Atom (Ray Palmer)

Atom (Ray Palmer)

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250px AtomPalmer Atom (Ray Palmer)
Cover of Atom Special #1 (1993).
Art by Steve Dillon
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Showcase # 34 (1961)
Created by Gardner Fox
Gil Kane
In story information
Alter ego Raymond “Ray” Palmer
Team affiliations Justice League
Teen Titans
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).



  • 1 Fictional character biography
    • 1.1 Identity Crisis and Countdown
  • 2 Other versions
  • 3 Other media
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links

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.

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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.

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. 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 who was needed to access extremely confined areas only he could access although he has had several short-lived series.

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

One of them was a four-issue limited series and three subsequent specials all entitled Sword of the Atom, in which he abandons civilization and becomes a Conan-like figure, hero of a tribe of six-inch (152 mm) tall yellow-skinned humanoid aliens in the jungles of Central America).

Eventually the colony is destroyed, despite Palmer’s attempt to stop it, by a group associated with the US Government acting as loggers[1]. 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.

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

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 appears to actually 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

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.

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.

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. [2] 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.”[2]

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.

When the Challengers return to their own earth, Jimmy Olsen is kidnapped by Mary Marvel, who has been corrupted by Darkseid. 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. Ray removes it from Jimmy’s head and shatters it, releasing the energies.

Ray later (after much cajoling) joins Donna, Kyle, and Forager in their new mission as border guards to the Multiverse, realising that there is nothing left for him on New Earth anymore. That is later found quite untrue, as Ray Palmer returns to New Earth one more time, upon realizing that his old nemesis Chronos had taken his identity to mislead a young pretendent to his identity, Ryan Choi. After helping his successor to save once again Ivy Town, he returns to the Multiverse with a new sense of fullfillment, leaving his town in the hands of a new, capable, hero. [3]

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.

Other media

 Atom (Ray Palmer)

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John Kassir in Justice League of America as Ray Palmer about to “shrink”

  • In the The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, Ray Palmer appeared in his own episodes and in the Justice League of America segments along with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman. He was voiced by Pat Harrington, Jr., who would be better known a decade later for his role as Schneider on the sitcom One Day at a Time. Ray also made occasional appearances on The All-New Super Friends Hour and The Super Friends Hour, voiced by Wally Burr.
  • The Atom appeared in the 1997 live action TV series pilot, Justice League of America. He was played by John Kassir.
  • 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 (voiced by John C. McGinley) eventually appeared in Justice League Unlimited to help Lex Luthor defend himself against Amazo (The Return) and disable a grey goo-like alien weapon known as the Dark Heart (Dark Heart, written by Warren Ellis). Both of the devices utilized nanotechnology, the field of Palmer’s expertise. The Atom’s final vocalized appearance was in Clash, when he examined a device built by Luthor which Superman had mistaken for a bomb.
  • Ray Palmer appeared in Justice League: The New Frontier. He provided his flawed shrinking technology to destroy the creature known as “The Centre.”


  1. ^ Power of the Atom #1
  2. ^ DC Comics
  3. ^ The All-New Atom #25

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