Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #604

15 Minutes of Fame!

  • The Atom versus Strobe!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' October 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #3!
What looks to be a middle aged white dude with a chip on his shoulder managed to get a golden armor described as "looking like a high tech football player" starts robbing armored cars and such. Despite making off with half a million dollars, he's ticked because his time in the regional news is squeezed by the return of the Atom. Like an old west gunslinger, Strobe decides to make his name by taking out Ray Palmer, whose identity is publicly known. Consequently, Palmer and people associated with him are being hounded by a host of hyper-aggressive press. Despite checking into a hotel under an assumed name, the press were banging on Ray's door at six in the morning. Later, he has to rescue his old friend and mentor Professor Alpheus Hyatt from the same. But who will save the readers from a page-&-a-half of recapping the first two issues in some old man's kitchen?

On pages 6-7, the press gets to Jean and Paul Hoben on courthouse steps, and it's only then that they even learned Ray was back from the Amazon. You can tell on these pages that the artist is losing interest, because the already middling quality is going to an early Valiant WWF Wrestling comics place. It's page ten and we're still checking in with the C.I.A. spooks who have been surveilling Atom and jerking his chain. Comics like this are the reason the Chromium Age happened. Bland drawing of dull people in plain clothes talking about how they feel about stuff that happened in other bad comics. This is why comic books gave up on secret identities and supporting characters and lifelike subplots in favor of speed lines and Bondian villains with spikes and speedos. We were collectively so tired of comics like these that the only response was to demand hyperstimulation from kinky sexualization and extreme violence.

So halfway through the book, the Atom finally gets in a fight with a lameoid named Strobe on a suburban lawn. The dude create bright light bursts and concussion blasts. The Atom beats him twice, because while he was getting tied up the first time, he blinded everybody with a, y'know, his thing. Then Atom shrunk to climb into his equipment to disable it. The Atom couldn't just sock a guy named Strobe and be done with. He had to get extra with Strobe. Oh, and an older middle-aged guy getting a massage watches on TV and plots his own attack against the Mighty Mite. To the degree that the artist can do likenesses, which is not up to the standard of early Valiant WWF comics, I guess he vaguely resembles Richard Nixon if you're not wearing your glasses and are a little tipsy. Excited yet?

Agent Bailey, an even older late middle aged white guy with white hair, where he has any at all, gives Ray Palmer a call at Professor Hyatt's house. Making no connection, Ray happily shakes the hand of the C.I.A. creep who's secretly been messing with his life as he's offered a new identity and position within the agency...

Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Jean Loring,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #603

"Just Like Starting Over"

  • The Atom returns to super-heroing!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' September 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #2!
We all agree that Ray Palmer would have hated John Lennon, right? I figure Ray's one of those "I'm not into music" people, or maybe a jazz guy, like Julie Schwartz. Anyway, the C.I.A. is put out by how the vast majority of information they have on Palmer came from his biography, and how those Justice League guys are really good about hiding their identities. Meanwhile, three-foot-Ray got checked out by family doctor Alvin Jeffries, who gives him a half-sized bill of health, excepting the shrinkage. Ray had a lens sizer that he'd developed with the Hawks secreted into a wall, but it didn't work in his current predicament. With a bit of time to kill, Ray perused Norman Brawler's leftover magazines to catch-up with the times. He was surprised to learn about the Legends event where a demagogue temporarily turned the population against their super-heroes. Also, the Hawks' identity had been publicly exposed, but their whole existence would get retconned soon, so no big loss there.

The next day, Ray and Norm visited Ivy University to meet with the newly named Associate Professor of Physics, Dr. Enrica Negrini. She had once been Ray's lab assistant, and the envy of all the ladies on campus, but Ray only ever had eyes for Jean. Ricki ran some tests and determined that Ray's body had been impregnated with white dwarf matter and the remains of his old costume. Ray stayed in her lab alone overnight to work on his problem, and determined that he could use intense bio-electric activity on his brain's frontal lobe via an encephalo-cybernetic web in a revised costume to merge with his old one and regain his lost mass. It's weird that they would specifically reference a method that would require that Ray wear a skullcap mask when they new his new costume for this series would air out his top. The other ill-considered alteration to his classic suit was explained by Norm messing up the dye pigments, and Ray not caring if it was pink and green so long as it fixed his powers. Part of what made the original suit so great was that he was the rare hero who wore full pants and that the points on it indicated forward motion for an always acrobatic character. The new suit emphasized his crotch in panties that now seemed to point all the way up his chest. Seriously, the worst thing about this book forever shaking DC's faith in the Atom as a solo character is that the best thing about the entire property is the costume and they haven't stopped messing it up for a fourth straight decade and counting.

The revised suit work in restoring Ray's height, but he immediately passed out from being up for something like 36 hours straight to get it done. Ricki volunteers to sit watch over this handsome man while he slept, until he was roused by an alarm. Quraci terrorists had taken hostages in the library, and the campus was being evacuated. The Atom reflexes went straight there, and because these are swarthy Middle Eastern types, he tries to manipulate them by pretending to be Allah and a genie, in that order but interchangeably. It doesn't work on all the terrorists, but it does on some, so go ahead and shake your head at the Bill Maher of it all. At least the Tiny Titan managed a decisive victory against numerous men with sub-machine guns, even if this is the second issue of the Mighty Mite fighting plain dudes.

In the end, it turns out the C.I.A. had tipped off the terrorists that Amir Lashgary, nephew of the late President of Qurac, had been pursuing a graduate degree at Ivy U for two years under an assumed name. The spooks had endangered all those lives solely to draw the Atom out of hiding, and none of us batted an eye. Later, to help sell the dud duds, we learn that the new costume will remain visible at full height, can disappear or reappear at will, and the Atom's neurological connection to the costume makes his powers more responsive than ever. He'll needed it, since the Amir respected Atom's request for discretion regarding his rescue, but the C.I.A. leaked Atom's return to the media to put pressure on the hero...

Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis

Monday, March 29, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #602

Home Is the Hero!

  • The last Ray Palmer Atom ongoing series begins!
  • The destruction of Morlaidh!
  • The conclusion of Sword of the Atom!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' August 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #1!
Ray Palmer's last bid to star in his own ongoing series is launched off the back of the bird he was riding before colliding into three nondescript men with handguns. He's still in a variation of his classic costume, aside from having the open hair mask from his Sword period, though we know from the Secret Origins cover and promotions that he will soon duplicate Superman from the waist down. I suppose it's a dynamic cover for what it's depicting, but it doesn't seem like readers were buying what was being sold here in 1988. Actually, it wasn't selling in '68 or '78 either. In POTA's defense, nobody's out there swiping Jackson Guice's Flash #1 cover, either.

The splash page has more punch but less fanboy-friendly detailing, as Atom burst out of a rotary phone in an explosion of plastic and speaker parts. Ray then grows to about half his normal human size and his costume disappears. The call answerer was Norman Brawler, the author of Ray Palmer's authorized biography, who is to Norman Mailer as this comic is to the books it was being sold as emulating. Theoretically, Ray had gotten messed up be traveling through a satellite signal rather than his usual land line, but he was a short, sweaty mess who swiftly passes out.

A few hours later, Ray gives Norm the first chapter of his next biography. Well, given that this is Ray's last solo series, probably just a updated and expanded edition of The Atom's Farewell. They should also add an "s" to plural "Farewell". In case you missed it, they recap the present day material from Secret Origins #29 where Ray finds the white dwarf matter in the Amazon Jungle. Ray discovers that the material is "psycho-sensitive" at close proximity, and that was how Ray had "willed" himself to survive size-changing where the objects he tested in his early research just exploded.

Soon, full-sized human Don Brice stumbled into the shrunken barbarian kingdom of Morlaidh where the Atom's been swording and promptly died. Ray knew Brice as one of his C.I.A. contacts from the old days, and took seriously his warnings of a coming threat. I bet the dying part really sold it. Anyway, the Atom mounts a birdy and flies off to survey the area, and finds a base camp where random dudes are planning to napalm the rain forest. It's night time, so nobody's going to be doing anything until daybreak, at least. The Atom wisely, sabotages the napalm supply, returns to his kingdom, and swiftly crafts a device that uses the white dwarf particle to grow himself and the alien Karathan race that he's been living amongst.

Oh, that's not what happened? The Atom just landed on a meeting room table in a sweaty tent at six inches tall and yells at Portuguese-speaking workers in English? They can't understand his intent and react especially badly to his chopping at them with a sandwich sword? The Atom decides to investigate the napalm launching device while he's being actively pursued by a cowardly and superstitious lot with itchy trigger fingers? The napalm supply explodes and consumes the entire area? The Atom is knocked out and survives by landing in mud? He wakes up hours later to find New Morlaidh razed, with no survivors and a bunch of Karathan remains unidentifiable as, say, his comrade Voss or his lover Princess Laethwen? Is the titular "Power of the Atom" the ability to get everyone you know killed indirectly as a result of your actions while you do literally nothing to help and aren't even an active participant in your singular, personal salvation?

The one thing the Atom is able to salvage after days sifting through the physical evidence of his abject failure is the white dwarf matter, which he shrinks to tuck into his glove. It takes him days at six inches to reach civilization, which leaves him in a delirious state akin to that "Tales of the Black Freighter" dude. In the second most unlikely coincidence in human history, the Atom accidentally walks into a police station where the main guy from the rainforest clearing camp is the first person he sees. Ray picks another fight with a bunch of armed Brazilians that only leads to his wrecking havoc and fleeing the business ends of their pistols. This time, he finds a rotary phone in an office and calls the first number he can think of-- his biographer that he only met in the first Sword of the Atom Special. Also, Norm bought Ray's old house from Ray's ex-wife at a good price when she moved to Shopton after Ray lost it in the divorce settlement that Ray triggered when he completely abandoned his wife for the Princess that he also just lost. I'm thinking Roger Stern learned a lot of wrongheaded lessons from "Born Again," not the least being that we already knew that he wasn't Frank Miller from how laughable it was when they tried to sell Power of the Atom as being on a par with Batman stories we're still talking about decades later. Actually, the ironic part is that even DC knew better, because they left "Year One" off the Atom ads.

Because we haven't made Ray Palmer look bad enough so far and robbed the story of most of its impact by telling it in flashback, the Atom costume and white dwarf material get lost in the carpet somewhere Ray and Norm can't find it. Also, it looks like maybe the C.I.A. engineered this whole thing, and the Atom predictably jumped through every one of their hoops. Ray is still at child size like Scott Lang in that lame Ant-Man sequel and gets mad at how badly he's screwed everything up that he breaks the fireplace with his otherwise futile punch of frustration. So hey, the not-as-Tiny-as-usual-Titan got super strength. You totally want to buy this guy's book because he's got the totally unique power of super strength now, right?

Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Jean Loring,Sword of the Atom,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #601

The Secret Origin of the Atom

  • Soft launch of the mild old direction Post-Crisis Atom!
  • Debut of new creative team of Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics' August 1988 cover-dated Secret Origins #29!
  • Longer take with Ryan Daly on Secret Origins Podcast #29!
We pick up where we left off in the Sword of the Atom mini-series and specials with Ray Palmer trapped at six-inch size in the Amazon Jungle. By the least convincing coincidence in human history, the Atom happened upon an alien kingdom made up exclusively of a yellow-skinned but otherwise perfectly humanoid race of exactly the same relative dimensions! And we know they're anatomically correct because Ray has been serving as consort and protector of Princess Laethwen, with both jobs clearly involving sword-wielding. The kingdom of Morlaidh is stuck in barbarian times, so Ray Palmer will have to cut a b* just to get by. Ray is in that "Big Chill" phase of his life, so he gets all Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By Me, recalling pivotal moments in his childhood. His passion for science and adventure were both sparked by his reading the famous Edgar Rice Burroughs Carson of Venus and the obscure yet highly relevant Gardner F. Fox "Alan Morgan" series of books. Ray's parents supported his love of exploration, and even when his daddy died young, his surrogate father was famed archeologist Ted Ralston.

Ray's barbarian buddy Voss finds a bit of the white dwarf matter from the alien starship that theoretically shrank his race. The Atom performs a feat of strength in picking up the rock through density control or something. Ray gets it back to his makeshift lab and enbiggens the rock, assuring himself that he could grow himself and potentially even Morlaidh to regular human size. This causes him to think back to the first episode of this podcast, but with worse writing and art. There's a few unnecessary tweaks that grate, plus we keep seeing the neophyte artist go back to the same basic, static layout of Atom recounting his origin to Laethwen and Voss.

Ray reminds everyone that he never became a super-hero to help people, but just to clear away an obstacle in talking his girlfriend Jean Loring into finally marrying him instead of focusing on her law career. He's self aware enough to recognize the fallacy of their yuppie "I can have it all" ambition, but not enough to realize that he still treats women like prizes to be won. Let's be honest, this whole reverie is because he's getting bored with going native among the yellow-skins in a jungle, which gives me '80s media flashbacks of 'Nam flashbacks. Also, the Atom got off on the super-hero action more than his eventual wife, which is why he deuced on her the minute she was found in the arms of the other man Ray's neglect drove her to in the first place. The whole Conan shtick was his divorced dad midlife crisis.

While the Atom continues to tell the two people who will listen all about how awesome he was in the Justice League of America, a bunch of aliens indistinguishable from the ones Atom hangs with attacks. Because they're on the opposing side, Atom still regards them as savages and stabs them in the neck. Seriously, the sword of the Atom aims for the jugular again and again on-panel, almost as if he has no regard for these people's lives, at least not until there's a pile of gross bodies that he asks his yellow people to cleaning up for him. Former super-hero, yes. "Good guy" maybe not so much, unless you're using the term euphemistically.

The story ends with Ray Palmer paternalistically weighing the fate of Morlaidh and decided that everyone can stay shrunk until he decides otherwise, since they don't entirely believe his stories and he's not offering them a choice anyway. At least the hypersexualized Laethwen offers this sword a scabbard, as it were. "This is not the end! Watch for the further adventures of The Atom in an all-new series... on sale next week!" DC Comics pushed the new series pretty hard in house ads, trade magazines, and a store poster that compared it to its recent successful reinventions of Superman by John Byrne, the Flash by Baron & Guice, Wonder Woman by George PĂ©rez, and the Justice League by Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire. Boy, I'm sure that direct comparison to watershed books will not end up biting the Tiny Titan's little red butt... Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Jean Loring,Sword of the Atom, Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis