Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Atom Special #1 (1993)

Professor Alpheus V. Hyatt created the Time Pool, a portal to the past "the size of a medium pizza." Ray Palmer was a natural choice to explore the potential of the diminutive doorway, and had in many Silver Age adventures. Unfortunately, Hyatt was never able to expand the size of the Time Pool, and instead busied himself with miniaturizing the hardware that produced it. Hyatt had it down to the size of a VCR when one day, a hand holding an old fashioned alarm clock appeared out of the Time Pool. The numbers and hands fired out of the clock and into Hyatt's face, leaving him bleeding and unconscious.

The Loaded Dice Mob had supposedly given "the Justice Society a very small amount of trouble back in '43," but the geriatric precursors to the Royal Flush Gang were down to knocking over a local fast food joint. The Atom stealthily showed up to unleash a grease trap on one, swat guns away from others, and straight up deck the last old man standing. At one point he did almost get swatted by a spatula into a deep fryer, but he adjusted his weight to coast on heat fumes and recover. The cause of this brief slip in aptitude was a vision of Laethwen burning to death on a gas range. "He can't see her. He can't hear her. But he can still smell her flesh cooking. That was no hallucination. Was it?"

In the aftermath, a rude cop ribbed the Atom about his tell-all memoir, his lack of friends afterward, and news of Hyatt's hospitalization. "Officer... don't take this the wrong way, but... shut your big mouth before I float inside and rip your molars out." The Atom traveled by phone line to Ivytown General's Intensive Care Unit, only to find Jean Loring and Norm Brawler waiting in the lobby. Norm had gotten into an argument with Hyatt's doctor over his unwillingness to even attempt to remove the intricate time bomb attached to Hyatt's face, while the physician pointed out that this was all the fault of their association with the Atom. Brawler shrank away from the point. "Hyatt needs a hero... and the only one we know ratted out on us." Brawler wanted to kick Ray's butt for making "noble speeches" about it being to dangerous for him to stay in Ivytown, then leaving his friends in the lurch. "He's just too immature to stay around and clean up his own messes!" Proving the point, Ray tied Norm's shoelaces together and knocked him over.

Ray had a discussion about microsurgery with the doctor, and then went in to Hyatt's room to visit his cantankerous friend. In his place, Ray saw his father on his deathbed, began crying, and then screamed in a panic "I need a doctor! Now! He's dying" Everyone rushed in to find Hyatt wondering what all the fuss was about. The doctor politely told the Atom not to worry about performing that surgery after all, while quietly wondering about the effects of all that size changing on the brain. Ray's best friend Norm and ex-wife Jean then left Palmer to join Paul Hoben at a bar to bitch about Palmer behind his back. In a book heavy with exposition related to the Mighty Mite's continuity, this was where the levee broke. Ray's origin was retold... His turning his back on civilization to live with a six inch barbarian culture in the Amazon, including his lover Princess Laethwen... the fire set by the C.I.A. to smoke Palmer out that destroyed this new life... Ray's revenge of shrinking the rogue unit down and trapping them... Paul was as usual a jerk, especially when his affair with Jean that broke up her marriage to Ray came up. Palmer, who had been spying the whole time, finally revealed himself by dousing Paul with his brew. Ray then discussed his short time living a normal life as "Professor Don Shuffler," his setting up Adam Cray as a new Atom serving the Suicide Squad, and Cray's murder as a result. Palmer was filled with self-pity and regret, which Norm brusquely attempt to snap him out of. However, Ray stated "I'm going to help Hyatt. Then I'm getting out of your lives for good."

Outside the bar, Ray was confronted by the image of the rainy night he caught Jean and Paul making out in a car. Ray shook it off, then tried to get an operator to connect him to the Hanesworth Estate. The Atom had to show up on her desk, spouting about his (expired) JLA membership to finally get through. Ray figured all of his circumstances added up to his archenemy Chronos, including apparitions of Adam Cray getting stabbed through the back with a nail in the estate's shag carpeting. While distracted, a cat swiped its claws across the Atom's back, so he sent it flying with a judo maneuver. That move kind of blew his cover, and one of Chronos' men escorted Ray to his master. However, the Gene Bomb set off by the Dominators during an alien invasion of Earth had left Chronos in a coma.

Within the speck upon a fork, the Atom built a home away from home out of molecules where he could hide from the world. Still, even on a bit of food debris, a man's got to eat. Ray grew off the fork into Hyatt's dining room, then raided his fridge. Norm began to knock on the front door, and when Ray tried to ignore him, beat down the door. Once inside, Brawler phantoms of Ray's dad in the deathbed with tiny Adam Cray getting impaled on the sheets and the Princess was cooking on the stove while Jean and Paul made out on the couch. Norm was flabbergasted, but once Palmer got over the shock, he was thrilled to learn the ghosts were not figments of a delusion as he had feared. "You saw them? You saw them, too? All right... all right... we're going to figure this out." If someone could make the Atom's fears manifest, they could surely fake Chronos in a coma (I know, I know, it's serious...)

The physicist deduced that Chronos had used the clunky old Time Pool generator to find and steal the portable new one. The original filled the better part of Hyatt's office, so it remained accessible to Palmer, who figured out how to use it to connect to the location of the current model. The Atom thanked Norm for saving his mind, then dived into the Time Pool. Meanwhile, Norm was drugged and kidnapped by a henchman. Chronos had set a trap for the Tiny Titan as well, involving "weird temporal/spatial advances" that knocked him out. Ray Palmer woke up at six inches tall and stripped down to his boxers. Chronos had his costume, and joked about spicing the drab thing up with pinstripes. See, Chronos really was in a coma, but his younger self had managed to travel through time to reverse his fate. He'd used the Time Pool to steal itself, but Chronos had to learn how to use Atom's size altering belt before he could exploit it. Threatened with the possible execution of Norm, Ray relented to giving Chronos what he wanted... seemingly.

Norm's head had been shoved into the Time Pool, and while Chronos and his men were distracted extracting it, Palmer used a metal stirrer to pole vault to the compact generator. Activating it, Ray tossed the device through the Time Pool it created. Chronos objected, but was stabbed through the hand. The device landed on a vanity table in 15th century France. Chronos blindly reached into the pool to try retrieving it, but instead knocked it off the tabletop. The device broke as it hit the floor, the Time Pool immediately dried up, and Chronos' severed right arm landed on the vanity. His wristwatch was still in fine working order though, so the French made the best of this unexpected treat. "Henri! Pour me a brandy and dispose of the arm!"

Chronos was screaming bloody murder and going into shock, but while the Mighty Mite was trying to save his life, Chronos was still ordering his henchmen to attack. The mobile lab everyone was in was somehow contained in a limousine, so Brawler performed a running headbutt on the driver, who skidded into a tree. Everyone ended up at the hospital, and while police congratulated Norm as a hero, he acknowledged being heartened by the Tiny Titan proving his own heroism once again. The Atom payed Hyatt a visit, and against the objections of his doctor, cockily performed successful microsurgery. The Atom returned to his cabin on the fork, and kicked it down, recognizing that he could no longer hide from his problems. "Goodbye, Laethwen, Adam, Dad. Rest in peace. Please." Ray Palmer grew up, tossed the fork in the garbage, and joined a homecoming party in his honor. Enrica Negrini worked in a cameo.

"Shrinking From The Past" was by Tom Peyer and Steve Dillon. I read this a year or two after it was released, when I was actively exploring the greater DC Universe after abandoning Marvel Comics and moving beyond Batman/Superman/New Titans. This came out during the death and rebirth of Superman, which was noted by Jean during the exposition fest. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the weird winding course of the Atom's travels for the first time. I knew the character from cartoons and team books, but had no idea he'd gotten up to such shenanigans, and the material covered here was mostly just late Bronze Age. It was much darker and more violent than I expected, and unlike the deconstructed icons of the Chromium Age, that suited the Atom. Compared to DC's other Silver Age revivals, The Atom was definitely the most action oriented book, as if a pint-sized hero took the edge off all those brutal blows in a time of speed tricks and lantern constructs. Sword of the Atom was gory as hell, which made sense for a quasi-barbarian saga, and it was only natural for Ray to take some of the jungle with him back to the States. I like how Peyer used ambitions of a mental breakdown to regress Palmer back to his insecure days in the '70s Justice League, only to work him over to the smug fighting form of his earliest adventures by the end of the tale. I absolutely love Steve Dillon's art on this, as his thoughtful faces and bursts of savagery are well suited to the character, and I can't think of a single super-hero he's ever nailed so fully (Punisher included.) Dillon was unquestionably better off on Hellblazer, but it's still a shame this creative team never made it to series. As a more knowledgeable Atom fan, this comic doesn't hold up that great, but it's still an ideal primer for neophytes.

Join the Spooktacular Samhain Celebration at this coven of blogs!


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Chad Bokelman said...

I really should read more Atom stuff. I own the "Sword of the Atom" mini series and the "Sword of the Atom" Annual (or was it 'Special'). And that stuff was pretty great. I think I'll hunt down the old, old Hawkman and the Atom series. I think that'd be a fun jaunt through awesome DC stories...

Diabolu Frank said...

Truthfully? There's a reason the Atom got cancelled earlier than most of DC Silver Age heroes. The art was fantastic, and the action was more visceral, but the stories were flat and the villains dull. Sword of the Atom was an excellent jumping-on point, and the first Special was the worst of the three, so do pick up the other two. All-New Atom was also pretty good. I still haven't read many issues of this blog's namesake, so I reserve opinion there.

Arthur Canning said...

I'm a big Sword of the Atom fan, but this post is wild - very different than I'd expected with the Atom - cool, and weird.
That was cool.

Diabolu Frank said...

I wish I'd worked in a scan with the time bomb on Hyatt's face, but there was still plenty of cool weirdness displayed, eh?