Monday, January 15, 2007

#5 - Top 12 Comic Book Characters

5. The Atom

Unlike some of my previous choices, I have always loved the Atom. I guess it has something to do with the fact that he’s a crime fighter with a different perspective (worm’s eye view!). To be honest, I think that I’ve loved him because I’ve always felt a little sorry for him. He is not Superman, as his superpower is limited in scope and he really needs to engage the brain to maximize its utility. On the flipside, he’s not even Green Arrow or Batman – since he does have some powers, he cannot climb up on a soapbox and rail against the big guns of the JLA. He’s kind of in the middle, and he’s always fretted about fitting in with other heroes and has often wondered if he really belongs in the crimefighting world.

One of the first Silver Age books I ever bought was Justice Leauge of America #14. It cost me $1.00 in 1980. This is the issue in which Atom joins the JLA, but the final few panels are what make the book for me. I haven’t pulled this one out in years, but I can still see the tiny boardroom chair they designed for the Atom and the look of disappointment on his face when he realized that he would be sitting at floor level. His frown was turned upside down when he discovered that the chair levitated so that he could see eye to eye with his teammates. It was this kind of touch that make the Fox/Sekowsky issues so wonderful, and helped make the Atom such an appealing character.The Atom played a pivotal role in two of my favourite comics from my childhood. IIRC, they both made my Top 10 Favourite Comics from last year.

The first, Worlds Finest #236, is a ‘Fantastic Voyage’ inspired tale in which Batman and Superman are helpless as people are coming down with an incurable disease. Who do they call? You’ve got it, the Atom. This is Dick Dillin at his finest, and the story forever endeared me to the little guy. The Atom shows a some real courage and tenacity as he travels through the body, which serves as a series of booby traps. It’s a really fun story and serves as a great showcase of the Atom as a character. I have been trying to track down original pages from this issue, and I’ve got 5 of them now.

The second special comic is Justice League of America #142. This is one of those crazy Steve Engelhart stories involving sexy aliens and psychotic robots. It’s a real doozy (did I just type that?), but it begins rather quietly with the Atom wondering if he quit the superhero game. He doesn’t have much time to pontificate as he, along with Elongated Man and Aquaman are thrown into an issue full of craziness. In the end, the Atom proves his worth as a hero and feels vindicated in sticking with the JLA. The panels below are of him receiving thanks from Mantis, umm… I mean Willow, the aforementioned sexy alien. It was only in more recent years that I went back to the original source material.

I was probably about 22 when I bought my first issue of the Atom’s Silver Age title (#20 to be precise). I loved it. I love the energy infused into the panels by Gil Kane, and the Gardner Fox stories were nothing short of fun (with a little science and history thrown in for good measure). I’ve now got a complete run of the series, and those books make me very happy. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the Time Pool stories? It’s always fun to time travel with the little guy.I’ll pick up just about anything with Ray Palmer in it. Heck, I’ve even got a soft spot for the ‘Atom Special’ books from the 90s. I am not really plugged into the DCU these days, so I really don’t know what has become of Ray Palmer (was he raped too?). I tried the Simone/Byrne Atom series and it was sorely lacking in just about everything that makes the Ray Palmer Atom great.Here’s to my #5 pick – the little guy who packs a big punch.

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