He may be hard to see, but I’m pretty sure the hardcore comic book intelligencia will be well aware of Atom, despite his diminutive stature. He gets about and has been around for a while. But even they may be a tad confused for he’s a superhero with more personas than Captain Marvel.
And that’s saying something.
- The original Golden Age Atom was called Al Pratt, a diminutive wimp created by writer Bill O’Connor and artist Ben Flinton. He first appeared in All-American Publications’ All-American Comics #19 (Oct. 1940).
- The second or Silver Age Atom was Ray Palmer, who first appeared in 1961.
- The third Atom, Adam Cray, was a minor character present in Suicide Squad stories.
- And yes, another Atom from the 853rd Century first appeared as part of Justice Legion Alpha in August 1999.
- The fifth Atom, Ryan Choi, debuted in a new Atom series in August 2006.
The Atom has been the star of multiple solo series, and four of the five have appeared as members of various superhero teams, such as the Justice Society of America, the Justice League, the Suicide Squad, and the Justice Legion Alpha.
Given he’s been in demand by the big battalions, do we presume that this character was blessed with mighty skills and tekkers?
Well, not always and not really.
The original Atom, Al Pratt had no superpowers at all, at first. Instead, he was a pint-sized college student and later a physicist who was depicted as a self-made tough guy. He was an icon for all the short, nerdy kids who stood up to the bullies and could still make a difference despite his stature.
Even with these imitations, the geeky scientist Pratt was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, later gaining limited super-strength, and an “atomic” energy-charged ‘atomic punch’.
But he died in the charge against Extant during the Zero Hour.
Ray Palmer, incarnation II is a physicist and university professor and may be the most famous Atom. He was named for real-life science fiction writer Raymond A. Palmer, who was himself quite diminuitive.
After stumbling onto a mass of white dwarf star matter that had fallen to Earth, he fashioned a lens which allowed him to shrink down to subatomic size. Originally, his size and molecular density abilities derived from the white dwarf star material of his costume, controlled by mechanisms in his belt, and later by controls in the palms of his gloves.
Much later, he gained the innate equivalent powers within his own body.
After the events of Identity Crisis, Ray shrank himself to microscopic size and apparaently disappeared. The Atom was lost a second time. Finding him became a major theme of the Countdown year-long series and crossover event.
Adam Cray, son of the murdered Senator Joseph Cray, first appeared as the Atom in the pages of Suicide Squad #44 by John Ostrander (August 1990).
Cray was initially believed to be the missing Ray Palmer in disguise.
He had been recruited, however, by Palmer in secret to apprehend the Micro Squad, a group of villains that had been reduced in size. Palmer intended to use Cray to uncover a shadowy government cabal who were using Palmer to discover the secret identities of other costumed heroes (Palmer’s own identity no longer being secret).
While Palmer infiltrated the Micro Squad, Cray would attract the attention of the Cabal as the new Atom. That way no one would notice Palmer assuming the identity of a fallen Micro Squad member.
Adam Cray remained with the Suicide Squad briefly, serving as a secret weapon.
Later, Cray is impaled through the chest by Blacksnake, a Micro Squad member who believes him to be Palmer.
Exit Atom 3.
After the unanticipated murder of Cray, Palmer reveals himself and avenges Cray’s murder. The ruse ended, Palmer explains himself to the Justice League, who had been searching for him, after hearing rumors of a new Atom.
To further complicate matters (are you following this?) Adam’s corpse is reanimated as a member of the Black Lantern Corps alongside several other fallen Suicide Squad members.
Following his reanimation, Adam and the other Black Lanterns travel to Belle Reve and attack Bane and Black Alice.
Adam is apparently destroyed by the Manhunter’s self-destruct mechanism, unleashing an explosion of Green Lantern energy that eradicates the Black Lanterns.
In DC Rebirth, Adam Cray is Ryan Choi’s roommate at Ivy University. Senator Cray also attended Ivy and expected Adam to attend Ivy as well. He first meets Ryan when he walks into their dorm with heavy luggage and kindly introduces himself. Adam teaches Ryan how to play rugby and video games as a sort of male mentor.
Described by DC solicitations as”a young hotshot professor who’s filling the extra spot on Ivy University’s teaching staff. .. he inadvertently ends up filling the old Atom’s super-heroic shoes”
He debuted in the Brave New World one-shot, a preview of projects, and then appeared in the series, The All-New Atom, written by Gail Simone.
He wasn’t a huge hit so, yes, he too dies, murdered by Deathstroke and his Titans.
Is Atom’s Future Female?
In September 2011, The New 52 rebooted DC’s continuity.
In this new timeline, a reflection of the growing clamour for diversity and presumably the previous influence of a female writer, Atom returns once more…as a woman.
Rhonda Pineda,is a Hispanic American college student from Ivy Town.
She is revealed to be working as a spy for Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor, gathering intel on the new Justice League recruits.
She is even called “the most important member of the Justice League of America” by Steve Trevor.
However, at the conclusion of the “Trinity War” storyline, she is exposed for actually betraying both teams.
This Atom actually hails from the alternate universe of Earth-3, where she is a member of the Crime Syndicate, operating under the name Atomica (nice twist!).
She also reveals that by placing a parasitic sliver of Green Kryptonite in Superman’s optic nerve, she caused him to kill Doctor Light. Over time, this also severely weakened and almost kiled DC’s supreme star.
Atomica originally worked on Earth-3 with Johnny Quick as a thief and killer. They murder two cops one night then are cornered on the roof of S.T.A.R. Labs during a storm. Lightning hits a satellite, electrocuting Johnny and bestowing the power of speed as a side-effect.
Rhonda falls inside the building and lands near Ray Palmer’s Atomico work, gaining size and density changing powers in the process.
During the final battle with the Crime Syndicate, Atomica reduces her size. But her move is anticipated and she is killed when, poignantly, Lex Luthor unceremoniously steps on her.
So much for the gender switch.
So much for the Atom, again.
A Dynamic Duo?
To date, Atom has yet to regain the character’s early comic book status on screen.
But surely a return to full glory can’t be far away?
Let’s face it, Atom is:
- a perfect idol for the geek, retro-gaming, science-loving age
- an ideal David vs Goliath motif beloved of the perpetually victimised and outraged snowflake era
- a leader
- both genders and a mix of ethnic backgrounds, so very PC!
- the best bits from Spidey (science/student).
- little, big and alien.
- an echo of so many more heroes including Captain America (fellow puny but spirited nerd who pumps up)
Atom provides the DC fanbase with their Ant Man, after all. They share many of the same characteristics, albeit Atom doesn’t have the criminal past (if you forgive the undercover dalliances with the dark side, undead version and double-crossing).
Imagine a DC v Marvel mashup battle in micro, macro and outer space.
The possibilities are endless.
Hell, I would even go further and bring TWO Atoms to the party, one male and one female. They would be at least a match for the Ant and Wasp dynamic, possibly even love rivals?