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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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.......

I think his costume was so over-the-top that, along with the Joker, he is visually pretty hard to forget. Jason Woodrue, the Plant Master, was visually just a guy in a lab coat* until he became the Floronic Man. As the Floronic Man he was a little more memorable but in some ways looked silly. Of course, so did Chronos.

* The lab coat (or prison outfit) for Lex Luthor was probably replaced for a time by his purple and green costumes in an attempt to make him more visually striking.

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.

I never read Sword of the Atom, but it amazes me when comics companies create characters wielding swords when they have no intention of having anybody killed (or even cut).

Regarding Sword of the Atom, I read the middle two issues (in a local B&W comic). My thinking about them is like Mr SA's. But instead of dropping the little people as it did, perhaps DC would have done better to keep them around and have Ray take up a university position in Brazil. They could have assisted him in his adventures.

There could have been scenes of them hiding out in his room at the university, Laethwen could have sat on his shoulder as he did things as Ray, there could have been stuff about how strange they found our world and scenes where they had to find a way to save the Atom despite their size etc. Ray could have been a science guy who enjoys playing a barbarian rather than a civilised man who has chosen to be a barbarian out of bitterness.

By coincidence or rare happenstance, I found myself just the other day reading "Buzzin', Buzzin', Who's Got the Buzzin'?" from ATOM & HAWKMAN # 43. In that story, it's explicitly pointed out that Ray Palmer is "a very young assistant professor," with an eye toward promotion (associate professor would be the next logical step, and then full tenured professor).

Curiously, even though the numbering of ATOM was continued when ATOM and HAWKMAN were smushed into a single title, and even though Schwartz had given up the editing of HAWKMAN for a while but continued on with ATOM, the front covers of both A&H # 43 and 44 featured only Hawkman (and the Gentleman Ghost), with nary a hint of the Tiny Titan anywhere. Issue # 45 was the final issue, and easily the wackiest of the bunch, as Jean Loring is driven insane and the story ends with her still lacking quite a few of her marbles.

Although the story continues directly a few months later in Justice League of America #81.

Which should have been the end of Jean's madness but it was revisited in Super Team Family #11-14.

I never understood how the Atom could talk (or breathe) aT sub-atomic size, until eventually it was explained that oxygen atoms would shrink down with him. But that just raised the question of how long that air would last, and Ray never worried about that. I just try to forget it.

When I read the Atom's origin, it was a reprint and I had already learned a little physical science -- enough to know, for example, that white dwarf stars weigh the same as regular stars, just compressed to a smaller size. In fact, the larger the star was before it collapsed into a white dwarf star, the smaller it would get -- but retain its original gravity (or perhaps more). At any rate, I laughed out loud reading Atom's origin when a "piece of white dwarf star" happened to land near where he was driving -- which, of course, would have gravity many times the size of earth. A "piece of white dwarf star" -- which could be an entire white dwarf star -- would destroy our solar system just be entering it. By the time it got to Earth, we'd have already been sucked into it's gravity well, perhaps crushed and orbiting as rings of dust and rock. That piece of white dwarf star would have ended all life on earth!

But Ray ambles over and picks it up. "Oof -- it's heavy!" he says. I should think so!

The Silver Age is full of nonsensical science. Apparently the editors (especially Stan) knew a little about science, probably from reading something in the newspaper, and threw in technical terms that sounded good (because they were real) to explain the magic they were really using. Science was a wonder then.

Even so, I'd think Julie would know better than to be throwing around (literally) white-dwarf stars. I always knew that made no sense, but since it really was of absolutely no consequence what the material really was, I never much thought about it.

Abra Kadabra had it best. Any advanced-enough science looks like magic to us, which is what most SA science looked like. He didn't have to explain HOW he could turn Flash into a puppet or fling him into space without his costume, it was just science too advanced for us to understand!

The Atom won two Mopees, one for having his molecules ironed flat and one for being stuck in Europe, so he flew a toy flying saucer up into the atmosphere, let the Earth turn beneath him, and then came straight back down now in America. A white dwarf-star costume is nothing in that world.

-- MSA

When I started composing this, I decided not to mention the immense weight of what a real fragment of white dwarf matter would have. Better that it was a tiny pebble or a grain of sand than the chunk Ray was able to lug around.

I also granted that the Atom had some sort of "atomic" senses that allowed to perceive things in a miniature size as he could normal size. Because a lot depended on his vantage point. Being one inch tall on the floor is not a great spot for spying. Or that his tiny ears could make out what giant voices are saying.

That being said, I was going to bring up the necessity of the Atom possessing some sort of "atomic" speed. The smaller he gets, the scale of distance changes for him. Running across a room at, say one-inch tall, takes time. I know that he can leap and glide using his weight control but even that doesn't take into account the ratio of distance. Gliding across Ivy Town at a few inches high could take hours if not days.

If his momentum remains constant when he reduces his weight, I think he should accelerate along his direction of motion, but I think this would be his direction of motion in absolute rather than relative terms (that is, what his real direction of motion is taking into account the movement of the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy etc.)


Captain Comics said:

I never understood how the Atom could talk (or breathe) aT sub-atomic size, until eventually it was explained that oxygen atoms would shrink down with him. But that just raised the question of how long that air would last, and Ray never worried about that.

He didn't need to breathe. He was really the Earth One Spectre, in serious denial.

He was really the Earth One Spectre, in serious denial.

I don't know if I read this somewhere, ages ago, or if I came up with the idea by my lonesome, but I always thought that Deadman was the Earth One Spectre, in the same way that Ray Palmer was the Earth One Atom (i.e., just barely similar to the Earth Two original, but close enough that they share the same cosmic DNA).

Wouldn't that theory make Ray Palmer the Earth One Doll Man?

The difference between Deadman and the Spectre are like Hawkman and Superman. Yes they're both aliens and can fly but c'mon!

Something I read the other day reminded me that there was an Earth One Jim Corrigan in the 70s. He was a black policeman who appeared in Jimmy Olsen.

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