Alex Ross recenly cracked the internet in half (or at least dented it) with a comment about Geoff Johns putting Obsidian in the JSA to keep other writers from "molesting" him. Since the only writer to do anything of note to Obsidian in the last few years was Marc Andreyko, and since Marc made Obsidian a gay man in a healthy relationship with his boyfriend, Ross' use of the word "molesting" makes him come off as a complete tool. Not as much of a tool as other comic book artist loudmouths like John Byrne or Ethan Van Sciver, but still--! What irks me about his comment almost as much as the barely-concealed homophobia is the very notion that Geoff Johns doesn't molest characters! In his last JSA run, Johns made Obsidian a crazy supervillain, and after having his dad put him in his place, made him a pathetic, anemic character who only ever appeared on panel to look contrite. Among Johns' other accomplishments: making Nuklon/Atom Smasher an angst-ridden murderer.
Admittedly, Nuklon and Obsidian weren't great characters to start out with. But there was a writer between their creator Roy Thomas and their ruiner Geoff Johns who found a great angle on both of them. And that was Gerard Jones in the pages of "Justice League America" circa 1994-1995. And his angle was to write the duo as Tigger and Eyore. Er, Nuklon being "Tigger" of course.
Ignoring for a moment Fire, who is quite literally "horning" in on the couple with a scheme to seduce Nuklon, this is a great capsule look at the two heroes. This is in "Justice League America" #0 (October 1994) and it was my first real exposure to Nuklon and Obsidian. And I loved them. You can see here that Nuklon's costume has been cleaned up and streamlined. It's no longer covered with that weird black bubbly trim that was all over the place. His stupid Rambo headband is gone, and the laughable mohawk has been grown out and tied into a ponytail. Hey, it was the 90's. Alright, so the hair is still a bit goofy but at least he doesn't look like some middle-aged man's idea of a punk rocker. (Nuklon as a "punk" was about on-the-money as Ernie Bushmiller's idea of a hippie.) But I can buy this as a hairstyle the cornfed young Nuklon might wear. I've seen it on plenty of teenagers in the Midwest, especially back around that time. So it's plausible for a guy who wants to be kind-of hip. But isn't. Still better than that goofball wrestler mask, Alex Ross. Note also the posture. Hands on the hips, good old-fashioned happy hero stuff. (Which is probably punishable by death under the current Dan Didio regime.) By contrast, there's Obsidian... with a tummy ache. Aw! Sadly, Obisidian is right about there being a punchline in his future, and the joke's author would be Geoff Johns. Grrr....
Here's the duo in action, bantering like a classic comedy team. (From "Justice League America" #94, December 1994.) Obsidian is a pessimist, sure, but he's a witty pessimist, which is what makes it tolerable. And while Nuklon's relentless optimism might be grating to some, he's also a true pal and a constant booster for his friend. Now, let's see how they work with other characters in the book.
Holy shit... Nuklon is the Tick! Just imagine... Ben Edlund on a Nuklon/Obsidian series. What a missed opportunity! Nuklon, who can't even bring himself to cuss, spends a lot of time fighting off Fire's advances in "Justice League America" #95 (January 1995). As she presses her boobalicious form against his slab-like body, Nuklon asks Fire to do a favor for him: "Could you please zip up your clothes?" Heh.
Also in that issue, Obsidian's sad-sack routine works equally as well with a different foil. The foil in this case is the Crimson Fox. Which might be a clue as to why the book tanked and was replaced with the Grant Morrison all-star version. Ah, well. The only real shame here is that Nuklon and Obsidian were split up and put in the hands of writers whose personalities (for the most part) were more like Obsidian's and less like Nuklon's.