Monday, October 11, 2010

CBR Sword of the Atom

What if I'd tell you today's comic is an unusual departure for a superhero comic book?
That it's a story that takes a mainstream superhero out of the urban/modern society element and throw him into a more tribal environment.
There, the hero, with no means to go back to his world, will have to become a bit more violent, brutal to survive the wilderness.
He will fight in an arena, start as a slave and work his way to the top, gain enough friends and power to help him dethrone the ruler there.
Finally, while everything will seem to come to an happy ending, with the new love of his life at his side, he will be forced to rejoin brutally his reality again..

No, I'm not talking about Marvel Comics' Planet Hulk.

But something that came many years before which has probably been an inspiration behind that recent event.

Comic title: Sword of the Atom 
Written by Jan Strand 
Art by Gil Kane, Pat Broderick and Dennis Janke

Published by DC Comics
From 1983
Lineup The Atom
Format: Trade paperback containing Sword of the Atom #1-4 and Sword of the Atom Special #1-3

Back in '83, Jan Strand was given a free card to use the Atom has he wanted.
The character wasn't selling much anymore, few readers still liked or knew him and it was long since his name was quoted amongst Batman, Superman or even Green Lantern and Hawkman...

So, Strand made a pretty smart move.
He decided to go back to a more traditional approach, to trade the superhero stories to a more pulp angle.
The Atom would be thrown away from civilisation and into a more epic storyline, not that far from old Conan or Tarzan comics.

 The Atom left science, civilisation and his usual shrinking powers behind...

Ray Palmer was a scientist who discovered how using a mass of white dwarf star matter he could be able to alter his size and densitiy.
Ray lived in Ivy Town, where he was a teacher, and married his long time girlfriend and lawyer Jean Loring.
He always sought adventure at heart.
For that reason he created his very own superhero identity and as The Atom, he helped the Justice League, Hawkman and many other heroes on many occasions.

"Sword of the Atom" takes Ray out of Ivy Town pretty quickly.
One night, after work, Ray is expecting Jean at home.
She was running pretty late, so he decides to go outside and see if she's coming home already...when suddenly he finds her in a car outside, with another man, a coworker...
Heartbroken, Ray decides to leave town and go on an expedition in South America.

That's when the accident happens...

....For a life of epic adventure with tiny alien civilisations and fantasy!

There, in the Jungle, the people Ray found to bring him over there decide to leave him behind when he was starting to get curious and ask questions about their illegal operations.
Stranded in the middle of nowhere and with his shrinking device damaged, Ray Palmer will find himself in the middle of a war between clans, tribes and an alien monarchy!

You guessed it, it's not a very usual superhero comic.
It's more adult oriented, with its golden age flavour (like I said, in the spirit of old Tarzan comics) ,
First off, Ray and Jean's marital problems (which would come up in many other Atom stories) are handled pretty seriously for a funny book. They don't love each other anymore. Ray was too much into his science, superhero life and adventuring over the world. Jean wanted someone who loved her and that would be here for her. As a matter of fact, unlike other comics aimed at younger readers where writers couldn't handle a realistic divorce *cough*spidermanonemoredayanddealwiththedevil*cough* we can see an exemplary way to have the main character and his wife break up in this story!
And then, the story also explores various epic themes that really disorient our hero. Fantasy, a war amongst a community, sword fights...

Anyway, the story tells how Ray finds himself amongst an alien race that lives hidden in the heart of a Central American jungle. Those aliens are 6 inches tall (~152 mm), yellow skinned and very human like. (some fans like to think they're a long lost colony of Tamaraneans who evolved separately away from them, on Earth, with this size because of a freak accident while travelling, though some hints are thrown that this isn't their original size)
There, Ray helps a rebellion defeat the local tyrant.
Along the way he falls in love and decides to live with the princess Laethwen, and he never wants to come back to our boring urban life..

Overall, it's a very original and different comic, specially for a superhero character!
Definitely something worth checking if you're interested from this review :P

Also, it's an important part of Ray Palmer/The Atom history if you're interested in further Atom comics. (be it the current 2nd feature Ray comics or even Ryan Choi/The Atom)

As you can see from the information above, the original 4 part comic his collected in this comic alongside its One Shot special epilogues.
The original comic had a sort of abrupt ending (like Planet Hulk). Not quite happy, not quite adequate either. (wouldn't Ray try to find his way back in this "world" or at least have some sort of closure?)
That's why a year after this miniseries, DC released a one shot special, to bring a little epilogue to this series. Sadly, it also created an unnecessary open ended last chapter to this series. Naturally, two others came after that adding new adventures to Ray, Laethwen and their fellow tiny people. They weren't as creative or original (a zombie plague? seriously?) but it was nice to have more adventures of this kind for a while.

The writting his pretty good. It really suits this swords and tribes setting.
The art varies between artists. It goes from good to less good to pretty darn' beautiful. (the main story looks great but not all specials look the same)

Finally, I'd say, try checkin' it if you like the Atom, heroic fantasy mixed with your superheroes or just seeing a bunch of tiny guys riding giant frogs branding swords and stuff~

I give it:
  2 / 3 Plastic-trophies!


  1. Sounds like an interesting story, especially when you've got a hero who's put out of his elements (no pun intended) and attempts to try to work with it.
    Could check it out. I'm already enjoying the second feature Ray Palmer stories in Adventure comics, for one.

  2. (I'm pretty sure that pun WAS intended! :P)

    I sort of even prefer it to Planet Hulk, which was one of my favorite books already.