Welcome to Back Issue Bin, the series in which this writer takes you through his thought process for spending obscene amounts of money on comics made 60 years ago. Right now, we will be covering the third appearance of the Silver Age Atom in Showcase #36 from December of 1961. The issue was written by science-fiction scribe Gardner Fox, penciled Silver Age artist Gil Kane, and edited by science fiction literary agent Julius Schwartz. This just goes to show the reasoning behind the science fiction choices behind the series.
First, we will start off with what people want to see most: the price. A reading copy of the issue can be found for around $55-65 dollars for a low-grade copy of the issue, which is not pretty, but you can read the story. Alternatively, one could purchase DC Archive Edition: The Atom Archives Volume 1, which contains this issue, plus Showcase #34, #35, and The Atom #1-5. It can typically be found second-hand for $30-50. This gives archival quality copies of the issues, allowing you to experience the art in the highest possible quality. (Reviews for Showcase #34, #35, The Atom #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 are linked.) The added issues to the collection mean you are paying roughly $3.75-6.25 per issue, depending on the price you obtain it at.
The featured story of this issue is “Prisoner in a Test Tube!”. The cover of the issue is excellent as always and is a worthy addition to any wall. The level of detail in Gil Kane’s work always astounds this writer.
The story itself is not particularly special, but it is interesting how, unlike many other female characters of the time, DC actually gave characterization to Jean Loring, instead of her being there to fill space like many other female characters of the time. In fact, she solves many of the puzzles presented to them, as opposed to the protagonist of the story, The Atom. It is actually refreshing to see (at least somewhat) developed characters in a Silver Age story, especially after reading 1960’s Marvel Comics. As for the rest of the story, it is not particularly special. It does not rely on any tricks to solve the puzzle, but instead, just has him shrinking to fit down to the size he needs. If you enjoy action drawn by Gil Kane though, this may interest you, even though there are probably better issues with that sort of thing.
The letter pages are typical, but a few bits stand out. Some of the answers by the editor are interesting, but one letter stands out in particular as special: a letter submitted by Jerry Bails. Bails is most widely known for being the father of the comic fandom, and he is most associated with the Golden Age DC stories, along with some of the Silver Age ones. In fact, during the same time DC was thinking of rebooting The Atom, Jerry Bails submitted a completely separate concept detailing the same general ideas of having him actually shrink. Sadly though, DC did not end up using that idea and instead stuck with their own. The letter by Bails is interesting in this way, as well as the fact that he mentions his happiness by an image of the Justice Society of America in the previous issue. Also, a fun tidbit is a mention by a letter about the connection between The Atom and former editor of Amazing Stories, Ray Palmer. I believe this is the first public mention of this connection, and it really is quite interesting.
The fun facts pages have returned from the previous issues, and they are quite interesting, even if they may not live up to current scientific standards.
As for the next, and final, story, it is entitled “The ‘Disappearing Act’ Robberies!”. I would by lying if I said this story interested me. I apologize to the late, great Gardner Fox, but he wrote over 10,000 stories during his time as a comic writer, so I doubt he would mind me displaying distaste in one story. It is not that the story is bad, but rather that it is dull compared to the other stories written by Fox for this series. I am attempting to be vague here, as if I described the story to you, it would lose any value in being read. The story, like the previous one, relies much more on The Atom just using his size to solve his problem, as opposed to having a creative solution to the problem. Thanks to Gil Kane though, it still is an enjoyable read due to some genuinely interesting poses he puts our protagonist in, allowing an interesting range of motion on The Atom, as well as intricate detailing on the backgrounds that have you looking at the art far more than the story. Granted, with the level of care Kane put in each one of his stories, this one does still feel average because of the high bar he set for himself.
The entire issue feels like the same thought put into the first two issues was not given to this issue, although I cannot fully fault the creative team for this. They were already contracted for the three issues, and the first two made it so they did not have to prove themselves on the third one. Comic professionals were paid so little in those days (and still are) that I cannot fault them for taking a bit less time if no consequences are going to come out of not putting 100% effort in. Anyways, compared to most other average comic issues, this one is significantly better, but in comparison to the work in the other issues, it is lacking. The only reason I would recommend you pick this up in single-issue format is if you want the letter pages, although, to me, that hardly seems worth the price being paid. If you are planning on picking up The Atom Archives Volume 1, I would add this to the list of reasons you should pick it up, but I see no reason in this being the deciding factor in if you pick up the book or not. If you think of it as a free extra, it is terrific, but you may feel dissatisfied if you purchase it on its own.