Small Fortune

W hen we last left Ivytown, the comic book city purportedly inspired by New Haven, we had just read Showcase #34, the anthology where it debuted in 1961. We saw Ivy University physicist Ray Palmer harness the power of nature, comic book-style, to become The Atom, a superhero capable of shrinking and growing at the turn of a dial, wearing a suit that stretches itself to invisibility at full size.

We watched as Palmer spotted, from a perch much like the top of West Rock, the unearthly material that would make his transformation possible. We followed as a mysterious figure then robbed the equivalent of the old New Haven Savings Bank. We gawked as our hero unmasked the true villain by traveling through the kind of telephone system pioneered right here in New Haven. And we witnessed as the “mighty mite,” the “tiny titan,” foiled a felonious frame-up, in a courtroom like you’d find in New Haven’s own Superior Court.

Today we turn the page to Showcase #35, also published in 1961. The cover design for this second installment of The Atom is larger than life. “Up an’ at ’em, Atom! Smash that fireball menace!” a boy approximating the book’s intended readership says, having just slingshotted “the world’s smallest super-hero” into the foreground toward a rain of fiery missiles.

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But that’s getting ahead of things. The story itself begins in the Ivytown Hotel—a surrogate, perhaps, for New Haven’s razzle-dazzle Hotel Taft, still kicking in ’61—where young doctor Gordon Doolin asks Ivytown’s upper crust to fund a philanthropic hospital on the South Seas island where he grew up. Turns out Doolin also has a second item on his Ivytown itinerary: a meet with genius “lady lawyer” Jean Loring, the trustee of his estranged family’s estate. Worth a cool 10 million in midcentury dollars, the inheritance comes with two more items, Doolin is told: “Heath,” a last name he’ll have to adopt, and an attached family curse dating to the Salem Witch Trials. Undaunted, the man of science accepts his birthright—or, as the next edition of the Ivytown Herald puts it, not so differently than the New Haven Evening Register might have, “Heath grandson appears and claims entire estate!”

With Loring’s legal help, the matter is quickly settled, and Heath née Doolin invites Loring and Palmer to be his guests as he takes up residence in the family mansion. Headed to the estate on the outskirts of town, the couple are driving just behind Heath over the Ivy River Bridge—a modest one near woods and elevation, like New Haven’s own Orange Street Bridge—when the doctor’s orange sedan suddenly plunges over the edge into the water below. Palmer dives in and, becoming The Atom, saves the unconscious doctor from an otherwise certain doom, switching back to size before breaching the surface. Once revived, the doctor scoffs at the notion that the incident was an effect of the curse, while the next Ivytown Record, probably differently than the New Haven Journal-Courier would have, asks, “Is the ancient witch’s curse of the Heath family already at work?”

The “curse” wastes little time striking again. In their first night at the mansion—its location and landscape recalling “Edgerton,” the manor that presided until 1965 over the English-style grounds now called Edgerton Park—a toxic gas leak forces The Atom to spring into action. The next day, our hero again saves Heath, this time from a small blimp raining down the missiles from the cover. And right after that, The Atom saves everyone, defusing a bomb in the rumpus room where Heath, his guests and household staff have taken refuge from the onslaught.

In a Scooby-Doo-style denouement eight years before Scooby-Doo debuted, we find out that Bates, the estate’s “handyman and general caretaker,” is behind it all. With the police now arrived, Bates helpfully explains that had his murderous plan succeeded, the estate would have passed to the mansion’s six staffers instead.

As our hero, the “mighty mite,” the “tiny titan,” can attest, even a 1/6 share of 10 million 1961 dollars is no small motive.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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