In recent weeks, I’ve discussed how the drug-illuminated surrealism and satire of mid-70s Marvel left DC comics looking vapid and repetitious. No comic was more illustrative of this stasis than the Schwartz-edited JLA. As a postscript to the Super-Spectacular series, may I direct you to my Some Fantastic Place blog and ” The Mystery Men of 1975″. There, I outline my imaginary plans to move away from homages to Gardner Fox sci-fi to crime and espionage stories.
I am aware that the JLA’s formula in the early Bronze Age was very successful and that it would, in any case, come to resemble the Avengers by 1977 when Steve Englehart was scripting. If Len Wein hadn’t got the Editor-in-Chief role at Marvel and remained JLAuthor we might have seen the following, from JLA 115 onwards : guest appearances for Zatanna and Swamp Thing; Amos Fortune; Elongated Man as Chairman and a summer Crisis reviving the Teen Titans. My dream-League would eschew some of the reverence for the Sixties,however.
Of course, a reduced League, shorn of Silver Age- favourites (the Flash, the Atom, Elongated Man and Red Tornado ) would have to be in the bailiwick of editor Boltinoff, in order to have my dream team of Haney, Aparo and the Fabulous Freak, Metamorpho. After DKR , I might not induct Talia but a war with Intergang and the League of Assassins would be the backdrop; new members might include the “switcheroo-witcheroo” Enchantress and Denny O’Neil’s Kung-Fu Fighter.
The flashpoint would be the assassination of Mod Wonder Woman, Diana Prince- the “Great Step Backward” to the traditional Amazing Amazon with her struggles against the Maniacs of Mercury et al could have been an Earth-2 book, after all.
Sornhill, nr Galston (above) where my cousin lived at West Burnhead farm
Speaking of which, the début of the militaristic Atom in Earth-2 reminded me of my first encounter with the marginalised Mighty Mite. In the very early 70s, when my cousin Jim went into the senior years at Galston’s Loudoun Academy, I was given his DC comics collection: a trove of obscure Silver Age characters like Rip Hunter, Mark Merlin and Eclipso. One of the later issues depicted the first team-up between the Atoms of Earth 1 and 2.
The mid-60s Atom was a futile attempt to emulate the flip voice of Stan Lee but graced with the dynamic pencils of Gil Kane. Here, Atom Al Pratt is a college lecturer who drives a sleek Atomobile. He’s a hand-to-hand fighter in the vein of Batman who helps crooks go straight.
I was particularly taken with the Thinker, whom I naturally assumed to be the Atom’s Lex Luthor or Dr. Doom. I didn’t know he was a Jay-Flash foe and the first Golden age villain to be given a modern makeover- the next would be the Brain Wave in the All-Star Comics revival of 1976.
I noticed that , throughout the Thinker story, Al’s costume is clearly drawn with short sleeves – just like the grown-up Robin in his JLA debut- but I was appalled by my discovery of the Atom’s original luchador look in 1974. Despite this hood- and- suspenders eyesore, Pratt was Roy Thomas’ favourite hero of the Forties and subsequently starred in almost every issue of the first two years of All-Star Squadron. This was a reversal of fortune for Al who had scarcely appeared in the Seventies. His origin, as a kid who had been bullied for his lack of height, made him identifiable if hardly dramatic. Thomas also retro-fitted an origin for Al’s atomic punches and his second costume.
When the JSA were revived in the early Nineties, Mike Parobeck redesigned the Atom; his new look recalled a certain diminutive, Canadian scrapper from the House of Ideas.
After his death in the Zero Hour event, Pratt was succeeded in the JSA by his god-son Atom-Smasher (the former Nuklon) and by his own offspring, the tragic Damage. Any of the Atom’s solo adventures from the Forties tend to be lacklustre affairs. However, one Atom I would particularly like to see again is the Tangent version.
Another great logo!
A mid-90s imprint employing Schwartz’s gimmick of revitalising old names, this energy-projecting flier is a mash-up of Superman and Captain Atom but has a majestic super-hero look.
Come back for more Atom-action in September’s Mystery Men posts!
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