Showcase Presents: The Atom, Vol. 1 by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane (graphic novel review).

July 1, 2016 | By | Reply More

It all started in Showcase # 34 September 1961 with ‘The Birth Of The Atom‘, scripted by Gardner Fox and drawn by Gil Kane, as are all the stories here. Scientist Ray Palmer sees a meteor falling from the sky. On discovering that it’s a piece of white dwarf star he takes it back to his laboratory. White dwarf stars are made of compressed matter from which the electrons have been stripped. Ray makes a lens from the meteor rock and by passing ultra-violet light rays through it can shrink inanimate objects. Regrettably, they explode after a while due to the instability of the compressed atoms. ‘The Exploding Atom’ would have been a very short lived comicbook. Happily, when Ray shrinks himself to escape from a cave in which he has become trapped, water dripping from the cave ceiling onto the lens, which he had with him, changes the reaction. Now he can shrink and grow at will.

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In his second adventure, ‘Battle Of The Tiny Titans’, Ray makes the aforesaid miniature costume from the material of the white dwarf meteorite. It certainly is flexible stuff that can be made into lenses and clothes! Amazingly and, rather conveniently for a super-hero, when Ray stretches up to normal size the costume becomes invisible and intangible. It’s not quite clear what happens to his street clothes but I think they are worn under the costume so he’s wearing them when he grows. Ray retains his full weight of 180 pounds when he shrinks but has found a way to reduce it at will so he can waft around on air currents when necessary. He can also send himself down telephone lines. In The Atom #15, he is hurled along by a beam of light from a brilliant bulb as ‘light possesses a gentle propulsive force’ according to an editorial note. This was a fact previously unknown to me. Moths seem unaware of it, too.

In The Atom # 14, ‘Revolt Of The Atom’s Uniform’, the remainder of the white dwarf meteorite left in the ground has evolved into an intelligent being in response to soil, sunlight and air, something that trees and other plants have not yet managed despite the same beneficial conditions for millions of years. As the Atom’s uniform is composed of its own stuff, the meteorite can take command of it and use it to beat up Ray Palmer which makes for a very unusual cover. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Palmer’s has a girlfriend named Jean Loring, to whom he proposes marriage virtually every day. She works in criminal law and is frequently a source of tip-offs to impending nefarious activities. They both live in Ivy Town which is a city of sufficient size to have banks, museums, cops, jails, exhibitions and other useful story material. To go through every story would be tedious and many of them are forgettable, so I’ve forgotten them as I read this volume slowly over several months. However, there are some of particular interest.

Fox fans will be familiar with Gardner’s inventive use of pseudo-science. This volume features several ‘Time Pool’ stories, beginning with issue # 3 ‘The Secret Of Al Atom’s Lamp’. Ray Palmer’s former teacher, retired Professor Alpheus V. Hyatt has incorporated all the colours into a pool of absolute whiteness and ‘in some mysterious manner’ that whiteness has the power to pierce the barrier between the present and the past. Hyatt drops a magnet into the ‘Time Pool’ and tries to pick up metallic objects from bygone eras. Secretly, Ray shrinks down to Atom-size and sits on the magnet. In this story, he goes back to the Arabia of 850AD and passes himself off as a genie. Other ‘Time Pool’ stories involve him with highwaymen, Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne. These yarns reflect the interests of Gardner Fox, a polymath and history buff and they are all jolly good fun.

Gil Kane once said in an interview that the art of earlier comics was much better than the stories. This is true. Not that the stories are completely execrable, it’s just that they are of a type whose day is done. Gardner Fox was a master of the puzzle story or the gimmick story or the downright outrageous story when it came to fantasy. A meteorite that evolves intelligence and powers over a few months stuck in the ground is far-fetched by any standards! In a way, it’s kind of fun as long as switch off your critical instinct and roll with it. Meanwhile, the art is a treat to the eye. Kane is inked by Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene and they both do a great job. They tone down his exuberant pencils somewhat and he didn’t like that but I think the finished job benefits thereby.

These Silver Age ‘DC Showcase’ volumes are interesting documents of social history. They do not reflect the totality of life in early sixties USA because, if you compare them to the stories Harlan Ellison was writing about life on the streets with dope, musicians and gangsters, it is a different world. The world of ‘DC Showcase’ is that of decent, middle class suburban America: a world in which men go to work every day in a suit, court one nice lady, stay loyal to her then marry her and generally live a clean, honest, upright life. Even the villains all wear a collar and tie, which is convenient for the Atom as he usually grabs the tie when punching them. The ‘action’ sequences have people being thumped, tripped and generally clobbered but no eyes are gouged out and they never bleed, even when shot. It isn’t real but it is rather sweet and I like it.

Insofar as I can recall, I bought this for ten English pounds. As with many older ‘DC Showcase’ books, it appears on the English version of the world’s favourite book website for mad money, as if the seller is waiting for a sucker. On US websites, it is still available for a sane price. It won’t suit everyone but it’s a cheap, clean read for your children and nostalgic fun for oldies. Like many of the best Hollywood movies it is in black and white.

Eamonn Murphy

June 2016

(pub: DC Comics, 2007. 528 page black and white graphic novel softcover. Price: £19.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-40121-363-3)

check out website: www.dccomics.com

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Category: Comics, Superheroes

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About the Author ()

Eamonn Murphy lives in the west country and grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein, lots of other old SF and Marvel Comics. After many years hard labour he has settled down to a quiet life with a nice lady, two rescue dogs and four ducks. He writes reviews for crowsnest and a few short stories, some of which even get published in obscure magazines. His self-published (Beware!) horror novel 'Arnos Hell' set in a Bristol graveyard is available on Amazon as a kindle book. His YA novelette 'The Brigstowe Dragons' will be published shortly by Alban Lake. He seldom blogs at https://eamonnmurphyblog.wordpress.com/

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