The All-New Atom: Future/Past TPB
Collecting Issues #7-11
Author: Gail Simone
Artists: Mike Norton & Eddy Barrows
Were it not heavily discounted for Free Comic Book Day, and had Gail Simone’s name not appeared on the cover, I probably would have glossed over the “All-New” Atom. I nearly missed it altogether, because it was so tiny, and nestled next to an oversized hardcover. (Which is ironic – get it? Because the Atom’s so small that you wouldn’t notice him! Sorry about that, but it really is a small trade paperback, and someone had to say it.)
A bit of background: it’s called the “All-New” Atom, because the previous Atom – Ray Palmer – shrunk himself and disappeared when he found out his wife murdered the Elongated Man’s wife in Identity Crisis. *I think.* I don’t really remember, to be honest. Maybe I should read that one again. Anyway, the “All-New” Atom is Ryan Choi, an expatriate university lecturer from Hong Kong. He’s lecturing at Ivy University, where Palmer was once a professor, so presumably this is how Ryan came into possession of the subatomic belt. (See, it was the only All-New Atom on the shelves, so I assumed Future/Past was the first and last in the series. After checking the inside cover, it appears that the All-New Atom lasted for *at least* 11 issues, and that this was the second collection of them.)
Gail Simone uses Choi’s expatriate status to great effect, playing on the character’s vocab-in-progress. It was particularly humorous watching his attempts at superhero trash-talk, which steadily improved over the course of the book. Dialogue is probably Gail Simone’s greatest asset, and she creates many opportunities to showcase it comedically. The book kicks off with a troupe of cowboys (as in actual cowboys warped from the cowboy time period) crashing through Ryan’s front wall. As an Australian, I can confirm that her spelling of their Deep Southern accent is spot-on, and is exactly how a non-American would hear it. Ryan also has a pet disembodied alien head, whose speech (“can I get you anything, Head?”/ “Orange soda or death!”) is hilariously reminiscent of mis-translated Japanese Role-Playing Games (“All your base are belong to us”, “I am Error”, etc.). There’s also a brief appearance from the taxi-driver that speaks in anagrams. So it’s good to see that Simone has given our hero a strong supporting cast of weirdos and misfits.
The stories of time-travel and demon bullies are fantastical, but amidst it all Ryan Choi remains strangely believable. He’s the school nerd we can get behind (or at least he was), like Clark Kent or Peter Parker, but he’s also a Chinese physicist struggling to come to terms with the very American superhero dichotomy of bravado, and never-say-die attitude. And he doesn’t have much in the way of superpowers, either. Simone comes up with some interesting applications of the Belt’s powers, but it’s hard to say what exactly its powers are. I *think* it can manipulate the size and mass of the wearer’s particles, but sometimes it feels like Simone’s making up the rules as she goes along. In some ways, I would have liked a bit more science fiction injected into these stories, but I’ve always found it’s wisely avoided if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe this is the case with Simone. She does seem to know her Chinese superstition, though, which was good for a few twists and turns when Ryan returned to Hong Kong. Speaking of which, these curious caption boxes keep popping up in strange places containing Chinese proverbs and quotes from JFK, and I have to say, I don’t get it. The quotes don’t seem to have anything to do with what’s going on at the time, and I can only assume that these quotes are popping up in Ryan’s head (due to his Chinese heritage?). Normally with an asterisk and a caption box, you’d expect to read a goofy message from Stan Lee plugging another comic book, so I guess it’s not all bad.
I suppose I should talk about the stories briefly. The first story is called “The Man Who Swallowed Eternity” with a more cartoony feel from artist Mike Norton. The Atom time-travels with literally half a professor through time to find his other half! Yeah, it’s crazy, but it’s action-packed and fun-filled. The second story is still crazy, but more serious in subject matter. In “Jia”, Ryan’s high school flame (Jia) begs him to return and protect her from the school bully, now her abusive husband. Except she forgot to mention he was dead. Nice one, Jia. Barrow’s pencil work is detailed, dynamic, and infused with horror elements that were perfect for the story.
You never would have guessed it, but Gail Simone – being a woman and all – has a gift for three-dimensional female characters. Jia is seductive like most comic book vixens, but she’s also a complicated creature, and infuriatingly so! Let’s just say that the ending is intriguing and leave it at that.
All in all, Gail Simone’s All-New Atom is a charming romp across space and time; definitely more about the journey than the destination. Knowing that the Atom’s journey ends at issue 25 (and Gail’s at #19) helps to put things in perspective. All you can really do is sit back and enjoy the ride.