In the back of The Atom #28 is a little Gardner Fox gem titled, "The 100,000 'Atoms' of Ivy Town!"
I will admit I had never read The Atom's adventures when I was a kid. I preferred stories about women, like Supergirl or Lois Lane, or stories of big beefy guys like Superman and Batman. The idea of somebody who could shrink to 6 inches didn't light my childhood brain on fire. It took a couple of issues of The Atom coming my way before I ever sat down to read a story.
So far I have discovered that The Atom is tiny, strong, can vary his size and weight and is quite adept at doing so. He gets his powers from a small white-dwarf particle. And now, with that last bit of information, I am suddenly and wholly in his corner. A piece of a white dwarf? That's amazing. I love the inventiveness of comic creators in the Golden Age and Silver Age. I love how willing they are to embrace a tiny piece of science and then make it completely their own.
Note that Jean Loring is called a “girl research scientist,” because she can't just be a research scientist. That would give her too much credit. No, she must be identified as the "girl" research scientist so that we know not to take her as seriously as her paramour, who, even at 6 inches tall, was still a man and therefore worth much than a “girl." It’s like Lois Lane always being referred to as a girl reporter. Has Clark Kent ever been referred to as a boy reporter? Or Ray Palmer as a boy research scientist? But I digress…
As we begin the story, we see Ray Palmer calling on Jean Loring because they have planned to go on a picnic. Ray makes a smooth move to get a little lovin’ and suddenly he is kissing air. (I love this panel. A very goofy look on his face.) When he looks around, he sees that Jean has shrunk! "Help me, Ray! I — Ohh!" And with that, Jean passes out.
Can he restore her to normal? "Every time I've tried to restore to normal size anything which has shrunk — it has always blown up!" Uh-oh. Then, in a transparent effort to forestall hundreds of letters from anal fanboys, Ray thinks of the one exception to the "they always blow up" problem. Zatana didn't blow up, "… but she used magic to protect herself!" With the fanboys taken care of, Ray grabs Jean and hightails it to his car.
It's off to the lab! As he drives, he battles within himself about what he is setting out to do. He could be exposing her to a "cure" that may, in the end, cause her to explode. It is a harrowing choice and it's reflected in Gil Kane’s artwork. Ray's handsome visage is replaced by the face of a man being torn apart by impossible choices. He gets to his lab, puts tiny Jean on the platform in front of one giant, scary, green machine, and decides to "do this gradually." (I keep trying to figure out what the pseudoscience is behind the giant green machine. Is it radiation? Some sort of growing ray? What?)
Ray focuses his ray on Jean, who is surrounded by a purple light. Finally, we get a thought balloon that says, "Those intense ultraviolet radiations are one of the key factors behind my ability to shrink or grow! I wonder — could it be the rays of today's sun after a week of bad weather that triggered off the size-shrinking reaction in her body?" So his machine must use ultraviolet radiation. And the light around Jean is purple because of the “violet” in “ultraviolet." That should help the kiddies.
Ray puts the machine on automatic, looks out the window and sees people shrinking before his eyes. The moment they hit 6 inches, they pass out. What on earth is going on in Ivy Town? Ray had theorized that perhaps the little piece of white dwarf in his costume had affected Jean. But when he walks out the door, he realizes some of the tiny people are strangers and therefore never have been anywhere near him or his uniform. It dawns on him that even if his ultraviolet-radiation ray works on Jean, he can't possibly put all of the citizens of his city under the device.
Ray decides to head for the Ivy Town Glass Works at the edge of town. He thinks he'll be able to find a special lens that he can use on the rest of the townspeople. Pretty good plan. There's only one problem…
"Unknown to Ray, while he had been occupied with Jean — a band of out-of-town crooks had driven into town and was robbing the local bank… ." It's hard to understand on the surface why this is a problem. Sure, as a superhero Ray has committed himself to thwarting crime. But I think he could be forgiven for not stopping to spoil a bank robbery when he's trying to save the entire city of 100,000 people! There doesn't seem to be anything special about these bank robbers, other than the fact they are from out of town. This obviously is very important. We would not have been told this unless it is going to play a role.
As soon as they try to rob the bank, everyone in the bank shrinks and faints. Everyone, that is, except the out-of-town bank robbers. Naturally, they're quite happy with the shrinking and fainting public. It allows them to steal as much as they want. It also gives us this amazing line: "All of a sudden, everybody but us got small and keeled over!" I'm considering needlepointing that on a pillow.
At this point, their hands filled with the bank's money, the crooks realize that the entire town "… got small and keeled over!" What an amazing day to be a crook! So where will they go first? More banks? Jewelry stores? The glassworks where The Atom is currently headed? Hmm… if you are a crook what do you most desire? Money? Jewelry? Glass — that's it! Glass! Really? Perhaps they are in desperate need of decanters. Whatever the case, the full-sized thieves in a city full of tiny fainted people decide to go straight to the glassworks.
Your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen when the glass-craving thieves cross paths with The Tiny Titan! Ooh, I’ll see you here next month! Feel free to read while full-sized or shrunken — your choice. I don’t judge.
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