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So I was reading The Atom #18 (1962), which is a comic book about a nuclear scientist who discovers a cast-off portion of a white dwarf star and uses it to shrink himself down to a small fraction of his normal size, the better to fight crime with. (Why is a tiny person better at fighting crime than a full sized person? How should I know? I'm no nuclear scientist!)

Anyway, as I was saying, in issue #18, this happens:

Flea-master? He's got to be a Spider-man villain by now, right?

I didn't think that was how flea circuses really worked, but everything else seems to check out.

The "true" explanation of what's happening here doesn't come until the end of the story.

Protonic radiation is the most relaxing kind

Yeah, that sounds like real science. The weirdest part is that it is.

Well, at least the curative aspects of "protonic radiation" part. Proton therapy debuted as an experimental treatment for cancer in 1961, mere months before this issue went to press. It was originally used to treat cancer of the eyes, and has gained increasing acceptance for other cancers in the decades since. (Or, as The Atom demonstrates, maybe it's only causing doctors to *think* that they're curing something. Damn you, protonic radiation!)

There you have it: comic-book science is real.

(I didn't bother looking up using white dwarf material to shrink people. I'm confident it's solid. I do still lingering doubts about that flea circus, though....)

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A hearty "Thank You" to my good friend Mike Foster who e-mailed me the identity of the Mystery Villain:

So I pulled out the Invasion series with all the tie-ins today. Didn't get far when I saw a cover of the series he premiered in. One quick search later: Strobe. Power of the Atom issue 3. (Wed 12/27/2006)

Wherefore art thou, Strobe?

According to dcuguide.com ("The Unofficial Guide to the DC Universe"), Strobe first appeared in Power of the Atom #3 in October 1988, just a few months before the DC Universe-spanning Invasion event.

A villain wearing an advanced suit of armor that could throw concussion blasts and deliver blinding flashes of light. Strobe fought the Atom (II) [Ray Palmer], who turned him over to the authorities [PotA #3]. Breaking free from prison, Strobe took another identity as the samurai-inspired Edg the Destroyer [PotA #12], but was once again defeated by the Atom, subsequently returning to his Strobe identity [PotA #13].

Strobe certainly belongs to the same clique of loser villains as Rainbow Raider. In the issue, Strobe was angry that Atom's heroics were stealing headlines from his bank robberies, so he decided to throw down with a Justice Leaguer. (That's a bad idea. Villains with light-inspired gimmicks have a long history of bad luck with the JLA in particular and other DC Universe heroes in general.) I postulate that if Strobe is robbing banks for public attention, he probably is in the wrong line of work. Try robbing television studios next time, Strobe. Of course, Strobe loses his fight to Atom, and he practically disappears from the DC Universe.

Mike, you found a character who has only appeared in 4 books in the 80-year history of DC Comics. Congrats, man. Consider yourself the Indiana Jones of the comic book vault.

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To be continued...

 

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