Ray Palmer, better known as The Atom (DC’s shrinking super scientist superhero), has perennially been one of those characters the people love and Love the Idea Of but no one actually reads.
Sword of the Atom tpb cover, art by Gil Kane ©DC Comics
His bi-monthly Silver Age title lasted 38 issues, that used to mean something as a successful book would graduate to monthly status. Ray never got that chance until sharing the title with Hawkman for another meager 6 issues. After that Doctor Palmer could be found regularly in Justice League of America but was relegated to back up stories in Adventure Comics and Action Comics.
There are Three Factors that work for The Atom very well and these same factors work against the character.
- Super Science. It is Very Cool to see a super scientist as a super hero. Unfortunately that has been done better by Marvel in the Fantastic Four, even though The Atom predates the FF by a month.
- Shrinking is a Very Cool power and an excellent visual dynamic. Unfortunately like Marvel’s Ant-Man it never took off in a big way, pardon the pun. Until recently that is…
- University Professor. Again with the Very Cool but it didn’t mean anything. It has the intriguing possibility of being Very Dull as Ray was never as cool as Donald Sutherland in Animal House.
And that was that.
Or so we thought, it turns out one of the best Atom stories ever told were about Atom not being very Atom-y. This brings me to 1983’s Freaking Awesome Sword of the Atom mini-series by Jan Strnad and one of The Atom’s Silver Age co-creators Gil Kane.
The initial 4 issue mini-series deals with Atom (he abandons the name of Ray Palmer) hooking up with princess Laethwen…
SoA Special #1, cover by Gil Kane
… and leading a rebellion against her tyrannical father (and his scheming advisor). From page 1 of issue 4:
Written by Jan Strnad, Art by Gil Kane. © DC Comics
So SoA’s “elevator pitch” could be “The Atom meets John Carter of Mars,” which was a GREAT movie that Disney didn’t know what to do with.
The story was successful enough to get 3 additional specials, the third with art by Pat Broderick and Dennis Janke. For whatever reason it never took off for an ongoing series, SoA is available in an out of print trade and the individual issues should be had for $1 or less each, though the Specials are a little trickier to find. I have heard references to this series being “Sort of the Atom” as most of the series is about The Atom acting very un-Atom-y.
There was an adaptation of the series on DC Nation and on The Brave and The Bold and I think Brandon Routh would bring a lot of charm to the story on an adaptation on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. By the way, he is great as Ray Palmer but it could do with a little less Iron Man.
When contacting author (and fellow comic book geek) Brad Meltzer on Facebook about this series and the developments of this series on the events of his series Identity Crisis (art by Rags Morales) he responded with, “Love that series.”
It is the best Atom series where he doesn’t do much Atom-y stuff and a superhero story that doesn’t do a lot of superhero stuff.