With the DC universe’s “Rebirth” well underway, we’re starting to see a resurgence of older heroes and the legacy characters who’ve carried on their mantles. The Atom, or rather, Justice League of America: The Atom Rebirth #1 gives us a good amount of both, with a focus on both Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi, as well as the bonds they share. One could even say it’s an “atomic bond,” but that would be a horrible pun, so we won’t.
As Ryan is the central character, the comic gives us an overview of his college experience; a few pages are dedicated to him arriving and meeting his roommate, his early days in class, and first meetings with Ray Palmer. Although it skips ahead in time every now and then, even passing by an entire year in a matter of panels, it never feels like anything is being left out. The dialogue helps catch readers up with everything that’s passed in the time, and it’s done in a way that feels natural.
The conversations between Ray and Ryan are great for letting us know the characters, and while they may come across as a little bit of an info dump, the moments in which they’re delivered allow it to make sense. We get some good insight into what makes Ryan tick, making him a relatable character even as he fills the “sidekick” role.
Ray, on the other hand, we get a little less in the way of development from, but that’s fine; in terms of the hero’s journey, he fulfills the “mentor” role, even if he’s technically the superhero at the start. Even then, we get a good enough handle for his character, and there’s no shortage of heroic deeds for him to undertake.
During one of the time skips, we’re given a nice montage of the team in action; Ray fighting minuscule foes as the Atom, with Ryan providing support. It’s interspersed with Ryan’s college life and Ray’s adventures against foes and threats of all shapes and sizes, while still highlighting how well the two work together. In just a few short pages, we get a great feel for how they work as a team, and see them grow not just as a student and teacher or hero and support, but as friends.
Thus, Ryan’s “call to action” has the proper emotional impact when it comes. Given how it was shown in the first issue of Rebirth, it’s not exactly a spoiler to say, but Ray Palmer goes missing and it’s up to Ryan to find him, somewhere in the Microverse.
It’s a basic setup, with a video and size-changing belt from a mentor, but in the time it takes to reach that point, we’ve learned much about Ryan Choi, what drives him, what limits him, and what kind of person he is. Thus, we as readers are ready to jump in with him as he accepts the call.
Story-wise, this issue does a fine job on all counts. It flows nicely, introduces us to the characters, lets us get to know them and watch them grow, and sets up an adventure with high stakes. It’s great as an introduction for new readers, and as a setup for the JLA Rebirth story that’s to follow.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the art, featuring Andy MacDonald’s illustrations and John Rauch’s color work. The artwork is solid throughout, with just a few things worth nit-picking. Every scene has a real sense of design and personality to it, from the posters on the dorm room walls to Ray Palmer’s cluttered lab (complete with various machines serving unknown scientific purposes). Similarly, the character designs are equally telling of everyone they represent. From the clothes they wear to the way they carry themselves, it’s clear how each person talks, thinks and behaves, without needing them to resort to stereotypes.
For instance, it would be easy to assume that Ryan’s roommate, Adam Cray, would be the typical annoying jock to juxtapose the likable nerdy lead, yet we see them getting along quite well throughout the story. It would be so easy to fall into the old cliche, and yet the comic manages to avoid it, and is all the better for both the characters for it.
Where I do take some issue with the art, however, is mostly around the characters’ faces. Most of them feel somewhat square or elongated, and Ray himself looks so generic that he’s somehow the one who stands out the least during crowd shots. Fans of Arrow looking to learn more about the Atom will note that he looks nothing like Brandon Routh, while longtime comic readers may find his design equally unfamiliar for most of the time. Of course, that changes when he’s in costume, so there are greater sins it could have committed.
Overall, Justice League of America: The Atom Rebirth is a fine introduction to the series, and sets up both the characters and story quite well, with solid artwork almost every step the way. It’s great for those looking to get started on comics starring the Atom, and should be equally appealing to longtime fans looking to see where Ryan and Ray’s roles in the Rebirth universe take them.
Justice League of America: The Atom Rebirth #1 sets up the story well, with solid artwork, nice pacing and great character work throughout.