Ray Palmer, the Silver Age Atom, is often seen as the beating heart of the Justice League — compassionate, smart, and selfless, he embodies the ideal hero. His life has had some of the more realistic ups and downs of any superhero, with a marriage that ended in divorce, and a protege who became the son he never had. Of course, he also at one point became a miniature prince, ruling over a fiefdom with his royal consort, so it’s not all normal life for the Atom.
The Atom was originally introduced in the Golden Age as a superhero who could capitalize on the weaklings in Charles Atlas ads — even if they were small, they could still learn to fight, just like diminutive brawler Al Pratt, the original Atom. The Atom didn’t really take off until the Silver Age revamp, introducing Ray Palmer, the iconic bearer of the mantle; and while he sometimes gets short-changed (pardon the pun) in terms of his duties for the team, Palmer often finds himself at the heart of the JLA. But there’s more to the Atom than just shrinking down to incredibly small sizes — he’s a world-traveler, a galactic adventurer, and a time-traveler, and there’s never been a dull moment. Here are 18 of the best!
18. THERE ARE FIVE OF THEM
The Mighty Mite has had four incarnations over the years. The most famous and longest serving Atom is Raymond Palmer, PhD, protector of the small Connecticut city of Ivy Town, alongside Jean Loring, daring attorney and his wife.
Palmer has passed the mantle on several times: first to Paul Hoben, the man with whom Jean Loring had an affair and married, after her divorce from Palmer; next, the Atom identity was stolen by Adam Cray to use as a member of Suicide Squad, while Ray Palmer was undercover as a villain; and finally, by Ryan Choi, Palmer’s protege and Atom-in-training. The original Atom, however, was Al Pratt, a man who originally had no superpowers, but was merely a short guy who could throw a mean punch.
17. HIS POWERS DERIVED FROM A STAR (AT FIRST…)
Ray Palmer became the Atom using super science, as many Silver Age superheroes did. He invented a lens using mass from a white dwarf star — a lens that could shrink anything to whatever size he wished — but they would explode after two minutes. Originally, Ray discovered that he could use the lens on himself to try and save a trapped group of spelunking researchers; it was only by sheer luck that he didn’t explode, too.
He went on to become the costumed crimefighter that we all know and love, but at some point, his body internalized the abilities, giving him control over every single molecule in his body, which he could control with his brainwaves. “Brightest Day” retconned his abilities by saying that his suit was a “compression matrix,” which spread out the pressure of shrinking evenly, but now, even that seems to have been retconned away.
16. ONE OF THE FIRST SUPERHEROES OF THE SILVER AGE
Al Pratt, the original comic book Atom, debuted in All-American Comics in October 1940 as part of the original wave of Golden Age superheroes desperately trying to recapture the magic of Superman and Batman. Ray Palmer, the spiritual successor to Pratt, debuted at the forefront of the Silver Age of comics.
The beginning of the Silver Age is generally agreed upon to be the 1956 publication of the Showcase #4 by DC, featuring Barry Allen as the new Flash; the Silver Age continued to transform the face of modern comics, particularly with the introduction of the Fantastic Four in November of 1961. Ray Palmer as the Atom beat the Fantastic Four to the stands by a single month, appearing in issue 34 of the very same magazine that introduced Barry Allen to the masses.
15. HIS ARCH NEMESIS IS CHRONOS, THE TIME THIEF
One of the biggest challenges facing the creators of superhero comics is creating a new character. Okay, so he shrinks — but who does he fight? Villains often make heroes look better in comparison. Without the Joker, Batman has no equal; without Lex Luthor, there’s no dark human mirror of Kal-El for Superman to judge his own morals by. Why Chronos the Time Thief became the Atom’s nemesis is anyone’s guess.
Petty thief David Clinton became obsessed with perfecting his unlucky timing while he was serving a prison sentence, and he became so attuned to his own internal rhythm that he started branding his heists and became the Time Thief. Eventually, he made a deal with Neron and sold his soul for the ability to literally travel through time, but that deal turned on him, and he essentially became unstuck in time.
14. TEMPORARY TEEN TITAN
During the events of “Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time”, when Hal Jordan was overtaken by the Parallax entity, he attacked the very essence of time itself to try and reshape the DC Universe to bring back Coast City, his hometown. Coast City was destroyed by Mongul and Cyborg Superman during the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline.
In the ensuing chaos of “Zero Hour” and the universe reinventing itself in the wake of Parallax’s defeat, Ray Palmer was de-aged to be a teenager who sometimes could and sometimes couldn’t remember his life as a Justice Leaguer. He took the lemons that life had given him and made lemonade by becoming the leader of the Teen Titans, but unfortunately it wasn’t a good fit for the team, personality-wise or sales-wise, and the title was revamped again, sans the Atom.
13. NAMED AFTER A FAMOUS SCI-FI WRITER
When Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, and Julius Schwartz created Ray Palmer to be the new identity for the Atom, they named him after someone that would be a huge wink-and-a-nod for the original generation of science fiction fans: Raymond A. Palmer. Raymond A. Palmer was a major editor of Amazing Stories, one of the original sci-fi magazines, and purchased Isaac Asimov’s first story for publication.
Later in his career, Palmer started Fate magazine, focusing on paranormal and Fortean topics. Palmer is also one of the first writers to address the UFO craze, with The Coming of the Saucers, co-authored with Kenneth Arnold, who was one of the first reported people to sight a “flying disk” in the air. He also led the efforts to reprint the Oahspe Bible, written through automatic writing by a spiritual dentist in the late 1800s — it is not referred to as the “Palmer” Bible.
12. THE FIRST JUSTICE LEAGUE
The 1997 pilot film for Justice League of America, produced for CBS and never picked up, is one of the more legendary lost movies of comic book fandom. Created to be cheap to produce, the cast features Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Flash, and the Atom — but no Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman. The Atom is played by John Kassir, better known as the voice of the Crypt Keeper in Tales from the Crypt, and his origin remains relatively unchanged.
The biggest difference is that Jean Loring is nowhere to be found — Tori Olafsdotter, the everywoman protagonist of the pilot, flirts with Ray throughout the show, before discovering his secret identity as the Atom later on. Luckily, the show never got picked up — it really is just an 80-minute slog of a movie — but it does have a certain late ’90s, bad movie charm to it.
11. HIS EVIL COUNTERPART IS ATOMICA
Rhonda Pineda was introduced in DC’s New 52, taking over the mantle of the Atom in the absence of Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi. When pressed, she is revealed to be a spy for Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor who is surveying all of the new members of the Justice League, keeping an eye on them.
At the close of “Trinity War”/beginning of “Forever Evil”, she reveals that she’s not truly on the side of the Justice League or the side of Waller and Trevor; she was actually a member of the Earth-3 Crime Syndicate, and really went by the name Atomica. She was originally a killer and a thief alongside fellow Syndicate member, Johnny Quick. She dies an ignominious death: shrinking down to microscopic size, she was stepped on by Lex Luthor.
10. RAY PALMER AS… COLONEL COLD?
Ray Palmer in CW’s Arrowverse is currently dead to the world–which gives him plenty of time to hop around time with the Legends of Tomorrow. As a member of Rip Hunter’s team of time-traveling heroes, Palmer relies a lot on his A.T.O.M. suit to assist in any given situation. However, when the team landed in feudal Japan, his suit was confiscated by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, and in their battle with him, it overloaded and exploded.
To make sure he wasn’t just another warm body weighing the team down, Palmer begins using Leonard Snart’s Cold Gun and glasses, and gives himself the nickname Colonel Cold. It’s a total Ray Palmer sass move — it places him two full ranks above Captain Cold. He was able to recreate his suit when they landed in 1874 and discovered more white dwarf star material.
9. MAJOR MYNAH
On an archaeological expedition to Cambodia in the late ’60s, Ray Palmer encountered a mynah bird that tried to steal a golden idol he’d discovered; tracking it as The Atom, Palmer witnessed a hawk attacking the mynah, and he went to its aid. Its wings were damaged beyond repair, but Hawkman was able to use his Thanagarian technology to create artificial wings that would allow the bird to fly almost 200 miles per hour.
Major Mynah, as Palmer called it, only appeared in a handful of issues — it was mostly a problem, as mynah birds repeat things that they hear, almost causing it to give up Palmer’s secret identity on multiple occasions. Major Mynah has now gone the way of the Spider-Car, only really brought up as a wink-and-a-nod in-joke, or a strong example of off-brand comics moves to try and grab some popularity.
8. MEMBER OF THE INDIGO TRIBE
After the Sinestro Corps War, there was no longer only Green or Yellow Lantern; there were entire corps of other different colors, relating to entirely different emotions. At the beginning of the “Blackest Night” crisis, Ray Palmer joined with the Indigo Tribe, a corps who use Indigo Rings and staffs and the power of sheer compassion. Ray spends much of the series wielding his own compassion, trying to save lives and protect people from Black Lanterns.
The real fun doesn’t kick in until late, when Indigo-1, the leader of the Indigo Tribe, tells him that because of the extreme compassion of the Tribe, they can mimic the abilities of any other Lantern on the emotional spectrum. Even with great power such as that, Palmer tried to use it to bring his friends back — compassionate to the end.
7. S.T.A.R. LABS
Justice League is still a little bit of a fresh wound, but it did offer a few fun glimpses into what could be for the rest of the DC Extended Universe. For a movie that purported to be about opening up the world of the films, it was a little bit narrowly focused, but offered plenty of easter egg material. For the eagle-eyed viewer, when they displayed a list of scientists employed at S.T.A.R. Labs, you may have caught a glimpse of Ryan Choi’s name.
Ryan Choi was initially a researcher for Ray Palmer, but after Palmer disappeared, he left behind his notes and Atom gear for Choi to take over. In the comics, after several years of his own adventures as the Atom, Choi was killed by Deathstroke. Perhaps we’ll get to see Ryan Choi take up the mantle of the Atom in the DCEU sooner rather than later.
6. ATOM ONE MILLION
During Grant Morrison’s landmark run on JLA, he and Val Simeiks created the “DC One Million” crossover — imagining what adventures would be had in the 853rd century (when DC comics would theoretically publish the 1,000,000th issues of some of their comics). In this future, with several Supermans, descendants of other Justice Leaguers, and twin threats from Solaris, the Living Sun, and Vandal Savage, a literally immortal person, the Atom is among the new generation of heroes.
Instead of having shrinking powers, he is capable of splitting his body down to its component atoms; if he gets down to atomic size, he can reorganize his molecules into other elements, like gold and lead. It’s not an incredibly useful skill, but it’s a wonderful interpretation of splitting the atom.
5. SCIENTIST OF S.H.A.D.E.
When DC launched the New 52, their 2011 line-wide reboot and redesign, Ray Palmer was still officially lost; following the shattering personal events of “Identity Crisis”, he had shrunk down to escape to the Microverse and be alone. However, readers of Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli’s Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. featured a Palmer who was hiding in the Ant Farm, S.H.A.D.E.’s headquarters.
The Super-Human Advanced Defense Executive is the monster-fighting DC equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and its headquarters, the Ant Farm, is the size of a city, but shrunken down to three inches in diameter, placed in an indestructible sphere, and suspended in the air 2,000 feet above Manhattan. Palmer acted as S.H.A.D.E.’s Oracle, remaining in the base of operations most of the time, offering logistical help and expository speeches.
4. HAD A MID-LIFE BARBARIAN CRISIS
When they first appeared together, Ray Palmer was constantly proposing to Jean Loring, his dashing law student friend — she spurned his advances each time, wanting to establish her career before settling down. Their marriage, when it finally happened, was short and somewhat troubled; Loring had an affair with a man named Paul Hoben, which contributed to the collapse of their marriage. So, alone for the first time in his adult life, Palmer left his Atom gear with Hoben and became the feudal lord of a tribe of six-inch-tall yellow-skinned people named Morlaidhans.
Atom’s solo title became Sword of the Atom, following his knightly adventures amongst the Morlaidhans before their extinction by a US-government-affiliated group posing as loggers. Palmer would eventually have his revenge on the group he later discovers to be called The Cabal in the pages of Suicide Squad, but he would never see his princess, Laethwyn, ever again.
3. ONCE WENT INTO HIDING AS HIMSELF
After the events of “Identity Crisis” and the death of his ex-wife, Jean Loring, Ray Palmer went into hiding, shrinking down to such a microscopic size that no one could find him. In Countdown, the lead-up weekly series to Final Crisis, the Source Wall told the heroes that the key to saving the multiverse from Darkseid was Ray Palmer, sending a ragtag group across the universes trying to find him.
Following people they encountered with the Atom’s symbol on their foreheads, they eventually ended up in Earth-51 (the second-to-last Earth), where they find Ray Palmer in hiding… as Ray Palmer. The Palmer of Earth-51 had plans to stop the universal collapse, but he died; the original Ray needed a place to hide, and where better to hide than right in plain sight?
2. THE O.M.A.C. CONNECTION
Ray Palmer made his debut in the CW’s Arrowverse with a guest-starring role in the third season of Arrow, as a businessman and scientist who purchased the failing Queen Consolidated. Rather than a nebbish academic, this version of Palmer is much closer to a Bruce Wayne persona – -a freewheeling millionaire with some strange social tics — but the origin of his powers remains relatively unchanged from his Silver Age origin.
When designing the exosuit that would become the A.T.O.M. (Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism), Palmer is seen looking through piles of schematics. Among them is the O.M.A.C., which remains the official Queen Consolidated designation for the suit. OMAC was the “One-Man Army Corps,” created by Jack Kirby as a Captain America of the future; they later featured as evil sleeper agents in Infinite Crisis.
1. DEBUTED ON TV IN LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES
In 1979, Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends cartoon was doing gangbusters business on the Saturday morning cartoon business, so they decided to produce two live-action specials to air in prime time. The first was called “The Challenge,” and featured the Legion of Doom interrupting the Justice League of America’s birthday party for Scarlet Cyclone; the second, “The Roast,” was aired a week later and was literally just a roast of all the superheroes, hosted by Ed McMahon.
The Atom, played by Alfie Wise, only appeared in the second special; he and Giganta were interviewed during a break to talk about their engagement and their impending nuptials. Jean Loring declined to comment as of this writing… perhaps they’d already divorced? The special does also feature some uncomfortable aspects of the time — Ghetto Man, a black superhero who does stand-up, hasn’t aged particularly well.
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