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