Atomic Comics: Atom the Cat
The comic I read from comicbookpluss.com was Atom the Cat, Issue #9, published in 1957 by Charlton Comics. The comic starts off when a normal alley cat named Tom sets off to find some food. He tries to steal some fish and ends up being chased away, taking refuge by dashing through an open door. What Tom did not know was that he had just ran into a laboratory that was starting an atomic experiment (why the door would be left open I don’t know). The scientists in control of the experiment were attempting to split an atom when Tom ran in, and were not able to stop the experiment. Wearing their protective gear, the scientists watched as an atom was, “not only split, but pulverized”, sending clouds of black smoke into the air and throwing off powerful atomic rays that were soaked up by Tom the cat (Atom). These rays mutated Tom, giving him super powers of enormous capability. The scientists called the cat, Atom, and persuaded him to use his powers, “for the benefit of his country” and later for the benefit of other countries across the globe (Atom).
Being that the comic was published in 1957, the general public would have been expected to have a general understanding of the effects of nuclear power, as the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan had happened only about ten years prior. The after math of these attacks were no secret, and surely people would have known that exposure to nuclear radiation caused a vast array of horrible side effects. While it holds that nuclear radiation is absorbed, the idea of it creating superpowers surely would have been understood as simply a basis for entertainment. The experiment mentioned in the text, however, most likely fits the public’s understanding of the goal of the testing that was done to create the atomic bombs that would split atoms. The black smoke that is noted in the comic book could also be an illustration of nuclear fallout, and although the comic fails to develop this point, it does hint that the author felt that the public would have recognized what the black smoke represented.
Interestingly, The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency was created about three months before the publishing of Atom the Cat. The purpose of the agency was, “to inspect nuclear reactors and plants to ensure they are being run for peaceful purposes”(Timeline). This may have shifted public opinion about nuclear energy away from wartime uses (although other countries were still racing to create and test weapons of their own) by revealing the economic purposes of harnessing nuclear power. The repetitive assertion of the scientists in Atom the Cat for Atom to “use his powers for the benefit of his country” very well might have paralleled these views, as Atom built fisheries and later dug tunnels for trains, and a dam in Africa (Atom).
Still, the scientists showed Atom’s powers off by demonstrating how he could stop a tank. This would make sense to connect how Atom got his powers to the original purpose of experimentation to split atoms and could reflect how having nuclear weapons is still a sign of military power.
“Atom the Cat V1 #9 (Charlton Comics) – Comic Book Plus.” Comic Book Plus. Charlton Comics, n.d. Web. 23 June 2014. <http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=36448>.
“Timeline of the Nuclear Age.” [1950s]. National Science Digital Library, n.d. Web. 23 June 2014. <http://www.atomicarchive.com/Timeline/Time1950.shtml>.