The All-New Atom volume 2: Future/Past

By Gail Simone, Mike Norton, Eddy Barrows & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1568-2 (TPB)

Gail Simone (Wonder Woman; Batgirl; Secret Six; Red Sonja) is one of the best scripters of superhero stories in the business. She handles High Concept attention grabbers, gripping fight scenes and compelling pathos with elegant ease, but where she is truly unsurpassed is in the rounded depth of her characterisations. Combined with solid plotting, bravura whimsy and the sharpest, funniest dialogue money can buy, everything she touches becomes a thoroughly delightful “must-read” item.

That was never more ably demonstrated than in her run on the All-New Atom (most volumes of which remain stubbornly out of print and inexplicably unavailable in digital collections). In second volume Future/Past she continued deftly  detailing the trials and tribulations of a new incarnation of one of the Silver Age’s most enduring heroic brands, in the further adventures of neophyte college professor and scientific adventurer Ryan Choi.

After the tragic, horrific events of crossover epic Identity Crisis size-shifting physics professor Ray Palmer disappeared, leaving this world behind him. However, life – and academia – goes on, and his teaching chair at Ivy University was offered to a young prodigy who just happened to be Palmer’s pen-friend and close confidante: privy to his predecessor’s secrets ever since he was a child in Hong Kong.

Ivy Town has seen better days, however, and continues to go downhill. This collection – reprinting from March-July 2007 issues #7-11 of the much-missed comic book – returns to Ivy Town: a place that has seen better days. Everything continues to go downhill, and the college paradise is no longer the sedate place Palmer always made it sound. Neophyte hero Choi continues to expose a city plagued by temporal anomalies, warring tribes and supernatural freaks and to make matters even worse, the new Dean is an unctuous toad (and possibly a criminal), whilst Choi’s fellow science professors are a bizarre and unconventional band of truly brilliant loons…

The teeny-weenie thrills and chills resume here with a 2-parter illustrated by Mike Norton and Andy Owens. ‘The Man who Swallowed Eternity – The Energy of the Universe is Constant’ and concluding chapter ‘The Entropy of the Universe Tends to a Maximum’ reveal how the recurring time-hiccups that pepper Ivy Town go into overdrive, necessitating an unwelcome intervention from the Temporal police known as Linear Men. Choi’s reluctant attempts to solve the problem soon uncover a tragic secret that draws him uncomfortably closer to his missing mentor.

What’s follows is a gratifying change of pace and tone as the young professor returns to Hong Kong to rescue his sometime true love in ‘Jia.’ Limned by Eddy Barrows & Trevor Scott, the saga kicks off with ‘Her Name Meant Beauty’ as we learn some unpleasant truths about Ryan’s childhood…

‘Unwanted Advances’ show Choi that being a superhero can’t compensate for the girl he loves marrying the bully who made his life hell, and it’s even worse when said brute becomes a vengeful ghost trying to kill them both. Mercifully in ‘The Border Between’, ancient wisdom and unwelcome truths assist the hero in overcoming the supernatural odds…

The utterly enchanting (pre-The New 52) career of Ryan Choi was simultaneously funny, charming, stirring and incredibly addictive: moreover, his gently beguiling, so-skilfully orchestrated hero’s journey to the West was riddled with cunningly planted clues and hints which only made sense once the final volume ended – and Simone had the nerve and confidence to treat the entire venture as a fair-play mystery. The fun just never let up…

Even at this late stage, it is worth whatever effort it takes to follow the All-New Atom, matching wits with the writer and having huge amounts of fun along the way. What are you waiting for?
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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