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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Let me answer a handful of these as best I can:

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?

Probably, but a) how useful would that have been and b) I think that above 6 inches his costume would not have protected his secret identity.

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?

Back in the Silver Age, I don't think it would have made a difference. Also, his size was also proof of his identity--if he appeared full-sized, anyone could have been in the costume.  However, at six inches, there was no question.

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?

I put this in the same file as the electronics in Captain America's shield and the electronics in Daredevil's cowl. It was a neat idea, but I'm guessing Fox and associates realized that it unbalanced the character and what they wanted to do with him to keep him unique.  Having his normal strength made him more interesting than if he'd had enhanced strength.  Also, I always thought the "180 pound punch" was really cool.

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?

As I recall, she was no Lois Lane or Lana Lang.  She simply didn't care, or at least she rarely evinced interest.  And she was the one that was crazy.

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?

I know that in his first few appearances the clock thing was a gimmick, muich like that of the Clock or the Clock King.  However, I think towards the end of the Silver Age that he did begin utilizing actual time travel technology.  I'd have to look it up to be sure, however.

Presumably Palmer got his PhD shortly after his first SHOWCASE appearance, as he would join the staff of Ivy U and be referred to as a professor shortly thereafter.

His costume, I'm pretty confident, was made of the standard "unstable molecules" fiber that all Silver Age costumes were made of.

You have to remember, "Ivy U" is meant to evoke Harvard and/or Yale and/or MIT, places of "high learning" where the faculty are pretty much left alone to pursue whatever they want, with the funding coming from places you don't want to get too nosy about. Skunkworks, thy name is Palmer (and Hyatt).

I've always seen it as Yale. Ivytown has (at times) been in CT, so I see it as a poor man's New Haven...

Nope, white dwarf star matter.  It's why he could wear his costume over his clothes, without it being visible, and it would only show up when he shrank.

Dave Blanchard said:

His costume, I'm pretty confident, was made of the standard "unstable molecules" fiber that all Silver Age costumes were made of.

I'm pretty sure that white dwarf star matter is made up of unstable molecules.

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......

Jason Woodrue, the Plant Master, who later became the Floronic Man, made a lot of appearances too.

In DC Comics Presents #15 (November 1979) Ray reveals that he has a spare costume for emergencies that is fully visible at his normal human size (and that he can use with no apparent drawback).

He made a lot of appearances after he became the Floronic Man/Floro but rarely against the Atom while Chronos usually had the "Atom-Foe" position on the teams he was on.
 
Richard Willis said:

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......

Jason Woodrue, the Plant Master, who later became the Floronic Man, made a lot of appearances too.

In Justice League of America #117 (Ap'75), the guys are infected by the Equalizer plague and rendered the same height and weight including the Atom. His costume became visible with no explanation unless it caught the plague too.

But my point is that with the Atom on the same scale of the others, his dynamic with the team changes. He's not the little guy sitting on their shoulders; he's their equal.

I think that it would have been beneficial for his psyche to be "normal" size when he was interacting with the JLA.

In Justice League of America #117 (Ap'75), the guys are infected by the Equalizer plague....

I don't remember this story, but I think there was another occasion when we saw the Atom in costume at his normal height.

P.S.: Interesting that they used "dilithium crystals" in a DC story.

In JLA #115, the Atom fought full-size briefly as well. It almost makes you wonder if they were testing the concept.

he becomes six inches as almost a default size. Could he have become a foot tall? Hobbit-size?

I think 6 inches was his maximum size, so it often was to his advantage to max out to hit villains or talk to someone. But that also made it difficult for him to be drawn into scenes.

One thing about his size was that his costume only became visible when shrunk. Was that a mistake?

It was pretty clever, really. He had no powers at his regular size, so he was only "The Atom" when small. It might've been good for him when he was sitting around JLA HQ at meetings, but otherwise there wasn't a benefit and it was an interesting idea.

I had a hard time rationalizing how it worked exactly, too, and I think we have to assume that his hand can break the electrical bond between particles so he can stick his hands in his pockets. It's not called the weak force for nothing.

We can't really think about the fact that he's often wearing a suit and dress shoes under his costume, just as we can't think about The Flash doing it. The Flash conceivably could be undressing and swapping out his clothes (heck, he could be running home to change and take a shower), but the notion that we can see the Atom's six pack while he's wearing a suit with a costume over it is problematic.

Did she ever wonder why the Atom got involved in so many of her cases? Was she curious about who (or what) he was?

I think Jean figured it was a small town and she often defended downtrodden people falsely accused, so it made sense that the Atom might get involved. She never seemed to question who he might be, although it wouldn't be hard to put 1 (scientist boyfriend) and 1 (scientific-like hero always around) and figure it out if she cared. She didn't seem to, but OTOH she did go insane, whereas Lois never went more insane than she started out.

Did Gardner Fox fast-track the Atom into the Justice League?

I think Julie probably did, since was editing both. He probably figured it helped both titles. I doubt the Atom would've been so fast to join if he was in Mort's stable. 

I won't bring up the Atom's miniscule rogues' gallery

It's surprising he didn't have more of a gallery, as his idiosyncratic powers would've played well against guys out of the ordinary. Taking on spies and bank robbers wasn't all exciting in the big scheme of things, since the cops could've handled that.

The Atom often was threatened by villains who FORCED the Atom to use his powers (by wrecking his controls) so he could be menaced by a filled sink or a grumpy kitty cat. That's only exciting on a certain level.

It's after the Silver Age but Sword of the Atom: Yea or Nay?

I say Nay, as I wasn't a fan. Making everything the Atom's size makes him just one more guy. Anyone could've been wielding the sword and being Conan. I don't know if the stories were any good on their face, but they're a lot like those Sekowsky WW stories that some people like. SOTA may have been good stories, but they weren't Atom stories.

His costume, I'm pretty confident, was made of the standard "unstable molecules" fiber that all Silver Age costumes were made of.

You're undoubtedly right in conceptual terms, since so many heroes wore boots under their shoes and stuffed their capes and cowls and belts and such down their backs (if they weren't compressing them into the size of a dime and having dye shoot out of their ring to perfectly color their hair back and forth). But "unstable molecules" is a Marvel term, so it's not literally true.

-- MSA

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