Friday, June 22, 2007

Sword of the Atom: 4!!!!

Yeesh, I don't know about you, but after that chunk of synoptic exposition I need a drink. More happens in that box than in a year's subscription to Brian Michael Bendis's Secret War. Of course, in all fairness, that's only five issues.

Rimshot! I told you I'd be here all week, folks.

In issue 4 of Sword of the Atom, the Rebels attack the Teeny Tiny City and succeed only because the evil Skeeve Minister has already primed the palace guards for his own revolt. That's at least a refreshing change from the usual sword epic plot of Hearty Heroes Take the Palace by Killing People Three At A Time While Still Chatting With One Another. Meanwhile, King Moron the Apathetic has finally figured out that the Skeeve Minister is plotting to overthrow him and prepares to announce the treachery to the world.

So, naturally, the rebellion succeeds but the people reconcile with their misunderstood king, the plotter is imprisoned, and the Atom marries the king's daughter and sitteth at his right hand, yes?

No. Guess again.

The King, being an idiot, confronts the Skeeve Minister, who, naturally enough, just stabs the king in the back. Princess Metal-bra shows up just in time to watch Pops bleed to death. Ah, he had it coming; he never even bought her a chair to sit in, for pity's sake.

Dude; why do you let your daughter sit in the I'm The King's Slave-Whore spot? Ick-y.

Then while the Atom and his men are leaping around ridiculously on their saddled frogs, the Skeeve Minister decides to
This is pretty clever plotting, actually. It's already been established that the Wee Folk came to earth on a Teeny Tiny starship, who's power source hasn't been used in forever because they forgot the science behind it many many generations ago. And the power source? Wait for it...

The white dwarf star fragment that Ray was searching for when he fell out of his plane.

Now that, gang, is comic books. And it gets better. After eons of non-maintenance, the dang star drive has a busted framostat and leaks 'white dwarf star radiation' like a sieve. So the badly irradiated, addled, and probably dying Skeeve Minister staggers out into the city brandishing a Toxic Touch of Death (tm), like Prof. Radium. Or Plasmus. Or Clayface. Or Dr. Phosphorus. Or Mano. Or the Red Death. Or Mr. Bones. Or Syonide. Or Shego. Or... well, you get the idea.

"For stealing from Rita Farr's closet I condemn thee to death!"

This leads us to the best (non-Jean Loring) scene of the series, but before we get to it, we'll take a small detour to an earlier scene where the Rebels discover a traitor in their midst who's in cahoots with the Skeeve Minister. So they kindly offer him the Poison Arrow of Self-Hand-Impalement:

Do you think Green Arrow's got one of those, too?

Gee, I don't suppose they could have put that poison in a pill or something.

I'd say this scene scores about a two on the Rolling Head of Pantha Scale; maybe a three, since the arrow comes out the back of his hand and is a fatal wound.

So what happens to the Badly Irradiated Skeeve Minister with the Toxic Touch of Death is at least a three, maybe a four:

Do NOT borrow Roy Harper's Mr. Bubble without asking first.

This scene from 25 years ago is brought to you by the innocent comics of your youth, which, as you keep telling me, would never show graphic violence like the evil comics of today.

With the malfunctioning star drive threatening the city, it helps to have a world-expert in exotic physics on hand to run into the machine and say "This sucker's going to blow!"

Gil Kane! You naughty, naughty man!

But what happens when you put six-inch Ray Palmer with white dwarf star radiation? Six-foot Ray Palmer, of course. The Atom starts to grow back to his normal height, and since the Jungleputians are too stupid even to flee for their lives from the disintegrating star drive, 'giant' Ray begins to kick the city to pieces like an unwanted sand castle in order to drive them away a safe distance, then staggers off just before the big ka-blooey, and collapses by the Amazon river, conked out by the radiation exposure, only to be picked up by some passing boaters who take him to an urban hospital.

Yawn! Let's check in on the real action: Jean Loring.

"Who DARES disturb the Loring? I'll have their guts for garters!"

One of the things that makes Jean Loring's evil so impressive is that she does more of it without even getting out of bed than you or I do in a lifetime.

Jean Loring from Sword of the Atom 1:

Jean Loring from Sword of the Atom 2:

Jean Loring from Sword of the Atom 3:

Jean Loring in Sword of the Atom 4:

Naturally, Ray is impressed by Jean's tenacity.

And overjoyed to be reunited with his beloved wife and return to the comfort of her arms.

I mean, who wouldn't be?

And this, believe it or not, is the end of Sword of the Atom:

Look out, Ray! That purse might contain a miniaturized flamethrower!

So, do you think Jean ...
(a) actually packed that hat and those gloves for a trip to South America's most inaccessible tropicopolis (which = insane)

(b) decided, hey, as long as I'm in town, I think I'll go hat shopping instead of looking for my missing husband (which = evil)?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sword of the Atom: 3!!!

Meanwhile, back in the states...

As the dust settles on Ray's teeny tiny headstone, Jean Loring moves on with her life heartlessly with "characteristic efficiency".

See? I told you.

While selling all Ray's old clothes on E-Bay, Jean's been shacking up with Paul Her Law Partner (the guy Ray caught her sucking face with in Issue 1, you'll recall). But suddenly, Jean, being insane, realizes that Ray isn't dead. Why? Because it would be annoying and inconvenient...

Interesting that none of this occurred to her, say, before the funeral, when the entire Justice League might have tried to find him. Or locked her away in Arkham.

You see, it's not like Ray's in trouble. Or hurt. Or held prisoner or trapped in the jungle or being attacked by reptiles. It's because he's messing with her.

It's all about you, isn't it, Jean?

Why did this occur to her at this point? Is Paul, perhaps ... not measuring up?

"You are, if you know what's good for you, bucko. Because I, Jean Loring, demand to be pleasured again. Now. So take one of those 'little helper pills' I've learned you take..."

"By rifling through your overnight bag, of course.
Enough back talk; snap to it, mister, or I get out the flamethrower!"

Meanwhile, back in the jungle...

Oh, um, let's see. The Rebels prepare to attack the city. Not wanting to be a burden, Taren takes a face dive into a swarm of army ants.

Remember, kids: stupidity = nobility.

Naturally, Princess Metal-Bra throws herself at Ray before the ants have even finished picking Taren's bones clean. I tell you, the people in Sword of the Atom don't waste a lot of time mourning or healing.

Meanwhile, back in the states...

Okay, it's not really the states. Having hopped on a plane, Jean's harshing the mellow at a hotel bar in Manaus, Brazil, while nursing a stiff drink.

See? I told you.

So, naturally, a fox like Jean gets hit on by the local booze hound (you know, the one who's in every other episode of Bewitched)

Mr. Pig-With-A-Wooden-Leg gets both less (action) and more (terror) than he bargained for as he discovers (A) Jean is insane (B) she thinks her husband decided not to be dead simply to make her life miserable.

Even Death Itself backs off from Jean Loring. Do you blame it?

So Jean decides to find Ray,who could, in fact, be nestled somewhere in the molecules of the very bar she's sitting at.

Top Ten People You'd Rather Have Chasing You Than Jean Loring.
Mr. Zsazs

The Martian Manhunter



Big Barda

The Joker



The Spectre

The Black Racer

"Fortunately, I remembered to pack my flamethrower.
Just in case."

So, this guy who just called Jean Loring crazy ... to her face. Think Eclipso ever got around to paying him a visit?

"Uh ...d-de certo, Senhora. Now, p-please... not to reach for thee thrower of flame!"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sword of the Atom: 2!!

The main problem with Sword of the Atom 2? Not enough Jean Loring.

As you'll remember, in yesterday's episode, we left the Atom (Ray Palmer) and his new friend, Taren the Rebel Leader, face to face with a vicious horde of killer mice. So this issue should start with them teaming up against impossible odds and taking out the ravenous rodents one by one.

Oh, no such luck, fans of mouse carnage! The skeevy prime minister (who's actually behind a plot to make the people hate the king so he can lead a revolution and become the new king) drops a gas bomb in the dungeon that knocks out the mice. It's a little known anthropological fact that civilizations that fight with swords often develop murinosomniferic chemical agents before, say, indoor plumbing.

What's with the Mickey mickey? The Skeeve Minister says he "saving the prisoners to become gladiators in the arena". Just when you're about to ding him for lack of originality, we cut to "weeks later" when Taren and Ray (who've been separated) are dumped into the arena together and discover that...

Taren's eyes have been put out!Sword of Alice Cooper!

Zing! And the crowd goes wild at "the King's cruelty", storming the arena and the Royal Box. Points to the Prime Skeevister for creative use of political torture. Princess Metal-bra wisely beats feet, helping Ray and Taren escape on stolen frogs to join up with the Diminutive Rebel Band. Turns out she always had the hots for Taren.

Naturally, now that Taren's a helpless gimp, she turns her attention to Ray, whenever they're out of Taren's sight. Unfortunately, that's all the time now. Rimshot! I'll be here all week, folks.

On the side, Ray starts the Path of Bonding routine with Taren's second in command, Voss. You know the drill, it's in every movie or book about warriors, gladiators, or high school cheerleaders. Resentful Tough Guy Suspects Newcomer, until the Confrontation Where Newcomer Kicks Tough Guy's Butt, which leads to Grudging But Growing Respect, followed by Watching Each Other's Backs In Battle, culminating in Steadfast Devotion of the Tough Guy to the Newcomer as Leader. Yawn.

Meanwhile, no sooner has Ray's teeny tiny coffin been buried and the relatives and mourners left the house, when Jean puts on her nightie, slips into bed, and CALLS HER SUCKY-FACED LAW PARTNER PAUL TO COME OVER.

I call thee strumpet, Goody Loring. I call thee harlot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sword of the Atom: 1!

Okay, Sword of the Atom starts as all good Atom stories should: with Jean Loring being evil.

The Case Against Jean Loring: Exhibit A

Jean is shocked when Ray discovers her sucking face with her law partner in the front seat of her car. She really shouldn't be; she was parked in the driveway outside their house.

Ray, suddenly realizes he's married to a lawyer. One who blames him for her own actions.

The Case Against Jean Loring: Exhibit B

Jean, equally naive, suddenly complains about her husband being a scientist and superhero, even though that's exactly what he was when she married him.

The Case Against Jean Loring: Exhibit C

Doesn't want to live in a comic book? Insane. Only possible diagnosis.

Oh, anyway, then Ray, to get some needed time away, charters a flight above the Amazon to search for a white dwarf star fragment, but then the pilots get worried that Ray has instead detected their secret cocaine fields, knock him out, steal his wedding ring, and push him out the plane, which then crashes due to Plot Necessity, but Ray shrinks, and lands safely in the jungle, where he's saved from a snake attack by a band of six inch extraterrestrial tribesmen whose culture devolved from an alien penal colony abandoned in the jungle eons ago, but the whole bands gets captured by the head of their tiny home city who's mad at them because they're rebels and consequently throws the rebel leader and Ray to the mice.

The Sword of the Absorbascon versus the Rats of Trade-writing

Take that, verminous modern writers of decompression!
Like the Atom, I stab at ye, who nibble away at stories with teeny tiny little bites!

Meanwhile, back in Ivytown, the authorities, having found in the plane wreckage a burned up body with Ray's wedding ring, contact Jean:

Jean Loring:
It's just her nineteenth nervous breakdown!
Good lord, that looks almost as painful as someone stepping on your brain with tiny little boots! It's as if a fully grown and armored Kryptonian ice cream sundae were emerging from her head.

Monday, June 18, 2007


If there is a more severe on-line critic of the Sword of Atlantis folly than I, I have not encountered him or her.

But, as I have probably mentioned before, perhaps the saddest thing about this folly is that it's not unprecedented. A similar (but better) attempt to shift a superhero into the sword and sorcery genre was made in 1983: the Sword of the Atom.

Of course, Sword of the Atom wasn't nearly as a bad as Sword of Atlantis, for several reasons. One, things happened in it. Two, it had some nice characterization going on. Three, the hero is actually quite impressive in it. Four, the Atom was in it, not a faux Atom replacing him.

I've heard differing accounts of whether Gil Kane and Jan Strnad pitched the story to DC or whether DC solicited Kane to draw the Atom and one of his conditions was the shift in genre.

In either case, Kane was well-prepared. Gil Kane had done an award-winning "sword epic": Blackmark, now credited as the first graphic novel (although the term had not yet been coined when the book was published in 1971).

Gil Kane was a versatile visual storyteller, a conscientious professional,
a respected spokesman for the industry...
and a tall, dark, sleepy-eyed, Eastern European man-babe!

So the Sword of the Atom mini-series has all sorts of strange and terrifying things: angry reptiles, scantily clad alien princesses, domesticated frogs, burly half-naked warrior men, and hordes of carnivorous mice.

But none so strange and terrifying as...

Yes, Jean Loring had always been kind of crazy. After all, that's one of the messages of the Silver Age: "women who put their careers ahead of marriage or man-hunting must be crazy." But it wasn't really until the Bronze Age that Jean Loring became crazy-mean.

Despite the fact that the story takes place primarily in the Amazon jungle, Jean gets more face-time in Sword of the Atom than she had seen in years. Speaking of Jean...

Proof, if proof were needed, that Jean Loring has always been evil or insane, or both:

It's horrible enough that she forced her bridesmaids to wear those... those... outfits. But when you realize that's Supergirl, Hawkwoman, Wonder Woman, and Black Canary, as almost as if you're watching Hostel 3: the Makeover. Even at this poor resolution, their faces tell their stories:
Supergirl's thinking, "Cool, now I can wear this outfit again to whatever my job is next issue!" As we know, Supergirl will wear anything.

Hawkwoman's planning on using the hat for target practice.

Wonder Woman's used to looking frumpy as Diana Prince, but she looks so sad: "When will I get to march down the aisle. March, march, march!"

Sex-kitten Black Canary is utterly mortified to be dressed as a Stepford Wife: "I will never ever get married to a creepy macho putz like my mother did."
Also of note: Hal Jordan is there but couldn't be bothered to wear a tie, opting instead for a cheesy love necklace, hoping to score with one of the friends of the bride. Swinger Aquaman seems to have brought his wife Mera and his boyfriend. Oh, and when the Phantom Stranger is at your wedding it means one of two things: either you are really really cool or your marriage is not going to turn out well.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

For Clark

In the morning in D.C.,

When I read a great metropolitan newspaper,

Over fresh coffee, two sugars, no cream,

it all seems so clear;

What is right

and what is wrong with the world

Is all laid out in tidy little type

Neatly divided into even lines

With nothing in between them,

Cleanly columnated to fit

Between previously prescribed margins,

With no awkward gaps,

Intriguing lacunae,

Or blanks to fill in,

And my need for order and simplicity.

Is satisfied.

But by day’s end,

When, over some slow and subtle vintage,

I ponder this week’s comics,

Its brighly garbed denizens struggle

With one another

With themselves

With the truths that lie between them,

In their four-color world

Of anger, grief, terror, and joy,

In an all-caps context

Pointed with exclamations,

Sixty plus years

Seems scant time indeed

To even begin to fathom

The Joker’s latest schemes

Let alone

What it all might mean,

And the motives of those who wish to rule the world

Or those who wish to stop them.