By the light of a Green Flame: All-American Comics


All-American Comics was the flagship publication of the newly-formed All-American Publications, the company founded by M.C (Charley) Gaines in partnership with Detective Comics’ Harry Donenfeld, who put up the capital in return for a 50% silent partnership and a role as Business Manager for Detective’s Business Manager, Jack Leibowitz.
Though Detective was making its waves on the back of its two masked men characters, Superman and Batman, and though Gaines had sought the money to set up his own company because of the success of Donenfeld’s titles, the new series did not at first feature any superheroes. That would not come until issue 16, and when it did the new hero would be All-American‘s mainstay for the rest of its run.
The first issue, from April 1939, is very much a thing from a bygone age. All-American led with Red, White and Blue, three American boys who’d grown up as friends, entered different branches of the services in the war and, thanks to their chivalrous impulses towards a beautiful woman in a tight situation, found themselves transferred as a special unit to G2, America’s secret service. There were Mutt and Jeff reprints, Sunday pages from Bud Fisher’s classic newspaper strip, and the same from Percy Crosby’s highly acclaimed but largely forgotten Skippy. Gene Byrnes’ Reg’lar Fellers was another newspaper strip, one I’d never heard of before, and not hard to understand why.

Hop Harrigan, by Jon L. Blummer (credited as Jon Elby), a future phenomenon as America’s air pilot hero of the airwaves also debuted. Editor Sheldon Mayer contributed his quasi-autobiographical Scribbly, Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, of which more would come. Adventures in the Unknown, the Mystery Men of Mars, by Carl Claudy, started off like the crassest and stupidest of SF. Edwin Alger’s Ben Webster started like a continuation of an ongoing series, which it was, a pretty bog standard juvenile adventure newspaper strip.
Harry Lampert, of The Flash fame, produced Spot Savage, about a news reporter and there were more from Gene Byrnes and Bud Fisher, half-pagers featuring Daisybelle and Cicero’s Cat, respectively, which appeared as ‘header’ series on the newspaper Sunday pages. Tippie, by Edwina, was a silent strip about a dog. Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Folks was yet another reprinted Sunday strip, as was George Storm’s Bobby Thatcher, though that strip had been defunct two years when All-American 1 came out. Lastly, there was Wiley of West Point, by Lieut. Richard Rick.
It’s hardly an impressive line-up. Superman had been in existence since April 1938, and Batman was brand new. All-American offered very little new material and was overloaded with newspaper strip reprints of varying quality, making it almost a premature throwback to the very first comic books of the early part of the decade. Mutt and Jeff is legendary, but it’s humour is tilted to the age, Skippy is more of a cult than anything else, and Scribbly has potential it certainly doesn’t use in issue 1.

This is an eighty year old comic book with an amateurish logo. And it looks it.
Weirdly enough, Red Dugan developed ‘mental telepathy’ in issue 2, which was an altogether cheaper issue, with limited colouring of the kind you used to get in the Victor and the Hornet in Britain in the Sixties. And in issue 3, Scribbly Jibbet met Huey Hunkel and, what’s more important, his Ma, Ma Hunkel. And there was a very familiar opening line to Huey’s Great American Novel (5 pages with every other word crossed out because Huey kept thinking of a better one). It was a dark and stormy night. You just know someone’s going to use that!
The first addition to the line-up was an adaptation of the renowned play starring Fredric March, The American Way, a patriotic play about German immigrants learning to be American. The title also added Popsicle Pete, the Typical American Boy (have you noticed something of a theme developing around here?), though that was based on a real contest winner from the Popsicle Company.
So far, with the exception of Scribbly, so not much, but the first quasi-superhero hit the front cover on issue 8, introducing Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man. Concord, who took over the lead slot from Red, White and Blue, is the High Moderator of America in 2239 but to begin with he had to play second fiddle to the life story of his father, a 20th century worker for peace carried into the future in suspended animation. Spot Savage dropped out, unnoticed. And to keep pace with what was going on around, issue 9 carried a full page advert for All American Publications’ new title, Flash Comics. The true superhero was arriving at the company.
It only took until issue 10 before Red, White and Blue were back in pole position, and Gary Concord moved further within. The perpetually stiff Wiley of West Point disappeared without warning after issue 12, in mid-cliffhanger, which also saw the last Toonerville Folks, but the unspeakably worthless Adventures into the Unknown was kept.
All of this, however, was but a generally unmemorable prelude to issue 16. All-American gained a new, and much more professional logo, a new cover character and a new leading feature, the one the comic is known for: enter the Green Lantern.
It’s a well-known story: young railroad engineer Alan Scott (who was originally going to be called Alan Ladd – as is in Al Ladd-in’s lamp – before the famous actor appeared) should have died when a bomb sabotaged the new line he’d built. Instead the mysterious green railroad lantern saved him and granted him power over metals, from the Green Flame of Life. Green Lantern was the creation of artist Martin Nodell (going by Mart Dellon), fleshed out by writer Bill Finger, to whom Nodell was far more generous than Bob Kane had been. GL’s far from green costume only appeared in one panel, but it was the start, of something very much bigger.

The classic history has Scott moving to the city (not named as Gotham until issue 91) and becoming a radio announcer so as to be ahead of breaking news of crimes, but he doesn’t even join Apex Broadcasting until issue 20, and then as a radio engineer, a status he retains for ages. In later issues, Scott would work for Station WCMG (once) before settling at WXYZ, and he would bounce around various roles like Special Events Director, Radio Announcer (see!), Program Director and Presenter.
As an employee of Apex Broadcasting, Scott would work for, alongside and in charge of Irene Miller, his Producer, Broadcaster and eventually secretary until, one day, the young lady with a crush on Green Lantern just drifted away, completely forgotten.
Green Lantern’s immediate success quickly emboldened Mayer to commission another costumed hero, The Atom, in issue 19. Written and drawn interchangeably, I believe, by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, this was 5’1” tall college student Al Pratt, looked down upon for his height, who was trained by boxing trainer Joe Morgan to become a fighter, but instead used his scrapping abilities to become a hero, to rescue his fellow student and would be date, Mary James. Whichever man drew at any time, they were both lousy, as in barely better than I can draw.
Gary Concord’s run came to an end in issue 19, only for Adventures into the Unknown to return after an all-too-short breather. Sadly, Percy Crosby’s Skippy and its header also left the scene, though Bud Fisher and Gene Byrnes hung around. For a short time: Reg’Lar Fellers was the next to depart, leaving its header strip, Daisybelle, behind.
Suddenly, they were everywhere. In issue 20, the Green Lantern’s fame spread as far as Scribbly’s series, prompting Ma Hunkel to put on red longjohns and a saucepan with eyeholes cut out to rescue Dinky Jibbet and Sisty Hunkel as The Red Tornado, the first parody superhero and, beating Wonder Woman by a clear year, the first superheroine. A couple of issues later, the feature was re-titled Scribbly and The Red Tornado. By issue 24, Sisty and Dinky had joined in the fun as the Cyclone Kids. And the Red Tornado’s name kept getting bigger, and Scribbly’s kept getting smaller…

All-American was now accelerating towards its remembered shape. Ben Webster’s stout-hearted adventures came to an end in issue 24, to accommodate the debut of blinded surgeon-turned-superhero, Charles ‘Dr Mid-Nite’ McNider, created by Charles Reizenstein and Stan Aschmeier. He was followed two issues later by Sargon the Sorceror, the work of John B Wentworth and Howard Purcell. This latter made All-American a fully-fledged superhero comic, like Flash Comics. Of the newspaper strips, only Bud Fisher’s work remained, and weirdly some of these were reprints from earlier in the run.
I’ve refrained so far from substantive comment, but I do have a two pennorth to put in about Red, White and Blue. Though it’s supposedly about the three friends, Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Army Sergeant Whitey Smith and Sailor Blooey Blue, most stories see them operating as a quartet, at first under the orders of, then usually with established G2 agent Doris West. Doris is a beautiful woman, of course, and winds up, in the background, becoming Red’s girlfriend.
There’s a visual dichotomy from the start in that she and Red are drawn realistically, but that Whitey and Blooey are cartoon figures, one big and blonde, the other small and dark. Whitey’s the brawn, Blooey the comic relief: well, both of them are, but he’s the overt one, the put-upon one, the Johnny Thunder.
It’s very noticeable that, as time goes on, Red forgets that Doris is the experienced one who arranged for him to join G2. Increasingly, he starts getting macho on her, leave it to the men, stay at home with your knitting, sneering at her ideas. Thankfully, the series doesn’t: Doris is always right but Red never learns. This really is a boy’s comic, because the some thing goes on in Hop Harrigan, whenever Gerry, aka Geraldine, crops up, no matter how competent she shows herself to be, and Gary Concord was equally snotty about women.
It’s annoying because it shows itself widely across several series. It’s not like Flash Comics, where The Flash and Hawkman have girlfriends who insisting on getting involved in their game, where the misogynist elements are only a reflection of the times, and the attitude of the men is mainly one of humouring. There was a genuine anger, almost a foot-stamping aggression, in Red, White and Blue and the other series at this point.

Doiby

Green Lantern was the title’s flagship character, its cover star and first feature, almost throughout the entire run, though his hold on that role would be shaken as All-American neared the end of its life. By rights, this should have been a top-notch Forties series, but with issue 27, Nodell and Finger permanently crippled the series by introducing a full-time comic relief character in scrappy little taxi-driver Doiby Dickles.
Doiby, who took his name from his trademark derby (or bowler) hat as pronounced in his Brooklyn accent, was a constant drag on the idea of taking Green Lantern seriously. There was some decent amusement to be had from his outlandish speech patterns at the first, but that was forgotten before too long. In issue 35, Doiby was allowed to see Green Lantern without his mask and, being Apex Broadcasting’s official cabbie by then, recognise him as Alan Scott.
On a lighter note, Bill Finger demonstrated a penchant for knocking off crooks in the course of climactic fights, by knocking them off gantries into vats of acid. Everywhere criminals went, they kept vats of acid under gantries. No wonder the Health and Safety Laws had to be toughened up. Even The Atom got in on the act in issue 29, but to be fair he only dropped Nazi saboteurs into molten steel, whilst Red, White and Blue burned their spies to death.
There was a nadir to come, that thankfully passed. Bill Finger left the series at issue 41, with the stories now credited to Mart Nodell (under his real name) and Irwin Hasen. Sadly, the new regime got the idea of putting Doiby Dickles into a Green Lantern costume (greugh! Bad sight!) and calling him Devastatin’ Doiby (come back Bill Finger!)

I said I can draw better than this

Hop Harrigan had early on developed a supporting cast of veteran flier Prop Wash (not a nickname), and big, red-headed mechanic Ikky Tinker, which confused me as I knew the latter as Tank Tinker from the prose stories appearing in All-Star Comics. Now, issue 32 revealed his full name to be His Grace Tutankhamen Anastasius Angustora Ichabod Tinker: you know why he immediately became Tank, but just what was so wrong with Ikky (apart from the obvious)?
Flinton and O’Connor stayed with The Atom until they were drafted, and never returned to comics. Replacements, in the form of Joe Gallagher (art) and Ted Udall (scripts) had to be found. Matters improved, marginally at any rate: at least the Atom’s cape looked like a cape, and not a hand towel. And Al Pratt finally managed to get a date with Mary James! Who started switching, inconsistently, from brunette to blonde and back again.
The War arrived with a vengeance in issue 42. Hop Harrigan had already gone into Air training and we got a piece of utter nonsense masquerading as a Dr Mid-Nite story involving the Germans and a rather more serious, and better story for Sargon the Sorceror, foiling the Japanese.
Continuity was not due to be a thing in comics for nearly twenty years but there were changes galore in Green Lantern over issues 41 to 45. On the other hand, The Red Tornado was consistent: consistently funny, silly and, in issue 45, gloriously metafictional, with Ma Hunkel and the kids getting fed up of the same old malarkey every month and getting Mayer himself to come down and argue with them! Mayer would play about with the strip again, re-imagining its characters in historical times and as funny animals, but always wonderfully.
Enthusiasm for the War led to Hop Harrigan replacing GL on the cover of issue 47, with The Atom sitting out to make room for the Story of Joshua, the Bible tale. Charley Gaines had a thing for educational comics and had started a half-yearly title, Picture Stories from the Bible. The Joshua story probably came from that, but if it was at all representative of Gaines’ new project, then it was a bust in comics terms: undramatic, weak, perfunctory cartooning that was probably much too respectful of its source to be of the least value as entertainment or education.
Just as wartime paper-rationing affected All-Star and the Justice Society, All-American came in for its share of pain from issue 51, reducing from 68 to 60 pages. The drop was quite easily accommodated by taking the comic’s junior feature with it: farewell Sargon the Sorceror.

Two issues later, Alan Scott’s Oath, the one he’s used in every post-Golden Age appearance, was replaced with a new one used in every remaining story in the series, a familiar but incongruous verse beginning “In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night…” It looked so strange coming from the ‘wrong’ GL. It’s recognised that this Oath was composed by future SF legend Alfred Bester, though his name wasn’t credited, not on this or any other Green Lantern story.
Hop Harrigan’s series, now supported by a five days a week radio programme, had always been a more or less realistic air ace adventure, especially when Hop was going through Air Force training. Suddenly, it added a silent pageboy-bobbed young lad called Hippity, who carried a machete and acted daft, and the strip spiralled into idiocy. The annoying thing was that I was sure I recognised Hippity from something else, but I have no idea what. Hippety would eventually disappear in favour of more serious, if still at times fanciful stories, but the little bugger would keep coming back and crashing future episodes every time.
Interestingly enough, Dr Mid-Nite’s adversary in issue 57 went by the name of The Shade. He was no relation to the Flash’s villain of that name in Flash Comics (who was no relation to any version of the character who appeared in that legendary issue, The Flash 121, in 1961).
The further All-American went into 1944, the more noticeable it was that the stories were getting sillier, as if the writers had run out of conviction in what they were doing and could only maintain series by starting to make fun of them. Admittedly, more and more of the better creators had been drafted into the Army now. Paul Reinman was drawing Green Lantern, Sheldon Mayer was getting increasingly metafictional within The Red Tornado, nobody knew from issue to issue what colour Mary James’ hair would be, and that was before she started hiring would-be crooks to unmask the Atom. Red White and Blue got dafter and worse drawn, until everybody, Red Dugan included, looked like cartoons. Suddenly, the three fighting men, and Doris West, were split up into solo stories, told as letters amongst them, which rendered the whole series pointless. It was as if the entire comic was undergoing a nervous breakdown.

Paper rationing had reduced All-American to 52 pages, and bi-monthly publication alternating with Flash Comics. More changes had to be made. The first of these was the cancellation of Scribbly and The Red Tornado after issue 59. Such a shame. It had been All-American’s most consistently entertaining series from day one.
Better was on its way for Green Lantern, at least for the debut, in issue 61, of Solomon Grundy, though it was a shame that this should be one of the relatively few issues on the DVD available only in fiche form. Unfortunately, this was a one-off, with the decline into asininity resuming immediately. The same issue was the last of The Atom’s continuous adventures to be published in All-American. His place was taken by Picture Stories from American History, which was being shared in Sensation Comics and Comics Cavalcade, but he would be back after a nine issue hiatus, for three further stories, the first being as childishly drawn as anything Flinton and O’Connor had ever perpetrated, before going for good.
The intention was cancellation, and replacement in the Justice Society, but this fell foul of a fluke circumstance, and the Mighty Mite would re-emerge in Flash Comics.
The Green Lantern story in issue 64 featured a horse that liked to sit on eggs. The only other place I’ve heard that referred was Alan Plater’s TV serial and novel, Oliver’s Travels. Was this some sort of contemporary gag, an in-joke for 1945? I found a Google link, but the page refused to open, so I remain ignorant.
Wars, however, do not last forever. In issue 66, Red White and Blue were reuniting separated German families whilst Hop Harrigan was still fighting in the Far East. On the other hand, a month later Whitey was still writing fighting letters from Berlin and Hop and Tank were heading home to Hippity (I’d rather have stayed bombing the Japanese).
We’re now at the era of the All-American/Detective Comics split, ended after six months by the merger of the two companies and the dissolution of All-American Publications. Issue 70 saw the old DC logo return to the cover. The increasingly dismal Red White and Blue strip was put out of its misery in issue 72, in favour of The Black Pirate (and his son Justin), transferring over from his old berth in Sensation Comics.
The Atom’s second departure was in favour of The Flash’s Three Dimwits, Winky, Blinky and Noddy in a solo story. The Black Pirate lasted two stories but was soon back on a permanent basis, The Flash turned up in the second Three Dimwits story. And Alan Scott was broadcasting for Station WXYZ in issue 76.
The quality of All-American had now become so poor that a fiche that was next to unreadable was a relief, since it was the best excuse not to read an issue. Was there ever going to be a decent issue again? Only Dr Mid-Nite attempted to offer straight stories any more. Green Lantern’s stock had fallen so far that he was displaced from the cover for two consecutive issues, first by Hop Harrigan, then by Mutt & Jeff, with the latter also displacing his position as lead feature. They were a reprinted newspaper strip, remember? They were the lead.

Sargon the Sorceror

Mutt and Jeff took the cover again, and the lead, in issue 83. Green Lantern dropped Paul Reinman from the art and Doiby from the meat of the story for once and came up with a perfectly decent, neatly drawn tale, and The Black Pirate dropped back in, albeit to meet blue-skinned aliens: sigh, why can’t they get things right? But the same issue had a surprisingly good Hop Harrigan story, the first in months worth reading, as Hop received letters from the past from his mother, and went searching for her in Colombia. There he found that she was long dead, but that he had a sister, who returned with him to America.
The Forties were not a great time for supervillains, unless you were Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. With the exception of that solitary Solomon Grundy tale, Green Lantern had gone without in All-American (his regular villain, The Fool, only ever appeared in GL’s solo title).
Suddenly, the series had a rash of supervillains. ‘Crusher’ Crock, aka The Sportsmaster, the World’s dirtiest sports player, debuted in issue 85, only to die at the end of it: did the editors have no idea? Similarly, The Icicle was killed off in his first story, in issue 90. Don’t worry, both returned from their apparent deaths, The Icicle in issue 92 and The Sportsmaster as The Sportsmaster in issue 98.
More notable, and sensible, was the debut in issue 89 of Green Lantern’s ‘friendly’ enemy, the red-headed Harlequin. Alan Scott was back at the radio station for the first time in ages, as Program Director, with a new secretary, a Miss Maynne (Molly), who rather likes the crimefighter and, after years of being starved of beaus because of her athletic prowess, decided to become a villainess in order to attract Green Lantern’s attention. It was a silly notion, especially as a redhead who looked like that would be fighting them off in droves in real life.
The Harlequin, who made no secret of being in love with Green Lantern and wanting to marry him (this was still years before the Comics Code but even villains couldn’t have sex without a Marriage Licence). She and Molly Maynne made five appearances, including three consecutive ones, in seven issues of All-American only to disappear completely but for two back of the head cameos by Molly thereafter.
One of those stories did not show Green Lantern up in a particularly good light, when he decided to ask Molly out on a date to play on The Harlequin’s jealousy. What effect this might have on the ‘innocent’ Miss Maynne was not in his thinking, the asshole.
The Harlequin’s debut was accompanied by the first appearance by Cotton-Top Katie, a cartoon feature about a young girl with fluffy white hair, and her idiotic classmate the Perfesser. Cotton-Top ran for ten issues and was All-American’s penultimate new feature.
The Harlequin’s streak was brought to an end in issue 96 which introduced Streak the Wonder Dog. Actually, the story was more Streak, assisted by Green Lantern than the other way round, though having Alex Toth on the art made up for a lot. But it was a sign that the Golden Age was entering into its dog days. Where Flash Comics displayed a late burst of strength, its senior was collapsing in upon itself with a whimper.
After 99 issues, and a return bout with girl pirate ‘Jolly’ Roger, Hop Harrigan’s strip came to an abrupt end. It’s replacement was a western series, Johnny Thunder, no relation to the former JSA member with a magic lightning bolt. It was a foreshadowing, a foreshadowing of a future rushing towards All-American’s readership faster than they would have expected.
The comic reached issue 100 under a cover date of August 1948, suggesting it went on sale two months beforehand. Johnny Thunder, a strange mix of sharpshooter and costumed hero rubbed coal dust in his hair to disguise his ‘real’ identity of blond schoolteacher Johnny Tane, the Sheriff’s son. He also took over the cover, denying Green Lantern the landmark that he deserved. The series looked good, because it too was drawn by Alex Toth.
But Johnny was the future. All-American Comics 102 was a fiche copy: Johnny Thunder, Dr Mid-Nite, The Black Pirate, Green Lantern and, for the first and only time, no Mutt & Jeff, and it was over. When issue 103 appeared, a month later, it was as All-American Western Comics. Time was up for Green Lantern and Dr Mid-Nite, except for two more years in the Justice Society and All-Star Comics. The Golden Age was all but done. Westerns, Crime comics, Comic comics, but not superheroes in the way they’d been.

JSA Legacies: no. 4 – The Atom


The Atom 1 – old style

The Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and artist Ben Flinton for All-American Comics issue 19, though it’s also been said that the pair wrote and drew interchangeably. Neither men were stars, neither appear to have created anything apart from The Atom, and they left the industry in 1942, to go into the Armed Services, never to return.
The Atom was college student Al Pratt, of Calvin College. Pratt was distinguished by red hair and by being only 5’1” tall, which led to his being mocked and picked on. Pratt was further demeaned when, having finally persuaded classmate Mary James to go on a date with him, the pair were stopped by a mugger. Furious that Pratt did nothing to stop the crook taking her jewels, Mary walked away.
Frustrated, Pratt ended up in a local coffee bar, where he bought a starving bum a meal. The bum turned out to be former boxing trainer Joe Morgan, who spent the next year training Pratt as a fighter. Pratt intended to build a ring career in a mask, as The Mighty Atom, but was diverted from his course when he prevented Mary James from being kidnapped. Instead, he turned to crime-fighting.
As the Atom, Pratt wore a full face blue hood incorporating a short cape (that looked more like a towel!), a loose fronted yellow blouse, high-waisted brown leather trunks, blue gauntlets and boots. He was a founder member of the Justice Society of America and was second only to Hawkman in terms of appearances. He was present in the opening and closing chapters of All-Star 21, but his solo chapter was, for some unknown reason, overdrawn as Dr Fate, replaced by Wildcat in issue 27, supposedly permanently but instead only for one issue, and absent for issue 36 due to an injury in a basketball game (!), for which he was replaced by Batman.
The Atom’s solo career was somewhat disrupted. He appeared in all issues of All-American bar one from 19-61 before disappearing for eight issues. He returned for three more issues but it seems likely that he was going to be dropped, and replaced in the JSA, until some scheduling issues in All-Star forced his being kept on. His series transferred to Flash Comics with issue 80, where it appeared intermittently until the series’ cancellation with issue 104.
To be frank, the Atom was never better than second-rate. He had no superpowers, not until much later in the decade, and O’Connor and Flinton’s work was generally very poor in comparison with the early Golden Age comics. It was an era of crude art, but of great vigour and enthusiasm, with flashes of untrained but vivid imagination, against which O’Connor and Flinton could not compete. As time went by, Flinton’s art grew looser and more ill-defined, avoiding faces as much as possible.
Even after they left, the Atom still failed to get decent art, except for an Alex Toth chapter in All-Star 37. Then, suddenly, the Atom displayed super-strength in All-Star, and a couple of issues later changed his costume – yellow top and leggings, blue boots and a blue head-cap/eye-mask with a red fin whose shape continually changed. It didn’t do much for him, and the advent of super-strength wasn’t explained until the 1980’s, where an awkward 1942-set All-Star Squadron story had Pratt exposed to radiation that has no immediate effect upon him but might have a delayed effect…

The Atom 1 – new-style

Having said all this, it seems strange that the Atom should be chosen as the fourth, and in the event final Golden Age hero to be revived at the beginning of the Silver Age. Though Julius Schwartz was again the editor, and Gardner Fox the writer, the initial notion appears to have come from artist Gil Kane, who suggested reviving the Atom with the powers of Doll-Man.
The latter was a character created at Forties’ Quality Comics. Scientist Darrell Dane swallowed an amazing formula that enables him, by the force of his will, to shrink himself to six inches in height. Schwartz and Fox came up with research physicist Ray Palmer (named for a friend who was a prominent – and short – SF magazine editor), of Ivy Town University, researching the compression of matter. Palmer discovers a fragment of white dwarf star matter fallen to Earth (disbelief has to be severely suspended when it comes to Palmer picking it up, no matter how heavy he makes it out to be).
Palmer uses the star to grind a reducing lens that can indeed shrink objects to microscopic size. Unfortunately, when the object returns to its normal size, it explodes. Before Palmer can get round this difficulty, he joins his fiancée, lady lawyer Jean Loring, on an expedition taking the Scouts to nearby caves. A landslide seals them in and Palmer makes the ultimate sacrifice by using the lens to reduce himself to a small enough size to escape and rescue everyone.
Preparing for death, Palmer returns to his normal size unharmed. Some mysterious, mutant force in his body clearly protects him. So he devises a costume that he can wear at all times, over his street clothing (again, yeuch!), which is only visible when he shrinks himself to his regular height of six inches. The costume is a one-piece, blue at the top, red below, with blue boots, red gloves and a pull-over head-cowl and eye-mask. Palmer sets out to fight crime as the Atom.

The Atom 2 – classic style

Unlike the other revivals, the Atom’s motivation was intimately entwined with his romantic life. Like Barry Allen, Ray Palmer had a fiancée, but unlike Allen, Palmer was continually urging Jean to set a date. But Jean was determined to make a success of her legal career before agreeing to marry Palmer and, impliedly, give it up to become a housewife. So Palmer became the Atom to help Jean win her cases, so that she would become a success, and marry him, all the sooner.
Bearing in mind that this was an era in which the relatively recently established Comics Code Authority presided, whose iron rule ensured that good girls didn’t until they were married. So Ray Palmer became a superhero in order to get laid… not that anyone would ever have admitted that.
The Atom, unlike Hawkman, needed only two Showcase appearances to step up into his own bi-monthly series. He became the second hero to be inducted into the Justice League, in issue 14 of their series, although he was to become one of the ‘Small 5’, whose appearances were somewhat rationed. Although the JLA did organise for him a floating chair so that at the meeting table he could hover in everybody’s eye-line.
Nor was his series anything more than steady in terms of sales. Fox introduced a couple of villains, the longest-lasting being Chronos, the time-manipulating thief. He refined Palmer’s size-and-weight controls by adding fingertip controls within the Atom’s gloves, to get over the need to keep fumbling at his belly-button, and introduced a charming, erudite and offbeat series of adventures where the Atom would go through Dr Hyatt’s ‘Time Pool’ into the past, and meet luminaries with no obvious appeal to ten year old boys, such as Edgar Allan Poe.
The Atom 1 returned in the first JLA/JSA team-up, and continued to appear irregularly in following years.
Ray Palmer teamed up with Al Pratt on a couple of occasions, the second of which allowed us an update on the original Atom’s later years. Pratt was still at Calvin College but now as a Professor, in nuclear physics. Like Hawkman, he had retained his latter-day costume, plus his super-strength, but in their second adventure together, we learned that Pratt was still single. A blind date with the wealthy Marion Theyer who, suddenly, aged to over 50, led to a fast-moving, criss-crossing story of women ageing on Earth-2, men de-aging on Earth-1 and two Atoms fighting.
It ended with Pratt and Marion getting off to a good second start, but Marion Thayer never reappeared, and ever since the case has been that Pratt eventually managed to get Mary James to overlook his size and marry him (though if any stories were ever published showing them as a married couple, interacting, I confess I’ve never read them).
Palmer was also allowed a friendship with Carter (Hawkman) Hall, in the manner of the Superman/Batman, Flash/Green Lantern pairings, with occasional team-ups and crossovers.
But by 1969, The Atom’s sales were declining. Hawkman was cancelled and merged into The Atom, alternating between half-length shorts and full-length team-ups, but this merely delayed the inevitable for a year or so, and the series was cancelled after issue 45. This issue had seen Jean Loring driven temporarily insane, but this plotline was resolved in Justice League of America 81, when her mind was restored.
Little happened for either Atom during the Seventies. Palmer continued to appear with the Justice League, off and on.  In 1977, the year that Steve Engelhart wrote Justice League of America, Palmer displayed a certain resentment at the more prominent JLAers – i.e., the ‘Big 5’ over how he and the less-powerful members were not being treated as equals.
Pratt was not included in the All-Star revival series, an omission stemming from Paul Levitz’s decision to ignore the supposed ‘Earth-2-is-twenty-years-behind’ theory and treat the JSAers as being heroes now in their fifties: as a more-or-less non-powered hero, The Atom 1’s plausibility was threatened and he was side-lined. He was however going to feature in that decidedly oddball mid-Seventies series, Secret Society of Super-Villains, which ran for 16 issues without ever settling to a theme or direction for more than four and a half: in its final period, the scene had shifted to Earth-2 and the then-writer (Gerry Conway? David Kraft? Bob Rozakis?) had decided to bring out the JSA members Levitz wasn’t using in All-Star when a kindly fate intervened and it was cancelled, mid-series, with one complete issue unpublished.
He would, however, feature to an unexpected degree in All-Star Squadron, in his original costume, being something of a favourite with Roy Thomas. From this point on, Pratt’s character would be developed as a hot-headed, aggressive, punch-first-and-ask-questions-later youngster, for whom his Atom costume was a release from the frustrations of being picked on for being short.
Thomas would also retcon Pratt’s sudden and unexplained acquisition of super-strength and change of costume, though in highly contrived manner (an unfortunately common characteristic of all Thomas’s retcons in this period). In 1942, Dr Terry Curtis, a physicist, would be forced to become the radiation-wielding villain Cyclotron, in a costume identical to Pratt’s later uniform: Pratt would be exposed to radiation from Cyclotron, who sacrificed himself to defeat the ultimate villain. Pratt and the superheroine Firebrand would look after Curtis’s baby daughter, and Pratt would be godfather to her son Albert Rothstein, aka Infinity, Inc. member Nuklon, but in the short term, the delayed effect of the radiation would give Pratt his super-strength in 1948.
Throughout the Seventies, Palmer and Jean Loring remained steadfastly engaged, though with no sign of marriage (maybe Palmer had now got lucky in an age where moral standards and the CCA were shifting). Eventually, though, it was decided to fulfil the pair’s happiness. A short-series in the equally oddball Super-Team Family saw Loring kidnapped by the villain T.O.Morrow, and Palmer enlisting the aid of several different heroes to rescue her, as a result of which Jean finally agreed to set the date.
The marriage took place in Justice League of America 154, which started with Palmer’s ‘bachelor night’, at which point he revealed that he’d still not revealed his Atom identity to Jean. Having been persuaded that he’d better do so, and in double-quick time, Palmer was shocked when Jean repudiated him for lying to her all these years. Fortunately, by issues end she recanted, and the two wed at long last.

The Atom 2 – barbarian-style

Funnily, enough, having taken almost two whole decades to bring this clearly loving pair together, the marriage didn’t last five years. The Atom 2’s original artist, Gil Kane, a fiercely independent creator, had been pushing for more barbarian comics for several years and, with writer Jan Strnad, finally had a proposal accepted to completely revolutionise Ray Palmer.
Via a four-part Sword of the Atom mini-series and two Specials, Palmer firstly discovered that his preoccupation with his work at Ivy University and his superheroics had driven an increasingly lonely Jean into an affair with her Law partner, Paul Hoben (they call it an affair now, but in 1983 it was being caught snogging in the car). Hurt, Palmer jetted off to a South American conference to think, but the plane crashed in the Amazon jungle. Palmer escaped by shrinking to Atom-size but, in the fall, his controls were destroyed and he was stuck at six inches (with his hair flapping in the breeze as the top of his cowl was torn off).
Palmer then discovered a colony of six inch tall, yellow-skinned barbarian pygmies called Mohrlaidians. He became their protector, a frog-rider, and decided not to return to civilisation, except for once, to grant Jean a divorce, tell his life-story to a thinly-disguised Norman Mailer (Brawler) which revealed his identity to the world, hand his Atom costume and belt to the afore-mentioned Paul Hoben (who in some quarters is regarded as The Atom 3, but not here, given that the new Protector of Ivy Town never even used them once), and returned to the jungle to re-unite himself with the lovely five-and-a-bit-inches tall Princess Laethwyn.
I’m sorry, I apologise. It was by Kane, whose art is tremendous, and Strnad’s a good, subtle writer, and it’s far better than I’ve made it sound. But it’s hardly surprising that it didn’t last.
Palmer did not return until post-Crisis on Infinite Earths in Power of the Atom, written by Roger Stern. Pratt, at this point, had gone into a Teutonic Gods limbo with the Justice Society, holding back Gotterdammerung.
Stern quickly dispensed with Princess Laethwyn and her Mohrlaidians, having an illegal logging operation slash-and-burn that quarter of the jungle, and them, forcing Palmer to return to civilisation. At first he went back to superhero stuff and his old villains, though another new direction came in after Palmer learned that the rainforest raid had been deliberately aimed at driving him back to America, where a sinister CIA offshoot wanted to recruit him as an operative. Palmer got his revenge, which involved killing the director of the operation and shrinking the five operatives to the standard six inches.
These operatives then formed a Micro/Squad working for the Cabal. With Power of the Atom cancelled after only 18 issues, Palmer’s story carried on into Suicide Squad, working deep cover, assisting the Squad, and attracting the Cabal’s attention. This backfired spectacularly when Blacksnake of the Squad suddenly turned on the Atom and impaled him.
It was a stunning shock, but it was also a cheat. Palmer then revealed himself as having infiltrated the Micro/Squad by impersonating one of its fallen members: the Atom who has assisted the Suicide Squad and fought against the Cabal is The Atom 3, aka Adam Cray, son of a Senator murdered by the Cabal, who had been working with Palmer to facilitate Palmer’s infiltration. A retrospective Atom 3, like Fel Andar as Hawkman 3. Cray, incidentally, was using the costume and controls Palmer had left with Paul Hoben.

The Atom 3 – no-style

In the meantime, Al Pratt had returned to the scene in 1992. The success of the Justice Society of America mini-series, from which he’d been omitted, led to a short-lived ongoing series, with Al Pratt as a regular. Pratt returned from limbo in his original costume, but rapidly changed it for a blue face-hood, sleeveless yellow top and blue pants. He was now bald, with a bushy moustache, a touchy, defensive, stocky man, protective of team-mate Wildcat (who had been crippled for life before the JSA had gone to limbo and been mystically rejuvenated), and quietly heartbroken that, whilst he had gone, his wife Mary had died, without him being able to say goodbye.
Pratt was not long for the DC Universe. Justice Society of America was cancelled after 10 issues, amid allegations that it was a political, not commercial issue. The JSA next appeared in Zero Hour, when they gathered to face the apparent villain, The Extant. Hot-headed as usual, The Atom 1 was the first to spring into the attack. He was killed instantly by a blast of radiation. Apart from the occasional flashback, he would never return.
DC were thus left with one Atom, Ray Palmer, and his life had been put through so many changes that DC decided to use Zero Hour to completely reset him. In the final confrontation, The Atom tries to slip into the molecules of The Extant’s body, but finds him to be composed of pure energy: Extant reverses Palmer’s ageing, intending to send him all the way back past his birth, but Waverider intervenes, stopping the reversal with Palmer aged about eighteen, albeit with all his memories. Adopting an Animal Man style jacket over his re-redesigned costume, Palmer founds and leads a new incarnation of the Teen Titans.

The Atom 2 – teen style

That didn’t last long either, just 24 issues, ending with Palmer returning to his standard 30-ish age and disappearing into the background again, until Identity Crisis.
I’ve written about this series elsewhere: suffice to know that the death of Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, starts a frenzy of concern for the superhero community, who fear attacks on their loved ones. One such attack is made on Jean Loring, now single again. Palmer’s fear for her safety is manifest and indeed he saves her at the last moment, bringing them back together, to his intense delight. It’s short-lived however, as a casual remark from Jean exposes her as Sue Dibny’s killer, albeit clumsily rather than deliberately, and that she has done everything in the hope of winning Palmer back to her: instead, it gets her into Arkham Asylum.
(Where she becomes the new Eclipso, and becomes a forever-tainted character, in a way that Carol Ferris was never so irretrievably tainted by being Star Sapphire. It was a bad move, cutting off an avenue for Palmer’s life.)
Hurt beyond measure, bitterly ashamed and distraught, Palmer shrunk himself into oblivion, pausing only to tell his close friend Carter Hall (the restored Hawkman 1) that he was never coming back. And throughout Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, there was no Ray Palmer. But one of the underlying stories of DC’s next weekly, Countdown (to Final Crisis) was the hunt for Ray Palmer.
Palmer’s shrinking had taken him into a microscopic universe where, after Infinite Crisis, he found himself on Earth-51 of the new Multiverse, a seemingly-idyllic world in which their Ray Palmer had just died before going on a blind date with a woman named Jean Loring. It seemed too good to be true. Palmer’s friends were all his old Silver Age colleagues, all of whom had retired after crime was eradicated (due, it seemed, to Batman killing all the villains).But Palmer found his Earth-51 equivalent had been working on something to avert a danger to the whole Multiverse,which made it essential that he complete the research.
This idyll ended when he was finally found by a search team from his own Earth, bringing with them an unsuspected danger who ruins Palmer’s life in exile. He teams up with his colleagues to help save the Multiverse.

The Atom 4 – eastern-style

Meanwhile, in the wake of Infinite Crisis, DC came forward with The Atom no 4, whose series was entitled The All-New Atom, but which was as short-lived as the others before it. The Atom 4, who was developed from ideas put forward by Grant Morrison at a time when he’d been trying to re-write virtually the entire DC Universe, was Ryan Choi, a Hong Kong-born and based Physics Professor and a correspondent with Palmer, who took his place among Ivy University’s faculty. Choi then found Palmer’s old size-and-weight belt and became the latest Atom.
Over the 25 issues of the series, Choi was initially mentored by a mysterious figure whom everyone assumed was Palmer, but who instead was exposed as Palmer’s oldest foe, Chronos, who had manipulated everything, up to and including Palmer’s side of the original correspondence. Choi was part of the team that retrieved Palmer from Earth-51, and eventually impressed Palmer sufficiently that Palmer insisted both use the name, The Atom.
During Blackest Night, Palmer took on another role by being deputised into the Indigo Tribe, the Corps that wields the light of compassion, though he retained his size and weight command, which has long since been keyed to his thoughts so as to make things easy for unimaginative writers. Then, in Brightest Day, Choi was found to have been murdered, offstage, by the mercenary assassin Deathstroke, arousing controversy over the killing of one of the very few Asian-American heroes at DC.
Once again, that left only The Atom 2.
It seems clear, down the years, that there is a small fandom for the shrinking Atom, but not one large enough to sustain Ray Palmer, in any form, as other than a supporting character.
It should be mentioned in passing that, in addition to his godson Nuklon, who would later be admitted to the new JSA as Atom-Smasher (i.e., a cyclotron) in a new costume based on The Atom 1’s, Al Pratt was later credited with a son he never knew, Grant Emerson, aka Damage. Emerson’s origin was eventually that he was conceived by Pratt and his wife Mary, but she was kidnapped by an old JSA foe, during which ordeal she was led to believe she had miscarried. Instead, the foetus had been removed and, treated with DNA taken from every JSA member, was born artificially, As Damage, Emerson could channel energy into explosions: he was used to re-start the Universe in Zero Hour, after Parallax was attacked. He too ended up donning an Atom-inspired costume and joining the even newer JSA, post Infinite Crisis, only to be killed off some years later.
So now it’s the New 52. Ray Palmer appears as a scientist and supporting character in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E but not as a superhero. Sgt. Al Pratt appears in Earth-2 and has now have received superpowers that once again make him The Atom. Ryan Choi was supposed to be resurrected and appear in Justice League, but the frontline Atom is actually The Atom 5, aka latina student at Ivy University (apparently, nobody can learn to shrink anywhere else), Rhonda Pineda. Good luck to her.

The Atom 5 – lady-style