The Secret Origin of the Atom
- Soft launch of the mild old direction Post-Crisis Atom!
- Debut of new creative team of Roger Stern, Dwayne Turner & K.S. Wilson!
- From DC Comics’ August 1988 cover-dated Secret Origins #29!
- Longer take with Ryan Daly on Secret Origins Podcast #29!
We pick up where we left off in the Sword of the Atom mini-series and specials with Ray Palmer trapped at six-inch size in the Amazon Jungle. By the least convincing coincidence in human history, the Atom happened upon an alien kingdom made up exclusively of a yellow-skinned but otherwise perfectly humanoid race of exactly the same relative dimensions! And we know they’re anatomically correct because Ray has been serving as consort and protector of Princess Laethwen, with both jobs clearly involving sword-wielding. The kingdom of Morlaidh is stuck in barbarian times, so Ray Palmer will have to cut a b* just to get by. Ray is in that “Big Chill” phase of his life, so he gets all Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By Me, recalling pivotal moments in his childhood. His passion for science and adventure were both sparked by his reading the famous Edgar Rice Burroughs Carson of Venus and the obscure yet highly relevant Gardner F. Fox “Alan Morgan” series of books. Ray’s parents supported his love of exploration, and even when his daddy died young, his surrogate father was famed archeologist Ted Ralston.
Ray’s barbarian buddy Voss finds a bit of the white dwarf matter from the alien starship that theoretically shrank his race. The Atom performs a feat of strength in picking up the rock through density control or something. Ray gets it back to his makeshift lab and enbiggens the rock, assuring himself that he could grow himself and potentially even Morlaidh to regular human size. This causes him to think back to the first episode of this podcast, but with worse writing and art. There’s a few unnecessary tweaks that grate, plus we keep seeing the neophyte artist go back to the same basic, static layout of Atom recounting his origin to Laethwen and Voss.
Ray reminds everyone that he never became a super-hero to help people, but just to clear away an obstacle in talking his girlfriend Jean Loring into finally marrying him instead of focusing on her law career. He’s self aware enough to recognize the fallacy of their yuppie “I can have it all” ambition, but not enough to realize that he still treats women like prizes to be won. Let’s be honest, this whole reverie is because he’s getting bored with going native among the yellow-skins in a jungle, which gives me ’80s media flashbacks of ‘Nam flashbacks. Also, the Atom got off on the super-hero action more than his eventual wife, which is why he deuced on her the minute she was found in the arms of the other man Ray’s neglect drove her to in the first place. The whole Conan shtick was his divorced dad midlife crisis.
While the Atom continues to tell the two people who will listen all about how awesome he was in the Justice League of America, a bunch of aliens indistinguishable from the ones Atom hangs with attacks. Because they’re on the opposing side, Atom still regards them as savages and stabs them in the neck. Seriously, the sword of the Atom aims for the jugular again and again on-panel, almost as if he has no regard for these people’s lives, at least not until there’s a pile of gross bodies that he asks his yellow people to cleaning up for him. Former super-hero, yes. “Good guy” maybe not so much, unless you’re using the term euphemistically.
The story ends with Ray Palmer paternalistically weighing the fate of Morlaidh and decided that everyone can stay shrunk until he decides otherwise, since they don’t entirely believe his stories and he’s not offering them a choice anyway. At least the hypersexualized Laethwen offers this sword a scabbard, as it were. “This is not the end! Watch for the further adventures of The Atom in an all-new series… on sale next week!” DC Comics pushed the new series pretty hard in house ads, trade magazines, and a store poster that compared it to its recent successful reinventions of Superman by John Byrne, the Flash by Baron & Guice, Wonder Woman by George Pérez, and the Justice League by Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire. Boy, I’m sure that direct comparison to watershed books will not end up biting the Tiny Titan’s little red butt…
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