Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ryan Choi, 2006-2010

To the best of my recollection, I've read exactly two stories starring Ryan Choi.

When he debuted in the August 2006 Brave New World special, I was there. I found his entry in that anthology the least interesting of the lot (excepting the vignette,) and I resented his replacement of Ray Palmer in the role of the Atom. When Julie Schwartz began introducing radically altered updates of Golden Age heroes in the 1950s, it made sense to adapt the concepts for the changing times. This was not the same as having Ryan Choi assume the exact same job as Ray Palmer, fight many of the same villains, take on rather ugly costume variation in place of one of the Silver Age's best designs, and generally serve as no more than a change of nationality and a fresh jumping on point. Choi seemed lighter and looser than Palmer, but again, that felt like your standard issue "trophy wife" replacement formula employed routinely by DC for decades when the bloom was off their older roses.

Choi went on to star in his own book for two years, make many a guest appearance in others, and show up on the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series. All the while, this cast a specter over the fate of his predecessor, as Ray was drawn into the terrible Countdown non-event series and was constantly imperiled during the hit Blackest Night. After all that, when I heard tragedy would befall the Atom in an upcoming special, I assumed the worst. Given a bit more thought, I might have come to a different conclusion.

James Robinson had a lot to say about his intention to elevate the Ray Palmer character in his critically drubbed Justice League: Cry For Justice mini-series, which only had a token Choi appearance. In fact, Ryan largely vanished from the comics scene around that time, as successful revivals of '60s favorites like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen progressed. Palmer was prominent in early Brightest Day advertisements, and his role in the DC Universe hasn't been as notable for decades. It isn't that I missed these clues, only that I put them together later than I'd have liked. I eventually realized that if any Atom was doomed, it was Ryan Choi, and I expressed the sentiment that was better than my original supposition.

As the special drew closer to shipping, I began to regret my dismissal of Ryan Choi. The Atom wants for the type of "extended super-family" more popular heroes have enjoyed. Molecule, a little used shrinking Teen Titan introduced in recent years, was dispatched with little fanfare in the Terror Titans mini-series. Damage, the son of original Atom Al Pratt, never saw the mass resurrection of characters whose hearts were ripped out by Black Lanterns most people assumed would come at the end of Blackest Night. Today, the Titans Villains For Hire one-shot was released, and the world is short yet another Atom family member.

Ryan Choi fought valiantly for his life against a band of mercenaries hired to assassinate him. While I still could not entirely set aside my misgivings about Choi as the Atom, I was proud of how he handled himself, and pleased by how his writer handled him. Toward the end of the book, Deathstroke the Terminator shoved a sword through Choi's chest, and his miniaturized corpse was given to one of his foes in a matchbox. I find I'm disappointed in myself for callously cheer-leading Choi as a sacrificial lamb.

I read my second Ryan Choi starring comic book today, and it left me saddened by his untimely passing. Rest in peace Doctor Choi, once the All-New Atom, and forever a figure of honor.


mathematicscore said...


You have some good points about his slipping right into Ray's mileau, but in the series this felt more like homage and genuine succession than simple racial bait and switch. You know there is this English blogger "too much time thinking about my comics" who took serious issue recently with the Johns Action Comics Legion revamp, pointing out that by being so faithful to the silver age make up of these teams, we are also being faithful to the racist exclusion of non whites from our comics.
So, while Ryan Choi is redundant with Palmer's ascendance, and in reality, the hero game would have a lot more casualties than it does, I find the loss of one of the better realized Asian immigrant superheroes sad.

Plus, he was a neat guy, and Simone did some quality superhero 101 on that series.

Here's hoping Brightest day starts going nuts with that white ring stuff and brings him back toot sweet.

Diabolu Frank said...

Damn M.C.! That touched a nerve! I'll tell you what-- you ever want a place to lay down some Ryan Choi love on the internet, I'll authorize you to have authorial privileges right here on this blog.

Anyway, back in the late '90s, I called out Goyer and Johns as racist-by-association for hewing so closely to lily white legacy characters on JSA. Specifically, I was pissed they took the lamest zero of the Golden Age and wrapped the name Mr. Terrific around the neck of their obvious token black, at least until he got killed off in some crossover. A decade on, Mr. Terrific is one of the best and most prominent mainstream heroes of color around. I wish I didn't have to add that qualifier at the end, but there's still a ways to go yet.

The point is, while Johns ticks me off plenty, I have faith in the guy in general. I wish they'd let Jason Rusch remain the face of Firestorm, but he's still in there. John Stewart is finally getting at least half a book. It's far short of ideal, and royally sucks to be Asian/Latino/etc., but I'm not sure DC or Marvel are set up to build new characters of any color these days. They're nostalgia machines gleefully running less memorable heroes through the meat grinder and heaping adoration on their pre-70s Caucasian pantheon.

LissBirds said...

I so want to get in on this debate but I can barely keep my eyes open. Tomorrow!

Diabolu Frank said...

Preaching to the choir with me, sister!

The Irredeemable Shag said...

Wow. I'm really bummed about Ryan's death. I enjoyed his series for the most part, but really enjoyed the character. Since we've got 47 guys named Flash, why couldn't we have two guys named Atom?

I thought Blackest Night was supposed to slow down the numerous and callous killings in the DC Universe.

This is a real shame. Ray could have been the primary Atom, with Ryan as a supporting character. There were tons of possibilities if only given to a writer that cared.

Short-sighted decision by DC in my opinion.

The Irredeemable Shag

LissBirds said...

Shag makes a great point with the whole "what happened to the promise of brighter days in BRIGHTEST day?" I can't help feeling a tad cheated with Blackest Night failing to deliver on my expectations.

With that being said, though, Ryan Choi just didn't work for me. It's not because he's a minority, and it's certainly not because he's Asian. I just didn't find him all that fascinating as a character. However, the implication that those who yearn for the Silver Age condone racism and sexim bugs me just a little. If I believe the remake of The Manchurian Candidate fell flat and prefer the original 1960's version with a white British guy in the lead, does that mean I'm being racially insensitive because Denzel Washington starred in the remake?

I have no problems with Ryan Choi as a person. I just don't like him as a copy of Ray Palmer. He's just another smart guy who can shrink. Except that Ryan's younger. If there really is a minority in comics, it's heroes who are older than 40. When Ryan Choi came along, all I could think was, "Oh, Ray Palmer's too boring because he's 'old,' and they need a young guy to make The Atom more exciting and edgy again for the younger audience."

Not only that, I'm really tired of Superhero families. They're all over the place! GLs, Flashes, Bat-famililes, Super-families. Doesn't anyone get to make it on his own anymore? And originally, wasn't it only Ray Palmer who could shrink because he came in contact the white dwarf star? How'd Jean Loring go around shrinking by just borrowing his belt? (Obviously they retconned the white dwarf thing out of existence. But then what's the point? Then everyone can shrink.) Something about The Atom just screams single-hero-no-one-else-with-the-same-name. I really can't put into words why I feel that way, I just do.

But...if Ryan Choi were to be a sidekick or partner to Ray, but with a different superhero name, that I wouldn't mind, or if his powers were slightly different, but still somehow "atomic" in nature and complimented Ray's powers, then that would work even better. It's just the mantle of The Atom that bugs me, but I take issue with every successor to any mantle, no matter what race, gender, or whatever is involved. (i.e. Dick Grayson.)

Granted, I didn't read the Villains for Hire one shot, so I really can't comment with any authority on the subject matter, but I never really felt much for the character. I might change my mind if I read it, though, because seeing the poor guy in a matchbox might send me over the edge.

Diabolu Frank said...

What she said, including the part about Choi working by getting his own name/powers, which I mentioned on somebody else's blog when it probably needed to be said here.

Luke said...

Choi's book was a lot of fun, and funny without being jokey. This sucks. Bah!