Tangent Comics: The Atom
DC Comics (December, 1997)
WRITER/LAYOUT/TANGENT CONCEPT: Dan Jurgens
FINISHES: Paul Ryan
COLORIST: Pat Garrahy
SEPARATIONS: Digital Chameleon
LETTERER: Dave Lanphear
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Dana Kurtin
EDITOR: Eddie Berganza
Tangent Comics is a fun little idea back when DC was willing to have fun stories. The concept is to take the names of DC characters and put them on brand new character, kind of a modern Hollywood “adaptation”, and create a universe with a pre-existing history apart from not only the DC universe but our own. For example, part of the south coast was destroyed when the Cuban Missile Crisis actually led to missiles launching, which plays a big part in the anchor city New Atlantis, where many of these stories are set.
Our story here, and this is the one to start on, with The Atom, third generation hero to assume the identity, tracking down the group who killed his father, the second Atom. While he manages to capture the Fatal Five, the man who did the killing, Shadow Thief, escaped. As the illuminati-like group Nightwing tries to keep the true history of the Atom buried, Atom III goes to visit the first Atom, his grandfather Arthur Thompson. Nightwing wants all superheroes out of the way (a proto Dan DiDio) and uses Shadow Thief’s hatred of Atom I to kill the pair. When that fails he tells Atom III all about what really happened, that Atom accidentally caused that war and killed Thief’s father to leave the base on his own, rather than being sent like the history books tell. Atom I let Atom II’s killer go out of guilt and to keep his secret, but Atom takes Thief in and convinces his grandfather to confess, ruining Nightwing’s plans for now.
What they got right: Especially compared to what was going on in DC at the time, the art is really good. I like the concept of reusing the classic DC names as a fun Easter Egg, oblivious of what Hollywood would be doing years later to nostalgic favorites. This wasn’t meant as a replacement, just a bit of fun for the creators. All three Atom costumes are well designed and match their periods. The idea of a hero trying to be the hero his grandfather only pretended to be and his father died being is a great idea. Atom’s powers are just a rehash of Superman’s, the hero he is the equivalent to in this continuity. She shares a few but also shares some with Firestorm or even Marvel’s Vision, making him a different hero instead of a retread.
What they got wrong: A lot of these ideas in an original IP would have allowed for more stories. So the gimmick sadly restricts what could have been a great solo continuity and DC will ruin it in their Superman’s Reign story years later.
What I think overall: Like I said, this is the place to start. It sets up the Tangent universe with a hopeful hero who has to live in the shadow of his family’s mistakes. I don’t have all the Tangent comics but I’ll tell you right now I recommend the ones I do.