Wednesday, February 04, 2009

You'd enjoy this Atom issue more without the cover. Really!


We already looked at the Bonus Book, but now let's check out Power of the Atom #4's main story, "What are you doing with the rest of your life?" Written by Roger Stern, pencils by Dwayne Turner, inks by K.S. Wilson.

The Atom starts the issue facing some childhood fears, by doing a little cliff-jumping. In full costume. What would normally be terrifying (believe me, I know...) and possibly dangerous, is now a snap, as he shrinks to a safer height.

Safer for diving, but not for other things: as he surfaces, Ray sees the shadow of wings. Remembering his Sword of the Atom days again, he dives, momentarily thinking it to be a Skul-bird. Deciding instead to teach the falcon a lesson, the Atom launches himself out of the water and on to the bird's back--since he can change his size and weight so quickly, Ray can jump with the normal strength of a six-foot-tall man, while changing to a much smaller and lighter mass.

Ray decides to see if the bird can be ridden, broken like a wild bronco. Not so much.

This whole sequence is a bit of a cheat--it's hard to believe Ray could mistake Carter's head for the back of a bird--but worth it for the joke. The whole issue, Stern seems to be running with the recent notion that Hawkman was a humorless stiff, his wife Shiera a good-natured sweetheart who loved her dour hubby; and neither they nor the Atom were thrilled with their recent lot in life. (As opposed to now, I guess.)

Ray is considering an offer to work for the CIA; and Hawkman is gloomy and ashamed of his homeworld Thanagar. It probably says something about there that Carter is like the friendliest guy from the whole planet. (OK, there's Shiera too.) Ray suggests maybe they all need new identities, and Shiera balks at that, liking who she was. She suggests Ray join them on vacation, to regroup.

Now, a comic about the Hawks and the Atom sitting around, catching up on their reading, maybe enjoying a pleasant evening in playing Scrabble...yeah, that's not gonna happen. Upon returning to the apartment they were subletting from a friend, the Hawks discover the place has been robbed. So, their friend's place is messed up, but the Hawks are worried about their missing trunk of replica earth-weapons. Yeah, if you ever read the back of Previews or Progressive Ruin's ...the End of Civilization and wondered who is ordering replicas of Klingon bat'leths or Frodo's sword or the Glaive; it's Carter and Shiera. To be fair, they are stabbing people with them, so they aren't just knickknacks...

The trunk also had a couple of spare anti-gravity belts--the belts are how the Hawks actually fly, the wings are just for show steering. And since the belts "emit a subtle energy," that is, radiation; they can track whoever took it. The Hawks and Atom find a warehouse full of hired thugs, and rapidly beat the hell out of them.

However, on examining their belts, Hawkwoman realizes they're fakes. Too late, the Hawks are trapped by their old foe, Ira Quimby, I.Q. He's a super-genius supervillain, kind of like Marvel's Wingless Wizard, only with even worse fashion sense. What are those, blue jodhpurs? Or did he get misshapen thighs with his super-smarts? At any rate, I.Q. has reverse-engineered the anti-grav belts, in order to trap the Hawks in a gravity field. Which the Atom can blithely stroll out of, turning his own mass down to 0.

The Atom rides the photon stream of I.Q.'s transmission, back to his headquarters, and gets him to blow up his own power supply. The Hawks get free, and get to work putting out the fire I.Q. caused.
Maybe in the DCU, the Atom bugged Watergate...
The next day, in San Clemente, a mysterious bathrobed figure, that's been sitting around reading about the Atom the last few issues, sits around reading about the Atom. (I probably didn't think this at the time, but was Stern trying to draw a parallel to Richard Nixon here? Who else would be in San Clemente, with a suited bodyguard, kinda portly and balding? You can ask in the comments, if you really need to know, but if you're familiar with the Atom you could probably make a wild stab and guess it. Although, I could not say if this mystery character ever appeared unmasked before...) I may have to ask CBR's Comic Book Legends Revealed.

In the end, Ray decides against the CIA offer, and to give his life as Ray Palmer another shot. Not a great comic, but it was trying: the art's a little rushed in places, but Stern at least acknowledges the cardboard characterization the Hawks and Ray used to have, and tries to move them forward a bit. I know I had a run of this series as a kid, but I've long since lost most of them, and I wish I had the last couple; since Ray ends up in Suicide Squad some time later.

One of the changes that Stern made that I really liked, was that the Atom could appear in costume at his normal size: previously, he had to be tiny for his costume to appear, so often in JLA or team-up events, he either had to stay small or sit in his tiny little chair at the JLA meeting table, or appear plainclothes. True, he's more distinctive tiny, but Ray shouldn't have to be small all the time.

2 comments:

Sea_of_Green said...

Yeah, that always used to bug me, too. WHY did the Atom have to sit in the little tiny chair at JLA meetings, or ride around on Hawkman's shoulder all the time? He could have been normal size without any trouble. As it was, it was almost like he enjoyed being the JLA "pet" or something.

SallyP said...

Oh Hal was just jealous that Hawkman had Ray as a pet, and that's why he got Itty.

Now, I can just SEE Carter feverishly reading Previews,and ordering Batleths...'cause that's exactly the sort of thing that he WOULD do.