Review: All-New Atom: Small Wonder trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

[Contains spoilers for All-New Atom: Small Wonder]

It's a shame that the third and fourth volumes of All-New Atom were such an improvement over the second volume, only to have this be the last volume of the series. Outgoing writer Gail Simone gives a fitting send-off to the newest Atom Ryan Choi in Small Wonder; incoming writer Rick Remender makes some seemingly unnecessary changes to Ryan Choi's backstory (changes that might make more sense, perhaps, had the series not been cancelled) but ultimately offers a tenable enough Atom story to make it a shame that the party had to end.

Gail Simone finishes out Ryan Choi's story with three issues (don't let the copyright page fool you, kids -- issue #20 is in here, too) that are perhaps some of the best of the series so far. Ryan finally accepts a date with fellow professor Dr. Zuel, also the villain Giganta, and then must defend her both from Wonder Woman and an alien invader. These issues are classic All-New Atom (and perhaps, classic Simone): hilarious (note the trademark Atom goes go entirely to Romeo and Juliet during the date), full of Ryan Choi's endearing wistfulness, and brimming with weird size-changing science fiction. Simone also plays the unlikely pair of the Atom and Wonder Woman off each other perfectly, foreshadowing some of the warrior ethos she's brought to the current Wonder Woman series.

In Rick Remender's five-issue story, he subsequently challenges some of the main aspects of the Atom that Simone set down. The biggest revelation here is that, contrary to what the audience has believed for twenty issues, Ray Palmer never did correspond with Ryan Choi; it was the villain Chronos (or his paramour, Lady Chronos) instead. At the same time, even as Simone clears Ray Palmer of causing the strange doings in Ivy Town with his size-changing belt, placing the blame on Chronos, Remender reverses this and makes it Ray's fault once again. The result is a darker and less hopeful Atom where good is bad and bad is good; this works, of sorts, for Remender's story, but the changes unavoidably cast a pall on Simone's good ending.

Remender's story is in-and-of-itself, however, fairly riveting. Remender's story, like Simone's, has a healthy dose of size-changing weirdness; in addition, it involves a time travel mystery that kept my attention glued to the page. Unfortunately, for lack of space or editorial fiat, I didn't necessarily feel that Remender really answered all the questions he raised, as far as which villain worked for whom or the nature of their ultimate plan. Remender's Atom story, as I mentioned, is considerably darker than most of Simone's (as artist Pat Olliffe art has more of a horror-movie tone than Mike Norton's), but at the same time, Simone ends the story with Ryan Choi leaving the Atom identity behind for teaching while Remender indicates Ryan might keep the Atom mantle. Though I liked Simone's stories more, I can't help but be happier with Remender's conclusion.

[Contains full covers]

And thus, All-New Atom ends, following Checkmate and Shadowpact as post-Infinite Crisis series finales. From what I've heard, Ray Palmer is supposed to show up in James Robinson's new Justice League series, but here's hoping we see Ryan Choi again in the DCU somewhere soon -- he's a character I've really enjoyed reading.
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