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The Atom

DC Direct JSA
by yo go re

Today Batman is considered an oddity, a superhero without any super powers; that wasn't always the case, though. The early superheroes weren't very far from their pulp adventure roots, so not all of them had extra-human abilities. It used to be that all you needed was a bad suit of clothes and a deep-seated desire to punch people. Case in point? The Golden Age Atom.

Possessing no super powers, Al Pratt's tenacity, valor and perfect physical condition earned him a place in the original JSA. As a result of radiation exposure in a battle with an unwilling adversary, Cyclotron, the Atom gained atomic strength and agility. Pratt later modeled his costume after that of Cyclotron.

Unlike Ray Palmer, the Silver Age Atom, Al Pratt couldn't shrink - he was just naturally tiny. He was a borderline dwarf with a violent temper, and that's it. This back street guy was madly in love with uptown girl Mary James, but she spurned him because he was so small and weak. After extensive training with a former heavyweight boxer, he went back to call upon the girl, arriving just in time to see her kidnapped. Hiding on the back of the crooks' car, he followed them back to their hideout, then broke in and kicked everybody's ass. Like a true hero.

Atom stands 5¼" tall, which means he's actually shorter than Mattel's DC movie figures. Of course, it works, since Al Pratt was supposed to be 5'1". The figure moves just like any other DC Direct offering: not enough. He's got hinged knees, swivel hips, peg wrists, pin elbows, balljointed shoulders and a balljointed neck. A waist? Here? No.

Because the Atom is so small, you get two figures for the price of one - Atom wore two costumes in his career, and you get both in this package.

The original Atom costume is as ungodly an eyesore as any other Golden Age creation. He's wearing red boots, a yellow shirt with a red collar and a blue mask and cape. His bracers appear to be buckled leather, as do his trunks. It's like he's wearing a modified weightlifter's belt. To be fair, though, Atom comes from the days when circus performers and professional wrestlers were still the main inspiration for costume designers, so it's not entirely his fault.

In 1948, eight years after he was introduced, the Atom suddenly showed up in a garrish new costume. Okay, "more" garrish. He also suddenly had powers, including an "atomic punch." There was never any mention of what had happened, and it took until 1983 for someone to come up with an answer. While fighting an unwilling villain known as Cyclotron, Al absorbed a dose of thorium radiation. When he eventually discovered his increased strength and other new abilities, he changed his costume to resemble Cyclotron's.

The only parts of the second Atom costume that are the same as the first are red boots and a blue cape. Now his entire body is yellow, his trunks are blue and his gloves are red. He's got a red atomic symbol on his chest, and a blue skullcap with a silly red fin. It's this costume that served as inspiration for the modern hero Nuklon when he first appeared - when he later changed his name to Atom-Smasher, he adopted a look more like the original.

Both Atoms are built on the same basic body, sculpted by Jeremy Bush. It's a nice, muscular little thing, and the fact that part are re-used is fine: why shouldn't they be? There are a surprising amount of differences, really - DCD probably could have gotten away with just changing the paint, but it's more intricate than that. In fact, only the legs, hands and upper arms are the same. Well, and the cape, but who counts that?

If you're interested in most of a series of DC Direct figures, it's sometimes cheaper to order a full set of five figures than to buy just four of them. In the JSA series, Atom was the figure I least wanted, even with two of him on the card. He's just so goofy! But the execution is really good, and the Atom is a pretty cool character. Give this little guy a chance. Because if you don't, he'll probably come to your house and punch your lights out.

-- 01/22/07

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