Monday, May 31, 2010

Titans: Villains For Hire Special #1 (July, 2010)

Ivy Town, Massachusetts. Patriot Park. Inspired by the catastrophic reforestation of Star City in Brightest Day, the Floronic Man had decided to try making his old stomping grounds live up to its namesake. "A real Ivy Town-- and I am its messiah."

"I'm an atheist, Woodrue."

Ryan Choi had a long term, long distance relationship with the famed scientist Ray Palmer, better known as the Atom (or so he thought.) This led the Hong Kong native to assume the role of World's Smallest Super-Hero when Palmer abandoned this world for a time. Now, both Atoms were active, but only Ryan was present to flash fry the Floronic Man with the aid of a ruptured gas line and a butane lighter. Clearly, Choi didn't shy away from violent resolutions any more than his mentor, though Ryan had a sarcastic and self-deprecating humor Ray lacked.

"Another school night, another psycho. All in a day's work for ivy league physics professor Ryan Choi. But the worst psycho of the bunch is still free. Dwarfstar. And I've got to find him before more bodies turn up. Some hero I turned out to be. I failed to save my best friend, Panda Potter. His death was my fault. Then I fell in love with Panda's girlfriend, Amanda. Talk about a betrayal of trust. Then there's my greatest challenge: living up to the legacy of Ray Palmer. The plan was to make a difference. Just like Ray did. I've got a lot of work to do, Ray."

Returning home, the All-New Atom was greeted by the business end of Deathstroke the Terminator's assault shotgun. "Sorry, kid. It's not personal. It's business."

Both men shrank thereafter, Ryan literally, and Slade Wilson into his wooden chair. The mercenary assassin was not alone, and the Atom would be a test subject for the newly villainous Titans team.

First on target was the ridiculously endowed Cheshire, who had gone "soft" following the death of her daughter amidst the destruction in Star City. Faced with the prospect of dying from her sorrow-induced carelessness in a dangerous line of work, Cheshire accepted Wilson's proposal to join his merc team. None of this helped the solid martial artist with poisonous claws to make contact with a shrinking super-hero, but he landed a nice love tap in their skirmish.

The Atom summoned his flying baton, but he was thrown off when it was caught by the Tattooed Man. Ryan tried to bring out the good side of the anti-hero, but since the murder of his son by Slipknot, it was no longer evident. Deathstroke played on "Ink's" need for revenge to bring him onto the team, and a double team against the Atom finally saw Cheshire strike with her claws.

Meanwhile, Amanda was worried about Ryan, whom she hadn't seen all day. Her mother wished Amanda would date someone normal, but lost the argument over taking care of her grandson Ichiro while Amanda went to check on her beau.

Deathstroke used microsonics to flush out a shrunken Atom, who sprang up unannounced to land blows on his foes. However, he was almost singed by a new plater, the flaming Cinder. In fact, Carla Moetti had just finished incinerating a pedophilic power player while they were engaged in intercourse in Rome when she made Deathstroke's acquaintance. Wilson offered Cinder access to more corrupt "untouchables" in exchange for her participation on his team, which included melting Ryan Choi's baton (not metaphorically, like that other guy.) Not an experienced team player, Cinder accidentally lobbed molten balls from the tips of Ryan's baton (still, no) at Cheshire, while the Atom snuck up the assassin's nose to deliver such a headache.

A knock on the door saw Deathstroke order his force to stand down. "Your move, hero."
"I don't get it."
"I told you. It's just business."

The Atom blew enough smoke up Amanda's butt to send her back home with the promise of full disclosure over mimosas the next day. Ryan thanked Deathstroke for his considerate gesture, but was made aware that the Terminator fully intended to follow through on his name. Choi fell through the wooden floor of his home into the basement, where he was confronted by Osiris. The younger brother of Isis and in-law of Black Adam had worked in vain to release his kin from a curse that left them statues. Osiris had been refused help by the Justice League, Teen Titans and Captain Marvel, leaving him easy prey to the promises of Slade Wilson.

The entire "Titans" group set upon the Atom, unto Choi was briefly able to shrink Deathstroke and himself to a microscopic degree. "Round two, @#$%!" Or, not so much. "Think about it, kid. I fought Ray Palmer, which means... I know moves you haven't even thought of. You never had a chance." Wilson beat Choi until both combatants were restored to their normal heights, then prepared his killing blow. "I'm impressed. You seem like the kind who'd beg." Bloodied and broken, a gloves hand clutching him by the throat, Ryan Choi cursed Wilson one last time. Then, the Terminator buried a sword in the All-New Atom's abdomen. Blood dripping from his mouth and seeping into his costume, Ryan Choi's final thought was of "Amanda."

The next morning, Slade Wilson met Sylbert Rundine in Patriot Park. The All-New Atom's primary foe, Dwarfstar, had paid for the hit. The Terminator presented Rundine with a matchbox containing Ryan Choi's corpse. Deathstroke was set to meet his new Titans in twelve hours, to discuss their poor performance, and their future...

"The Best Laid Plans" was written by Eric Wallace. All of the present day pages were drawn by Mike Mayhew. Aside from the Cheshire cheesecake and some occasional stiff photo referencing, these pages looked great. Each villain was given their own splash page, the team got a two page spread, and the same spectacle was afforded Choi's murder. Ryan's death sequence and the gut punch that was the reveal of his resting place were horrifyingly effective. Fabrizio Fiorentino, Sergio AriƱo and Walden Wong provided the flashback sequences to the team's formation, and aside from their clarity seeming better suited for the present than Mayhew's washed out colored pencil look, the variance in art style served the story.

I'm only just becoming familiar with Ryan Choi after his death, but I found his characterization consistent, and due respect was paid to his prior adventures. Obviously, the tone and storytelling technique was completely different here than in The All-New Atom, but Choi is the ill-fated guest, not the star. I personally enjoyed this issue for what it was, and while I'm sure Choi's fans would have preferred him left alive, or to have perished in a more glorious fashion, I believe he acquitted himself well as a hero. I'm not opposed to dark stories where appropriate, and though it seems a waste not to move Choi into a new heroic identity rather than kill him outright, a Titans book is the right vehicle for this type of sensationalism.


The Irredeemable Shag said...

Frank - Have you seen these Ryan Choi-related posts? Hilarious!

The Irredeemable Shag

Diabolu Frank said...

I was unaware of those Shag, and I'll have to run a post about them a.s.a.p. Thanks!