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Superhero Origins: The Atom

VO: Dan Paradis
Script written by Craig Butler. There have been a few DC heroes to call themselves The Atom. Starting from Al Pratt, a short man who was belittled for his height. Learning to become an expert fighter, Pratt became the first masked superhero to call himself the Atom, but didn't posses any superpowers or technology. Today, the most popular character to call himself The Atom is Ray Palmer, who became The Atom out of family tragedy, accident and necessity. So Join as we explore the comic book origins of DC's The Atom.

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Script written by Craig Butler.

Superhero Origins: The Atom

This hero certainly proves the adage that good things come in small packages. Welcome to and today we will explore the comic book origin of The Atom.

As with most comic book characters, there are often re-imaginations and different versions to a character’s past. We have chosen primarily to follow the storyline which unfolded in 1961's Showcase #34 and was expanded upon in 2010’s Brightest Day: The Atom Special and 2014’s Batman-Superman #10.

The Mighty Mite is known to modern readers for his incredible ability to shrink down to subatomic size, which he first began doing in 1961. But a masked hero going by the name of the Atom dates back two decades earlier. The first Atom didn’t have superpowers. He has merely a short guy named Al Pratt who was picked on because of his diminutive stature. However, after Al was trained by a former champion boxer, he became a musclebound crime fighter who packed a serious punch.

When DC revived the name, they made this Atom a scientist by the name of Ray Palmer. Palmer had discovered a chunk of a white dwarf star that had fallen to Earth. Fashioning a special lens from the white dwarf matter, Palmer was able to shrink objects to a tiny size. Unfortunately, they all exploded during the process.

Palmer took a break from his experiments to go on a nature club hike with his fiancée, Jean Loring. Unfortunately, a sudden cave-in threatened to trap and doom them all. Palmer located a tiny hole. Using his special lens, he shrank himself so that he could maneuver through the hole and then enlarged it. He also reversed the shrinking process before he met the explosive fate of his earlier experiments.

After all had escaped, Palmer theorized that water that dropped on the lens in the cave must have somehow kept him from exploding. But when he tried shrinking other objects with the same water on the lens, they also exploded. Palmer decided there must be some mysterious force in his own body that kept him from blowing up.

Soon after, Palmer created a special costume that would become invisible and intangible when he was his normal size but that suddenly appeared when he shrank. He also created a special belt to control the rate of shrinkage, as well as to adjust his weight up or down as he desired. So armed, the Atom began his heroic adventures.

A bit more background was injected into into the in 2010. Readers learned that Palmer had a brother, Danny, who bullied him. Ray’s firefighter father favored Danny over the bookish Ray, but Ray’s Uncle Dave who encouraged his scientific curiosity.

As an adult, Danny followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a firefighter. Firefighting is dangerous work however and Danny lost his life in the line of duty. At college, Ray found a mentor in Professor Hyatt, who was instrumental in Ray locating the white dwarf star that gave him his power. And in this version, Palmer became the Atom to rescue a firefighter trapped in a cave-in.

There have been others who have assumed the role of the Atom as well. A man named Adam Cray took on the guise for a short time, as did physics student Ryan Choi. But when DC’s New 52 re-started the Atom’s career, it was again as Ray Palmer. In this version, Palmer is a working for the secret government organization known as SHADE. He makes his first appearance as the Atom when Superman enlists his help to battle a microscopic threat in Batman’s body.

The Atom has for decades been proving both that size doesn’t matter and that the bigger they are the harder they fall. The Mighty Mite may not always stand very tall, but his actions make him a giant among men and he has appearing alongside the Justice League in 2004’s Justice League Unlimited.

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