Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Dean Mayland accepted a phone call at his home from Sylbert Rundine, better known as Dwarfstar. The diminutive deviant had been chosen by Mayland to receive a size-altering belt and battle the Atom. Failing that, Ryan Choi had stripped Dwarfstar of his belt, stranding the “quivering, undiagnosed” serial killer in microscopic parts unknown. Rundine had managed after several days’ effort to reach Mayland via a communication device mounted on his gauntlet, only to be dismissed as a failure. “Kill ya. Find ya and give ya a hundred slow aneurysms, one bit o’ brain at a time, rip, rip, rip.” Mayland calmly explained that Dwarfstar had no idea what he was dealing with, describing himself as an impenetrable, inhuman enigma. “…Inside, I’m filled with a boiling gristle of scorpions and infections and the misery of continents… I didn’t want either [of you] to win, young man. It is the schism I worship. And the schism shall prevail. Goodbye, little one.”
Ryan, his best friend Panda, and the alien Head were sitting in their living room, watching the outlandish sci-fi show Star Hunters on television. Panda was appalled by the bad science on display, but Ryan defended it as “fun.” Ryan was recovering from an abdominal injury, but nursed a beer anyway. The Atom had, with help, recently saved the world, but Panda wondered if Ryan Choi would now answer his father’s call to return to Kowloon. Ryan was too enamored with the “beautiful science” he experienced while miniaturized to go back to his old life, and confirmed he was staying in Ivy Town. “Sometimes, it’s all I can do to keep myself from putting the belt on and never taking it off.”
Suddenly, cowboys on horseback burst through the windows of the house, aiming to string up Choi. One kicked Panda in the face, distracting the posse long enough for Choi to retrieve his belt. “Okay… American history? So not my subject. What’s worse is that there’s three of them and only one me.” While Choi hid in the kitchen and changed into costume, the cowboys threatened to kill his friends and eat his dog. The Atom burst through the door, riding his Bangstick flying baton past the “big dumb turds” to the street outside. “I’ve got to learn some good English language curse words! And I gotta get out of here… Get ‘em away from my friends. I wonder, if I run, if I can catch the plane back to Hong Kong.”
Trying to figure out what he could have done to raise the cowpokes’ ire, the Atom dodged bullets and bashed an ornery cuss with the Bangstick. “Hurts to concentrate and I didn’t have time to put on the singularity field generator.” Atom had to grow a bit, offering a large enough target to get caught in a noose. While being dragged by the neck behind a horse, Choi thought “My people… they built the railroads. They helped make this country. But in the cowboy shows, we’re always the cook. Not this time, pal. Okay, hard to shrink when I’m in pain. Good to know.” Shrink he did, catching the noose around one end of his baton, flying around a lamp post, and catching a cowboy across the neck. “Hey, maybe all the rest of the cowboys were Rhoades Scholars, but these guys… not so much.”
The last cowboy dared Choi to fight him man to man. “Why don’t you try and smell like one? A man, I mean. A human, instead of a donkey. A donkey’s butt. Never mind… I have got to learn some good cussing.” Choi talked up his having plenty of fight in himself for a little guy, and as he knocked out the wrangler, claimed he was the guy “who just kicked you raw hide!”
Afterward, Ryan worried about having lost it a bit there at the end. “That’s not who I am. But something, something about the way he talked to me… like I wasn’t fit to walk the streets. Dammit.”
“Regret? From the mighty Atom?” Behind Choi was a very tall, stocky, pointy-eared, green-skinned being-- well armed, wearing a long, fascistic coat. “My name is Ryak. I sent these idiots to warn you. I’d say they did a rather craptastic job. “ Disappointed with them and well aware that there are plenty more lackeys to be had throughout history, Ryak exploded the cowboys' heads. Ryan was aghast and unresponsive, so Ryak took on a more authoritative voice, explaining that he was a Linear Man-- one of those tasked with “keeping chaos from invading the timestream.” Ryak could override all of the Atom’s technology, so there would be no interruptions as he demanded to know the whereabouts of Dr. Hyatt. Ryan didn’t know who he was talking about, but had no intention of aiding a murderer. Ryak acknowledged there may have been a chronological error on his part, but that Hyatt would be in contact with Ryan. Should the Atom fail to call out Ryak’s name at such a time, the Linear Man stated his intention to wipe out the Choi family line across past generations.
One sleepless night later, Choi pet his dog Copernicus and headed off to school. Did he have the right to imperil his entire family as the Atom? En route, Choi ran into Dr. Zuel, a.k.a. Giganta, who apologized for having eaten him while mind controlled by M’nagalah. Zuel came on strong, and made a date. “Everyone deserves a second chance! Especially redheads!” Choi was loving America, Ivy Town in particular, but felt like a failure in his professional life. Lots of students took nuclear physics class for a shot at meeting Ray Palmer, the world famous Atom, and could care less about a baby-faced Asian professor with a secret identity. “I didn’t think I’d be a great teacher… but it hurts that I can’t seem to manage to even be a good one… I suck!”
After class, a voice called to Prof. Choi from behind a curtain. It was the fugitive "Teddy" Hyatt, claiming to be the son of Ray Palmer’s mentor, Alpheus V. Hyatt. Despite the junior Hyatt’s protestations, Ryan pulled back the curtain, finding one half of a ambulatory bisected scientist…
“The Man Who Swallowed Eternity: Part One—The Energy of the Universe is Constant” was by Gail Simone, Mike Norton and Andy Owens. This was only the third Ryan Choi story I’ve ever read, so I found it annoying that despite the protestation of some of his fans, the race card was already being played. The wisecracking immigrant with sometimes dodgy English shtick doesn’t really wow me, and Choi feels a bit like Peter Parker during his own brief tenure as a university instructor.
Brave New World