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Bigger is Better: Trying Atom Smasher on For Size

Bigger is Better: Trying Atom Smasher on For Size

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Wednesday, October 19th, 2022

By now, even the most casual movie fan is familiar with Black Adam. DC’s next blockbuster promises to be BIG, with BIG stars, BIG action sequences and BIG characters. Black Adam himself is played by Dwayne Johnson, one of the BIGGEST personalities out there. A movie of this size and spectacle needs a hero who can stand alongside its star and fill that giant premium screen, and they don’t get much larger than Atom Smasher. But does this young Justice Society member have what it takes? Let’s bring the often-giant Atom Smasher back down to earth and find out.

Albert Rothstein is the grandson of Cyclotron, a minor villain who used to tangle with the All-Star Squadron. Cyclotron gained atomic powers after being experimented on by the Ultra-Humanite, one of DC’s numerous evil gorillas. Those genetics passed through his family bloodline, resulting in his grandson Al being born with unique abilities. Al can increase the distance between his atoms, causing him to grow in size—up to sixty feet tall, although there are reports that he can go higher. His strength and weight are proportionate to his height, so his large stature allows him to take on some heavy hitters. Even when he’s not using powers, Al’s standard height is almost eight feet, causing him to tower over most of his teammates.

Readers met Al Rothstein for the first time in 1983’s All-Star Squadron #25, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t immediately recognize him. At the time, Al was going by the name Nuklon and wore a mohawk which he has come to regret. Initially, he didn’t have the power to enlarge himself, but his large stature and super strength were more than enough to make him a force to be reckoned with.

Al’s origin was revealed in 1984’s Infinity Inc #1. After the death of Cyclotron, Al Pratt (the original Atom) kept a close eye on the reformed villain’s family. Al Rothstein grew up with Pratt serving as his godfather and he idolized the hero. He wanted nothing more than to follow in Pratt’s footsteps and join the Justice Society. After his powers began to manifest, Rothstein had Pratt train him.

Eventually Al became Nuklon and linked up with the children of other JSA members. The youths stormed the Justice Society’s headquarters, demanding to join the team. Although Atom had trained Nuklon, he was still surprised at his new superhero persona and disgusted by the mohawk (seriously). The JSA turned the young heroes down, so they decided to create their own group, Infinity Inc. A later encounter with a dose of radiation would enhance and unlock new powers in Al, giving him the supercharged growth spurts he’s famous for.

In 1999’s JSA Secret Files #1, Al decided it was time for a new look. He designed a costume that closely matched Al Pratt’s original Atom outfit and renamed himself Atom Smasher to honor his godfather. In reality, the look and name was inspired by the prestige comic book series Kingdom Come, an alternate universe tale set in a chaotic future. Kingdom Come influenced the mainstream DC Universe in many ways, introducing a number of elements into DC continuity, with some of them now making their way into the Black Adam film. Shortly after becoming Atom Smasher, Al joined the Justice Society, bringing things full circle.

Atom Smasher’s relationship with Black Adam is very complicated, which makes his upcoming appearance in the film all the more exciting. When Black Adam joined the Justice Society, Al was initially livid. As the grandson of a villain, he didn’t trust Black Adam and thought his redemption was just an act. The teammates regularly butted heads, often with explosive results. Over time, they began to warm up to each other, but that only made things worse. Black Adam wasn’t always a good influence and he eventually enabled some of Atom Smasher’s worst impulses.

Atom Smasher engineered the death of the villain Extant in order to save his mother’s life. Al’s JSA teammates didn’t approve of his actions, but Black Adam took Al’s side. The two eventually grew tired of working within the confines of the Justice Society’s rules and decided to leave the team. Forming a violent new crew with the likes of Eclipso and Brainwave, Atom Smasher and Black Adam worked together to kill Kobra and the dictator of Khandaq. Al would eventually be arrested for his actions and temporarily placed on Amanda Waller’s Task Force X. Still, over time the Justice Society came to forgive Al and let him back on the team.

Adam Copeland was the first actor to bring Atom Smasher to life during the season two premiere of The CW’s The Flash. This version of Atom Smasher was a reluctant villain who battled the Flash after being manipulated by Zoom. He was killed during their fight after absorbing too much radiation.

Now, the Atom Smasher is coming to the big screen, which is fitting for a man who can grow taller than most trees. Noah Centineo will be playing Al Rothstein opposite Johnson’s Adam. How will their relationship compare to the one they have in the comics? Will they be a good influence on each other? Probably not, but it should be fun to watch!
 

Black Adam, starring Dwayne Johnson and featuring Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher, hits theaters Friday, October 21. For all the latest news, features and trailers from the film, visit our official Black Adam hub.

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.