DC has a long history of “legacy” heroes, characters who take the name of a past hero and try to live up to it. And one of the best, in recent years, was Ryan Choi, a physicist who took over the cowl of the Atom, Ray Palmer. What makes Choi’s return in JLA Rebirth: The Atom (DC Comics) so intriguing, though, is the twist Steve Orlando puts on a reluctant superhero.
Orlando’s take on Choi is to depict him as a classic comics nerd: Ryan is shy, allergic to almost everything, has no social skills, and is uncertain about pretty much everything in his life. So, basically he’s Peter Parker. So the story is all about how Choi, essentially, grows up, how he becomes more confident, and how a good mentor brings him out of his shell. The tone is pitched smartly: Instead of Choi being thrown into superheroics, he gets recruited to be mission control. Until, of course, the day comes that he has to put on the belt and become the hero.
Andy McDonald offers some crisp, bright artwork that’s often inventive and nods to the past without distracting from the story. For example, the opening pages feature a powers-of-ten sequence zooming out from the Atom, in a riff on a ’70s storyline where he basically became a tiny Conan the Barbarian, fighting viruses on what turns out to be Choi’s glasses. Overall, this book is a perfect return for a hero we’ve been missing.