A Tribute to the of

As I look back over our beloved Silver Age it strikes me yet again that a great deal of heavy lifting was done via the Showcase series.  Perusing through the issues reveals a fairly complete Who's Who in the Silver Age to include debuts and/or reintroductions of many key characters.  In order of appearance some of the characters we saw included The Flash, Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, Space Ranger, Adam Strange, Rip Hunter, Green Lantern, the Sea Devils, Aquaman, the Atom, the Metal Men, Tommy Tomorrow, Sgt. Rock, Cave Carson, Dr. Fate and Hourman, Enemy Ace, the Teen Titans, the Spectre, B'wana Beast, the Creeper and the Hawk and the Dove.  Many took off into their own magazine or as backup features in established titles.  Some flamed out.  Some should have.  I'm pleased that many of these have been covered right here in this space and can still be read in the archive section.  I don't know exactly how the decision was made on what characters to place into Showcase, but thank goodness they did in most cases.

You've doubtless surmised by now that I've chosen another issue of Showcase to highlight this time around.  It's issue #35, the November/December edition from 1961 and contains the second appearance of the Atom.  The title of the tale is "The Dooms from Beyond!"  It's brought to you by my favorite writer, Gardner FoxJulius Schwartz is the editor and the images come courtesy of Gil Kane with pencils and Murphy Anderson with inks.

The splash page shows our hero shrinking himself rapidly as he dives toward a globe.  His thought bubble states:  "The only way I can save Gordon Heath's life is by diving right inside this globe of the Earth!"  The text blocks also give us some important background, both for the story and about The Atom himself:

"In the year 1692, during the Salem witch trials, one of those doomed sorceresses placed a curse on her judge, Myles Heath—and on all his descendant's bearing his name!  And so from generation to generation the witch's curse took its deadly toll—until now almost 300 years later, another Heath faces his fate!  Only the tiny figure of The Atom stands between him and…The Dooms From Beyond!"

"The Atom—As was told in the previous issue of Showcase—is a young scientist named Ray Palmer!  Having found the fragment of a white dwarf star, he constructed first a reducing lens and then a tiny uniform from it, by which he was able to shrink himself to any size and, with an electronic charge, control his weight at the same time!"

On to page two and the story:

…where we are introduced to Doctor Gordon Doolin, a young, handsome and charismatic man speaking at his fifth after-dinner speech of the last week as he seeks to raise funds for a hospital in the South Seas where he wishes to do research on tropical diseases and to help the island natives.  (If that sounds a bit like the Peace Corps, that organization was created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.  It would be interesting to know just when this story was actually written.)

Later, at the reception following the dinner, Doolin meets up with attorney Jean Loring, who is accompanied by her love interest, Ray Palmer and the Doctor says he's been looking for her as she has ten million dollars that belong to him.  After that rather startling revelation, we rejoin Doolin in Ms. Loring's office the next morning where he elaborates on his claim.  It seems that Jean is the trustee of the estate of Ebenezer Heath, who is Doolin's grandfather.  Jean is confused as her data indicates that Heath left only a son, not a daughter, which begs the question as to the doctor's last name.  She also informs him of the witch's curse that has dogged the Heath family.  He replies that he only recently learned of his inheritance and the curse.  He further relates that during the Salem witch trials his ancestor, Judge Myles Heath condemned an accused witch, Goody Wilson, to death.  Proclaiming her innocence, but in the same breath casting a curse, the judge and all his descendants named Heath will by doomed by the four elements of earth, fire, air and water, to perish before reaching old age.  The judge indeed died that night when his horse slipped in the mud caused by a torrential rain; the curse of water.

The curse seemingly came true as his older son died in a cave-in; the curse of earth, while the younger son lived to marry and have a son of his own before perishing from an air bubble in his blood.  The cycle continued until Doolin's father, upon graduation from college renounced the Heath name, also leaving the country, but in the process forsaking the ten million dollar inheritance he was entitled to.  Apparently the curse didn't affect the Heath's economically.  We then come down to Gordon, who was born and raised in the South Seas where his parents relocated.  After studying medicine in Australia, he cared for the islanders and became devoted to helping them.

Later, as the doctor visited the U.S. to raise funds for his hospital, he visited the old homestead and discovered his true heritage, bringing him to this point.  His goal now is to have his name legally changed to Heath and to claim the money that is his birthright.  Jean asks if he isn't leery of the curse, but Gordon says for the chance to fulfill his dream of the hospital he'll gladly dare such "superstitious nonsense."  As far as the doctor is concerned it's all simply accidents and coincidence.  Jean pulls the file (as depicted by page 4's original art) and reveals that there is a time clause in his grandfather's will and that unless it is probated by October 6, 1961, the entire estate goes to the retainers or their children now residing at the Heath mansion.  (Note that Gardner Fox's law degree is coming into play nicely here.)  Since October sixth is the end of the week, time is of the essence.

The next day the story is all over the Ivytown Herald and within 24 hours the first phase, restoring Gordon's last name to Heath, is completed.  He decides that now is the time for him to take up residence in the family mansion until the estate is probated on Friday at one o'clock.

At that point, Ray Palmer pulls up to meet the lovely Jean for their lunch date.  The busy lawyer has completely forgotten, but the newly minted Gordon Heath insists on treating them to lunch to celebrate his new last name.  He leads off in his vehicle while Palmer and Loring follow in Ray's convertible, which looks suspiciously like a Corvette.

Abruptly, halfway across the Ivy River Bridge, Heath's car careens out of control and shatters the guard rail before plunging into the river below.

Chapter 2 opens with a full page depiction of Ray Palmer heroically diving from the side of the bridge while a worried Jean Loring looks on.  Beneath the surface, Palmer reaches the vehicle and discovers that the window of the car is open just enough to allow the interior to be flooded.  The doctor is unconscious and Ray cannot get the locked door to budge.  He decides his only hope is to transform himself into The Atom.

Our text tells us that:  "Quickly Ray's hand stabs at the invisible control device on the equally invisible uniform which he always wears.  Instantly the great natural forces inherent in the fibres of the white dwarf star meteor from which he has fashioned his amazing Atom uniform begin to work…  When the normal-sized Ray Palmer wears the Atom uniform it is so stretched out that it is invisible and intangible!  It is only when Ray shrinks in size that the uniform becomes visible!"

Okay, I'll buy that, but riddle me this:  What happens to his street clothes?  Do they just dissolve so that when he goes back to normal size he's naked?  Or are they also made of the dwarf star?  No, then they'd be invisible and intangible, too.  Sorry, but that little detail just gnaws at me a bit.

Now that Ray is small enough to slip through the opening in the window he unlocks the door and pushes it open, dragging Gordon with him.  As he swims toward the surface he again activates his size and weight control and returns to his identity as Ray Palmer.

As Ray emerges from the water a small crowd has gathered at the bridge to include police, a physician and a reporter.  Gordon Heath is revived and the newspaperman asks if he thinks this is a result of the witch's curse.  Heath is still not convinced and announces that he's asking Jean and Ray to be his guests at the mansion for the next few days.

Upon arrival at the mansion, Gordon is introduced (on page 11) to the retainers, who will inherit the money if he dies before being named as successor to the estate.  The retainers are:  Mrs. Hathaway, the cook; Jenkins, the butler; Betty, the daughter of the former upstairs maid and presumably now occupying the position; Peter the gardener and his son Tim; and Bates, the handyman and general caretaker.

Soon everyone is bedding down for the night, but Ray Palmer keeps a vigil when he hears the sound of doors and windows slamming in Gordon's bedroom.  Racing out to the balcony he looks into the window and sees misty figures in Gordon's room, menacing the doctor, who is frozen helpless (page 12).  Palmer beats on the windows, but they're constructed of burglar-proof glass.  Running into the hall, he is thwarted by a door that is electrically locked.  Noting the gap beneath the door, it's clearly time for a repeat appearance of The Atom.

Once inside, the Mighty Mite finds that the misty figures were in reality poisonous gas fumes.  Fortunately on a hunch he'd drawn in a breath of air prior to entering the room and strains in vain against an electrically controlled window.  He tried the doorknob but still cannot get fresh air into the room.  With time and air running out, the World's Smallest Super-Hero tries the air conditioner, but it does not respond.  Shrinking further and slipping inside the unit, he discovers a disconnected wire.  Effecting a quick repair (original art), the air begins to clear as he moves Gordon's bed directly under the air vents for maximum exposure.  Suddenly the door and windows open and The Atom deduces that this scene is no accident.  Someone is trying to kill Heath and cover their tracks by blaming it on the witch's curse and manipulating the windows and doors by remote control.  As Heath regains consciousness he finds a full-sized Ray Palmer standing by.  Chapter 2 closes on the scene.

Smack dab in the middle of this issue on the next page is a very special treat.  The letters column entitled "Inside the Atom" is devoted to the creative team bringing the Mighty Mite to life.  Here, after a short prologue, perhaps by Julie Schwartz, is an introduction by each of the men in their own words:

Although the regular title of this department is INSIDE THE ATOM, a more appropriate title—for this particular issue—would be BEHIND THE ATOM.  By this provisional title we refer to the men behind the writing and illustrating of The Atom.

Perhaps you've already noticed the credit lines on the first page of The Atom story in this issue.  Three names are mentioned:  Gardner Fox, who authored the story; Gil Kane, who "broke down" Fox's typewritten words into pencil drawings; and Murphy Anderson, who transformed the "pencils" to "inks."

We inveighed each member of this atomic trio into writing an autobiographical note and have embellished each one with a portrait.  We lead off with Gardner Fox for the simple reason that he does the initial work on each Atom story:

I began writing comics long before there were any comic books.  Impossible?  Not at all.  A very good friend and schoolmate of mine intended becoming a newspaper cartoonist and since I liked to write stories, I used to do dialogue and captions for him so he could practice his cartooning.

Well, that was my start.  I got sidetracked along the way by going to college and law school, getting a couple of degrees and then along in 1937 this old cartoon buddy of mine suggested I do some writing for something which was very new and different in those far-off days, a "comic book."  The first story I ever wrote for comics was a character I originated called Steve Malone.  He was a district attorney (I was cashing in on my law school work) who fought crime and criminals in Detective Comics [#18; follow this link for more info –Prof].

For the old-timers in the audience, let me reminisce a bit and recall some of the other features I did in those days.  There was Zatara the Magician, Doctor Fate, Steve Saunders, Three Aces, Starman, Sandman, Radio Squad, an occasional Batman, Captain X, Cotton Carver, and others.

In 1939 I began writing Flash, Hawkman, King Standish and Cliff Cornwall for Flash Comics.

It was with the third issue of All-Star Comics that the Justice Society of America was born.  This happy combination of costumed heroes was a best-seller right from the start, and my connection with the JSA lasted until after the war years.  It was in 1944 that I first met my new editor Julius Schwartz—an early science-fiction fan, co-editor and co-publisher [the other being fellow DC editor Mort Weisinger –Prof] of "The Time Traveler" (the very first s-f "fanzine") and demon literary agent—and we teamed together for many of those popular Justice Society stories.

From time to time I would try my hand at a weird tale or science-fiction yarn for the pulp magazines as a change of pace.  In the early 1950's I did my first paperback book, an historical novel called "The Borgia Blade." I found that working on straight fiction kept me from going "stale" while writing comic book stories, so I have continued with it.  To date I've had over thirty novels published, some under my own name, some under my six pen names.

Late in 1959, I was thrilled when Editor Schwartz gave me the assignment of reviving the Justice Society as the Justice League; a year later came the revival of another old favorite, Hawkman—and now we're up to date with the bringing back of The Atom.

When I get the chance, I make and collect miniature soldiers, specializing in ancient and medieval figures as a hobby.  I've made a study of old weapons and all phases of history and archeology.  I keep two filing cabinets crammed with pictures (known as "swipes") and various bits of information on any and all subjects.

Oh, yes.  I'm married, and have a son and daughter.  They tell me their favorite comic book writer is…Gardner Fox.  What else…?

Now to the Gil Kane story:

I entered the best of all possible worlds on April 6, 1926.  Despite some well-intentioned advice from parents and teachers, I found myself drawing and cartooning, trying desperately to commit Tom Mix and Tony to paper after being mesmerized by them at the local cinema.  This started a chain of events that persists to this day.

Caught in a cross-situation of old movies and serials (mostly Buster Crabbe's), my imagination took off on a course of larger-than-life heroes in fabulously exotic settings.  For years I fed my mind on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard and a host of other science-fiction and fantasy writers.  Lately, this fantasy concept has undergone some changes brought about by more diversified reading and the realities of one wife, Diana, one son, Scott, and a rather large mortgage.

When my long-time editor, Julius Schwartz presented me with the task of creating an "Atom," I began dipping into a memory that stores the names and faces of almost every movie star and bit player since the 1920's, and I decided on Robert Taylor as a basis for Ray (The Atom) Palmer's face.  [This also gives us some insight on Hal Jordan being modeled after Paul Newman.  –Prof] Then I added a touch of vanilla, a pinch of salt, some pepper and a deep cleft on the chin—the last for a more positive identification.  Ultimately the costume was designed, and hallelujah, The Atom was born. [If I may be permitted one more observation, I can't help but wonder if Jean Loring, in her smart suit and pillbox hat was inspired by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.  –Prof]

In retrospect I can't help but feel a sense of loss with the time I wasted in misdirection and a dedication to now-fallen idols.  The pressures of turning out comics on a deadline, over a long period, sharpens your critical faculties and tend to put all of the influences that come to bear, in a truer perspective.  I hope the resultant work reflects my total preoccupation and absorption with the business.

My hobbies are reading, the theater, jazz records and collecting strips done in comics' golden age.

My burning ambition:  to have The Atom outsell every other DC Comic magazine!

We wind up these "true confessions" with Murphy Anderson:

The muses of science-fiction, if such there be, must have violently shuddered that day back in 1926…for high in the North Carolina Smokies the bane of the futuristic comics was born.  In a valiant, but vain, effort to forestall their threatening nemesis, these muses induced my proud parents to bestow upon this tiny stranger the improbable name of…hold your breath…Murphy Anderson.

I have been working as an artist since early 1944 when I sold my first efforts to Planet Comics and Planet Stories.  It has snidely been suggested that such indiscretions led to the demise of these publications, but I prefer to think that they simply could not stand the competition of television and the magazines of National Comics, for whom I have done the bulk of my work since a happy day (for me) back in 1950.

Comics have been my first love for as long as I can remember…in fact, I am told that I learned to read at the age of five primarily from the comic pages.  My favorite comic strips back in those days were Buck Rogers (which I was later to illustrate), Flash Gordon and Tarzan.  It has been said by my friends in the field that the influence of these strips and their artists are clearly evident in my style and approach to cartooning and illustration.  If this is true, I am quite proud for in my opinion the creators of these comic strips were the greatest in the business.

As some of you readers may be aware, I usually both pencil and ink my own work, but for editorial and schedule reasons I am the "inking" half of the art team producing The Atom.  In some respects, I find trying to bring Gil Kane's bold and imaginative pencils to their full fruition more challenging and rewarding than singly doing the job.

My hobbies?  Number one is of course my lovely wife and daughters—followed closely by reading and collecting science-fiction magazines and comic books of all sorts.

In closing, I wish to express the sincere hope that you, the reader, will enjoy the revival of The Atom even a fraction as much as I (and I'm sure Gardner and Gil) enjoy working on it.

© 1961 National Periodical Publications, Inc.

Chapter 3 brings us another impressive full page depiction taking place the next morning with Dr. Heath being assailed by a dark cloud raining fireballs.  Our text tells us that:  "The doom by water has failed!  So has the doom by air!  Still remaining are two more deadly dangers—fire and earth!  Only The Atom knows this is no supernatural terror but the sinister plan of a would-be murderer to make it appear as the ancient Heath curse!"

As the two men flee the fireballs, Heath turns his ankle.  Ray throws him over his shoulder and deposits him in a nearby cave.  He then dashes off to get help, but once out of sight switches again to The Atom (page 17's original art displays the action).  The Tiny Titan heads for the cave opening, pondering his options when Tim, the gardener's son rushes in.  Spotting our hero, Tim asks who he is.  The Atom introduces himself and noting the handy slingshot in Tim's back pocket, asks the boy's assistance.  Soon Tim is loading The Atom into the slingshot and firing the miniature hero at the cloud with the admonition, "Up an' at 'em, Atom!"  (Am I the only one hearing "Up and at 'em, Atom Ant!" from the old cartoon?)  Our hurtling hero quickly breaches the cloud and to his satisfaction discovers it to be a small dirigible balloon attached to a machine that is producing both the smoke and the fireballs.  He quickly disables the unit and adjusts his weight allowing himself to ride the air currents safely to the ground (as rendered by Kane and Anderson on page 19).  He restores himself to normal height and assists Heath back to the mansion, where he tells Gordon that he has a plan to help him avoid the doom of death by earth.

The plan involves Heath ensconcing himself in the playroom that has a solid cement floor, brick walls and a beamed ceiling.

Soon Heath is in a wheelchair, whiling away the time by playing Gin Rummy with Jean while Ray keeps watch at the window.  Palmer is convinced there will be another attempt on the doctor's life since the one o'clock deadline is rapidly approaching and it will name Gordon Heath the inheritor of the estate once and for all.  He further decides the villain has to be one of the retainers, who would stand to gain the fortune.

It is only then that he notices the large globe in the room, which is also a miniature Earth.  Closer examination reveals a ticking noise emanating from inside (as seen on page 20).  A bomb!  Since Jean and Gordon are preoccupied with the card game, Ray is able to surreptitiously change once again to the World's Smallest Super-Hero and he shrinks down, down, down to the subatomic level allowing him to literally slip through the atoms of the surface layer of the globe.  Once inside he disables the explosive (on page 21).  He notes that it was timed to blow at noon and it gives him an idea.

Secretly transforming back to his Ray Palmer identity, the young scientist approaches the card game and suggests that Gordon summon the staff so that he can announce his plans for leaving them the Heath estate.

The staff soon gathers in the rumpus room as the clock edges within 5 minutes of noon.  Heath addresses the assembly, announcing his intentions to leave each member $50,000.00 along with the house as a reward for their faithful service.  Ray notes that the only missing person is Tom the gatekeeper, but that he is a new employee and is therefore exempt.  At one minute before twelve, Ray's plan bears fruit as Bates the caretaker panics and starts to bolt from the room.  Ray insists he linger and the caretaker reveals a pistol.  Ray tackles him just outside the doorway and accuses him of setting the bomb.  Bates knocks Palmer unconscious with the gun and swiftly locks the room, fleeing from the impending explosion which he doesn't realize has been neutralized.

A groggy Ray comes to and realizes he must catch Bates before he leaves the estate, but the caretaker has a significant head start.  He devises a quick plan and dials Tom at the gatekeeper's shack as The Atom.  When Tom answers, Ray shrinks further down, relying on the sound of the grandfather clock striking twelve to create an electronic current by the carbon granules in the telephone's transmitter.  In his miniscule state he can ride the current to the other phone.  As Tom lifts the receiver at the other end, the Miniature Mite emerges; increases back to his 6-inch fighting height and instructs the gatekeeper to switch on the electric fan where he has seated himself.  Using the centrifugal force of the rotating fan as a launching mechanism, The Atom is propelled into the speeding vehicle of Bates and slams into his chin with the full force of his 180 pound frame (page 24).

At the police station, Bates offers a full confession of his deeds and the case is closed.

I found this issue to be quality goods.  The story followed a good "Whodunit" format and the art was superior.  I especially enjoyed the bonus feature in the short autobiographical sketches of the creative team behind it all.  I learned quite a bit about some men whose work I've long admired and enjoyed and it was icing on the cake.  Small wonder (pun intended) with efforts such as this that The Atom soon made his debut in his own magazine, about six months later in 1962.  Taken as a whole, this issue gets a maximum rating of 10.

Don't' forget to share your thoughts, opinions and feedback of all sorts to my handy e-mail at:  professor_the@hotmail.com

Until the next review, in about two weeks time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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