Review: All-New Atom: The Hunt for Ray Palmer trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, January 12, 2009

The third volume of the All-New Atom series, The Hunt for Ray Palmer, improves on the second volume with a more traditional helping of Mighty Mite action. Granted, this trade is something of a picaresque pastiche, a collection of somewhat loosely connected Atom one-shot adventures in service to Countdown to Final Crisis, but writer Gail Simone offers so much imaginative action here that it's well worth the ride, even if the story doesn't go much of anywhere.

As with Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer, this Atom story is distinctly about the looking and not the finding. New Atom Ryan Choi searches such unlikely locations as the former Atom Ray Palmer's jungle home, the miniscule base of the alien race The Waiting, and a mock alien heaven to find his predecessor; not surprisingly, Ryan doesn't find him. Instead, Simone treats us to a double-dose of Ryan's winning personality, and this makes the trade. Whether brokering peace between two warring Ray Palmer cults, or defending an alien soldier from Jason Todd, Ryan Choi brings humor, a good heart, and a fresh perspective to the role of the Atom, trait's that have similarly made the new Blue Beetle and Aquaman so enjoyable.

Whereas I felt Atom: Future/Past dwelt too much on a de-powered Ryan Choi, Simone has Ryan growing and shrinking with the best of them this time. The name of the game seems to be madcap fun -- witness the excellent reveal of a long-time Atom foe, Ryan Choi donning a makeshift version Ray Palmer's "Sword of the Atom" costume, and need I say more: "Stupid Jetpack Hitler." Even the Godzilla monster fight in the end, though a bit cliched, runs on pure bizarre adrenaline. Some times you don't need much more from your comics than the sense that the writer is having fun, and Hunt for Ray Palmer has that in spades.

It's perhaps a credit to Gail Simone that her writing in All-New Atom seems tonally different (most of the time) from that of her writing in Birds of Prey. I mention Birds because it surprised me to find a false ghost of Blue Beetle Ted Kord in this book. After Simone wrote a lovely tribute to Ted Kord at the beginning of Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits, I'm surprised she'd have such an off-the-cuff appearance by something proporting to be Blue Beetle's spirit, especially in a chapter that didn't amount to much more than a satire of crossovers. It's in this way that Hunt for Ray Palmer is somewhat scattered -- the hero going from adventure to adventure to the next crazy adventure. There's some appeal to this, but it doesn't necessarily hold up under heavy scruitiny.

I wasn't much sold in the last trade on the art of Eddy Barrows, which overall I find a little dark for my tastes, and I was glad to see Mike Norton return for the entirety of this volume. Norton's art is wide and clean, leaving room for plenty of color, and it fit quite well with all the (micro)cosmic action that Simone has prepared.

[Contains full covers, brieft character bios]

So a fair review of All-New Atom: The Hunt for Ray Palmer -- I like this series, and I enjoy it every time I read it, and I'll be sorry to see it end after the next trade, even as it was never quite at the top of my To-Read list. Join us next time for All-New Atom: Small Wonder, and then more reviews follow from there.
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