Bonus Book #8 – Power of the Atom (November, 1988)
Writer – Joe Calchi
Pencils – Jim Balent
Inks – Dan Schaefer
Letters – Helen Vesik
Colors – Matt Webb
Edits – Joey Cavalieri
Executive Editor – Joe Orlando
Ya know, I expected to come into these next few days lamenting the fact that we’d be getting into some rather B-Tier (if we’re being generous) territory. Surely, nobody’s going to rush over here to read about Power of the Atom, the Blue Trinity, or Bronze Tiger, right? Welp, I felt the same way about that Doctor Light story we looked at earlier this week… and, somehow it’s become one of my top viewed posts of the month! Heck, I thought that Doom Patrol ditty was going to do really well views-wise, and that one seemed to slip under everybody’s radar. Weird, wacky stuff. Further proof that I don’t know what people find interesting… and, likely couldn’t even spell the word, even with an eight-letter head start!
Anyhoo, this here Power of the Atom story was included with… hey, wouldja lookit that, Power of the Atom #4 (November, 1988), and it features the work of a Bonus Book “All-Star”, Joe Calchi!
We open with a Skul-Rider bursting through the window of Ray Palmer’s home. Now, the Skul-Riders, if I’m remembering right, are from the Sword of the Atom era… where the Atom briefly became a sorta-kinda swords and sorcery type book. I read through those specials… man, I was going to say “not too long ago”, but in reflection, it’s probably been ten years. Yeesh. Anyhoo, this bird-mounted bugger is looking for Ray Palmer and Jean Loring… however, they ain’t home. In fact, their home is currently being occupied by Norman
Osborn Brawler, the fella who wrote Ray’s “farewell” book. The Skul-guy ain’t buying it, and proceeds to rifle through Ray’s belongings… at which time, he discovers that Palmer’s been spending a lot of time at “their” alma mater, Ivy University. Back on bird-back, our baddie SKREEEEEEES away.
But then… The Atom swoops in, and starts beating the holy hell out of him! Even cuts the bad guy’s head off! Well, okay, not really… turns out, this is just another violent nightmare for Ray Palmer. Seems like this sort of thing is happening with regularity these days. Makes him wonder if he’s become more barbarian than civilized man.
Later, Ray is filled in by Norman Brawler, regarding his avian visitor. The house looks as though a tornado’d come through it… and our little hero is rightly ticked. The search, however, is cut short by the ringing of a phone. Ray answers, and wouldn’tcha know it, it’s ol’ Golden Face! He makes some threats, prompting our man to shrink down and hop into the phone line…
… by the time he reaches the other side, however… the baddie’s nowhere to be found. That’s because he’s currently hanging out in some bar with a random broad. Ray tries to call his ex-wife to warn her that she might be in danger… but she’s in a meeting.
Now, check this out… it appears as though our bad guy has himself some insecurities. He takes his “date” back to his Ambassador Suite… and goes to reach a bottle of vodka from a high shelf… when, he begins to shrink a little bit. The floozy makes fun of him for his inability to reach… and jokes that he’s “becoming a shrimp”…
… so, he kills her. Like, dead. Yikes. From here, he heads over to Labtech Research, Incorporated to chat up a Dr. Phariss. Ya see, our bad guy’s been getting treatments to make him be taller. He’s looking for one “proper” dosage so he’ll stay tall forever. The Doc warns him against it… stating that such a dose would very likely kill him. Oh, we also learn that our bad guy’s name is Cal.
Cal ain’t happy with the Doctor’s advice… and so, he pulls out a gun and kills him. Wow, two for two! Cal hops into the “make taller machine”, and takes in a whopper of a blast. This leads to a flashback to Cal’s days as an Ivy U student. Ya see, he only had eyes for… you guessed it, Jean Loring. He came on… uh, kinda strong, and wound up getting shoved off by Ray Palmer.
Cal zaps his bird with the beam for good measure, so they can both stay tall… before heading over to 1 Thornton Tower… the home of the fantastically wealthy Thornton family. Oh, did I mention that Cal’s last name is Thornton? Anyhoo, he bursts into his parents’ bedroom… and, you guessed it… kills them. Four murders in three pages!
The next day, we join a Ray Palmer lecture… already in progress. He’s using a “simul-tank” to illustrate environmental hooziwhatsits in Mayan lands. One of his students stands up and asks Ray to quit it with the Academic drudgery and start spouting about his exploits as the Atom. Right on! Worth noting, that Ray was trying to separate himself from his super-hero persona… and even went as far as to go under the name “Jones”. Ain’t nobody buyin’ that though… nor should they.
Before Ray can respond, however… Cal Thornton, all painted yellow SKREEEEES through yet another window! It freaks this one girl out so bad, she goes cross-eyed! Orrr, maybe that’s just the art. What’s pretty weird… okay, even more weird, is Cal… who’s been trying to be as tall as possible throughout this story, is now tiny like the Atom! Did that zap cause him to be able to change his size at will? Who knows.
After some pleasantries are exchanged… Ray and Cal begin fighting… and, heyyy, as luck would have it… there just so happens to be a miniature Mayan landscape they can do battle in! That’s exactly what they do for the next four
teen pages. The Atom gets the upper-hand… and even breaks Cal’s arm with a deflection. Not sure if this is supposed to depict Cal’s skeleton as having been weakened via his “growth spurts”… or just show that Ray has a brilliant amount of control over his extremity-density. I guess it doesn’t much matter.
It looks as though Ray’s going to actually finish Cal off… perhaps an opportunity for our man to “play out” his violent nightmare fantasy… but, he chooses against it. Good thing for Cal, our li’l hero wasn’t quite ready to Cry for Justice! The police arrive and take the bad guy away… never to be seen or heard from again?
Eeeeeeeee… not great.
I feel like this era for the Atom was flailing and floundering to find an identity and purpose, even in the main story. It just didn’t feel like it mattered… and, this… well, it’s more’a that. Heck, this Bonus Book story might’ve had higher stakes than anything to come out of the “main” Power of the Atom series! Did you check out Cal Thornton’s body count? Ay yai yai.
Still though, not great. It uses the “fill-in month” trope of introducing an antagonist from the hero’s past… and, I guess it does so well enough, even if I didn’t find it especially engaging.
The art? Is it fair to say it’s “rough”? I think so. This doesn’t look much like what we’d come to expect from Balent… in fact, it looks more like more recent Jim Calafiore… who, I’m not really a fan of. The square-faces really make me think of Calafiore. So, yeah… this story wasn’t terribly interesting… or all that pretty to look at. What is was, was violent! If you want violence for the sake of it… then, this is the Bonus Book for you!
Over to our creators… we’ve already met Joe Calchi. He wrote Bonus Book #1 from Action Comics #599, which was another mostly “meh” outing. According to the DC Wiki, this story is his second… and final for DC Comics.
Across the table, we’ve got Jim Balent… who we might all best know as being the dude who drew Catwoman….’s boobs during the 90’s. This Bonus Book actually isn’t his first DC work… he’d contributed art for a Sgt. Rock back-up strip in 1984. I think it’s safe to say he’s improved a great deal since this outing. It might also be safe to say his style has changed a great deal too! You can check out some of his current day stuff over at his website!
Overall… this was inoffensive, but also uninteresting. Sure, there’s a body count… but, at the end of the day, it amounts to very little. Probably only worth reading if you’re looking for additional late-80’s Atom flavor… though, I’m not sure why anyone would be!
(Not the) Letters Page: