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I originally planned on this week’s article being about Jay Garrick, but since Jay only showed up for a minute, we’ll focus on the baddie for the season 2 premiere of The Flash.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I really love about the history of DC Comics is the way they handled their Golden Age heroes as time moved on. DC reveled in the idea of legacy characters while accepting that some characters like Superman and Batman could never be legacy*. Atom Smasher is one of the more interesting, and dark, legacy characters.
To start off, we need to talk a little about Al Pratt, the Golden Age hero known as The Atom. The Atom was a founding member of the Justice Society. On a team with some of the most powerful superheroes ever created, including Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), the Spectre** and Wonder Woman***
What was Atom’s power that he was so welcome to a team of gods? He was short.
Standing at five foot one, Al Pratt got tired of being picked on by the jocks, and overlooked by the women, so he learned to box and got in shape, and then he dressed like a Mexican wrestler and fought crime. Clearly the requirements to be considered a superhero in the 1940s were very lax. To be fair, eight years after he was first introduced, Atom was given super strength.
When the Silver Age of superheroes started with the coming of Barry Allen in Showcase, Atom was one of the many characters to be revamped. He became Ray Palmer, a guy who could shrink. This was, in terms of revamps of these characters, the most extreme of the recreations. There was no real connection between the two aside from the name.
In 1983, writer Roy Thomas and artist Jerry Ordway introduced a new character in All-Star Squadron #25 called Nuklon. Nuklon was Albert Rothstein, the grandson of reformed Golden Age villain Cyclotron. He was born with super strength and the ability to grow. His godfather (this is where it comes together) is Al Pratt. LEGACY! Nuklon tried to join the JSA, but was turned down, along with the children of a few other founding members of the JSA. Upset by seeing these legacy kids get denied, then JSA member Star-Spangled Kid quit the team and started a new one, Infinity Incorporated.
Nuklon is the one with the mohawk. Seriously ‘80s!
Anywho, Infinity, Inc was cancelled in 1988 after 53 issues. Nuklon popped in and out of comics for a while, showing up as part of a team known as The Conglomerate and being a background character in various universe spanning event series.
Then, in 1994, DC Comics brought the Justice Society out of retirement (we’ll cover some of this when we do Jay Garrick). Then they didn’t really do anything with the team for five years. In 1999, DC gave the JSA a new book, titled JSA, and Nuklon was invited to join the team. He changed his costume to look a little more like his godfather’s and changed his superhero nom de plume to Atom Smasher. Albert couldn’t have been happier; he was on the team he’d always wanted to join, learning to be a better hero from his idols, and having the chance to help a new generation of heroes learn how to use their powers. Things were looking up for old Albert Rothstein, so obviously bad things had to happen.
Albert’s mother was killed in a terrorist attack by the assholes known as Kobra. Albert becomes consumed with anger, demanding vengeance, but is stopped from killing the leader of Kobra (named Kobra as well) by his teammates. Still, Albert was never the same, always on edge, always pissed.
In a battle with the supervillain Extant, Atom Smasher is given the chance to go back in time and replace his mother on the plane with Extant. Against the wishes of the rest of the JSA, Atom Smasher does it. He saves his mother, killing Extant in the process (I’m not really clear on why he doesn’t just save the whole plane. I’m sure there was a reason in the comic. At least I hope there was. If not, Atom Smasher is a super butthole). Atom Smasher then became friendly with a reformed Black Adam (Black Adam is Captain Marvel’s - the DC Captain Marvel - main baddie. He became a good guy for a while and joined the JSA). Together, they decide to invade the country of Khandaq, Black Adam’s country of origin where Kobra has found refuge. In the invasion, Black Adam killed Kobra and Atom Smasher killed Khandaq’s dictator. Atom Smasher is brought up on charges for his part in causing a war in the Middle East, and goes off to jail. Albert is offered the chance to have his sentence commuted if he joins the Suicide Squad. He agrees. Then the Suicide Squad goes and attacks Black Adam, leading to the death of Black Adam’s wife.
After that, Atom Smasher didn’t show up for a while. When he did show up again, he pulled a mea culpa and was allowed to rejoin the JSA. Then he got kidnapped. Then Flashpoint happened and, as far as I know, we haven’t seen Atom Smasher since.
While I love the concept of Atom Smasher’s origin, the whole grandson of a supervillain, godson of a superhero thing, he never really connected with me. I think part of it is that in the ‘90s DC introduced the character Damage, the actual son of the Golden Age Atom who had the power to explode.
They ended up even making Damage look a lot like Atom Smasher, being that both of their costumes are paying homage to the same character.
His whole story was always interesting to me and he was, for a time, God. As in, Damage created the DC Universe. At the end of the event series Zero Hour, all of reality has been erased and only a few peeps are left, floating in a void. One of those peeps is Damage, who uses his explosive power to create the Big Bang. In the DC Universe, an Oan scientist named Krona found a way to watch the creation of the universe. What he saw was a hand holding a spiral galaxy.
That is Damage’s hand. How fucking crazy is that shit!
As Friedrich Nietzsche said, god is dead. Damage was killed in the event series Blackest Night, a story where the dead heroes of the DCU are brought back as zombies. Damage is killed and his heart is torn from his body to be used to complete a ceremony that ends with the rise of Nekron, the king of Purgatory. Then Damage became a zombie too. Hard times for old Damage.
Back to the point of this here article.
On The Flash, Atom Smasher appears to be a one-off baddie, though I suppose he could return if the writers want to use him again. He absorbs radiation, which allows him to grow - a nice take on his powers, I think. There isn’t that much to say about his TV persona, since he didn’t really have much screen time. I didn’t like when his mask dropped during the first fight so Joe and Barry could see his face and be all confused as to why he wasn’t still dead. It is interesting (or not) to note that there have now been two Albert Rothsteins to die on The Flash - his name was mentioned as one of the people killed by the S.T.A.R. Labs incident early in season one****.
*Wonder Woman would be on that list of “can’t be legacy” except that John Byrne retroactively made her a legacy character by having Diana’s mom, Hippolyta, be the first Wonder Woman, running around with the JSA.
**The Spectre is the literal angel of vengeance. He is God’s killing machine.
***During the ‘40s, Wonder Woman was the secretary for the Justice Society. Super sexist.
****Damage’s real name, Grant Emerson, is also used as someone who was killed in the S.T.A.R. Labs incident. This show really hates Al Pratt’s family.