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Atom – Rebirth #1 is one of the handful of one-shots designed to introduce readers (or re-introduce as the case may be) to the group of heroes destined to comprise DC’s upcoming JLA series, spinning out of their current “Justice League vs Suicide Squad” event series.
Written by Steve Orlando with art by Andy MacDonald, the issue has kind of a big task to accomplish. Post-New 52, the Atom has been kind of a mess. DC had the Silver Age classic Atom, Professor Ray Palmer, pop up in a few series, notably the Frankenstein series from the New 52’s first round. And I’m pretty sure the more contemporary version, Ryan Choi, was also seen here and there, though I could be wrong. The problem here is that each version has his fans, and each one wants to see their version as the Atom. DC has never been one to refuse an opportunity to have their cake and eat it too (see the Green Lantern franchise for evidence) and so Orlando and MacDonald have to craft an adventure that sees both versions function as protagonists.
And, by and large, the issue pulls it off. Ryan Choi is the main character here, as we follow his early days as a shy freshman at Ivy University. His scientific skills catch the attention of his Professor Ray Palmer, and soon the two are working together. Eventually, Ray reveals to Ryan the secret of his life as the size-changing adventurer known as the Atom, and together they forge a partnership with Ryan acting as technical support to adventuring Palmer.
The creative team has managed to clean up the somewhat murky and convoluted history surrounding the Atom’s legacy in a way that streamlines things and gives plenty to build upon. They’ve also managed to put Ryan front and centre without sidelining Palmer too badly, which is definitely a feat. Both Ray and Ryan are given distinct personalities, Ray’s more cocky and somewhat reckless ambition playing nicely off of Ryan’s natural cautiousness and sense of responsibility. Ryan makes sense as the one to take the lead, with his shaky confidence giving him places to develop. In the relatively small page-count, Orlando and MacDonald effectively create and establish Ivy University as an actual place, with a supporting cast of characters that one could conceivably see as anchoring an ongoing title.
If there’s a bit of a flaw to the writing it’s in the fact that, being a one-shot, it’s forced to reveal character in more obvious ways than the creative team would probably opt for if they had a run of issues. Both Ray and Ryan have conversations that find them actually delineating their own character traits overtly in ways that probably wouldn’t quite happen in real life. Once again, I don’t think it’s really avoidable given the purpose and limitations of the one-shot. Also, if your team delivers a one-shot that makes you wish they had more room to explore things more subtly in a mini-series or ongoing, you could argue that that is pretty successful one-shot. Additionally, you could criticize Atom – Rebirth #1 for being a study of two characters without an overall action-packed plot. Most of this issue revolves around conversations and slices of life, with only very fleeting moments of super-hero action. But that’s not really the point of the issue, so I don’t see it as a major flaw. Atom – Rebirth #1 wants to introduce to Ryan Choi and make him interesting enough to follow over to the JLA series, and the team succeeds in that.
The art is really nice throughout, with a vibe that reminds of Ryan Ottley’s work on “Invincible” in places. I liked the way all the people looked very ordinary for the most part, especially the skinny and unassuming Ryan. The realistic approach is juxtaposed nicely against the moments where the art does deal with the Atom’s adventuring, and in that setting the art works well. Seeing Ray Palmer face off against microscopic beasties and viruses or watching him pop Chronos in the face while doll-sized captures the classic Silver Age kooky fun that a concept like the Atom has to offer. And personally, I think Ray Palmer’s Silver Age Atom costume is just one of the coolest looking costumes in all of DC Comics. It’s a really simple and elegant design that works for me.
Atom – Rebirth #1 has enough quirky humor and solid character work to accomplish its goal of getting the reader eager to follow Ryan over to the new JLA series. But more than that, it also cleans up a tangled continuity and establishes a new status quo that manages to serve two sets of fandom while laying the foundation for new directions for the Atom. If the issue is perhaps a bit low-key and more solid than spectacular, that still doesn’t affect how pleasantly enjoyable it is. 8.5/10