Life In Ivy Town

Life In Ivy Town

May 12

At the beginning of Justice League: Cry For Justice, the James Robinson-penned miniseries that features Hal Jordan torturing people, Ollie Queen stabbing a villain with an arrow “for justice” and the murder of an eight year old girl  as the emotional payoff for said villain leaving a star-shaped crater in the middle of the DCU’s Star City, The Atom (Ray Palmer, the classic Silver Age hero) teamed up briefly with The Atom (Ryan Choi, who replaced Palmer as DC’s shrinking superman after his retirement following Identity Crisis). In that scene, Palmer tells Choi that he wants him to continue being the Atom, that there is room enough for two men sharing the mantle. There is, after all, room for several thousand Green Lanterns, including four from Earth that currently coexist together. There are two Flashes, too and at one point two Nightwings and two Flamebirds.

Apparently, Ray Palmer was mistaken. Less than a month after the official announcement of an Atom backup feature in Adventure Comics by Jeff Lemire and Mahmud Asrar (accompanied by a tour around the comics Internet in which Lemire played coy about Choi’s fate beyond confirming that he would not appear in the story), Ryan Choi found himself on the wrong side of Slade Wilson and his new team of villainous Titans and got himself killed.  Well, it wasn’t exactly Ryan’s call. It was Eric Wallace’s. Or Dan Didio’s.

DC should not surprise me anymore, and yet it does.

I’m not going to start screaming that DC is racist (though plenty of people have pointed out the White Lantern and White Power Rings that come out of Blackest Night) – I think that it’s an unfortunate side effect of the current editorial mood and not a witch hunt against characters of color (created after 1986).  That mood is represented by a spiral of diminishing returns, each banking that the death of a niche character will spike fan interest/outrage* without driving off readers the way a substantial permanent change might.   So we’ll sacrifice the Chinese Atom, because he could never sell 30,000 copies a month, and in the process overlook that a vast library of characters is what makes a shared universe feel populated. Every cheap death squanders that library.  Like those maniacs on fringe talk radio who rant about peak oil, we fans are becoming more and more acutely aware that DC can’t sustain itself forever on what it’s got left from 50 years ago.

The question, whether it’s at a convention or in a comic shop or on your friend’s back porch, comes up more than occasionally: why haven’t we had an iconic new character in the past twenty years – maybe even since Giant-Size X-Men #1 – or possibly, as an outlier, since Booster Gold. The answer is that nobody’s giving these characters a chance**, and nobody is clamoring to put them in front of an audience that might love them.

Comics have never not had their creativity driven by short-impact sales goals, but to see it done so wastefully is saddening.

I liked Ryan Choi. I own every appearance of the character. I enjoyed the way his brilliance was counterbalanced by his naivete and enthusiasm for his superhero lifestyle – the sense of joy he had that couldn’t help but be transferred to the reader. His romantic relationship with Giganta was as surprisingly touching as it was hilarious (and humanizing to Giganta). He was an Asian character that wasn’t a martial arts master.  Ryan Choi’s stint as the Atom was the first time I cared about the Atom name in at least 20 years.

You know what? Fuck Ray Palmer. I admire Jeff Lemire and Mahmud Asrar as creators and normally, I’d be a fan of their work no matter who it featured, but I’m not going to buy it. I’m not adding Adventure Comics back to my pull list. I won’t be buying any collected editions of Ray Palmer’s adventures. Fuck Ray Palmer. This is not some outraged fanboy stamping his feet and threatening to quit DC forever – this is me making a focused promise to vote against regression and senseless death with my wallet.  I urge you to do the same.

*my professional opinion is that sentiment analysis is important in marketing; DC Comics clearly disagrees with me.

** Where ‘chance’ is not defined as a series that doesn’t feature popular talent and is isolated from the current metaplot. Why did Booster Gold stick? It wasn’t because of his ongoing – it was because he was in the Justice League and had an ongoing and was visible in a noteworthy way during his era’s biggest event – the death of Superman. Why did Wolverine stick? Just because he was mysterious? Try because he was in one of the most popular books of the early 80s. Because he was on merchandise and in house ads and it took a few years of exposure to make it work. DC Comics gave Ryan Choi even less of a chance than they gave the Kate Spencer Manhunter.

4 comments

  1. Matt

    All-New Atom was a great little book that went down too early, like so many before it, and as you say, there was nothing wrong at all with Ryan Choi as a character; in fact, quite the opposite.

    I wish I could summon up any anger or frustration with DC’s bafflingly bad and nakedly baiting editorial choices anymore. It’s just astonishing to me that this kind of bullshit is what apparently earned Dan DiDio a PROMOTION.

    I only read Grant Morrison’s Batman right now, and I’m glad.

  2. Fyreball13

    I completely agree with you. The way they killed him was brutal too. They taunt him that he’s not as good as Palmer and just generally beat up on him and such like the opening of RoboCop. He gets some measure of badassery in telling Deathstroke to “fuck off”, but that doesn’t make up the 40 pages where he basically gets his ass handed to him by a bunch of nobodies loosely tied together by promises from a career criminal. Am I the only one who remembers that Osiris got a more dignified death in 52 and he got EATEN BY A MAN ALLIGATOR GALLIVANTING AS HIS FRIEND.

    I like that Palmer is getting some measure of redemption considering how bad Identity Crisis was, but I’d rather live without him than have a great character killed off.

    I dislike everything about the issue and am now less likely than ever to buy Brightest Day tie-ins of characters I don’t really care for (Deathstroke, Osiris, Tattoo Man etc.) if this is the strong hand they lead with.

    You’re also right about characters like Booster Gold, I think only Kate Kane is getting a fair shake these days and she’s in her own book, done by two big names (well, now one big name), was heavily featured in 52, a huge title. The resurgence of Norma Osborn is similar, he regained fame/infamy because they just started putting him in things and making him a badass, a luxury that very few other new characters get.

  3. Jason

    Well written, Jeff. Though Ryan Choi hadn’t lit up the sales charts in his solo book, he did charm every one who did actually pick up the book. There’s not a single person who though he was a bad character or a misstep, he was a character to be nurtured, to be given a chance to shine. But to hell with that, he’s not the Atom dudes in the 30’s and 40’s remember so he gets (brutally) brushed to the side.

    Initially, I was kind of disappointed that Ted Kord didn’t make the cut to be brought back during Brightest Day, but now I thank Jeebus, because that would have meant horrible, horrible things for Jamie Reyes.

  4. I’ll proudly join the crowd of Ryan Choi fans. I followed him from his first appearance in Brave New World and was really encouraged by that line of Ray’s in Cry For Justice that the two Atoms might co-exist. This was really disappointing to hear. I hadn’t planned on buying the Titans: Villains For Hire book anyway and you can now guarantee that I won’t be touching it or the series to follow.

    I would really like to join Jeff in his Ray Palmer boycott but I really like Lemire’s work so I’m torn.

    Fantastic article though, Jeff. Disappointing news.

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