The Atom, October-November, 1964 story 1, page 5
"Illusions for Sale"
The Atom was one of several Golden Age superheroes revived in a totally new version by DC Comics in the early 1960s, following on the heels of similar revivals of the Flash, Hawkman and Green Lantern. The Silver-Age Atom first appeared in Showcase 34, September-October, 1961. His new adventures were given a decidedly science-fiction slant by veteran writer Gardner Fox. The Atom was scientist Ray Palmer, who discovered a fallen fragment of a white dwarf star. Quickly Palmer discovered that the star fragment enabled him to shrink objects to very small sizes. He designed a costume with controls installed in the belt, and later the palms, that enabled him to independently control his size and mass. He was unique among superheroes in wearing his invisible-when-expanded costume at all times – he simply shrunk down to fit it when it was time to swing into action! (No, I don't know what happened to his regular clothes. Although his costume was skin-tight, the Comics Code required that his clothes always be there when he grew back to normal size.) The Atom frequently rode tiny air currents and traveled to sub-atomic worlds. One of his most memorable shticks was to dial a telephone number, then jump into the phone receiver and ride the electric current to his destination! The art on most of his early adventures was by the expressive Gil Kane, whose juxtapositions of a tiny man next to huge, everyday objects led to some of the most memorable covers of the Silver Age.
In the first story in The Atom 15, "Illusions for Sale," Ray Palmer and his fiancée Jean Loring arrive in Pleasant Valley to visit Ray's old classmate Ed Thayer. Ray is surprised to see that Ed lives in a ramshackle house; Jean sees a lovely, clean home! Ray realizes that when Ed wrote to him and said that he was the victim of strange illusions in him home town, he wasn't kidding. Ed's "assistant" opens the door and offers them some fruit punch. When Ray sees his glass as cracked and leaking, their host turns on them, reveals that he had created the illusions and forces them into two separate (of course – Comics Code) storage bins in the cellar. Ray shrinks down to Atom-size, slips out of the bin and conceals himself under the laboratory door. He overhears the villain – wearing the green, checked jacket on the page shown – explaining to a trench-coat wearing man how when he tried to reproduce one of Thayer's inventions, he made a mistake that led to the illusiometer, that works by directing a beam of energy at a victim's brain. After testing it on Thayer himself and locking Thayer away in a mountain cabin, he took the illusiometer to New York to sell it to a foreign agent. He soon realized that it operated only in Pleasant Valley, and narrowed the reason down to the lithium lamp in Thayer's laboratory. The Atom uses his size and weight controls to stop the villains from leaving with the illusiometer. He has begun to shrink in order to get inside the illusiometer, when he is struck by a falling revolver. Unconscious, he continues to shrink to sub-atomic size. Fortunately, he revives in the midst of swirling particles and grows back to his six-inch size. He hitches a ride on the underbody of the escaping villain's car, scrambles to the engine and disconnects the spark-plug wires. While the thugs are examining the stalled engine, he body-slams the hood onto their heads. Flinging himself off the fan belt, he kayos the villains. After telephoning the police, he heads back to release Jean from her storage bin. Heading off to the police, he feigns surprise that the Atom has foiled the gang of international spies' scheme. When Dr. Thayer is released from the cabin, he thanks Ray for clearing up the illusion-mystery. He pledges to continue working on the illusiometer, in particular to lengthen the short life-span of the lithium lamp.
How well does this tale stand up to chemical scrutiny? The lithium lamp is probably a lithium hollow-cathode lamp. as used in an atomic absorption spectrometer. It's not clear why such a lamp would have a short life span. Writer Fox was probably aware of the use of lithium carbonate for the treatment of manic-depressive psychoses, discovered in 1949, making Li a natural choice to power the mind-bending illusiometer. Kane and Greene's artwork add to the enjoyment of the story. Look carefully, for example, at the spies' facial expressions on page 5. Trench-coat-man's raised eyebrow in the second panel is classic! Despite the high quality of the early part of The Atom's run, it did not survive the purges of the late Silver Age. After thirty-eight issues on its own, it merged with Hawkman in October-November 1968, then folded completely with Atom & Hawkman 45 in October-November 1969. Nonetheless, the Atom survived in the DC universe to the present day. He has appeared as a member of the Justice League of America, a backup feature, survived a divorce from Jean Loring and two series including the mini-sword-and-sorcery series Sword of the Atom, and recently was de-aged to a teenager. Quite a varied career for a physics professor from Ivy University!
Thanks to artist and Gil Kane fan Tony Gleeson at http://home.att.net/~atgleeson/ for spotting the lithium reference in this story. We appreciate pointers from our fans to help fill holes in the Periodic Table of Comics.