In A Very Small Place!
For most of its long history, World's Finest Comics
was home to Superman and Batman,
first as parallel "lead features" and later as
co-stars in shared adventures. For a brief period in 1971-72,
however, DC shook things up a bit, pairing Superman with
a rotating cast of guest stars just as they did for Batman
over in Brave and The Bold.
Interestingly, I'm pretty sure my first issue of the title
(and one of my first comics, period) was from this period.
I have powerful memories of #208, with its tremendous Neal
Adams cover showing Superman and Dr
the Earth back into orbit with massive chains. That
one sparked a lifelong fascination with both Fate and Adams.
So it was with some eagerness that I dug into the team-up
tale in WF #213, titled "Peril In A Tiny Place".
I mean, with Superman, The Atom and a great Nick
Cardy cover, how can you go wrong, right? Well...
Writer Elliot Maggin (this one's so early,
he hasn't adopted the "S!" in the middle yet)
starts us off at Ivy University, where Professor
Ray Palmer is researching the gene factor that
allows him to become the Atom without blowing up (as everything
else does when he shrinks it). When the culture on his microscope
slide shrinks beyond the point where he can see it, he hopes
to get an assist from Superman's famous microscopic vision.
Placing a phone call to Clark Kent, he shrinks to his Atom
persona and prepares to perform his famous trick of riding
electronic impulses along the phone lines.
Not knowing he's about to get a momentous phone call, Clark
is trying to relax at his Metropolis apartment...
Perhaps confusing him with Bruce Wayne (or Hugh Hefner?),
artists Dick Dillin and Joe Giella
have dressed Clark in a purple smoking jacket with
a yellow cravat; decidedly aristocratic duds for a working
stiff like our Clark, but at least they skipped the cigarette
The phone rings, and The Atom begins his journey along
the phone lines to Metropolis. Suddenly, however, he comes
to an electronic disturbance that blocks his way and looks
ready to fry him. Meanwhile Clark is frustrated at the silence
that greets him when he picks up the phone. He's about to
trace the call with his vision powers when he hears a disturbance
outside and goes to investigate as Superman.
All along Clinton Street, traffic has come to a standstill
as drivers have abandoned their cars and crowded the sidewalks.
A police officer informs Superman that "every piece
of metal for three blocks around is charged with electricity!"
(including all those cars). Superman leaves the patrolman
-- who bears a distinct resemblance to editor Julie
Schwartz -- to pay a visit to an art store run
by two shopkeepers with familiar names.
I'm not sure if art store employees really dress like pharmacists,
but who would know better than "Dillin" and "Giella"?
Anyway, with his newly purchased spray cans in hand, Superman
races through the streets, spraying the door handles of
all those stopped cars with "non-conducting enamel"
so the drivers can return to their vehicles and leave the
area. For good measure, he also sprays the doorknobs on
the local apartment buildings...
That's one powerful stream coming out of those cans, huh?
He hit those doorknobs from 20 feet away. I sure hope the
owners of those cars agree that having their rides sprayed
with red and yellow paint is a fair trade-off for avoiding
electric shock. And you know what, somehow having Superman
pump all those aerosols into the atmosphere strikes me as
running a bit counter to Maggin's usual sensibilities, but
then again it's 1971...who knew?
Still stuck in his sub-atomic limbo, The Atom turns on
his Justice League emergency signal, albeit without much
hope it will help him. Spotting a planet-like structure,
he manages to maneuver himself to it and begins exploring.
By now, Superman has traced his neighborhood's electrical
problems to the phone lines under the street. He returns
to his phone, still off the hook, and listening closely
he faintly detects a distant sound in "the same pattern"
as a JLA emergency signal. Using the Kandorian Shrinking
Ray from his Fortress, he reduces himself to miniature size
and jumps into the phone to investigate.
The Atom, meanwhile, has discovered an alien race, led
by a yellow and green Mark Twain lookalike. We know Dick
Dillin designed him because, as usual, we can never quite
tell whether he's wearing gloves or not. His shirt sleeves
are pushed up to expose his bare forearms but a close-up
shows seams stitched in his fingers.
Here's where I get lost, frankly. If I understand correctly,
these humanoid, English-speaking aliens live inside the
phone line, their tiny world powered by the flow of electrons
going through the lines. Recently, however, an electronic
something-or-other (the same disturbance Atom saw earlier)
appeared in their "sky" and started absorbing
the electrons, weakening the denizens of this subatomic
world and causing them to start dying off.
Right about now, Superman is drawing near. He sees the
electrical disturbance and exclaims, "Oh,no, it's...a
GENESIS MOLECULE!" My sentiments exactly.
Locating The Atom, Superman explains that the molecule
"is going to reproduce by fission any moment...and
this whole universe will blow up! I have to get you out
of here and move this THING to an uninhabited world. It
may be the basis of a new form of life -- based on electrical
rather than chemical energy."
"You want to move that thing," asks the Atom,
"and let it absorb everything in this sub-atomic universe?"
"Yeah," answers Superman, even though the Atom's
question presents a complete contradiction in terms. How
can he move it elsewhere AND at the same time leave it to
destroy the place where it is now? Anyway, Atom introduces
Superman to the local population, the existence of which
moots the "absorb everything" option.
So it is that Superman and The Atom fly around for two
solid pages doing...well, it's unclear what they're doing,
but the captions relate an inspiring "Pledge of A Superman"
(more on that later). The Atom is finding it hard to survive
near the Genesis Molecule, so Superman comes up with a plan
to help him. Sort of. I think. Heck, even the Atom is lost
by this point, and he's a physicist.
Note our pal Dick Dillin at work again in the above image.
We know The Atom is wearing gloves, but Dillin draws him
with fingernails. Maybe Dick lived in a Bizarro world where
gloves have nails and hands have seams?
"The molecule is about to split into two!" says
Superman (in a panel where Dillin and Giella are drawing
it as two molecules already). "The only way to destroy
it now...is to HIT the two nucleii with our force at the
exact moment of fission!" So, hitting a nucleus keeps
it together instead of splitting it apart? Right, got it.
At exactly the right moment, the heroes hit the nucleii.
The resulting explosion sends them back along the phone
line and out of Clark Kent's phone. Atom enlarges to his
Ray Palmer ID and enlarges Superman with the Kandorian Shrinking
Ray (good thing you found someone in that phone line, Superman,
or else who would've enlarged you?). Superman (now Clark)
says he saw that the alien race survived, and Ray is happy,
but Clark points out that they had to destroy one thing
-- and the life it may have spawned -- to save other lives,
a choice that is causing him some emotional turmoil. For
some reason, Ray is turned on by this revelation.
This panel is just weird. Since when does Ray Palmer, physicist,
university professor and all-around square have the anti-establishment,
hippy sensibilities of Oliver Queen? Would he really use
a term like "Superguy"? Was there ever anything
in his past potrayals to suggest he'd see Superman as "a
muscle-bound enforcer of his definition of Justice"?
If he thinks the guy is such a lumbering fascist, why did
he seek his aid in the first place?
However, even if he botched the Atom's character (for me,
anyway), it's great fun to see the still-new-at-it Maggin
developing his distinctive vision of Superman. There's an
early bit where Clark is listening to his favorite music,
"the classic Sonic Flare Patterns -- by the musicians
of the planet Polaris Four," establishing the exotic
tastes and unique sensibilities acquired by a veteran of
interstellar and inter-dimensional travels, and adding to
what will become a long list of arcane references to alien
cultures and peculiar hobbies for the Man of Steel.
Better yet is Maggin's "Pledge of A Superman,"
still inspiring despite the accompanying pictures of our
heroes flying around in an incomprehensible aerial dance
of some sort: