While Ryan Choi is getting a fresh start as the Atom in DC’s brave new world, the one-shot “Justice League of America: The Atom: Rebirth” by Steve Orlando and Andy MacDonald sets the tone by invoking some of Ray Palmer’s most famous adventures — and in so doing hints at the shape of things yet unseen in the revised timeline.
Ray Palmer, Atom Emeritus
Much as in “Blue Beetle,” where inventor (and, in another life, former Beetle) Ted Kord mentors Jaime Reyes, the “Rebirth” special establishes Ray Palmer as the originator of the Atom identity though he passes it off straightaway to Ryan Choi, introduced as Palmer’s best pupil and research assistant at Ivy University. This seems to be DC’s go-to device for honoring classic heroes while passing the torch to a younger generation, in so doing also bolstering racial and ethnic diversity across its line. It is, perhaps, not a perfect solution, but it’s a far sight better than sweeping the new characters aside in favor of the originals, as had been done earlier in the decade, and which resulted in Choi’s controversial death pre-“Flashpoint.”
In Orlando and MacDonald’s story, the device works well enough, creating an intriguing new relationship between Palmer and Choi. Choi has been Professor Palmer’s research assistant for several years before Palmer reveals his identity as the Atom. From this point on, Choi’s role transforms into that of an assistant to a superhero — although, with Palmer’s research-based missions, the change in duties is minimal.
Not many other heroes need concern themselves with “ruining the data.”
Eventually, though, Ray gets himself stranded in the micro verse, and it’s up to Ryan, his trusted assistant and the only other person on Earth who understands the science, to retrieve his mentor and save the universe.
Savage Sword of Ryan Choi
The very first image of the “Rebirth” special calls back to the classic (and very strange) “Sword of the Atom” miniseries by Jan Strnad and Gil Kane from 1983, possibly (hopefully?) setting the stage for Ryan’s adventures in the microverse.
Ryan was involved in a few weird adventures in his pre-“Rebirth” life, as chronicled in the excellent “All-New Atom” series by Gail Simone and John Byrne that first introduced him to readers. In that incarnation, Choi was older, a new professor at Ivy University who had corresponded with, but never met, Palmer. There, the small college town found itself breaking down at the quantum level, thanks to Palmer’s constant bending of the laws of nature, with severe effects on physics, logic and causality. Choi donned Palmer’s spare Atom suit in an effort to get reality back on track, ultimately uncovering the villain Chronos’ hand in the conflict.
Later, he was very straightforwardly murdered by Deathstroke and his team of evil Titans.
During “Convergence,” though, Tom Peyer and Steve Yeowell brought the weird back in a big way. The two-issue “Convergence: The Atom” series starred a pre-“Flashpoint” Ray Palmer seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown, his only remaining superpower the ability to make one hand really big. That hand is, essentially, haunted by Choi, and Palmer allows an opponent to chop it off so Ryan can form it into a new body.
For better or worse, that is not the Choi that appears post-“Rebirth.” Just a bit of backstory flavor.
Adam Cray, who lived and died pre-“Flashpoint” as Palmer’s secret successor in the Suicide Squad, appears as Choi’s roommate at Ivy. Given that he does not appear to be a serious student and several years pass in the course of the issue, it’s unclear where he is at the conclusion of the story.
I Smell A Mystery
Palmer’s offhand remark to “Let Jean know the alimony check will be late” neatly unloads a detail that is not immediately important to the story at hand, but provides longtime readers with significant clues about where this version of Ray Palmer is with his life — and the crimes not yet committed by Jean Loring.
It makes sense, of course, that the post-“Rebirth” timeline would have no room for the events of “Identity Crisis,” in which Loring murdered Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, nor the weekly event “52,” when Ralph Dibny met his end. There’s just not room for them.
But if that’s the case, and if the “Rebirth” universe is meant to restore the heart of DC Comics that had diminished during the New 52, where are Ralph and Sue? Their only appearances since the conclusion of “52,” when they embarked upon their after-lives as supernatural detectives, were in Gail Simone and Dale Eaglesham’s “Secret Six,” in which Ralph had been working undercover and both had returned to the land of the living. Heck, the pair weren’t even together for most of the storyline, and Ralph was unrecognizable until the title’s final few issues.
Whether corporeal or ghost detectives, it’s past time one of comics’ best couples is given new life. With “Atom: Rebirth” now all but confirming the events of “Identity Crisis” as wiped away, maybe they’ll be among the next wave of heroes to make their Rebirth presence known.
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