A Tribute to the of

I had a surreal day yesterday. Anyone with a love of classic comic books should be able to relate and if you don’t have that love, I can’t feature you being here in the first place. It’s not like it’s the first time this has happened, but perhaps not on this particular scale. I got to meet and shake hands with some creators yesterday that I’d been in touch with before, either by phone or e-mail and it was just such a pleasure. This weekend is the Denver Comic Con and I learned at the last minute that Mile High Comics was having a pre-con party at their warehouse store. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see some of the people I particularly wanted to see in a bit more intimate setting. So, my dear wife and I hopped in the car and took off.

The line to get in to the place was long, but moving quickly when we arrived. At one point, speaking of surreal, a gentleman behind me asked what we were there for. “Did you come to get the speed pass for the convention?” “Well, yes, but more importantly I’m here to meet Neal Adams, Allen Bellman, George Perez and a few others.” “Ah. So who are they?” Who are they? Who are you? I said they were some of the best comic creators and left it at that. Holy cow…

So, once inside, dodging a few cosplayers and working our way around the displays I spotted George Perez and got to say hello, get a photo and an autograph in my sketchbook and then talk for a few minutes with Neal Adams who was there with his wife and son. I purchased a print from him that he graciously inscribed to me and gave him an early birthday card. I also thanked him for the interview for my Man-Bat history article coming out next week in BACK ISSUE. Then I noticed Roz and Allen Bellman were getting set up. As it so happened I’d received a note from Allen in the mail that very day, thanking me for the birthday card I’d sent him marking his 90th year. I first thanked Roz for sharing her husband with us and then I showed Allen the card he’d sent me. “You’re Bryan?” He gestured for me to give him a hug and we had a nice chat. I was pleased to see how popular he was with the other attendees and he signed off on a Captain America print for my second cousin’s son, a big fan of the character. I further had the pleasure of meeting Batton Lash. What an enjoyable time. More to come for the rest of the weekend, but in a way it will be almost anti-climactic after last night. Meanwhile, on with the latest review here at the Silver Lantern.

On deck for this review is The Atom #31 from June-July of one of my favorite years of the Silver Age, 1967. Cover art is provided by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson with interiors by Gil and Sid Greene. “Good Man, Bad Man—Turnaround Thief!” was scribed by Gardner Fox with editing courtesy of Julius Schwartz. As you can see from that cover, we can look forward to a team-up with guest-hero and fellow member of the Justice League of America, Hawkman.

Things open in the lab of Ray (The Atom) Palmer, where he’s toiling away on a baffle device to deaden noise on a jet engine when he is alerted that he is not alone. The young scientist notes that there is the usual crew of well-dressed but masked thieves, possibly after some of the precious metals used in experiments at the lab. A swift transformation into the 6-inch high superhero and the battle is on with the added twist that the baffle is distorting how sound is carried in the lab. Voices are barely audible while a careless blow during the melee damages the equipment, causing noises to be tremendously amplified.

Meanwhile, just outside the lab, Mrs. Burns, the cleaning lady, receives a full dose of the sound and vibrations, overcoming her and leaving her all but vibrating in unconsciousness.

She is shortly discovered by the triumphant Atom and medical help is summoned. Another hasty change allows Ray Palmer to accompany her to the hospital to try to assist with the diagnosis. The attending physician decides under the circumstances to try an experimental treatment with a Photonoscope, with the theory that the light photons produced with repair the damage to Mrs. Burns’ nervous system. She regains enough consciousness to call out for her son, Johnny and to reassure him that he’s a good boy. Ray explains to the doc that Johnny is her only son and he seems to have headed off onto a bad pathway.

A change of scene takes us to a case involving Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who are pursuing a gang at an old farmhouse. A mighty battle ensues and then takes a turn for the worse when one of the members gets the drop on Hawkman with a pistol, but abruptly the leader knocks the piece out of the way, having an abrupt change of heart about his wicked ways. Interestingly he bears an uncanny resemblance to the photograph of Johnny that Ray Palmer had been showing to the doctor. After things are mopped up, Carter and Shiera Hall make final plans for their rendezvous with Ray Palmer and Jean Loring, wrapping up Part I.

On the very next page, the “Inside the Atom” lettercol is filled with notes about the recent meeting of the Atom with his Golden Age Atom counterpart, a story reviewed here at the Silver Lantern quite some time ago. The feedback is a mixed bag with some really enjoying it and others being less than impressed. Among those who didn’t care much for the tale were names you should find familiar: Bill Mantlo of Queens Village, NY and Mike Friedrich of Castro Valley, CA, both destined to be comic professionals in the years to come.

Part II finds our heroes in their civilian identities enjoying a day at the beach when the civilian JLA members have a clandestine conference about Johnny Burns, who, it seems, they’d both had recent encounters with, albeit vicariously in the case of Ray Palmer. The duo decide it would be excellent therapy for Mrs. Burns to see her boy, so arrangements are made and a happy reunion takes place in the hospital. The pair are still baffled about the sudden change for the good in Johnny, but then Hawkman receives a distress signal from Shiera. Ray finds a place to change to the Atom and they’re off to investigate.

Soon they encounter mayhem at the department store where their lady loves are experiencing strange, telekinetic phenomena as toys are pushing them against a wall. Then, the villain appears. It is the nefarious, the terrible…Toyboy. Yeah. Toyboy. Dressed more or less as a jester or harlequin with a mask. He’s about to steal some jewels when the Atom and Hawkman arrive to play spoiler. It seems Toyboy is able to control the objects around him and the heroes find themselves under attack from toy weapons firing cannonballs and arrows and when the Atom tries to attack he is stopped in his tracks by an invisible force shield around the crook. Somehow, however, as the Atom boards a toy plane he is able to break through the barrier and smash it into the forehead of Toyboy, knocking him cold. The journey through the barrier left the Mighty Mite dazed, but he soon revives and he and Hawkman discover that under the mask is…Johnny Burns! That mystery ends Part II.

Part III has our heroes transporting the comatose Toyboy to police HQ, but before they can get there, the thief revives in full, criminal rage, insisting that he will cease to exist if he meets up with that “goody-goody” other self. He continues to rant that the evil within him has given him invulnerability and the energy barrier it created is now inside him, strengthening him. A vicious battle ensues and it seems he cannot be harmed when the two heroes conceive a plan.

It just so happens that Hawkman had had the presence of mind to pick up a toy slingshot in the department store (eyeroll) and uses it to launch the Atom at their adversary. The World’s Smallest Superhero strikes at the one spot that would be Toyboy’s Achilles Heel, his forehead, where he’d originally been struck and was still bruised. The villain is cold-cocked and later brought to the presence of his “good” self, which rapidly fades.

Then, a transformation occurs as Toyboy, who has somehow absorbed the “good” Johnny Burns loses his penchant for evil. He explains that he’d felt the goodness in him drained but his mother had, though her pure mother’s love, subconsciously created a dream-image of him, full of purity and goodness. Somehow the vibrations Mrs. Burns had received outside the lab caused this phenomenon, ultimately curing her son and creating the good in him that was there all along.

So, all’s well that ends well and the mother and son are happily reunited to go on with their lives.

The Atom was destined to go only another 7 issues before cancellation and if the subsequent stories were like this one, I can kinda see why. Ordinarily I hold Gardner Fox in the highest esteem as a writer. The man was unbelievably prolific and responsible for some of the most important and enduring work in both the Golden and Silver Ages of DC Comics, but this oddly contrived thing was pretty uninspired. The only saving grace was the ever-dynamic artwork of Gil Kane, who had some fine inkers, but there was always something about Sid Greene’s embellishments that made things enjoyable. I’m going to have to give this one a mediocre 5 on the rating scale. I usually really relish a team-up tale, but this one just didn’t have the chops.

Appreciation to you, our readers, for taking some of your valuable time to spend with us here at the Silver Lantern. If you’re so inclined, please get thee hence to your local comic shop or the online store at www.twomorrows.com for your very own copy of BACK ISSUE #73, featuring Batman’s Partners and let me know what you think of my Man-Bat history.

You know how to reach us with comments, questions or other ephemera: professor_the@hotmail.com is the place. Join us again on the 1st of July for the latest and as always…

Long live the Silver Age!

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