Monday, August 1, 2011

Sword Of The Atom

Ray Palmer is one of the few superheroes who avoided having it way too rough in the Grim Grittiness of the 90s. This was corrected with interest *puts on sunglasses, YYYYYEYEEEEAAAHHHH!!!* in the past decade when his wife went nuts and killed a beloved character's beloved wife.

Anyways, I've already added Ray to the Justice League line-up. And I'm sure people have noticed that outside of the Trinity, I'm pretty reluctant to have characters exist in multiple books at the same time. I think that sort of setup just gets way too messy, way too fast. I don't mind guest appearances or anything, it's just that the amount of character juggling that needs to happen for a character to consistently show up in multiple titles is the sort of thing that hastens a reboot.

Back to The Atom. I've always liked Ray's powers. Should I have powers beyond the ken of mortal men foisted upon me, I'd be totally happy to get Atom's size and mass manipulation powers. There's not a lot of obligation to use these powers overtly for good. The great power and responsibility of a Kryptonian powerset would be more hassle than it's worth. SuperDrew, they'd say, why don't you use your powers to save that train? Stop that war? Beat up that jerky alien with three eyes? But the Dratom? What would they expect him to do? Deal with a particularly aggressive squirrel?

For Ray Palmer, the downside to having a powerset that I like is that I've spent more time thinking about their implications. Where does The Atom's mass go when he shrinks? How does he breathe when smaller than an oxygen molecule? If he shrinks quickly, will the resultant vacuum suck his now tiny form into the air? The answers to these questions and more can be summed up by "It's just comics, Drew, don't think about it too hard. Plus there's a white dwarf star in the Atom's belt. Duh." Later explanations of the Atom's power involves him shifting his mass into another dimension when he reduces and pulling matter from the same place when he grows.

That act will be what starts off Sword of the Atom (#34/52). Ray Palmer, as is his wont, shrinks down to fun size to travel across telephone lines, one of his signature abilities and also one that demonstrates a lack of understanding of how our telecommunications systems work nowadays, but hey, comics everybody. During the trip, something goes wrong, but not disastrously so. Well, not disastrously so to the Ray Palmer who emerges happy and healthy on the other side, popping out of a telephone with some quip about traffic being a bear today or something. "I had to re-reduce on my way over," he'll say off-handedly, "Sorry I'm late." No big deal.

Except it is a big deal for the other Ray Palmer, the one who ended up emerging not from a telephone in Justice League HQ but into a new dimension entirely. For that guy, things are about to get weird. Floating in a psychedelic void, Ray attempts to locate some solid ground to get his bearings on. He futzes with his size and mass, shrinking down further in hopes of finding a molecule to settle down on.

Instead, he finds an entire world.

In the original Sword of the Atom, the world Ray finds is one of those standard neo-medieval ones that populate comics. Corsets, you see. We'll up the age of our Morlaidh to make it a pre-modern Elizabethan setting, so flintlocks and sabres as opposed to broadswords and horned helmets while retaining the all important bodice demographic. Ray lands amongst the people of Morlaidh right at the height of a cataclysmic civil war. Not only are the heavens on fire, spitting giants down upon the innocent gods-fearing yellow-skinned folks, but there's a war of succession on going between a Queen and her upstart cousin. The Queen is legitimately the ruler, but as she has rejected the Tenants of Faith in favor of science, the powerful Church has instead backed her cousin, claiming him to be the rightful heir to the throne. 

And when I say "giant" I mean it - Ray's belt is on the fritz and the smallest he can initially get would make him roughly 12 feet tall. In gratitude for him saving the lives of some of her subjects from the ongoing turmoil, the Queen grants Ray access to her primitive-yet-just-decent enough lab in order to try to fix his belt. Ray has to start from square one for a lot of his tools and the Queen (and some no-doubt shift advisers) get the benefit of learning a whole lot of new technology (some of which is put to work against the forces of the Church by an over-eager suitor which immediately backfires). Anyways, Ray gets his belt working again, sort of, and manages to shrink down to normal size relative the rest of the Morlaidhians right before the lab explodes.

Is it betrayal? A Church spy? Ray's knocked out for some time. During that period, his belt goes missing, so he's stuck at his current size. But it turns out that when he shrank down from being a giant, he only brought his size down. His mass, density, and proportional strength are still at 12 foot tall levels. This will come in handy as the Queen has also gone missing anda bunch of the locals are blaming him (as, it turns out, they should - Ray's size changing is what causes the tumult as he steals mass/space from the surrounding area, but it'll be some time before that's fund out).

So Ray Palmer, slightly nerdy scientist who had a powerset that did not really demand heroics, is now thrust into the role of a hero. He'll pick up some of the same tricks he's seen his Justice League associates use ("I'm just pretending to be Batman." "Who is Batman?" "Nevermind.") as he quests out to rescue the Queen and locate his belt. While the former will be done over the course of the first arc, the latter will take some time, years in fact. Ray will have a life of adventure (and eventually love when he marries the Queen) before locating his belt when at The Most Interesting Man In The World age. He tinkers with it, fixing it, but never uses it until his Queen dies of natural causes. Then, having fixed the cataclysmic flaw, he uses it to grow back up and out of the strange matter universe and back into his own.

Appearing thirty seconds after the other Ray Palmer did, way back when the first split happened. Mass and size are not the only things the belt dilates, you see. So now there is a second, older, and more grizzled Atom running around. Will he be a friend or foe? Consider that the first Ray's belt puts the second's adopted home in jeopardy, that's hard to say.

All this before Ryan Choi even shows up. We'll save him (and Al Pratt and Atom Smasher) for the Atomic War crossover event. Flash has his own Family of Speedsters, after all, so why can't the Atom have a similar setup?

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