Get Into The All-New Atom

The All-New Atom: My Life In Miniature (#1-6)
The All-New Atom: Future/Past (#7-11)
The All-New Atom: The Hunt For Ray Palmer (#12-16)
The All-New Atom: Small Wonder (#17-18, 20-25)

Do you know about the old Atom? You should, but even if you don’t, that won’t stop you from enjoying the new one. The Atom is a character who can shrink down to minuscule size to fight crime. That is actually a useful power when you need to be stealthy and you get the chance to explore tiny civilizations or dive into the human body. He can also punch people in the face really hard when he shifts his molecular density. The All-New Atom comes into possession of the Bangstick, a staff that allows him to fly and shoot energy blasts, so he does pack some heat.

The Atom as we know him today was created by the legendary Gardner Fox in 1961. It was part of National Publications’ (soon to be DC Comics) effort to revitalize and reintroduce their super-heroes after they had fallen out of favor in the 1950s. This era would be known as the Silver Age of comics, begun by the revamp of the Flash from Jay Garrick to Barry Allen, Ray Palmer replaced the Golden Age Atom, Al Pratt, as well. While the concept of the Flash remained intact, the Atom was reinvented for a new generation. Al Pratt was simply a really short man who fought crime with his fists. With science-fiction booming, the Atom was now a man of science who developed a way to shrink himself and decided to fight crime. He was one of the first Justice League recruits and even mentored a new group of Teen Titans for a time, but no one likes to talk about that anymore.

After the events of Identity Crisis in 2004, where it was discovered (spoilers: his ex-wife was a murderer), Palmer literally disappeared from comics completely. In the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, a new Atom was created in 2006 by Gail Simone and, according to some people, Grant Morrison. The All-New Atom picks up with his protege, the young wise-cracking doctor, Ryan Choi, discovering the Atom’s shrinking belt and continuing his legacy. Weird things are happening in Palmer’s long-time home of Ivy Town and Ryan is going to get to the bottom of it.

Whereas Ray Palmer’s Atom was all about pure science, Ryan Choi’s Atom explores the realm of science-fiction and the fine line between science and magic, which tests his understanding of logic and reason. Choi has all the makings of a star. He has his own iconic hometown, a love interest in professor Doris Zuel (AKA super-villain Giganta), and a full supporting cast, including his new best friend, Panda and Head, the floating head. He has a strong rogues gallery, complete with sadistic anti-Atom Dwarfstar, the mysterious Dean of Ivy University, and the vengeful Lady Chronos. He also has a group of University professors to assist him as a super-hero scientist. As unbelievable as the All-New Atom’s adventures get, they’re always anchored in science. Ryan Choi is first and foremost a scientist, so his knowledge of physics often come into use. Despite his credentials, Ryan Choi is still young, so he’s never afraid to have some fun when he’s off super-heroing.

Another cool thing about Ryan is that he’s an Asian-American super-hero. As you might imagine, there are very few minorities in comic books, and even fewer of Asian descent, so having a successful hero stand up for such an under represented population is a great achievement for comic books. Gail Simone’s Atom is all about accepting change. Ryan starts a brand new life and accepts how unbelievably good things are going. He has to constantly remind himself that he’s living in Ray Palmer’s city and staying in Ray Palmer’s house. He also comes to the realization that attractive women are interested in him for the first time. Rick Remender’s Atom becomes something new. Ryan deals with the burden of responsibility. His need to experiment ends up hurting people and he learns to accept responsibility for his actions. Ryan also deals with his dual lives. He is not only both the Atom and Ryan Choi, he is also a super-hero and a scientist, and his scientific mind has trouble adjusting to super-heroics.

Gail Simone writes the majority of the series, with Rick Remender finishing out the book. In My Life In Miniature, Ryan moves from Hong Kong to replace Ray Palmer at Ivy University. After discovering the Atom’s shrinking belt, Choi believes Palmer wanted him to be the next Atom. He quickly comes to blows with a grammatically-challenged race of would-be world conquerors called The Waiting, stumbles across the Cancer God, goes on a date with a super-villain, and gets caught in a battle between magic and science. In Future/Past he’s attacked by a time traveling assassin and meets a bisected man. The Atom also travels back to Hong Kong to confront the literal ghosts of his past in an emotional story concerning his high school love.

Then, in The Hunt for Ray Palmer, Ryan Choi is pulled into the search for Ray Palmer from Countdown. They journey to the nest of the Waiting and also fight a jet pack Hitler in heaven. Ryan then fights giant movie monsters and hippies! In Small Wonder, Ryan’s next date with Giganta goes horribly wrong when Wonder Woman gets involved. Ivy Town is quarantined by the government and the true mastermind behind everything is finally revealed, setting up an endgame scenario for all of Gail Simone’s plot points. Rick Remender comes aboard to bring Ryan’s adventures to a close. He fights a monster that escapes from his own body and then must save his friends from his own experiment. The series takes on a darker tone and offers a lot of potential, like whether or not Ray Palmer is to blame for Ivy Town’s troubles and what the true origin of the Atom belt is, before being cancelled at issue #25.

After cancellation, the All-New Atom made only a handful of sporadic appearances, before meeting his brutal, and highly controversial death. DC Comics was chastised for the killing of a character that was done clearly just for the shock value. They were also criticized for killing a minority character, especially when he was appearing on the hit cartoon, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, at the time. With Ray Palmer recently returned, it seemed that Ryan Choi was redundant, and therefore, was able to be sacrificed. For a time it looked like both Atoms might stick around, creating some interesting potential, but the fear of confusing readers proved to be too great. While the idea of having one definitive character is a sound one, thinking your readership would be too stupid to tell the difference between two completely different characters is a little insulting. After all, they have since had two Flashes and two Batmen (Batmans?) at the same time, along with thousands of Green Lanterns, so why not two Atoms?

Various plot points have continued on in other series. Ryan Choi’s death was seen in the pages of Deathstroke’s villainous Titans team. Booster Gold #13 and #14, written by Remender, follow up on the villains getting away at the end of the All-New Atom series. Dwarfstar and Giganta join the Secret Six, for issues #24-28, and Gail Simone makes sure to get the two in a room together. Ray Palmer appears in both Titans and Secret Six looking to bring Ryan’s killer to justice.

The DC Universe has since been rebooted and at this moment it’s unclear what the situation is with any of the Atoms. It had been stated that Ryan Choi would be the Atom of the New 52, but he has yet to make an appearance anywhere, while Ray Palmer has been seen working as a scientist for S.H.A.D.E., but has no history as the Atom. In fact, the only Atom that has been seen is a re-imagined Al Pratt in Earth 2, the old/new home for Golden Age characters. Go figure.

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