Monday, November 17, 2014

Only six-inches tall, but still terrifying...


I was surprised to find this issue for fifty cents, then mildly surprised it didn't have the Comics Code seal on the cover. Then extra-surprised midway through: from 1988, Sword of the Atom Special #3, written by Jan Strnad, pencils by Pat Broderick, inks by Dennis Janke.

Like the previous Sword of the Atom stories, Ray Palmer is still trapped at six-inches tall, in the Amazon jungle, with the alien Morlaidhans. Which isn't as bad as all that: Ray got the girl, Princess Laethwen, and a surprising aptitude for both sword-fighting and survival. Ray and Laethwen have made their way to the city of the Skul-Riders--OK, actually they're hawks, I think. But since the aliens, like Ray, are trapped at six-inches tall, they can do that; but this batch don't have Laethwen's yellow skin. I'm not sure why, but whatever. Ray's there to try and investigate the scientific equipment of the former king, Torbul. (The aliens, yellow or no, had been more advanced but fallen into savagery; in fact, some may have been there as a penal colony.)

Friendly local doctor Ylaan isn't sure what to make of Torbul's work, but a booby-trap sets off a deadly plague. The current tyrant king comes down with it, and while Laethwen tries to help a local farm couple who's son comes down with it, Ylaan tries to warn Ray to flee. They almost escape, except for the Skul-Riders; and Ray and Laethwen end up in the dungeon. The tyrant dies, and while most of the plague victims are thrown into a pit, a funeral pyre was planned for him. Ray and Laethwen try to make their escape during the funeral, but the tyrant rises from his pyre, still on fire! And that farm couple, who's son died? He comes back.

I was absolutely not expecting that! The zombie son kills his mother, before the father has to put him down. Meanwhile, a dying Ylaan explains the plague didn't kill it's victims, but between the fever and the pit-burial, they would have nothing but hate. Kill-crazed, the dead rise, and Ray and Laethwen's only hope is to fight their way to a Skul trapped in a burning rookery and escape.

The next day, the zombies are again dead, their bodies burned out after their brief "re-life." The bodies would be burned this time. As Ray notes in a journal, wondering if he was responsible for this or if it would've happened regardless, he and Laethwen would spend a couple weeks alone in the jungle, to make sure they weren't infected before going home. But he was in no particular hurry.

It feels a little overwritten in spots, but a surprisingly dark story here. Sadly, Laethwen would be given short shrift, fridged at the start of Power of the Atom. I thought that was a misstep then, but they had to get Ray back to America.



1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

Loved this gimmick for Ray. It surprisingly suited him, and as you said, he seemed to have an aptitude for the sword and savagery things. Guess being besties with Hawkman for all those years rubbed off on him.

I wish DCUC made a proper Atom figure of this period, but at least we came close with the IL version.