The Atom...is small. Not the...actual atom, though that's small too. I'm talking about the superhero The Atom, Ray Palmer, who hit himself with a shrinking ray and could shrink down and before you say that sounds like Ant-Man, yeah, it's basically Ant-Man without the ant slavery, but National Comics, AKA DC Comics, beat Marvel to the market in 1961 by three months so they got the tiny superhero first.
The Big Time
Ray Palmer, the Atom, was a professor at the Ivy League university Ivy University in Ivy Town. In addition to showing that the writers at National Comics were on a deadline, Ivy Town was also about to be hit...by the Big Gang.
The Big Gang was a lot of things. Well...no, actually. It was just two things: big...and a gang. They consisted of the following members:
- Big Head: A man whose oversized head contains more brains than an entire college faculty and the mastermind of the robberies.
- Big Ben: an expert a syncronyzing schedules which, in the days before digital watches was I guess enough of a skill to get him on a supervillain team.
- Big Wig: Master of disguise whose specialty is, you'll never guess, wigs.
- Big Bertha: whose arms are so strong she can throw things. She's named after the WWI German cannon that was maybe more culturally relevant in the 1960s?
- Big Shot: Who, quote, "makes his special guns talk a language all their own." Which, really, they only speak gun.
- Big Deal: A former stage magician who makes card tricks to startle, baffle, and confuse and this was in the days before David Blaine and Criss Angel close-up magic so we all weren't tired of that yet.
- Big Cheese: The man who concocts cheeses with extraordinary powers.
They just leave that last one there. I feel like the others are self-explanatory to the point of cringy, but the introduction of the magical cheese guy gets the smallest amount of text.
Anyway, they all wear blue and black spandex suits with a symbol of their gimmick on the front.
We're all likely familiar with minimalism - the idea that less is more - well, the Big Gang follows the philosophy of maximalism. More is more.
And, really, from an organization and branding perspective, they're not messing around.
More is more...and kind of too much
From a crime perspective, though, they are kind of messing around.
You see, they don't steal based on dollar amount, they steal based on size. They stole the world's biggest book, the world's biggest painting, the biggest drum, organ, bell.
The new recruit, Big Deal, stood flabbergasted that all this was ridiculous. They...should be stealing money.
Well, dollar amount and size dovetailed with the world's biggest emerald - 11,000 carats, and the Big Gang isn't worried about the world's smallest superhero. The emerald job - the gemstone they would never be able to fence, by the way - was just a way to crush the Atom in the world's biggest trap.
If the Big Gang sounds like a lot of moving parts to organize...that's exactly what it is. There's a such thing in organizations where they're too fragile. They organize too much and can't adapt to changes in plans or in the marketplace. That was really the Big Gang's issue. They had a lot of talent...kind of. I mean, if you take out the close up magic guy, the guy who synchronizes watches, and the cheese guy, you're still left with...I don't know...three competent people?
The cheese guy, by the way, didn't actually concoct cheeses. He just threw smelly or gummy cheeses at people during robberies.
Big Wig was pulling double duty, though, because in addition to disguises he also wore wigs that could explode. Which is what you think of when you think of specialty wigs: explosions.
Giant Drums, Exploding Wigs, and Cheese Jams
And all this is played completely straight. Despite being a seven-person Three Stooges act, we are meant to take The Big Gang seriously as criminals. And they do a pretty good job. The first time they got the emerald with Big Bertha sending the Atom to the bottom of a pond with the shot put ball she apparently carries around on her person at all times. The second time they managed to steal the biggest stamp and a giant coin from a wealthy investor, getting the Atom with the exploding wig I mentioned, and the third time they stretched the use of the word "nugget" when they stole a silver nugget weighing over a ton. The Atom followed the Big Gang back to their hideout where, in the final pages, the punchline the book was dragging itself to the entire time became clear: the world's smallest superhero used the world's biggest items to put the Big Gang behind bars. And, yes, do not worry, there were puns, with him "booking" them with the twelve-foot-tall book and "drumming them out of business" with the giant drum.
A blog beat me to it when they said the Big Gang wasn't ready for the big leagues, and they weren't. Maybe they all individually saw the light and changed their ways. Maybe they never survived super jail, but National Comics, AKA DC Comics, never used them again.
And that is saying something, when the publisher that brought back Mr. Mind the telepathic super genius space worm, Calendar Man, the Shark, the Calculator, heck, even the Condiment King thought that your villain super-group was too ridiculous for a second try.
- The Atom #34
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