Logo Study: THE ATOM Part 1

All images © DC Comics

The original or Golden Age Atom began in this 1940 issue of ALL-AMERICAN, and the typeset cover copy at lower right is, I think, the only time he was even mentioned on a cover. Al Pratt had no powers for the first eight years of his stories, and was merely an athletic and strong fighter, along the lines of the Golden Age Wildcat. He was a second-string character intended mainly to fill pages in super-hero anthologies, I think. Created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, he was inspired by a real-life strongman — short but very muscular — who called himself “The Mighty Atom.” I haven’t read any of his stories, but he seems an uninspired character in every way to me. Still, he was in both of the 1940s super-hero teams published by the company that became DC comics: The Justice Society of America and The Seven Soldiers of Victory, and also had runs of solo appearances in COMIC CAVALCADE and THE FLASH as well as ALL-AMERICAN.


Here’s the logo/title on his first story, where he’s the MIGHTY Atom. The open shapes are standard sans-serif block letters, perhaps mimicking the type on the cover, though lettered with a little more flair by angling the bottoms of the strokes and adding a drop shadow. Still pretty bland. And over the run of his appearances in ALL-AMERICAN his logo is different nearly every time, as was often the case then. Whether done by the artist or letterer (who might have been the same person sometimes), there was no consistency, and no visual tie-in to the character. It was whatever they thought of that day, looks like. Below is a sampling. And thanks to Jim Kosmicki for help getting the scans.


By his fourth story in issue 22, the name was simply The Atom, with THE often in thin script like this, and ATOM in open block letters. This one adds a telescoped drop shadow along the lines of SUPERMAN, and looks pretty good if, again, rather bland.


For issue 29 they tried using slab serifs on ATOM. The letters are carefully drawn using a straight edge and compass (for the O), but again not very interesting.


Adding a telescoped drop shadow to the slab-serif version gave it more presence, but all those small sections also make it seem a bit fussy. And the poorly-drawn script THE is now a very bad match.


Issue 32 has my favorite of the ALL-AMERICAN logos, using many thin, straight brush strokes to make the letters of ATOM. It has energy and an attractive roughness that actually would have worked pretty well for the character, as long as it was in an open area with no art behind it. THE is better open-letter script than the previous ones, but still a bad match.


Issue 39 plays up ATOM with very large open letters, and back to the bland earlier style. And there’s a spacing issue that’s hard to miss. When I point out gaffs like this to my wife, she says most people don’t notice such things, and she may be right, but when you’re actually drawing those letters, how do you leave such a large gap between the T and the O? At least THE is a better match on this version.


For a short while the feature seemed to want to emulate Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT, with a logo that becomes part of the story, as in this circus poster version. An interesting attempt, but all those curlicues make it a little hard to read.


And this one is even more Eisneresque, at least as far as the logo and layout goes. The three haphazardly angled panels at the bottom kind of ruin the impact somewhat.


Later stories show a tendency to go more cartoony. While this logo does have impact and bounce, I don’t know that it really suits the character. I do like the shadows and the color in ATOM, but to me it suggests a humor feature.


The final ALL-AMERICAN Atom story was in issue 51, again with a cartoony logo. The art is by someone named Joe Gallagher, and the logo reminds me a bit of Alex Toth’s work. Again, lots of impact, but perhaps not a great match for the character.


Of Atom’s other appearances that I’ve been able to look at, this logo for his story in COMIC CAVALCADE 22 in 1947 is probably the most interesting.  It has energy and style, and whoever did it shows real talent for lettering and logo design. The jagged lines dividing the open letters are clever and original. Wish I’d thought of that! As far as I know it only appeared this once.


Also in 1947, the character began a run of stories in THE FLASH. Issue 82 featured this logo, which seems to follow the one above, but is not nearly as well drawn or as interesting. In fact, I’d say it takes all the good ideas and sucks the life right out of them.


Many of the logos for the FLASH run of stories leaned toward the cartoony again, though now the character had gained some actual super-powers and even an atomic symbol on his new costume. Did anyone think to reflect that in the logo? We’ll see in a moment.


Finally, in issue 104, someone FINALLY gave the character a logo that has a visual tie-in to his costume. Not a well-drawn atomic symbol, but at least it’s there. And, while the lower case letters are still rather cartoony, they’re going in the right direction. Lower case is appropriate for a small character, after all. Sadly, this was the very last appearance of Al Pratt in his own golden age story. The logo appeared again in WHO’S WHO IN THE DC UNIVERSE in 1985, on SECRET ORIGINS 25 in 1988, and perhaps other places.

Next time we’ll move on to the best-known Atom, the Silver Age character Ray Palmer. More logo studies can be found on my LOGO LINKS page.

3 thoughts on “Logo Study: THE ATOM Part 1

  1. J. Kevin Carrier

    Those random logos are mostly pretty bad…and yet there’s a certain rough charm to them. It’s emblematic of that whole “we’re flying by the seat of our pants and making up the rules as we go along” feeling that runs throughout those golden age comics.

    By the way, I’m pretty sure the Atom was never a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

  2. RAB

    The Atom wrongly identified as being in the Seven Soldiers of Victory might come from misreading comics by Roy Thomas in which the JSA and the SSoV and others were all amalgamated into one massive supergroup called the All-Star Squadron.

    Re most people not noticing type spacing issues: people who aren’t trained to see it may not be able to tell what looks “wrong” or “off” to them…but many folks will nonetheless come away feeling a sign didn’t seem right somehow, or an ad looked cheap and tacky and they can’t quite put their finger on why. And when the spacing is perfectly done regular citizens won’t notice it, but they will have an almost subliminal feeling that the job looks really sharp and professional. I’d say people notice, they just don’t notice that they notice.

    And once you do notice, the world is a nightmare of messed up type that can never be fixed — how can the A and the T on that Eisneresque ATOM logo for “The Little Men” be so far apart? Aaaargh!

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