Thursday, May 13, 2010

Superheroes I Love No. 2: The Atom

PhotobucketI'm a tall fellow, but I was a late bloomer -- I was like 5-foot-2 through my freshman year of high school and then, it seemed, over the course of about a week I shot up over 6 foot. But sometimes I guess I still feel small if you get what I mean. Maybe that's why I dig The Atom, comics' smallest superhero. Or maybe it's seeing "The Incredible Shrinking Man" at a very impressionable age. Either way, I've always had a soft spot for this '60s superhero, a DC Universe mainstay.

Who: Ray Palmer, the Atom, who first appeared in 1961's Showcase #34 (technically the second hero to bear that name, but the first one with shrinking powers).

What: A scientist who discovers how to shrink himself using "white dwarf star matter." Don't question it. Has tons of cool adventures fighting full-size bad guys, discovering hidden subatomic worlds, exploring the awesome "Time Pool" and being drawn by that master of the art form, Gil Kane.

Catchphrase: "The World's Smallest Super Hero!"

Why I dig: I love the idea of a hero who isn't formed by great tragedy, but who instead is the outgrowth of a highly curious, scientific mind. Palmer's Atom has always been scientist first, superhero second, which gives him a nifty kind of Jules Verne/Sherlock Holmes allure. And while super-shrinking isn't perhaps the number one superpower one would think of having, there's something about the kitschy old Atom stories that make appealing the idea of visiting subatomic worlds, of seeing chairs become like mountains and spiders become elephant-size.

PhotobucketThe Atom has always been a bit of a "second-tier" superhero, not quite at Batman/Superman levels of popularity, and frankly, the best comics featuring him were mostly the original '60s lot. In the decades since he's bounced all over the place, with the latest inevitable trend to "darken" him with various personal tragedies and traumas. But while he may be small, he's always been a fun character to me. (And of course had perhaps his finest hour in the Grant Morrison-written JLA #14, where he used his powers in a fascinating way and killed the biggest bad guy in the entire universe, Darkseid. Let's see Batman do that!)

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