Filed under: Exhibitions
On Display, Summer 1995
Prepared by Alicia Germer
On July 16, 1945, just before dawn, a black globe five feet in diameter sat quietly on a 100-foot tower waiting to explode, at “Ground Zero” near Alamogordo, New Mexico. “Trinity” detonated before first light, and night became day as the first atomic bomb exploded. The blast was equal to 20,000 tons of TNT, 2,000 times more powerful than the largest conventional bomb available. The ball of fire that rose was reported to have been brighter than the sun and 10,000 times hotter. Searing air tore through the desert followed by an immense roar. The first mushroom cloud surged upward eight miles where the wind shaped it into a great question mark. Fifty years later, the shock wave is still reverberating through our culture, and the ephemeral question mark is still curling itself around our national psyche. The cataclysmic end to World War II serves as a starting point for what Paul Boyer calls “nuclear consciousness,” an awareness of the pervasiveness of nuclear technology and a bone-deep fear of humanity’s ability to completely destroy itself.
It is such a consciousness that gives a shape to the wide variety of items displayed at the Browne Library during the summer of 1995 in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Trinity explosion. Popular culture is a particularly revealing area for tracing the ideologies of a culture because what characterizes popular culture usually characterizes the culture in general. These items reflect the complex and contradictory ideas that center around the bomb. Tensions, fears, and doubts about a weapon that could kill 200,000 people in Japan are mixed together with hopes, our love of technology and progress, and the general public consensus that dropping the bomb was the “right thing to do” to end the war.
Nuclear popular culture was born with the bomb, and it both reflects and critiques our continuing fascination with and fear of its menace. The objects on display express American culture’s ambivalence toward scientific knowledge and responsibility, the effects of nuclear fear on ourselves, and how we continue to wrestle with nuclear issues. This is the fallout of the nuclear age.
Amazing Stories. Ziff-Davis, December 1945.
In a passage from his regular column, “Report from the Forgotten Past,” written within days of the Hiroshima bomb, the editor and author, B. G. Davis, expresses doubt about the usefulness of atomic weapons: “With atomic energy at its disposal, the next war means the certain end of civilization.” According to polls, public support for the bomb was high, but fear and anxiety about the bomb quickly became a consistent theme in popular culture.
Amazing Stories. Ziff-Davis, August 1947.
This issue features the novel, So Shall Ye Reap, by Rog Phillips. The blurb that accompanies the story’s title in the table of contents reads: “A scientific picture of the future. A look-see at tomorrow after the atoms do their dirty work in a light not publicly considered to date.”
Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. 40th Anniversary Edition. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
First published in 1950, The Martian Chronicles tells the story of humankind’s repeated attempts to colonize Mars. The pages shown here contain a description of nuclear war that contrasts with the evocative, wistful mood of many of the book’s other stories. Bradbury rarely waxes “technical”: the world consumed by fire is a metaphor for nuclear apocalypse.
Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff and Hyman Ruchlis. Atomics for the Millions. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1947.
The authors’ intention is to explain nuclear physics to the general public. The chapter titled, “Medicine in the Atomic Age,” illustrated with Maurice Sendak’s whimsical drawings, exemplifies the book’s general tone: matter of fact, but light and positive with only occasional warnings of danger. Other chapters include “Discovering Atomic Architecture,” “Splitting Uranium Atoms,” and “Harnessing the Atom.”
John Hersey. Hiroshima. New York: Bantam Books, 1948.
Originally published in 1946, Hiroshima is an account of the experiences of six people who were in Hiroshima, Japan, when the bomb was dropped. It was an instant bestseller and remains one of seminal books of World War II. It is noted for its flat, unsentimental tone, but the descriptions of the experiences of the two doctors, the widowed seamstress, the secretary, the German Jesuit missionary, and the Japanese Methodist minister generate strong emotional effects.
David Bradley. No Place to Hide. New York: Bantam Books, 1949.
Published at a critical point in history when the United States was entering the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Bradley’s narrative about the nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll helped to galvanize public fear about radiation and put scientists and the government on the defensive. Before the Appendix titled, “A Layman’s Guide to the Dangers of Radioactivity,” Bradley concludes that the tests “may have only sketched in the gross outlines of the real problem; nevertheless, those outlines show pretty clearly the shadow of the colossus which looms behind tomorrow.”
John Kobal. Rita Hayworth: The Time, the Place and the Woman. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1977.
This photograph from Life of Rita Hayworth (which was used on the cover of Kobal’s biography) was one of the most popular pinups of World War II, exceeded only by a shot of Betty Grable in a white swimsuit. Hayworth’s spontaneous, bemused glance was caught by Bob Landry during a break in filming. GIs affixed a copy of this pinup to the first nuclear bomb exploded at Bikini Atoll and nicknamed it “Gilda.” Hayworth was furious.
Atomic Attack. Number 5. Youthful Magazines, 1953.
Classics Illustrated. “The Atomic Age.” Number 156. A. Gilberton Company, 1960.
Mystery in Space. Number 56. DC Comics, 1959.
Atomic Bunny. Number 14. Charlton Comics Group, 1958.
Atomic War!Number 2. Junior Books, 1952.
Atom-Age Combat. Number 1. St. John Publishing Company, 1952.
Atom-Age Combat. Number 2. Fago Magazines, 1959.
Atomic Mouse. Number 31. Charlton Comics Group, 1959.
“Sand dunes of White Sands, New Mexico.” [Postcard] 1953. Postmarked December 31, 1953, Alamogordo, NM.
The message on this postcard, addressed to Mr. A. K. Pearson of Gardner, Massachusetts, reads as follows:
“Hi–Here we are in the middle of White Sands proving grounds, atom bombs, guided missiles, and flying saucers are all over the heck. Not a healthy environment. Best we head further West. All’s well so far. Beautiful country. Suggest all people with Oldsmobiles trade them in for Plymouths when driving West. Much safer. Love you, Us” “Greetings from Alamogordo, New Mexico.” [Postcard] 195-.
“Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.” [Postcard] 197-.
Richard Gerstell. How to Survive an Atomic Bomb. New York: Bantam Books, 1950.
Gerstell’s book is the first civil defense manual published after the bombing of Hiroshima. Sponsored by the U.S. government, the book’s purpose was to diffuse fears of radiation and let the public know someone was in charge. Gerstell insisted that if people took precautions, radiation would not harm them. Loss of hair, blindness, and environmental damage were “foolish stories,” and the rumor that fallout caused cancer was “absolutely false.”
Inside the Atom. Published by Pictorial Media, Inc. for General Electric, 1955.
This educational comic sponsored by General Electric gives a brief history of nuclear physics from ancient Greece to 1955. Geared toward simple explanations of complex concepts, the comic uses such analogies as a sparkler to demonstrate radioactivity and matches to demonstrate a chain reaction. The comic ends with a list of positive uses for the atom: atomic rockets and large merchant ships, cures for disease, and the preservation of food.
Philip Wylie. Tomorrow! New York: Popular Library, 1957.
As a consultant to the Federal Defense Administration, Wylie was convinced the authorities were not prepared for panic in the event of a nuclear attack. Originally published in 1954, the narrative of this novel builds quietly in a description of a midwestern community, then switches to horrific scenes as the community is bombed. Although Wylie’s book is a warning, it is also an acknowledgement of human resilience.
Arthur C. Clarke. Childhood’s End. New York: Ballantine Books, 1960.
Also from 1954, one of the best-known novels from one of the best-known science fiction writers, Childhood’s End is much less a warning and more a celebration of human evolution. Alien “Overlords” oversee the evolution of humankind’s last generation of children. Childhood’s End is in the tradition of The Day the Earth Stood Still (film, 1951) and other stories popular in the 1950s in which only aliens can stop us from destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons.
Herbert Block. Herblock’s Special for Today. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958.
From the start of the atomic age, the cartoonist Herblock has been commenting on the contemporary nuclear situation. His point of view is consistently critical. The themes of nuclear fear, public naivete, and the corruption and secrecy of politicians when it comes to nuclear weapons appear in Herblock’s work from the 1940s to the present.
Pat Frank. Alas, Babylon. New York: Bantam Books, 1964.
Between 1959 and 1975, Alas, Babylon went through 31 printings. Although it is a tale of nuclear disaster, the message is ultimately hopeful. Radiation appears only when greedy people accept contaminated jewelry from a looter. The novel is as jingoistic as many of the movies of the 1950s, including Strategic Air Command (1951). In the end, the characters gather at church to affirm that American faith has not been destroyed.
Albert B. Feldstein, editor. William Gaines’s Like, Mad. New York: Signet, 1960.
From a book originally copyrighted in 1956, this is a collection of Mad’s “Top Bomb Song Hits.” The collection also includes “The Thing That I Marry,” “My Blue Shelter,” and “There’s No Street Where You Live” with the lyrics, “Oh, that frightening feeling/As the glow spreads over the land./That exposed-to-lightening feeling/When those Geiger counters click to beat the band.”
Spider-Man. Number 15. Marvel Comics, 1991.
Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby were inspired to create superheroes born of radiation accidents from the radioactive monsters of the 1950s. In 1962, Peter Parker develops superhuman powers when he is bitten by a radioactive spider.
The Incredible Hulk. Number 143. Marvel Comics, 1971. The creation of superheroes by radiation became a Marvel trademark, and in 1962, Lee and Kirby also developed The Incredible Hulk. The nuclear physicist Bruce Banner was subjected to gamma rays when his experimental “G bomb” exploded. The radiation causes him to transform into a powerful, green-skinned “Hulk” when he became excited or angry. Dr. Doom is one of the great villains of the Marvel universe. As with its heroes, Marvel tried to make its villains individual characters with strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. Doom’s evil tendencies come from anguish over his father’s death. His great scientific mind allows him to create machines such as his nuclear-powered, computer-enhanced armor and his nuclear-powered jet pack.
The Incredible Hulk. Number 115. Marvel Comics, 1969.
First appearing in 1964, The Leader is one of a number of villains created by exposure to radiation. The high-school dropout, Samuel Sterns, was exposed to nuclear waste. As a result, he became amazing intelligent and his brain and skull enlarged to five times their original size. Like the Hulk, Sterns also turned green.
Fantastic Four Annual. Number 2. Marvel Comics, 1964.
Created by Lee and Kirby in 1961, the Fantastic Four were the first superheroes who gained their powers from radiation. When an experimental ship carrying Dr. Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Jonathan Storm, and Ben Grimm is bombarded by cosmic radiation, the occupants develop superhuman powers and become, respectively, Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing.
The Avengers. Number 229. Marvel Comics, 1983.
First appearing in Tales to Astonish in 1962, Egghead was originally Elihas Starr, a scientist at a government atomic research center. Starr was caught smuggling atomic secrets out of the center and named “Egghead” by the press that covered his story.
The Incredible Hulk. Number 116. Marvel Comics, 1969.
In addition to creating heroes and villains, nuclear energy is often central to comics’ plots. Nuclear war by accident became a common theme in 1960s fiction. In this story, the Hulk must stop the Leader who plans to provoke an atomic war by using United States nuclear missiles.
John H. Martin. “Atoms into Plowshares.” Together: The Midmonth Magazine for Methodist Families. April, 1961.
While fear of nuclear war and skepticism about the benefits of nuclear energy continued to grow, Dr. Martin offers more of a 1950s view than a 1960s. In this article, he proclaims the benefits of nuclear energy: atoms act as tracers in everything from livestock feed to medicine and will heat our water and provide us with better food. Martin links his research with the church because spiritual maturity is necessary in order for people to live without fear of nuclear energy.
Look. August 13, 1963.
More typical of the feel of the 1960s decade is found in this issue of Look magazine. Each “Why” article questions the belief that the United States should have dropped bombs on Japan in the manner in which it did, but the titles of the articles do not question the actual bombing.
Doris Lessing. The Four-Gated City. New York: Bantam Books, 1970.
Doris Lessing is best known for her examinations of the roles of women through the genre of science fiction. Originally published in 1969, The Four-Gated City is the final volume of her “Children of Violence” series. Like other fictions of the 1960s, this novel has as one of its themes the difficulty of obtaining information, of knowing what is happening in the world. The resulting ignorance hastens global conflict.
Ralph E. Lapp. The Weapons Culture. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968.
Lapp’s term, “weapons culture,” refers to his perception that most aspects of our society have been affected by weapons technology. His intent is to question the defense posture of the United States in the 1960s and to criticize it for its immensity and pervasiveness, and he urges “we the people” of our democracy to fight the “military-industrial complex” that has been building since World War II.
Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. The Gravediggers. Alton, Illinois: Pere Marquette Press, 1964.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 inspired nuclear anxiety and led many people to push for disarmament. However, these authors use the crisis to push for strength through preparedness. Disarmament would only lead to a “phony peace’ through accommodation.” The “gravediggers” are political authorities who promote peace through disarmament. Ultimately, in these authors’ view, only Barry Goldwater could offer the United States “the last best hope of the free world”: military nuclear power.
Walter M. Miller, Jr. A Canticle for Leibowitz. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.
Miller’s masterpiece was first published in 1959 as three related short stories in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Miller received a Hugo award in 1961 after its publication as a novel. Miller’s story of the post-nuclear future is based upon the idea that good and evil are opposites that are always intimately connected, and that science cannot be one or the other or morally neutral. The novel ends with a nuclear disaster on Earth while a nuclear-powered spaceship takes off with a remnant of humanity.
Philip K. Dick. Dr. Bloodmoney; or, How We Got Along After the Bomb. New York: Ace Books, 1965.
Dr. Bloodmoney, with its Strangelovian characters, Dick Dangerfield, Dr. Bluthgeld, Dr. Stockstill, and Hoppy Harrington, traces the movement of science from theory to practice within the format of a post-apocalyptic society. All the characters are “mutant,” whether physically or spiritually; only the communicators, those who can send and receive information, can bring individuals and communities together. The novel’s final positive message is that self-reliance and simplicity are virtues.
Meteor. [Press kit] American International Pictures, 1979.
One of a number of “disaster” movies of the 1970s, Meteor is the story of how the United States and the Soviet Union work together to destroy an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Both countries must cooperate and use nuclear missiles that neither is supposed to have in orbit.
The Omega Man. [Press kit] Warner Bros.,1971.
Based on Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend (1954), the “omega man” is the last person on earth who has escaped a plague which transforms its victims into pale fanatics. In the original novel, the plague develops as a result of nuclear war.
Battle for the Planet of the Apes. [Press kit] 20th Century Fox, 1973.
In the original Planet of the Apes (1968), a US spaceship lands on a post-apocalyptic Earth to find it populated by intelligent mutant apes. In Battle, the fifth installment, the apes, still led by Caesar, battle with a group of humans who have survived by hiding underground.
Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth. Numbers 1 and 2. DC Comics, 1972.
With the tattered Statue of Liberty, that well-known symbol of nuclear apocalypse, on the cover, the first issue of Kamandi signals its format. “Kamandi,” the last boy’s name, comes from “Command D,” part of a large underground bunker where he lived with his grandfather. As in Planet of the Apes, the post-apocalyptic world is populated by sentient, person-sized animals.
Leonard Ritas. All Atomic Comics. San Francisco: Educomics, 1978.
Ritas originally published this comic in 1976 with the intention of warning the public about the dangers of nuclear power. He was responding to promoters who were telling Americans that nuclear power was cheap and necessary for jobs. His comic criticizes these assumptions on the grounds that nuclear energy is more expensive than other alternatives and it destroys more jobs than it creates.
“Security Risk.” “How to Build an Atomic Bomb.” Skiffy Thyme. [Underground comic] Ned Brooks, editor. Newport News, Virginia, Spring 1980.
Hydrogen Bomb and Biochemical Warfare Funnies. San Francisco: Rip Off Press, 1970.
With contributions from well-known underground comic artists, Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb, Hydrogen Bomb lampoons politics, religion, traditional sexual mores, and even traditional comics.
General Sir John Hackett. The Third World War, August 1985. New York: Berkeley Books, 1980.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s a number of “scientific probability studies” emerged in novel form. Originally published in 1979, The Third World War, like The Untold Story (1982) and War Day (1984), intends to expose the decision-making process which initiates nuclear disaster. These books aim to warn our authorities and to warn the general public about those authorities.
Thomas Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.
Although not generally considered a science fiction writer, Pynchon’s concerns about entropy, paranoia, and communication have had an influence on science fiction writers. In Gravity’s Rainbow, first published in 1973, World War II never really ended, and the development of the “V-rocket” progresses to its fall at the end. The characters hear the scream of the missile, but the novel ends before the explosion. We, the readers, survive. Rather than documenting a nuclear disaster, Pynchon creates the feel of disaster: fear, paranoia, despair, solitude, and panic.
Norman Spinrad. The Iron Dream. New York: Avon Books, 1972.
In this alternate universe story, Adolf Hitler is a science fiction writer. He and his biker friends escape nuclear disaster by cloning themselves and sending their purest to colonize other planets. Spinrad uses recent historical events as a basis for warnings of future nuclear disaster.
James Robinson and Paul Martin Smith. The Golden Age: A Different Look at a Different Era. Number 4 of 4. New York: DC Comics, 1993.
The narrator of this cynical yet nostalgic review of the comic superheroes of the Golden Age “writes” the superheroes into actual history at the same time he composes a documentary film. Nuclear imagery contributes to the basic theme: be careful what uncontrollable power you put your faith in, whether it be bombs, superheroes or human beings.
John Wagner and Brian Bolland. The Chronicles of Judge Dredd. 2nd ed. London: Titan Books, 1982.
After the First Atomic War in 2070, the Earth was poisoned, and the people moved to a few “Mega-cities” where each Judge, specially trained in law, served as police, judge, and executioner. The series was created by editor Pat Mills, writer John Wagner, and artist Carlos Esquerra in the late 1970s.
John Byrne. The Sensational She-Hulk. Number 18. New York: Marvel Comics, 1985.
Introduced in 1980 by writer Stan Lee and artist John Buscema, the She-Hulk was Jennifer Walters, cousin to Bruce Banner, the Hulk. She became the She-Hulk after receiving a blood transfusion of Bruce’s gamma radiation-mutated blood. Unlike her cousin, the She-Hulk enjoys her powers, and her good-natured acceptance and humor are a distinctive characteristic of this satirical series.
Frank Lovece. The Atomic Age. Number 3 of 4. New York: Epic Comics, 1990.
The “Atomic Age” in this series is the 1950s, the last age of innocence, when women were housewives, TV was black-and-white, and “ducking and covering” could protect against atomic bomb blasts. Also in this age, an alien slave drone has escaped to Earth pursued by a slaver named Nimbus. Their fugitive drama is played out within the context of beatniks, drive-ins, poodle skirts, and tail-fins.
Matt Groening. Radioactive Man. Number 216. Los Angeles: Bongo Entertainment, 1994.
By numbering this series facetiously (Number 216 is actually Number 3 out of only 6), the creators of this Simpsons spinoff establish the history of Radioactive Man dating back to the 1950s. A parody of superheroes created by an atomic blast and/or radiation, Radioactive Man has many of the powers of Superman: tremendous strength, super speed, and the ability to fly.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Number 5. Sharon, Connecticut: Mirage Studios, 1984.
The Turtles began life as tiny pet turtles, but accidently found their way into a sewer where they were covered with a radioactive ooze. They mutated into tall, intelligent crimefighters with the help of their rat friend, Splinter. When Laird and Eastman created their comic, they took four cliched elements, “teenage,” “mutant,” ninja,” and “turtles,” and combined them to form a new kind of superhero story, one which parodied traditional comics but did so with good graphics and inventive plots.
The Uncanny X-Men. Number 164. Marvel Comics, 1982.
The X-Men series debuted in 1963 and went on to become one of the most popular series of recent times. The X-Men were a group of gifted mutants, trained at a special school to protect humanity. The trademarks of the series include cliffhangers, soap-operish story lines, and a constantly changing set of characters. Binary, shown here, was created in part by radiation and joined the X-Men in 1982.
The Incredible Hulk. Number 254. Marvel Comics, 1980.
Nuclear villains continued into the 1980s with the U-Foes: Vector, Vapor, Ironclad, and X-Ray. All four were exposed to the same kind of cosmic radiation received by the Fantastic Four, but these four were hungry for power. X-Ray can project hard radiation from his transparent pink body. Immune to all physical injury, he cannot assume physical form.
David Rosen, ed. Megatoons, Cartoonists Against Nuclear War. London: Eden Press, 1984.
Canadian cartoonist David Rosen sees the job of the cartoonist as something akin to a poet: “they are there to shake the public out of its complacency.” In response to the arms buildup in the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1980s, Rosen collected cartoons drawn in protest.
Alan Moore. The Watchmen. New York: Warner Books, 1987.
Originally published by DC Comics as 12 issues in magazine form, this graphic novel combines mystery, a blue superhero, a secret society, and romance into complex, tightly woven plot accompanied by striking visuals. Nuclear imagery abounds: the clock, the fallout shelter symbol, rays, and mushroom clouds are symbols of the loss, fear and anxiety which pervades the novel.
Marc Ian Barasch. The Little Black Book of Atomic War. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1983.
In a humorous manner, the authors of the book seek to undercut traditional myths about the bomb and its creators. Enrico Fermi supposedly organized a betting pool on the anticipated size of the first bomb. And J. Robert Oppenheimer is reported to have amused friends by drinking a solution of radioactive sodium 24 and setting off a Geiger counter. The book also has such tidbits as “Nukespeak,” “Atomic Euphemisms,” and “Great Moments in Arms Race History.”
Keiji Nakazawa. Barefoot Gen, A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima. Trans. by Project Gen. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.
The author was seven years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on his city, and Hadashi no Gen is an autobiographical response to the event. Although filled with violent images, the story is more about personal courage. With the hope of warning the world through an accessible medium like the cartoon, “Project Gen” has translated the book into English, French, German, Esperanto, Indonesian, Norwegian and Swedish.
Senator Tom Harkin. Five Minutes to Midnight: Why the Nuclear Threat is Growing Faster than Ever. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
Harkin calls for an end to the Cold War mentality that gripped the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush and offers a program that would reduce the number of nuclear bombs of Russia and the United States each from 11,000 to 300. Harkin insists the excess defense expenditure could eventually destroy our country by siphoning off funds that could help solve internal problems like drugs and pollution. The title refers to the symbol of the nuclear clock which counts down to a nuclear Armageddon. The closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is to nuclear war.
Jonathan Schell. The Fate of the Earth. New York: Avon, 1982.
One of the first of a series of books published during the 1980s warning the public about the potential for nuclear war, Schell’s book describes the origin of the arms buildup, the choices it forces us to make, and the consequences of world-wide nuclear war. His intent is to urge people to act against the buildup of arms.
Whence the Threat to Peace. 3rd ed. Moscow: Military Publishing House, 1984.
Translated from Russian, this book offers a fascinating perspective on how the Soviet Union viewed the defense policies of the Reagan administration in the 1980s. The United States is portrayed as a bully intent on using force to achieve world domination. The book’s stated aim is to comment on the new international developments and the American “war machine” and to destroy myths about the Soviet military that the United States has perpetuated.
Ryder Stacy. Doomsday Warrior. New York: Zebra Books, 1984.
In this series of cartoonish, survivalist tracts, which includes Red Warrior (1984) and American Defiance (1986), Russians have taken over the United States after a pre-emptive strike that destroyed two thirds of the world’s population. Ted Rockson, the “Ultimate American,” fights the usual collection of post-apocalyptic dangers: mutant wild dogs, radiation storms, and mudslides. Without irony, Ted vows to free America of the red curse and bring freedom to the Communists.
I’ll Get You. [Poster] Great Britain, Lippert, 1953.
In this noir thriller, several atomic scientists disappear. An FBI agent (George Raft) on their trail in Britain discovers Communists are responsible for the kidnappings, and he keeps the scientists from being taken behind the Iron Curtain to work for the Soviets.
The Thief. [Poster] United Artists, 1952.
An American atomic scientist (Ray Milland) works with Communist agents to photograph secret papers to give to the enemy. The FBI find him in New York where he surrenders. Although the film is without dialogue, it does have sound effects. The silence, punctuated by unexpected sounds, heightens the suspense.
Cloak and Dagger. [Poster] United States Pictures,1946.
Cloak and Dagger focuses on a physicist (Gary Cooper) whom the Office of Strategic Services conscripts to journey to Germany near the end of World War II to spy on the Nazi atomic bomb program. He parachutes into Germany to interview a kidnapped scientist, but after she is killed, he moves to Italy to try to persuade another scientist to defect. Director Fritz Lang brings suspense and tension to the atmosphere, but never was able to explore the implications of nuclear weapons as he had intended. Most of the scenes dealing seriously with the subject were cut. What remains is the comment from Cooper’s character: “The energy contained in this apple can destroy the world. And yet we cannot create one small apple.”
Rendezvous 24. [Poster] 20th Century Fox, 1946.
Set after World War II is over, a secret group of Nazis continue to experiment with atomic fission. A top American agent (William Gargan) and a British agent (Pat O’Moore) stop them from destroying New York and Paris.
Red Planet Mars. [Poster] Melaby, 1952.
In an odd plot with an obvious ideological stance, Americans and Russians receive radio messages from Mars and discover it is a powerful Christian planet. The news causes panic, then a religious revival. An ex-Nazi scientist claims to have sent the transmissions, but the transmissions continue. The scientist who discovers the transmissions destroys himself and the ex-Nazi in apocalyptic explosion.
The Iron Curtain. [Poster] 20th Century Fox, 1948
The Iron Curtain was the first political spy film after World War II to center around Russian espionage. This semi-documentary strives for realism by using standard documentary techniques: voice-over narration, newsreel footage, and on-location shooting. The story is based on the story of Igor Gouzenko, a clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Canada who defected in 1946. In the movie, set in 1943, a Russian Embassy code clerk defects to the West in Canada. He informs on a wartime spy ring working to obtain American atomic bomb secrets. Responding in part to the HUAC hearings underway at the time, the film carries a strong anti-Communist message.
The Best Years of Our Lives. [Poster] MGM, 1946.
Three servicemen return their hometown, troubled by their memories of war and worried about a now unfamiliar country, the United States. Winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, this film was inspired by a story from Life magazine describing the difficulties World War II veterans were having adjusting to civilian life.
The Boy with Green Hair. [Poster] RKO, 1948.
When a boy (Dean Stockwell) hears his parents have been killed in an air raid, his hair turns green. In the boy’s community, knowledge of the atomic bomb creates fear and anxiety. In one scene, women argue about the bomb and prepare for the next war. Their talk frightens the boy, and he seeks comfort from his garrulous grandpa, played by Pat O’Brien.
I Want You. [Poster] MGM, 1951.
When young men (Farley Granger and Martin Milner) are drafted into military service during the Korean war, tensions begins to tear a family and a community apart. Ultimately, the wives and parents are forced to stay home and wait for peace, while husbands, fathers, and sweethearts serve, and die. This is one of the few films that directly confronted nuclear issues regarding the Chinese and North Koreans during that war, albeit within the format of a family melodrama.
The 27th Day. [Poster] Columbia, 1957.
An alien gives five people from around the world a few small capsules powerful enough to destroy all human life within a 3000 mile area. The alien (Arnold Moss) explains that his planet is crowded, but his peoples’ code of ethics prevents them from invading. Since the people of Earth seem ready to destroy themselves with the H-bomb, the alien wants to provide them with a more lethal weapon. The capsules will be powerless after 27 days, and only the five people can open the boxes the capsules are in. A German scientist, the English girl, and American newspaperman discover the capsules can only be used against evil, so together they destroy the Communists with their capsules. The rest of the world invites the alien and his people to live on Earth in a new time of peace. This film is representative of a number of alien intervention stories that were popular both in films and pulp magazines.
Above and Beyond. [Poster] MGM, 1952.
The events center around Paul Tibbets and his struggle to developing how the bomb will be delivered and detonated accurately over Japan. However, the movie’s focus is the domestic trouble between Paul Tibbets and his misunderstanding wife. Once she hears over the radio that her husband’s efforts have stopped the war by leading Japan to surrender, they are able to work out their problems. The film is a good example of focus on domesticity, keeping the family together, and the push for strict gender roles after World War II. Mrs. Tibbets is clearly supposed to be a homemaker, a child-bearer, and a support for her husband. It is her questioning of his activities and her lack of faith in his authority that lead to their marital problem.
The Atomic Kid. [Poster] Rooney Productions, 1954.
Not just humorless spy films used atomic secrets and radiation in their stories. In this Mickey Rooney production, a prospector, Blix Waterbury (Rooney), while looking for uranium in Nevada, accidently endures a bomb test and becomes radioactive. In the hospital, he falls in love with his nurse (Elaine Davis) and discovers he glows when sexually aroused. He becomes a media sensation, and his partner (Robert Strauss) becomes his agent who unwittingly involves Blix with a foreign spy who wants information about Blix’s atomic experience. After a complicated set of comic events, Blix is cured, captures the spy, and marries the nurse. Scripted by Blake Edwards, the film pokes gentle fun at public naivete about what radiation is, but it is careful to maintain the status quo. Evil Communists, forever after our secrets, must be stopped if the country is to be secure.
Ma and Pa Kettle, Back on the Farm. [Poster] Universal, 1951.
Before digging a new well, Pa dons radioactive overalls and becomes very energetic. At first, Pa and Collins, an engineer, believe the radioactivity must come from the property and assume they have found uranium on the farm. After a series of comic adventures, they discover it is only the overalls that are radioactive, because they had been worn by a GI at Bikini. This film is representative of a number of films from the early 1950s which have as themes the mystique of radiation and the postwar search for uranium.
It Came from Beneath the Sea. [Poster] Columbia, 1955.
In one of the more famous of the atomic creature movies, a giant octopus rises from the ocean, contaminated by radiation. It attacks San Francisco and is destroyed by a nuclear missile. Ray Harryhausen created the special effects. The mutant monster trend began in 1953 with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which, in addition to being first in line of American mutant monster films, also inspired the Japanese monster cycle. The Beast and other films like Them! (1954) and Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1956) resist an overt attempt to “solve” nuclear issues: nuclear energy is often part of the problem and the solution.
Strategic Air Command. [Poster] Paramount, 1955.
Continuing in the domestic tradition of I Want You and Above and Beyond, Strategic Air Command is a family melodrama which focuses on a retired air force man (James Stewart) who is forced to leave his job as a baseball player to test America’s newest nuclear bombers for SAC. Although reluctant at first, he soon comes to enjoy his duties, but his devotion to SAC puts a strain on his marriage. The domestic troubles are solved when an injury forces Stewart to remain grounded, and his wife realizes how wrong she was to complain. Although Strategic Air Command may easily be labeled a “family melodrama,” it could also be included in cycle of films from the 1950s which express that decade’s technology worship. The film’s success was probably due in part to the extended shots of flying planes, instrument panels and cockpits. In addition, the film is highly jingoistic, and occasionally takes on the tone of a recruitment film.
Port of Hell. [Poster] Allied Artists, 1955.
An atomic bomb set to explode in 12 hours is discovered by the Port Warden of Los Angeles (Dane Clark). Assisted by an ex-Navy man (Marshall Thompson), Clark races to move the bomb to a safe distance before it can be detonated on instruction from enemy agents on another ship out at sea. The bomb does explode, but it causes no harm to the harbor or its inhabitants. This film represents a number of film which attempt to come to terms with the subject of internal vulnerability.
Invasion USA. [Poster] Columbia, 1952.
In a New York bar, a hypnotist (Dan O’Herlihy) gives a group of people a realistic vision of a full-scale Russian atomic attack on the United States. Most of the participants are killed or hurt, but only in their imagination. When the group awakens, they all vow to do everything they can to prevent the vision from becoming reality. The film attempts to depict the horror and tragedy of global nuclear conflict through skillfully blended stock footage and recreations that were “realistic” and frightening to a 1952 audience. This film is significant because it is one of the first to attempt to depict the horror of nuclear conflict.
Captive Women. [Poster] RKO, 1952.
Set after a nuclear world war at a time in which the earth has already been devastated, three factions of human survivors the (good) Norms, the (bad) Mutates, and the (evil) Upriver people–war with each other. Conflict comes primarily from the Mutates who try to mate with the Norms and the Uprivers who attempt to conquer both the Norms and Mutates.
On the Beach. [Poster] Lomitas/United Artists, 1959.
Based on the popular by Nevil Shute, On the Beach was one of the first apocalyptic warning films. The film begins after a nuclear war has occurred in 1964. After the war destroys most of the world, the radiation fallout heads for untouched Australia. Survivors are given only five months to live, and the government issues suicide pills to make their deaths less lingering and painful. On the Beach marks a trend toward more sobering visions of the affects of nuclear weapons, literally and metaphorically. In this film, nuclear weapons literally destroy humanity, but metaphorically they destroy the human spirit. Part of the horror of the film comes from the passive manner in which the survivors accept their fate.
The Conquerer. [Poster] RKO, 1956.
A mediocre romance of the early life of Genghis Kahn who captures and falls in love with the daughter of an enemy, this film is remembered for two reasons. First, John Wayne was cast in the unlikely role of Genghis Kahn. When Wayne asked for the role, he remarked that the screenplay read like a cowboy picture. He saw Kahn as a gunfighter. The second reason for the film’s notoriety is that many of the people who worked on the film died of cancer, including the cast, the crew, and local Indians who played the Mongols. The location set for the film was Utah’s Escalante Desert, which had been used for atom bomb tests.
Rebel Without a Cause. [Poster] Warner Bros, 1955.
Jim Stark (James Dean), the new kid in town, tries to start fresh with new friends, but almost instantly becomes embroiled in the petty games of juvenile delinquents. The three main characters, Jim, Judy (Natalie Wood), and Plato (Sal Mineo) search for love and affection in an adult world that seems hostile and alien to them. This famous film of juvenile delinquency does not directly address nuclear subjects; however, the shadow of potential nuclear apocalypse is subtly offered as a reason for juvenile delinquency. It may be speculating that youths of the 1950s are indulging in self-destructive and impulsive behaviors because they have no future to look forward to. A key scene is set in planetarium where the three main characters first meet and later, where one is killed. The lecturer at the planetarium ends his show with an apocalyptic vision of the earth exploding. He states flatly that human beings will disappear in a burst of gas and fire. “We will disappear like we began. Man is of little consequence.” When the lights come on to show the dazed faces of the teenagers, Jim Stark remarks, “Hey, it’s all over. The world ended.”
Seven Days in May. [Poster] Paramount, 1963.
When the President (Fredric March) signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union, the fanatical General Scott (Burt Lancaster) is outraged and conspires with other Joint Chiefs to stage a coup d’etat. Scott’s aide (Kirk Douglas) discovers the plot and informs the President.
The Silencers. [Poster] Columbia, 1965.
Dean Martin plays Matt Helm, a sexy secret agent and a parody of James Bond. He thwarts an evil genius who plans to bomb the US with one of its own test missiles.
The Last Woman on Earth. [Poster] Filmgroup, 1960.
Two men and one woman are the only people to survive a nuclear war in this film directed by Roger Corman. On an island off Puerto Rico, they struggle to live with each other and repopulate the earth. The sense of resignation echoes that of the previous year’s On the Beach.
Salt and Pepper. [Poster] United Artists, 1968.
An American team stop an ambitious British colonel and his coup planners from overthrowing the government by threatening a nuclear war.
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. [Poster] American Independent Pictures, 1966.
A sequel to Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), this Italian spy farce centers around the evil mastermind, Dr. Goldfoot, who teams up with China to start a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Dr. Goldfoot’s robot women, acting for the Chinese, assassinate NATO generals.
The Spy Who Loved Me. [Poster] Great Britain, Eon, 1977.
The mad scientist Stromberg plans to capture nuclear submarines from each superpower. By launching their missiles, he intends to start World War III. Afterwards, he will rule the Earth from his undersea headquarters. British agent 007 searches for the missing British sub while Soviet Agent XXX (Barbara Bach) looks for the Russian one.
You Only Live Twice. [Poster] Great Britain, Eon/Danjag, 1967.
The plot of this film is identical to that of The Spy Who Loved Me; however, this time, SPECTRE agent Ernst Blofeld tries to start a superpower nuclear war by stealing United States and Soviet Union spaceships instead of submarines. James Bond is sent to Japan to investigate, but fakes his own death before going.
A Boy and His Dog. [Poster] LQJ/Jaf, 1975.
An adolescent boy and his telepathic talking dog, Blood, search a postnuclear apocalyptic world for food and sex. Topeka, an underground city of US citizens, needs his sperm. A Boy and His Dog is representative of a post-Vietnam and post-Watergate loss of faith in military and political authority. The tone is cynical as American society and its ethics are shown to be ridiculous or even diabolical.
Superman II. [Poster] Warner Bros., 1980.
Part of a brief wave of comic book heroes who hit the big screen in the 1970s. All the Supermen have something to do with nuclear danger. In Superman: The Movie, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor attempts to “nuke” the San Andreas fault to make his desert property beach front property; in Superman II, an H-bomb Superman has thrown into space liberates three prisoners from Krypton; and in Superman IV, Lex clones one of his hairs into “Nuclear Man,” an adversary who can harness the sun’s radiation.
Airport ’77. [Poster] Universal, 1977.
A private jet carrying guests and works of art crashes into an oil rig and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Some critics have argued that the spate of disaster movies that appeared in the 1970s–the Airport series, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974)–are in response to a sublimated fear of nuclear apocalypse. Even though international political relations had eased somewhat in the 1970s, nuclear anxiety remained and may have been expressed indirectly in these manageable and “localized” apocalypses.
My Science Project. [Poster] Touchstone, 1985.
A student discovers an alien craft’s propulsion system 30 years after it crashes outside his hometown. When he and his friends activate it, time warps, and people from the past appear in their high school. Upon spotting oddly shaped creatures, the students assume the creatures are “mutants from the apocalypse.” Although comparatively few 1980s films deal directly with nuclear issues, a cynical resignation about the impending apocalypse is a consistent theme in many.
The Manhattan Project: The Deadly Game. [Poster] 20th Century Fox, 1986.
John Mathewson, a nuclear scientist played by John Lithgow, moves to town and starts dating Paul’s mother. Paul, a brilliant teenager, steals plutonium from Mathewson’s plant and builds his own bomb. Mathewson and federal authorities try to get him to take the bomb out of a science fair and disarm it. This film is representative of a number of 1980s nuclear fears. Mathewson is working on Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” defense program, yet a child is able to infiltrate his laboratory and, worse, build his own nuclear bomb. In such a scenario, we see a gamut of fears: nuclear “secrets” out of control, arms buildup, the irresponsibility of the scientific community, and the failure of the military to protect national security.
Back to the Future. [Poster] Universal, 1985.
A 1980s teenager, Marty, has hopelessly nerdy parents and slovenly siblings, but his friendship with the local nutty scientist keeps him sane. During a test of the scientist’s time machine, a nuclear-powered DeLorean, Marty is transported back to 1955. After a series of adventures in which he straightens out his parents’ lives, he returns to the future where he discovers his parents, brother, and sister are now kind and successful people due to the changes he made in their past. One critic has speculated that this film is an attempt to escape apocalypse by a nostalgic return to the past when life was simpler. It is a way of distancing oneself from a post-nuclear apocalypse world. The irony of his opinion is inescapable: in the 1950s, often called “The Atomic Age,” people were afraid of the nuclear threat, and, to add another layer of irony, that fear does not come through in the movie.
Robocop. [Poster] Orion, 1987.
At an unspecified time in the future, a series of brutal cop killings occur in Detroit. When robot cops fail to perform correctly, a maimed policeman played by Peter Weller is turned into a cyborg police machine. He is half-man, half-machine with only fragments of memories or emotions. Nuclear policies are a prime target for this violent satire. In the film, French neutron weapons are deployed in South Africa to quell the black uprising; families play a board game called “Nuke ‘Em”; a US president visits an orbiting weapons platform where he accidentally wipes out a section of California where ex-presidents and the mega-rich live.
Def Con 4. [Poster] Canada, New World Pictures, 1984.
After returning to Earth from an orbiting weapons platform, astronauts discover that the world is now a brutal, postholocaust society. Eventually, they destroy it with the last nuclear warhead they have brought back. This film is significant because, like The Manhattan Project, it expresses a concern about orbiting weapons such as the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The Jigsaw Man. [Poster] Great Britain, J and M, 1985.
A traitorous British spy is given a new face and sent back to England where he becomes a double agent. Representative of Cold War sentiments that experienced a revival in the 1980s, this film could be interpreted as a fantasy of the neutralization of the Soviet threat.
Russkies. [Poster] Vista, 1987.
A Soviet sailor is washed ashore after an intelligence raid on a US military installation. The three youths who give him refuge become convinced World War III has begun. As in My Science Project, the children, who have grown up with the knowledge that human beings have enough nuclear weapons to destroy themselves, naturally assume the inevitability of World War III.
Raising Arizona. [Poster] 20th Century Fox, 1987.
Nicholas Cage stars as “Hi,” a petty thief who specializes in robbing convenience stores. Holly Hunter is the policewoman who marries him after falling in love with him during his frequent trips through the police station. When they discover they cannot have children, they kidnap one of Nathan Arizona’s quintuplets. Hi prophetically dreams of an evil biker who is manifest in reality as a bounty hunter. Like Rebel without a Cause, Raising Arizona is not a film about things nuclear. However, an apocalyptic sensibility bubbles up through the narrative in the form of the “road biker of the apocalypse,” a visual homage to The Road Warrior, who kills all within his path by fire and explosions. Hi’s imagined destiny is a confrontation with the biker who poses the ultimate threat to Hi and his family by taking the one thing the holds his wife and he together: their stolen child. Hi defeats his nemesis by pulling the pin a hand grenade, and the bikier dies in a mushroom-shaped explosion.
Nevil Shute. On the Beach. New York: Signet, 1957.
One of the most famous stories of temporary survival, Shute’s novel has become a landmark in imaginative fiction. After nuclear war has devastated most of the earth’s surface, the remainder of humanity on the Australian continent is doomed because the atmosphere will soon bring enough radiation to kill everyone. The horror of the novel comes from the placid manner in which people accept their certain death. The novel opens with T. S. Eliot’s words, “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but with a whimper.” The movie version from 1959 was highly successful.
Peter Bryant. Red Alert. New York: Ace Books, 1958.
Red Alert is the first in a series of books concerned with potential nuclear dangers from within the military/scientific/political structure and the most ironic of mishaps: the technical malfunction. The novel is about the Cold War and assumes the American system is based on retaliation, and the Soviet system is based on aggression. The novel is jingoistic with a typical 1950s fascination with technology. A movie based on the book appeared in 1977.
Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Fail-Safe. New York: Dell, 1962.
Due to a malfunction, a Vindicator bomber passes its fail-safe point on an exercise. Ironically, the system insures that the mistake cannot be fixed, and all attempts to stop the bomber even messages from the President and the pilot’s wife convince the crew their mission is real. The plane makes it to Moscow and drops its bomb. The President responds in a show good faith by sending an American plane to bomb New York city. The movie came out in 1964, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda as the President.
Peter George. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.
Based on the screenplay by Peter George, Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick, George’s novel was originally published in 1963, soon after Fail-Safe. It is a scathing satire on the inability of the military to detect and control dangerous individuals as well as its equally dangerous and unpredictable systems of military defense. The narrative links the characters’ “strange love” for the bomb with their uncontrollable sexual desires to make the point that we need to have a strong social awareness rather than becoming victims of our own selfish impulses.
Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. 40th Anniversary Edition. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
First published in 1950, The Martian Chronicles tells the story of humankind’s repeated attempts to colonize Mars. The new Martian settlers receive an ironic message from home telling them much of the earth has been destroyed and they should return home. Rather than return, one family on Mars prepares to start humanity all over again, as Martians. The book was made into a TV mini-series of the same name in 1980.
Dean Owen. End of the World. New York: Ace Books, 1962.
To a contemporary reader, this tale of a family’s attempt to survive after the United States becomes involved in a nuclear war may seem improbable, much like a fairy tale. But at the time, it was intended as a survivalist tract. The father takes his family into the woods to survive while civilization unravels. The novel traces the movement from civility to violence, from mercy to vengeance, and from community to individual survival. In that same year, the book was turned into a movie, Panic in the Year Zero.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Slaughterhouse Five. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1971.
Originally published in 1969, Slaughterhouse Five continues the apocalyptic theme of a number of Vonnegut’s books including Cat’s Cradle. At one point, Billy Pilgrim is lying in the hospital talking to a professor who is reading Truman’s announcement of the Hiroshima bomb. The professor concludes that the advocates of disarmament are mistaken in their belief that if nuclear weapons were eliminated, war would be decent and fair. Billy’s knowledge of the fire-bombing of Dresden is proof otherwise. The book was made into a lackluster movie in 1971.
Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts. Enola Gay. New York: Pocket Books, 1977.
Like the film Above and Beyond (1953), Enola Gay is a reconstruction in narrative form of the events that led to the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The book covers as many points of view as possible: the scientists, politicians and officers both American and Japanese, the men who flew the Enola Gay and their wives.
Captain Marvel. Number 66. Fawcett Publications, 1946.
Captain Marvel is not a superhero created by radiation, but like Superman and other Golden Age (1940s) heroes, he opposes the use of nuclear weapons. In this story, the United States is destroyed by atomic bombs from an unknown enemy. Even Captain Marvel is helpless to prevent the complete destruction. But the horror turns out to be only a television documentary. Dad remarks, “The world just can’t afford another war, because it would wipe out all civilization and human life! Remember that, kids!”
Mystery in Space. Number 64. DC Comics, 1960.
Published from 1951 through 1965, Mystery in Space often featured radioactive threats and other science-related stories in response to an increased interest by children in science. The radioactive monsters were an inspiration for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create superheroes like The Fantastic Four, who gained their powers after exposure to radiation.
Strange Adventures. Number 138. DC Comics, 1962.
Strange Adventures, published from 1950 to 1973, was DC Comics’ first science fiction comic book. It included stories of alien invasions and flying saucers and series like Captain Comet, Star Rovers, and the Atomic Knights. The Atomic Knights appeared as a fairly regular feature from issues 117 through 160.
Captain Atom. Number 23. DC Comics, 1987.
In an experiment set in the 1960s, in a controlled nuclear explosion, Nathaniel Adam’s body melds with the metal alloy of an alien ship, and he disappears. 20 years later, in the 1980s, he reappears as a superhero with impervious silver skin, capable of flight and of directing “quantum” energy through his hands. DC Comic’s Captain Atom was published from 1987 through 1991.
Firestorm, the Nuclear Man Annual. Number 5. DC Comics, 1987.
Formerly known as Fury of Firestorm, Firestorm’s own series was published from 1987 to 1990. Caught in an explosion at a nuclear plant Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein are bombarded by radiation and merge into one person. The strange radiation gives the resultant man the power to change matter on a molecular level, to see the molecular structure of matter, project nuclear energy, and fly.
Nukla. Number 1. Dell, 1965.
This short series includes only 4 issues published in 1965 and 1966. After being struck by a missile, air force spy pilot, Matthew Gibbs, is transformed into a mass of atomic particles. As Nukla, he can materialize or dematerialize at will and direct atomic power through his fingertips.
The Atom. Number 36. DC Comics, 1962.
The diminutive hero from the Golden Age was updated for the Silver Age in 1961 when he first appeared in Showcase. The original Atom was named so for his small size, five feet, but the 1960s version was a six-foot tall man, scientist Ray Palmer, who learned to shrink himself while experimenting with the compression of matter. His own series ran from 1962 to 1968.
Captain Atom. Number 79. Charlton, 1966.
The nuclear energy which powers him gives him super-strength and super-hearing. He can change his molecular structure in order to pass through solid objects, and generate an “armor” of heat energy to project himself. And, he can generate “atomic fireballs” to launch at his enemies. Captain Atom from Charlton ran from 1965 to 1967, but the character had appeared in Space Adventures in 1960.
Dr. Solar. Number 8. Gold Key, 1964.
During a secret experiment at Atom Valley, scientist Dr. Solar is caught in an atomic explosion which converts him into atomic energy. He can convert his body from energy to matter and back at will. To keep his atomic powers strong, Dr. Solar eats cobalt pills and drinks radioactive isotopes. Dr. Solar was published from 1962 to 1982.