Monday, April 26, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #611

Victory Day

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  • Joining the Justice League?
  • By Roger Stern, Graham Nolan, K.S. Wilson and more!
  • From DC Comics's Holiday 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #9 & Justice League International #24!
Counting a Maxwell Lord Bonus Book, in the third story from Justice League International #24 by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, & Joe Rubinstein, the team has a post-Invasion super-hero party at the New York Embassy. It doubles as a recruitment drive for a second European-based division. Everyone seems happy to see a "real" Green Lantern in Hal Jordan, especially Hawkman. Hal himself is pleased to see Ray Palmer and Ralph Dibny, saying it felt like old times. He's got his back to Katar and doesn't reference him, so it's almost as cold as when Ray says "Too bad Flash couldn't be here." Wally West was standing right there, but Elongated Man sort of consoled "He means the real Flash, Wally." Meanwhile, Hawkwoman was on the other side of the room with Ice being sexually harassed by the Creeper.

The Atom sat on Hal Jordan's shoulder in silent agreement as the Corpsman assessed "This isn't the League I know." Hawkman thrust his finger angrily in the general direction of the group, warning that they should burn their J.L.I. invites if they knew what was good for them. Katar continued to excoriate the undisciplined, self-indulgent, irresponsible, foul-mouthed, immature misfits. The Thanagarian hoped that his circle of men of character and fortitude would be a good example to this lot. Atom piped in with the defense "Aw, c'mon Katar-- they can't be that bad. J'Onn seems pretty proud of this bunch." Hawkman countered that the Martian Manhunter had changed too, singing and dancing on the front lawn while looking like Gumby when he thought no one could see him.

When some temporarily shrunken Khunds were spontaneously restored to regular size, they unwisely confronted the heroes, and Atom was one of the many metahumans tripping over themselves to round the aliens up. Having served his role of disgruntled fan proxy to the hilt, Hawkman finally took this moment to quit loudly and directly to J'Onn J'Onzz's face. It would have been really cool if Hawkwoman had stayed on without her lesser half, but she would have soon enough been rebooted from the team regardless. Meanwhile, shameless Elongated Man took the opportunity to sign-up for Justice League Europe.

Back in his home title, J'Onn J'Onzz strikes an Uncle Sam pose to declare that he wants Atom for the JLI. Ray's already declining at the top of the following page. Palmer starts off on the "it's not you, it's me" tip, but without any provocation slides right into "but actually, it is you." The Atom thinks that there are too many bozos and jerks on the team, and when Guy Gardner leads a drunken conga line into the room, Ray asks "Didn't we used to fight guys like him?" Sure, Ray's life is a mess and he hasn't settled into his old life again, but mainly he doesn't want to spend time with guys with the manners of Attila the Hun who would make ring projection bunny ears behind the Martian Manhunter's back. The Atom wasn't tolerating the open disrespect for himself and J'Onn, so he trips Guy so that he lands on his fanny and spills his beer.

Hal Jordan jokes that Ray Palmer should have been a Green Lantern, since the Atom wasn't afraid to interrupt Batman's own hard pitch to reclaim a classic Justice Leaguer. Looking at Guy and G'nort, Ray figures the Corps is in even worse shape than the League. If you want evidence that Hal's a moron, he took career advise from The Atom, star of exactly two short-lived solo series in the past sixty years, and the last one was three decades ago. But then, Hal saw financial stability in being one of the anchor series in Action Comics Weekly, soon to be reclaimed as a Superman solo monthly.

The Atom jumps out a window to escape this asylum, drifting near-weightlessly on the winds between New York skyscrapers. His newfound Al Pratt-style atomic punch allows him to rip the rear chassis off a drunken driver before he plowed into a celebratory parade. A cop alerts the Atom to a nearby riot, so Ray rides a tossed bullhorn before growing to talk sense into the crowd. Failing that, he racks a guy, as you do. Batman shows to congratulate the Mighy Mite on his nutcracking, and the JLI takes it from there.

Alpheus Hyatt accepts a collect call, and the Atom is back at Ivy University. Tricked by call forwarding, Ray walks right into a surprise welcome home party. Enrica Negrini used his return from Australia as an excuse for the celebration he didn't get when he unexpectedly came back from Brazil. Ray surrogate father, adventurer Ted Ralston, even flew in from the Andes. Norman Brawler pitched Ray on an expanded edition of his biography for the Warner Books paperback edition. Ray was never one for big parties, so he snuck off to brew some decaf coffee before planning to sneak out the back. He'd been looking for his ex-wife, Jean Hoben, who stumbled in looking for her own cup of java. They spoke for the first time since Ray'd come home, and it was the first Jean had heard of the deaths in Morlaidh. By the end, everybody was crying as the former couple embraced, including Enrica, who stumbled upon them. Jean's current husband Paul, recently chastized for hitting the booze too hard at the gathering, was quite the sullen boy as well...

Justice League International,Hawkman,Green Lantern,Hawkgirl,Elongated Man,Jean Loring,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Ray Palmer,

Monday, April 19, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #610

Eye of the Storm

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  • Invasion! Aftermath Extra!
  • By Roger Stern, Graham Nolan, K.S. Wilson and more!
  • From DC Comics's Holiday 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #8, plus Starman #6 & Invasion #3!
The Alien Alliance Invasion attempt has ended in victory for Earth. In Starman #6, Will Payton helps save the Sydney Opera House, then hears a voice of congratulation. The Atom soon grows to assign a face to the disembodied voice and shake the neophyte Starman's hand. The pair bond over being reluctant super-heroes who nonetheless served mankind when called upon. Will had heard about Ray's book and wondered if it had any heroism pointers, but Palmer admitted that it was more a blueprint for what not to do in the trade. Most especially, the Atom warned Starman against revealing his secret identity. Since both books were written by Roger Stern, Ray's voice was consistent, and since it was drawn by Tom Lyle, so was my level of enthusiasm for the art.

In a hard-sell of the Atom in his own book, the least effective was to entice new readers, the splash of Power of the Atom #8 tells everyone about how the Mighty Mite was first hero on the ground and among the last wrangling stragglers. I'm guessing Tasmania Devil doesn't count since he was beaten off-panel on his home turf. Anyway, Ray was floating on air currents, heard a cry for help, and lifted debris using his size and density altering powers as a wedge. A Khund took potshots during this effort, and Atom didn't like that, so a beating was delivered. The authorities took the Khund away in chains, so my first question was where did they come up with Khund-sized neck shackles, and my second was what happened to all those Alien Alliance P.O.W.s? Like, are they still here? Were they returned to the Khundian empire in exchange for Blasters? Were they repatriated to Australia?

Amid the rubble of Brisbane, Chronos was gathering alien weapons off the bodies of dead Khunds. A Thanagarian took offense to this, and took a shot. Chronos timed out on that, and when the Thanagarian landed to assess for presumed disintegration, David Clinton gave him that love touch. By which I mean Chronos touched his shoulder from behind and aged him to death. I have to assume Thanagarians never fully recovered from the Equalization Plague if one got outflanked in personal combat by Tricky Dick.

Power Girl and Green Lantern were also helping to shore-up the battle damaged Sydney Opera House, so that's probably how the Atom came to ride on Hal Jordan's shoulder back to a military base. Even got his costume repaired via power ring. Don't get used to palling around with old school Justice Leaguers, Ray. The quality of your team associations is going to drop markedly going forward. Soldiers look on at the desiccated corpse of the Thanagarian, pinned to a wall by his wings, tagged with the note "Atom-- The Truce Is Over. -C." It was really thoughtful of Chronos to sign the letter, given the breadth of the Atom's rogues gallery. Then again, he signed with the letter "C," and the entirety of them are c-list, so there's still some potential for confusion. When Ray accidentally pulled off Hawkman's honor wings a few issues ago, it was a set-up for this limp fakeout. Such is the sorry state of affairs known collectively by the title "Power of the Atom."

Meanwhile, Jean Hoban called Norman Brawler's house in hopes of an update on Ray, but Enrica Negrini answered. I swear that name sounds like something they'd come up with on a sitcom when a character's about to get busted for pretending to be an exotic foreigner. I don't remember answering phones while visiting other people's houses back in the cordfull days of landlines, maybe they do things differently in Italy, and Jean asks if this is Enrica who answered. She then does one of those drawn out "Yee-e-s" and identifies herself as "Doctor Negrini," so it's like the Donna Reed show where Jean Loring is playing both parts using mirrors. Dahwktoohr Negrini doesn't know anything, but wonders to herself if Jean is overly concerned about the well-being of a man that she swore to love, honor, and protect for the rest of her life and was still married to a couple or three years ago. I guess we're still two decades away from Silver Linings Playbook blowing away the myth that people still have feelings for their significant others after the end of a relationship. This one page went a long way in turning me off on Enrica Negrini, but I do have to remind myself that she was talking to Jean. Who knows what kind of crazy was coming across that doesn't translate to the page, or how much her being the worst brings out the worst in others?

Both Ray Palmer and David Clinton managed to separately make the 15-21 hour trip back to San Clemente, CA in the span of that conversation. When authorities refuse to investigate a power local figure on the say-so of a man who wears his underwear on the outside, the Atom commits the actual crime of breaking into Clinton's house. There's a gauntlet of technology and thugs in riot gear for the Tiny Titan to overcome while Clinton watches it all on closed-circuit television from his yacht. When that fails, as he surely knew it would, he just remote detonates his own house to get the Atom. How do you figure that turned out? Or when Chronos and his henchman buddy go to check the site of the explosion in full costume? Sure, Atom could have figured a away to follow the signal to the yacht, but instead he'll just let Chronos come to him and serve knuckle sandwiches at the picnic. And again, set up, Chronos eventually gets his hand on Atom's shoulder, which Atom rightly guessed would be immune to the rapid aging effect because of the white dwarf matter, based purely on a hunch. He offers no evidence as to why that would be, and it was an extremely stupid and dangerous way to bait Chronos into taking exactly one punch before his evading with time-jumping again, but comics. Bad comics. Anyway, a bomb goes over and fries Chronos' suit a few minutes into the future, and then catches up to Ray with an inverted final splash page explosion.

You can't say that DC didn't try to push the Atom during his brief and unexceptional run. The series tied multiple issues into the Invasion event, and as a reward, Bart Sears drew Atom on Superman's shoulder dead center on the cover of the final issue of the mini-series. I still manage to miss that fact nine times out of ten while looking at said cover, but I was actively looking for the perhaps too Tiny Titan this time. Twenty pages into the-- ugh-- third eighty-page issue, the Atom can be seen riding Amanda Waller's shoulder after dropping Chronos off at Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary in Louisiana. The negative-image gene bomb dropped by the Dominators causes humans with the metagene to trigger uncontrollable power spikes, compromising a prison filthy with them. As a dude who gets his abilities from a suit, the Atom gets drafted to help "neutralize" inmates "any way possible." When Task Force X voluntary agent Nightshade is affected, Atom asks "Ms. Waller" how she wants him to proceed. It's rendered moot relatively quickly though, as the affected metagene-actives soon grow gravely ill. It all gets resolve without any more Atom action to cover, so come back next week when I finally close the loop on April Fool's Month and my covering of this series up to my recent guest appearance on the Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast...

Chronos,Jean Loring,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Ray Palmer,Hawkman,Green Lantern,Nightshade,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #609

Behind Enemy Lines!

  • Invasion! First Strike! Extra!
  • By Roger Stern, Graham Nolan, K.S. Wilson and more!
  • From DC Comics's Holiday 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #7, plus Invasion #2 & Hawk and Dove #1!
Chronos broke off hostilities with the Atom to address the greater menace of thinly disguised Yellow Peril Fu Manchu E.T.s crossing the border into... checks notes... Australia? So it's definitely 1988, the year Wolverine was both the shrimp and the barbie. Chronos had popped in a VHS tape to record the Dominators and Khunds demanding Earth imprison its metahuman population, and if I recall correctly, Invasion! was where the term "metahuman" got popularized at DC Comics. There's also footage of the Alien Alliance surrounding the Earth with an armada of battleships, so Chronos tries to get Atom into shaking on a truce. Ray leaves Clinton hanging on account of that whole numerous murder attempts rap, which really puts Clinton out. Honestly, I think Chronos wanted his value acknowledged and to maybe even form a friendship with Atom, or else why keep making excuses for not just killing him when he had the chance? Ray Palmer is just not a forgive and forget kind of dude, and once he decides you're not worth messing with, he ain't gonna.

In one of those "Simpsons predicted the future" moments, when The Atom uses the branded phone of future DC overlords', that's AT&T-- reach out an touch someone. Reach out and touch... an Australian. Actually, there's aliens working the old-timey switchboards like Ernestine going "one ringy-dingy," allowing the Atom to drop his load in a Khundian earhole so deep, put his hairy butt to sleep. Also, on the floor, because that Knund was sitting on an office swivel chair before he passed out. This is the kind of insanity that doesn't get translated into the movies, folks.

The Tiny Titan dodged a laser blast from another Khund that barbqued a Citadelian that had tried to grab him, then shifted his mass to hit that Khund full force to lay him out. Chronos was still on the phone counting up to make sure the line was clear for Atom, so Ray picked up the phone just long enough to tell Clinton he'd see him after the war and hang-up.

Okay, so the book actually started with the Atom in the rafters of a warehouse, where Khunds are forcing Aussies to load a truck. The Tiny Terror shrank and dropped on the back of a Khund's neck, and that panel served as Atom's tiny cameo in the second issue of the Invasion mini-series, redrawn by Todd McFarlane. Reminds me of a cartoon from one of DC's free advertorial comics that had Jason Todd on crutches complaining that in his one chance to get drawn by John Byrne in his prime for Legends, he got beaten by a mob and left in a cast for the rest of the event.

The Atom grabbed a blaster pistol and shot another Knund in the nards, and the point of all this dirty pool is to show him as a no-nonsense warrior. That Amazing Heroes article I referenced last time made out like the book wasn't selling and these Invasion tie-ins were intended as a soft relaunch of the book. They had a new artist and a new attitude with the hope that the crossover would expose them to a broader audience. But again, the Sword of the Atom was whet with the blood of little, yellow, different, better aliens. Why were these cut-rate Klingons getting kid gloves with little tweeting birds circling the head of that dude who Atom gave that bop that make you break yo neck?

In a hash of U.K. cliche dialogue and one guy who is clearly Crocodile Dundee, the Aussies congratulate the Atom and ask what he's doing in Oz. Like when you tell someone "how ya' doin'" and they actually stop and tell you in detail exactly how, in fact, they are doing, Ray spends five pages telling them what I told you at the start, including the part about Chronos showing the video of the aliens making their demands like the Aussies didn't see the broadcast themselves before they were literally captured by those aliens and forced to work by them. Taking a page from John Oliver, it's like Dumb Inception. It's like Inception, but really dumb. You got my flashback in your flashback.

The Aussies decided to put on Khund armor and help the Atom infiltrate a labor camp. Should I add a "u" to "labour" when it's an Australian fictional alien labor camp? Also, why is there a superfluous "u" in "labour" but not in the Labor Party? I think the U.K. is just pulling one over on us Yanks with their notoriously dry wit, laughing at ever "u" and how Madonna used to try to pronounce them with her fake accent when she was married to Guy Ritchie. Also, why did people complain when Snatch was really similar to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but better and make Guy Ritchie self-conscious, so that he started remaking Italian dramas with Madonna instead of just doing more hyperactive and stylized heist movies, the thing he was actually good at. Where were we? Oh yes, Ray Palmer spending a page telling Crocodile Dundee his origin story again, plus a clumsy transition to Jean Loring-Hoben making her new husband Paul jealous by worrying over her ex fighting aliens. All of those theoretical new fans are going to be all over size-altering Al Bundy telling them about his four touchdowns in one game.

Chronos finally made it to Cape York Peninsula by this point, and used his timey-wimey aircraft to evade some Daxamites feeling themselves with new super-powers. On the ground, no matter what you think of Australians, they did not fool the Khunds for a second just by wearing their body armor. I remember fondly back to 1988 when I first encountered the Atom shrinking and altering his density so that he could fire himself like a bullet through a Khund's body. I mean, it was just the shoulder, but the Atom was like the Wolverine of non-lethal, impermanent trauma to an anonymous alien's non-vital appendage. DC Comics-- There's No Stopping Us From Being Milquetoast Until Dan Didio Turns The Entire Universe Into A Bill O'Reilly Wet Dream. Tell promotions to work on that tag line. A bit unwieldy and dated.

Chronos reaches the base that Atom called into, then uses his time-memory powers to see a flashback of the Atom narrating a flashback to when Chronos ran a tape flashing back to the aliens making their demands. Scintillating. Meanwhile, it's full revolt at the work camp, as men in torn shirts with purloined laser pistols and the aliens who had the legal right to own and carry said blasters shoot at each other until people die in a bloodless, Comics Code Authority approved manner. This gets the Atom so upset that he may have caused some aliens to accidentally run into each other which perhaps caused fatalities but remains open to interpretation. Also, his costume is strategically torn to show off a bit of man-boob and be easy to replicate across several guest appearances in other event tie-in titles. Oh, and Chronos finally reaches the labor camp, where the Atom continues to refuse to have anything to do with him, so Chronos fires a cannon at him that turns out to be directed at a Khund aiming at Ray from behind. The Knund is aged to dust by the blast. Kill of the week goes to Chronos. Good luck with reader retention on the strength of that. Speaking of crossovers, the Atom joins up with a host of other super-heroes to attack an Alien Alliance base in-- Melbourne, I think? Everyone assumes Australia is just one big Mad Max back lot, so wherever. In another flashback but from Hawk and Dove #1, Ray's palmed by Oberon, who seems quite pleased to tower over someone else for a change. These aren't the kind of cameos that do Ray any favors. He also gets another panel in Invasion! #2. Nobody thinks that Invasion was Todd McFarlane's best work, but when a paunchy red and blue bean bag goes flying past the Creeper during the super-heroic assault on an alien base in Melbourne, the Toddster gives Atom particularly short shrift.

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #608

Time, Time, Time -- See What's Become of Me

  • Chronos strikes with art by a Legend!
  • By Roger Stern, John Byrne & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics's Winter 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #6!
I've been griping about flashbacks and recaps for seven straight episodes, so why am I so enthused about an issue that's pretty much nothing but that? Maybe because it's something of a greatest hits clip show drawn by one of the all-time greats? He's not great in this particular issue, and in fact it's so bad that I'm really questioning the skills of his inker on this, but even a bad Beatles number is going to be better than a good Yoko Ono one. I have to assume that this issue was drawn by single most popular artist in comics at the time, John Byrne, as some sort of personal favor to his old friend and collaborator Roger Stern. When Byrne finally quit Superman in a huff and passed on further work from the company, as he is wont to do, Stern took over writing that title. Presumably, Byrne's "World of..." mini-series had been scripted in advance, and he was already taking work on Marvel's New Universe line to dance on the grave of Jim Shooter's reign as editor-in-chief. I believe this was his last published DC job while prepping to take over Avengers West Coast and launch The Sensational She-Hulk, so he wasn't hurting for work.

Speaking of leaving titles abruptly with ill will, it isn't hard to read between the lines in an interview that remaining creative team gave to Amazing Heroes magazine. Editor Mike Carlin subtweeted that Dwayne Turner's replacement was "good, reliable, and cares about the job he's doing," implying that he hadn't. The new guy, Graham Nolan, was far less diplomatic. The transcript reads, "the stories were fun, but the artwork was really [makes rude noise] atrocious." I've judged Turner harshly on this podcast, but the truth is that he got a lot better after this first assignment, and whatever his failings, I think bagging on him in print is deeply unprofessional. Nolan also dismisses the value of his Kubert School education, seems to pointedly emphasize his preference of John Romita Sr. over his son's work, rips on the Carlin-edited Doc Savage book, and generally comes off as a jerk. I mean, we all know John Byrne is one of the biggest jerks in comics, but he's John Byrne. Graham Nolan doesn't get to swagger like this just because he got lucky enough to design a para-militaristic luchador for a well-publicized stunt that's netted him royalties ever since. I've bought comics because of Dwayne Turner and dropped them because of Graham Nolan. Dwayne Turner went on to work on a-list films, while Nolan just gets a contractually obligated thanks in the fine print of the ones with Bane in them.

Ray Palmer was enjoying a day out with Normal Brawler at the Ivytown Festival without getting swarmed by press, even though he had an entire C.I.A. detail following him unnoticed. Regardless, Ray got snatched in broad daylight out from under his noticed by men working for Chronos. Kept under sedation, Chronos seeks revenge by trying to emotionally break the Atom by forcing him to relive his most traumatic moments while in a dream state. They start with the rainy night he catches Jean Loring stepping out on him, then move to his childhood dog getting run over, his father's death by cancer while in his teens, the mission against Mr. Memory that saw him join the Justice League of America, his solo run-in with Dr. Light, his initial battle with Chronos, the destruction of New Morlaidh, and they even put a pin in his mother's death. Meanwhile, Chronos also recalls his early encounters with the Mighty Mite, and then a recent confrontation with Blue Beetle that left him stranded in the age of the dinosaurs. In an admittedly impressive move, Chronos cobbles together enough technology to put himself in intermittent stasis, roused at various points in history by equipment failures. Imagine all the untold stories of Rip Van Clinton scavenging for replacement parts in various ages. Never forget that Chronos looks like Richard Nixon but is named David Clinton. It's like that meme connecting Lincoln and Kennedy, except nowhere near as intricate or interesting. I apologize for bringing it up.

Ray Palmer's strong connection to Princess Laethwen and general lust for life break him out of his conditioning long enough for the Atom to shrink and extricate himself from the device manipulating him. The Tiny Titan then jumps around clobbering the fuchsia fascists working under Chronos in his sprawling headquarters. See, Chronos's stasis finally petered out seven years in the past, so he Biff Tannened himself a fortune on the speculative markets. Why he didn't shoot graduate student Ray Palmer in the head I'll chalk up to temporal paradox, but his not doing it while Ray was sleeping today is pure Dr. Evil nonsense. Anyway, Chronos had been called away from giving his archenemey...sad dreams... to hear about how Australia was being pummeled in an assault by an extraterrestrial alien alliance. Despite being at Rog 2000 drawing levels at best, Byrne's layouts and the traces of his style are just so much more dynamic and pleasing than the previous issues that it's enough for me to overlook how this issue does literally everything that I've been griping about on the story front. Kind of how Atom has to overlook being jerked around by Chronos so that they can team up to fend off the Invasion!

Jean Loring,Sword of the Atom,Ray Palmer,Chronos,POTAcast,Justice League of America,Power of the Atom,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #607

Comings and Goings

  • Guest-Starring The Elongated Man, Maxwell Lord & Oberon!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics's December 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #5!
I somehow missed covering this story on Shag's Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast this week. Probably on account of how I didn't do any research beforehand, only looked at the assigned issue the day of recording, and never read #5 before today. That'll do it. Maybe a week of daily podcasts has worn me down, but I just can't get mad at this one. Skipping the flashbacks in favor of editor's notes probably helps, but I figure it's mostly that I like the Atom hanging out with his old Satellite era Justice League buddies. The "bold new direction" horse is well out of the barn by this point, so might as well take comfort with the sheep on the pasture. Not like that. I'm clearly not good at metaphoring. Metaphorizing. Websters says "metaphorizing." Who knew that kid would pick up such big words around Alex Karras?

In this issue, Ray phones into the C.I.A. office of Everett Bailey, who freaked out over both the security breach and the prospect of having the perpetrator in his stable of operatives. However, Ray "nah dowgs" the C.I.A., then phones out with little explanation. Bailey pitches a fit, and lets slip that he might have had something to do with Operation Fireball in front of a non-corrupt subordinate. Scene shifts to the sunny beaches of San Clemente, California, specifically a cliff-side mansion. A mobster and his tower henchman make a bunch of time puns and prepare for a well researched confrontation with the Atom like we didn't already immediately know that this was Chronos. It's the only Atom villain that anyone can name, assuming they could name an Atom villain, which is not a safe assumption. You're more likely to get someone like Vandal Savage from a DC's Legends of Tomorrow watcher. It's been over a decade since the last attempt at an Atom ongoing series. If you don't teach your kids at home, there's no telling what they'll pick up on the streets.

The Atom next phones in to the New York Embassy of Justice League International, a call that startles Oberon right off his bar stool. Despite scoring a direct extension to the super-team at their current number, the Atom still plays off like "I don't recognize any of these team members" from the onscreen duty log. What, you couldn't ask Norman Brawler, "yo, who's J'Onn J'Onzz and the Batman been teaming with since I've been gone?" Plus, Ray's one of those "The Batman" people. Dude, you were never cool with Batman if you're "the"ing him. Fake familiar. Ray's all like "I'm just here visiting, not looking for a job, where's everybody and what's your 401k matching plan?" Also, Ray stays eye-to-eye with Oberon, which is courteous, except he instantly jumps up to full size the second Maxwell Lord walks through the door. I see you, Ray. Eyes on you, bruh.

Despite making all the overtures of being on the market, Max Lord is way too thirsty for the Atom. He's oily to begin with, but Ray has got to know by now that nobody that hot for the Mighty Mite is offering a good scene. Maxwell Lord once used his superhuman persuasion powers to force the Huntress onto the team, and her super-hero ability is crossbow. She can use a mechanized weapon from 650 B.C. I don't think she's a master with it or anything, and I think archers laugh at their accuracy, and there's barely a competitive sport for crossbow, so it's kind of like being able to set the recording time on a VHS at this point. Related: my father is too cheap to spring for broadband, and still uses multiple VCRs to tape his broadcast shows each night to avoid commercials. He's the Huntress of VCRs, but I'm not recruiting him for my super-team.

Most of the JLI are in outer space trying to fly to Apokolips, which seems inefficient, and that's what Oberon tells Ray. Mike's Amazing World then lost its mind over the glaring continuity error of only part of the team being in space and the other part staying on Earth to fight Lobo and don't even get him started on the European team, I guess. Whoops, JLE forms after Invasion, so my joke has a glaring continuity error. Calm down Mike. When people ask me how I'm doing, I don't bring up my hemorrhoids acting up because of all the time I spend sitting to work on podcasts. Thank you for your interest, but the League is in outer space at this time. That's all you have to say. We'll pass a message to Martian Manhunter when he gets back, because The Batman damned sure won't be calling.

Ray's still playing off the "Who's this Captain Atom that stole my name while I was gone" despite knowing he came out a year-and-a-half after the Charlton hero, but "I don't know him," right? Despite there being a perfectly good phone that he came in on, the Atom has to walk out the front door of the JLI Embassy in front of a gaggle of reporters camped out there and still be like "no comment." You know what you're doing, Ray. "Oh these paparazzi follow me everywhere I call to tell them where I'll be. Everybody wants desperately to work with me according to my solo title and nowhere else." The Atom is the Lindsey Lohan of super-heroes over here.

Ray Palmer then goes to a diner with a hat on, pretending that he hopes not to be recognized while racking his brain for anyone else who might be excited that he's back, and could tell him how much they enjoyed his biography before he pulled a Greta Garbo. "Oh, don't speak of my New York Times bestseller, I only want to live my life in anonymity while seeking out publicly known super-heroes to be photographed with." He peruses a newspaper, which I guess is like the MSN homepage, but nobody who looks at the MSN homepage hasn't held a newspaper before, probably that very morning at Denny's. There's an article about how the Elongated Man and his literal better half who everyone prefers to him are vacationing in Florida, so Atom makes some more phone calls. Slag on the Tiny Titan all you want, but instantaneous transport by telephone is one of the best powers. I've been on a plane for a literal day. I'll take that over eye beams, thanks.

Ray finds his old pal Ralph Dibny, and asks how he deals with being a celebrity without a secret identity. Ralph explains that he's a fame whore who married a rich debutante who leaks is vacation itinerary to the media and will happily upend his life and move to France at Max Lord's beckoning in a few months. Ralph is named Ralph. Why even try to front. Elongated Man and the Atom team-up to confront parrot smugglers on the high seas. You think I'm kidding. Like me, the writer has given up any illusions that Power of the Atom will last much more than another year, so we're going with armed parrot smugglers who wear Penny Loafers. Ray Palmer isn't looking for fame, so he keeps his name out of the papers when the Dibnys are interviewed on the dock with the perpetrators in Dockers. I'm sure that was entirely down to privacy concerns rather than not wanting to be associated with parrot pushers in print like sad, desperate Elongated Man. And talking on sad spectacles, the issue-closing teaser is tubby middle-aged Chronos burning his old clown costume in favor of a bland tunic that hides his spare tire. Not gonna lie, I'd wear it, too.

Ray Palmer,Chronos,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Elongated Man,Justice League International,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,

Friday, April 2, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #606

What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?

  • Featuring Hawkman and Hawkwoman!
  • By Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
  • From DC Comics's November 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #4!
Years ago, my buddy the Irredeemable Shag bought a set of Power of the Atom off eBay or something and tried to blame me for recommending them when his read-through fared poorly. I've never read this series before. What I have read, I would never recommend. When I made a guest appearance on his Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast this week, he also tried to take me to task for slagging Roger Stern's work on the Will Payton Starman series. I read a few issues of each, they were lousy, and I frankly don't need to eat the entire meal if the first few bites taste like a dish sponge pulled out of a drain in a truck stop diner kitchen. The issue we're covering today is one of the ones I bought decades ago, when I was collecting Hawkman appearances. To say that it was better on the second read is damning with faint praise.

I had my own Hawkman reboot and redesign in mind way back in the day. My take was an acknowledgement of previous continuity, but with a new Hawkman in a different setting with a redesigned costume. Focus on telling stories that I felt were clearer, isolating the hero from the greater DC Universe to explore what I felt were his strengths. Boil off the accumulated crud and get back to the inherent appeal of the property.

Not so much with the Atom. Besides never having a multi-arc "run" on a series in mind, the truth is that I don't think the Atom property has inherent appeal. Pop culture was filthy with shrunken people narratives in the 20th century, and there's a good half-dozen tiny super-heroes to choose from. The Atom only matters because of who his creators were, and when he was created, and how he was one of the foundational Silver Age science heroes when Julie Schwartz offered the first true shared universe of DC properties in the 1950s. If you're not emphasizing Ray Palmer's unique flavor of shrinking heroes and his connections to the Justice League of America, there's not much else to sell readers.

So the issue opens with Ray Palmer telling the story of how he was warned as a child of a dangerously rocky gorge near a waterfall in his home town that he could now safely dive into because he was action figure sized. It's a nice human moment, but also has this weird meta quality of making The Atom feel like a trifling figure in a shallow pool. Three pages of story are devoted to Potter's Gorge, as Ray somehow fails to recognize that the low-flying bird he bounded out of the water to ride is in fact a very large and muscular man with a bird-themed helmet who co-starred in the same comics as Atom's for decades. It makes Ray look incredibly dense in a non-white dwarf matter way, and Hawkman having his honor wings ripped out of his helmet for the entire appearance does him no favors either.

I read the Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series, the one-off special that followed, and about half a year into the ongoing series before losing interest. That volume of Hawkman last one issue less than Power of the Atom, so I wasn't the only reader who felt that way. I would have benefited from a few pages of recap of the Hawk's Shadow War and the resolution I'd missed. We got three pages of recap alright-- but of the previous Atom issues instead. Apparently, all those Hawkman fans that powered a whole seventeen issue run a year earlier would require orientation on the four glacially paced stories of this run, as if there was no crossover between the Hawkman and Atom audiences. What's worse is Hawkman keeps talking about all they'd lost and how ashamed they were of their home world of Thanagar, without readers ever being context of what events led them to that state. Frustration and apathy were probably not what the creators of this title should have been shooting for.

Ray Palmer's life was a mess of his own creation because he'd outed his double life most publicly, and he was seriously considering taking the C.I.A.'s offer as their agent under a new identity. Hawkwoman especially thinks its a terrible idea, as the couple had just broken ties with an authoritarian regime that they'd disagreed with. At least, that's what I could gather from the context in the dialogue. Anyway, the Hawks had been staying at a friend's place in New Orleans while on vacation from having a title, though they were appearing in Justice League International by this point. It would have been a really good idea to discuss their experiences with the JLI, but everyone gets distracted by their room getting tossed by crooks. Among their missing belongings were their melee weapons and a pair of spare flight belts.

In this incarnation, the Hawks were sleuths who'd once had a perch in Detective Comics, but here they just follow the energy signature on their belts. You'd think we'd get some aerial combat with crooks wearing the belts, but when the Hawks locate the thieves, a positive-gravity trap is sprung instead. Their old foe I.Q. had planned the whole thing as a booby trap, but had not reckoned with their having the Mighty Mite in tow. Despite his advanced technology and presumed high intelligence, the Tiny Titan suckers I.Q. into damaging his own equipment and leads him right into the Hawks' custody. Even though I.Q. dressed like a dandy pre-World War II aviator, I'm still going to claim this as another case where the Atom fights dudes with weapons in street clothes.

Cut to another page of mildly homoerotic foreshadowing of disgraced former president Tricky Dick Nixon and his lumbering houseboy planning a confrontation with the Atom. Cut back to our heroes, also in casual wear, just spending the day together. Shayera Hall and Ray Palmer are a couple of jokesters gently ribbing unyielding rigid straight man Katar Hol, and that's the best part of the book. Ray expresses that the Halls' open cooperation and understanding is in sharp contrast to his own failed marriage, and that as part of his desire to emulate their healthier lifestyle, he would also try to do the work of navigating his new life as a public figure. Frankly, as expected, the combination of the Atom and the Hawks as old friends was greater than the sum of the parts of another low stakes outing in this title.

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

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Power of the Atom Podcast #605


  • The Atom in DC Bonus Book #8!
  • By Joe Calchi, Jim Balent, & Dan Schaefer!
  • From DC Comics's November 1988 cover-dated Power of the Atom #4!
Comic books were pretty much all anthologies in the early days, and very nearly entirely staffed with new and unproven talent. After all, it was a new and unproven medium. Once the industry got some successful properties under its belt, they got a little pickier about who got to do what. A lot of art was produced by studios back then, so an assistant could train up to a larger role on a more successful feature. The price of comics stayed the same for decades, so they got smaller and smaller for the same dime, with fewer opportunities for younger, unpolished talent. Most typically, they landed in the oldest type of comics, the anthologies; usually horror, romance, or some other genre that allowed for short stories or rotating creative team on done-in-one tales. Truth to tell, the tendency to use less desirable creatives on anthologies probably helped destroy the viability of that format going into the 1980s. DC still wanted to have a farm team, but with anthologies dying off, they had fewer avenues to developing talent in house and in print. Ultimately, the '80s indie comics boom subsidized small press feeders where the Big Two publishers could cherry-pick from other publishers' best prospects. In 1988 though, DC still had that nursery club mentality, and tried to facilitate it through their Bonus Book program.

The New Teen Titans was arguably DC's biggest success story of at minimum the early '80s, and it launched with a 16-page original preview story given away as a bound-in premium with DC Comics Presents #26 at no additional cost. DC tried to replicate that hit formula throughout the first half of the '80s to no avail. Then DC took two failures and tried to mash them up with 1988's Bonus Book program. Put simply, they'd try-out green talent in the free bonus stories, and hope that the added value would help sales on a given book while potentially offering exposure to the next great talent find. Rob Liefeld was the biggest name to come out of the program, but he'd already been producing work for Megaton Comics, and was already booked for the Hawk and Dove mini-series the month after his Jennifer Morgan solo story ran in the low-selling Warlord title. The next biggest was Jim Balent, the oldest rookie in town. He'd been kicking around the industry since 1984, failing to catch on with back-ups in DC war titles. He spent most of the late '80s doing heavy metal inspired cheesecake and splatter covers for Malibu titles, and the odd assignment for First or Dark Horse; just another one of those guys who seemed to spend too much time on a gigantic stylized signature. He finally started getting traction with the 1990 vampire series From The Darkness, which survived multiple volumes and publishers on his now trademark blend of buxom babes and gothic fantasy adventure. That gave him an in for the Batman family of titles, which led to his 6 1/2 year run on Catwoman, his moonlighting at Chaos! Comics on Purgatori, and finally his self-publishing Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose for twenty-one years and counting.

In 1988 though, Balent was still lucky to do the occasional Ex-Mutants cover. No, I'm not taking a did at the X-Men franchise-- there was literally a franchise of post-apocalyptic titles that was the biggest hit Eternity Comics ever saw based mostly on infringing Marvel trademarks and the early work of Ron Lim. Marvel had the last laugh though when they stole Ron Lim and bought out Eternity's parent company. Like main series artist Dwayne Turner, Jim Balent was part of the generation who lost years of income in serve to the principles of the book How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way. In the 1970s, there were only three kinds of comics-- the good Marvel ones, Brand Ecch, and stoner comix with an x. Nobody wanted to drawn Brand Ecch, so scores of young artists tried to draw as much like John Buscema and John Romita as possible with an over-emphasis on realistic anatomy, perspective, and background. The Marvel house style was a more dynamic take on standard issue commercial art, and it was as rigidly applied in the Bronze Age as DC's clinical Swandersonization in the Silver Age. The alternative was '70s Jack Kirby, and nobody was buying that. The tyranny of the Marvel Way was so fascistic that every artist on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was inked by Josef Rubinstein to make sure they looked uniformly "right." Neither Turner nor Balent garnered fans until they threw off those shackles and got jiggy with it, as was the fashion of the coming times.

While Turner probably had more "correct" fundamentals in 1988, Balent had a lot more energy and fun going for him, even considering how dodgy and crude his work was on the Atom Bonus Book. Balent is really a poor man's amateurish version of his future self, but there's an enthusiasm that patches over the rough patch that is every single panel of this story. Low rent and basic as the faux cover is, it still betters most of the actual run's, and the splash page of a human-sized Katarthan Skul-Rider on a giant bird crashing through the window of the Palmers' former suburban home at least rivals any other in the series. Writer Norman Brawler isn't who the yellow-skinned barbarian is looking for, but it's immediately odd that his main concern is more about Jean Loring than the former Atomic sword-wielder best known in Morlaidh. I talked too much on the front of this episode to now explain to a highly hypothetical young listener what a Rolodex is, so just know that it was equally weird for the barbarian to figure out how to find Ray Palmer via the analog version of Brawler's email contacts. It all seems to turn out to be a nightmare Ray's having anyway, though he was oddly upset about having slit the barbarian's throat, which isn't the Ray that you and I know.

The only part of the nightmare that wasn't real was Ray's victory, since Brawler was being taken out of his rental by EMTs after the Skul-Rider's attack. Given the rider's ranting, Ray's most concerned with Jean's safety, but she's incommunicado at that moment. Cut to day drinkers at a first class hotel heading back to his room for favors. When the male of the two appears to shrink in stature, the soon to be murdered female gently mocks his sudden shrimpyness. As blood ran down her limp wrist in the next panel, I have to figure someone was influenced by such woman-killing luminaries of the day as "The Death of Jean DeWolf" and Major Force introductory arc in Captain Atom. They sure knew how to brutally murdered women to the furthest extreme the Comics Code Authority would allow in the '80s, let me tell you. These cold chops were to bloody for the refrigerator, y'knowahmean?

Cal Thornton is maybe five feet as drawn, but the poor little rich boy is still so homicidally entitled that when the ur-generically named Labtech Research Incorporated can't guarantee their ability to keep adding a foot in length indefinitely due to his increasing tolerance of the experimental size-altering procedure, he goes all White Boy Summer on the world. Oh hey, you probably thought I meant that he got rapey. I can't say for certain that didn't happen, too. There's a lot of bedroom action at play in this story, but I should specify that this will primarily be grievance-based mass murder. I myself am technically a white boy, and this is kind of our thing, especially lately, but also the entirety of human history with all the colonization and genociding and stuff. Cal Thornton is the one man Mickey and Mallory of last chance YOLO spree killing, starting with blowing the scientist's head off with a Magnum and turning the dial up to "11" on full body girth enhancement. It turns out that he was Jean Loring's stalker ex before Ray Palmer, which tracks, until Ray beat him bloody, which also tracks. Ray is the Chad of advanced theoretical physics, let me tell you. Even though Cal only adds about a foot, his raptor steed Deodata gets into Them territory when it gets hit with Vita Rays.

Cal Thornton rides his bird to the penthouse apartment of his ritzy parents, changes into a robe and pajamas, bursts into their bedroom, makes his being slightly below average height the cause of all the world's troubles, changes clothes again, single-handed bare-handed Menendez-Bro'd his folks extreme Mo Howard style. Next morning, smears himself in yellow greasepaint head to toe, cosplays as a Skul-Rider, flies to Ivy University where Ray is teaching a class under an alias unconvincingly before being called out by a student. Cosplay Cal crashes class, Ray somehow shrinks them both plus the bird, and they all tumble into a replica of Mayan temples Ray was using as a teaching aid. We're running on Golden Age, Fletcher Hanks logic here. Just go with it. Ray flips the bird with a power cable. The fake Skul-Rider literally pulls the plug. We're not going to get into Skul-Rider feeling like a double entendre but doesn't make sense as such. That's a Sword of the Atom joke and we're already running long here.

The Atom doesn't buy the Skul-Rider act for a second and immediately makes Cal Thornton. This is the most realistic thing to happen in the Power of the Atom series to date. No amount of body paint is going to render your ex's creepy stalker unrecognizable, and you never forget an ass you kicked. Those are Hallmark moments in life. The fight moves underwater, and the Atom has to punch a fish. I'm not going to lie, being more exciting than 1988 Dwayne Turner is not actual very good in the grand scheme of things, and it was at this point that I had to go back a couple of pages to be reminded that this was not a local Ivy Town lake but the model in the classroom. Also, isn't it some form of animal cruelty to keep a common aquarium fish in the tiny sliver of actual water within a scale model of Mayan civilization in a college classroom. Balent's a good man who makes a point of drawing the water filtration system for that poor fishy.

Cal Thornton isn't as good a marksman as he thinks he is with a bow and arrow, plus when it comes down to swordfighting, the Tiny Titans does that density shifting thing that allows him to shatter Cal's blade. The Mighty Mite even breaks dude's arm in the same blow. Ray Palmer then threatens that he could execute this mother-murderer and no jury would convict him, but he's a civilized man now. That's code for they're both white guys. Cal Thornton was just having a really bad day, ya'll. Besides, it's not like he's literally an extremely rich madman who can hire the finest lawyers to get him the lightest possible sentence. He's only been nursing a homicidal grudge against Jean Loring and Ray Palmer since college. Why would the Atom see this Caucasian man as a more immediate and indefinite threat than a six-inch yellow guy from an opposing tribe who was probably only raiding New Morlaidh for rations whose body Atom dumped on a pile of corpses he personally delivered to Katarthan Hell five issues back.

Wow, the art has gotten really bad by this point. Like, printed locally so you have to buy a few pity copies to collect dust on the most poorly lit and remote part of the comics rack bad. Yet somehow still better than looking at Dwayne Turner's creepy weird disproportionate talking heads on supporting characters. Also, this is scripter Joe Calchi's second and last Bonus Book and also book full stop which operates on sometimes literally dream logic and I'd still rather read his Power of the Atom over what Stern's offered so far. I'll take insanity over numbing predictability, plus the only flashback is actually necessary and provides new information. File "I wish this mainstream comics series had the creative team from Ex-Mutants instead" under sentences never before uttered. I bet Ron Lim would have been a blast on the Atom.

Random fact, I think Joe Calchi went on to become General Manager / Advertising Director for Southern Jersey's Daily Journal and the Courier-Post. All thanks to his DC Bonus books, I'm absolutely certain. Sword of the Atom,Ray Palmer,POTAcast,Power of the Atom,Jean Loring,Power of the Atom Podcast,Post-Crisis,