Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

The All-New Atom- has anyone been reading this? I hope so. I’ve really started to love this book. In general, I’ve never really liked the obligatory shrinking-growing characters in comics. There’s always one or two in every universe. It never really struck me as a superpower I would lust over. I mean, doesn’t Hank Pym or Janet Van Dyne ever worry that they’ll shrink down and immediately get stepped on by Thor, by accident, let alone get stepped on by the bad guy? I’m sorry, but there are a lot of villains that being small just doesn’t seem like a great advantage to me. Of course, getting huge looks great at a glance- but the thing is, just being a really big guy without armor or enhanced strength just strikes me as making yourself a much bigger target for the bad guys to hit. Oh, and then there’s always that weird “there’s a hidden universe inside microscopic cells” or “there’s a doorway to another universe once you reach a certain threshold of shrinking” or…something. I don’t even know, although I know both DC and Marvel had incarnations of these “microverses” on hand. It usually results in some weird, weird, WEIRD stories. Psycho-man from Fantastic Four was from the microverse. …that’s all I got. I either didn’t read the rest or blocked it out because it was just too bizarre. Anyway, as for the Atom, the character always kind of turned me off because frankly, at the end of the day, I was never a very good physics student. Atom comics kid of used this weird variation on some of the basic laws of physics. I think it had something to do with his mass and size, or something? Like, he could shrink, but his overall density remained the same? Or he could alter his density…so even though he was tiny, he could you hit you with the force of a 30-ton truck? As you can see, I’m not greatly informed about today’s subject. Maybe that’s some of why I’ve enjoyed the new Atom. Seeing him figure out just how Ray Palmer use to do what he did, step by step, and learning to do it himself has made the whole concept accessible, even exciting to me. And the other thing? I like the new guy, Ryan Choi. And I have to hand some of that to Gail Simone, the writer. Female comic book writers, especially in the superhero industry, are few and far between. Mostly, Simone has written most of DC’s big-female-character books, like Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey. Feminism and comic books are touchy subjects…and I’m not going to touch it with a ten-foot pole, other than to say that Simone does a pretty good job of making the DC sexpots mean more to female readers than distorted media icons. But what I really have to tip my hat to her after reading Atom is- she gets it, comic books, the style, the humor, the kind of action. And she does it well! Let alone with this character, who runs towards the obscure. Not to say that writers have to give up causes they champion when they write something- there are plenty of strong female leads that make cameos in the comic, Wonder Woman, Giganta, Donna Troy- but it’s nice when they don’t stray too far off the beaten path to make their point. To begin with? It’s funny. Seriously, I laughed out loud a few times. Among my favorites were- Choi’s roommate walking in, saying “Honey, I’m home” and kissing a poster of Power Girl hanging on his wall, a microscopic civilization settling on the back of Choi’s dog’s @ss, to which he introduces to the current incarnation of the challengers from beyond (loosely related to an old DC group called the Challengers of the Unknown…er…too complicated for me to detour in, but basically Donna Troy, a version of Jason Todd- Robin II- and Green Lantern Kyle Raynor) to it by saying “Welcome to the city on the edge of my dog’s @SS!,” and Choi compulsively confessing constant sexual fantasies about Wonder Woman to Wonder Woman’s face because of her new truth-aura-weirdness. I love the spin she puts on the series too- it’s kind of like those old 1950s black and white horror movies with giant spiders, flying disembodied brains, and lots of radioactivity. It’s the right feel for the comic- totally off the wall and bizarre. Instead of trying to rail against it, Simone just embraces it. You’ve probably noticed by now that when it comes to Atom-lore, I’m a little behind the curve. Until Ray Palmer’s wife, Jean Loring, ending up killing Sue Dibny, I never paid much attention. But Simone digs deep in the series and brings back a variety of older characters that Atom fans are sure to be delighted to see. My favorite, who I haven’t quite determined yet is an Atom regular or a new character written by Simone, is an agoraphobic, poetry spouting serial killer named Dwarfstar. Most notably, the guy uses a belt of the same making as Ray Palmer, letting him shrink and grow at will. And in that guy’s hands? Shrinking and growing don’t seem so lame all of a sudden. The bit that really disturbed me was when he shrunk himself down, waited for his “mark” to swallow him, and then burst from the guy’s chest, growing back to normal size. Makes you think about how someone less scrupulous might use said powers, right? Scary. Overall, I have to give the whole series really good reviews. I like the art, the plot, a nice mix of new and old characters…I’m impressed. Of course, I’ve shamelessly exposed my ignorance of Atom canon and will flog myself, in private, after this column is posted. But hey, if anyone wants to share about Dwarfstar, or anything else about the Ray Palmer legacy, by all means- help me out.