Comics / DC Comics History

DC Comics History: The Atom 1964 - 1967: The New Look


By Deejay Dayton
November 10, 2019 - 10:20

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The Atom continued to headline his own book during the period 1964 – 1967: The New Look. There weren’t a lot of changes to the title during this time, and the Atom was one of the few heroes who did not wind up facing an acronymic organization of criminals, a la James Bond’s SPECTRE. But there were still some distinctive signs of the period. For one thing, Zatanna’s quest took her into the pages of the Atom’s book, and he would participate in a team-up with Al Pratt, his Justice Society counterpart.

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There were never very many supporting characters in the Atom’s series, but the cast did expand a bit during this time. The most important supporting character was his fiancée, Jean Loring. Although she appears in almost every story, few really develop her character, or her relationship with Ray Palmer. The exception during these years would be the tale from Atom 20. In this story, Ray Palmer builds a computer that he intends to use to track criminals based on their methods of operation. He shows it off to Jean, and they decide to test it out by asking it if they would be suited for marriage. The computer gives them a resounding NO as an answer, and Ray assumes the computer must be broken. Crooks learn of the computer, and break into Ray's lab to reprogram it to tell them how to commit a robbery without giving themselves away. Of course, by attacking Ray Palmer as they enter the lab they pretty much screw up before they have even started. The Atom gets on their case, and by noticing the way one of them tied his shoelaces with a unique knot used by steveadores, and that he had a bowling pin tattoo, the Atom is able to track and capture them. At the end of the story, Ray is about to re-test the computer by asking about his and Jean's relationship again. Jean insists that there is no need to ask the computer, and they just kiss instead.  Such a shame that Ray did not believe the computer. His and Jean's marriage would be a disaster.

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Enrichetta Negrini, the Italian grad student, returns in two stories during this era. She does little in her appearance in Atom 23, but issue 15 makes better use of her character. Ray Palmer gets consulted by the police after a man calling himself the Hyper-Thief claims to be pulling off impossible robberies of safes by jumping into hyper-space. Enrichetta Negrini has been doing research on the possibility of travelling through hyper-space, and is thrilled when the Atom shows up, and wants to work with her on the case. She finds an unusual energy spike at the time the thefts are taking place. Sadly, for Enrichetta, who wanted proof that her theories were true, the villain is not travelling through hyper-space at all. He is using the energy to open secret compartments in the bottoms of the safes, which the valuables fall into, and which he can retrieve later. A clever little story.

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Maya, the Queen of the Dryads, who had debuted alongside Jason Woodrue, makes her only appearance without that villain in a story in The Atom 20. The tale deals with a group of criminals, and a witness who doesn't want to get involved. One of the men escapes from the Atom, and he spends the story trying to get the guy to work with him and identify the man. Since the man is superstitious, and apparently quite gullible, the Atom enlists the aid of Maya and her dryads to impersonate leprechauns, and convince him to help catch the missing thief. It's a pretty lame story, really. It also contains a long explanation of how the Atom is able to travel through the telephone lines. Despite their attempts, it never does quite make sense scientifically.

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Jean Loring's father makes his only appearance in this book Atom 21. Dr. Loring had appeared in the Atom's run in Showcase, a scientist like Palmer himself, but working on top secret experiments for the US government. In this story, the man's inventions keep getting duplicated by the Russians, and since the agents guarding him are sure there are no leaks, they suspect mind reading. The Atom trails the man they think is using ESP to steal the secrets, but falls into a trap. The foreign agents had not been stealing inventions from Loring, they had been using telepathy to plant ideas into his mind for inventions they had already developed. The whole thing was a really absurdly complicated scheme to capture the Atom, and force him to reveal the secrets of his shrinking powers. They take away his belt, and leave him to be mauled by a cat, unless he gives them the information they want. But they are unaware of his new glove based controls. The Atom is able to activate his belt from a distance, and increases its weight, causing the man to drop it, and have it crash through his glass cage. Once out, rounding up the spies is a snap.

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Ed Thayer, Ray Palmer's old friend and classmate, gets introduced in Atom 15. Ray and Jean Loring come to visit Ed, and Ray is puzzled about the horrible state of the house and grounds. Even stranger, Jean sees the same things in a completely different way. Entering the house, they meet a man who claims to be Ed's assistant, although when he pulls out a gun and locks the couple in the cellar, it becomes apparent that he is lying. The man has stolen an illusion-casting machine that Ed created, but finds it will not work outside of the town. In fact, as the Atom figures out as he fights the thieves, the only reason it works is because it was close to a lithium lamp that Ed had also invented. The thieves are foreign spies, who steal other people's inventions for their government. The Atom defeats them, and frees his old buddy.

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The Bat-Knights began as opponents for the Atom in issue 22, but would become his allies by the end of it. The story begins as a man transporting jewels gets robbed while on a train by the Bat-Knights. As one might expect, no one believes his story about miniature people riding bats, and he gets arrested for stealing the jewels. Lucky for him, he picks Jean Loring as his lawyer, so the Atom gets on the case. The Atom himself winds up fighting the Bat-Knights, so he knows the guy is telling the truth. Trailing them, he finds they come from the save cave in which he first tried out his shrinking ray on himself. These people, the Elvarans, are not evil by nature, but have fallen under the hypnotic control of a thief, Eddie Gordon. All Gordon has to do is fire his gun, and that places them under his command. For some reason. Anyway, he has made the Bat-Knights his own little thieving army. The effect is not permanent, though, and as it wears off the Bat-Knights join forces with the Atom to defeat Gordon.  It's a simple but entertaining story, visually quite enjoyable for the Bat-Knights.

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The Bat-Knights return in Atom 30. Ray Palmer and Jean Loring lead another nature hike into a cave system, just like they did in the Atom's origin story. Jean notices that two of the kids, who had just started dating in the first story in the caves, are now married.  Ray is surprised when the Bat-Knights appear, and start attacking the group. Ray shrinks down and becomes the Atom, figuring that this will make them stop, but they seem not to remember him, and go all out to defeat him, knocking him out. The Bat-Knights are being lead by two masked men, one of whom is Eddie Gordon, the man who had controlled the Bat-Knights in their debut story. Gordon has broken out of jail with his cell-mate, and together they have developed a sonic boomer, which puts the Knights back under their control. That makes the story basically a repetition of the first one, with the Atom having to destroy the boomer in order to free the Bat-Knights, who then become his allies again. But this story does have more action than the first one, and some good pages as the Atom deals with cave animals. The sonic boomer also affects his size and weight controls, preventing him from either growing or shrinking to avoid them.

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Teaming up with one’s Earth-2 counterpart was common during these years, and Ray Palmer joins forces with Al Pratt to take on the Thinker in in Atom 29. Ray Palmer and Jean Loring are at a museum when the Thinker bursts in and robs the place. The Atom has no idea who this villain is, but follows him through a dimensional portal, winding up on Earth-2. The Thinker gets away, and spends a page thinking about himself, which helps fill in the reader on his thinking cap, which now not only improves his mind power, but also gives him a degree of telepathic powers. The Thinker had not been seen since the first team up of the two Flashes, six years earlier. To his dismay, the Thinker discovers that another thief, on Earth-2, committed the exact same crime he was pulling off on Earth-1.

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But the case turns out to have another twist. The Earth-2 man wakes up to find the stolen goods in his home, with no memory of having taken them. He calls in Al Pratt, the Atom of Earth-2. It turns out that the Thinker's thinking cap causes the man to become a double of the Thinker, and pull off the same crimes that the original does.  Despite his atomic punch, the Earth-2 Atom is unable to defeat the Thinker's unwilling double. The two Atoms wind up running into each other and working together to defeat the Thinker. There is a lot of action, as the Thinker beats them both the first time, and they must escape from an electrified cage before succeeding at finally taking him down.

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The friendship between Atom and Hawkman continues as the Thanagarian detective shows up in issue 31. They deal with two men who are really one. At the top of the story the Atom stops a couple of thieves, but a cleaning lady gets injured during the fight. Ray Palmer uses an experimental ray on her, and she calls out for her son, Johnny. At the same time, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are dealing with Johnny, and some other thieves, when the boy suddenly switches sides, preventing his partners from shooting Hawkman. He turns himself in immediately, and promises never to break the law again. Later, Atom and Hawkman meet up and compare stories. Hawkman brings Johnny to visit his mother in the hospital, but then both heroes get called away to deal with another thief, the Toyboy. When they unmask Toyboy, they discover that this is Johnny as well, even though they know he is in the hospital. Atom theorizes that his experimental ray and the mother's desire for her son to become good caused the man to split into two men, one good, and one evil. Atom and Hawkman bring the two men together, where they merge into one. Johnny insists the good side has triumphed over the bad side, but really that makes no sense. He now has both sides as part of him, but one likes to think that he chooses to be good now.

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Zatanna's quest for her missing father ventures into the pages of the Atom in issue 19. The story begins as some thieves wander past a bank, and to their surprise discover that they are able to pass through the walls, and through the vault, to rob the place. The police call in the Atom on the case, and he finds that he simply knows where the crooks are located, heads there and captures them. The Atom is mystified as to how he happened to just know where they were, but diverts himself by improving on his size and weight controls, moving them into his gloves. Then Zatanna just pops up magically and joins him. She knows he is Ray Palmer, and asks for his help in finding her father, Zatara. Ray had heard Hawkman talk about Zatanna, and agrees. Zatanna also explains that it was an accident with her magic that allowed the thieves to get into the bank, and she gave Atom the vision of where they were, as a way of making amends. Zatanna has tracked her father to a subatomic world, which is why she has come to Atom for help. Together, they shrink down, and wind up in a medieval style land, ruled by a tyrannical druid, called the Druid. Appropriate name. Zatara had come to the Druid's kingdom. The Druid is able to drain the magical powers of anyone he fights against, so when Zatara battled him, he simply drained the hero's powers, and then sent him away. Zatanna has the same problem as she fights the Druid, and loses her powers. The Atom suggests that she use stage magic against him. The Druid tries to drain this non-magic, which winds up shorting him out, and puts him in a comatose state. Zatanna and the Atom leave the kingdom and return to full size. With no decent information gained about her father's whereabouts, Zatanna heads off to continue her quest.

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The Atom appeared in two team-ups in the pages of Brave and the Bold during these years, joining forces with the Metal Men in issue 55, and with Aquaman in issue 73. The former tale is pretty much a Metal Men adventure, in which the Atom guest stars, so I will save that one for my entry on the robotic heroes, and just look at Brave and the Bold 73 here. The story is very much split, with the first half given to Aquaman, and the latter half to the Atom.  Aquaman and Aqualad encounter some raiders who shrink down and vanish before their eyes. Somehow Aquaman gathers up the water they disappeared into and brings it to Vulko.  Vulko examines it with a magnifiying glass, and determines that the raiders are, indeed inside it. Aquaman gets hit by a shrinking beam from the raiders, and pulled into their world.  Fortunately, before this happened, he had contacted the Atom, who comes to Atlantis, and then shrinks down to enter the droplet world. There he finds the captive Aquaman, as well as Galg, the main villain, who looks better on the cover than inside the book.  Galg is a super smart form of plankton who plots conquest, but cannot use his enlarging ray on himself.  The Atom pretends to join forces with him until he can free Aquaman, and then turns the enlarger on Galg, which destroys him.

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Professor Hyatt’s Time Pool would show up in three stories during these years, all of which are at least visually entertaining.

The Atom meets Jules Verne in issue 17. Ray Palmer comes to visit Professor Hyatt, who retrieved what seems to be the base of a crystal ball owned by Nostradamus, although the Time Pool pulled it from 1888. Heading into the Time Pool, the Atom discovers that the ball had come into the possession off Jules Verne, and though it had no magical properties, using it made Verne come up with ideas of possible future inventions. Thieves steal the manuscript of Verne's latest book, thinking that it will give them secrets of the future that they can profit from. The Atom winds up stopping this, without being seen, as usual. The best moment has the Atom hiding out in Verne's beard, which he compares to a dense forest.

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In the Atom 21 Professor Hyatt has tried to take a picture of an ancestor's fifth birthday party, in 1752, but could not succeed. The Atom goes through the Time Pool to find out why. The story plays on the change from the Julian to Gregorian calendars, and the loss off eleven days because of that. The unfortunate lad's birthday fell during that period, so he didn't get the party he had hoped for. We are told at the top that William Hogarth drew an illustration of the party, so it seems like the tale is going to bring together the artist and the Atom. Instead, it takes a different turn, bringing in the judge Henry Fielding, who would go on to write Tom Jones. Unlike all the previous Time Pool stories, in this one the Atom openly shows himself, and convinces Fielding to create detectives to follow clues to solve a robbery, which the boy's father had been the victim of. Fielding's brother would, years later, create the first version of a police force in London, so the Atom is essentially providing the basis for that. It's not a bad story, but weaves so far away from its start that it feels more strained than the other Time Pool adventures.

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The Time Pool story in issue 27 begins as Professor Hyatt opens the Time Pool to Paris in 1873, and winds up with flames shooting through it. Hyatt is puzzled about how this could be, and Ray becomes the Atom to travel back through the Pool. The mystery of the flames gets put aside for a bit, as the Atom winds up saving Benjamin Franklin, who was on a diplomatic mission to France at this time, from two men plotting to kill him. The climax of the story deals with the Montgolfier brothers, who were the ones to invent a hot air balloon. It was the fire used for the balloon that went through the Time Pool. The end of the story works very well, and is really fun, as the Atom hitches a ride on the balloon, being sent up with animals to make sure it's safe for humans, and has to leap into the air at a great height in order to make it back through the Time Pool.

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When it comes to the Atom’s villains, his main enemy, Chronos, returned for two outings during these years, and Jason Woodrue for one. The Atom would also gain another recurring foe, a decent villain with a dreadful name, the Bug-Eyed bandit.

In the Atom 13 Chronos breaks out of jail, a few months after being defeated in the first JLA/JSA crossover. He buys a clock at an auction, and finds a valuable gem inside of it. The gem was placed into the clock by a Hungarian clockmaker, Anton Teljas, who has been sending the jewels to his daughter, Eva, who escaped from the Eastern Bloc nation, intending her to use it to aid other Hungarian refugees. Chronos sets out to find other clocks created by Teljas, and get the other gems. Conveniently, Ray Palmer purchased one of them, which brings Chronos back to the Atom. This leads to a big fight between the two, with Chronos having a bunch of weaponry in his watch. Greene makes Chronos look a bit thinner than Anderson did, but I don't care for how he inks the mask. Chronos does get the rest of the clocks, but after the Atom defeats him, Eva winds up getting the gems at last.

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Anton and Eva Teljas, as well as Chronos, are back in Atom 28.  Teljas is setting himself up as a clockmaker and salesman, but winds up accused of theft.  The Atom is able to show that a number of other thefts have occurred the same strange way, taking place in impossible plain sight, with those involved missing about 5 minutes of time. Sure enough, Chronos is the one behind the robberies, having developed a way to put people into suspended animation, "stealing" time from them. I really like that Chronos has been given this new way of operating. With his costume and flying sundial, he always was meant to be more than a man who stole clocks. When the Atom attacks, Chronos is able to put him into suspended animation, leaving him in a clock death trap. There is some excellent art on the page where the Atom escapes. He only survives because the time freezing effect wears off just in time, and he happened to be in the process of increasing his weight when Chronos zapped him. Anton Teljas has also been working on the case, and comes to the Atom's aid during the final fight with Chronos, clearing his name in the process.

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Jason Woodrue returns in Atom 24. It's a very good story, better than most of the stories from this period. Jason Woodrue escapes from prison and returns to his home dimension, Floria. Maya comes to Earth to enlist the Atom's help, but by the time they get to Floria Woodrue is in total control, and sends a variety of that land's creatures out to attack them. Woodure tries to trap the Atom a few times, the major one being the trap on the cover, as both he and Maya slowly get transformed into plants. The Atom manages to knock over his bowl, and by shrinking quickly gets rid of the fluid causing the change. Despite all the deadly traps, Woodrue is counting on the Atom to survive, and transfer radiation from some seeds from Floria to Earth, which he can use to take control of Earth's plant life. Woodrue gets captured and imprisoned before the end of the story, but is content to let his plan play out anyway. The Atom figures out that he is spreading the radiation, and with the aid of Maya and her dryads the Florians absorb the radiation and return to their world.

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The Bug-Eyed Bandit makes his debut in Atom 26. The story begins with a man getting knocked out and robbed by a pretty impressive robotic insect. Ray Palmer is helping out Jean Loring's nephew, who is studying bugs. This allows for a lot of information to come out about the relative strength and power of insects. The man who was attacked turns out to be the father of the boy, so Ray learns about the case. Later, as the Atom, he tries to stop a thief who has a similar robotic bug aiding him, one that delivers an electric shock to the Atom, allowing the thief to escape. The reader learns that the thief is Bert Larvan, an inventor who had come up with the idea for the robotic bugs, but was unable to find financing to build them. Although he envisioned his robotic bugs as an aid to mankind, he quickly turns to crime in order to get the money to build them. As the story goes on, Ray's old friend and inventor, Ed Thayer, comes back into the story, along with his new wife, who looks just like Jean Loring. That would almost always indicate that, later in the story, the two women would be confused or misidentified. And indeed, later Larvan thinks that Ray Palmer is now dating his old girlfriend. The woman does provide some useful information in the story, as it turns out she had dated Bert Larvan years earlier, and recognizes the description of the robotic bugs. The Atom is able to use a broken piece of one of the bugs to trail Larvan, but the villain has also discovered that the Atom emits a specific type of radiation, and that Ray Palmer emits it as well. He quickly deduces the two are the same person. Larvan gets into costume only at the very end of the story, for his final battle with the Atom. He has given one of the bugs an amnesia spray, which he intends to fire at the Atom. Of course, he is the one who gets the spray in his face, removing, at least for the moment, his knowledge of Ray Palmer being the Atom.

 

 

The Atom continues in the next period, 1967 – 1969: It’s a Happening!

 

The Atom: The Atom 13 – 32 (June/July 1964 – Aug/Sept 67)

Brave and the Bold 55, 73 (Aug/Sept 64, Aug/Sept 67)

Next up – Starman!

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Last Updated: November 10, 2019 - 17:23

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