Superman's Golden Age Villains: The Atom Man. Part One of Two
Last time around, we looked at one of Superman’s most challenging and somewhat controversial Golden Age opponents, the Ultra-Humanite. As discussed in our previous segment, people seem to have mixed feelings about Superman’s Golden Age era rogue’s gallery, with the thought being that a good number of characters either bordered on comedy or borderline ineptitude. Whether it’s villains like The Toyman, The Prankster, The Puzzler, J. Wilbur Wolfingham, or Mr. Mxyzptlk, many of the original Man of Steel’s foes were focused as either outwitting Supes or embarrassing him. As critics such as Les Daniels have noted, Superman’s Golden Age adventures sometimes had a good amount of comedy in them. Like the Ultra-Humanite, the next foe we’re going to look at was no joke and debuted on The Adventures of Superman radio show. This villain would be one of the first to use Nazis as a villain post-World War Two and would also use kryptonite, the deadly element introduced in The Adventures of Superman. Join me now as I look at one of Superman’s deadliest foes, the Atom Man.
The Adventures of Superman was one of the earliest and most successful adaptations of Superman, drawing in listeners several times a week as they listened to the latest exploits of the Man of Steel and his friends such as Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White. By 1942, the radio drama was airing Monday through Friday, providing its radio audience with 15 minutes of adventures. As discussed earlier, the radio serial introduced the characters Jimmy Olsen (“Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen”) and Perry White, chronicled the first team-up between Superman and the Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin (“Superman on Radio”), and introduced kryptonite to the Superman mythos. Kryptonite would play a key role in the Atom Man storyline, showing just how deadly it could be to the Man of Tomorrow.
The Atom Man storyline was a true epic, running from October 1945 through December 1945. It involved Der Teufel (“The Devil”), a Nazi scientist who had crossed paths with Superman in an earlier adventure. Things began when the female super-criminal known as The Scarlet Widow obtained kryptonite and divided it into four pieces, intending to sell it to four of Superman’s greatest opponents, one of which was Der Teufel. Superman’s foes in the radio serial tended to be non-powered and did not feature any comic book counterparts. Nonetheless, they presented challenges for him every week, keeping the radio audience tuned in for the next adventure. In true criminal fashion, Der Teufel steals a piece of the kryptonite, unleashing the Widow’s wrath as she places a bounty on his head. Der Teufel flees to Allied-occupied Germany, seeking a German scientist who can help him with his plot to use Kryptonite against the Man of Steel. Although the war in Europe was just months passed, the show’s writers were on to a concept that would stand the test of time—the former Nazi hell-bent on revenge against the United States. While I am unaware of the first use of this trope, Der Teufel must be considered as one of the first uses of the trope.
Der Teufel recruits Henry Miller, a young German man who studied in Metropolis, but is loyal to Nazi Germany. With the help of his fellow scientist, Der Teufel devised a way to inject kryptonite into Miller’s body, transforming him into The Atom Man, a powerful villain who shoots fantastic energy bolds from specially designed gloves, fueled by the kryptonite raging through his veins and a powerful converter attached to his body.
Miller and Der Teufel travel to Metropolis, setting plans in motion to kill Superman and avenge Germany’s loss. Miller gets a job at the Daily Planet as a reporter, inadvertently discovering that Clark Kent is Superman. Der Teufel and Miller kidnap Jimmy Olsen, luring Supes into a trap. The trap almost proves lethal as the Atom Man pastes Superman, leaving him for dead.
Unfortunately for Der Teufel, he finds himself losing control over Miller, despite having previously murdered Miller’s father and blaming the Allies for his death. While the Nazi hoped this would drive Miller into a killing frenzy, it does in an unforeseen way as Miller discovers the person behind his father’s death and sends Der Teufel off to meet his namesake. With his attention now turned to Metropolis, the Atom Man climbs to the top of Metropolis’ tallest building and prepares to unleash his power on the defenseless city below. With Superman unable to help, radio listeners had to wonder what was in store. For both Superman and his adopted city. Join us next time for the conclusion to the Atom Man epic and analyze its place in Superman history.
Editor’s Note: While I encourage Superman fans to listen to the actual radio show (available online for free), the webpage Superman Home Page has a detailed description of the story as well as an analysis.
“The Atom Man (radio serial).” Superman Wiki. Radio Episodes. http://superman.wikia.com/wiki/The_Atom_Man_(radio_serial). Accessed 23 July 2018.
Daniels, Les. Superman: The Complete History: The Life and Times of the Man of Steel. Chronicle Books, 1998
Dueker, Chris. “Malleus review: Superman vs. Atom Man on Radio (Smithsonian Historical Performances, English).” Radio Drama Revival. 5 Aug. 2008. http://www.radiodramarevival.com/malleus-review-superman-vs-atom-man-on-radio-smithsonian-historical-performances-english. Accessed 23 July 2018.
“Superman on Radio.” Superman Home Page. Episodes. https://www.supermanhomepage.com/radio/r-radio.php. Accessed 23 July 2018.
“SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN.” Don Markstein’s Toonopedia. Toonopedia. 2008. http://www.toonopedia.com/jimmyo.htm. Accessed 24 July 2018.
Walker, Glenn. “The Radio Adventures of Superman.” Biff Bam Pop! Comics. 22 June 2013. https://biffbampop.com/2013/06/12/the-radio-adventures-of-superman. Accessed 23 July 2018.
Wikipedia contributors. "The Adventures of Superman (radio)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Jul. 2018.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Superman_(radio). Accessed 24 Jul. 2018.
Wikipedia contributors. "Perry White." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jun. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perry_White#Fictional_character_biography. Accessed 24 Jul. 2018.