39 years ago - Ray Palmer is born.
21 years ago - 18-year-old Ray begins his higher education.
14 years ago - 25-year-old Ray gets his masters degree in particle physics and becomes an associate professor.
12 years ago - 27-year-old Ray discovers and alien meteor of white dwarf star matter, crafts his size-changing belt, and manages to save a few people during his adventures. He is soon asked to join the Justice League, where he takes the name of the JSA hero the Atom.
11 years ago - 28-year-old Ray discovers Ragnarok during his dimensional travel and helps the Justice Society escape. He first meets Jean Loring.
10 years ago - 29-year-old Ray gets his doctorate.
9 years ago - 30-year-old Ray takes on a brilliant teenage lab assistant, Karen Beecher. the Justice League collapses, and Jean Loring discovers his identity.
8 years ago - An accident with 31-year-old Ray's white dwarf star activates Karen Beecher's metagene and she leaves to become Bumblebee. Ray joins the newly formed earth-based Justice League.
7 years ago - 32-year-old Ray marries Jean Loring & leaves the Justice League to focus on his research.
2 years ago - 37-year-old Ray retreats into the sub-world when Jean Loring, under the influence of Eclipso, attacks Sue Dinby.
1 year ago - 38-year-old Ray is found by Nathan Adam & Jefferson Pierce, who recruit him to join a Justice League Task Force for the American government.
While on the surface, the idea of a superhero whose sole power is the ability to make himself tiny seems pretty lame. It's only when you start to see the concept applied to broad science fiction principals that it gets fascinating; watching Atom ride on an electron or shuffle between realities by shrinking through the spaces of causality is immediately fascinating. The fact that Ray is a scientist first gives him a very specific role in the DC Universe, but his ability to find himself in mysterious new realms thanks to his constant exploration of the depths of sub-atomic reality makes him one of their consummate adventurers.
The Atom's Comic History
Atom is another creation Gardner Fox, debuting in issue 34# of Showcase in 1961. Like other new Silver Age heroes like the Flash or Green Lantern, he's a reimagining of a Golden Age hero. The difference here is that the original hero had no powers at all, he was literally just a short guy. That was his whole deal. GIven that as a jumping off point, The innovation to make him a scientist who develops shrinking technology makes a certain amount of sense, and when you read that original story it actually reads like a fairly competent science fiction premise. This continued as Atom went on to star in his own ongoing series; he was less a traditional superhero and more a platform on which a wide variety of high-concept sci-fi stories could be told.
The Atom joined another Gardner Fox ongoing series in 1962 when he became one of the earliest characters to join the Justice League. This is by far where the bulk of Ray's appearances happened, and his character was really established here for decades until he starred in a Gil Kane miniseries in 1983 called Sword of The Atom. Trapped in the Amazon jungle in tiny form, Ray had a series of John Carter-style adventures among stranded aliens. While the book is VERY good and leads to its own ongoing series Powers of The Atom, it does include one detail that went on to have surprisingly lasting repercussions: the divorce of Ray Palmer and his love interest, Jean Loring. This seemingly mundane plot detail would wind up being used as a crux of the mystery in the 2004 miniseries Identity Crisis, it would lead to Ray abandoning his role as The Atom, and passing it on to a new character, Ryan Choi.
Our Atom Story
The Atom is always at his best when his stories center around a solid science fiction premise that is tackled with the sensibilities of a 60's era drive in movie. This doesn't necessarily mean he needs to be acting like a superhero all the time. He's more of an adventurer, exploring the unknown microscopic worlds that only he can access. Of course, as a long-time League member he often absolutely IS a superhero. So how do you find that balance?
For our purposes, the best delineation was around his actual League membership. We can essentially say that for most of his career, his time is spent devoted to research and exploration of the various microscopic realms he discovers, which allows him to do things like discover the original JSA trapped in Ragnarok and work to free them, or to take on Karen Beecher as a lab tech. His time as a full member of the Justice League, however, means we have all the room we need for all his heroic escapades.
Also: in the comics, Atom was de-aged and was briefly the leader of the Dan Jurgens Teen Titans; we chose to reference that briefly by making him the science advisor to the Roy Harper-led TItans.
The Case for Ray Palmer
When it's revealed that Ray's ex-wife Jean Loring is responsible for the tragic events of Identity Crisis, Ray disappeared into the microverse for a good while. During that interim a new Atom is introduced. Ryan Choi was a young physics professor, and a former student and colleague of Ray's. He took over Ray's position, and discovered that Ray left him his shrinking technology, allowing Ryan to become the new Atom and to have some very cool adventures of his own that really captured the core of what made the original Atom stories so cool.
So why aren't we using him? Well, while Ryan is often the version of the Atom that you see used in tie-in properties featuring the character, there was never really an effective way of differentiating between the two versions of the character that worked in the pages of the comic. Ryan was just Ray with a slightly different costume. Stories that were told with Ryan would have worked just as well with Ray. So while there's nothing wrong with Ryan, he just isn't unique enough to really justify replacing the original character.
The Atom's Future
There are some very cool Atom stories out there. They are very often based on other characters coming to Ray for help; he has an almost completely unique power-set, and when you combine that with his expertise with various sciences that you can really only get when you've stood on the surface of a proton, he's an awesomely utilitarian character that brings a lot to almost any story.
We did include Ray's retreat into the sub-world after his discovery of Jean's crimes, but rather than introduce a replacement Atom, we've created a new direction for his story After the events of the battle with Maggeddon, the US military has requested that the Justice League create a spin-off team that works directly with the government, and two Leaguers; Captain Atom and Black Lightning, choose to create that team. The Atom is, for all the reasons we listed earlier, an ideal candidate for them, but that means they have to somehow find him.
The technology to shrink them down into the mysterious microverse where Ray often works exists in his labs, but it would take teams of STAR labs scientists to operate it. The story of these two heroes having to go into this strange alien landscape to recover this hero would be very cool. From there, Ray gets to work with the new Justice League Task Force, continuing to walk the line between adventuring scientist and hero.