Al Pratt was worried. He had been waiting in Gotham City for hours, and had not heard from his pal Ted Grant, the hero known as Wildcat, who was long overdue for their planned night out. They had agreed to meet in Gotham to watch a young fighter in a local match whose fighting style Grant had admired. But now the fight had already ended, and Ted had never shown up or called. I guess he could be out fighting crime, thought Al, but he’s not often bad about calling afterwards.
As the diminutive young man made his way through the crowd, he saw a crime in progress. In the parking lot of the gym, a pair of thugs were forcing a man Pratt knew from the papers to be Hamilton Hill, the Gotham City mayor, into a parked car. He slipped on the mask he wore as the crime-fighter called the Atom and dumped his outer street clothes as the struggle continued. He was unconcerned about being recognized, since it was dark, and no one in Gotham really knew him as Al Pratt.
“Hey, you mugs!” he shouted and ran forward on powerful legs. “Pick on someone of your own I.Q. size!”
The Atom grabbed the first man and slugged him with a strong uppercut. The first thug fell, and the second thug tried to block the Atom’s moves by pushing the mayor between them. Atom leapfrogged over his back and dropkicked the thug in the chest.
Jumping into the car, the Atom pulled the driver out by the collar with a mighty heave. “You’re not going anywhere, either!” he said.
Mayor Hill smiled his thanks. “I can’t thank you enough… Atom, isn’t it? These men tried to abduct me, and it’s so shocking.”
“Why?” the Atom asked. “Batman and Green Lantern can testify that crime is rather frequent in this city!”
“Sadly, that’s all too true,” said the mayor. “What is particularly odd, though, are the identities of my kidnappers. They are the district attorney, the deputy mayor, and the head of the Public Works Authority — trusted officials as well as good friends. Why would they just turn to madness like this?”
“That is strange,” said the Atom, the shock on his face hidden by his blue full-face mask. “I did wonder, while I was stopping them, if their odd hats could have anything to do with it. They don’t even match their suits!” Inspecting the hat worn by one of the dazed men more closely, the Atom added, “Look — circuitry and chemical residue of some type in the brims. Sounds like the hats made them do it under some remote control.”
Mayor Hill nodded. “You’re right. Plus, there’s a fourth hat in the car. Meant for me, no doubt!”
“If these public officials were being targeted, who else comes to mind as possible victims?” asked the Atom. “You know, treasurers, politicos, et cetera.”
“I can give you the names of the whole city council,” said Mayor Hill. “Let’s hurry!”
The Atom, following him, received a list of names and addresses, and visited each in turn. By dawn he had made his way to the last name on the list. The others had all by then vanished. He kicked in a door after hearing a scream outside the home of the Gotham Hospital administrator.
Inside he saw the same scene as he had witnessed with Mayor Hill, except this time he slipped on purpose and allowed the hat-wearing kidnappers make off with their victim.
Getting up after they left, he trailed them easily through the streets. They stopped at a children’s book shop called Wonderland.
How fitting, he mused as he hid outside the store. With the hat motif, it figures there should be some kind of ‘Mad Hatter’ behind this. Seconds later, he burst in like gangbusters. Within he saw several abducted figures whose faces matched the photo of the last council meeting Hill had given him. “This must be the place, as they say,” he quipped.
The assembled councilmen and women charged him at some silent signal, and the Atom found himself in a dilemma. Can easily beat them up, but I hate to hurt people who are not in their right minds, he thought.
The Atom tried to be creative by shoving a bookcase row over so that the cascading books did much of his job for him. The maddened and silent city council fell beneath a shower of colorful books, including Al’s childhood favorite, The Little Engine That Could. Next, he turned to note the pile of scattered hats. The councillors shuddered as they regained their freedom.
But before he could bring them all to safety, the distracted Atom was knocked out cold by a hard blow to the head.
Sometime much later, the Atom woke up not in the store but in some cold, dark warehouse. He was chained above his own reflection, and a huge mirror was positioned directly below him.
“Welcome back to the world of awareness!” called a shrill voice from the side. Twisting his neck to the left, the Atom saw a dapper but odd-looking little man with an almost perfectly round body who wore a light blue suit and a matching top hat.
“Is he alive, brother?” said another, slightly deeper voice to his right. The Atom turned to see the exact double of the first little man.
“We are the brothers Tweed, more popularly known as Tweedledum and Tweedledee!” they said in unison, and the Atom recognized them from all the times they had fought Batman and Robin in the past couple of years. (*) He should have remembered them once he realized there was a connection to the fanciful works of Lewis Carroll.
[(*) Editor’s note: Beginning in “Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” Detective Comics #74 (April, 1943).]
“In keeping with our Wonderland motif, we’re going to send you through the looking glass!” laughed a third man from the shadows. “Sadly, at the speed and angle at which you’ll be moving, it is rather doubtful that you’ll ever see an ‘unbirthday’ again!” The Atom could see, as the man stepped forward into the light, that he was also very odd-looking and short, wearing a purple and yellow suit with a huge red bow-tie and a large orange top hat that strangely matched his oversized head. He looked almost exactly like a certain illustration by Sir John Tenniel.
“The Mad Hatter!” muttered the Atom.
“Ah, you have guessed my name,” said the man calling himself the Mad Hatter. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to introduce myself during my first foray into the world of crime.”
One thing the new villain known as the Mad Hatter had failed to take into account in setting up his death-trap was that Atom was perhaps the strongest normal human mystery-man of all in 1944. True, he had not yet gained super-strength as he would a few years later, but while Batman and Wildcat might have been better fighters, Al Pratt was a real weight-lifting muscleman. He was very strong, and he quickly ripped free of his bonds before the pendulum-like trap could be swung into the mirror. He rolled forward across the smooth surface and, with no real impact to speak of, the mirror didn’t break.
The Atom wasted no time on the partners in crime. Keeping his eyes averted from the Mad Hatter’s hypnotic hat, he concentrated on hitting his garish foe, belting him hard, and the hat flew off.
“Help me!” cried the Mad Hatter as he twisted to avoid the fighting mad Atom. But it did him little good to summon Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who were perhaps the least physically imposing of Batman’s rogues gallery. They ran up to the Atom waving their guns, but he kicked them out of their hands with a sure acrobatic move.
“Hey, you big bully,” squealed the little men as he gripped them by their ascots and slammed their heads together, “pick on someone your own size!”
“You have no idea how long I’ve waited for someone to say that to me!” he joked as he tossed them down.
“Say hello to death!” shouted the gleefully laughing Mad Hatter as he returned with a hat that fired an electrical current into the Atom.
Al Pratt groaned and fell down hard, but before he could black out, he hit the nearby pendulum switch. The now-empty carriage that had held him before swung down and caught the Mad Hatter in the back. He crashed into the wall, not the mirror, since he hadn’t been tied to the fiendish device. The Atom leaped up and over the device as it swung back and he dropped squarely on to the Hatter. A swift left hook ended Mad Hatter’s threat. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: The Mad Hatter would later encounter the Batman for the first time a few years later, as seen in “The Scoop of the Century,” Batman #49 (October-November, 1948).]
“Nicely played, though ya didn’t need to jerk your shoulder that way!” commented Wildcat. The new Justice Society member had entered silently to observe the end of the fight.
“Hey, the only jerk I was worried about was you! What happened to you? Did this Hatter fella get you?” asked the Atom, whose smile beneath his full face mask belied his words.
“Nope. I’d be embarrassed enough to change my name to the Cheshire Cat if that happened!” he laughed. “Hey, Mister Terrific would be pleased with my usin’ a literary reference, huh?” Ted Grant chuckled. “I’ll tell you what delayed me if you’ll now follow me to a certain lighthouse outside of Gotham.”