Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #10: Atom

Real Name: Dr. Ray Palmer
First Appearance: Showcase #34 (September, 1961)
Group Affiliation: Justice League, Indigo Tribe, New Guardians
Gaming Credentials: DC Universe Online (TBR/2010); Batman: Brave and the Bold (TBA/2010)
Infinite Wars Ranking: #73

Since experiencing a boom period of mainstream relevance in the eighties and nineties, comic books and video games have shared a similar fate -- an aging population. There may still be people who associate these mediums with children, but the fact is, both have veered ever closer to an adult market as fans from previous decades have maintained their interests.

Video games have arguably done a much better job of staying in touch with the young'ns, so it makes plenty of sense that DC Comics and Warner Brothers would bring their successful cartoon take on the Dark Knight Detective over to the kid-friendly Nintendo Wii and DS!

It was just a couple of weeks ago now that 1UP reported announcement of Batman: The Brave and the Bold exclusive to the Nintendo platforms. Like Super Hero Squad before it, the game taps in to the brightly coloured mythology of a cartoon-based-on-a-comic, giving players of all ages the chance to co-op their way through the villains in a variety of team-up formations. Among the heroes that will no doubt find their way into the game is Atom -- a shrinking scientist who appeared on the show to not only save Batman from a deadly virus, but also teamed-up with Aquaman to do so!

Neo Classic: Brave and the Bold borrows it's distinct visual style in part from 1950s comic artists like Dick Sprang.

When it comes to Batman, I'm a fan of the super-serious Dark Knight like most others, but Brave and The Bold proves a refreshing take on the DC Universe, borrowing brilliantly from a variety of sources as diverse as the cringe-worthy post-Comics Code stories of the 1950s, the equally dismal 1960s live-action Adam West Batman, the 1990s feature films, and comics ranging from the original late '30s right up to present day. All of which makes for a whimsical and creatively intelligent depature from the confused continuity of other recent animated efforts, like the much-loved Bruce Timm-attribute series' of Justice League cartoons.

One of the most admirable qualities of Brave and the Bold is the way it reflects the traditions of it's classic comic book namesake, drawing upon not just familiar characters, but every unlikely ally to co-exist with Batman in the DC Universe. It's a quality that seems sure to create a new generation of readers who are less intimidated by the perception of volume that monthly comics present, helping create the kind of familiarity that four decades of Spider-man cartoons created for Marvel.

Among the long list of allies that could potentially find their way into the game, many for the first time, are: Aquaman, Red Tornado, Jonah Hex, Kamandi, The Demon, Green Arrow, Huntress, Adam Strange, Wildcat, and Blue Beetle [all pictured above].

Of course, there's much more to this week's HOTW than shrinking and appearing as a guest-star on a cartoon! Those comics, which have indeed loitered in slightly more adult subjects, have taken what was once a straight forward hero with the ability to shrink to the size of an atom, and made him an emotionally complex creature.

Over in the comics; Atom spent time in obscurity after his ex-wife was featured as an imbalanced killer in the much publicized 2004 story by novelist Brad Meltzer, Identity Crisis. He got back into the action recently, however, battling against the menace of rising dead that has swept across the entire DC Universe in the biggest story of 2009: Blackest Night!

Like previous featured heroes; Atom has taken possession of one of the power rings borne of the energies of the cosmic emotional spectrum. In other words, he's now an Indigo Lantern, powered by the light of compassion which was brought about as a result of encounters with those who suffered at the hand of his estranged wife, and indeed, the risen corpse of the mentally unstable woman herself. An event which has been used to redefine the moxxy of Atom as a hero, who not only uses the science of dwarf stars to travel in light particles and strike with the focused power of his natural size (in miniature), but also glows with the spirit of a super-human!

For more on the expansion of Lanterns, check out these previous HOTWs: Black Hand (black), Wonder Woman (violet), The Flash (blue), Lex Luthor (orange), Sinestro (yellow/white). The energies manifested from the various lanterns make up the white light of life and create an entire spectrum of emotion and would-be ring barers: Yellow (fear), Orange (avarice), Red (rage), Violet (love), Blue (hope), Indigo (compassion). A fact I'm sure you aren't sick of hearing about!

If you ask me, Atom is the superhero who just about has the greatest potential for innovation in a video game experience. Afterall, imagine what it would mean to gaming to not only battle alongside fellow heroes against villains in a fully developed overworld, but what if you could shrink to atomic size and reevaluate that space on a whole new level? It's a concept that exists, to some degree, in the zooming/rendering technologies that have come about in other games, like World of Warcraft, or Spider-man 2 (to use a superhero example). I can't wait to see what Brave and the Bold does with it -- but that might be a topic for another, less garbled blog, eh?

For those interested, you'll find Atom and the New Guardians battling Nekron and the Black Lanterns in the last couple of issues of Blackest Night, from DC Comics. Atom is also likely to feature regularly in the recently relaunched Justice League of America, and might put in a guest spot in the kid-friendly Johnny DC comic based on the cartoon, Batman: Brave and the Bold. You can find more information on these and other comics at Atom will also likely appear in the upcoming action MMO, DC Universe Online.

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