Well, here we go again- a comic book from acknowledged masters of the form. from what's widely regarded as one of the peak periods of the art, that influenced creators for decades, and here we are making fun of it, as if we were some kind of website that existed solely to poke fun at comic books. Ungrateful is what we'd be, if we were that kind of website, which we are.
It's the Atom! Not the Golden Age Atom, who was basically a guy who liked to put on a mask and beat up crooks because of "short man syndrome," but the Silver Age Atom, who uses SCIENCE to shrink himself down tiny and do SCIENCE type hero stuff against various SCIENCE villains and monsters, because it's the 1960s and we have to beat the Russians to the moon, so SCIENCE. Some absolutely stunning artwork here by Gil Kane, laying down the template for every super hero comic you'd read for the next forty years - carefully delinated musculature, clean lines to hold those solid comic book colors, and dynamic contortions of the human body to try and wring as much drama as one can out of a scene where a guy in bug mask menaces The Atom with bubbles.
Fun fact: Ray Palmer the Atom was named after Ray Palmer the pulp SF editor, who later got into UFOs and brought the world flying saucers, the Men In Black, ancient Lemuria, and the absolutely true reports of a race of underground de-evolved mutants who control human thoughts with powerful rays. Anyway, the mind control rays are telling me to get on with the story.
Here in Recividism Prison we let our inmates keep doing whatever it was that got them arrested in the first place. This guy robbed banks with tiny robot bugs, so we're letting him build more tiny robot bugs, Fred over there gets to stick up the commissary on a weekly basis, Mr. Dinkles has a swell meth lab going, and it's almost time for the three o'clock assault. Look, what's the worst that could happen? They might regain their evil memories, escape and menace a super hero somewhere? Pshaw!
(musical cue: Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight Of The Robot Bumble-Bee") Hey, warden, did you know that only bumblebees can pollinate red clover? And did you know that Garner Fox, this comic's writer, was under editorial fiat to include at least three interesting facts about insects in this story?
Getting cracked on the skull by a huge metal bumblebee? Why, he might regain his memory and become evil again. Good thing we haven't been giving him workshops and tools and electronics and encouraging him to construct tiny insects capable of executing crimes. That would be silly.
Time to use my robot insect to track down The Atom, by homing in on the Atom's distinctive body radiation! I think this is the comic book saying in a really nice way that The Atom could stand to start using Dial and maybe showering twice a day.
Meanwhile out in the sticks, Ray Palmer's lawyer girlfriend checks in on our cast of supporting characters, who no doubt will somehow play a crucial role in the unfolding drama, and also dispense more insect-related wisdom culled from Mark Trail's Big Book O' Insect Lore. This Korean War orphan - isn't 1967 a little late for Korean War orphans? - is busy casting tiny bronze insects in her tiny EZ-Bake metal-working furnace (200,000 watt bulb not included) and desperately wishing for Etsy to be invented so she isn't having to sell these things one at a time to passing farmers.
Ray Palmer here is a little too anticipatory at seeing splattered bug remains. I think he drives into bugs on purpose. Look out Ray this one's out for revenge!
Only the Bug-Eyed Bandit would make a thing like this! If only I can hold out another few decades, when the term "Bug-Eyed Bandit" will no doubt refer to someone involved with the fandom for those big-eyed Japanese cartoons! Then I'd be safe!
Sure, we could talk about how the farmer's radio is tuned to the All Traffic Accident station, or how hugging the radio won't bring your fiance back. But I want to talk about that absolutely awful, so-called "guard rail" on the road. What was it made out of, popsicle sticks? Get with the 60s, Department Of Transportation!
This is the point in this story where, like all stories of this type, I comment on how somebody smart enough to build flying robot bugs and miniaturized electronic sensors could easily become a multi-millionaire by marketing his inventions... but no, all they can think to do is rob banks, preferably in a skin-tight purple outfit that shows off their workout abs. Maybe the steroids and performance enhancing drugs are making them evil. I dunno.
And after a busy day in the prison workshop, happily building his robot murder bugs under the cheerful eyes of the warden, Larvan is ready to carry out his evil plans. Penology at work!
Good thing the prison workshop carries an unlimited supply of imitation spider web. "Say, what do you need this for anyway Larvan? Not thinking of building a robot spider and using to escape, are you? Because that wouldn't be nice!"
The prison workshop was also stocked with a full line of miniature metal-cutting tools and a supply of cooling oil to help with the metal cutting process. We don't want to annoy the other prisoners or the guards when we're cutting through metal bars here in THIS federal prison, where we make our inmates WORK for their freedom.
Wait a minute Larvan, you had KNOCKOUT GAS this whole time and yet you're fooling around with robot bugs and a dangerous climb down the side of the wall? Just use the knockout gas, dummy!
Also where did you get the knockout gas? Johnson's Prison Escape Supply Catalog, I guess. The Warden issues everyone a copy on their first day, because an empty prison is a happy prison!
During the week that follows Larvan not only built an entire new line of crime insects, but he also worked hard on his cosplay, because you can't just stand around your lair commanding your robot insects in a T-shirt. It simply isn't done. That crazy Bug-Eyed Bandit suit will come in real handy when he tries to fence those coins or make change for a $100,000 bill, won't it?
But The Atom has been lying in wait for the robot insect bandits and now begins the battle of the tiny titans, who start off small and keep getting smaller, and I would think that if you're fighting an insect you'd want to get LARGER than the insect and then maybe squash it with your boot, but that's me. Getting smaller is what The Atom does, so you do you, Atom.
Crippled, the sad little bug whimpers back to Larvan's lair. Our super science genius decides that whoever smacked around his robot bug can't be The Atom because his detector can't detect The Atom's funky radiation signature. And rather than think maybe The Atom took a bath, or that his detector was faulty, Larvan just ignores the evidence in front of his bug-eyes and jumps to conclusions. Because science, that's why
Using all his scientific and philosophical rigor, Larvan immediately comes up with possibly the most ridiculous solution to his quandary. Sure, Ray Palmer built a robot duplicate of himself - a self-aware, autonomous, size-changing duplicate robot - just in case he ever died. Which is a thing people do, right? Everybody builds their own replacement robot to take over after they die? Somebody tell Larvan what 'sex' is, that's generally how human beings replace themselves. Wait, I forgot, this is a code-approved comic.
Nobody is better than Larvan! Larvan will prove to the dead Ray Palmer that Larvan is the more awesome scientist! And Ray Palmer won't care, because Ray Palmer is dead, but this is what passes for motivation in these books, so we're going with it!
IS THERE REALLY A ROBOT ATOM? No. I feel silly even asking this question.
Oh look, the Atom used his Atom powers to escape the falling car. What a surprise, said nobody. Now to keep this miniaturized oscillator on my person at all times! These days we just use the miniaturized oscillator app on our phone, of course.
Aw yeah, wouldn't be an Atom story if he didn't use a regular size object with his tiny hands or perhaps using another regular sized object to assist. That's why we read these stories, for the giant telepones and pencils! Now get out of my way, "Land Of The Giants" starts in five minutes!
Yes, The Atom can shrink himself down to the size of an electronic particle that can travel through copper wire, but he's gotta dial that phone first! And don't ask me what happens if he goes to a rural exchange with a party line, because I don't know! Maybe the whole exchange gets its own Atom, or maybe it depends on how many rings! This has been "old timey phone facts." We now return you to your exciting story, where The Atom is getting patronized by a little girl, whose metal insect replicas will finally get put to some use.
"You see, I've put miniature electronic listening devices inside these bronze insects, and if we leave the bronze insects in jewelry stores, banks, and rare coin shops, eventually we'll catch Larvan's robot bugs in the act. And in fact, I don't need the bronze insects for this at all, but after that girl called me "little man" I just wanted to ruin all her crafts."
and that's how The Atom escaped the falling car and tracked down the robot bug bandits and how Ray Palmer's fiance was only heartbroken for three or four minutes tops, and how the radio station should probably quit announcing death notices over the air when they don't even have a corpse, come on fellas.
Sure Atom, just knock that metal bug against the knee joint of that painstakingly re-created, priceless dinosaur fossil. But what's this? The anti-robot ray Larvan built is being aimed right at The Atom, causing The Atom to sneeze! Are you ready for lots of panels of The Atom sneezing?
If there's one thing we know Gil Kane's artwork for, it's lots of shots of floating, grimacing heads, and you can't get more Gil Kane than floating, grimacing, sneezing Atom heads.
But let's move on from sneezing and get to the part where The Atom uses all his scientific knowledge to defeat the robot bug, by smacking it with a caveman's club. Science!
Ray, that robot bug is not using you like a punching bag. That robot bug is using you like a sex doll. Gonna need years of therapy for this one, I think
Okay Gil, we need a montage of The Atom smacking a robot bug with a stick. Throw a few floating eyeballs in there. Eyeballs, sticks, bugs, that's what kids like.
I know you were all asking yourselves when that factoid about the cicada was going to get a callback, and here it is, the piercing screech of the cicada either evoking pleasant summertime memories or driving everyone absolutely insane with fury, one or the other!
Sure Larvan, I wonder why you talk to these robot bugs. I also wonder why you talk to the camera. Leave that stuff for Jim from "The Office."
well, it's good to see that Larvan doesn't immediately assume Ray Palmer included 'breathing' as a function in the robot duplicate hypothesis he so casually committed to. I guess he has to face facts when they're right there in his hand, where he could easily crush The Atom like a bug and end this comic book already, come on Larvan, do it!
Look, I'm not saying that someone has a very specific fetish about being stripped naked and wrapped tightly in a plastic sheet while a guy in a bug mask apologizes for "destroying your uniform". I'm just saying that if someone WERE to have this specific constriction-bondage fetish, well, this comic book panel would be a thing of beauty for this person, if he or she existed.
The coccoon got tighter and tighter, until suddenly- release! That's how things work in the shrinking super hero business, and also in the constriction fetish business.
Using colored dots stolen from Little Dot's dot collection, the Bug-Eyed Bandit manages to eke one more page of threat out of this already over-extended story.
Not only does The Atom have to beat up the robot bug, he's got to beat Larvan so strongly that Larvan once again loses his memory, which seems to me to be kind of unethical, taking away somebody's memory. I guess ethics are for those of us who don't put on primary-colored tights and perform feats of derring-do.
With all the power of sneezing at his command, the Atom zaps Larvan with his own electronic beam, which seems to be a good and fairly painful example of why we don't wear antennas on our skulls.
And there you have it, electro-shock therapy erases memories! Get YOUR memory erased today with electro-shock therapy, still available in some states. Now back to prison, Bertram Larvan, for all the good that prison will do. Here's your saw and your file and your knockout gas and your key to the prison, enjoy your stay!
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