Fun-Sized Superhero

The Atom Archives Volume 1: written by Gardner Fox; illustrated by Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson, and Mike Sekowsky (1961-63; collected 2005): When the great DC editor Julius Schwartz decided to reboot the humdrum Golden-Age Atom for DC’s ascendant Silver Age, he wisely gave the character actual super powers.

The Golden-Age Atom had been a short guy who was pretty good in a fight. The Silver-Age Atom was a scientist who figured out how to shrink himself while also controlling his mass.

This latter ability — which allowed the Atom to be light as a feather or to weigh his full 180 pounds when he was six inches tall — really could have been dangerous, as he could conceivably have been the first superhero to be constantly in peril of collapsing into a black hole. But apparently the Atom kept good track of his mass-to-size ratio and avoided this terrible fate.

This new Atom allowed for Gardner Fox and Schwartz to play with size and perspective within a quasi-scientific framework. The explanation for how the Atom could travel down phonelines required a half-page of text, and actually explained to me how the sound of a voice or what-have-you supplied power to analog phone lines. Science!

The elegant and dynamic Gil Kane and the detailed Murphy Anderson made a really nice art team on these early adventures. As with most Silver Age reboots, the Atom eschews a cape. And Kane makes the little fellow quite balletic and acrobatic, just as he did the Silver Age Green Lantern. A lot more fun and engaging than I expected. Recommended.

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