The Man Wit No Voice and The Pure Mood dig out and review a comic from their expansive back issue collection. It could be a pivotal story, a forgotten classic, or even a giant mistake not worth the staples binding it together. From the ’40′s to the ’00′s, come by every week as we take an in-depth look at comics history in CHRONICLES OF COMICS!
ALL-NEW ATOM #8 is a perfect encapsulation of everything that made the 2007 DC Universe unique – a story that acknowledges its past and freely speaks with it, that is also progressive enough to look clearly into the future. Shortly before Geoff Johns would infamously usher in the return of the old white men of the Silver Age, DC passed on the legacy of many of its characters, similar as to what happened in the 50’s and 60’s comics that Johns so clearly loved. In ALL-NEW ATOM, Gail Simone presented us with…well, an all-new Atom, a young and awkward physicist, struggling with his father’s old world ways. In all honesty, it took me awhile to warm up to Ryan Choi – not only am I a huge Ray Palmer fan, but I never found Choi went much beyond the Peter Parker archetype, an awkward young genius who somehow found the time for self-pity amidst the beautiful women throwing themselves at him and the fantastic adventures he finds himself in. ALL-NEW ATOM #8 is a brilliant play on this sort of nostalgic reservation; a story about a legacy character coming face to face with his legacy.
Ryan Choi has just met a man missing, well, half of himself. It turns out that he’s the partial sum of Teddy Hyatt, the son of Ray Palmer’s old colleague and inventor of the Time Pool. For those not in the know, the Time Pool stories were featured in the back-ups of THE ATOM’s 1962 solo series, the kind of gloriously insane concept that could only come from the mind of Gardner Fox. Professor Alpheus V. Hyatt was able to create a portal through time which, unfortunately, was too small for anyone to enter. When Hyatt took one of his (frequent) naps, Ray Palmer would don the guise of The Atom and slip through time, meeting the likes of Jules Verne or Aladdin. By the way, you know that Atom found a lamp to hide in which was then discovered by Aladdin, and that when the lamp was rubbed he appeared out of it and helped people solve problems (or ‘grant wishes’). So, yes, Ray Palmer is the genie.
As it turns out, Hyatt went a little mad with being the one responsible for creating time travel. He became so afraid of the Time Pool entering the wrong hands that it drove him to insanity, and he entered the singularity for eternity. His son Teddy was unable to rescue him, driving him a little batty himself – he ended up eating the singularity in his own perverse attempt to keep the Time Pool out of the wrong hands, accounting for his current state. Aside from his physical deformity, he also now has the ability to travel through time, and soon he and Ryan are catapulted into the future.
The very idea of two legacy characters meeting each other is very interesting to me – Ryan’s super powers were literally handed to him from a character from 50 years ago, and Teddy is the son of a scientific genius who went mad after his invention proved to powerful for the human mind to comprehend. Both young men are living in the shadow of great accomplishment but also great pain, Ray Palmer and Alpheus Hyatt having seen their share of darkness. However, travelling into the future, Simone presents us the idea of superhero legacy in an even more literal way.
Ryan and Teddy find themselves in a micro-metropolis, a culture created completely in worship to the Atom. Led by Jia Choi, an obvious descendant of Ryan, this future world is a 1984 dystopia (posters with the Atom’s face adorned with LITTLE BROTHER IS WATCHING), fascism on a miniature scale. I think Simone is making a pretty obvious comment on the superhero nostalgia that would soon put an end to characters like Ryan Choi – a future world where people blindly worship one ‘character’ and punish those who don’t.
Honestly, I prefer the Ryan Choi in the BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD cartoon. In that animated series, Choi is an arrogant and single minded man, someone who doesn’t have much time for the superhero fantasy he constantly finds surrounding him. It’s hardly subtle, but there’s a kind of variety in the broad characterization the show implements – seeing as the show is a team-up series, contrast is essential, and Ryan’s exhausted and entitled sense of supreme intelligence creates a lot of humour and conflict in the series. In the comic, he’s unfortunately pretty much trope – he follows the Spider-man template so closely that he doesn’t stand out much as his own unique character. That being said, there was no reason for him to be replaced by Ray Palmer – there was really no reason for Palmer to return. In a weird act of foreshadowing, Simone explored this very thing in ALL-NEW ATOM #8 – is our nostlagia crippling us? Are legacy characters doomed by a fanbase who demand with fascistic furor to be rewarded for their years of dedicated reading?