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Cover of Atom Special #1 (1993).
Art by Steve Dillon
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Showcase # 34 (September-October 1961)
Created by Gardner Fox
Gil Kane
In-story information
Alter ego Raymond "Ray" Palmer
Team affiliations Justice League
Teen Titans
Indigo Tribe
Partnerships Hawkman
Abilities Ability to shrink his body to varying degrees (including the subatomic level) while manipulating his weight to his advantage.

The Atom is a fictional character, a DC Comics superhero introduced during the Silver Age of comic books in Showcase # 34 (Sep-Oct 1961). He was named after Raymond A. Palmer, a science fiction magazine editor.[1]


Fictional character biography

Using a mass of white dwarf star matter, Ray Palmer fashions a lens that enables him to shrink any object to any degree he wishes. However, any object so treated soon explodes as a side effect, which obviously precludes any practical use of the lens.

Ray Palmer (back) with his girlfriend/wife Jean Loring.

During a spelunking expedition, Palmer and his friends find themselves trapped in a cave when the entrance collapses. In desperation, Palmer secretly uses the lens he has carried with him to shrink himself down in order to be able to climb to a small hole high in the wall that leads to the outside, knowing full well he will likely explode. Using a diamond engagement ring, Palmer enlarges the hole sufficiently and descends to the floor to try to alert the others of the escape route before dying. However, upon entering the lens' beam, he finds himself returned to normal size. As the lens is covered with cave moisture, Palmer thinks this fact has altered the beam to allow this strange effect. When subsequent experiments show no change with the explosions, Palmer concludes that there must be some mysterious force in his own body that allows him to be shrunk safely and later returned to normal. He decides to use this effect to become a superhero.[2]

Ray Palmer creates a belt tool from what was initially depicted as white dwarf star matter, which allows him to shrink down to subatomic size. Furthermore, he develops a special costume that he can wear at most times that only becomes visible when he shrinks significantly. In addition, he develops new equipment that allows him to instantly alter his molecular density to whatever degree he desires. This allows him to glide on air currents on a low setting, while a high setting allows him to handle or strike objects with the equivalent strength of his normal size and build. A favorite travel method is to call some location on the telephone and when the intended phone is answered, Palmer can shrink down enough to literally travel through the phone lines in seconds to emerge out of the answering phone.

Originally, his size and molecular density abilities derive from mechanisms in his belt with a back-up device in his gloves. He carries out the bulk of his early superheroic adventures in his home of Ivy Town where he often helps his girlfriend, lawyer Jean Loring, win her cases. Much later, he gains the innate equivalent powers within his own body.

Palmer has fought against several alien and supernatural threats, as well as having his own rogues gallery: his arch enemy is Chronos the Time Bandit, the menace of the Bug-Eyed Bandit, and the dangerous eco-terrorist Floronic Man. He also had several time travel adventures by means of Professor Alpheus V. Hyatt's Time Pool. The Atom is a member of several incarnations of the Justice League, and the team is gracious enough to supply a special chair scaled to his default size which can elevate to whatever height needed so he can easily partake in team meetings without having to go out of costume. There, he meets Hawkman (Katar Hol pre-Hawkworld, Carter Hall post-Hawkworld), one of his closest friends in the superhero community. Neither character achieved major popularity, and even in their heyday were mostly supporting characters, often with Palmer as a specialist in size alteration who was often needed to access extremely confined areas only he could access.


Sword of the Atom

Cover to Sword of the Atom #3 by Gil Kane.

The Atom has had one short-lived mini series and three subsequent specials all entitled Sword of the Atom, in which he abandons civilization and becomes the Conan-like heroic paragon of a tribe of six-inch (152 mm) tall yellow-skinned humanoid aliens called Morlaidhans in the jungles of South America.

Eventually the colony is destroyed, despite Palmer's attempt to stop it, by a group associated with the US Government acting as loggers[3]. Palmer is forced to escape via the telephone to North America. In the attempt, he fails to anticipate that the connection will involve satellite relay and the unexpectedly arduous trip causes him to remain at approximately three feet high and without his costume's size changing equipment.

With the help of a friend, Ray creates a new costume from the material of the white dwarf star. This time, instead of a belt, Ray uses an encephalotronic grid in the costume's headpiece to control the costume. The grid is keyed to his unique brainwaves. This enables him to transfer his mass into an unknown dimension which allows him to alter his size and weight just by thinking about it. He can even make the new costume appear or disappear with a thought by shifting most of its atoms to or from the other dimension. This allows him to be in costume while at full height or to shrink without having to have his costume appear. He can even increase his weight while remaining six inches (152 mm) tall or reduce his weight while remaining at full size. Ray often does this and is then light enough to ride wind currents, where he actually appears to be flying to a limited degree. Ray also develops a mental link with the white dwarf matter to which he has been regularly exposed. Most of the mass lies within another dimension. Ray can draw upon that mass and hit with a super-concussive force. He has been shown to punch through concrete walls, crush an exam table and break an axle of a car that is moving at high speed.

Later, during the events of Zero Hour, Palmer is rejuvenated to a teenage state, and becomes a mentor of the Teen Titans. He subsequently regains his original age and memories. Palmer returns to his teaching job, but also becomes an associate and alter member of the current JLA incarnation.

Identity Crisis and Countdown

The Atom in his new costume during the Power of the Atom series. Cover to Power of the Atom #7.

In the 2004-05 limited series Identity Crisis, Jean Loring kills Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man. After stealing some of the Atom's shrinking technology and his costume, she kills Sue in a misguided attempt to win Ray back. She also arranges a hit on Tim Drake's father which is carried out by Captain Boomerang (Digger Harkness). The intent is for Jack Drake to kill some random attacker, but both manage to kill each other. After committing her to Arkham Asylum, Ray shrinks himself to microscopic size and disappears.[2]

Palmer eventually meets up with his old friend Carter Hall after microscopically traveling through phone lines. He warns Hall of the consequences of mindwiping Batman and of harassing criminals over a crime that is perpetrated by Jean, one of their own. Palmer explains he needs time away, and shrinks himself again after Hall agrees to keep the meeting secret [1].

His legacy lives on, however, with Ryan Choi finding a copy of his costume and shrinking device to become the current Atom. Around this same time, an unnamed teenager with powers similar to Ray joins the Teen Titans under the name Molecule. After a brief tenure with the team, he is later killed during a confrontation with the Terror Titans.

During the missing year, Palmer's technology is employed by Supernova to shrink and grow in size in order to enter and exit the bottle city of Kandor.

DC Comics would not reveal Ray Palmer's whereabouts since his disappearance at the end of Identity Crisis.[4] However, Palmer returned to play a very important role in the Countdown limited series. In Countdown, a Monitor asks the Source Wall what is the solution to "the great disaster," it answers "Ray Palmer". In Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer, Kyle Rayner, Donna Troy and Jason Todd scour the Multiverse for the former Atom, who just might hold the key to saving reality from a crisis of unparalleled proportions."[5]

In their travels, the quartet has found people marked with the Atom's familiar symbol. The group tracks Ray to Earth-51, where he assumes the life of its Ray after his life is cut short during his studies of the Multiverse and discovery of the looming Crisis. Meeting the Jean of Earth-51 and the Justice League again for the first time, Ray is found on a world where the heroes have been able to eradicate supercrime and create a utopian Earth. However, once Kyle, Donna, Jason and Bob are able to track him down, Bob attempts to kill Ray. But with the Challengers' help, Ray escapes. Ray reveals to the Challengers that it was the Ray Palmer of Earth-51 who was meant to stop the Great Disaster, and that he had been trying to carry on his work, to no avail.[2]

When the Challengers return to their own Earth, Jimmy Olsen is kidnapped by Mary Marvel, who has been corrupted by Darkseid.[6] Ray hitches a ride from within Jimmy. When Darkseid takes control of Jimmy's powers, Ray locates and shuts down the control sphere inside Jimmy's brain, but is then swarmed by Apokoliptian antibodies. While escaping this onslaught, Ray discovers the "battery" containing the New God spirit energies.[7] Ray removes it from Jimmy's head and shatters it, releasing the energies.[8]

Ray later (after much cajoling) joins Donna, Kyle, and Forager in their new mission as border guards to the Multiverse, realizing that there is nothing left for him on New Earth anymore.[9] However, Palmer returns to New Earth one more time, upon realizing that his old nemesis Chronos had taken his identity to mislead a young pretender to his identity, Ryan Choi. After helping his successor to once again save Ivy Town, he returns to the Multiverse with a new sense of fulfillment, leaving his town in the hands of a new, capable hero.[10]

During the Final Crisis, Ray returns to New Earth and works with Choi again to aid in the efforts to evacuate the last free humans.[11]

In Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series, it has been confirmed that Ray will become a member of Hal Jordan's new Justice League.[12]

Blackest Night

On the night of the superhero's memorial day, Ray asks Hawkman to visit Jean's grave to be honored as a fallen member of the community, but Hawkman refuses because of what she did in Identity Crisis.[13] Ray is later shown speaking to Hawkman again, over the phone (unaware that his friend has been killed and reanimated as a Black Lantern). Atom is then invited to visit undead Hawkman in order to discuss his heartache over his wife.[14] Ray is later revealed to have shrunk into Hawkman's ring, escaping certain death. Joining the battle between Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and the Black Lanterns, Ray is set upon by Black Lanterns Ralph and Sue Dibny, who use his guilt over Jean's actions to try and feed on his compassion-filled heart. Ray is saved from death by the Indigo Tribe, who combine their light with Hal's to destroy the Dibnys and their rings. During the crisis, Ray was able to deduce with the heroes that the black rings are simulators taking the identities of the deceased and needing to feed. The Indigo Tribe take the heroes to the Hall of Justice, unceremoniously taking Hal Jordan and abandoning the rest when the Black Lanterns renew their attack.[15]

Ray helps the heroes escape via a phone line, and then brings them to the JSA, who were also being attacked by Black Lanterns. During the crisis, Ray meets Damage, son of the original possessor of the Atom mantle Al Pratt. The two heroes briefly acquainted during the battle, and begins to develop a friendship. Ray stopped the Black Lantern Al Pratt from killing Damage, but was unable to keep the reanimated Jean from finishing the job.[16] Ray made a futile attempt to stop one of the black rings from turning Damage's corpse into an undead before Jean used his own technology to shrink him, Mera, and herself into the fully-transformed Damage's ring.[17] As Ray and Mera battle Jean inside the black ring, Jean reveals Nekron's plan along showing what is happening at Coast City, as deceased residents and revived heroes arise as Black Lanterns under the demon lord's commands. Deadman witnesses their battle and plans to rescue Ray and Mera from Jean.[18] Deadman saves Ray and Mera by briefly possessing Jean, allowing him and Mera to escape and join the heroes against Nekron and his army. During the battle, Ray is chosen as a deputy officer of the Indigo Tribe to be more effective against Nekron's forces. Notable enough, as the Indigo Tribe eschews formal uniforms for tribal patterns over simple garments, Ray Palmer's costume is turned into a close approximation of the tattered Sword of the Atom clothings he had used in the past. [19]

Ray's past is rehashed, showing that he never quite got over Jean. Even during the days of Sword of the Atom. Indigo-1 claims that she can teleport the armies of each Lantern Corps onto Earth, if given time to meditate. So, the responsibility falls to Ray to protect her while she does so. Before she enters her trance, she reveals to Ray that the indigo staff and his overwhelming compassion allows him to mimic the other powers of the Lantern Corps; she demonstrates this by temporarily becoming a Red Lantern and vomiting corrosive blood all over an attacking company of Black Lanterns. She then enters her trance, while Ray fights off Black Lanterns Hawkman and Hawkgirl by temporarily becoming an Orange Lantern, loudly proclaiming "I want my friends back!" He then summons two orange energy dupicates of Khufu and Chay-Ara to help him fight off his and Indigo-1's attackers. He is briefly successful. But then Jean shows up to torment him, and she leaps into Indigo-1's ring. Ray follows her. He ends up reliving Sue Dibny's death, and is then attacked by various Black Lantern Morlaidhans, the minuscule race he befriended during Sword of the Atom. He fights them off and--summoning the powers of a Green Lantern--destroys Jean. Indigo-1 manages to summon the various armies and thanks Ray for his help. He tells her to keep his involvement in the deployment of the troops a secret, and asks that she help him find a way to legitimately resurrect Hawkman and Hawkgirl.[20]

Powers and abilities

The Atom/Ray Palmer possesses the power to alter his size down to the subatomic level while retaining his natural strength level. This is accomplished by using the remnants of a white-dwarf star made into a belt buckle worn with his costume. The Atom is one of the only heroes in the DC Universe that has 100% control over his body on the molecular level (Plastic Man and The Flash being examples of others), thus making him exponentially more powerful than he is often portrayed; he is only limited by his application of his powers.

He has been shown to be able to ride phone lines to his destination by dialing a number and traveling through the handset (his signature use of his power), and recently shrinking small enough to travel on photon signals through fiber optic cable (Blackest Night #4).

Some of The Atom's more impressive feats include shrinking into Superman's bloodstream and manually rearranging his molecules to create Kryptonite and diffusing Black Lantern Al Pratt's Atomic Punch and resizing within him, ripping his body apart in the process (Blackest Night #4).

As a member of the Indigo Tribe, Ray possesses an indigo power ring powered by compassion, which provides him with flight, energy projection, and a protective forcefield. He also utilises a staff capable of duplicating the abilities of other wielders of the Emotional spectrum within range.

In other versions

  • Frank Miller portrayed Ray Palmer as a major player in Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. He was taken prisoner by Lex Luthor and made to live in one of his own petri dishes for a period of years until his rescue by Catgirl. He was then instrumental in the liberation of Kandor.
  • Other re-imaginings of the Atom include an appearance in League of Justice, an Elseworlds story portraying the Justice League in a The Lord of the Rings-type story where the Atom was recast as a wizard/fortune teller called "Atomus The Palmer".
  • In JLA: Age of Wonder, Ray Palmer worked with a science consortium whose numbers at one point included Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
  • In "JLA: Rock Of Ages", the Atom is part of what remains of the Justice League in an alternate future where Darkseid has taken control of the Earth. The Atom dies sacrificing himself to kill Darkseid, riding a burst of photons through the villain's invisible force field and into his optic nerve, then discharging white dwarf radiation into Darkseid's four-lobed brain.
  • In Countdown to Final Crisis, The Search for Ray Palmer and Countdown: Arena (2007), a number of alternate versions of Ray are introduced.
    • On Earth-6, Ray Palmer has developed solar powers and taken the name of superhero the Ray
    • Ray's counterpart on Earth-11 is a woman on a gender-reversed world.
    • The Jessica Palmer of Earth-15 is a young physicist on a world of efficient second and third generation heroes
    • On the Earth-30 the Superman: Red Son limited series, Ray is an American scientist living in Russia.
    • On Earth-51, a younger Ray's life is cut short during a dangerous experiment. This Ray never specialized in size-manipulation or became a superhero, but served as the JLA's resident genius and was uniquely born with a superhuman immune system.

In other media

The Atom (Ray Plamer), as depicted in Justice League Unlimited.
  • Palmer was mentioned by name in the Justice League episode "Hereafter," by Vandal Savage. A future version of Savage mentions that a younger version of himself stole a piece of dwarf star matter from a scientist called Ray Palmer. The mention of dwarf star matter fits in with the Atom's original comic book origin.
  • Ray Palmer appeared in Justice League: The New Frontier. He provided his flawed shrinking technology to destroy the creature known as "The Center."


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Beatty, Scott, Wallace, Dan (2008), "Atom II", in Dougall, Alastair, The DC Comics Encyclopedia, London: Dorling Kindersley, pp. 30, ISBN 0-7566-4119-5 
  3. ^ Power of the Atom #1
  4. ^ MEGA CON 2007: DAY ONE & DCU PANEL, Newsarama, February 18, 2007
  5. ^ DC Comics
  6. ^ Countdown to Final Crisis #4 (April 2008)
  7. ^ Countdown to Final Crisis #3 (April 2008)
  8. ^ Countdown to Final Crisis #2 (April 2008)
  9. ^ Countdown to Final Crisis #1 (April 2008)
  10. ^ The All-New Atom #25
  11. ^ Final Crisis #7 (2009)
  12. ^ Justice League: Cry for Justice #1 (July 2009)
  13. ^ Blackest Night #1 (July 2009)
  14. ^ Blackest Night #2 (August 2009)
  15. ^ Blackest Night #3 (September 2009)
  16. ^ Blackest Night #4 (October 2009)
  17. ^ Blackest Night #5 (November 2009)
  18. ^ Green Lantern (vol. 4) #49 (December 2009)- a "Tales of the Black Lantern Corps" co-feature in the issue.
  19. ^ Blackest Night #6 (December 2009)
  20. ^ The Atom and Hawkman #46 (January 2010)

External links


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