Sword of the Atom (Trade Review)

May 21, 2010 at 1:02 PM | Posted in (All Posts), Comic Reviews, Reviews | 1 Comment
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Sword of the Atom
Containing: Sword of the Atom #1-4 / Sword of the Atom Special #1-3

Before I start the review, let me give a brief “intro”.

You may be asking why I should review this now when the story is from the 1980s?

The first reason is the fact it’s new to me. I just finished reading it

The second reason being that Ray Palmer (thanks to Blackest Night) is really stepping up in the DCU again. While the Atom has always been a welcome addition to the JLA and played a role in big stories such as Identity Crisis and even Final Crisis to some degree, Geoff Johns really introduced to the character to ME. Before reading Blackest Night, I wasn’t such a huge fan of Ray Palmer. Not that I had anything against him — but I just knew little to nothing about him.

During the length of Blackest Night, I went back and read Identity Crisis and other events involving Ray and really started to appreciate the character. It inspired me to go out and read every Ray Palmer story I could find, and I just recently ordered this trade of the Sword of the Atom story. And I’m glad I did.

NOW — onto the review.

For those of you who don’t know — “Sword of the Atom” was a mini-series in the early 1980s that focused on the story of Ray Palmer. Ray and his wife, Jean Loring Palmer, had been going through some difficult times in their marriage. Ray’s time as the Atom had taken a strain on their relationship as he was always away being a superhero. When he wasn’t being a superhero, he was busy with his experiments and school duties as a professor. Jean is an attorney who also spent a great deal of time away from home — so the couple rarely got to see one another.

Jean hired an assistant to help her with her growing case load, but what started out as a “friendship” with Paul Hoben turns into an affair.

“Sword of the Atom” opens up with Ray coming home early from the university to spend the evening with Jean, but she strangely isn’t home yet. Ray begins to worry and stands by the window anxiously hoping that everything is OK.

At some point he thinks he sees some car lights flicker in the distance. Ray assumes that Paul must have driven Jean home because of the worsening weather. As he leaves the driveway and approaches the parked car, he sees Paul and Jean affectionately kissing each other. Ray is devastated. Jean pushes Paul away and chases after Ray.

The couple argues for hours. Jean never seems to apologize for the incident — claiming that Ray had brought this on himself because of how distant he had been. Ray doesn’t disagree with the accusation, but is hurt nonetheless. He suggests to Jean that they take some time apart. Ray has the opportunity to travel to South America and investigate what he believes to be a fallen “dwarfstar” — similar to the one he was first exposed to that gave him the shrinking powers of the Atom. Jean weeps silently as she pretends to sleep.

Ray travels to South America with a charter plane — but little does he know that the plane is owned and operated by local drug lords who don’t want to fly over the “Coco” fields below as the weather is making the travel difficult. Ray insists they continue, but the men attack Ray from behind. Ray shrinks down into the Atom and fights back. The plane ends up crashing and Ray finds himself washed upon the shore a riverbank on the Amazon River.

Ray is now stuckk at a mere 6-inch height due to the malfunction of his belt. He comes in contact with a group of a small alien race who take him captive. These human-like beings that are the same height as Ray range from having yellow and pink skin and speak a language of their own which Ray cannot seem to comprehend. The group of prisoners are being transported to the capital city of the civilization called “Morlaidh”.

While being so lost in the translation and this catostrophe of a situation, Ray and a prisoner named Taren come to respect and befriend one another. Princess Laethwen, who is the Princess of Morlaid, is a beautiful woman who Taren is deeply in love with, but he cannot be with her because he is nothing more than a mere slave. As they are brought into the city, a scuffle occurs and Ray and Taren fight back to free themselves. Upon seeing their performance, Deraigis, the assistant to the King, suggests that the two become gladiators and fight to entertain the citizens of Morlaidh.

Upon the day of the fight, Ray finds that Taren’s eyes have been plucked out by some of the guards and he is now blinded.┬áPrincess Laethwen, who secretly despises the plans of her father and his evil assistant Deragis, leads a group of rebels and they assist Ray and Taren in escaping the city walls.

__ __ __ __ __

And I don’t want to spoil the entire story here. If I continue on the way I’m going I’m just going to do a summary of the book.

What I liked most about this trade was how refreshing it was. I can’t explain why — but reading about Ray Palmer and this tiny race of people fight through the jungles is one of the most entertaining things you can read in comics.

The art from Gil Kane is fabulous. It’s flawless. It’s aged so well. You would think seeing panel after panel of jungle would get old, but it never does.

But if you have this interpretation that “Sword of the Atom” is just about Ray Palmer running around in the jungle — you could NOT be more wrong. The basic story does involve the Atom riding frogs and fighting snakes with swords and arrows, but it’s worth noting that this tiny race of people did come from another planet and they carried a variety of technology over with them. In other words, if this story had a formula, it might look something like this:

Swords & Sorcery + SciFi Alien Technology + Superhero Story =
Sword of the Atom

And it works. It works really well.

The part I liked the most about Sword of the Atom was the characterization of Ray Palmer. At one point during the story, Jean is remembering when she and Ray were first blooming their relationship. She talks about how Ray was so adventurous — he saw her as a challenge. He would try so hard to impress her and worry so much about what she thought of him. When he became the Atom, he would help her out on cases but never actually reveal himself. When he finally told her that he was the Atom, her heart melted. She couldn’t believe just how much he would do for her.

But then time passed. Ray had passed the challenge. Ray had won Jean. And he moved on.

To some degree — and it’s not easy for me to say this about myself — but I can relate to Ray. I’m not saying that I’ve dated girls in the past and then just forget about them. I just mean that you can never be satisfied with whatever you have — you always look for the next “challenge” so it can fix all your problems.

Forgive me for how arrogant I sound right now because I’m just trying to be honest. I hate getting into a pattern — a cycle. I hate waking up day in and day out and doing the same thing over and over. Driving the same road to school. Walking the same way to class. Talking to the same people. Saying the same things. I’m always WANTING to find something new. And there have been times in the past when I was so infatuated with a girl, but once I knew she felt the same way I would back off. Granted I was much younger then, but I definitely see what direction they were going with Ray Palmer. Sometimes when you isolate yourself and really go for something — you can find out who you really are — what you really want out of life.

That’s basically what the theme of this story is. Ray Palmer finds out that he has grown tired of life in Ivy Town. He’s grown tired of getting into the system of being a professor and a superhero. He’s even distanced himself so much from his wife that she found someone who would show affection towards her.

Ray needs a jolt of life — and he finds it in the jungles of South America — in Morlaidh. He falls in love with Princess Laethwen and the two become married — but only after getting divorced from Jean and such. Trust me when I say that this story covers a lot. A lot of time passes in this story and we see a lot of characters develop.

__ __ __ __ __

As for grading this — I would give it an “A”. “Sword of the Atom” is excellent. Period.

I would take off a few points considering that the art in the last “special” is no comparison to the art of Gil Kane. The artist in particular on the third special is Pat Broderick. While it’s not horrible, you can see how it was inching into the 90s style of art. Ray Palmer went from a slim and trim hero into a buff and long-haired warrior in just one issue. The story for that issue involves some disease that makes the dead come back to life, so it makes up for the rough art.

It’s just cool to read about the Atom riding on frogs and swinging swords and dabbling in all sorts of new technology. All of the characters are very well done and the story itself holds up even today. I now consider myself a fan of Ray Palmer in a way I never thought I would — and it’s because of just how good this book was.

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  1. […] his careers that he failed to notice he was beginning to lose his wife – as pointed out in a brilliant analysis on AIRSHIP OVER WATER, Ray’s relationship with Jean may never have existed in a real, adult sense. Their […]


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