The All-New Atom: My Life in Miniature

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There’s always a sense of loss when someone new takes up the mantle of the hero. You want to cling to the past, remember the person you looked up to for so long, not wanting to see change.  The Atom wasn’t really one of those characters for me.  I had read a bit about Ray Palmer, but I was never so invested in his story to feel any sense of legacy or importance to his role as Atom.

Plus, let’s be real, his ex-wife went completely kooky and killed an innocent woman. His life is sort of a mess right now. He’s well within his right to give up the superhero gig for a while.

Enter Ryan Choi, a brilliant physics professor who just arrived in the states from China. He had communicated with Ray Palmer all throughout his life, looking up to the former Atom not because he was a superhero, but because he was an encouraging scientist. Effectively taking over Palmer’s life, Ryan also quickly locates Ray’s belt, a present purposely left for him to find.  Ryan leaps at the chance to study the belt’s scientific implications, but as always happens in these cases, the world gets in the way, and Ryan is forced to use his newfound abilities to save the world.

Damn crises. Always getting in the way of science.

Let me just say that I was torn before starting this comic. I never really cared much about the Atom, so I worried that I’d have to slog through this trade.  Of course, then I realized that this comic was written by Gail Simone, and I perked up a bit. Let’s see what Ms. Simone can do with a slightly obscure character like Atom.

Suffice it to say, Gail Simone did for the Atom what Grant Morrison did for Animal Man.  Namely, she breathed new life into the character, creating an unexpected but wholly enthralling new comic.

To be fair, Simone’s story isn’t quite as groundbreaking or existential as Morrison’s, but they’re on par with one another in so far as they both brought a new spin to an overlooked character, adding their own personal touch to create an eminently readable comic.

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One of my favorite aspects of Simone’s Atom is that she addresses the real-world implications of changing one’s size/mass.  In an older comic, the above panels would never have been included. Scientific asides would have been forgone in favor of action scenes.  Why though? I found these inclusions to add to the realism of the story, as well as the character of Ryan himself. He’s a scientist after all; he would no doubt notice any number of things when shrunken down, and comment on them frequently.  It’s clear that Simone did her homework, throwing in scientific notations frequently, and employing them as major plot points throughout the comic. This is realistic for the character, and helps make him feel more fully realized than if he was just another guy in a mask running around saving people. The Atom’s focus is on science, both studying it and using it to help others. Simone found the perfect balance of knowledge and action, creating a story that isn’t over-simplified for its readers.

That being said, there is also a healthy dose of humor and, quite frankly, absurdity, interspersed throughout the comic. I mean come on, when your main antagonist is a society of bug-like beings who live on and worship dogs, how serious-minded can the story be?

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Somehow, despite these plot points that could easily devolve into childish prattle, Simone struck a balance between humor and intensity, so that even when we’re laughing at one of Ryan’s numerous jokes or the sheer oddity of a canine-worshipping race, we can still appreciate the severity of a criminal killing innocent people. It’s an impressive skill, and not one all writers have.

As for the more serious side of the comic, we come to Dwarfstar: an Atom copycat who has a bit of a weak backstory, but who is also unhinged enough that it doesn’t really matter.  He likes to kill people, and when a benefactor shows up with a fancy new gadget that makes killing easier, he’s all in.

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Atom defeats him rather ingeniously. As they both shrink down to a microscopic level, Atom steals Dwarfstar’s belt, trapping him at his current size. Given that this happens in the middle of a battle, it seems unlikely that Dwarfstar could have possibly survived this. Odds are he would have been squished under some random person’s boot, never to be heard from again. But hey, this is a comic, and one generally doesn’t waste a good villain by killing him off after only a handful of issues. No, I’m sure Dwarfstar will be back, but he’s twisted and intriguing enough that I look forward to his return.

As a reintroduction to a lesser-known character, this comic is spot on. Actually, scratch that: this comic is spot on, period. Gail Simone crafted such a unique, interesting story that I actually want to read about the Atom now, something I could never say before.  Not only did she pluck a character out of the vacuum of comics obscurity and give him new life, she also did so by crafting a brand new character to adopt the mantle of Atom.  She succeeded with both tasks, creating a comic that is equal parts funny, informative, and forceful.  I hope I get to continue reading about Ryan Choi’s exploits as The Atom, but even more than that, I hope Gail Simone’s run on the title is long-lasting.  Her unique blend of silliness and intellectualism makes for a perfect read.

-Jess

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