Current Reviews


All-New Atom #12

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2007
By: Thom Young

“Hunt for Ray Palmer Part One: Never too Small to Hit the Big Time”

Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Mike Norton

Publisher: DC Comics

After I reviewed The All-New Atom #5, I declared that it would be my last issue of the title. Well, here I am seven months later giving it another chance. The reason for my benevolence is that The All-New Atom #12 is the first part of the “Search for Ray Palmer” arc that ties-in with DC’s Countdown event.

Additionally, there’s a new illustrator on the title, Mike Norton—replacing Eddy Barrows. The change is welcome in that Norton has a better grasp of drawing an Asian face. No longer does Ryan Choi look like the goofy caricature that Barrows drew.

In fact, there are times when Norton’s figures are reminiscent of the work of the original illustrator on this series—John Byrne. Unfortunately, it appears that Norton doesn’t draw action sequences very well—such as when several of Ray Palmer’s rogues show up.

The extended action sequence on pages 14-19 looks amateurish in the way Norton composes his characters. To be fair, though, the amateurish illustrations for the fight scene might be Gail Simone’s fault—if she specifically directed Norton to draw the sequence in imitation of bad 1970s comic books in order to support the farcical writing style she has chosen for the title.

During the first few issues when Simone was working with Byrne, this series was slowly making its way to the top of my “must read” list each month. However, since Byrne’s departure, Simone has chosen to write the series as a farce rather than as an earnest science fiction/superhero tale with comic moments.

In my review of issue #5, I commented on Simone’s failed attempts at absurdism, but it appears she’s actually going for farce or satire. I have an appreciation of farce when it’s used to reveal the inanity of authority, order, and morality.

In that respect, I acknowledge that superhero comic books are inane more often than not, and the genre deserves to be used as fodder for farce—which is why I thoroughly enjoy Jack Cole’s Plastic Man, Don Simpson’s Megaton Man, and Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill’s Marshall Law—and I’m sure I could probably think of several other superhero farces that I’ve liked over the years.

However, I have two problems with Simone’s decision to write The All-New Atom as a farce:
  1. I liked it better when it was presented as a mostly earnest science fiction series with comedic overtones (and I don’t necessarily believe it was Byrne’s presence on the title that gave it that direction).

  2. The farcical bits that Simone has been writing are not very funny as she attempts to point out the inanity of superheroes and our society.
One of the farcical bits in this issue is the use of panels that show selections from a magazine called Welcome to Ivy Town that is published by the city’s Chamber of Commerce where we can find such copy as:
  • Newly Lowered Radiation Levels Mean It’s Probably Okay to Reproduce Again!

  • Our Only Known Serial Killer Hasn’t Been Seen in Days! Take that, Gotham City!

  • Whether you’re Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Wiccan, Hindi, or just a plain ol’ member of a centuries-old cult that worships a sewer-dwelling Cancer God, you’ll find that Ivy says “Yes!” to you!

  • . . . even though Ivy is occasionally invaded by bloodthirsty monsters and aliens bent on the subjugation of all living things, it’s “still better than Blüdhaven.”
  • Now, I’m not immune to the humorous aspects of the above snippets from the magazine—but I question Simone’s decision to create a farcical milieu for this series. Through farce or satire, there seems to be at least two things that Simone is poking fun at:
    1. The conventions of superhero comics in which such things as invasions of towns by cancer gods, monsters, and aliens are regular occurrences.

    2. The conventions of Chamber of Commerce publications in which the community is always presented in a positive light.
    Both targets are perfect for farce or satire. For instance, take a look what the Chamber of Commerce of Flint, Michigan has to say about their city:
    As the 4th largest city in the state of Michigan, Flint offers a state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure, five higher education institutions with a combined enrollment of over 26,000 college students, top-notch business services including financial packaging, manufacturing training, site selection, and government contracting assistance, as well as unsurpassed healthcare facilities. These attributes make Flint the perfect place to locate your business.
    Of course, people who are familiar with Flint undoubtedly know that it is one of the most impoverished cities in the United States and has major problems with violent crime—which is causing many businesses and citizens to flee the area (which, in turn, further increases the poverty and the crime).

    In other words, a real Chamber of Commerce would never mention that psychopathic mass murders, cancer gods, monsters, and aliens regularly visit their town—which is why Simone’s farce is a combination of satirizing the methods of civic leaders in relation to the conventions of superhero comic books.

    As I mentioned in my review of issue #5, I contend that such an approach is more appropriate in a series starring Plastic Man than The All-New Atom. Of course, it may very well be that Simone is striving for something akin to Jack Cole’s Plastic Man. However, if that’s the case, then The All-New Atom probably isn’t the place for DC to conduct its “Search for Ray Palmer” as a tie-in to Countdown.

    In the initial issues with Byrne, Simone’s humor came mostly from the supporting cast of eccentric university professors whom she wrote not only as stereotypes but also as clichés. Still, I didn’t get the sense that she was attempting to satirize or farcify university professors or academia.

    However, the same funny professors appear in this issue, but now with a farcical element as they’re accompanied to a party by female “groupies” who dance around half naked and ask the professors to “recite Euclid’s proof of infinite prime.” Later, one of Atom’s rogues (I don’t know his name) makes two or three amazed references to the professors having “two swingin’ honeys” as groupies.

    Additionally, Simone has her protagonist, Dr. Ryan Choi, refer to his colleagues by their titles and surnames—as in, “Thanks, Professor Dinawa, but I think I’m gonna try to get some rest” (page 13, panel four). I don’t know if that’s supposed to be funny or an attempt by Simone to show the Asian deference to age (his colleagues are older than Choi).

    However, it’s not funny, and Choi seems very westernized in most ways—even Hong Kong, where Choi is supposed to be from, is one of the most westernized Asian cities. Thus, Simone’s decision to have Choi refer to his colleagues in such a formal manner seems more like a careless error than an attempt at humor or cultural characterization.

    Additionally, in the initial issues with Byrne, there was an attractive blonde co-ed who kept making passes at Choi—leading to moments that were humorously awkward but similar to how some student-professor relationships can actually be. In other words, those scenes created a sense of verisimilitude as they were mixed into a story that involved an invasion by subatomic aliens and cancer gods.

    Currently, however, Simone doesn’t seem to try for verisimilitude in any way—just farce without connotative purpose. I can now say with absolute certainty that this is the last issue of The All-New Atom that I’ll spend money on . . . unless Simone either changes her approach or is replaced as writer.

    Or . . . you know . . . until it ties-in with another DC event that I’m somewhat interested in. Fortunately, I become less interested in crossover tie-ins with each passing “event” produced by comic book publishers.

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