Captain Atom #1 (2nd Series, 1986)

Captain Atom (2nd series, 1986) issue #1

25039-3782-27845-1-captain-atom_super

Published:          December 26th 1986

Cover date:      March 1987

Cover price:      $1 (US), $1.35 (Canada), 50 pence (UK)

Cover:               Captain Nathaniel Adam, USAF, strapped to a chair with electrodes connected to his body.  A metal cocoon is closing in around him.  Jagged lighting and wild energy waves are connecting him to an oversized spectral image of Captain Atom.

Pencilled by:     Pat Broderick

Inked by:             Bob Smith

Title:                     “Point of Origin” [40 pages, no adverts!]

Credits:                 Cary Bates (W)

Pat Broderick (P)

Bob Smith (I)

John Costanza (L)

Carl Gafford (C)

Denny O’Neil (E)

Intro:                   1st Post-Crisis appearance of Captain Atom (Nathaniel “Nate” Christopher Adam).

Intro:               The Captain Atom Project.  Docket# 788 UR9544.   The initial 1968 test is a desert site over which Winslow Air Force base was built in the intervening years.

Origin:                  Captain Atom (beginning in 1968 at age of 28, continues into 1986)

Intro:                Colonel (later) General Wade R. Eiling (USAF, Head of the Atom Project), Dr. Heinrich Megala (Chief Scientist, the Atom Project), Sergeant Jeffrey “Jeff” Goslin (USAF, Nathaniel Adam’s best friend), Angela Adam Eiling (Nathaniel Adam’s wife, later marries General Wade R. Eiling), Randall “Randy” Adam (Nathaniel Adam’s son, Wade R. Eiling’s step-son), Margaret “Peggy” Adam (Nathaniel Adam’s daughter, Wade R. Eiling’s step-daughter), Corporal Martin Allard (USAF, assistant to General Wade R. Eiling), Babylon Damon (personal bodyguard to Dr. Heinrich Megala).

Intro:               Harry Hadley (Scientist at the Atom project) – but not is all as it seems…

Guest-App:      Ronald Reagan (President of the United States of America in the DCU)

Comment:         Plot assist was provided by Greg Weisman (He of Disney’s “Gargoyles” and DC’s “Young Justice” fame); at this time he was an “up and coming junior DC editorial assistant” – Captain Atom letter column, CA #4 (2nd series, 1986).

Comment:         The new, dynamic Captain Atom logo was designed by Ken Bruzenak who according to the previously mentioned letter column also created the DC “Question” and “Wonder Woman” logos.  Mind you, they also called him Bruce in that reveal.  This new logo, very different to the classic “Charlton” incarnation, would remain the favoured “hero” logo whenever the good Captain guest-starred in another title or had a Justice League-style chapter-based team-up.  It remained in use throughout his post-Crisis period adventures and was only replaced (not bettered) by the “new 52” logo introduced in Captain Atom (3rd series, 2011).

Comic Book Artist Collection, Vol. 3, Volume 3 has an interesting interview with Bruzenak which details many of his logo sketches for famous 80s titles such as Chaykin’s American Flagg! and Time2 and Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster.  One of the prospective sketches for DC’s The Shadow logo looks exceptionally familiar, no?

shadow as captain atom logo

Incidentally, buy this book – it’s an excellent read, cover-to-cover.  J

Comment:          The action is split into two distinct time periods, the former of which can be fixed as 1968; the latter, 1986 can be considered as a topical reference with Nathaniel’s re-emergence from the Quantum Field being moved up the timeline as the DCU current era lengthened – all that is required is the “length” of the Quantum Leap to increase accordingly to cover the “gap”.  This would be a similar conceit to Captain America’s period of icy sleep under the Atlantic until he was rescued by the Avengers.

Comment:          Nathaniel J. Adam’s (see page 32, but this is probably a typo or a genuine mistake in conversation as the common consensus is that his middle initial is a “C” for Christopher) birth date is given as May 3rd 1940 in his on-screen biography.  His physical appearance suggests that he has not aged (apart from his hair colour which appears to have turned from brown to white) during his trip through the Quantum Field which to him appears to have been instantaneous (he is still delivering the punch-line to the joke he started in 1968).   Biologically he would therefore appear to be 28 years old.  His initial is not expanded upon at this point.  The pre-crisis Captain Atom’s identity was Captain Allen Adam although Charlton Bullseye #7 would insist on calling him Lt Col. “John” Adam despite being seen as a continuation of the same continuity.

Comment:          Jeff Goslin comments on the “little green men” who crashed in Nevada (last year, so 1967); from his perspective their ship’s invulnerable hull lining was salvaged to create the cocoon for the “Captain Atom” experiment.  This is a throwaway comment (as Goslin didn’t really have the full facts), but is actually very close to the truth.  It does raise three key questions though: (1) what happened to the ship, (2) what happened to the “little green men” (did they die?) and (3) if the metal was nigh-on impervious – just how did they cut it?  All these plot seeds would springboard into further storylines later on…

Also we’ll revisit Cap’s silver “skin” in some other books as well.  Let’s just say there’s much more to come on that one.

Comment:          The explosion was caused by the detonation of a 50 megaton thermo-nuclear bomb.

Comment:          Dr Megala hints at a “successor” to the Atom Project.  This seemingly throwaway comment is followed up in Captain Atom issue #12 and then Captain Atom annual #1.  Yes, I’m being coy!  But you’ve got to love the mindset here – the first project appears to be a complete disaster: hey, let’s try it again!

Interestingly these events would also (but much later) have a big impact on a certain female comic creator and a Green Lantern supporting character.

Comment:          Angela Adam is revealed to have married General Wade Eiling, sometime after Nathaniel’s apparent death, in (probably) 1971.   Her year of birth is given as 1938; she apparently died in 1982 from a heart attack – these references may remain fixed.

Comment:          Abilities and powers exhibited by Captain Atom include: Quantum Leap (although this was involuntarily performed here), flight, radiation absorption, resistance to explosion, energy-resistant skin (bullets, flame and laser), enhanced strength and the ability to internalise his alien-metal alloy at will in order to assume normal human appearance.

Comment:          A new laser-dye process is used to produce coloured offsets for Atom’s “boots”, “gloves” and atomic/quantum chest logo.  This was done to approximate a superhero’s normal costume as part of the US Government’s “big lie”; a tactic to leverage a loyal Superhero “secret weapon” and make him instantly accepted as a patriotic hero by the general population.  The colours are obviously chosen for this reason, although red & blue are generally superhero “favourites” of course, especially those creations with militaristic ties, e.g. Captain America, The Patriot, Bucky…keepers of truth, justice and the American way (guess who) and…Spidey.

This costume (usually with blue boots although some DC Comics and DC’s Justice League Unlimited animated series have often coloured them red) remains fixed throughout most of Captain Atom’s post-Crisis career appearing all the way up until the Flashpoint event.  Other variations which appear include the “Golden Oscar Statue” look which was first seen in the Kingdom Come mini-series (and sequels), L.A.W (Living Assault Weapons), Countdown: Arena and some retro-looking 60s outfits created as part of the “big lie” (see CA#3 initially) which look awfully familiar…

Comment:          Through Eiling’s machinations, Adam’s original pardon is invalidated, thus Adam agrees to “act” out the role of America’s newest superhero: Captain Atom.  He does so to (presumably) leverage military intelligence assistance in proving his innocence.  This is termed “Phase Two” of the Captain Atom project.

Rating:                  Story : 5/5 (Excellent!)

                           Art : 5/5 (Excellent!)

Review:            I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this issue – it could be literally dozens. From my perspective it forms the heart and soul of who Captain Atom actually is.  At his core, yes, he’s a moderately skilled airman and field commander and this is often the trait that’s (over-)played the most in his guest/team appearances – he’s the militaristic tactician (at best) or “impatient gung-ho” (at worst) hero – but more than that he’s actually a relatively ordinary guy; he loves his kids, he’s got a best mate, he tells pretty appalling jokes and he more-or-less goes through the normal coping phases (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) when he realises what his 18 year quantum leap has cost him (and, you could argue, gifted him).

So, crucially he’s a relatively likeable character straight off the bat.  Yes, his characterization would wander a bit over the years (as we will see) but Bates and Weisman got it pretty spot-on from day one.  They weren’t the only writers to “get him” but they laid the template for others to follow and without doubt it fuelled the first 50 or so issues of this title.

Bates and Weisman skilfully set up the 1968 dynamic, hint at intervening mysteries and then set up Captain Atom’s emergence and shoehorning into the US government’s desired role – a tame, but steadfastly loyal US Superhero.  Little did they know what would come…

In terms of revisiting this I can’t help come away with the impression that, boy, there’s a load of new characters introduced here and that the plot and dialogue is very detailed.  Most are introduced very well with standouts in particular being Nathaniel, Eiling and Megala.  Indeed, the majority of the first 50-or so issues revolve around the love/hate relationship-axis created by this trio.

The art by Broderick and Smith is exceptionally confident, detailed and “grounded”; the fantastical aspects being hooked firmly into the real world which helps to draw you into the narrative.  Broderick’s art work on Captain Atom really reminds me of his work on Pacific Comics’ Sun Runners.  Take a look:

sun-runners 1

Published in 1984, this mini-series certainly has a character bearing a strong resemblance to our titular hero, don’t you think.  And, no, that’s not detracting from the work on show here though; from his storytelling to his absolutely gorgeous frame-popping visuals, it’s a tour-de-force from Broderick.

Best quote:        “One way or another, my gut says, the Cap’n is comin’ home.”

Bottom line:       No doubt, this would make a great done-in-one Superhero TV pilot.

Elsewhere in the DC Universe…

Yes, we’re moving towards the end of DC’s first Post-Crisis line-wide event – Legends, a 6-part mini-series plotted by John Ostrander, scripted by Len Wein, pencilled by John Byrne, and inked by Karl Kesel.  It had over 22 officially bannered crossovers and is generally well-respected by DC fans.  Certainly, with a creative team like that the core book’s going to be pretty good!

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From where I’m sat, Legends’ main contribution to DC Post-Crisis history is its attempt at unifying DC’s characters and teams into a cohesive whole – basically the birth of what we affectionately look back on now as the Post-Crisis “DCU”.  Moreover it would launch several new books which would most appreciably come to represent (and describe) the creative ethos of this period: the Wally West “Flash” by Mike Baron and Jackson (“Butch”) Guice, Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis’ Justice League, Ostrander’s very own Suicide Squad.

These pages also saw the post-Crisis re-introduction into the DC Universe of Captain Marvel (next seen in the criminally overlooked “Shazam: The New Beginning”) and George Perez’ rebooted and beautiful take on Wonder Woman.

Back issues for Captain Atom and Legends are still widely available if you visit ebay.  The latter was also collected in a DC trade paperback which is probably still available at all good book and comic shops.

Treat yourself, you’ll be glad you did!

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Secret Origins…

Looking back I suppose this all started with Captain Atom issue #12.

And for those that are unsure, that’s the “New 52” 2011 version, not the Post-Crisis re-launch back in 1986. I’d tried to keep the faith with it, I really did. But in the end – it just wasn’t what I was expected (or wanted) and I lamented the failed attempt to breathe life back into my favourite DC hero.

The core problem I had with the book was that the concepts I’d felt most strongly about (see commentary for issue #1 and issue #3) in the Post-Crisis origin were absent here. Actually, it was more than that, their absence hurt the emotional centre of the central character; I just didn’t care about him. He felt like a cypher – I know that was partly the point – Captain Atom was losing his tethered humanity but even so…it didn’t feel right. Yes, you could argue that pre-Flashpoint it was exactly where the DCU had left him; feeling less than human, possibly immortal. Yet it still didn’t work for me.

Captain-Atom-1

Consequently the comic had flown across the room in a mixture of anger, disgust and frustration, narrowly avoiding one of my (very surprised) cats. He’d glowered back and I reflected in a somewhat mean-spirited way that If I’d really meant to hurt him I would have just *read* the book to him.

I turn the clock back and think what wonders “Justice League: Generation Lost” (a generally well-received Brightest Day & Judd Winick book) had promised back in early 2011 and the sense of loss stings even more.

jl generation lost variant 24

All this…to be scuppered by the Flash (thanks, Barry), “Flashpoint” (DC alternate history event caused by the Flash – gee, Barry you’re making a habit of this) and Pandora (no, I’m not even going into that one).

DC’s “new 52” had the smell of a rushed and ill-thought revamp. Perhaps we should invite Batman fans to wade in on that one? What, no takers..? I think that’s probably for the best!

Ok let’s rewind a little…

As I mentioned earlier, Cap is my favourite DC hero with the John Byrne revamp Superman jockeying a close 2nd and Hal Jordan running in 3rd (depending on how whiny he’s being written).

Being a child of the 70s, I first encountered “the good captain” ™ in a black and white Alan Class “Secrets of the Unknown” reprint of Charlton’s Space Adventures #33.

alan class secrets of the unknown (2)

Now, if the mere mention of “Alan Class” doesn’t send you misty eyed and hankering for a packet of spangles you’re (a) probably not British and (b) probably not between the ages of 35 and 50. As I recall it was purchased in a small newsagent-come-corner shop in a muddy camp-site located in Western Super Mare. When the weather was bad (which it often was in WSM), comics like this were a true lifeline in the days before iPods and Gameboys, helping to pass the time as you dried out your soggy clothes in a caravan that was (remarked to be by my parents at least) “too small to swing a cat”. From what I can tell neither the camp site nor the shop remain and, now I come to think of it, Alan Class comics were last published back in 1989. Some might call that progress, I guess.

The Charlton Years

Yes, old-timers, Captain Atom was originally a Charlton character, part of its Action Hero line.

I’ll review this series at a later date as (a) it’s a useful answer to the question, “Name an American comic book superhero drawn by Steve Ditko that’s not Spider-man, Creeper or Shade the Changing Man.” and (b) if you accept that times (and reader expectations) were simpler, it’s endearingly honest work and well worth a look.

Space Adventures 33action-heroes

I’ll also look at the later semi-professional Charlton Bullseye comics which have new Captain Atom material.

Americomics

And, yes, that paragon of American Golden Age Heroine publishing (“Femforce” anyone?) did publish a Captain Atom/Nightshade/Question (Vic Sage)/Blue (Ted Kord) Beetle starring comic called “Americomics Special #1 – Sentinels of Justice”.

Americomics_Special_1_cover

They didn’t produce a #2 with the same characters as the Charlton characters had by then departed to pastures new (DC’s Earth Four*, naturally). I will take a look at this though for the sake of completeness. Creatively it’s a bit of an oddity but put together with a lot of heart. Quick side note: Any Blue Beetle fans may also want to pick up Americomics #3 – it has multiple incarnations of Blue Beetle in it and features a rather lovely cover by Pat Broderick.

Americomics_3

Watchmen

Where to start?!

It probably won’t have escaped your attention if you have even a passing interest in modern pop culture that there’s a rather successful film/trade paperback/motion comic/t-shirt/action figure/toothbrush, and, oh yes, comic series called “Watchmen”.

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One of the central characters who appearing in it is called “Dr. Manhattan”, he’s the big naked blue guy; he’s kinda hard to miss. Even as I’m writing this J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5 and one of my favourite writers) and Adam Hughes (one of my favourite comic artists) are currently producing a “Before Watchmen” Dr. Manhattan series. I’m not sure I overly like what they’ve created as a result of that collaboration but that may just be a case of the sum weirdly feeling like less than the value of the component parts.

Digression: Anyone else mildly annoyed that DC seemed to have stopped reprinting the Giffen & DeMatteis “Justice League” trade paperbacks just as Adam Hughes’ run gets into high gear?

Now if you hadn’t guessed (or just didn’t know or even care), Dr Manhattan is essentially a re-purposed Captain Atom with a deft nip-and-tuck courtesy of British creative dynamos Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. Arguably you could also say he’s also a bit Gold Key “Doctor Solar – Man of the Atom”. Either way, we’ll certainly visit this one another day! Suffice to say, this series has a lot to answer for (mostly good) but even Mr Moore has expressed some doubts about its longer-term impact on other creator voices afterwards. I can kind of see his point.

DC’s pre-Crisis foray with the good captain…

At some point I’ll put together a detailed entry on Captain Atom’s involvement in DC’s epic Crisis on Infinite Earths (from issue #6 onward) as that’s really his DC debut.

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However, he also appeared in DC Comics Presents (DCCP) #90 – a perennial Superman team-up book which was screaming towards its publishing Ragnarok at the same time that the Crisis was ripping long-term DC continuity to four colour shreds. Purists may argue that John Byrne turned Action Comics into a guest-starring team-up book to replace DCCP when he led the initial Man of Steel revamp post-crisis.  It certainly felt like a replacement for DCCP at times.

DC_Comics_Presents_91

Oddly, it’s not an Earth Four Cap/Earth One Superman crossover, neither is it a Post-Crisis adventure – it’s clearly something else (the continuity is just plain wrong for either) and I will cover it separately, promise. It also has a lot of Firestorm in it, if you like that type of thing 😉

Also … parallel earths … but, as Peter David would say, I digress.

DC post-Crisis

We will start here: Captain Atom #1, cover date May 1987.  Here’s a copy of DC’s in-house advert for the title, taking the general essence of the character and, arguably, teasing the arc-like mystery which is told through the first 28 issues or so.

Captain-Atom-In-House-Ad-1987

And we move forward from here, taking the occasional tourist-like diversion to rubber-neck at a spot of natural comic book beauty for a brief spell, but always returning to the trail and the good Captain’s adventures in the wider DCU (DC Universe).

If you’ve never read a good post-Crisis Captain Atom story, that’s a shame. Let’s see if I can encourage you…

Department of “So here we go then and what to expect!”

Captain Atom’s major DC appearances – one issue at a time. And, yes, that’ll include Justice League (even Extreme Justice) titles, crossovers, mini-series, Breach and any significant cameos in other books. I may even do requests, so don’t be shy!

For each issue there will be a brief synopsis, some spoilers obviously, some (hopefully clever) observations and a general comment about the characters’ continuity – for example, if it’s their first appearance, if it’s a cameo, where else to see them. That way if you’re trawling the back issue bins (or eBay) you might find it useful. I’ll also make connections to the wider DC Universe that’s happening outside Cap’s book if I feel there’s something worth pointing out (which there inevitably will be, it was that type of place).

As previously noted, there will be incredible highs and, of course, heart-crushingly trough-like dips into a miasma of creative despair that no writer or artist could ever hope to escape. Yes, Monarch – I’m looking at you! But that’s a story for another year (2001, to be exact).

The aim is that most of what you need will be here and it’ll mostly be positive and, hey, hopefully entertaining. Even the bad bits have some redeeming features, after all.

I hope you’ll visit from time to time and give some comments or feedback.

Recommendations – to read or buy

Books to read. Could be new, could be old. They will probably be there for a good reason and should be connected to the issue being reviewed. It might not even be a comic … >;gasp<;.

Ok, rules in place, return next time for Captain Atom #1, cover dated March 1987!

*Earth Four

Due to scientific curiosity of Green Lantern’s bad-guy Krona (see Green Lantern (2nd Series) #40), DC had a Multiverse. This was basically a stack of Universes, each with its own galaxies, planets, stars and sentient beings. A slight vibrational shift was all that kept these apart and over time some individuals worked out how to move back and forth.

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Eventually all life was threatened by an event called the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

For completeness:

Earth One was the mainstream Pre-Crisis home of the Justice League of America (JLA), Superman, Batman etc. Until Crisis, this was DC’s core continuity where most of its characters’ ongoing adventures took place.

Earth Two was the home of the legendary Justice Society of America (JSA) and its somewhat older heroes such as Jay (Flash) Garrick and mystically powered Alan (Green Lantern) Scott.

Earth S was the home of Fawcett Comics’ Shazam! family, Isis and the Bulleteer.

Earth X was the home of the Freedom Fighters – a world, originally called Earth Swastika (but this was quite sensibly vetoed by DC editorial), where normal history diverged when the Nazis were victorious in World War Two.

In Pre-Crisis terms Earth Four was the one inside DC’s Multiverse where all the Charlton Action Hero line lived, loved and battled.

Towards the end of the Crisis, Earth Four is folded into Earth’s 1,2,S and X to form the new Post-Crisis DC Earth, part of the singular DC Universe or “DCU” as it was fondly called. At that time no other universes remained apart from the Anti-Matter universe and it would pretty much remain that way (Byrne’s “Pocket Universe” aside) until 2006’s Infinite Crisis where 52 new Earths would be reconstituted.

During the Crisis merger and reboot all Charlton heroes had their origins altered (some more dramatically than others, as we will see). The Captain’s pre-Crisis (i.e. Charlton) origin was used in a very unique way (see Captain Atom (1987) #3 for details).

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Point of Origin

For those on the planet on December 26th 1986, DC Comics (they of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman fame) launched a new comic called “Captain Atom“.

Issue#1 looked a lot like this:

25039-3782-27845-1-captain-atom_super

With a cover date of March 1987 and a cover price of just $1, it offered 40 pages of Post-Crisis origin material for what undoubtedly was (and remains to this day) my favourite DC comics hero.

This blog will take you on a journey from issue #1 onwards, taking in all the main events, characters, intrigues, team-ups, continuity cock-ups and fights that dominated the good Captain’s Post-Crisis career*.  We’ll even follow him into crossovers, guest appearances, DC team books and DC Universe (DCU) line-wide events such as Millenium, Invasion and so on.  And it’ll all be roughly chronological – but with a few side-steps here and there.

Cap’s story is an interesting ride, has many highs and lows and very occasionally is truly inspired.  I do hope you’ll join me?

The blog itself is respectfully dedicated to Cary Bates, Greg Weisman, Pat Broderick, John Workman and  Rafael Kayanan.

Next time – The full blog origin and a Captain Atom primer.

And maybe some DC Captain Atom facts you don’t know!

*Yes, I’ll even touch on Charlton, Charlton Bullseye, Amercomics, Crisis on Infinite Earths and DC Comics Presents…   and Watchmen – just to be chronologically logical. 

Captain Atom – all related characters and images (c) DC Comics – no infringement intended.

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