When last we visited The Golden Age, things were starting to look bleak for our beloved Justice Society of America. And I take no joy in this, kids, but it is going to get worse before it gets better.
Before I delve too far into what happens in issue #2, I want to take a step back and discuss what happened with The Atom in issue #1. For those of you who may not be aware, The Golden Age Atom started out sans superpowers. He was just a short guy who was in really good shape who could fight very well. He adopted The Atom persona and superhero life because he was tired of getting pushed around by bullies larger than him. Later, via exposure to atomically-powered villains or possibly radiation, he gained super-strength. Before then, though, he has some issues with feeling inferior, and why wouldn’t he? Think about it; he was already short, had gotten into the superhero game as an act of inferiority, and then he somehow gets into the JSA, where not only were there regular-sized crimefighters who were even more skilled, e.g. Sandman or Wildcat, but he also standing next to veritable gods such as Green Lantern or The Spectre! Anyone would feel small, but a man who already felt small would probably feel like an amoeba.
That complex leads The Atom into a dangerous waters during The Golden Age, starting in issue #1…
Of all the issues that fester inside The Atom, causing a young man’s head to swell, I think it is his youth that ultimately leads him astray. Doesn’t that same cloud haunt most of our youths? Remember when we were all headstrong, extreme, and excited? Remember when all of our dreams were going to come true? Remember the 90’s, Legions of the Unspoken…Remember the 90’s…
The Atom, unbeknownst to him, is being used. What he does know is that he again has meaning, he again has purpose, he again is…big. At least for now, under Tex Thompson’s New America.
Before we move along, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Robotman is sporting the most grotesque smile this side of Pennywise the Clown that I have ever seen. If one of us was in this crowd, you know that we would have noticed that and headed as far away as we could before that facade shattered. I don’t care if he has man in his name or not, no robot with such a smile can have good intentions.
Robotman and The Atom we know, but who’s that third guy?
Daniel Dunbar doesn’t know it yet, but he is the key to one of the most heinous plots in superhero history. I think we’ve all figured out by now that Tex Thompson is much more than he seems, though.
We’ve also figured out that our heroes, no matter how shiny their adventures make them seem, have blotches of gray all over them. This can make them reprehensible to us, or it make them all the more heroic. In the case of Jonathan Law, Tarantula, his gray is shattering the respect we had for him, especially as he denigrates and mistreats Liberty Belle, a favorite of many Golden Age fans. What’s especially poignant, though, isn’t that Law is now dark and “gritty” for the sake of being gritty. This is a natural evolution of the character. It makes sense that Law would have a hard time writing after penning a book about the exploits of being a wartime mystery man. That doesn’t excuse his actions or his spiral into the clutches of alcoholism, but it does make sense.
Starman’s descent into madness appears to have quelled some, also making sense. As someone of above average intelligence who deals with some mental roadblocks of his own in regards to anxiety and the like, I have my good days and bad days, but after a period of thought, I usually come to terms with whatever fears and mood I am dealing with. Starman is a genius beyond the genius level, and therefore, he is able to do the same. Of course, I feel guilty about a lot of things, but exposing the world to an energy that gave folks super powers and gave those without superpowers who fought crime under masks the inclination to do so isn’t one of them. Johnny Chambers listens on as Starman pours his heart out.
“I have the stars” is a line that stands out to me. I clung to those words tightly during a confused adolescence that was at times bereft of companionship from my peers. I clung to Ted Knight’s notion here that he could find comfort…not just solace, but COMFORT in the stars the way I had to find comfort in my comic book heroes, wrestlers, and baseball stars when I had no one.
Quick Chambers is in that awkward spot where he wants to help a good friend, but he just doesn’t know how. He also doesn’t want to offend him, but he just thinks this is a crackpot of an idea. I never understand why superheroes are such skeptics. Johnny has seen Green Lantern, The Spectre, and many other beings powered beyond belief in hundreds of different ways, but the idea that Starman pulled this radiation to Earth and it resulted in the spawning of crimefighters with and without powers is ridiculous to him. The Spear of Destiny sounds more ridiculous! Then again, maybe Johnny is just too much of a realist to believe such a thing. One way or another, he is trying to do be a good pal, and he is doing a decent job of it.
Daniel Dunbar is trying to find meaning in his life. In issue #1, his life fell apart, and while you didn’t see it here, I am sure that each member of the Legion of the Unspoken picked a copy! He faces a big test soon, and he ponders his future the way any young man on what he perceives as the precipice of greatness would. Of course, his future isn’t what he thinks it shall be…
The Golden Age beckons us all, and it even beckons those who say that its embrace no longer holds sway over them. The siren song sounds so sweet that it can even entice the most nobly stalwart of the heroes, especially when combined with the stress of a semi-fascist government inquiry and the resignation of his friends due to the besmirchment of their reputations by said inquiries. It can even entice Alan Scott, Green Lantern.
Of course, our heroes are not the only ones having to adapt to a new age. The villains of The Golden Age are not held in some sort of stasis that enables them to elude the tendrils of societal changes and the grasp of aging. Sportsmaster is back in the game for noble reasons of his own, even if his admirable catalyst puts him into action of the criminal variety.
Green Lantern’s fight against Sportsmaster sans ring is one of those moments when one is reading an epic that doesn’t stand out during the first read, but it gets better and better upon repeated readings. I just can’t help but feel for Sportsmaster here, engaging in criminal activity in an effort to find his daughter and unable to defeat Alan Scott, even when the Golden Age Green Lantern is bereft of his magic ring.
I understand that these guys, Sportsmaster included, are the bad guys, but every now and then, I simply cannot help but feel sorry for them due to their horrendous Won/Loss records. Even when victory seems certain for the villains, the valiant heroes conjure a way to find a win. This time however, thanks to Green Lantern not having his ring and Sportsmaster possessing a gun and a desire to win at any costs, Sportsmaster gets the better of Green Lantern here, although Green Lantern isn’t killed. I hope Sportsmaster goes on to a happy life with his daughter!
Tex Thompson continues his crusade for an American hero as he and his team conduct their experiment on Daniel Dunbar. I don’t think I am spoiling anything by saying nothing good can come from this. I mean, I don’t recall the piece of culture where folks staring at mushroom clouds from bunkers worked out well for anyone.
That’s right folks, they nuked Daniel Dunbar. Nuked him. For most folks other than the Hulk, that would result in death, for Daniel Dunbar it doesn’t seem to…
So now what I referred to earlier as ominous is now goddamn terrifying. No one should trust Tex Thompson, no matter how much he waves the flag and spouts off rhetoric that sounds good, one should be able to discern that he is rotten to the very core. It saddens me how often folks in our reality fall for this nonsense, but it saddens me even more when heroes I admire, such as The Atom and Johnny Thunder, fall victim to the same inanities.
The interaction between The Atom and Johnny Thunder (and Johnny Thunder and everyone) is proof of just how much James Robinson loves and understands these characters. Johnny Thunder barges in, not thinking of protocol and security, and when he finally sits down with The Atom, The Atom has some harsh words for him. Of course, perhaps that is because The Atom has come to play the Johnny Thunder role in Tex Thompson’s New Order, as he has been relegated, unappreciated, and perhaps only merely tolerated…
The Atom’s youth, arrogance, and eagerness are now manifesting in disgruntlement with the administrative bureaucracy he now finds himself utterly enmeshed in, and he finds there is nothing he can do about it. He’s wrong about one thing, though; it is now Daniel Dunbar getting most of the accolades and glory…
Dynaman is alive, real, and perhaps we’re all damned, regardless of the bright colors and amazing powers! His powers seem limitless, although there does some to be a caveat to that…
The crowds gobble up every word, as they always seem to when they should be questioning the subject most. That’s life, I suppose, and at least Paul Smith makes something so upsetting to me look so beautiful.
James Robinson also remembers all the heroes you don’t, such as little known Quality Comics hero, Captain Triumph. No, not theTriumph who appeared during Zero Hour (although don’t worry folks, we are gonna get to Zero Hour and his adventures sooner rather than later!), but an old hero who hadn’t resurfaced in some time when James Robinson resurrected him here! Of course, James finds a new and believable spin for him, and then Paul Smith does the best job drawing an annoying ghost I have ever ever seen.
While Gallant is pestered by a metaphysical annoyance, Paul Kirk is more than annoyed by the killers after him. Life for Manhunter is constantly being on the run. The folks willing to off an entire homeless shelter (including the padre who ran it) aren’t going to just up and quit just because they don’t get their quarry the first try. Their motivation must also be more than cash as well, because it seems unlikely hired killers would be so messy and careless.
What the killers did not count on was Paul Kirk finding some assistance in an unlikely place. Just as they swoop in for the kill, one of Tex Thompson’s castoffs returns to help. He doesn’t know it yet, but Bob Daley is about to set events into motion that will keep the most nefarious plot from coming to fruition…and it all starts at what appears to be the most frigid gas station on the planet.
I think other than the amnesia, we have all felt like Paul Kirk here and yon in our lives. We have all felt chased and hounded. We have all felt something gaining on us. Something just around the corner, and we have all been too afraid to ask for help. Thankfully for most of us, trained killers weren’t after us, but this is a nice moment to remind us that sometimes the only thing separating our heroes and us is the fact that they are on the printed page, while our pain and fear are not contained within thought bubbles and balloons….
And it would appear from the looks of things, we have much to fear…and so does the JSA…
Hope you enjoyed this look at The Golden Age #2!