As I fell behind in watching Arrow, I was surprised to learn that Brandon Routh who played the Man of Steel in Superman Returns had been cast as RAY PALMER though not as THE ATOM at least no yet. Ray also appears in DC's New 52 comics but not the Tiny Titan, again at least not yet. More than a supporting hero but not-quite an A-lister, the Atom has always been a major part of the DC Universe but what do we really know about him? As usual, I have a few questions:

  • In his first appearance in Showcase #34 (O'61) by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson (edited, of course, by Julius Schwartz), Ray Palmer is described as a "graduate student and fellowship research physicist" of Ivy University but what does that mean? Is he still studying? Is he a teacher? Is he getting paid?
  • Also he states that he has been working on a shrinking process with no success until he finds the white dwarf fragment "three months" prior to his origin. So this was his project for some time. But who financed his equipment? And why did he have no supervision? Did he keep it a secret from the university?
  • After he learnt that he could safely miniaturize himself, he becomes six inches as almost a default size. Could he have become a foot tall? Hobbit-size?
  • One thing about his size was that his costume only became visible when shrunk. Was that a mistake? Would it have been better if we saw a normal-size Atom once in a while, especially with the Justice League?
  • Also his costume makes no sense! At his normal size, it's invisible and intangible so that it appears when he shrank but he would wear it over his regular clothes so there's no way that it could be skin-tight. The Flash had the identical problem. Superman and Batman wore their outfits underneath their clothes!
  • Ray's strength and durability increased as he got smaller. Before he created his size and weight controls, he demonstrated increased strength and leapt down ten feet when he was six inches tall unharmed. Why was this aspect downplayed?
  • His fiancé, lady lawyer, Jean Loring was portrayed as highly intelligent and analytical. Did she know about Ray's experiments? Did she ever wonder why the Atom got involved in so many of her cases? Was she curious about who (or what) he was?
  • Professor Alpheus V. Hyatt (f/a The Atom #3 [N'62]) was retired when he created the Time Pool as a hobby! Again he created small holes in the space/time continuum on a regular basis! Again how could no one know about it? And what else was going on at Ivy University?
  • Of course Superman had both time travel and a shrinking ray!
  • Did Gardner Fox fast-track the Atom into the Justice League? The Mighty Mite joined in Justice League of America #14 (S'62), right after The Atom #2 (S'62). No other hero became a member as quickly from their first appearance after the JLA was formed.
  • I won't bring up the Atom's miniscule rogues' gallery but his arch foe Chronos the Time-Thief must have been fairly popular or the only Atom-enemy that anyone could remember as he was part of several super-villain teams: the Crime Champions, the Injustice Gang of the World, the Anti-Justice League and the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Had the Atom been part of The Challenge of the Super Friends, it would have been very likely that Chronos would have been included in the Legion of Doom. He always used clock-gimmicks but was he ever dangerous? As in real time manipulation? Sometimes he did things that were more than tricky gadgets?
  • It's after the Silver Age but Sword of the Atom: Yea or Nay? They killed off wives and girlfriends but never showed infidelity. They've altered heroes before but never put them in a killing situation. Was it a mistake or should they have left Ray with his tiny princess?

The Atom is a favorite of mine: the Little Hero Who Could. From his Silver Age reprints to his Bronze Age back-up career to his barbarian days, the World's Smallest Super-Hero always rose above his size to stand tall in the DC pantheon.

So let's make some small talk, shall we?

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Oh, I was wondering about the name. It was used in a few earlier Ms. Marvel stories as well.

Andrew Horn said:

GL was arguably way more fast tracked than The Atom was - he didn't even get his own magazine till after the JLA first appeared. B&B 28, their first appearance was cover dated Feb/March 1960 while GL had barely completed his third Showcase appearance cover dated Jan/Feb 1960. His first issue was cover dated July/Aug 1960 which arrived a month after the JLA's 3rd B&B - cover dated June/July 1960! Everybody else, even if they - like MM and Aquaman - were only backups, were around way before that incarnation of GL.

I was surprised by this statement. My first non-Superfamily non-Batfamily superhero comic was B&B #28. I was attracted by the cover-featured familiar characters Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. I knew Wonder Woman by sight, though I didn't read her then. I was intrigued by the unfamiliar Flash and GL. This led me to start reading the Flash and Green Lantern. Julie would have been crazy not to include all of his characters in the JLA for this reason.

The part that surprised me was GL not having his own book yet. My first Flash was #111 (Feb-Mar60), the same cover date as B&B #28, so I apparently bought it as soon as I read the first JLA appearance. It turns out that my first Green Lantern was #8 (Sep-Oct61), with the "wash cover" of the giant gila monster. I think I was attracted by the unusual appearance of the cover. Don't know why I didn't start with the title earlier.

I thought GL was a founding member of the JLA.  Maybe Andrew meant to say Green Arrow?

Luis said: I thought GL was a founding member of the JLA.  Maybe Andrew meant to say Green Arrow?

Nope I didn't. GA was brought in to the group with JLA # 4 but he had been around since the 40s, though always as a backup feature. GL, in his SA incarnation, had not yet graduated from his Showcase introduction and therefore hadn't yet officially made it into a regular series. So you are wrong in thinking that I mean GA, but of course correct in saying that GL was a founding member of the JLA.

Andy

Richard said: It turns out that my first Green Lantern was #8 (Sep-Oct61), with the "wash cover" of the giant gila monster. I think I was attracted by the unusual appearance of the cover. Don't know why I didn't start with the title earlier.

Many such "holes" in both our logic and our collections often have to do with the spotty distribution in those days. Not every drugstore or candy store carried everything, so sometimes it took a while for us kids to catch up. Once I got wise, I tried to make the rounds of several different stores in order to make sure I wasn't missing anything and was always on the look-out for new "sources". And despite that I was still not always finding everything.

Andy

quoting both Mr. Age and Richard:

Mr. Silver Age said:

"The Atom travels to Austria where he tries to stop the spies from collecting a toy flying saucer which has the only working supply of Cavorite device. The Atom easily defeats the spies and recaptures the toy and flies it back to America."

I haven't read this recently, but Cavorite was the substance in H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. It was an antigravity substance. One might be able to make a case that if gravity was negated completely one could watch the Earth rotate without being affected by it. Being an SF writer, maybe this is what Fox had in mind.

I'm afraid that the "antigravity substance" part kind of takes some of the wind out of the Mopee-ness of it all. Just sayin'

Andy

In the post-Crisis Power of the Atom series, Ray made some improvements to his invention. He added a biofeedback device to the mask, which allowed him to change size with a thought instead of having to click a switch on his belt or in his glove. It also allowed him to make his uniform visible or invisible at will, even at full size. (This ability somehow became retroactive, as Atom was shown in uniform at full size in flashback series like Justice League: Incarnations.) Another modification allowed him to concentrate his mass in different parts of his body, giving him an Al Pratt-style "atomic punch."

In JLA #144 ("The Plague That Struck the Justice League"), Atom was stuck at a height of one foot for most of the story, and his costume was visible. This means that the visibility threshold must have been somewhere between one and six feet.

I once asked the Answer Man (in person, not in print) whether Ray Palmer was able to reduce his weight while at six feet. His answer was a flat-out "No." A pity; I could see some interesting story possibilities there.

I'm afraid that the "antigravity substance" part kind of takes some of the wind out of the Mopee-ness of it all. Just sayin'

Au contraire, Pierre, at least not for me. How the toy flying saucer was flying was of less interest to me than the part where the Atom could fly it so high up that the earth rotated beneath him, and he landed back in America. That's a lot of time to be floating around wayyyyyy up there. Granted, if fuel is no problem, it drops it from totally ludicrous to just plain silly, but that still deserves a Mopee.

-- MSA

Andy wrote: Many such "holes" in both our logic and our collections often have to do with the spotty distribution in those days. Not every drugstore or candy store carried everything, so sometimes it took a while for us kids to catch up. Once I got wise, I tried to make the rounds of several different stores in order to make sure I wasn't missing anything and was always on the look-out for new "sources". And despite that I was still not always finding everything.

I always assumed that if I couldn't find a specific comic book, that it had sold out. But one thing I've never really thought of before -- maybe somebody out there who's ever worked in retail restocking magazines might know -- is how those spinner racks were actually maintained. Let's say the distributor's truck rolls in on a Tuesday, dropping off a big stack of comics from various publishers. I've always assumed the retailer would order X number of issues per title, and then shove them into a slot on the spinner rack. But BATMAN sold a heck of a lot better in the mid 1960s than, say, TOMAHAWK, so presumably the retailer would order 10 BATMANs and only 3 TOMAHAWKs... something like that. But if only 6 issues of BATMAN would fit in a rack slot, would the retailer shove the remaining 4 issues in another slot, and maybe only put 2 TOMAHAWKs out for sale? Did he constantly replenish his stock so he'd know exactly how many issues of every title he sold every day?

Back in the day, before bar codes and distribution technology and online supplier exchanges, retailers probably had to record everything in a ledger or some such rudimentary replenishment process. Maybe the reason we could never find that second issue in a two-part storyline was because the retailer never stuck it on the spinner rack in the first place so he could sell a few more BATMANs.

Dave Blanchard said:

I always assumed that if I couldn't find a specific comic book, that it had sold out.

This is one possibility. At some point I asked or was told that comics were delivered to the store on, IIRC, Tuesday and Thursday. After that I made a point of going on those afternoons. Before knowing this a comic may have been in the rack days before I got there and may actually have been sold out.

But one thing I've never really thought of before -- maybe somebody out there who's ever worked in retail restocking magazines might know -- is how those spinner racks were actually maintained. Let's say the distributor's truck rolls in on a Tuesday, dropping off a big stack of comics from various publishers. I've always assumed the retailer would order X number of issues per title, and then shove them into a slot on the spinner rack. But BATMAN sold a heck of a lot better in the mid 1960s than, say, TOMAHAWK, so presumably the retailer would order 10 BATMANs and only 3 TOMAHAWKs... something like that. But if only 6 issues of BATMAN would fit in a rack slot, would the retailer shove the remaining 4 issues in another slot, and maybe only put 2 TOMAHAWKs out for sale? Did he constantly replenish his stock so he'd know exactly how many issues of every title he sold every day?

Back in the day, before bar codes and distribution technology and online supplier exchanges, retailers probably had to record everything in a ledger or some such rudimentary replenishment process. Maybe the reason we could never find that second issue in a two-part storyline was because the retailer never stuck it on the spinner rack in the first place so he could sell a few more BATMANs.

As an analogy, we asked at a couple of local supermarkets when a certain bread product was going to be available. The answer was that the outside vendor stocked the shelves and gave them an invoice, and what days this happened. They do not specifically order individual products. Presumably the outside vendor keeps track of what sells and how fast.

I have a feeling that it was pretty unusual for most stores to track the individual titles, especially since comics were held in such low esteem. Newsstands may have tracked the titles. There may have been some retailers who paid attention to which titles sold better and acted accordingly. There may have been some who rejected the entire delivery (or didn't unbundle them) because their racks were still full or mostly full. I'm sure the actions depended upon the individual personalities involved. I just know that when I found a good source in walking distance from home I did pretty well finding comics if I showed up on both delivery days. I could also be picky about the condition of the comic because their were several copies of each.

As you say, if someone on the Board used to work in retail magazine sales in those days they probably know more. OTOH, the procedure at one store may not be the same at another.

Did he constantly replenish his stock so he'd know exactly how many issues of every title he sold every day?

I think you set their level of interest and involvement WAY too high. Based on my experience with retailers starting in about 1963--and I had a lot, much to their annoyance--they got a bundle of "comics" each week. They unsnapped the wire bands, counted out the total they received, stuck them into the rack mostly by title, took out a bunch that no longer fit, ideally older ones of those titles, if they saw them, or ones that had been there awhile (as indicated by how dog-eared they were) or even just a certain number of slots, counted out their returns, and had the distributor pick them up the next week.

The distributor ripped off the titles of whatever they got back, shipped those back to the publisher (and then packaged the comics to sell to retailers so they could sell them 3 for a dime). The publisher tracked what they sent out and got back. What the distributor took out to the retailers in the first place was probably a "bunch" of whatever was available. The distributors just tended to receive more and get back fewer copies of BATMAN than of TOMAHAWK.

I sometimes beat the retailers to their bundles, and they did not care for me pulling copies out before they counted them. But they had no interest in what individual titles I got, just the total. The notion they had a big ledger in which they tracked how many copies of each title they got, and added new ones as they got them, is pretty unlikely from my experience. For many of them, these were 12-cent nuisances to keep kids busy while their parents shopped.

It was really cool to find a retailer who didn't maintain his rack so well, as there might be three-month old copies of a title I missed or something I'd never seen before. Every spinner was an adventure!

In the early 1970s, the charge has been made that distributors realized that some artists--Kirby at DC, Adams, etc.--had big followings, so they held back those comics and sold them out their back door at a profit. So the issues were selling well but weren't getting into the system. Adams made that charge at the C2E2 con I attended in April, in fact. I"m not sure how that works, as a sold comic is a sold comic, but it would explain how so many cool comics got cancelled when everyone was talking about them.

-- MSA

Mr. Silver Age said:

It was really cool to find a retailer who didn't maintain his rack so well, as there might be three-month old copies of a title I missed or something I'd never seen before. Every spinner was an adventure!

Yes, I forgot to mention the possibility of finding older issues of the same comic. The retailer's identifying older magazines (other than comics?) for return probably led to comics having cover dates a few months into the future. The publishers were hoping the comic would be on sales racks longer than if they used the current dates. The bi-monthly comics also tended to stay on the racks longer.

In the early 1970s, the charge has been made that distributors realized that some artists--Kirby at DC, Adams, etc.--had big followings, so they held back those comics and sold them out their back door at a profit. So the issues were selling well but weren't getting into the system. Adams made that charge at the C2E2 con I attended in April, in fact. I"m not sure how that works, as a sold comic is a sold comic, but it would explain how so many cool comics got cancelled when everyone was talking about them.

I've never heard of this, but the distributor could sell the comics for retail or higher prices instead of selling them to the retailer for a discount price. Also, they wouldn't be returnable. For this to be worth their while there would have to be a lot of volume. Yes, a sold comic is a sold comic for statistical purposes but if the general readership never sees the comic it will eventually have sales dry up. I don't think there was a speculator market in the 70s.

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