Monday, January 28, 2008

The Atomic Bomb

I like the Ray Palmer incarnation of the Atom a heck of a lot. He was one of the first super-heroes I was introduced to at DC through the Justice League, although in all honesty, I didn't pay him much mind until the 90's. It's not like he ever got a Super Powers figure or anything. The exact point I became an Atom fan was upon the release of a one shot special right before the big "Zero Hour" event. Tom Peyer and Steve Dillon did such a wonderful job of reintroducing the character and his myriad adventures that I was immediately taken with their effort. There was a quiet intellect and a fractured stoicism to Dillon's rendition that I especially enjoyed, and which has never quite clicked for me in any of his other efforts with super-folk. Peyer's rarely less than brilliant, with a dark-humored streak that suits my tastes nicely.

So DC scored a direct hit with this fan, only to proceed to allow Dan Jurgens to ruin the character by turning him into a whiny teenager in a bulky vest. I tried to give the kid a chance in a follow-up special, some guest appearances, and even the wretched "Teen Titans" series without a hint of reward. Thankfully, I also went backwards to his Suicide Squad, JLofA and "Sword of the Atom" special appearances, salvaging my newfound interest in a truly dynamite creation. Ray was eventually restored and reenergized, particularly through Morrison's JLA, and all was made right again. I even liked him in "Identity Crisis," though the big reveal and Ray's resultant disappearance left me colder than this winter.

I was unimpressed when DC announced an all-new Atom series. I just caught the all-new "Rambo" this weekend, and my favorite character in the movie was an Asian mercenary. He had a scraggly beard, did not wisecrack, never drove or used a camera, in no way referenced his esteemed ancestors, nor performed any martial arts maneuvers. Aside from what was plainly visible, he was in no way an "Asian" stereotype, just a character who happened to be Asian. Ryan Choi, based on my limited exposure from "Brave New World" and other previews, is a science geek from China with very much respect for the honorable Ray Palmer. I wouldn't go so far as to call him a sterotype, but nothing grates me more than the everyman nerd comic fans are supposed to relate to, and an Asian who's power is shrinking seems a tad ill-considered. Gail Simone had burned through a lot of my goodwill with her lackluster late period "Birds of Prey" work and the bait & switch recasting of "Villains Unite" with bad guys I mostly never liked before or since. John Byrne has been burning through the entire world's goodwill since at least 1990, and he joined Mike Norton in ruining Atom's outstanding costume design again. I just said no, and didn't stop.

Anyway, through Rob Kelly's excellent Aquaman Shrine daily blog I was introduced to Damian Maffei's awesome Atom: The Tiny Titan equally daily blog. Damian's efforts have improved my opinion of Ryan Choi, and allowed me to dig on Atom adventures from before my time. Further, all three of us have benefitted from association with Michael Netzer's Online Emminence. I got that swank new banner for this blog, Damian got the following swell pin-up, and Rob's got one of his own coming.

Part of the reason for this flurry of sketches is that Mike's trying to save J'Onn J'Onzz from the all too common malady, death by crossover. Further, he'd like to get the chance to illustrate a character he's been associated with since providing the art on a 1970's back-up series that resurrected the Manhunter's career (not to mention his now far famed brow.) I've tried to encourage this likely Quixotic campaign with various posts because a) I'd like to see Netzer's hopes realized, b) I've got my own daily blog to fill, c) I'm filling it for about twice as many hits and most importantly d) every team-up sketch means more Manhunter art for me! However, the aforementioned sketch gave Damian and I pause, not only due to its inventive loveliness, but because we both realized it may be the first true Atom/Manhunter spotlight team-up ever. Yeah, they were members of the classic JLofA, and there was an issue of the "Power of the Atom" series where J'Onn tried unsuccessfully to recruit Ray for the JLI, but the pair have hardly shared words after nearly fifty years worth of adventures. Plus, we both have daily blogs we could fill with crossovers, if they existed.

I really like Ray Palmer, and its just as likely he'll face the editorial hatchetmen as J'Onn J'Onzz and Arthur Joseph Curry in the near future. We're all sticking together in our hopes for the best for each of our favored characters, and I'm especially concerned, as these are three of my top ten favorite DC characters (as revealed here) As Michael Netzer noted in his current blog, the original Al Pratt Atom faded into obscurity and remained unpublished for something like a decade before Ray Palmer made the scene, taking only his name from the original interpretation. It seems to me dressing up a new person in nearly the same costume with exactly the same powers for adventures evocative of Palmer's own only divides fans of the concept into factions. Beyond tokenism, why kill and replace Palmer? Choi's book certainly hasn't sold any more copies, and how much mileage is there in killing any of the Atoms? Is it really so hard to just tell good stories with established characters, and if that fails to capture an audience, just leaving well enough alone? Is it so important to continue to alienate old readers with morbid sensationalism, while simultaneously turning-off new readers by forcing them to understand the dead's archaic history in order to appreciate the loss? If you succeed in telling the death well enough to hook the new readers, where can they go with a dead hero or a new incarnation, anyway? It's all so pointless and self-defeating, especially when you can't even claim you're following the author's intentions, other than through the obfuscations of work-for-hire contracts?

Regardless, when made aware of our shared preference for Ray Palmer, Michael Netzer whipped up a second piece, teaming both Ray and Manhunter, and through a sort of inherent continuity, Ryan as well. We. Are. Family. Added bonus: the second appearance of Diablou© Brand Cream-filled Chocolate Cookies, and the hope that at the least Ryan and J'Onn will live to form a friendship of their own. We shall see.

Also, while I've gone hotlink happy, I'd like to pimp Diabolu's sister blog, NURGH! I don't have the energy for the number of spin-offs Kelly's known for, so NURGH is my catch-all gateway to geekdom. My efforts there have been eratic so far, as I've posted whatever, whenever, but I plan to give it more attention in the days to come. The next time I feel like going off on a mostly non-Manhunter related rip, expect it there.


Damian said...

Well, first off: That's a super picture. Maybe it's just me, but they look like they're having an intelligent and witty conversation. One that I'd laugh along with not knowing what the hell they were talking about while they know I don't know what the hell they're talking about... but don't say anything so as to not hurt my feelings!

I've considered trying to put my Choi thoughts down somewhere, but I just start rambling. I've actually gotten "hate mail," (and the guy did seem pretty angry) that such an avid Ray Palmer fan would jump in bed with some new guy.

I thought, eh, maybe he's right. I've been looking to fulfill some Atom gap in my life, and I grabbed the next guy along.
But I didn't want to. I wanted Ray. Still do. All New Atom was just really honed in on me. I enjoyed that it was off kilter in it's own off-kilter way, and that Ryan was a bit of a schmuck. The first few issues there, you could barely go a page without some reference to Ray by Ryan, so it was like... any minute he's going to show up! And I just wanted a comic with the Atom to go on a run!

So at the moment, Ray is running around with the Countdown crew (serving zero purpose as of yet) and Ryan is in a comic that has been pretty damn good by my standards so far, that is selling maybe slightly above the cancellation line, and has now completely changed creative teams.

I don't want two Atom's, though. And I don't want one Atom and one "microbe" or whatever the hell they call sidekicks.

I've got a feeling, I'll end up with neither. Maybe Choi ends up in one of those JLA mags.

So I totally, one hundred percent agree with what you've said here.

Longest comment in recorded history.

rob! said...

i love that picture.

>>I don't have the energy for the number of spin-offs Kelly's known for<<

i'm not sure how i have the energy, either...