Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Top 10 Atom Covers of the 1980s

The eighties were not a kind ten years to Ray Palmer. He started out the decade as a bland back-up strip in a Superman comic, and ended it with the swift cancellation of a second ongoing series that was so negligible, it didn't feel like it was even a product of its time. In between, his wife cheated on him, he got divorced, he became trapped at six inches, spent years battling creatures in the Amazon, and saw his rebound girlfriend burned alive. On the plus side, Gil Kane returned to the character for a fun genre-bending sword and sorcery mini-series, even if the premise overstayed its welcome through three follow-up specials. As a result, the Atom passed on inclusion in multiple line-ups of the Justice League, his lifeline to fandom throughout the seventies, and sank from the b-list to less notoriety than G'nort. In fact, I don't think the Atom has ever recovered from the mistakes made in this decade, and perhaps never will.

10) Sword of the Atom #4 (December, 1983)

The one fault in Gil Kane's covers is that they are of such consistently high quality, it is difficult to choose between them. That, and they are also of consistent subject matter, and there are only so many variations to be played out. For instance, this is the second SOTA cover featuring Atom riding a frog, the fourth with his swinging a sword at an enemy taking up the majority of the cover, and the second in a row on which he defends Princess Laethwen.The main difference here is a mob of humanoid menaces, but its still better than 17/18ths of Power of the Atom.

9) Power of the Atom #18 (November, 1989)

The most dynamic cover from this series landed on the final issue, and is dependent on stock draws like a prominent central figure, fire, and the threat of violence. There is nothing on this cover to establish scale, so this could be any hero with a sword and be just as effective, if not more so. Can I also take this opportunity to point out how stupid and ugly the alterations to the Atom costume were in this series? I can live without the skullcap, but why switch to trunks after a quarter century of vastly superior and obviously more contemporary pants?

8) Sword of the Atom #3 (November, 1983)

This cover illustrates one of the central problems of the series. If you have a large enough threat, the Atom is either obscured or forced into a dubious perspective. If the threat isn't large enough, it fails to impress. Thanks to the jungle setting, backgrounds tend to be repetitive, and even the large creature menaces fail to be more than a momentary distraction for a Tarzan type. In the event of more intelligent threats, like the tiny alien savages the Atom fought for much of the series, there's little to differentiate the book from any other barbarian story of the time.

7) Secret Origins #29 (August, 1988)

The debut cover to the Power of the Atom series was terrible, and a harbinger of thinks to come. DC wisely opted to use the proud central Atom figure seen here for their advertisement of the book, which ended up being a more memorable campaign than the actual series. Unfortunately, the Atom figure doesn't work as well in this context, seemingly floating in space rather than standing between the shoulders of Martian Manhunter and Batman. Why would they be so close together, anyway? Maybe if the Atom were jumping across multiple shoulders in a hopscotch, it would work better. As it stands, the main figure has no weight and the composition is perplexing.

6) Sword of the Atom #2 (October, 1983)

Rats! On pure technique, I feel that this was the best of Kane's SOTA covers. However, the threat isn't much of one, and the weakness is compounded by the Atom's cowering posture.

5) Sword of the Atom #1 (September, 1983)

The classic SOTA frog-riding image, but it loses points because of the weird looking snake, dull background and unadventurous perspective.

4) Justice League of America #215 (June, 1983)

George Perez is always pleasing to the eye, but the Gulliver angle doesn't work quite as well as it should. This is possibly due to the other heroes lacking prominence because they're too spaced out and overwhelmed by the primary colors of Ray's costume. The eye processes a waist up shot of an angry Atom tearing at cables, rather than a group of normal sized heroes pinning down a giant one.

3) DC Comics Presents #51 (November, 1982)

I've never been an Alex Saviuk fan, and you'll note the absence from this list of his Atom-as-afterthought inclusions at the bottom sixth of early eighties Action Comics covers during the Mighty Mite's run as a back-up. Still, there's something compelling about the World's Smallest Super-Hero swearing vengeance on the gravestone of Superman, the greatest of them all. It's a Samson and Goliath situation where perhaps one of the most unappreciated super-heroes is the best man to succeed at finding justice where others fail.

2) Sword of the Atom Special #1 (1984)

The Tiny Titan looking fierce with his hot jungle princess over his shoulder and a credible threat in the downed thug, who also serves as a proportional grounding. This very nearly sums up the best of the Sword series.

1) Justice League of America #216 (July, 1983)

It was really rough not having a Gil Kane or George Perez cover at the top spot, but Ed Hannigan outdid himself on this one. Great perspective that flips the usual Atom paradigm, along with well drawn figures in dynamic poses. Both a great Atom and JLofA piece, a rare intersection.

Their Top Covers of the 1980s

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