Welcome to Back Issue Bin, the series in which this writer acts like every other person on the internet by telling you what to do. In each article, a few things will be shared: the current price, any times it has been reprinted, any noteworthy appearances, and a review of the stories covered inside. As you read by the title, we are covering Showcase #34, which is the first appearance of The Atom (Ray Palmer.)
If you were to pick up the issue, it would cost you between 100-300 dollars for a reading copy of the issue. Luckily though, it was reprinted in DC’s The Atom Archives Vol. 1, which can be found second hand for 30-50 dollars. This still is a lot for a single issue, but it also includes Showcase #35-36, and The Atom #105 (reviews for each can be found here). This averages out to $3.75-6.25. This reprint also has high paper quality, meaning the issue is easier to read than a typical reading copy.
Contained within the issue are two Atom stories: “Birth of the Atom!”, “Battle of the Tiny Titans!”, and the editorial page: “Inside the Atom!” Birth of the Atom is the origin of Ray Palmer’s Atom, and it (as well as “Battle of the Tiny Titans!”) was written by Gardner Fox, who is creator or co-creator of the Justice League, the first two Flashes, Hawkman, and the Justice Society, as well as being a science fiction writer and writer on Strange Adventures. Both stories were drawn by Gil Kane, who was the co-creator of the second Green Lantern, and a long-running artist on Strange Adventures, DC’s leading science-fiction book.
“Birth of the Atom!” consists of both scientific facts, as well as pure science fiction. In it, Ray Palmer describes the differences between Stalagmites and Stalactites. This does not exactly seem like a selling point, but a large part of the charm of Silver Age comic stories by DC were the “edutainment” aspects of them, where the stories taught concepts to young readers. These stories typically feature the heroes (often scientists) figuring out a solution to their problem by scientific means. Even as a comic fan of many years, you can get a sense of joy when the protagonist pulls a Sherlock Holmes and uses knowledge to free themself from captivity. All in all, the story succeeds in both giving a sense of adventure to the reader, as well as introducing The Atom in spectacular fashion, with him using his wits and is willing to sacrifice his life in order to save people. This story features the first appearance of both Ray Palmer, and of Jean Loring.
In “Battle of the Tiny Titans!”, Fox pulls from his experience writing science fiction in order to introduce an entirely new alien species just for the sake of an interesting plot idea, and it works in his favor. Fox is notable for the number of concepts and characters he created, and for good reason. If he had the problem of needing a concept, instead of retrofitting an old one, he simply created one from scratch for a story of only a dozen pages. If there are any aspiring writers reading this, I suggest they go pick up a copy of this or one of the other Fox stories (or all, if they so choose, especially with reprint collections) as Gardner Fox was a master at concept creation. What we cannot forget about is the excellence of Gil Kane’s artwork, which has a distinctive style that mixes both pop-art of the ‘60s with more traditional linework of art, which was not truly seen again until Darwyn Cooke, who, fittingly enough, referenced “Birth of the Atom!” in his seminal work, DC: The New Frontier. The story is also the introduction of The Atom’s suit.
As for the editorial page, it consists of information about the history of the original Golden Age Atom, which I recommend to new readers wanting to explore the Golden Age, due to the easily digestible nature of the page. It also includes information about The Atom’s famed telephone trick, which is interesting, even if it is not entirely scientifically accurate.
I would definitely recommend Showcase #34 to anyone with any sort of interest in DC’s Silver Age characters, although there are better issues for you to pick up than this one, as it requires an investment in the series, due to the fact that it is only easily accessible through reprint collections.