Atom #37, "Meet Major Mynah!"

THE ATOM #37; June-July 1968; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Julius Schwartz, editor; featuring the book-length tale, "Meet Major Mynah!", written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Gil Kane and inked by Sid Greene. (This review based on the black and white reprint in SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE ATOM Vol. 2; I own the original comic, but the Showcase book, which I just picked up for cheap, is handier.)  On the cover by Kane and Greene, the Atom leaps from the back of a small black mynah bird to defend the mynah from an attacking eagle.  Caption: "Introducing MAJOR MYNAH-- the FLYING FURY (hey, I thought that was one of Hawkman's cognomens) who talks himself-- and ATOM-- in and out of TROUBLE!"

Review by Bill Henley

Costumed superheroes over the years have had several different types of sidekicks, including kid sidekicks, funny comic-relief sidekicks, pretty-girl sidekicks... and, occasionally, animal sidekicks.  Back in the Golden Age, Dr. Mid-Nite's mascot was an owl named Hooty, and the Quality Comics version of Manhunter had a dog named Thor ("Whoever holds this bone, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of...")  During the Silver Age, Superman/Superboy had Krypto, Supergirl had Streaky the cat, and for a while Batman had Ace the Bat-Hound (though in each of these cases, the animals were occasional supporting characters rather than sidekicks in every story).   But the Julius Schwartz superhero books, more serious-minded and skewed to an older readership, mostly avoided the use of super-pets... at least till this issue of THE ATOM, where the introduction of Major Mynah (kind of a combination of animal aide and comic-relief sidekick) appears to have been something of a last-ditch effort to add some extra appeal to a flagging character.

The two-panel splash page starts with a scene of the Atom punching a crook on the chin, and then a panel of Atom flying toward a pair of thugs riding atop the neck of a small black bird.  One of the crooks shouts, "It's the Atom-- ridin' a bird!" and the bird echoes, "IT'S THE ATOM-- RIDIN' A BIRD!"  (Clearly the precocious bird has quickly learned the Silver Age DC habit of having characters describe in dialogue what the reader can clearly see in the artwork.) 

As the tale begins, we find Ray Palmer in Cambodia as "acting head of an archeological field expedition from Ivy University".  (Even though the dialogue indicates Ray is a last-minute fill-in for Ray's "former archeology professor Jim Ames", physics isn't very related to archeology and it seems unlikely that a university would recruit a physicist as a substitute for an archeologist.  Chalk it up to the common assumption of comic-book writers that all comic-book scientists are polymaths who are expert in every known field of science.)  Ray is delighted by his team's discovery of a small gilded statue of "the peacock ridden by the Hindu goddess Sarisvati"  Ray is chagrined however when the small bird statue attracts the attention of a real bird, a black mynah which swoops down from the sky and seizes the statue in its talons!  Ray's remonstration "Shoo! Shoo!  It's not for eating!"  is echoed but not obeyed by the mimicking mynah.  Out of sight of the rest of his team, Ray resorts to his identity as the Atom in order to ride the prevailing winds and pursue the thieving bird.  Then a hawk swoops down on the mynah, causing Ray to fear that the mynah will drop the precious statue down into the jungle foliage where it will never be found again.  The hawk's talons rip into one of the mynah's wings.  The mynah stubbornly hangs onto the bird statue, but "The mynah's on one wing now-- without a prayer of escaping-- unless I lend a hand-- or FOOT!"  Atom lends a hand, foot and head in a two-page battle with the hawk, kicking the hawk, punching it in the beak and finally butting it in the stomach, which is enough to cause the hawk to fly off instead of having the Atom for lunch and the mynah bird for dessert.

The mynah flutters downward into a small opening in some stonework nearly concealed by the jungle.  Atom is hard put to glide to a soft landing while still keeping the bird in sight.  Meanwhile, a more formidable foe than the marauding hawk appears-- a band of Viet Minh guerrillas, who have been thwarted in their attempt to overthrow the Cambodian government and now hope to locate the golden statue of "the war god Karttikeya" in order to persuade the superstitious locals to join their cause.  (As a history buff, I was going to tweak Gardner Fox for confusing the Viet Minh guerrillas of Vietnam with the Khmer Rouge guerrillas of Cambodia.  However, a check on Wikipedia indicates there actually was a faction of "Khmer Viet Minh" operating in Cambodia in the late 60's.  Sorry, Gardner.  On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry on Kartikeya doesn't indicate that Cambodia was one of the places where the Hindu/Tamil war god was worshipped.)  Guided by a stolen map, the Viet Minh are seeking "the long-lost Temple of the Golden Gods," a depository of gold statues of the ancient Hindu gods.  However, in following the mynah bird down a hole in the ground, the Atom has found it first!

But the guerrillas are close behind him, as the Atom stands in wonderment at the magnitude of his archeological discovery and as he makes an effort to mend the broken wing of the mynah bird who inadvertently led him to this find.  As the guerrillas troop into the temple, the Atom whispers, "Who's that?" but the mynah echoes him much louder, "WHO'S THAT?"  Alerted to the Atom's presence, the guerrillas take him for "a tiny demon-- sent here by the gods to protect their golden statues!  We must destroy HIM-- before he destroys US!"    The Atom isn't particularly interested in destroying the guerrillas (unlike some earlier Cold War costumed heroes, he's not a "Commie smasher," though in a couple of earlier Atom stories he played counterspy and helped catch enemy agents who were implied to be from Communist countries).  But he's not going to stand still and be destroyed.  Darting and leaping around the hidden temple, he battles the guerrillas-- until a stray gunshot knocks loose the arm of a golden statue, which falls on top of the Atom and pins him down as a target for his foes!

But at that point, "aware of the fact that the man who tried to mend its broken wing is in deadly danger," the mynah bird intervenes in the only way it can-- by distracting the guerrillas with its vocalizations echoing their own cries; "Blast the demon!  BLAST THE DEMON!"  The bad guys are about to kill "the demon's familiar," when they notice that the "demon" himself has disappeared!  This is enough to break the guerrillas' will, and as they flee the temple, the Atom pulls a vine across their path to trip them up and leave them for "the authorities" to pick up.  Then he grows back into Ray Palmer and picks up the helpless bird, which now has both wings broken; "You saved my life, little friend, by distracting those killers long enough for me to shrink out of sight!  The least I can do is take you back to camp and fix your wings!"

Ray reports his amazing temple find (without mentioning the Atom's involvement) and, learning that Prof. Ames is recovered and ready to take his place, he prepares to travel by plane back to Ivy Town, where his "lady lawyer fiancee" Jean Loring is eager to greet him.  His efforts to heal "Major Mynah"'s wings aren't going so well, however, so on his way home Ray makes a stopover at Midway City to consult a real bird expert-- Carter Hall, also known as Hawkman!  Carter finds that the mynah's natural wings are "beyond repair," but declares he has a way to help the bird aboard Hawkman's Thanagarian spaceship. In fact, Hawkman can rebuild him, faster, stronger-- The Bionic Bird!    (That's my turn of phrase-- it didn't actually appear in the story.) Hawkman replaces the mynah's original wings with a pair of replacement wings, powered by a "cosmic-ray motor" and capable of propelling the mynah in flight even faster than the duck hawk, the fastest known bird capable of 120 miles an hour.  Speaking to the Major in his own bird language, Hawkman warns the Atom of another complication in his plan to make the Major a pet; the Major is aware that Ray Palmer and the Atom are the same person, and he needs to be trained not to blurt out the Atom's secret identity!   Nonetheless, Atom figures the Major will be an asset to his crimefighting, not just a caged pet; the bird can be trained to carry the Atom where he needs to go, leaving the Tiny Titan no longer dependent on prevailing winds or a telephone line. 

Atom decides to break in the Major's new wings, and accustom him to his new role, by riding him home from Midway City to Ivy Town.  (Didn't Ray Palmer have any luggage, which presumably would be too much for the Major to handle?  I suppose he had it shipped home separately.)  It's a rough ride to start with, as high winds and the bird's erratic flying movements cause the nearly weightless Atom to lose his grip frequently on the mynah's slippery feathers.  "YAHOO!  I feel like a rodeo rider whose bronc goes out from under him!"  But the Major loyally changes direction to allow the Atom to land back atop him.  The pair have other obstacles on the long flight back to Ivy Town; low-hanging wires, a kite which Major flies right through, and a hunter taking pot-shots at the bird!  But they reach their destination safely, and the Atom succeeds in teaching the Major basic signals to guide their flights together.   Upon reaching his apartment, the Atom enters through a window and becomes Ray Palmer just in time to greet Jean arriving for a surprise vist.  But Jean gets a surprise of her own, hearing her own words to Ray echoed by a bird's voice!  "Well, my goodness!  This is like having somebody around peering over my shoulder!  But you ARE kind of cute!"  "KIND OF CUTE!  KIND OF CUTE!"  As Ray and Jean go off on a date, they leave the Major uncaged in Ray's apartment and with the TV on to keep him company.  He echoes what he hears from the TV, including the words of a fellow bird, the NBC peacock; "THE FOLLOWING PROGRAM IS BROUGHT TO YOU IN LIVING COLOR ..."  

Later, making a stop at the Ivy University Museum where the golden relics from Cambodia have been brought for safekeeping and display (though you'd think the Cambodian government would have raised objections to their being immediately taken out of the country), Ray discovers that the relics have already been robbed by a gang of thieves!  As the Atom, he sets off astride the Major (who echoes a TV commercial line, "IS THIS ANY WAY TO RUN AN AIRLINE?")  hoping to spot a truck big enough to haul the "golden loot".   But the Major seems uncooperative; he veers off course and "power-dives" toward the window of a private house.  But the Atom finds his new "winged wonder" knew what he was doing after all; inside the house are the criminal gang and the stolen relics!  Our hero subdues the bad guys over the course of a several-page fight, with the Major serving as both help-- functioning as "a flying diving board for the Atom"-- and occasional hindrance-- with ill-timed, distracting vocalizations.  But in the end the Atom is able to proclaim, "We got 'em all!", a boast echoed by the Major. He deduces that the Major tracked the gold relics by means of the "jungle scent" still clinging to the peacock statue. 

Back at Ray Palmer's place, Jean offers the Major a treat of rice and seeds, which elicits an unexpected response; "IT'S THE ATOM-- RIDIN' A BIRD!"    This brings forth an atypical Lois Lane-like suspicious reaction from Jean; "The ATOM? How does HE know anything about the ATOM?"  "I knew it! Sooner or later that bird was going to betray me!"  Ray cobbles up a lame explanation that the Major heard about the Atom and his fight with the crooks from a local TV news show, though he can't explain how the Atom just happened to show up in Ivy Town with a mynah bird at the same time Ray did!  Jean buys Ray's explanation, at least for the moment, though Ray resolves that "from now on, Major Mynah will have to appear in DISGUISE when he goes into action with THE ATOM!"  (The Bird With a Secret Identity!}  As Jean and Ray share a goodnight kiss, the Major chirps, "Good night, David... good night, Chet...!"

This issue was an ending for the Atom series as well as a beginning for Major Mynah-- the last issue of THE ATOM featuring the creative team of Gardner Fox and Gil Kane, who had produced every Atom story up to that point.  THE ATOM #38 (which I think I reviewed a long time back) featured the fill-in creative team of Frank Robbins and Mike Sekowsky.  Then the ATOM title converted into the combined, short-lived ATOM AND HAWKMAN title.  Major Mynah did put in an appearance in ATOM #38, and as I recall, in one of the ATOM & HAWKMAN issues (which I don't have handy) the Atom achieved his goal of disguising the Major with some sort of gadget that caused the bird's black plumage to turn yellow when flying with the Atom.  (Might be useful if the Atom ever had to fight Green Lantern...)  However, fan reaction to the Major in ATOM & HAWKMAN      lettercols was decidedly mixed (some fans thought it was a cute idea, others thought it was just goofy).   And after ATOM & HAWKMAN was cancelled, I don't think the Major was seen again in any of the Atom's later guest shots, backup features or series revivals.  I hope he didn't die of some bird disease or get shot or stomped on by some bad guy.  Maybe Atom found him too much to handle, with his outspoken ways, and gave him to a zoo or returned him to his Cambodian jungle habitat.