Power of the Atom #1 (1988)

Power of the Atom #1 (August, 1988)
“Home is the Hero!”
Writer – Roger Stern
Penciller – Dwayne Turner
Inker – K.G. Wilson
Letterer – Bill Oakley
Colorist – Nansi Hoolahan
Assistant Editor – Renee Witterstaetter
Editor – Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $1.00

Taking a (hopefully) brief break from this week’s Legion Learning… because post-move (really during-the-interim-of-the-move) my comics library is upside-down (in some cases literally), and I don’t know where that second box of Action Comics might be hiding out.

Figured we’d go with a random pick from whatever box I was able to access… and so, here’s the Atom!

We open with the Atom (in his peek-a-boo hair mask) bursting through the phone of his old friend/acquaintance/whoever, Normal Brawler.  As he bounces to the floor he begins to return to normal human size… however, stalls out at just three feet tall.  Also, his costume disappears… leaving him in (very baggy) street clothes.  He grabs Norm by the collar and demands answers, before coming to his senses.

Norman asks what Ray remembers… which takes us into a Katarthan-flavored flashback.  Full disclosure: the Sword of the Atom miniseries and Special(s)… bored the hell out of me.  I get what they were going for, but it just came off reading like boilerplate fantasy, and not at all special.  Anyhoo… while surveying a secret alien penal colony, Ray, his right-hand man Voss, and main squeeze Laethwen he discovered a stone that was fueled with “active dwarf star plasma”, not terribly different from the stuff that helped Ray become the Atom in the first place.

Studying the stone and it’s powers, Ray deduces that the Katarthans were very likely full-grown peoples at one point in time.  If you haven’t read the Sword of the Atom… Laethwen and her people were like six-inches tall… and all of the Atom’s adventures with them were in the tiny world.  I think Ray either gave up his ability to resize to average human height… or flat-out lost it at some point.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read it.  Anyhoo, one day a “giant” (ya know, a normal-sized dude) approached the tribe looking for Mr. Palmer.

It’s Don Brice… ya know, that guy!  Actually, I don’t… and unfortunately, neither does the DC Wikia.  Ray seems to know him though (he was his C.I.A. Contact at one point), and that’s really all that matters.  Brice warns that there are drug-runners in the area, and they’re planning to slash and burn the area of the jungle that the Katarthans call home… then he dies.

And so, Ray boards a golden bird to do some reconnaissance… which leads him to a tent where some cookie-cutter bad guys argue against some cookie-cutter good guys about burning down the rain forest.  I remember this being a big deal in the late 80’s… hell, it still might be today, for all I know.  I recall it being all about the acid rain back then… which I could add to that list of things I thought would have a bigger “danger” presence in my life… right there with quicksand.  Anyhoo (am I saying that a lot?), the Atom makes his presence felt, and one of the baddies immediately believes him to be a demon.  Ray doesn’t help his case much by slashing him with his tiny blade.

There’s a struggle, and a fairly comedic fight with these geeks trying to take shots at our tiny hero.  Finally, outside the tent, one thinks he has a clear shot… however, when he pulls the trigger Ray moves… and the bullet penetrates a fully-loaded gas tube.  Boom.

Well so much for saving the rain forest, right?  The Atom wakes up several hours later, and the jungle is still in flames.  He crawls over to a shiny object, and realizes it’s just a piece of his sword.  In the distance he sees the remains of New Morlaidh (the Katarthans’ tiny village).

He makes his way to the wreckage, and begins sifting through it.  He doesn’t find any survivors… hell, it’s not clear if he finds any dead bodies either.  What he does find, however, is that dwarf-star fueled stone.  And so, he shrinks it to a more manageable size, and slips it into his right glove.

With an renewed resolve, he tracks down the would be slashers-and-burners to a village (large enough for paved streets).  He faces off with the baddies… who again, immediately believe him to be a demon.  Ray doesn’t help his case much either, as he begins to size-shift right before their eyes.  To be fair, Ray is just as surprised as they are.  He says he just stopped wanting to be small… and so he grew!

The baddies chase him into an office, and so Ray decides to do some “direct dialing”.  He punches the first phone number he can think of into the phone… and bada-bing bada-boop, he winds up back in Ivy Town.

That number he punched in, by the way, was his own home phone number… so, he’s kinda surprised to see ol’ Norman.  Turns out, post the Palmer-Loring divorce and Ray’s subsequent jungle adventure, Jean sold the place to Mr. Brawler for a song.  Ray is initially quite peeved, but understands.

Brawler offers to make some calls to help Ray with his size issue.  Can’t go around fighting crime looking like that, right?  Norm calls a buddy at the C.I.A., however, as luck would have it… his phone line is being tapped by some ne’er do wells.

We rejoin Ray in (what was once) his library.  He finds his old steamer trunk, and decides to take a stroll down memory lane.  In it, he finds the book Norman had written about Ray’s life as the Atom… which, I wanna say was a plot point during the Sword of the Atom business.

This reminds him of his time with the Katarthans, and his lost-love Laethwen.  Enraged, he punches a fireplace… pulverizing the brick to powder!  Welp, that’s new!

Anytime I read something for the blog (or any blog) that I initially don’t like… I let it marinate for a little while, and wind up giving it another go.  Had to do that here, as the first time around I thought it was… not so much bad, but really quite boring.  Reading it a second time… well, it still didn’t rock my socks… but I feel like I had a deeper appreciation for it.

This serves as a pretty good bridge from the swashbuckling Sword of the Atom stuff back into the more standard superhero fare.  I mentioned during the synopsis that the Sword story really wasn’t my scene… so I’m happy to see it go.  That having been said, I’m also glad with the sorta nebulous way it was done.  Having the tiny town leveled… but with no bodies found, leaves the door open for later discoveries and adventures down the line.  Fair enough.

Overall… a decent enough start for this ongoing.  Plenty of questions to be answered, and a likable enough hero to want to stick around.  The art was pretty good, some really dynamic panels here… still not a fan of this Atom costume, but that’s not Turner’s fault.

I’d say this is worth tracking down… if you can find it on the cheap.  This is one of those post-Crisis series that always finds its way into the quarter-bins… so, if you’re interested… it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult to find, and certainly won’t (or shouldn’t) break the bank.

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