Golden Age showcase: Atom

Today we’re going to talk about the second to last original founding member of the Justice League.

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On the bottom left of the above picture you can see a man in a yellow suit and a full face executioner style mask.  That’s Atom

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No not that one.  This one.

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Origin and career

If you’re wondering why the Atom looks like a 1930’s strong man that’s because he started out that way.  Atom originally started off as an unassuming 98 pound weakling named Al Pratt.  While studying at Calvin College he came across a vagrant in the streets and decided to buy him dinner.  That man turned out to be a former boxing trainer Joseph Morgan

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Joe decided to thank Al by training him to be a boxer and he turned out to be a great teacher.  Al would eventually become so skilled that he finally decided to adopt the life of a costumed crime fighter during a time when hard work and a reasonable amount of training could still give you a reasonable shot at being a hero.

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Al would adopt the name “Atom” and became a founding member of the Justice Society when President Roosevelt organized the Justice Society in order to fight the Nazis.

During the war Al served as a tank driver and in an interesting bit of continuity he became friends with fellow strong man Wildcat

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which was all the more interesting since they were both trained by Joseph Morgan.

In 1948 Atom began to live up to his namesake and developed atomic based superpowers.  It turned out the cause of his newfangled powers was a battle with the reluctant villain Cyclotron six years earlier during the war.

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Side note: It turned out that Cyclotron was forced into becoming a villain by another JSA villain, the Ultra Humanite.  He sacrificed himself by flying Ultra Humanite into the atmosphere and destroying himself.

As a reminder of Cyclotron’s deeds Atom changed his costume to resemble the deceased villain.

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Thanks to this battle Atom developed an immunity to all forms of radiation and while pursuing a villain in the middle of a live atomic bomb test

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He developed super strength as well.  His story would further develop when Al Pratt took partial custody of the then deceased Cyclotron’s child Terri.

So what happened?

With his new super powers the Al Pratt devoted his life to studying radiation and its effects.  However, the Atom and the rest of the JSA were disbanded in 1951 when a Senate Committee ordered them to reveal their identities in order to prove they weren’t Communist sympathizers.

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Naturally the JSA refused to bow down to this obvious parallel to the real life Senator McCarthy and the House Committee of un American Activities and opted for an early retirement.  Atom revealed his identity to his sweetheart Mary James and the two were married.

Al would eventually return with his old team mates as Atom on several occasions later on.  However, his life would take a sudden and tragic turn when one of the JSA’s oldest foes, the immortal Vandal Savage, kidnapped his son and killed Mary James.

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Al was devastated but managed to pull through with the help of his teammates.  Unfortunately, he would later perish when battling the villain Extant during DC’s Zero Hour event in 1994.

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While Al Pratt’s Atom was dead his legacy as a hero would live on in another hero named Atom Smasher, who was actually the grandson of the villain Cyclotron and Al’s god son.

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While a huge portion of Al Pratt’s superhero career was marred by loss and tragedy his legacy lives on as one of the founding members of the JSA and as a hero to exemplified defying the odds to do the right thing.

Golden Age showcase: Hawkman

Today we are continuing our exploration into the Justice Society of America.

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Next up is Hawkman, one of the stranger characters to be created out of the Golden Age and a lesson for any future editors and writers on the importance of keeping your origin stories straight.

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Origin and career

The character of Hawkman was created in  by writer Garner Fox and artist Dennis Neville and debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940.  Hawkman’s original secret identity was mild mannered archaeologist Carter Hall.  While on an ordinary archaeological dig Hall discovered a mysterious dagger that put him into a deep trance when he touched it (side note: when will archaeologists ever learn that it’s probably a good idea to keep your hands off the ancient and potentially deadly artifact?)

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When he awoke Carter Hall realized that he was actually the modern reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Khufu (because of course) who had been murdered by the evil sorcerer Hath Set along with his lover Shiera.

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Realizing his true destiny Carter Hall set out to dispense some justice.  He discovered a rare metal known as “9th metal” which allowed him to negate the effects of gravity and fly on a set of homemade wings.  Also, in an act that would send historians and museum curators into fits of rage, he used weapons from his own museum to fight off the bad guys.

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In terms of his career Hawkman would go on to have a long and interesting run.  He would wind up becoming one of the founding members of the Justice Society and was the chairman of the organization until the very end.

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He also met a girl named Shiera Sanders who it turns out was actually his re incarnated bride from ancient Egypt.

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She winds up becoming the heroine Hawkgirl, making these two one of comic’s first power couples.

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All and all the two hawk themed heroes were quite popular.  Their allusions to magic and the ancient past set them apart from the rest of the superhero pack and made them a huge draw for readers.  In fact, Hawkman was so popular that he was the only superhero to appear in every singe Justice Society comic published.

So what happened?

Like most of his Golden Age counterparts Hawkman suffered a serious decline during the 1950’s with his final appearance as part of the original Justice Society in 1951.  However, like his co worker the Green Lantern Hawkman would receive a sci fi makeover a couple years later.

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The new Hawkman wasn’t a human archaeologist, he was a police officer from a distant planet called Thanagar named Kartar Hol.  The Thanagarians still used a winged harness to fly and they and used weapons made out of “Nth metal” to beat their foes.  This new incarnation of Hawkman came to Earth with his wife Shayera and in order to capture an alien criminal named Byth

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and decided to stay and study human police methods (hilarious) and knock some heads in the name of justice.  Eventually they would sever all ties with their homeworld when Thanagar tried to conquer Earth in the name of fighting a long and bloody war with another planet called Ran.

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Now hold onto your hats because this is where it gets weird.

At the beginning of the Silver Age it was established that there were actually parallel universes in what would become the DC Comics cannon (we’ll talk about that next week).  Carter Hall, the original archaeologist Hawkman, lived on Earth-2 with the original members of the Justice Society while the alien Kartar Hol lived on Earth-1.

In 1985 DC decided to do away with decades of comic book continuity and confusing alternate dimensions with their massive crossover series Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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The series was a huge hit and has helped dictate DC editorial policy for years for better or for worse.  What the event did was reboot the entire DC universe from scratch and replacing the alternate dimensions with one Earth timeline that had the Justice Society in the 1940’s and a more modern Justice League later on.  The series had a massive impact on the history and stories of thousands of characters and created new established cannon that still holds sway today.

Apparently someone forgot to get the memo to the writers of Hawkman because when it came time to reboot him they stuck with the Silver Age alien version.  Kartar was the only Hawkman in this universe and that was final.  This created a continuity problem because it left no explanation for how the Golden Age Hawkman, the archaeologist Carter Hall, could exist as Hawkman.  In order to fix this the writers changed it around to state that the Halls, not the Holls, were the original members of the new Justice League and that the alien Hawkman was simply a Thanagarian agent spying on Earth.

If this is sounding confusing to you don’t worry.  A lot of people find this way to confusing to follow and as a result Hawkman titles suffered from poor sales.

Today Hawkman and Hawkgirl are still kicking around the DC universe.

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Currently both heroes are written as re incarnations of Khufu and Shiera although their continuity continues to remain a confusing mess for many.

Before we go, there needs to be special mention of Hawkgirl.  In modern superhero stories she has actually wound up becoming a bit more popular than her male counterpart due to her main role in the phenomenal Justice League cartoon.

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In this version the creators took the Thanagarian route and made her an alien from another world.  Her wings were part of her and she carried an Nth Metal mace.  Interestingly enough, while she would go on to have her own story in the series (she fell in love with Green Lantern and helped stop an invasion of Earth by her own people at tremendous personal cost) there was an episode called “Shadow of the Hawk” where a mysterious man named Carter Hall attempted to convince Hawkgirl that they were reincarnated lovers of a Thanagarian couple who came to Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago.

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While the history and story of Hawkman has proven to be a bit difficult for readers and writers to handle he deserves some recognition as one of the first members of the Justice Society and one of the most important for a very long time.

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Golden Age #11: Golden Age Green Lantern

Today is part two of of our series on the Justice Society of America.

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Since we already talked about the man on the far right of this picture we’re going to move over one and talk about the man with the green mask and cape.  This is a special post because that hero is the Golden Age version of the Green Lantern, the blue print for one of the most famous and prominent heroes around today.

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Origin and career:

Thanks to the Green Lantern’s popularity we know quite a bit about the Green Lantern’s history.  However, what’s really interesting is that the original version of Green Lantern shared almost none of the traits and history of the Green Lantern we know today.

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The original Green Lantern’s name was Alan Scott.  He was a humble railroad engineer who was minding his own business when an alien entity named Starheart saved him from a terrible accident.  Starheart took the form of ring and pushed Alan towards adopting the persona of the Green Lantern.

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What makes this iteration of the Green Lantern interesting is just how similar he is to the Green Lantern we know and love and how different he is at the same time.  It turns out that this Green Lantern had more of a mystical tint to it since it was discovered that Starheart was actually a meteor that crash landed on Earth thousands of years ago and has had quite a history with humans prophesying that it would act three times: once to destroy, once to heal, and once to give power.  Alan Scott just happened to be the third one.

Like the current Green Lantern the original Green Lantern had a wide variety of powers.  The ring allowed Alan Scott to fly, project light that could blind opponents, and project solid light constructs that could knock someone out.

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The ring also made him invulnerable to every type of weapon except those made out of wood for some reason (the Golden Age was weird) and had to be recharged but touching a large Green device shaped like a lantern every 24 hours.

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In terms of stories and enemies the Green Lantern had a pretty lackluster career.  In his solo work he mostly fought human antagonists although he did introduce future DC heavyweight villains Vandal Savage

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and Solomon Grundy.

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He would later join his other superhero compatriots that weren’t selling well and become one of the founding members of the Justice Society.  During this time he became the head of a Broadcasting Company and spent the war making money and kicking Nazi butt.

So what happened?

After fulfilling his Nazi beating quota Green Lantern suffered the same post war decline in readership that almost every hero who wasn’t named Batman or Superman had.  His books were cancelled in 1949 but he would make a roaring comeback in 1959 with the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics.

A quick note about the Silver Age of Comics.  This period of comic book history took place between 1956-1970 and was known for two things.  First, it saw the rise of Stan Lee and Marvel Comics.

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and for drawing most of its influence from this

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and this.

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Yes, the Silver Age was a time when popular culture was dominated by science, the power and possibilities of atomic energy, and mankind’s first forays into space.  Comic books were quick to pick up on these new fascinations and nowhere was it more apparent that Green Lantern who introduced a new face of the franchise in 1959: Hal Jordan.

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Right away you can see several differences between Hal and Alan.  For starters there’s no cape and the comic has more of a science fiction feel to it rather than a gangster/fantasy spin.  The new comic also featured several other changes that would become standard Green Lantern lore.  Hal was a test pilot instead of a railroad engineer and while the ring could still use green light to project solid light constructs and provide powers of flight and protection it could also work against wooden weapons.  Instead it’s new weakness was the color yellow (just the color yellow, the Sinestro Corps didn’t exist yet).  As for its origin the new Green Lantern wasn’t just a hero who had been given magic powers.  Now he was actually a member of an intergalactic police force run by the immortal Guardians.

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So DC comics now had a new Green Lantern with a more detailed backstory and a focus on science fiction over fantasy which, looking back, made him quite a bit more interesting.

That being said Alan Scott didn’t just disappear.  In fact, he would go on to have a long and illustrious career as his own character.  One of DC Comic’s big Silver Age stunts was the creation of the Multiverse, the idea that the DC universe existed in multiple universes which gave the writers and creators the excuse to keep a lot of characters around without having to deal with a lot of pesky continuity flaws.  The idea was introduced in the Flash of Two World’s story and allowed DC to keep a lot of it’s old Golden Age heroes around.

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As one of the founding members of the JSA, Alan Scott continued to exist as his own man through the Silver Age, even working with Hal Jordan on several occasions.

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And he’s been hanging around the DC universe ever since. No matter what has happened within the DC universe and no matter what Earth shattering event has occurred, the original Green Lantern has always been there watching over Earth’s other heroes with his magic ring.