Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Single Issue Review: Showcase #34

This issue featured the debut of the Silver Age Atom. Although the Golden Age Atom had no real super powers and was merely a strong but short man, Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox had greater aspirations for the Silver Age version.

We start out by meeting Ray Palmer, grad student and researcher in nuclear physics at Ivy University. He is engaged in experiments to make things smaller, but every time he tries he finds that the miniatures eventually explode, making the process impractical.

In a flashback we learn that Ray had discovered a meteor of white dwarf star material, which he had polished into a crystal that could shrink objects. But can he fix the process so the objects don't explode?

We meet his girlfriend, Jean Loring, a defense attorney who's determined to make a success of herself before settling down. While on a hike in a local cavern, he, Jean and a bunch of kids are trapped by a cave-in. Ray uses the crystal to shrink himself, then expands a small hole using his normal strength, which has not gone away with his size. He returns to normal size without exploding, which he later deduces is due to some special property in his own body.

In the second story, a bank teller is surprised when a tiny man (the guy in green shown on the cover) appears and steals the money from her desk.

So now we see the rationale from a story-telling standpoint behind having Ray's girlfriend be a defense attorney; it guarantees that Ray will hear about a fair number of innocent people wrongly accused of crime. And of course the Atom has plenty of incentive to clear those folks, since that will help make Jean a success and result in her accepting Ray's proposal of marriage. It's a very smart bit of characterization.

We learn that Ray has fashioned a suit for himself which is invisible at full size but is his familiar red and blue outfit when he shrinks. He discovers the green mite trying to rob his laboratory of Europium. When the Atom defeats him, the little man explains telepathically that he's from another planet and requires the Europium to teleport back to his home. A criminal has gained control of him and is forcing him to commit the robberies.

The controller, named Carl Ballard, calls the tiny man (Kulan Dar) back to him, but the Atom has gained a mental image of the crook and is able to use the police mug book to identify him. We see the Atom use one of his very cool and unique powers of using a telephone to transport himself to Ballard's residence:

The Atom mops up Ballard and helps the tiny man get his Europium. In return, Kulan Dar agrees to testify for the defense, and helps Jean win her very first case.

Comments: An excellent start for the series, scripted by Gardner Fox with pencils by Gil Kane and inks by Murphy Anderson. The appearance of another midget is a bit too convenient, but otherwise the two stories are fine with the Atom being developed on the fly nicely.