Barnes? Did Barnes touch Phillips in an overly familiar way at a bar? Nope-- Phillips was just testing out his new telekinetic powers, provided by the pills of a dead scientist, and Barnes kept showing up. Yuh-huh.

Back at his boarding house, Phillips spied the Atom stirring amidst his chess set, and gleefully tossed the Mighty Mite about the room with only the power of his mind. The Atom managed to find footing against a wall, and launched himself at Phillips. The Tiny Titan accidentally struck a magnifying glass in Phillips' hand though, and was knocked out. Phillips then dropped the Atom into the box with the chess, cracked open a poison gas pellet, and closed the lid on Ray. Using his growing powers, the Atom broke through the boxes' lid.

The Atom phoned himself to Ivy Museum, Phillips' next target, and briefly beat on the crooked reporter with a butter churn and other objects. Phillips' briefly fended off attack with his powers, but soon succumbed and was turned over to police. Jean arrived to shake the Atom's tiny hand in thanks. Ray still figures the faster he can take care of Jean's legal cases, the sooner he'll be married. Speaking of which, Alma and Jim tied the knot, after a comical incident involving a missing wedding ring (again.) Neither appeared in the book again...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Prisoner In A Test Tube!

I was really enjoying writing for this blog, but between the time it takes to do a nice synopsis, crazy arguments with overly opinionated right wingers, schoolwork, other blogs, getting a whopping five (appreciated) hits a day here and my simply not being Damian enough for the gig, I don't seem to be pulling it off. But you know what? Screw it! This is Silver Age Sunday, and I'm here for goodness from the wayback, not that old familiar cryin' cussin' moan.

The first story from January-February 1962's Showcase #36 was "Prisoner In A Test Tube!" I never much cared for Gardner Fox's writing, so I figured by the Atom's last "try-out" issue, the bloom would be off the rose. Color me surprised then that the hits just keep on coming, with another bitchin' Fox tale for Ray Palmer! Art by the team supreme of Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson!

Professor Anton Kraft is set to leave Budapest, Hungary for Ivytown U.S.A. when some inexplicit Soviet types kidnap him. Since this was still the Cold War dark ages, even though Kraft is a world famous scientist, nobody in the States knows him well enough to detect an impostor taking his place to spy on his American counterpart, who also happens to be Jean Loring's pappy. Meanwhile, the real Kraft will enjoy a heaping helping of Eastern Bloc brainwashing before he will get to use the secrets stolen by his double to build a super-weapon. "Then the cold war shall get... HOT!"

Professor Loring, daughter Jean and her beau Ray Palmer all meet the phony Kraft at Ivytown Airport. Jean drops her shiny handbag, and after "Kraft" picks it up for her, she tells Ray "Now you can drive me to the Federal Bureau of Investigation!" You see, Jean knows "nobody on this side of the Atlantic has ever seen the Professor," and wants to be sure he's him before daddy lets him near all those national secrets. Now, Ray's already stated that Jean's I.Q. is impressive, so maybe she was just sharp as a tack on that spy's ass. Yet, we're also establishing Jean as a hateful nutbar, and concluding the professor is an evil double is quite the supposition to make. This leads me to believe that...

  1. Jean naturally hates and distrusts all foreigners like a good American. Of course she's going to gather fingerprints and turn them over to an F.B.I. that's all ears.
  2. Jean was secretly tipped by the feds, and just not giving them any more credit than she does the Atom when clucking about "her" victories.

Either way, the F.B.I. office in nearby Greendale City confirms the worst suspicions. Emphasis mine: "Good thing we checked, Miss Loring! The man now with your father is an impostor, just as we feared!" Since the senior Loring is working on a precursor to the Strategic Defense Initiative, this is quite the potential fubar, if only because the Reds might dupe out what a pipe dream Ronnie Reagan's Star Wars actually was. Ray suggests this might be a job for the Atom, but Jean doesn't know how to contact him, so Ray suggests an A-Team style personal ad. Or, y'know, maybe Jean could apply that big brain to figuring out the Atom shows up every time she has a problem, and that might be connected to her scientist boyfriend's ongoing work on shrinking things.

Almost as if to drive home the point of Jean's obliviousness (or just to get some damned attention,) the Atom appears as a speck of dirt on Jean's copy of the newspaper ad (cue kid reading this in five years scratching their head about this "newspaper" thing,) then grows into her six inch super-hero. "How's that for a quick response" indeed, you little pimp dog! The Tiny Titan is briefed about the matter, and lacking a single anti-establishment bone in his body, phones Central Intelligence in Budapest to offer his services. Working with the C.I.A. to maintain their covert operation in Hungary, the Mighty Mites discreetly investigates Kraft's home via a shoestring lasso and swinging through a keyhole.

I guess the Soviets were dealing with budget cuts, because they were still trying to break Professor Kraft in his own home, instead of doing something intelligent like going anywhere else but Professor Kraft's own home. It just makes it too easy for our favorite tiny Republican to explain to the distressed Kraft that the jig is up stateside, and that the World's Smallest Super-Hero will find a way to smuggle the Prof out of the country. Well, if the commies don't lunge to capture the incredible miniature man for their superiors, leading to his accidentally landing on flypaper. The Atom can't quite overcome the menace of common adhesive before getting plucked out with tweezers and stuffed into a beaker (see story title,) but he can get small enough to climb right through a perforation in the tube's cork. Clever as he is, the Atom waits until everyone is escaping in a small private plane to do so.

Using a ruler, the Tiny Titan pole vaults, landing on "the pilot's neck like a ton of bricks," then using his weight control to slam the co-pilot's chin against an instrument panel from a sick angle. "Give me a hand, Professor! We'll fit them with parachutes-- then dump them out!" I assume this is to keep their corpses from landing on innocents, because physics dictate the Atom killed the hell out of those guys. It's a good thing Ray Palmer learned to fly in connection to his research work!

A few days later, Ray is strolling with Jean, and the faux Professor is in custody. Jean just cannot figure out how to thank the Atom, which leads me to believe she's totally faking it, just to screw with Ray's head. Palmer suggests another personal ad, and for no logical reason, clips out "JEAN LORING THANKS THE ATOM FOR HIS HELP!" with cumbersome scissors while acting as the Atom. "Someday, when I tell Jean the Atom is really her boy friend Ray Palmer-- we'll both get a big laugh out of this!" And then she'll go insane. Good work, Ray!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Showcase #35

It's ten o'clock p.m. Do you know where your Silver Age Sunday is? After a lethargic weekend, I'm trying to get this thing knocked out while it still is Sunday. As badly as I want to get work done, internet arguments, a misguided schedule, and a general malaise on my part makes it hard for me to get going with any of my blogs right now. I'll try to mellow out with the convenience store MD 20/20 Electric Melon I settled for mixing into my Pepsi Max. What I really have a taste for is some Arak, but stupid blue laws shut down the liquor stores this Sunday in the Bible Belt.

To be honest, I've never been much for Gardner Fox. I've yet to read a Golden Age Justice Society of America story I liked, and I find his over-lauded Justice League of America unintentionally hilarious in its inanity. My recollection of his Hawkman material is a hazy neutrality, leaving only Red Wolf a Fox series I genuinely liked. So color me surprised by "The Dooms From Beyond!" This is the first ever full length Atom script, and a darned solid read.

Doctor Gordon Doolin is a mighty handsome man, with his delicate coif, neat goatee, and stylish suits. As lovingly rendered by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, you'd be forgiven for thinking him the hero of the tale at a glance. He's in Ivytown soliciting donations to build a hospital on an impoverished South Seas island whose populace he serves. Doolin's efforts are largely falling on deaf ears, so it's his seeming good fortune to learn he's actually descended from big money that comes with a curse.

As Doolin explains to Jean Loring, the executor of the Heath estate, in 1692 Judge Myles Heath sentenced a woman to death during the Salem Witch Trials. While she claimed innocence, Goody Wilson still cursed the Heath family males to forevermore perish by elemental forces. That very night, the judge died when his horse slipped in mud during a torrential rain. Ankles over elbows, he still had time to moan "Ohhh! The curse of water..." on his way down. The judge's eldest died young in a cave-in, while his junior had an air bubble in his blood. They could detect that sort of thing in the 17th Century?

The curse seemed to continue for generations, until Gordon's pop chucked deuce on the family fortune, changed his name to Doolin (which I hope was his mama's maiden name, at least,) and raised a family in the South Seas. Gordon went to medical school in Australia, then devoted his life to caring for islanders. In need of funds, "Doolin" uncovered his roots, and approached Jean Loring about securing his inheritance.

Now, I've taken some heat for dropping the b-word in reference to Jean Loring, so with a swipe of my brow I'm pleased to report she does nothing to earn that slur this round. Jean's actually extremely helpful to Gordon, explaining that he's running out of time before the estate is to be willed to his departed grandfather's house staff, and filing the necessary motions to secure his claim. I'm sure this had nothing at all to do with Gordon's being a stunningly handsome doctor, humanitarian, and claimant to ten million dollars (earmarked for a new hospital.) So forget I said anything.

No, what's noticeable about Jean here is how she warns Gordon about the peril he faces due to the supernatural curse. You know, the modern, professional woman whose first major case revolved around "the genie defense?" Gordon wasn't having any of that nonsense, though. In the excitement (*ahem*,) Jean forgot she had a lunch date with her boyfriend, Ray Palmer. The couple followed Gordon's car to the Heath estate, only to watch it lose control and sail off a bridge. "Ohhh! Has the witch's curse from beyond-- struck him so soon?" Oh, Jean. Really?

Cue chapter two, and there's no mistaking that Ray Palmer is our hero here. Still in his own smart suit, he dives right off the bridge without even taking off his penny loafers. Now that's a man of immediate action, and he's all scowl and dynamic pose on the way down. Once in the drink, Ray finds Gordon unconscious and his door sealed tight. Ray goes for his belt, in an image that's one-part Ditko Dr. Strange, one-part Wood Dynamo, and one more part Sheriff Bart "Excuse me while I whip this out." The World's Smallest Super-Hero then climbs in through a gap in the window, and uses Tiny Titanic strength to budge the door handle and release Gordon. Reverting from the Atom back to Ray Palmer, our hero drags Gordon to safety. Police are already awaiting on the bridge, with press soon to follow. In a nice touch, just as I was thinking "man, Atom can seriously hold his breath," a soggy Ray begs off a reporter with, "Just as soon as-- I get my wind..." It's also nice that Ray isn't so paranoid about his secret identity, he won't allow himself a little positive recognition in his civilian life.

Gordon invites Jean and Ray to stay with him at the Heath family home (no self interest there,) and a list of suspects is read off amongst the estate staff. Now, the Atom isn't known as the Diminutive Dick, so this sequence is superfluous.  We're here to see the Atom save Gordon from attempts on his life like deadly gas being pumped into his room. While Ray's smart enough to figure out this is done by mechanical means, it's refreshing that he remains a scientist, not a crime detective like half of DC's line-up.

In an especially unsubtle play, a black cloud appears over the rechristened Dr. Gordon Heath in his garden and rains down fireballs. You'd think this was Middletown (a.k.a. Apex City.) Like the not-Final Girl in a slasher flick, Gordon twists his ankle, and has to be carried into a cave by the ever impressive Ray Palmer. The gardener's son has also taken refuge there, and at the request of the Atom, fires the Mighty Mite at the black cloud with his slingshot. The Tiny Titan finds a miniature rocket launching dirigible hidden within, and rips into it with his gloved hands. Disabling the small craft, the Atom adjusts his weight to glide on air currents to a soft landing.

Crazy bird Jean Loring had been taking this all in stride, last seen reading through the newspaper reporting on the accident on the bridge. With Dr. Gordon now wheelchair bound, they settled into his den to play a rousing game of cards. Not one to let his guard down, Ray connects the remaining elemental threat, earth, to a large globe in the room. Sure enough, when the Atom shrinks small enough to pass through the molecules of the globe's surface, he finds and disables a time bomb. Seeing his chance to sweat out the guilty party, Ray returns to have Dr. Gordon call a staff meeting into the room, where Bates the handyman pulls a gun to escape before he thinks his bomb will go off. Bates is tackled by Palmer, whom he clubs with his revolver. Palmer recovers in  time to phone himself to the main gate before Bates can drive away. The Atom uses a desk fan to launch himself with extraordinary precision out the window at Bates' convertible, then giving him what for. Under police interrogation, Bates revealed that he had set all the traps, and was carted away. A week later, the new Dr. Gordon Hearth was far richer, had given the family home to the non-felonious staff, and walked onto a boat bound for the South Seas, with Ray and Jean there to wish him well.

It's eleven thirty-six p.m.Your now tipsy host is off to the next blog. Join us later this week for Sword of the Atom #2, where I may or may not say rude things about Jean again...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sword of the Atom #1 (September, 1983)

Your eyes do not deceive you-- two text heavy posts in one week! I'm trying people, really. I also reckon that if you were a fan of the old Tiny Titan blog, you're like "Dude, Damian covered these books already! Aren't there other Atom comics out there that need the love?" To those, I say, "Dudes, the original Sword of the Atom mini-series was such sweet action, I've got to love it two times before I go away!" My game plan is to do story synopsizes in three eras-- the earliest Silver Age stuff, modern books starting with Identity Crisis, and '80s work starting right here. Also, Damian didn't make it past these first four issues to the three specials that followed, so it makes sense to offer this reminder/primer. Besides, I'll be doing more opinions and observations here. For a detailed look, go read Sword of the Atom - Book One: Stormy Passage.

The Atom was another solid seller for editor Julius Schwartz's line of Silver Age reinventions of Golden Age characters, lasting throughout the 1960s, with a bit of help in the last seven issues from incoming co-star Hawkman. Not to diminish the inherent appeal of the World's Smallest Super-Hero, but the Atom was likely selling respectably in the 200K realm due to the artistry of the great Gil Kane. Hawkman was faring less well on his own, and once their combined book began to be drawn by the agreeable Dick Dillin, it wasn't long for this world. The Atom spent the 1970s in the occasional back-up strip, and as a member of the Justice League of America, whose book hosted his wedding to Jean Loring in 1978. Meanwhile, Gil Kane spent the '70s at Marvel Comics, before joining the exodus of creators to DC after the former company appointed the unpopular Jim Shooter its Editor-In-Chief.

Gil Kane loved sword & sorcery tales, and had spent a good many of his Marvel years drawing Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian. Happy to reunite with a character he co-created and likely reticent to give up his favored fantasy setting, Kane suggested new life could be injected into the Atom by radically changing his milieu. Jan Strnad of Heavy Metal fame provided the script, and Sword of the Atom was born.

The book started with two gorgeous splash pages, one previewing the action to come, and another laying down the basics of the Atom's story. The book then cuts immediately to a troubled Ray Palmer and his marital strife as he catches his bride making out in a car with her law office partner Paul Hoben. Two things established in the very first Atom story were that Jean Loring was highly intelligent, and that she was a total bitch, with Ray wrapped around her finger. Unlike the mature heroic couples that helped define Julie Schwartz's other titles, this pair remained unmarried for nearly twenty years, and Jean was more a ball-breaker than a loving partner. In real time, the pair were only married for five years, which given Atom's then-decades long career being better than halved per the story, meant they were still practically (doomed) newlyweds. Once Ray deduces Jean had been carefully planning her affair for half a year, you just know he deserves better than this scheming Veronica Lodge/Lucy van Pelt.

Even though the Atom made and consistently buoyed Jean Loring's (she never took the Palmer name) law career, she threw in Ray's face his using the profits for one of her cases to buy a portable scintillation detector. I don't know what that is, but Ray used it to track a white dwarf fragment to Brazil on a research expedition/holiday from the harridan. Unfortunately, Ray ran afoul of drug dealers, and ended up lost in the Amazon, his malfunctioning size-altering belt trapping him at just six inches. Braving the hazards of the jungle, the Atom ends up surrendering to a troop of similarly pint-sized, yellow-skinned savages. Ray is escorted to the city of Morlaidh, and after rising to the defense of fellow captive and rebel leader Taren, is also sentenced to death at the teeth of a swarm of rats. While this is going on, Jean Loring is informed by Brazilian authorities that all evidence points to her husband's death,

Besides looking absolutely fantastic, the opening chapter of this story moves at an exciting pace. The proceedings don't feel rushed, as all the necessary time is taken to explore this turning point in Ray Palmer's life, but the action never lingers too long. Shrinking heroes are usually scientists, and by extension often dismissed as boring cerebral types by readers. Despite the soap opera, the opening of  Sword of the Atom is fast-paced and visceral, drawing readers deep into what would prove to be an unrelenting epic.