A Tribute to the of
Okay, fair warning folks. This particular review won't be one of my more gushing reports. I've attempted during the short life span of this feature to provide enough variety to keep it interesting. I mean, heck, if it was strictly for my own pleasure I'd just systematically go through my formidable collection of Adventure Comics, but I'm trying to keep some balance in things. There are only so many characters and I want to try and hit on each of them that I have in my collection once before the repeats begin. So, with that as this effort's backdrop, join me as we check out another character from the DC universe who has been at it for awhile. It's research scientist Ray Palmer, who does a night gig as The Atom. The issue under the microscope this time is number 20 from August-September 1965--on sale 06/03/65. As you can see on the cover, the "Mighty Mite" is tackling a couple of underworld types who are decked out in the latest fashion for 1965. Full business suits, complete with cuff links, gloves and masks that would make them fit right in at a wrestling match.
Story one in this issue is entitled "The Challenge of the Computer Crooks." The splash page shows us pretty much the same thing as what we see on the cover. Our tiny hero is plowing into the bad guys, using his patented size and weight controls, cleverly concealed in the palms of his uniform (which always leads me to wonder what happens when he clocks someone? How does he keep from reactivating the controls?) to use his full-sized 180 lb. characteristics to clean house. It is worth noting that the same team that worked on Green Lantern for many years, namely Gardner Fox in the storyline department and art courtesy of Gil Kane and Sid Greene, bring us The Atom.
This story begins with Ray Palmer hanging out in a (at least by today's standards) prehistoric computer room. Remember when it used to take a whole room, a big one at that, to house those electronic beasts? Ray is chatting up his girlfriend/prospective fiancee, Jean Loring, who is decked out in a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat and tastefully matched dress and handbag. He explains to her that the purpose behind this machine is his brain child, a unit that, through the miracle of punch cards, can deduce the modus operandi of local criminals as a tool to link them to crimes that they likely committed. Ingenious, eh? As a demonstration, Ray feeds the "Stool Pigeon" punch cards encoded with data about him and Jean in hopes of demonstrating their obvious compatibility. The results aren't quite what he was looking for and the amused lawyer leaves him to tinker with the beast for awhile. After he works his magic on it, he heads out to his car where he's abruptly ambushed by the best-dressed hoods in Ivy Town. They dump him into a broom closet as they begin to use the computer. Rod Mack is the crime boss who has discovered the existence of this machine and he's determined to benefit from it. He is the mastermind behind his gang's actions and he decides he'll use it to break the patterns he is using for his heists. He, of course, vocalizes his intent and a revived Palmer overhears it, thus calling for him to become The Atom. We learn that his uniform somehow becomes invisible when enlarged. (Huh?) That's why he doesn't suddenly end up in a pile of discarded and oversized clothes when he transforms into his 6-inch stature. I guess that's good, even though it's a bit flimsy in the explanation department. A miniature naked guy meting out justice just wouldn't do, now would it? Ray wastes no time in attacking the goons with good old fashioned fisticuffs. The Atom uses all sorts of acrobatics in his action scenes and plays with his weight and size controls constantly in order to ride air currents, make too small a target for bullets and use his full body weight for impact. As the last creep goes down, he smacks into a computer bank (I still can't get over how massive this thing is and wonder how the writers would have felt if they could see the capabilities of this PC I'm using) jostling a microscope that falls on Palmer. He realizes nearly too late and is only able to partially shrink to minimize the impact but still ends up in la-la land. As it turns out, he shrinks until he's literally floating amongst molecules. As the perps come to, they decide to get out quickly. They leave their captive in the broom closet (luckily) to be discovered later by the janitorial staff. When The Atom revives, he sees that they've cleaned up behind them. The diminished detective has very little in the way of clues to track down the gang, though he recalls that one of the henchmen used a stevedore knot on his shoes, indicating time on the docks and that he had a tattoo on one wrist depicting a bowling ball and pin. "He must be a bowling buff!" decides the Atom, doing detectives everywhere proud. He resolves to hang out in bowling alleys until he spots the telltale shoelace knots. The second night of surveillance yields fruit and he stows away on the suspect's sock until he unsuspectingly brings the minute stowaway to a gang rendezvous. As they crack a safe in a canning factory, he springs into action, subduing them and letting justice take it's course. So much for story one.
Story two, called "The Night of the Little People," is just plain silly. Arthur Ennis, a superstitious banker working late, witnesses a robbery. He ducks out of sight so that he won't be spotted and resolves to keep it to himself. He doesn't want to risk involvement. Moments later, Ray Palmer happens by and sees a light in the store that has just been knocked over. He shrinks down and takes out two of the three criminals with artful use of photography equipment, but one member escapes with the booty. As The Atom sprints out to the street, he spots Ennis and asks for his help. The weenie says, "Not me! I'm not getting involved!" Palmer tries to appeal to his civic duty but is rebuffed with, "Look! Tomorrow I'm going to be interviewed for the managership of a new bank branch! I can't let anything stand in the way of my getting the job!" A short time later, as the police and a reporter arrive, The Atom learns more about the eye-witness as the police reporter knows Ennis personally. "Artie and I grew up together--the best-liked fellow on the block! He'd do anything for a pal--kiddingly saying it was a responsibility he owed his family leprechaun for bringing them good fortune--but now he's a loner--only concerned with himself and his career." Armed with this knowledge, The Atom decides to make a late night appearance at Ennis' home as, you guessed it, a leprechaun. He accuses him of cowardice and negligence for failing to come forward as a witness to the crime. He leads the man to a fairy ring in his back yard where other "little people" await. The editor explains that a fairy ring is a circle of fungi formed on grass. According to folklore, it is the dancing court of fairies who bewitch any humans who step into the forbidden circle. So, the "little people" start to dance and chant in rhyme about Ennis' dereliction of duty, finally shaming him into going to police headquarters. After he leaves we learn that Palmer's accomplices are Maya and the flower sprites, whom the Atom had met in the first issue of his own magazine. The final twist to this story is that the man identified by Ennis had an air tight alibi. The Atom tails the suspect and listens in on a conversation with his twin brother who is, of course, the real perpetrator. The Atom takes advantage of his ability to shrink to microscopic size and rides the telephone impulses to the other end where he knocks the criminal cold and calls the authorities.
The following day, Arthur Ennis is promoted for both his credentials and most especially his front page civic involvement. In the final three panels, he is shown speaking to The Atom and relating that "The very thing I was afraid of got me the branch managership! I owe it all to you--and to my family leprechaun!" Palmer replies with, "Ah, 'tis a good man you are, Arthur Ennis!" He then leaves an incredulous man in his office asking himself "Yes, The Atom masqueraded as The Leprechaun, all right--but who in the world were those other little people?" The end.
So, I guess I can't postpone things any longer. I give this one a big fat 5. The first tale was simply ho-hum and the second was nearly insulting to the reader's intelligence. Gimme a break! Now I'll admit that The Atom isn't my favorite character, so I probably carry a touch of bias, but my recommendation to you is that if you want to see some worthy Silver Age efforts from Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Sid Greene, go get yourself a copy of Green Lantern.
Once again, I invite your feedback at email@example.com. Come back and see me again in about two weeks where another issue will be examined here at The Silver Lantern.
Long Live the Silver Age!
This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by B.D.S.
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