SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Justice League of America #12, by Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis, on sale now.
When Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 was published earlier this year, the comic ended with four teasers for storylines on the horizon. For long-time DC Comics fans, it was the fourth panel that was almost certainly the most intriguing. Justice League of America: Rebirth picked up the story of the Atoms where DC Universe Rebirth #1, the one-shot kicking off the publisher's current Rebirth era, had left off. Ryan Choi was once more the new Atom, a student of Ray Palmer's who can't find his missing mentor, with only an enigmatic video as a hint. But now, all that is about to change.
Finding An Atom in a Metaphorical Haystack
Of course, this isn't the first time Ray Palmer has gone missing. The most famous incident or Palmer disappearing from the world he and his fellow Justice Leaguers defended was Jan Strnad and Gil Kane's Sword of the Atom, which had him shrink down into the miniature realm of the Morlaidhans within South America and abandon his role as a superhero. That ultimately led into a storyline that unfolded in the pages of Suicide Squad, where Ray Palmer appeared to be killed in an explosion, with a new masked Atom joining the Squad soon after.
But while early speculation was that it involved Ray Palmer in disguise, the reality was more insidious. Ray Palmer had been targeted by a group of CIA agents who had wiped out the Morlaidhans to try and spur Palmer's return and working alongside him. Palmer had shrunk the agents down to six inches tall by way of revenge. Renaming themselves the Micro/Squad, the agents set the explosion for Palmer, but he survived and convinced a man named Adam Cray to become the new Atom to draw out the Micro/Squad. By the time the dust settled, both Adam Cray and the Micro/Squad were dead, and Ray Palmer had returned to active duty. It seems no matter how hard the Atom tries to vanish, eventually, he'll return... which leads us to current events as history is poised to potentially repeat itself.
Following on from the previous issue's cliffhanger, Justice League of America #12 has Ryan Choi, Batman, Lobo and Frost heading into the Microverse thanks to a signal form someone purporting to be Palmer. Batman deliberately splits the team, leaving Vixen, Black Canary and the Ray on Earth to continue to investigate the open cases from the previous eleven issues. It's an interesting tactic, but even more so when you consider that Vixen's powers in mimicking animals and the Ray's control over light both could have been out of commission in the different realm of the Microverse. With Black Canary having leadership skills under her belt, her presence on Earth with the others makes a great deal of strategic strength. Steve Orlando also continues to build on his depiction of Lobo as more than just a brutish biker; his understanding of alien technology is enough to help Ryan complete the "shrinkship," a vehicle that allows the team to successfully cross the Microverse's quantum boundary that would otherwise keep outsiders from entering.