A Tribute to the of
So I'm sitting in my home office one night, trying to decide which issue to use for the next Silver Age Sage installment when I stumble across an ad for The Atom #29, dated February/March of 1967--on sale 12/01/66. Now I know for a fact that the issue I was thumbing through was one I'd read more than once, but for some reason I'd never noticed this ad before. It caught my eye because the original, Golden Age Atom was on the cover, getting cracked upside the head by a guy in a purple costume, swinging the modern Ray (Atom) Palmer, which had just been used as the blunt instrument on Al (Atom) Pratt's skull. As you can see from the cover scan, the premise is that "Not even two Atoms could out-fight--or out-think--The Thinker!" It intrigued me so much that I zipped over to eBay to see if it was available. To my delight, it was and I scored my own copy. After the way I panned the Atom here awhile back, I felt it was time to give him a chance to redeem himself and what better way than with a Golden-Age crossover story? As a matter of fact, I learned that this very issue is the first Silver Age appearance of the Golden Age Atom as a solo act and not running with his Justice Society of America buds. So, let's see if this story can hold its own after such watershed efforts preceding it, including the Flash crossover stories and of course the last edition of the Sage with the JLA/JSA crossover. The tale's title is "The Thinker's Earth-Shaking Robberies!" Before I get started, let me give credit to the author of this tale, none other than Gardner Fox, who is no stranger to these sorts of storylines and artwork by Gil Kane and Sid Greene, both cover and interior. Rounding out the team is Editor Julius Schwartz.
I'd also like to mention one more thing. While I didn't recognize him at first, mainly due to his radically changed physical appearance, The Thinker is the very same villain of Earth Two that we'd seen before in "The Flash of Two Worlds", though he was teamed up with both The Shade and The Fiddler in that story and rather than this lavender leotard, he was wearing business attire in that story. Even his thinking cap is drastically different for this appearance. Now, let's check out his agenda for the respective Atoms of Earth-One and Earth-Two.
The story opens in a rather unlikely setting, the law office of Jean Loring, fiancée of Ray Palmer. A young woman is fighting to keep custody of her son from her in-laws. Jean later makes mention of the case to Ray as they tour a book-end exhibit. Abruptly all the visitors to the exhibit are doubled over in pain, similar to the bends divers get when they surface too quickly from their deep sea expeditions. While Ray struggles with the affliction, he spots a purple-clad figure making his way through the building. Sensing trouble, Palmer activates his size and weight controls "hidden in the palms of his invisible-when-expanded uniform." Soon the Atom springs into action, constantly working those same size and weight controls as he engages the bizarre figure who, along with his henchmen, try to take the World's Smallest Super-Hero out of play. Putting one of the lackeys out of commission, the Atom detects some unusual vibrations and spots the villain leaping through an oval nimbus of light. Peeking through it, the Tiny Titan is briefly confused. It appears to be a world just like Earth, but it's a clear moonlit night there, while it's raining outside on the other side of the nimbus. Furthermore, the stars aren't positioned correctly. He soon realizes it's got to be Earth-Two, home to the Justice Society of America and their own set of villains including this one, who is finally revealed in the storyline to be The Thinker. The criminal has a revealing conversation with himself, letting the reader's in on his modus operandi. He commits robberies on Earth-One, then returns with the loot to Earth-Two, where their counterparts haven't been stolen, leaving him blameless of any wrongdoing. He revels in the ability of his thinking cap to not only cause his thought processes to operate at peak efficiency, but also allow him to deploy telekinetic energy. Mind over matter. He is actually able to create objects and people with mind power to assist him in his deeds.
Upon returning to his hideout, however, the Thinker is surprised to hear a news bulletin revealing his crime. Incredulous, the villain can only assume that perhaps the same robbery had been simultaneously committed on Earth-Two. All he knows now is that he cannot smugly relax as the police will soon be on a manhunt for him.
Part two of the story opens in a bedroom in another part of town where a man wakes up to see several priceless bookends on the floor. His wife, freshly back from her night job, accuses him of robbery, but he exclaims that he's gone straight, just as he'd promised the Atom and he has no idea as to the origin of this loot. He decides the only answer is to contact the Atom, who helped him go straight after apprehending the former safe-cracker. Speaking of the Atom, we segue over to him in the next panel, where he is addressing some students at Calvin College, where, in his civilian identity of Professor Al Pratt, he teaches history. After class, we see Pratt at home, retrieving messages on a prehistoric answering machine. "I need help, Atom! In some manner I can't understand--I stole those rare book-ends last night--and was mistaken for The Thinker! But--I'm innocent!" Al then goes to a secret compartment to remove a blue and yellow costume that allows him to become the powerful but rather diminutive Atom of Earth-Two. Leaping into his convertible, he presses some special controls, causing a transformation into (you ready for this?) the Atomobile! Next thing you know, he's at the home of Artie and Alicia Perkins as he listens to the man profess his innocence. The Atom believes Artie's story, since the crime doesn't fit his profile and as he ponders how to help, he and Alicia are startled at something they see on Artie's face. Unfortunately, we don't get to find out what that something is because the tale shifts back to The Thinker, who is perusing the local rag with the screaming headline: "Police confident Thinker guilty of book-end thefts!" Infuriated that he's being fingered, he puts the thinking cap into overdrive and devises a plan. He realizes that the telekinetic properties of his improved thinking cap must have caused someone on Earth-Two to emulate his crime. He sets up a special monitor to track any use of thinking cap energy outside his own so that he can track down and turn in the stolen property on Earth-Two allowing him to continue to plunder Earth-One.
Now we return again to Artie, who has suddenly gone into zombie mode. With a robotic countenance, he appears to be completely oblivious to his surroundings. In his trance-like state, he heads for the Calvin City art gallery, with the Atom directly behind him, observing his every move. When he begins to load up some of the art, the Atom tries to disable Artie with his famed Atomic punch. Unfortunately, his blows have no effect and Artie counterpunches with tremendous strength, staggering the Mighty Mite. He renews his attack with a series of blows that are shrugged off through the power of the thinking cap energy in Artie's body. A second counterpunch sends the Atom reeling and he decides he can only follow him to learn what is going on. When they get back to Artie's home, Perkins snaps out of his trance, remembering nothing of the fight with the Atom. In the next moment Artie's phone rings and who should emerge from the handset but the Atom of Earth One, who had first gone to Pratt's home and then reviewed his messages, leading him here. Palmer then relates what he'd witnessed on Earth-One and that he built a dimensional vibrator allowing him to breach the barrier between the two Earths. Pratt then muses that The Thinker's acts are somehow responsible for Artie's behavior. The very next moment, The Thinker appears, confirming that he is the mysterious force behind the robberies by Artie Perkins. Ray leaps toward the criminal, but is intercepted by a flying lamp, sent aloft by the telekinetic power of the Thinker. Gripping the base of the lamp, Palmer uses his full 180 pounds of weight to redirect the flying object toward the Thinker, knocking his cap from off his head. Using the thinking cap as a weapon, he knocks Ray aside. Now it's Pratt's turn, who rushes the villain along with his friend Artie. Rapidly replacing his cap, the Thinker causes the ceiling to fall upon Perkins while simultaneously causing wooden fists to emerge from the walls to battle the Atom. After successfully overcoming his foes, the crim inal conjures up a large metal cage around the three men and electrifies it for good measure, so that he can return the stolen goods and get the heat off him on this Earth. End of part two.
Part three has our heroes conscious again and Ray decides that the Thinker must not be up on his powers or he'd have never tried to imprison him in a cage that he can easily shrink down to escape. Doing so, he locates some snips in Artie's workshop/lab where he's been doing work toward his electrical engineering degree. Palmer brings the snips back and cuts into the mesh cage in order to free the other Atom. Despite the insulated handles, he takes a harsh jolt of electricity. Still, he's able to free his fellow hero. Artie, however, seems to be in a coma. Using their skills, the two Tiny Titans decide to track the Thinker with an energy detector courtesy of Al Pratt after using Ray Palmer's vibrator to shift both Atoms to Earth-One. They soon track their quarry to an oceanic museum (what is it with this guy and museums?) where he's about to lift some Spanish doubloons from a scale model of a galleon. Then the fight is on.
The Thinker begins with a volley of miniature cannon from the ship, but Ray jumps aboard and shrinks down while Al hurls ship and all at the Thinker. Dodging the flying object, the Thinker doesn't see the reduced Atom drop onto his thinking cap, where he begins to sabotage it by pulling the external wires and filaments loose. None the wiser, the villain continues his assault on Pratt by using the telekinesis of his cap to launch some full-sized cannonballs at the Earth-Two hero. Al uses his mighty fists to stop the projectiles and Ray is able to disconnect the cap just in time. The two Atoms slam the Thinker with mighty blows to the jaw, ending his reign of mischief and this story.
This comic had some nice features to it's credit. As I mentioned before, it holds the distinction of being the first solo Silver Age appearance of the Golden Age Atom, it was a team-up, which I'm partial to and it had some Earth-hopping, building on that great legacy going back to the first Flash cross-over and continuing into further, creative cross-over tales. While this was a vastly superior effort when compared with my last Atom review, it still had a couple of weak points. I've about come to the conclusion that the majority of the Golden Age heroes (and villains) were not all that impressive. Take Al Pratt here. A short powerhouse with no real supernormal abilities. The same could be said for Hourman, whose strength and speed is synthetic and limited to 60 minutes. The Sandman, another caped crusader, was also in the Batman mold with some pretty good physical prowess and maybe a gimmick or two, but that was it. Then there's Wildcat, but you get my point. Maybe the Silver Age has just spoiled me, but these heroes seem pretty run of the mill to me. So I give this one a rating of 7. Pretty good stuff, but nothing tremendously special.
Now for the moment at least some of you have been waiting for. It's time to announce the winner of our anniversary contest from last time. Thanks to those who showed an interest and the proud new owner of the Silver Age DC Classics reprint of Showcase #4 is J.A. Worcester. Congratulations!
Drop me a line with your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm interested in your take on the Atom(s) or anything else you'd care to discuss. Thanks for your visit and do join us again in two weeks for the next review. You'll be glad you did.
Long live the Silver Age!
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