Justice League has a secret hero, and it’s not who you think
Batman and Superman aren’t the only heroes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The future of the DCEU awaits in the Snyder Cut.
In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, now streaming on HBO Max, there’s a secret superhero from the DC Universe waiting on the sidelines.
No, not the one who appears midway through the movie, and then one last time at the end. That hero is well and fully covered at this point. Instead, it’s a different DC Comics character altogether — and while they don’t participate in the fight against Steppenwolf, by the end of the “Snyder Cut,” they are on a clear path to hero status.
Warning: Spoilers for Zack Snyder’s Justice League ahead.
Justice League: Who is Ryan Choi?
Appearing in a supporting role in the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League is Ryan Zheng, who plays S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Dr. Ryan Choi. For most of Justice League, Choi is a second-hand support for Dr. Silas Stone (Joe Morton), whose work on the mysterious Mother Box relics led to turning his half-dead son Victor (Ray Fisher) into the superhuman Cyborg.
Near the end of the movie’s climax, Dr. Stone sacrifices himself in an effort to superheat the final Mother Box to make it easy for the Justice League to track. As Batman says out loud to a distraught Victor, “Your father sacrificed himself to mark that box.”
While the Justice League does succeed in saving the day, Dr. Stone is still dead, leaving S.T.A.R. Labs open for new leadership. That’s where Ryan Choi, “Director of Nanotechnology” steps up.
“That’s your thing,” a random authority-type person in a suit says. Ryan agrees. “Yup. That’s my thing.”
But while DC fans are feeling hype, more casual observers may be asking themselves: What’s Ryan’s “thing”? The answer, in two words: tiny stuff.
Meet “The Atom”
In the comics, Ryan Choi is better known in the comics as “The Atom,” a size-shifting superhero analogous to the Marvel superhero Ant-Man.
While the Atom powers and mantle originated in All-American Comics in 1941, Ryan Choi joins the legacy as the new Atom (after his mentor Ray Palmer) in DCU: Brave New World #1, written by Gail Simone with art from John Byrne and Trevor Scott. A few years later during the events of the 2010-2011 crossover Brightest Day, Ryan is killed by Deathstroke.
After the 2011 storyline Flashpoint, which rebooted the DC Universe into an era called the New 52, Ryan Choi is restored and reimagined as a teenage genius tutored by Ray Palmer. He is later recruited by Batman and Lobo to join the Justice League of America (alongside Black Canary, Killer Frost, and Ray) in a series that lasted 29 issues.
If you’re also a fan of the DC TV shows like Legends of Tomorrow, chances are you know a bit about Ray Palmer, Ryan Choi, and the Atom already.
From 2014 until 2020, Superman Returns star Brandon Routh held a lengthy stint in The CW’s Arrowverse as billionaire genius Ray Palmer/The Atom, first in the TV series Arrow and later in the sci-fi spinoff series Legends of Tomorrow. In the recent 2019-2020 crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” actor Osric Chau played Ryan Choi and is positioned to become the new Atom following Routh’s departure.
While he’s new to the Justice League film, having been absent in the theatrical release, the addition of Ryan Choi in the Snyder Cut isn’t a total blindside.
On the social platform Vero, Snyder shared images of Ryan Zheng as Ryan Choi long before the Snyder Cut was confirmed for HBO Max. As far back as 2018, Snyder also confirmed that Zheng’s appearance in an unused promotional image was, in fact, as Ryan Choi.
But now that he’s here ... is that in for Ryan Choi in the DCEU, or will there be more?
Aside from a few movies in the works, like The Flash in 2022 and other movies like Aquaman 2, Black Adam, and Shazam: Fury of the Gods, it’s unknown what the post-Snyder Cut future of the DCEU looks like. While Snyder is content that his time with the DC franchise is over, the director clearly left a lot of pieces to pick up should he get back in the superhero saddle. Should Justice League 2 ever happen, Ryan’s ascension to Atom will undoubtedly be a big part of it, even if he’s very small.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is streaming now on HBO Max.