WC: THE ATOM #8

The Atom is one of those characters whom these days you can’t quite believe held a series for as long as he did. In the modern era when most super hero comic books are concerned with more direct power fantasies, in which fighting prowess is considered one of the most important factors, the Atom is at a bit of a deficit. But in the Silver Age, particularly at the beginning of it, the currency of storytelling revolved around cleverness. Because of fears concerning the Comics Code and bringing the wrath of society down upon the field, physical combat was a minor part of most super hero stories, and instead they had to make their impact through engaging characters, tightly-woven plots, typically with an inordinate amount of puzzle aspects, and simple, straightforward fun. Judged on those terms, THE ATOM shines, especially in the course of its first dozen issues or so, before the editorial needs and desires of DC started to shift. As usual, I got this issue, #8, in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988.

THE ATOM was also the rare DC title that gave creator credits on each story at this time. Editor Julie Schwartz was never especially secretive about who was working on his other books-0-he’d mention the creators by name on his letters pages and such. But for whatever reason, he felt compelled to make sure that Gardner Fox and Gil Kane got their accolades more directly on THE ATOM, along with, in this issue, inlers Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene. Anderson was a welcome sight on this opening story, as besides being an excellent artist on his own accord, he also always brought a particular polish and completeness when inking the work of Gil Kane or Carmine Infantino as occasionally happened. It was a good-looking match, even if Kane still felt constrained by DC’s limiting house style at this point in his career.

This issue makes something of a weird choice, as it sets its back-up story as happening chronologically before the issue’s first story. So it is that Ray Palmer and his girlfriend lawyer Jean Loring are at a New England prison seeing to the release of a wrongly-convicted man when reports come in that Doctor Light, a foe of the Justice League of America, has escaped. Flashbacks to the League’s one previous encounter with Doctor Light give Kane a rare opportunity to draw the rest of the Justice League here–Anderson’s inks help to keep everybody on model as well, since he routinely either drew or inked the JLA covers. Anyway, the cops prevail upon Ray Palmer to help them figure out how Doctor Light slipped out of his cell, which inadvertently puts the Atom on the villain’s trail. The Mighty Mite hadn’t been a JLA member when the team first contended with Light, but he’s read about the encounter in their files.

Time out at the conclusion of the first chapter of this two-part tale for a bit of lovely advertising, once again lettered by the great Ira Schnapp. These Giant DC Annuals, collections of previously published stories of the past, couldn’t have been any more compelling to young readers. Just look at the contents of those two books up there. Makes you want to read all of those stories, right? And you could in 1963, for only a quarter a pop.

One of the things that editor Schwartz did in his various series is to come up with a number of indirect serials, each of which could help drive sales interest in either that one series or among many. So we got Zatanna’s search for her missing father, Zatara, the mystery of Batman’s strangest foe, the Outsider, Green Lantern’s forgotten adventures in the future year of 5708, the recurring team-ups between the Flash and Green Lantern, and so forth. Doctor Light was at the center of one of these quasi-serials as well. Having debuted in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Schwartz thereafter employed him as a rotating villain among the heroes’ solo series. The idea being that, having failed to vanquish the League all together, Light would attempt to conquer them one by one. This added some gravitas to whenever he would show up in another Leaguer’s title. This Atom story was the first in the cycle (or the second, if you count Light’s debut in JLA #12.)

As illustrated on the cover, Doctor Light succeeds in trapping the Atom in a “lethal lightbulb” whose radiations will transform him into a gas over a period of five hours. While that’s happening, the Doctor heads out to lure the League as a whole into his clutches–but fails to be aware that they’re busy off-world battling the Queen Bee in this month’s issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, #23 (a rare cross-title promotion–there were a lot of moving parts in this issue, it seems.) Which is just as well, because the Atom is able to escape and clean Doctor Light’s clock all on his lonesome–imagine how embarrassed the master villain would have been had the League shown up to find him utterly bested by the Atom solo.

As another palate-cleanser between the lead story and the back-up tale, we first get another half-page ad for an upcoming Giant-Size Annual, this one devoted to Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. It only occupies a half-page, and so it doesn’t quite possess teh grandeur of the earlier ad, but it’s still pretty cool. Then comes the letters page for the issue, which includes correspondence from future DC editors E. Nelson Bridwell and Jack C Harris. Bridwell must have been right on the cusp of being hired by Mort Weisinger when he wrote this letter. Harris, meanwhile, got his foot in the door by selling Schwartz some cover designs–it was typical of most editors in this period to conceive of a strong, hook-laden and saleable cover first, then commission a story to match it. I’d bet, for instance, that this issue’s lightbulb cover came before the story.

Finally, for anyone who was worried about that wrongly-convicted inmate whose plight led off the Doctor Light story, the back-up tale sees to his situation. It was inked by Sid Greene, a powerful inker who was also a cartoonist in and of himself. Greene wound up inking Kane a lot in the years to come, as well as Infantino, and the general consensus seems to be that he did a better job at it than inkers such as Joe Giella. So it might just be me, but I never really warmed to his style. I thought it too dominating, and found his faces a bit unattractive. But your mileage may vary. As before, Schwartz lists the credits for this story right on the splash page.

This story revolves around a mystery that the Atom must unravel: security guard Bill Wilson is accused of the theft of a number of card-based miniatures, works of art highly valued. Jean Loring defends Wilson, but he’s found guilty in a court of law. But the Atom is able to track down the real culprit and prevent him from making off with the remainder of the treasures now that Wilson (who has a metal plate in his head following is service during the Korean War and thus would have not been susceptible to the real burglar’s paralysis gas–yeah, I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, what can I tell you?) has been put out of the way. The story winds up in a last panel that mirrors the earlier panel in the Doctor Light story–a fact that makes this tale just slightly more memorable than the typical Atom adventure.

3 thoughts on “WC: THE ATOM #8

  1. This issue sold me forever on Gil Kane. Not counting Showcases, this was my first issue of Atom stories, and I was surprised at how much better Kane looked here than he did in Green Lantern. I had a lot to learn about what inkers could bring to the job!

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  2. 1st issue of The Atom I ever bought as a kid – I’d seen his first appearance in Showcase shortly after starting to read comics but never came across a copy of his comic until this one – & I loved it to death.

    Thing about Sid Greene is his characters are… puffy… & they got puffier, both in stories he drew entirely (as in the Schwartz SF comics) & those he only inked. But here he was still pretty tolerable, though he suffers in comparison to Anderson. Either was still preferable to Joe Giella, who primarily flattened everything out into homogeneity. But Greene on Kane reached an apotheosis on GL #32-34, & got progressively less appealing after that…

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  3. Metal plates in your head are magic, guaranteed to protect you against mind-control and many other things. Including, apparently gas.
    Schwartz and his team did a really good job making the Atom distinct from Flash and GL. Fewer costumed hoods, a lot more detective work. And a guy who’s just fighting crime so that his girlfriend can become a successful lawyer and then they’ll get married.
    Dr. Light thinking that strategically — can’t beat the team, take out the individuals — was exceptionally smart for the era. Wolfman’s later playing him as a buffoon was annoying for that reason.

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