A Tribute to the of

In one of the Facebook groups I follow, Brian Bolland was recently remarking on a favorite Silver Age story and it got me to thinking that I had at least one reprint of said story and maybe it was time to put it into the spotlight here at the dear ol’ Silver Lantern. As I looked it over, it seemed like a very good candidate, so let’s take a peek at a classic team-up tale from April/May of 1964 with an on-sale date of February 27th of that year. It features the talents of writer Bob Haney, illustrator Alex Toth and editing duties, for some reason, by both Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan. It’s the Brave and the Bold #53 with a cover by Bob Brown and a story titled, “The Challenge of the Expanding World!” featuring the Flash and the Atom.

The adventure kicks off in Central City when a couple is taking a joyride in their convertible, off to enjoy a picnic lunch on a lovely day when they encounter a startling scene. Benbow Creek, spanned by a covered wooden bridge, is flowing with what appears to be magma, setting the bridge ablaze. The report is soon received at Central City Police HQ where a particular police scientist, Barry Allen, is in attendance. Since he also has a side gig as the Fastest Man Alive, the familiar red uniform of the Flash is soon emerging from the ring on Barry’s finger and the Crimson Comet is on his way to investigate.

Using his legendary speed, our hero reaches a velocity that allows him to run just above the burning fluid and the powerful gusts in his wake cool and solidify the material, quelling the threat. Later in the lab, Barry examines a sample of the material and determines it did not originate on the Earth. Soon, he finds he must break his date with fiancée Iris West so that the Flash can investigate another incident, this time at Trans-County Crossroads, where a bizarre scene is unfolding.

A pair of giant statues have somehow become animated and are battling each other, one looking like a huge lizard or maybe Godzilla’s distant cousin and the other an axe-wielding man-like figure. The Flash brings his ability to vibrate his body at super-speed in order to enter into one of the statues and take out the machinery inside that is bringing it to “life.”

The hits just keep on coming as he is soon dealing with a giant vine entwining itself onto a suspension bridge, followed in quick order by an elevated roadway collapse and a low altitude gas layer. Dealing with each one in turn, the Monarch of Motion is effective, but is quickly reaching exhaustion, not to mention confusion. What is causing all these strange occurrences in his home turf?

A quick change of scenery to the laboratory of Dr. Willis Stanton reveals the scientific genius is wrestling with a problem. How can he create an atom with intelligence to deploy the Alpha Gambit? Well, of course! He sends out a call for the Atom! Word makes its way to Ivy University in Ivy Town where Professor Ray Palmer wastes no time in activating his uniform, made of fibers from dwarf star material to become the Mighty Mite known as the Atom.

Arriving at the lab, the Atom asks how he can be of assistance and Stanton explains that he has a chunk of matter from outer space that resists analysis. It is not a meteor and has somehow lost an electron. Dr. Stanton proposes that the Atom shrink down to replace the electron so that the secrets of the object can be unlocked. It’s smaller than he’s ever been before and there remains the issue of how to give him the required speed to achieve the necessary orbit around the nucleus.

Just then, the Flash arrives, having followed a trail of “diminishing molecular agitation” straight to Stanton’s lab. Apparently, this has been the source of the strange goings-on in Central City. Dr. Stanton realizes that with the help of the Flash, the acceleration problem for the Atom can be easily solved. Flash reasons to himself that the source of the problems cannot have originated here and quickly agrees to help.

The Atom shrinks down, down, down in Flash’s hand until Stanton confirms he’s reached the correct size via electron microscope. He then instructs the Flash to hurl him into the light beam from his equipment to transport the Mighty Mite to his destination. The process is completed, but in the final panel the Flash is clubbed with a gloved hand, winding up Part I.

Part II has us entering the sub-microscopic world with the Atom, where he’s already located the nucleus that he’s supposed to join. As he begins his rendezvous with his namesake atom, the Flash is out cold and a voice cackles with delight that Operation New World is in progress.

Back now to the Atom where he’s caroming around like a ping pong ball. In order to regain control, he uses his size and weight controls to make himself lighter than an electron so he can float without further difficulty. Then, to his astonishment, our hero finds himself on a roadway in a world within the tiny green chunk of matter. His lighter weight has also lessened his speed, allowing him to see this place and the next thing you know, a rocket car is speeding toward him from the nearby city.

It seems another car is in hot pursuit and actually fires at the first car. The blast strikes the Atom, then bounces off him and strikes the vehicle that fired it. Then, the other car stops and a white-haired, bearded man urges the Atom to get in, advising him that due to his helping them escape the minions of Atilla-5, he is now in danger.

Inside the vehicle, our hero is introduced to the man, Larnus and his daughter, Arbellice. Arbellice wonders if the stranger is an inhabitant of Earth, the world Atilla-5 is working to displace. When the Tiny Titan asks what she’s referring to, Lanus goes through a flashback sequence, explaining that he and the community of scientists on their world discovered a rogue star hurtling toward them and that its gravitational pull would yank them out of their natural orbit. Informing their ruler, Zarn, they were given instructions to try and overcome the threat. The ultimate solution was to shrink their world until the star passed them by.

The effort was successful, but in the ensuing fear and chaos, Atilla-5 overthrew Zarn to take control of the world, which now, unfortunately, could not be restored to its natural size. The scientists found they needed outside help, so Atilla-5 ordered them to steer their world toward the Earth, a planet they’d been studying from afar. It seems Atilla-5 had even taken his name from Atilla the Hun and the parallels showed his admiration for the wicked tyrant.

Once they landed their world on the Earth, they fortuitously arrived on the grounds of Dr. Stanton’s observatory and telepathically directed him to try to restore their world to normal. Their directions made Stanton free parts of their world, to include plant life, a roadway, molten ores and the statues, all of which were neutralized by the Flash. Then, at the direction of Atilla-5, the effort to replace the lost electron was directed and undertaken, bringing them to this point.

Just then, the Atom notes that he seems to be shrinking, but in reality, Larnus’ world is beginning to expand, which could destroy both worlds. Larnus is determined to stop the process and they drive into a hiding place with the Atom compensating for the enlarging by using his own controls to keep pace.

On Earth, the scientist, Dr. Stanton, still under the control of the small but growing world, is transporting the sphere to an open area. Meanwhile, the Flash revives and goes in search, finally locating the expanding globe in nearby Hadleyville. The Flash vibrates his body inside, going in search of the Atom when he discovers the tiny but growing world.

Just then, our hero finds himself under attack by diminutive jet fighters, but of more concern is the loss of his super-speed. Soon he is overwhelmed and in the closing panel of Part II he is discovered by the Atom and his comrades in the rocket car. Just like Gulliver, the Fastest Man Alive is bound down to the ground with multiple bindings and is unconscious, a prisoner of the forces commanded by Atilla-5.

Part III opens with the Atom disengaging from the rocket car to render aid to his friend, the Flash. Larnus and Arbellice continue on in the rocket car to test his apparatus designed to stop their world’s expansion. The Atom leaps into action, manipulating the size and weight controls in his uniform to make himself light enough to ride the currents. When the jet fighters detect him, they go on the offensive, but the Mighty Mite discovers that, just like before, he is impervious to the blasts, likely due to his earlier electron status. He takes advantage of his invulnerability and deflects the bursts back at the attackers, taking down many of the jets until they retreat.

Now it’s a weight increase so he can help the Flash. Using his normal 180-pound strength, the Atom tears away the bindings on his teammate and the Flash feels his strength and speed returning. Now the action goes into overdrive both inside and outside the growing world as the Air Force, alerted to the strange occurrence outside Hadleyville, is positioning to attack. Inside, Larnus is feverishly working with his device, but it’s no use. He theorizes that it might be effective if used outside the globe. The Atom takes it in the hope that the Flash can vibrate them out and try it.

The Flash, still a bit underpowered, uses all his might and with a tremendous struggle, gets them through the barrier. Acting quickly, the Atom brings the apparatus into play, but to his shock and dismay, it merely splits the world in two and the twin worlds continue to grow.

Quickly, the Atom devises a plan and instructs the Flash to circle the worlds at super-speed. The Crimson Cyclone does so and gets the worlds to spinning at greater and greater speed. They are then led into a nearby canyon, where they continue to expand toward one another until there is a cataclysmic explosion. The Atom explains, “I had a hunch the only thing that would halt that deadly expansion was to pit those twin threats against each other—like two irresistible forces meeting.” Soon they note a small green sphere rising out of the canyon. Larnus has successfully taken over and they are off to a safe orbit in space.

Wrapping things up, we find Ray Palmer back in Ivy Town, talking on the landline with Barry Allen. It seems that once the green world headed off into space, Dr. Stanton was freed from his trance and has no recollection of what had transpired.

So, the Flash and the Atom managed to save the Earth and all’s well that ends well.

Not a bad little tale, although I must admit to a little confusion. While this story is credited to Bob Haney, it sure doesn’t seem much like his typical script. I’m not necessarily saying it wasn’t him, but Bob’s forte seemed to be things other than scientific sorts of stories. Very unusual for Mr. Haney and no hokey dialogue like I’ve come to expect. Maybe he was off his game or on another or something.

Also, true confession time. I’m still learning to appreciate the artwork of Alex Toth. Now before the slings and arrows start, I don’t dislike Alex’s work, but I sometimes find his bare bones renderings such a radical departure from what I’m accustomed to that they can be a little bit jarring. When the Silver Age Flash is usually done by Carmine Infantino with a rotating case of excellent inkers and similarly the Silver Age Atom is wonderfully rendered by Gil Kane, those just inevitably become the gold standard. I’ve had similar issues with the work of Mike Sekowsky. Heaven knows, he had quite the job drawing all those Justice League of America characters in their own title and then at the same time we readers were enjoying the solo titles with Hawkman by Murphy Anderson or Superman by Curt Swan along with the aforementioned. It just had to be a tough gig.

I also noted that, at least in this story, and I seem to recall the same in the Eclipso stories that he worked on, Toth used nearly as much ink as Bernie Wrightston. Plenty of silhouette and one-sided light sourcing leaving lots of shadow. I’ve heard Alex praised to the rooftops numerous times as a true artist’s artist and I won’t dispute that, but personally I’ve found him to be a bit of an acquired taste and I’m still working on it.

All that having been said, this was a pretty good adventure and combined two of my favorite characters and threw in some good science fiction angles, so I’ll give it a solid 8 rating on the 10-pint scale. Well worth your time.

I hope your Independence Day celebrations are both safe and enjoyable and rest assured that this ongoing feature will be back on the 15th with a new review. If you’d like a say in it, all you have to do is drop me a line with a suggestion. We’re also glad to receive comments, questions and other feedback, so fire away at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Thanks for joining us and, as always…

Long live the Silver Age!

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