Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Astounding Atom-Wolf!

Showcase Presents The Atom Volume 1: written by Gardner F. Fox; illustrated by Gil Kane, Sid Greene, and Murphy Anderson (1962-65; collected 2007): DC's Atom of the 1940's was a short guy who could fight well. For the 1960's Silver Age reimagining of the character, size became more of an issue. 

Now, thanks to white-dwarf matter, the Atom could shrink. He could also control his mass at any size. This being the Silver Age and not the 1990's, that last bit never resulted in him punching a hole in anyone's head (or collapsing into a miniature black hole).

The smooth and dynamic Gil Kane keeps the art fun and imaginative, even when the adventure simply involves boring bank-robbers or Soviet spies. Ray Palmer, the Silver-Age Atom, was a university professor with a lawyer for a girlfriend. And really, a research professor isn't a bad secret identity for a superhero, especially as Ray seems to be high-powered enough in academia to never have to teach a class!

The best adventures herein play with science fiction, fantasy, and the perennial weirdness of the Silver Age as imagined by writer Gardner Fox. The Atom gets trapped in light bulbs, ironed out as flat as a pancake, and used as the battery for a gun. Thanks to the 'Time Pool,' he also teams up with Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe. It's a full, rich life.

Probably the most emblematic story included here pits the Atom against his own suddenly sentient and malevolent costume. And the revelation of who (or what) is behind the costume's criminal shenanigans makes things even weirder. In an era of comic books in which a benevolent chunk of Kryptonite once narrated a story, anything can happen and probably will. Recommended.

Captain America: Man&Wolf: written by Mark Gruenwald; illustrated by Rik Levins and others (1992-93; Collected 2011): Probably the second-most-maligned Captain America adventure in comic-book history (the first being the Heroes Reborn year of stories), Man&Wolf... really isn't that bad. Mark Gruenwald wrote Captain America for about a decade, and his Cap is always interesting even when the material gets a bit weird. 

Pretty much every werewolf or werewolf-like character in the Marvel Universe shows up (the most famous being J. Jonah Jameson's former astronaut son John, cursed to become Man-Wolf by a rock he picked up on the Moon, and Marvel's designated Werewolf, Werewolf by Night; wolf-like characters from X-Force and X-Factor also appear). Someone wants to make more werewolves! A werewolf army! Wolverine shows up too!

And Cap gets turned into a werewolf. But he's a heroic werewolf. The plans of evil will soon be thwarted. Will Cap be cured? Oh, probably. Rik Levins does a nice job on the action sequences, though he struggles with the actual drawing of the werewolves. 

A couple of ongoing plot threads that won't be resolved in this collection could probably have been excised so as not to confuse the reader. An Infinity War crossover can't really be excised, but it's damn peculiar anyway. This certainly isn't a high point for Cap, but Gruenwald's version of the character is always fun to hang out with, furry or not. Lightly recommended.

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