For his first mainstream superhero project, Jeff Lemire, the Eisner Award-nominated indie creator of the “Essex County” Trilogy, set out to re-establish the Silver Age Atom, Ray Palmer, as the go-to science guy of the DC Universe.
Lemire’s Atom story with artist Mahmud Asrar was expected to be released as a co-feature in “Adventure Comics” as a 10-part series of 10-page chapters, but DC Comics pulled the plug on all its co-features when the publisher, now famously, drew the line at $2.99.
Thankfully, fans of Lemire and Ray Palmer will get to see the conclusion of the story in next week’s “Giant-Size Atom,” a 56-page special that not only wrap up the “Nucleus” storyline but also features a guest appearance by Hawkman, the winged warrior that co-starred in a short-lived but treasured ongoing series with The Atom during the Silver Age of Comics.
â€¨Just in time for next week’s special, Lemire brings CBR readers up to speed with where his story is at, discusses the interplay between Ray and the black sheep of the Palmer family, his Uncle David, and teases that while his time with The Atom is complete, he’ll soon be writing another superhero for DC Comics to go along aside his current gig as the writer of “Superboy.”
CBR News: Once DC Comics canceled co-features across the line, your planned 10-part story with Ray Palmer ended prematurely in “Adventure Comics.” While you get to wrap things up with “Giant Size Atom,” did you get to tell the whole story you wanted to tell?
Jeff Lemire: Yes. Originally DC asked me to do 10 parts as a co-feature but when things changed on that front, I only ended up having six of those chapters in “Adventure Comics.” I had four, 10-page stories left basically. What happened was instead of getting 40 pages to finish the book, I ended up getting 46 pages in the special, so I actually get more space than I thought. Not only did I get to finish the original story as I intended it, but I got to expand on it a little bit and let some of themes breathe a little bit, so it all worked out really nicely.
When we spoke last year after this project was announced, you hinted that while the assignment called for only a 10-part story, there was lot’s to do with Ray Palmer. Now that you’re leaving the character, did you accomplish everything you wanted to do with The Atom?
I did. What I really wanted to do was re-establish him in the DC Universe as DC’s go-to science guy, kind of like Reed Richards in the Marvel Universe. Whenever there is a big, science based threat, he’d be the guy to figure it out. I always thought The Atom had that potential within the DC Universe. Whether or not other writers now pick up from what I did and use it is, I guess, out of my hands. I wanted to set him up and re-establish where he was living and build his supporting cast and introduce a new villain. I did all of that stuff so, again, we’ll see what happens with whoever picks him up next but I’m happy with where we’ve left him.
For folks reading this who may have missed the co-features but want to pick up “Giant Size Atom,” can you bring us up to speed on the story?
Sure. Basically, someone attacked Ray’s father and Ray starts investigating that. He hooks up with this uncle that is an estranged member of the Palmer family and his uncle turns out to be this globe-trotting, science fiction-y James Bond character who is involved with this shadowy scientific organization called The Colony. These rogue scientists that make up The Colony are doing a lot of crazy scientific research stuff but they’ve lost sight of helping humanity and now they’re just working to their own end. So Ray comes head-to-head with them and has to stop them and as that’s going on he discovers the thing that they’re really after when they attacked his dad was the leftover white dwarf matter that gave Ray his ability to shrink. Shrinking to microscopic sizes would be a huge threat, so Ray can’t give them that and now they’re trying to force his hand by threatening his father. That’s sort of where we’re at when “Giant-Size Atom” starts out.
One character you mentioned that I’ve really enjoyed is Ray’s Uncle David.
Yeah, I like him too. I tried to create an older version of a sci-fi/James Bond character that is always teleporting in and out and using all these crazy gizmos and stuff like that. I thought he was a real fun character. I sort of leave him in an interesting spot, as well, at the end of the special, so there’s definitely some potential there with those characters. We’ll see what happens.
The Colony plays with some fairly complex scientific concepts, including the creation of a mini-planet. Were any of the concepts based on actual scientific/fringe research you may have read about or was this all from the wild and woolly mind of Jeff Lemire?
[Laughs] I should probably say that I did some crazy research but the truth is I actually made it all up and kind of went with it. I don’t have a thirst for reading a lot of real science research so I just tried to have fun with it.
This is a superhero story, but when you bring family into it, it certainly adds another element to the decisions these superheroes have to make — do you save the world or your own father? That’s a tough one.
In superhero comics, when they’re up against these global types of threats, I think it’s always a good idea to have some kind of emotional tether that you can hook into or else it just becomes mindless action and doesn’t really resonate. I always try to use the action and the violence as a metaphor for some sort of internal conflict for the character.
Hawkman plays a role in “Giant-Size Atom” and he’s a character you hold quite dearly. Things haven’t been going so well for him over in “Brightest Day,” so is it safe to assume these stories are unfolding at different times.
What is it about the Hawkman/Atom relationship that works so well?
They’re such a fun combo because they’re so different. Hawkman is this gruff, bigger-than-life warrior and Ray’s pretty much the exact opposite. He’s this science nerd. So there’s this big brother/little brother dynamic where Hawkman is always looking out for his little brother and protecting him. In “Giant-Size Atom,” I kind of explore why their relationship works and why they’re drawn to each other. It’s a lot of fun.
You’re now writing “Superboy” as well, but this run with The Atom was your first foray into mainstream superhero comics. Was it all that you hoped for?
It was a lot of fun. The potential is there for The Atom to be a much more high profile character within the DCU so I just tried to take everything that I liked about him and showcase it. Hopefully it brings new readers to him and even though I’m not really continuing with the character for the foreseeable future, hopefully another writer will and we’ll see more of him.
Do you know if DC Comics already has plans for Ray Palmer moving forward?
I’m not really sure, but “Giant-Size Atom” sort of wraps up this self-contained story and leaves the character raring to go and ready for someone else to take on.
In discussing Ray Palmer, you’ve compared him to Hal Jordan who was a natural born hero and Bruce Wayne who was seeking revenge. With Ray being a scientist and a teacher first, does that make him a different character and more importantly, a different type of superhero to write?
You have to find what makes each of these guys unique or what’s the point of having them all around. For me, what makes Ray Palmer unique is that he is a scientist and a teacher first. The hero elements of his life are things that come out of that and the results of being a scientist or the results of being a teacher. Those are both really important parts of the character and whatever anyone does with Ray in the future, they should never lose sight of that.
“Giant-Size Atom,” written by Jeff Lemire and featuring art by Mahmud Asrar and John Dell, hits comic shops March 2, 2011.
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