Monday, June 07, 2021

The Atomic Dynasty

My recent post about a heroclix map for the Atom made me realize that, although I've mentioned the fact that Atom doesn't really have much of a dynasty, I've never made any suggestions for changing that.  [I actually did, but I'm sure you don't remember, and the universe has changed repeatedly since then.]

Let's do that now (although it may take some effort to figure out).

The Atom doesn't have a lot of existing organic connections to other heroes or potential dynasty members.  He has no cousin from his home planet, no orphaned wards, no tribe of warriors in a hidden distant land.  

At least, not any more.

So, the sensible approach would seem to be arranging around him characters with related powers (size/shape-changing) and affinities (science and acrobatics).  A lot of these connections have been made in a scattershot way, across various versions of the character, but a good comic book editor (if such a thing still existed) could pull it all together for writers to work with.

Apache Chief. Yeah, I know his name is problematic, but I also know it can be solved. Meanwhile, Tye Longshadow could easily be a professor of Native American Studies at Ivy University.  Being from the Humanities rather than the Sciences, he would add a warmer, perhaps more philosophical touch to Team Atom (and a lot of raw power).

Micron. Since he only had only one brief, but awesome appearance in the animated universe, Micron is a blank slate with great potential.  Since he's portrayed as an adult in the future, he could easily be an adapt pupil of Ray's in the present and a precocious college-aged partner in crimefighting. Like Longshadow, he'd bring some ethnic diversity to the Atom dynasty. His power set is a nice complement; unlike Atom he can get larger, but unlike Apache Chief he can get smaller.

As the old song goes, "I'm a little taller than the Atom but smaller than Apache Chief."

The Golden Age Atom (Al Pratt).  Tying these two together has never been natural.  In fact, I'm not certain I've ever even seen the two together.  Unlike Flash and Green Lantern, the Atom doesn't share a power set with his Golden Age predecessor.  However, it has been established that Al Pratt was a college student who went on to become a physicist.  Perhaps he could head the Physics Department where Ray works, as a pleasant Perry White figure.

MORE pleasant.

He could provide a seasoned perspective on problems not solved by superpowers and help Ray (et al.) cover up any secret identity issues.; "Prof. Palmer is on sabbatical.  Prof. Longshadow is doing field work.  Mr. Micron is working on his thesis."  He could be both the Atom dynasty's Elder Statesman and Authority Figure.

Lord knows it couldn't be Chief Baxter.

Chief Baxter.  Okay, I know I just said Chief Baxter couldn't be the Atom's Authority Figure because, well, Chief Baxter is a moron.  He's the college town police chief from the horror movies, the one who doesn't make any of the obvious connections that would prevent all the murders on Sorority Row.  He's so stupid I suspect he's a foreign exchange cop from the Jessica Fletcher Universe (JFU).  But then again... perhaps that is exactly the reason to use him.  The DCU is, after all, already full of hyper-competent, bad-ass authority figures, like editor Perry White, Police Commissioners Jim Gordon and George Emmett, and General Phillip Blankenship.  

And, of course, Director Danvers.

Perhaps the Atom dynasty could distinguish itself by having an obvious moron as the Authority Figure?  Since every else in the Atom's ambit is a Very Smart Person, it might make for nice contrast.  If there's anything I've learned from working in Washington DC it's that being an obvious moron does not necessarily disqualify you from being an Authority Figure.  I particularly like the idea that Team Atom do everything they can to help Chief Baxter stay in his position, because having a police chief who's a moron make THEIR jobs (and secret identities) as superheroes much easier.  "Helping Chief Baxter keep his job" would be the equivalent of "hiding my secret identity from Lois".

Bumblebee.  Oh, Karen! I remember how ridiculous you seemed when you were first introduced! 

I have spent over forty years looking for an excuse to say
"Sorry, sweetie, my honey-gun is cancelling your gig."

Sure, what Karen Beecher can do and why is a wildly varied mess over her various versions.  Maybe she can shrink; maybe she can only stay shrunk; maybe she's always my height (5'7").  Who cares? Just pick a version and go with it. She's a brilliant science student who in at least one universe is Ray Palmer's protege.  She's Bumblebee, she's fun; just make it work. And don't worry that she's too much like the Wasp; unlike Ant-Man, Ray Palmer would never slap a woman!

Well, hardly ever.

I personally am fond of the idea of a Bumblebee who DOESN'T shrink (even though everyone would assume she does).  She could be the dynasty member most at home with regular-sized heroics.  Despite expectations, she could be just a smart sturdy gal in a high-tech bee costume, slinging out sassiness like ""Sorry, sweetie, my honey-gun is cancelling your gig."

Molecule. During Geoff Johns's incredibly odd and muddled run on Teen Titans, he (briefly) introduced a teen version of the Atom, named Molecule.

It's important to forget that Ray Palmer himself once became a teenage version of the Atom. Because comics.

Molecule, like Micron, is mostly a blank slate with a neat costume. 

An unnaturally buff teenaged blank slate.  Kind of like a Disney Channel star.

Molecule, however, could be a pre-college age sidekick. A nephew? Ray does have a dead brother, after all.  Molecule is/was, of course, also dead, because Geoff Johns enjoys killing characters almost as much as he does bringing them back from the dead.  But that's certainly no reason not to bring him back.  Molecule, I mean, not Geoff Johns. Speaking of Geoff Johns...

Atom-Smasher.  Al Rothstein! OH, how I used to enjoy picking on him for being terrible!  

What kind of idiot arm-wrestles BLACK ADAM?!

And he's about to get a much higher public profile now that's in the Black Adam movie.  He is clearly the choice for the Black Sheep of the Atom dynasty, indulged because of his connection with Al Pratt, but always a morally-challenged giant impulsive aggressive muscle-head in a group of thinkers and strategizing gymnasts.  His codename is very troublesome, obviously, but there is some way around that.

Something nuclear-themed, say.

Major Mynah.
  Oh, yeah, I'm going there.

"It's the Atom, riding a bird!"

In case you don't already know, Ray used to have a pet Cambodian Mynah bird named "Major".  Major was also a crime-fighting cyborg bird. Because comics.

He was also a savage lunatic. Because birds.

Look, there's not too much in comics more ridiculous than Major Mynah.  But as a wise man once said, "If you can't make the likes of Tawky Tawny work, then you probably shouldn't be writing Shazam in the first place."

Besides, that is why he absolutely must be part of the Atom dynasty.  It's like this:  most superheroes have powers that are just elaborate extrapolations of what humans can do. Flash can run.  Aquaman can swim. Superman can lift stuff.  Green Lantern makes things.  Wonder Woman can fight. Green Arrows shoots.  Batman can figure stuff out.

We heard you the first time, Ray.

These are activities we can vaguely identify with. But the Atom's power is NOT like that. The Atom SHRINKS. This is not an extrapolation of anything human, in any way.  It's weird and completely alien to the human experience.  

The only way to make that work is to surround him with WEIRDER things, that help make the Atom himself seem more normal in comparison.  It's the "Niles Crane" Principle; the way to take a side character (like Frasier Crane from Cheers) and put him at the center of an ensemble is to have some characters that are even more outrĂ© than he is so that he's not the outlier.  Gail Simone understood this, which is why her All-New Atom was absolutely bat-**** crazy (that, plus the fact that B-S crazy writing is her forte).  Which leads us to ....

Ryan Choi. Well, yes, certainly we want Ryan Choi! His tenure as the Atom was MUCH shorter than Ray's, of course, but he's gotten some good multimedia exposure; he was in Batman: Brave & the Bold and Zack Snyder's Justice League.  There's the minor problem of his having the same codename as Ray, but that's no insuperable obstacle; is "All-New" too absurd as a codename? 

And he had charm that Ray never quite did.

And unlike Ray, Ryan is SHORT person.  Short people deserve an Atom they can identify with.  

Personally, I identify with Bumblebee; she's the same height as I am, you know.  And can also fire projectiles out of her butt at high velocity.

Ryan has a facility for out-of-the-box thinking, which Ray values.

Ray and Ryan could easily be the Frasier and Niles of weird science heroes and I think they'd both be richer characters for it.

Doll Man.  Commenter Glen Davis once suggested that Doll Man be the Elder Statesman of the Atom dynasty.  Well, I've got a higher purpose for him: he's the Crazy Uncle.  I could write books about how crazy Darrel "Doll Man" Dane was.

Usually this is the origin of a VILLAIN.

Running around in swimming togs, a red Dr. Strange cape, and pixie boots, he was crazy reckless and had a bondage thing going on.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Unlike the Atom, whose shrinking power comes from comic-book physics, Doll Man's shrinking power (the ability to be either six foot or six inches tall) came from comic-book chemistry, which eventually left him susceptible to mental instability.

Not that there weren't signs earlier.

This makes him a perfect candidate for the Loose Cannon role, the kind of person who creates as many problems as he solves, serves as the reason to get The Team involved in something, and becomes the unpredictable distraction that you employ in a large-scale offensive.

"Large-scale" being a relative term, of course.

"Offensive" is ALSO a relative term.

Darrell Dane's powers might require him to be at one size or the other for certain amounts of time, or risk going crazy (or shifting uncontrollably to the other size).  He'd be the dynasty member the team is always a bit worried about. Is he taking his meds? Can we rely on him? Maybe we shouldn't mention this situation to Dane.  He'd be a lively addition to a pack of highly rational science-heroes.

I'm sure he and Major'd get along famously.

Rita Farr. 
Despite her television version being part Elastic Lad, part The Blob, Rita's canonic power is simply size-changing (the one thing the show ignores).  I couldn't believe it when the Doom Patrol members (except Larry) all got shrunk at the end of the first season and she couldn't simply GROW back to her normal size (even if that was classified as being a giant version of her shrunken size).  

I mean, look; it's not as if she's doing anything (except on television).  HBO Max notwithstanding, Doom Patrol's not going to get a book any time soon.  She could at least be a frequent guest-star in the Atom dynasty, where instead of being branded as a FREAK (as Doom Patrol's branding demands), she would be comparatively pedestrian. "Oh, yeah? You shrink and grow? Yeah, us, too. But you are a MOVIE STAR?! Awesome!"  

Adding Rita into the mix wouldn't be so much about her power set but rather all the story opportunities and connections her celebrity and Doom Patrol connections could bring.  Last I was paying any attention, Doom Patrol's HQ was in Midway City, anyway, which is Hawkman's turf.  Creating an axis between Hawkman/DP/The Atom would be a piece of cake; not only are the organic connections there, but they all deal with WEIRD STUFF.

Sure, I could have chosen the cover with the winged space-ape, but that seemed too obvious.

Add to that the rest of the Weird Science characters: Mr. Terrific; The Metal Men;  The T Council.  Face it, they aren't doing anything else for the foreseeable future.  Ray is, de facto, the human, JLA-style superhero face of weird science in the DCU; it's not for nothing that he was part of S.H.A.D.E. in the Frankenstein series.

He HATES it when you call him Melmoth.

The Atom should be the center of gravity for weird science in the DCU.  It makes at least as much sense as Wonder Woman being in Justice League Dark.

And, last but not least: Asimov.  I just love that little guy. Ray definitely deserves a shrinkable robo-Alfred. 

So, all in all, I imagine the Atom dynasty could look something like this:


Anonymous said...

I'm for anything that brings more weird science to the DCU.

-- Jack of Spades

Bryan L said...

Random thoughts:

The Golden Age Atom definitely met Ray:

So I'm in favor of including him in your dynasty. However, beware the problem of Damage, because I'm not sure anybody wants to open that can of worms.

The version of Apache Chief from the Young Justice TV series, where his giant form is a psychic projection, has always struck me as a clever way around the whole "giant physics" problem.

Anonymous said...

I think you've hit on something with Ray being the face of weird science. And maybe, Ray's dynasty should be less about size-changing and more about science?

Did you know that the Red Bee's grandson is a biochemist who continues the insect research in Ivy University's biology department? Well I just made that up, but you see where I'm going with this: all those weird niche scientists could be Ivy University adjacent. Al Pratt could even be a coach there.

Of course, this is not to say that Ray Palmer wouldn't attract a lot of size-changers to his department, and I'd like to see more Ryan Choi. But I wouldn't mind seeing Ivy become the DC's center of weird science, with Ryan Palmer as the premier science adventurer.

Disclaimer: I'm a big "Numb3rs" fan and anything that makes the DCU more like "Numb3rs" is fine by me.

Scipio said...

has always struck me as a clever way around the whole "giant physics" problem.

Yeah, I thought that was clever.

Scipio said...

"all those weird niche scientists could be Ivy University adjacent."

I would love to discover that almost all mad scientists and S.T.A.R. employees went there.

John C said...

I think that I mostly agree with the commenter suggesting that Ray's "family aspect" is really the science side, though I might say that it's weird science that gets applied to weirder adventures. I might argue that, especially once you start talking about Major Mynah, the Morlaidhans (I looked the up, OK?), Doll Man, the Doom Patrol, and so forth, it sounds like his "family" looks more like Congorilla (with a non-mystic origin), Animal Man, and even Donna "my origin changes more often than my shoes" Troy.

On the other hand, some of my resistance to your idea of size-changers is probably just based in that size has tended to work comparatively poorly in visual media than it has in prose. Maybe it's because visual media have wanted to associate with action, whereas old stories like The Diamond Lens and its successors like The Girl in the Golden Atom could afford to care more about the otherworldly nature of the...well, the other world. That said, the list in the post is more interesting than "bunch of white guys who got their powers from space stuff in the jungle."

Anonymous said...

John C - I think you're on point with "science adventurers". Maybe that's why Ray Palmer is the pater familis of that bunch: because he's one of the few guys who can do both the adventuring and the sciencing? He's walked in the subatomic world, he's traveled through time, he's even ridden in Wonder Woman's cleavage. Who are we kidding, it's that last one that makes everyone look up to him.

About Donna Troy, I say 90% of her problem is that there is no "her" to her other than the superheroine Wonder Girl; character backstories lay the foundations for the heroes, and Donna's got none. So I recommend this backstory: she was a teen runaway escaping a toxic home life, whom Wonder Woman took to Themyscira for reasons, and while she was there, she saw a better way to live and wants to bring it back to the States. Athena rather than Aphrodite chose her as her champion, which sets up some ways to differentiate between Diana and Donna Troy. Also, no Terry Long.

cybrid said...

"unlike Ant-Man, Ray Palmer would never slap a woman"

Henry Pym was in the middle of a nervous breakdown due to undiagnosed and thus untreated mental illness. That's not an "excuse", mind you, it's an extenuating circumstance.

In the scene you cite, Ray hits Jean while in full possession of his faculties. No extenuating circumstances there. I'm just sayin'.

Veering off-topic, the Pym storyline and its aftermath -- not in the Marvel Universe but out here in the real world -- taught me, among other things, that one violent loss of temper defines you forever, that no matter how much good you've done and no matter how much good you'll subsequently do, even if you never lay a hand in anger on anyone again, you will ALWAYS be an abuser. As someone who takes medication for bipolar disorder -- someone who if he for whatever reason was unable to take his morning medication might at the slightest if any provocation end up screaming at people and maybe even physically lashing out at them -- that's a lesson I've taken deeply to heart. :-| As least 85% of the people on Earth have bigger problems than I do, of course, I know that, I am, again, just sayin'.

cybrid said...

As impressive as all that is...what, no link to some version of another of Shrinking Violet (whom I just learned is a.k.a. "Atom Girl" (among other codenames))?

She's visited "the present" any number of times, plus in at least one or two reboot, her homeworld Imsk is defined as a subatomic world OSLT, and what does the passage of time mean to a world that exists on the quantum level OSLT and is thus built into the very fabric of time and space?

And the beauty of it is that, no matter what sort of personality she's given, it's bound to correspond with ONE of the personalities that she's had in one Legion incarnation or another. In fact, she could specifically be a survivor of a now-dead reboot. ;-)

Her lover is/was/will be Ayla Ranzz, who'd thus be kind of a dynastic-in-law, I guess, no inherent connection to the overall theme and an entirely different power set (lightning and anti-gravity, two great tastes that...), but part of the social group just the same. :-)

Anonymous said...

... oh! Here's how we get Al Pratt in line with Ivy University.

You know how the original real-world Atom, Joseph Greenstein, believed in mental powers and the like? Well, suppose Al Pratt came to Ivy University on some sort of grant to study similar mental abilities? Obviously his studies wouldn't have amounted to much, but he could be some sort of crank professor on campus, mostly into coaching and physical training these days.