Perhaps the most important thing that the DC Television universe has made perfectly clear is that heroes are not made because of the suits they wear or the nicknames they’re known by. The suits are made because of the men and women that wear them.
The DC Universe possesses heroes both costumed and not. From the popular costumed heroes like Green Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl to the popular non-costumed heroes like Felicity Smoak, Caitlin Snow, and Alex Danvers, heroes have always been defined by their heroic actions. While there’s often a greater appeal when it comes to the costumed heroes – ooh, look, shiny costume! – that has never discredited what those heroes that don’t have a super suit have accomplished.
But I have to admit that one of the issues in our society is how heroes are perceived. We automatically gravitate towards those with the cool names and flashy suits and don’t really give enough credit to the heroes that don’t wear a mask. And perhaps that’s part of the problem for heroes like Ray Palmer, who have to learn the hard way that they’re more than the suits they wear.
On Legends of Tomorrow’s latest episode, we saw this issue faced head-on as Ray struggled with the stigma that people have placed on him: he’s only a hero because of his Atom suit; without it, he’s just a billionaire genius. Not only has Ray heard it from multiple people, but he’s subconsciously allowed the doubt to creep into his mind and set up camp until the time is right to attack. And this episode was the time of attack.
Ray is a character who has long persisted in bringing light to the world. Before he was The Atom, he was the CEO of Palmer Tech and looking for ways to help Star City and the people in it. He longed for a way to protect people.
Then came The Atom suit. Two years, a billionaire dollars, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into creating and perfecting the suit. Ray was able to use this piece of technology to help protect people in a different way than he was used to. The suit wasn’t the beginning of Ray helping people, it was just a new way to help people in a way that wasn’t necessarily commonplace.
During the past two years, Ray has lived and breathed in that Atom suit. It became like a second skin. It gave him a sense of purpose that he was missing after he went missing for a good while the previous year. It made him feel less helpless than the moments in his life where he was paralyzed to do anything, including losing his fiancée to a Mirakuru soldier.
In “Shogun,” Ray and Nate found themselves crash-landed in Feudal Japan, where Ray was captured by Samurai and stripped of his suit. Suddenly Ray found himself devoid of the thing that made him useful. He felt helpless once again.
And it really got to Ray. It wasn’t something that was immediately obvious, but during his training session with Nate, Ray let out the emotions that he’d bottled up for some time. Ray felt like nothing without his suit. The thing that he put two years, a crap ton of money, and his life’s work into was suddenly taken away and all that was left was Ray Palmer.
There was one fundamental problem: Ray believed that him being a hero was tied to the Atom suit. But the thing is that Ray has never been defined by that suit. He’s managed to do good, to save people long before he suited up and even afterward. But when those voices are getting louder and more persistent in your head, it’s hard to drown them out. It’s easier to listen to them.
Perhaps it was the talk with Nate’s new girlfriend’s father that shed some light on the hero situation. He basically told Ray everything that I’ve been preaching for years: a suit a hero does not make. The suit doesn’t define the hero. The hero defines the suit.
But the fact of the matter is that Nate destroyed the Atom suit, which leaves Ray without his suit. This is when he’s going to be tested the most. How does he respond to the challenge? How does he rise to the occasion. While something tells me that Ray will surely get the Atom suit back, the time that he spends without it is going to be critical for him.
But if I know Ray Palmer, I know that he’s going to rise up and find other ways to help like he’s always managed to do. That’s the true mark of a hero.
Here are some of our favorite moments from “Shogun”:
One of the best things about our Legends is how they’re so unorthodox in their approach, which really makes for some fantastic entertainment and character interaction. The Legends have never tried to disguise themselves as a perfect cohesive unit that abide by the rules. They’re the rebels. They’re the ones that always find a way to break the rules and look cool doing it. And it’s made for some damn good television. Never stop.
Nate Heywood is a character that has grown on me much quicker than I anticipated. His charming personality, his need to help people is something that I’ve really responded to. So to watch him get superpowers – hello Citizen Steel! – was something I loved. What was even greater were the training scenes with Ray. Loved it.
So Mick Rory’s obsession with ninjas is my new favorite aesthetic. I’ve never seen Rory so persistent about something that didn’t require killing Nazis. He was so disappointed when he failed to get proof of the ninjas’ existence. And the look on his face when Amaya gave him that proof was priceless.
Barry Allen’s Cryptic, Future Warning
When you dabble in time travel you have the ability to go forward in the future and catch or hear glimpses of familiar characters. While we’ve seen Oliver Queen in 2046, this episode brought us a warning from Barry Allen in the year 2056. The message, which remains a mystery, was a warning for Rip Hunter that Stein and Jax have heard and have chosen to keep from the team. I swear to God if it is a result of Flashpoint…
Legends of Tomorrow airs Thursdays at 8/7c on The CW.