The character of the Atom (Al Pratt) would seem to be influenced heavily by the life story of Joe Greenstein, a Coney Island Polish strongman known professionally as "the Mighty Atom". Both the real-life Greenstein (at 5' 4" and 140 pounds) and the fictional Al Pratt were unusually short and had self-trained at boxing and bodybuilding to overcome poor health during childhood.
Fictional character biography
Initially a proverbial 98-pound weakling, bullied at school and unable to impress the girl of his dreams, Mary James, the 5' 1" Al Pratt was trained to fighting condition by ex-boxer Joe Morgan (the same man who trained Pratt's fellow mystery men, Wildcat and the Guardian). Pratt soon became a founding member of the Justice Society of America, appearing in the team's various stories during their original Golden Age appearances. In All Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940) the Atom describes himself to his fellow JSAers as "Al Pratt, a quiet sophomore at Calvin College." He later became a founding and active member of the All-Star Squadron. During World War II, Pratt served as a tank driver in the United States Army.
In 1948, the Atom gained super strength as a result of the latent effects of his 1942 battle with the reluctant supervillain Cyclotron (after whose costume Pratt redesigned his own). It was later revealed that he had taken partial custodianship of Cyclotron's daughter Terri.
Pratt's last Golden Age appearance was in All Star Comics #57 in 1951, also the last Golden Age Justice Society story. Later it was revealed that a special Senate investigation panel had moved to obtain the identities of all active superheroes, at which point virtually all members of the Justice Society retired. At this point in his life, as depicted in JSA #70, Pratt was engaged to Mary James, leading to their marriage at an undefined point in time (as confirmed by Justice Society of America: The Kingdom Special and others).
Pratt was revived with the rest of the team in 1963 in Flash vol. 1, #137, and continued to make various appearances in the years that followed.
The Atom comic book, showcasing the adventures of Ray Palmer, brought the Atom of Earth-2 together with the Atom of Earth-1. Issue #29 (1967) depicts Al Pratt as living in Calvin City and as being a professor at Calvin College; he also possesses a modified automobile that transforms from an ordinary convertible to the Atomobile. In this story it is Ray Palmer who builds a "special dimensional vibrator" that allows travel between the two Earths. The villain in this adventure is The Thinker. In issue #36 (1968) Al Pratt is specifically named a professor of nuclear physics at Calvin College. Built into the belt of his Atom uniform is his own "atomic vibrator" which allows travel between the Earths. Al is depicted as a young-looking man who is "so busy as the Atom" that he "sort of let romance pass [him] by." Shown also are his friends Bill and Betty Roberts, as well as his first meeting with Marion Thayer on a double date. It is unknown what had happened to Marion Thayer, but in DC Comics Presents #30 (Feb. 1981), Pratt's wife Mary resembles the blonde Thayer more than the brunette James.
The Atom's status with the Justice Society of America was as a reserve member up until after the formation of Infinity, Inc. Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Last Days of the Justice Society Special (1986) told how Pratt, along with his teammates, prevented the unleashing of Ragnarök, a time-displaced and world-shattering event initiated by Adolf Hitler originally on April 12, 1945. In order to stave off the destruction of the world, Al and the others chose to enter a magical limbo - seemingly for all eternity.
The 1992 miniseries Armageddon: Inferno brought Al Pratt and the other members of the JSA back into the post-Crisis world. The short-lived series Justice Society of America (1992–1993) told the tale of the team's reintegration into society. Al was depicted as a short, stocky, balding man with radioactive, super-powered hands and a body aged to about 60 years or so. He was also written as a man more interested in training the next generation of heroes than "running off on crazy super-hero missions" (issue #2), though he still was hotheaded. The series brought Al and the JSA into conflict with the Ultra-Humanite, Pol St. Germain, and Kulak the Sorcerer.
The Justice Society had been on active duty only briefly when 1994's Zero Hour miniseries depicted Al Pratt's murder by the temporal villain Extant, who increased his temporal rate, aging him to death.
In the 1980s, Al Pratt's godson Al Rothstein was introduced; Rothstein was known as the superhero Nuklon (later changing his name to Atom Smasher), first appearing as a member of Infinity, Inc.
In the 1990s, it was revealed that Pratt had a son named Grant Emerson. Al Pratt was unaware of this - he had been told that there were complications with childbirth and that the child had not survived. In truth, Grant was kidnapped and genetically altered into a superbeing by the villain Vandal Savage; after the onset of puberty he became the superhero Damage. Damage later appeared in two incarnations of the Teen Titans, eventually joined the Freedom Fighters, and then became a member of the Justice Society of America, until his death during Blackest Night.
In the afterlife, the Atom also befriended the recently deceased Starman, David Knight. In dreams, David brought his brother, the next Starman, Jack Knight to a banquet in limbo attended by Atom and several other deceased mystery men. (Starman vol. 2 #37)
Following DC's September 2011 relaunch of its comic books, Al has appeared in the Earth 2 ongoing series as a U.S. Sergeant in charge of a squad carrying an atomic bomb meant to neutralize an Apokoliptian tower responsible for transporting Parademons to Earth. His squad however is attacked while en route to the tower and the bomb is detonated. Al is later found unharmed in the center of a giant hand print in the ground. Five years later, Al has become a captain in the World Army and is operating as a superhero codenamed "the Atom", wearing a costume similar to his son Damage while possessing the atomic energy powers of his original counterpart and the size-changing powers of his godson Atom Smasher. Al is deployed as the Atom to take down Grundy who is rampaging across Washington DC. After dropping mid air from his transport, Al enlarges and lands on Grundy, ordering the Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl to stand down.
Powers and abilities
During his early days of crime fighting, Pratt possessed no superhuman qualities, instead being a particularly adept combatant with a strength level disproportionate to his size. After being exposed to Cyclotron's energies, Al Pratt gained superhuman strength, agility, and was able to focus radioactive energy into a punch. In addition, Atom was invulnerable to forms of radiation. He also gained incredible youth and vitality after the battle with Ian Karkull.
The current version of Al Pratt has gained size-changing powers similar to Atom Smasher and also manifests atomic fields around his hands similar to the original Al.
In other media
In the Justice League episode "Legends," the Justice League team up with the Justice Society pastiche the Justice Guild Of America. Justice Guild member Tom Turbine (voiced by Ted McGinley) is a cross between the Golden Age Atom and the Golden Age Superman.
Al Pratt appears in the Smallville episode "Absolute Justice" played by Glenn Hoffman. He is a super hero in the 1970s and a physics professor at Calvin College, who was arrested during a student protest and framed for the crime of fraud by the government in a mission to take down the JSA. However, he was never convicted of any crime. As the law was now aware of his superhero identity, Pratt retired from heroics. As Doctor Fate later stated, "The Atom split".