THE ATOM is one of those Silver Age series that never entirely made a huge impact on be back when I was a young collector. But looking back on these issues today, I can appreciate the skill with which these stories were created. In that early 1960s period, DC’s staff was still very concerned about the newly-installed Comics Code and the crackdown on the field, and so they worked to limit any hint of violence within their stories. This made things difficult for super heroes, who really weren’t permitted to engage in long brawls with the opposition. Instead, they typically found themselves vexed by puzzles and mysteries and clues of a scientific variety. And nowhere is this better encapsulated than THE ATOM. As opposed to his fellow DC heroes, the Atom didn’t spend a whole lot of his time battling super-villains. Instead, he tended to get involved in both small local crimes or espionage adventures, with an occasional time-travel trip tossed in for good measure.
This issue included a longer opening story and then a shorter Atom back-up tale, both produced by the team of writer Gardner Fox and penciler Gil Kane. Inker Murphy Anderson embellishes this opening story. Kane was still straightjacketed by the restrictions of DC’s “house style” at this point–he was itching to both cut loose in his action sequences more and to ink his own pencils. But it wouldn’t be for a number of years before he’d be allowed to do either. Still, the overall look of these stories is crisp and sharp, and while the images are really there solely to illustrate the prose (seriously, you can read these stories without the art at all and still follow them seamlessly) the pages are expertly composed and have a certain sterile charm about them. The atom wasn’t the most exciting super hero in the world, but he was somehow the most grounded within the DC pantheon.
The story concerns the Decennial Club of Ivy University where Ray Palmer graduated. Each year, they sponsor an exhibition of the works of the ten most successful alumni, but this year one member, Jack Archer, has nothing to exhibit. Instead, he sends the organizers a message indicating that he intends to steal the other nine exhibits. And sure enough, after appropriate precautions have been taken. Archer appears and displays a wide range of powers. He tosses the guards away with super-strength and shows off a command of judo and boxing. As the Atom, Ray Palmer joins in the chase to try to stop Archer, but he’s unexpectedly foiled when the thief trains a light on him that causes the mighty mite to shoot up to full grown size. The close of the first chapter leaves space on its final page for an ad showing off a pair of other current offerings from the Julie schwartz editorial stable.
In the aftermath, however, the Atom realizes that the fight he just had cannot have gone down as he experienced it, because when he reverts to his full size, his costume becomes discorporated. With this information in hand, he is able to determine that the culprit is using a complicated series of hypnotic illusions to pull off his seeming thefts. Posing as classmate Bill Trevor, Archer had secreted a hypnotic jewel lens into an idol supposedly brought back from India which allowed him to instantaneously hypnotize first the guards and then eventually the Atom. What’s more, the items haven’t actually been stolen–they are still there, but all who enter the room are hypnotized into not being able to see them.
With this all worked out, the Atom has only to wait around the Ivy University display room until Archer returns to carry off his purloined treasures after all of the guards have gone. And the genuine Archer proves to be not even a pale shadow of the hallucinatory one, as the Atom decks him with a single shot. It’s a nice story with very low stakes, but approached in an almost formal manner. That as much as anything was the real appeal of these yarns. And it almost certainly was written to justify the cover image, which was conceived of first. As in the first chapter, the second one closes on a 1/3 page ad, this one for an upcoming SGT ROCK ANNUAL.
Maybe it’s just me, but that center panel of this informational filler strip sure looks like a caricature of editor Julie Schwartz, who would have written the piece. The GCD doesn’t have any artist credit for this one, though.
And here we go with another erudite though clinical Julie Schwartz letters page.
On the second feature, rather than the polished inking of Murphy Anderson we find the more distinctive linework of Sid Greene. While I like Greene’s work as a singular cartoonist, I’m not as crazy about his inking–which made it painful in later years when he was regularly called upon to ink Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Mike Sekowsky on their various assignments. But that said, many other people loved the combination, so this could simply be a matter of personal taste. The story is another strange one: Ray Palmer and his fiance Jean Loring are on a sea cruise when suddenly all of the passengers apart from Ray himself vanish. They all reappear moments later–and Jean tells Ray that he’s been selected to walk the plank as a part of the ship’s equator-crossing initiation.
What’s actually going on is that Jean and the rest of the crew have ben replaced by the Randathians, who have been looking to invade our world since the time of the Mary Celest, stealing ship’s crews and then replacing them with their own people. But through a fluke of luck, Ray was unaffected by this process, and as the Atom, he convinces the invaders that he’s a troublesome gremlin and foils their plans of conquest. But the end, the invaders have gone back home and the missing passengers, including Jean, have been liberated. It’s all just slightly more exciting than the opening story, as the stakes are a bit higher. The final page of the issue squeezes in this year’s Statement of Ownership, which we usually use to gauge just how well a given title has been selling. But in 1964, it wasn’t a requirement to list such sales information as part of the statement, so this one tells us relatively little of value in that regard.
4 thoughts on “WC: THE ATOM #11”
Following the story without the pictures would miss Gil Kane’s breathtakingly acrobatic art. Nobody ever made being six inches tall look so cool.
According to one later letter column he also worked a lot of Hollywood lookalike faces into his stories.
And next to Adam Strange and Alanna, Jean and Ray had the most physical relationship in the Silver Age. Way more intense kissing than anyone else.
I’ve read a supposed quote from Stan Lee saying Ant-Man probably would have been more succesful if they’d played up the visual aspect of a small hero surrounded by everyday small items that were his size or larger. The Atom seems to disprove that, doesn’t it. Quick Googling shows the Atom’s first series lasting almost as long as Pym’s first solo feature. Atom might get the win for not being in only half of his book. The big winner seems to be Golden age Doll Man. I don’t know much about Doll Man but Wiki mentioned bondage covers so that was probably it, right?
Both Aton and Ant-Man started in 1962. Hank Pym hung up his hat in ’65. Atom kept going all the way to ’68. And of course Hank turned into Giant-Man midway through.
Doll Man, the few that I’ve seen in reprint, was like a lot of other Quality Comics features — well drawn, with competent stories. In the Golden Age that could be enough.
Slight clarification, Atom lasted another year after ’68 by becoming Atom/Hawkman.