Searching for Ray Palmer: JLA writer promises 'Epic' space opera in new arc

Contributed by
Aug 12, 2017

Dark Nights: Metal may be getting the Bat's share of the headlines, but that is far from the only epic event DC Comics has unspooling right now.

The six-part "Panic in the Microverse" series kicked off in the fresh-at-the-LCS Justice League of America #12. This isn't just the latest arc in what has become one of the most entertaining reads DC puts out each month; this is a widescale story with potential ramifications for the entire DCU, seeing that it promises the resolution to a mystery that was hatched in last year's DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot by Geoff Johns. No, not that mystery. The other one, namely:

What the hell happened to Ray Palmer?

Palmer, aka the original Atom, left a message for Ryan Choi in that story, laying out a plan for how to find him and bring him back from the Microverse. He even seemed to warn Ryan about someone he would encounter there. In the new storyline, writer Steve Orlando aims to resolve what exactly happened to Palmer, while also breaking new ground and taking a deep dive into the DC Universe's new playground, the Microverse.

During an interview with SYFYWIRE, Orlando detailed how he wanted go full-on space opera with this tale. He took inspiration from classic science fiction, with its layered mythology and themes, and colorful characters and settings. He also shared how a conversation about individualism between Grant Morrison and Deepak Chopra helped him figure out the landscape and scale of the Microverse alongside artist Ivan Reis. 

Somehow, we also got a West Coast Avengers reference and a lovely culinary comparison from Orlando describing how his story leads into Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Doomsday Clock event, coming in November.

Read on and remember that Justice League of America #12 is in stores now, with Part Two arriving August 30.

Tell us about the storyline going right now in JLA. “Panic in the Microverse” seems incredibly ambitious.

Put quite simply, “Panic in the Microverse” is Star Wars in the DC Universe. It’s an old-school, pioneering exploration space opera set in the smallest place in the DC Universe that, when set to scale, is the BIGGEST place in the DC universe, as a whole. The place that everything else is built up from. So if it actually crumbles and our heroes fail, everything goes with it.  It’s one of the smallest stories ever told, but also one of the most catastrophically important. And I think there’s something really beautiful about that.

We know that Ryan Choi is leading the team on a search for Ray Palmer. One of the great aspects of your take on the JLA is that it’s about a team trying to find its way and to figure out how to become a team. Batman put this team together and wanted to step out of his own comfort zone. It’s kind of worked, but it also hasn’t. Is that element of a still-fractured team going to be in play during this story?

Absolutely. What you described is, to me, the beauty of this Justice League. It’s the most human and the most real [team]. Because sometimes we set goals for ourselves that we don’t meet. So much of our work is about that mortality, and how we don’t always get what we want. It’s an ongoing theme on Batman and the team. This team might be, this growth he’s attempting, not carrying the onus of having all solutions, it might be something that he knows he needs. But now that he’s doing it, it's so much harder for him to break his old ways. Maybe it's just not working out. Every time they fill a hole in their teamwork, two more sprout out.  Unquestionably, [that issue of teamwork] has popped up in every JLA arc, and it's going to pop up in “Panic in the Microverse.” It’s a case of two steps forward, one step back. But you will see Batman taking a little moment of trust, but then you have this question of, is he trusting Ryan Choi or is he trusting Ray Palmer?

Is Batman’s trust in Ryan based more on his faith in Ray Palmer picking the right person to follow in his path?

To an extent, but maybe even more than that. When Ryan pitches the team, he says, "I’ve been trying to find Professor Palmer’s signal," that he mentions in DC Universe: Rebirth. My belt, the signal’s there. It will lead you to me, but then Ryan couldn’t find it. And it’s only through all of these missions and ups and downs that he does feel close enough to his teammates to show a little vulnerability and say, “I need your help.” But then, what does he know? He only knows what he thinks Professor Palmer said to him. So there’s a lot of questions to Ryan.

Do you know what’s going on in the Microverse? Do you even know that he even made it? Are you sure that any of this is even going to work? And a lot of what Batman and the team says is, "All these things come from Ray Palmer, so we can trust them." They find that emboldening. The designs of the ship to get them to the Microverse, the ideas of the nano-timelines in the Microverse, oh, that comes from Ray Palmer, so it's trustworthy. It’s a backhanded compliment, because it's ultimately respect for Ray. There’s no respect for Ryan. So a lot of that comes to the forefront when they reach the Microverse, and the only one who understands it is Ryan Choi. The cool thing is, Ray has to realize that, too.

Tell me about getting to tell the origin story of the Microverse. How did this come together?

We’ve seen the Microverse map. We have a very solid perception of how the DC Universe works, but a lot of that is from our point of view. And the Microverse is all about how point of view changes realities. To us, we can’t even see the Microverse, it's infinitesimally small. But if you’re there they don’t call it the Microverse. They don’t know why you would call it the Microverse. They call it the Immensity, because its magnitude is larger than our universe from their perspective. They haven’t explored the whole thing, they have mapped and unmapped parts of space, they have whole planets and cultures that have never met each other. This idea of that also plays out in the DC Universe.

About 10 years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, I went to this seminar with Grant Morrison and Deepak Chopra. They were talking about their theories about individualism. They were like, "The individual doesn’t exist." We’re all like fingers, a six-billion-fingered hand. If you were a finger and you couldn’t see the thumb, you wouldn’t know you’re connected. But if you were the palm you would know everything is connected. The reason I bring that up is the Microverse is so small and hard to see, but Ray Palmer has a theory that maybe it’s the backdoor into everything. Maybe it’s the connective tissue between everything. Maybe there isn’t a multiverse. It’s just that the connective tissue is so small he had to discover it by going down there. Really the mysteries of the Microverse and what they represent … they represent the foundation of the DC Universe. They represent a fundamental importance that there is life down there, and like I said, if that falls down then all of physics, all reality could tumble down with it. So as all these stories happen in the DCU, these huge, world-shattering battles, it’s all about scale. Because the one that matters most is one that a lot of heroes don’t even know is going on, and it’s the one that could be the end of everything if these four Justice Leaguers don’t make it out.

Who is the mysterious being that those Justice Leaguers meet at the end of Part One, the person Ray Palmer warned Ryan about back in Rebirth #1?

The being they encounter has maybe already been seen in Justice League. I don’t want to give too much away. Ray Palmer is not alone, and he’s not a lone wolf. It’s not just that he’s trapped in a cell somewhere. He has relationships in the Microverse and friendships that he’s built up during his time pioneering the Microverse as a sort of quantum Indiana Jones. He may be missing, but that doesn’t mean that people weren’t traveling with him that were waiting and searching for his friends like the Justice League when they arrive.

How is this story feeding into the Doomsday Clock event coming in the fall?

It’s no secret that with the mystery of Ray Palmer and the Microverse popping up in DC Universe: Rebirth that you will get another piece of the Doomsday Clock teaser menu. A narrative amuse-bouche that we like to provide before Doomsday Clock really kicks off.

It’s going to be really beautiful and really exciting thanks to Ivan Reis drawing it. Yes, we know that something going on there is vitally important, and we need to know what’s causing this breakdown, this disturbance, in the Microverse. There’s a reason that Ray scene was put in Rebirth. We want to give you one more piece of the puzzle and tee up the amazing work you’re going to get from Geoff and Gary [Frank], but at the same time stake out this world for Ivan, Felipe [Watanabe] and myself that had never really been seen to this extent before. It’s a true joy to be building this out with Ivan and Felipe. When I say things like Star Wars and space opera … I’m a dyed-in-the-wool comic book fan. I picked up West Coast Avengers comics when I was 3 years old. At the same time, I love the scale and vastness and history of things like Dune and Star Trek. These are huge elements of the Microverse as well. 

When I say there’s this monolithic history at play here … so much has happened before our characters reach the Microverse, that hidden world, that’s the joy of science fiction: huge concepts that have existed just out of view between those two atoms that we’ve snuck in to take a peek at. That’s what’s coming in “Panic in the Microverse,” a whole world to explore, with new faces, new planets, new cultures, and new dangers that the entire DC Universe hinges on. When you see it, it’s going to be like nothing that you’ve seen before.