Al Pratt, the Golden Age Atom, and his wife, Mary, were finally going to have a child. They had waited very late in their lives indeed, beyond ages when most people could have kids but the various magics and energies which had lengthened the youthful vitality of the Justice Society of America and their spouses also brought surprise pregnancies to couples who had thought that their child-bearing years had passed them by. The time was the 1980s, almost 30 years after the JSA had announced their retirement at the HUAC Communist-hunting investigations. Al and Mary were overjoyed that they would have a child when most people their chronological ages had full-grown grandchildren.
Another man who was very happy about the announcement was Vandal Savage, the merciless immortal who had battled the JSA during the 1940s and had secretly masterminded the HUAC investigation into the JSA as a means of disposing of his enemies. The JSA members' identities had long been known to a man of his means, and the chance to bring a new meta-human under his control was too good to pass up. Savage had been gathering cell samples from all of the JSA members during their many encounters, hoping that he'd be able to produce meta-humans of his own.
At the time Mary Pratt went into labor, Vandal Savage arranged for Al Pratt to be detained, so that he would not witness his son's birth. Mary delivered a healthy baby boy into the hands of the waiting Vandal Savage. At his gesture, Mary was suffocated to death. Al Pratt arrived at the hospital to find his wife and son dead. "Complications during delivery" was listed as the official cause a believeable lie, due to his wife's advanced age. Al Pratt's entire world died in one day, and he never so much as suspected that his wife had been murdered at an enemy's hands. (A report that Mary Pratt died while Al Pratt was in limbo with the JSA should be considered apocryphal.)
The child was spirited off by Savage and experimented on by the Symbolix corporation, a metagenetics company he was secretly funding. The chief geneticist, Egrin Wahrman, had originally worked for Adolf Hitler as the mastermind behind Baron Blitzkrieg and Axis America, the Nazi's answer to the JSA. His postwar work in America, utilizing the JSA's genetic material, resulted in a self-replicating strand of DNA containing all of the metahuman potential of the JSAers (and presumably any other metahumans encountered by Savage). Several experiments with this strand were conducted; one involved an infusion of the material into a child already possessing metahuman potential. Enter the son of Al Pratt.
The child was placed into the care of Symbolix employee Henry Emerson and his wife Katherine. The boy was named Grant and lived for 16 years never suspecting that he was anything more than a normal boy with a family that moved around a lot.
When a new wave of metahumans arrived on the scene, Vandal Savage quietly acquired some of their genetic material as well. Grant (in first grade at the time) was given another infusion of an additional strand, now including the genes of J'onn J'onzz, the Flash and others of that era. The complete list of superheroes who have "contributed" to Grant's cellular structure is not known but Grant now possessed the potential to become the most powerful being on Earth.
That potential erupted one day when Grant was 16. Grant's family had just moved to Atlanta, and Grant thought his biggest problems were making friends at his new school, Nathan Bedford Forrest High. Enraged at being humiliated by a bully, Grant swung at a nearby car and totalled it.
Reporting the experience to his parents, they in turn reported into the Symbolix Corporation that "Project Telemachus" (referring to the mythical hot-headed son of Odysseus) had finally become active. Egrin Wahrman's family, meanwhile, had a been exposed to a genetic virus and needed Grant's active genetic material; they didn't necessarily need him alive to use it.
The next day, Metallo burst into Grant's schoolroom and proceeded to beat the kid into oblivion. However, Grant's powers seemed to feed off of the energy and only made him more powerful. Grant began showing signs of invulnerability and immense strength as well. Finally, the power inside him swelled and Grant released it at Metallo. The explosion destroyed several of the school buildings and left a huge crater.
Grant ran home to find more Symbolix hired guns waiting for him. At a Symbolix facility, Grant watched as the two people he thought were his loving parents turned their backs on him
and were subsequently killed now that their usefulness was up. Like his father before him, Grant's world came crashing down in just one day.
Grant escaped and had numerous pitched battles with the villains and monsters who pursued him. Everywhere he went, Grant left a path of destruction due to his out-of-control powers
and he earned the name "Damage." Atlanta was declared a disaster area and filed a court order barring him from the city.
It was also at this time that Grant's true father, the Atom, died along with several other members of the Justice Society.
Unaware of this and seeking answers to who he truly was, Grant went on a quest of discovery. His "uncle", Dr. Neal Emerson (alias Dr. Polaris) used Grant's visit to his prison cell as an opportunity to escape. Grant wondered if his father could be one of the many supervillains he encountered in that prison. He also discovered that a man who seemed to be keeping a watchful eye on him, Arn "Iron" Munro of the wartime Young All-Stars, had married Sandra "Phantom Lady" Knight and together they had had a child which had been kidnapped. Was he their kid? These and other mysteries finally lead Damage to the Symbolix orbiting laboratory, where Vandal Savage finally imparted at least some of the truth to him.
Several more adventures later, Grant finally got a piece of his true past back; he met Albert Rothstein, the godson of Al Pratt, who shared tales of the father he never knew.
Damage has been quiet of late, pun intended. He recently participated in the JLA's membership drive, and has the honor of being the first person to destroy part of their brand-new headquarters.
Grant Emerson likes to come up with rules for his life though he often re-writes them.
Damage's powers are greatly unexplored, as he's spent most of his time trying to keep his explosive abilities under control. Primarily, Damage is able to absorb energy (whether it be energy blasts or the kinetic energy of a fist), multiply it and release it in tremendous explosions. He has only recently begun to get a handle on the use of this power.
Damage also possesses heightened strength and some degree of invulnerability, as well as a recuperative power derived from J'onn J'onzz's metamorphic cellular structure. He has also demonstrated the ability of flight, although he has very little skill at it and it's not easy for him.
Damage possesses the genetic material of all members of the JSA and the original JLA, at least half of whom had the metagene (it is not known whether the purely human heroes were used or not)
and one could assume that Vandal Savage had acquired genetic material from other individuals as well. Thus, the potential powers which Damage might someday demonstrate are as limitless as the membership of the DC Universe!
Albert Rothstein is the grandson of the reluctant supervillain Cyclotron, an irradiated pawn of the Ultra-Humanite. In early 1942, Terence Curtis served the Ultra-Humanite in a series of crimes in order to protect his irradiated infant daughter. Cyclotron died a hero's death in an incident which also gave Al Pratt his atomic punch several years later. Al Pratt watched over Cyclotron's daughter, Terri, and later became the godfather of her son, Albert.
The radiation's effect on Terri's body became evident when her son grew to a height of 7' 6", towering over his 5' 1" godfather. Albert, a kind and gentle young man, played basketball for obvious reasons, but he also developed a keen intellect and a positive wisdom. As he got older, he began evidencing such powers as an invulnerable skin, vast strength and the ability to shift his molecular density so as to pass through solid objects.
When approached by several other young people with ties to the Justice Society, they decided to apply for membership. Calling himself Nuklon, Albert impulsively shaved and sculpted his hair into a mohawk reminiscent of the headgear worn by Cyclotron and the Atom. Although the mohawk is no longer a current hairstyle, Albert has never courted popularity and wears it to this day (albeit less moussed than before).
Rejected by the JSA for their lack of experience, the kids decided to form their own team, Infinity, Inc., with the assistance of the Star-Spangled Kid. Nuklon stayed with the team until its dissolution a year or so later. Afterwards, he joined Claire Montgomery's third attempt at a superteam called the Conglomerate; after a showdown with a redesigned Amazo, the team drifted apart. Nuklon was never happy with the organization and its less-than-ethical operations, but he did enjoy meeting Jesse Quick (Jesse Chambers) and Reverb (Armando Ramone, also called Hardline), two other heroes carrying on the legacies of others.
Still wanting to be a part of something great, the cheerful Nuklon and his melancholy I.I. buddy, Obsidian, joined Wonder Woman's reorganized Justice League America and faithfully stayed on as one of the JLA's most dedicated members until the United Nations dissolved the organization out of (unrelated) sheer embarrassment. Nuklon has not been seen since.
Albert is proud of his Jewish heritage and is committed to someday marrying a Jewish girl in order to carry on his family's traditions, although he currently doesn't have any leads. (He hasn't, apparently, considered the fact that he'd also be passing on his irradiated heritage as well.) Despite the lull in his romantic life, Albert Rothstein remains optimistic and positive, a rare quality in the modern superhero.
Albert Rothstein's strength, agility and resistance to injury have all been greatly heightened due to his irradiated cellular structure. He also possesses the ability to become immaterial.
This article is ©June 1998 Michael Hutchison
All characters are and © DC Comics