The Atom!

The subject of my first (non-introductory) post is one of my all-time favorite DC super-heroes, the Silver Age Atom!

Ray Palmer was a physics professor at an Ivy League University (Ivy University) in New England. Ray discovered that a piece of white dwarf star was destined to impact the Earth near his home. Ray calculated the exact location and retrieved the fragment. With it, he created a ray that could shrink normal matter. The problem though, was that objects so shrunk violently exploded after a few minutes in their shrunken state.

Ray eventually discovered that he was able to shrink himself and return to normal size without any problems. He created a costume and went on to fight criminals, mad scientist, space monsters and all kind of menaces.

One of the things I really like about his stories was that while many of the scientific premises upon which the stories were based, are downright silly, the writers did use the stories to introduce readers to actual scientific concepts.

Something else that sets the Atom apart from many other super-heroes is the nature of his origin. Many super-heroes who aren’t born with powers, decide to become heroes (to use their powers for good) after the gain powers. The Atom is one of the few super-heroes to gain super-powers because he was a hero!

In his origin story, Ray goes on a spelunking expedition with a group of grade school children. While in the cave, there is a cave-in. There is apparently no way out. Ray notices that there is a small hole (about 6 inches), leading to the outside, way up on a wall that could probably be enlarged if he could get up there. The slick walls prevented him from climbing, since there were no hand and footholds. He reasoned that if he was about 6″ tall, he would have plenty of footholds.

Luckily, Ray brought the lens he had crafted from the white dwarf star material. Realizing that he would most likely explode after a few minutes, he focused the light from the hole through the lens and passed under it.

He promptly shrank to about 6″, climbed the wall and enlarged the hole. After climbing back down, Ray passed under the lens again and was restored to his normal 6′ height.
Over the years, Ray created a costume with size and weight controls, fought criminals, defeated monsters, joined a group of heroes, travelled through telephone lines, journeyed through time and visited subatomic worlds.

His powers weren’t all that innovative (there had been several shrinking heroes before him), but the way he used them was terribly cutting edge. For instance, the coolest (in my opinion) use of his abilities was one of his methods of travel. Way back, before the advent of the internet and satellite communications, there was the telephone. Telephones were connected by switches, relays and thousands upon thousands of miles of cables. Taking advantage of this fact, when he wanted to travel thousands of miles very quickly, he would call someone at his destination. When someone answered, he would shrink himself down to sub atomic size, jump an an electron and the sound from a radio (which he would turn on for this purpose) would propel the electron and him with it to the receiver on the other end at near light speeds! How cool was that?! Of course, they never addressed the issues of what would happen if someone hung up the phone before he arrived or professor Palmer’s astronomical telephone bill, but hey, it was fun!

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