Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Atom #34

Atom #34 (On Sale: October 3, 1967) has a cool cover by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. I loved those Gil Kane "big hand" covers!

Inside we have "Little Man -- You've Had a Big-Gang Day" by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Sid Greene. I'm not sure why the Atom never caught on as a character. Shrinking down to sub-atomic size seems like it would open up a whole world of interesting stories, but the Atom never seemed that exciting. I don't know if the problem was secret identity Ray Palmer or a reliance on "bug-based" villains, but something just never worked right here. Certainly, the problem was not the artwork; Gil Kane was a master comic book illustrator of great invention.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.

1 comment:

Dave Potts said...

The Atom is one of my favorite characters, and his original 60s series is one of my favorite series (and the only silver-age Julie Schwartz series of which I have the entire run). It featured some of the most imaginative use of a hero's powers. (For example, contrast his mode of transportation with that of Ant-Man: Ant-Man rode ants. The Atom shrank to electron size and travelled by telephone call!) Part of the reason why it wasn't as commercially successful as others may have simply been that readers (or potential readers) weren't as imaginative as the writer and editor. His regular readers, presumably, knew of and enjoyed his occasional trips to sub-atomic worlds and through Prof. Hyatt's Time Pool, but I suspect that there were a lot of readers who never picked it up to give it a glance, simply equating "small" with "weak," and just dismissing it. (Over at Marvel, Ant-Man didn't last very long, either — they fairly quickly turned him into Giant-Man, and even then, his run wasn't very long-lived.)

Another drawback — and, I think, the main problem with the series itself (as opposed to an inaccurate perception of the series — is that, for the most part, he didn't go up against very many major menaces. Green Lantern had cosmic science-fiction adventures and enemies like Sinestro and the Shark, and the Flash had the coolest "rogues gallery" in comics, but the Atom mainly fought small-time plainclothes crooks and run-of-the-mill foreign spies. (If I remember correctly — and I may not — in a letter column Schwartz stated that they intentionally did this to make the series different from others. If that's the case, I don't think it was a wise choice.) The Atom essentially had a personal rogues gallery of only three supervillains — and only one of those, Chronos, was really very memorable. Besides Chronos, there was the Plant Master, but he never really amounted to anything until they revamped him as the "Floronic Man" in the 70s. Originally, he was just a guy in a laboratory smock (although he had the added distinction of having come from another dimension inhabited by dryads and other mythological dreatures). And supervillain number three was the so-called "Bug-Eyed Bandit," who wouldn't be worth much of a mention if there were more villains to choose from. (But in fairness to the character, let me point out that he never actually called himself "the Bug-Eyed Bandit" — in fact, in his first appearance, no one called him that; it was just a descriptive blurb on the cover. In the story, he was just called by his name, Bertram Larvan. In his second story, others refer to him as the Bug-Eyed Bandit, but Larvan never uses that name himself.) If the Atom had been given a larger, more exciting assortment of villains, he might have been more successful. A lot of his lead stories feel like the kinds of stories which other heroes had as back-ups. The stories are entertaining and imaginative, but there usually wasn't much of a sense of menace.