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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Luke Blanchard said:

I also think the Fourth World material was likely inaccessible to younger readers. The characters and their powers were non-traditional and not easy to understand (they had oblique names, non-thematic costumes and obscure powers); many of the concepts were not easy to understand (including why they were gods); Kirby didn't constantly explain things the way e.g. Schwartz did when he used Earth Two.
I was eleven when Kirby came to DC, and I ate his stuff up, especially New Gods and Jimmy Olsen. (It didn't hurt that those titles also had the best reprints: Manhunter and Newsboy Legion, respectively.) It was the "relevant" trend in other books of the time that I sometimes had difficulty slogging through.
Overall, though, the Schwartz titles were always my favorites.

Richard Willis said:

Luke Blanchard said:

However, I also think the Fourth World material was likely inaccessible to younger readers. The characters and their powers were non-traditional and not easy to understand (they had oblique names, non-thematic costumes and obscure powers); many of the concepts were not easy to understand (including why they were gods); Kirby didn't constantly explain things the way e.g. Schwartz did when he used Earth Two. I briefly had Forever People #8 at a very young age. My recollection is I couldn't follow it and found it violent.

When the Fourth World comics came along I was in my early twenties. They were a tough slog even at that age and Forever People was the toughest. They were gods/superheroes/hippies. Kirby was a terrific artist and plotter but his writing didn't rise to the same level. I haven't read them since they were first published but I think you may be right about not explaining enough. I'm sure it was all very clear to Jack but to me it was mostly incoherent.

I think I was in my late teens when New Gods #1 came out, Richard, but I remember the Fourth World more like you than those who are more enthusiastic. I didn't find it incomprehensible as much as just badly written. The dialogue, especially, grated on my ears, but pacing and such was also "off" in ways hard to describe.

For example, when Kirby introduced four human characters in New Gods (presumably for the audience to identify with), they all introduced themselves with, essentially, thumbnail descriptions like you'd see in a plot. ("I'm young and hip Harvey Lockman!") And none of the four ever progressed from that point -- if any ever had any dialogue later, it was simply to re-introduce themselves and repeat their function in the story.

I didn't really begin to enjoy the Fourth World until I stopped taking it seriously. Then it was loads of fun!

That was pretty standard for Kirby.  I recall him doing the same with the Newsboy Legion, the Dingbats of Danger Street, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it elsewhere.  Great artist and idea man, but badly needed a writer to work with to really be at his best in my opinion.

The Fourth World has never captivated me at all--in fact, I sort of feel the same way about that stuff as I do about R'as Al Ghul--overrated and over-exposed.  It's very high-concept, but that doesn't make it good.

Captain Comics said:


For example, when Kirby introduced four human characters in New Gods (presumably for the audience to identify with), they all introduced themselves with, essentially, thumbnail descriptions like you'd see in a plot. ("I'm young and hip Harvey Lockman!") And none of the four ever progressed from that point -- if any ever had any dialogue later, it was simply to re-introduce themselves and repeat their function in the story.

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