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There have been four characters who have shared the Atom codename. The original Golden Age Atom, Al Pratt, was created by Ben Flinton and Bill O'Connor and first appeared in All-American Publications' All-American Comics #19 (Oct. 1940). The second Atom was the Silver Age Atom, Ray Palmer, who first appeared in 1961. The third Atom, Adam Cray, was a minor character present in Suicide Squad stories. The fourth Atom, Ryan Choi, debuted in a new Atom series in August 2006.
The Atom has been the star of multiple solo series, and three of the four have appeared as members of various superhero teams, such as the Justice Society of America, the Justice League, and the Suicide Squad.
The original Atom, Al Pratt, first appeared in All-American Comics #19 (Oct. 1940). He initially had no superpowers; instead, he was a diminutive college student and later a physicist who was depicted as a tough guy, a symbol of all the short kids who could still make a difference. Pratt was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, later gaining limited super-strength, and an energy charged 'atomic punch'. He died in the charge against Extant during the Zero Hour.
Atom (Ray Palmer) The Atom introduced during the Silver Age of Comic Books in Showcase #34 (1961) is physicist and university professor Ray Palmer (named for real-life science fiction writer Raymond A Palmer, who was himself quite short). Using a mass of white dwarf star matter, he fashioned a lens which allowed him to shrink down to subatomic size. Originally, his size and molecular density abilities derived from the white dwarf star material of his costume, controlled by mechanisms in his belt, and later by controls in the palms of his gloves. Much later, he gained the innate equivalent powers within his own body. After the events of Identity Crisis, Ray shrunk himself to microscopic size and disappeared. Finding him became a major theme of the Countdown year long series and crossover event.
Adam Cray, son of the murdered Senator Cray, first appeared as the Atom in the pages of Suicide Squad #44 by John Ostrander (August 1990). At first Cray was widely believed to be Ray Palmer in disguise (by both the fans and the characters). Actually Cray had been recruited by Palmer himself, who faked his death, in order to apprehend the Micro Squad (a group of villains that had been shrunk down) as well as uncover information about a shadowy government cabal, who were interested in Palmer's knowledge of the other heroes' secret identities (his own identity being no longer a secret).
While Palmer would infiltrate the Micro Squad, Cray would gather the attention of the Cabal as the new Atom, so that no one would notice Palmer assuming the identity of a fallen Micro Squad member.
Adam Cray ran with the Suicide Squad only for a short while, serving as a secret weapon most of the time, and his existence was for a while even unknown to others of the Squad. Cray even saves a wounded Amanda Waller from a group of assassins. At one point, Cray approaches Deadshot about the fact that Deadshot had murdered his father. Deadshot tells Cray that he would get one free shot at him. Soon after, on a mission, Cray is impaled through the chest by Blacksnake, a Micro Squad member who believes him to be Palmer.
After the murder of Cray (a move Palmer had not foreseen), Palmer reveals himself and defeats Cray's murderer. The ruse ended, Palmer explains himself to the Justice League, who had been searching for him, after hearing rumors of a new Atom.
Ryan Choi, as described by DC solitations, is "a young hotshot professor who's filling the extra spot on Ivy University's teaching staff. .. and who inadvertently ends up filling the old Atom's super-heroic shoes". This new Atom is based on a redesign by Grant Morrison. He debuted in the Brave New World one-shot, a preview of upcoming projects, and then appeared in the series, The All-New Atom, written by Gail Simone.
Born in Hong Kong, Ryan was a longtime protege of Ray Palmer who had been corresponding with him through letters. After Palmer's disappearance, Ryan moved to Ivy Town in America to assume his mentor's place on the staff of Ivy University. Following clues left by Palmer, Ryan discovered a "bio-belt," allegedly the size and density-manipulating device used by his predecessor, and became the new Atom with Palmer's apparent blessing. Though taken with the superhero lifestyle, Ryan is a scientist first and foremost and approaches many of his adventures from the perspective of scientific discovery and investigation.
Since taking his mentor's place, Ryan has found himself at the center of a conflict between the forces of science and magic. It has been claimed that the impossible feats performed by Ray Palmer during his superheroic career caused the very fabric of reality to warp in Ivy Town's vicinity, making it a nexus of paranormal activity. Many parties, including the ancient "Cancer God" M'Nagalah and the microscopic aliens known as "The Waiting," consider Ryan a key player in the war and have made attempts to recruit, capture, or kill him.
As The Atom, Ryan has faced numerous challenges, including the shrinking serial killer Dwarfstar, his strict and disapproving father, and being seduced, kidnapped, and even swallowed alive by the size-changing villainess, Giganta. Through it all, his ingenuity and keen deductive mind have served him in good stead.
Ryan Choi was involved in the search for the missing Ray Palmer, travelling into the restored Multiverse along with Donna Troy, Jason Todd and a Monitor nicknamed "Bob". Literally plucked back to New Earth, he leaves his role of dimension-hopper to Kyle Rayner, returning to defend Ivy Town from a monster invasion. Later he is led to a mistaken belief that Ray Palmer has become an egocentric madman, and Ryan himself may be only a pawn of his mad fantasies. This is later revealed to be a ploy by Ray's old nemesis, Chronos. The All New Atom series ended with issue 25.
Another version of the Atom has been featured in stories set eighty-three thousand years in the future, in the 853rd century, as seen in DC One Million. Portrayed as the sole survivor of a micro-world, he is taken in by Justice Legion Alpha, and has the ability to divide himself into multiple beings. The more he divides himself, the smaller he gets. This provides him the ability to mimic nearly any substance. By dividing himself to an atomic size and changing his molecular density, he was shown to turn into gold and oxygen.
Frank Miller portrayed Ray Palmer as a major player in Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. He was taken prisoner by Lex Luthor and made to live in one of his own petri dishes for a period of months until his rescue by Catgirl. He was then instrumental in the liberation of Kandor.
In the Tangent Comics print, The Atom is Arthur Harrison Thompson, a subject of radiation testing on human beings. The first hero in the Tangent timeline, he was succeeded by his son, who was killed by the Tangent Comics version of the Fatal Five, and a grandson named Adam, who, in Tangent: Superman's Reign, is being held captive by Superman.
- Some other re-imaginings of the Atom include an appearance in League of Justice, a story portraying the Justice League in a The Lord of the Rings-type story where the Atom was recast as a wizard/fortune teller called "Atomus The Palmer".
- Al Pratt as the Atom was one of the three heroes who chose to work at the side of Senator Thompson in The Golden Age. When Al discovers that Thompson is really the Ultra-Humanite, he joins the other heroes against the villain and Dyna-Man.
- The Al Pratt Atom appeared in JSA: The Unholy Three as a post-WW2 intelligence agent with transparent atomic flesh and a visible skeleton.
- JLA: Age of Wonder where Ray Palmer worked with a science consortium whose numbers at one point included Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
- JLA: Created Equal, after Ray Palmer is killed in the cosmic storm that nearly wipes out the rest of the male population on Earth, a graduate student named Jill Athron is given a research grant to study Palmer's white-dwarf-star-belt. She becomes the Atom and joins the Justice League.
In the final issue of 52, a new Multiverse is revealed, originally consisting of 52 identical realities. Among the parallel realities shown is one designated "Earth-2". As a result of Mister Mind "eating" aspects of this reality, it takes on visual aspects similar to the pre-Crisis Earth-2, including the Atom among other Justice Society of America characters. The names of the characters and the team are not mentioned in the panel in which they appear, but the Atom is visually similar to the Al Pratt Atom. Based on comments by Grant Morrison, this alternate universe is not the pre-Crisis Earth-2.
In Countdown #30, the Challengers from Beyond encountered Earth-15, a world where the sidekicks had taken their mentor's places. On this Earth, the Atom is Jessica Palmer, a genius who graduated from MIT at age eight. The Search for Ray Palmer - Red Son features the Ray Palmer of Earth-30, an American captured by the Superman of a communist Russia. Countdown: Arena also depicts the Ray Palmer of Earth-6, who through unknown circumstances now has the powers and title of the Ray. The Search For Ray Palmer: Superwoman/Batwoman briefly features a female version of The Atom.
Appearances in other media
- Ray Palmer (voiced by Pat Harrington Jr) appeared in his own episodes in The Superman Aquaman Hour of Adventure. He also appears with the Super Friends in The All-New Super Friends Hour and The Super Friends Hour, voiced by Wally Burr.
- The Atom (Ray Palmer) appeared in Justice League Unlimited to help Lex Luthor defend himself against Amazo and disable an alien weapon known as the Dark Heart (in an episode written by Warren Ellis). Both of the devices utilized nanotechnology, a field in which he is an expert. He is voiced by John C McGinley (Identity). Ray Palmer was also mentioned in the season 2 episode "Hereafter Part 2". Some technology of Palmer's was stolen by Vandal Savage. This was used to control the force of gravity, destroying the Justice League. The side effects of his gravity manipulation shifted the Earth's orbit, killing all human life. Savage told Superman about this while he was stranded in the future. When Superman got back to his present time, he and the Justice League went to stop Savage from getting the technology.
- In an early Justice League episode, "Legends", the League team up with the Justice Guild Of America. JGA member Tom Turbine is a cross between Golden Age Atom and the Golden Age Superman/Kal-L.
- The Atom also makes an appearance with a slightly different color scheme costume in the live action 1979 TV special "Legends of the Superheroes", specifically "The Roast" episode.
- The Atom (Ray Palmer) also appeared in the 1997 live action made-for-TV movie pilot, Justice League of America. He was played by John Kassir.
- An African-American, future version of the Atom called Micron appeared in the Batman Beyond two part episode "The Call" as a Justice League Unlimited member. Unlike the Atom, Micron can grow as well as shrink.
- Atom will appear in the upcoming series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.