Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Atomic Thunderbolt

I'm going to be spending the A to Z Challenge writing role-playing game material for comic book characters published between 1939 and 1954 who only appeared in 1 - 6 stories and then slipped into oblivion. In some cases, I will throw in a game tidbit or two, or I will beg L.L. Hundal to step up the plate and lend a hand. (Anyone out there can play along, too, if you want to add something to an entry. That's what the comments section is for.)

By the time i'm done, a couple dozen more heroes will have been added to the NUELOW Games line-up, and you will have received previews of the content for upcoming issues of Complete Golden Age Oddballs and other of our comics/rpg hybrid books.

And here's today's hero:

A is for Atomic Thunderbolt
Comics writers (and readers) for the past 20-30 years have liked to congratulate themselves on how mature and edgy their comics are these days. They like to describe the comics of previous decades as kiddy stuff. Well, the truth of the matter is that there were mature themes in comics from the earliest days.

Take for example Atomic Thunderbolt. Here's title the star of which came into existence because a mad scientist, frightened by the destructive power of the atom bomb, had devised a method to transform humanity into creatures who could survive atomic blasts and radiation. Willy Burns, a WW2 vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, volunteers to be the scientist's test subject, because he feles he has nothing left to contribute to the world. It perhaps goes without saying, but the scientist's experiment goes horribly wrong, causing a massive explosion that kills him, destroys his laboratory and all his inventions... but leaves a transformed Willy as the only thing standing in the wreckage. Willy vows to use his newly gained powers for good, to fulfill the scientist's dream of a better tomorrow for humanity. (Those "newly gained powers" included the ability to fly, to create explosions with his bare hands, and to generate waves of force at will.)

Atomic Thunderbolt, drawn by Mort Lawrence
In the space of less than a dozen pages, the debut story of Atomic Thunderbolt tackled the long-term damaging effects war can have on those who wave it, the threat that atomic weapons posed (and still pose) to life on Earth, and even the dangers of scientists who feel their ends justify their means--the to Willy apparently benevolent scientist was willing to force someone to be his test subject if he hadn't happened upon Willy. Even more, the story makes it clear that he was one of the minds behind the invention of the atom bomb. I think this maturity level of the ideas in this story measure up to anything that we saw in the 1980s and 1990s when it was hip to blather on about how "grown up" comics were. And the anonymous writer of Atomic Thunderbolt told his story without needing to resort to profanity.

Aside from his origin story, Atomic Thunderbolt appeared in one more adventure. In it, he crossed paths with Rigor & Mortis, a pair of screwball immortal alchemists whose sorcery might be as dangerous as atomic weapons if they weren't so inept. The adventure with Rigor & Mortis was the second story in Atomic Thunderbolt #1, as in 1946 it was still typical for a comics magazine to contain numerous short stories in various genres and featuring different characters.

While each of the four stories included in Atomic Thunderbolt #1 ended with a plug for issue #2, no such issue ever saw print. In fact, this was the one and only comic book to ever be published by the Regor Company. Atomic Thunderbolt never flew again... until now! He will return in a future issue of Complete Golden Age Oddballs along with Rigor & Mortis and an all-new ROLF! battle scenario!


  1. I've never heard of the Atomic Thunderbolt, but it was good to read about him. Looking forward to your other posts.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and reading! I hope you enjoy the coming articles... lots of obscure comic characters will be touched upon!