Captain Atom has a lengthy history, originating at Charleton Comics in the 1960s and moving over to DC in 1984 alongside Blue Beetle and The Question among others, and most notably, inspiring Dr. Manhattan in one of the most esteemed comics in the history of the medium, ‘The Watchmen.’ Unfortunately, the good Captain hasn’t managed to make as big a name for himself as his cohorts have. Perhaps most famously, he was supposed to turn evil in the 1991 ‘Armageddon 2001’ miniseries, but after this turn was leaked, DC decided to make Hawk (of Hawk & Dove) the villain instead, despite having all the clues in the book point to Atom as the culprit. It would have probably been the one shot Captain Atom had to become something other than bland, but sadly it was foiled. And he’s still bland.
[Atomic spoilers ahead!]
The book opens with Captain Atom (his real name isn’t given in this volume, but presumably, he’s still Nathaniel Adam) battling a generic villain in a giant mechanical suit. (Was there a BOGO sale on these? Because this is at least the THIRD review I’ve written where giant mechanical suits have factored in!) Suddenly, the Captain experiences a new power, the ability to transmute matter, turning the villain’s battle suit into dust. Immediately afterward, his hand starts to dissipate, but he wills it back together. Concerned, he flies to a scientific facility called The Continuum, “Somewhere in Kansas.” He consults with Dr. Megala, a brilliant but jerky scientist who also expresses concern over the change in Atom’s power set. But before they can do any more testing, a volcano erupts in New York City and the Captain must fly off. He makes a quick detour to save a nuclear reactor from melting down, then once at the volcano, he manages to transmute some of the lava to snow to protect the innocent bystanders, but when he attempts to transmute all of the magma in the volcano, he… well, he seems to self-destruct. (I mean, obviously, he’ll somehow survive… but wouldn’t it be cool if DC was ballsy enough to put this book out and say, “Yup! He died in the first issue! Didn’t see that coming, did you?!”)
Oh and there’s a side story about a rat in San Francisco turning into a monster.
This was an extremely brisk read. Even quicker than ‘O.M.A.C.’ and that’s saying quite a lot! (Or is that a little?) The art, by Freddie Williams II is appealing, although it’s sketchy nature made it a little hard to follow, especially during the rat subplot. It’s not poorly written, but it does feel a little lazy. Dr. Megala is brilliant and therefore jerky. Can’t any scientists besides Ray Palmer and Reed Richards be nice? Krull makes a point of stressing that Captain Atom is an everyman, when he exclaims, “I was a pilot, not a scientist.” A second supporting character, a young scientist named Ranita Carter is introduced, but hardly fleshed out beyond her being friendly, versus Megala being abrasive. Captain Atom is as vanilla and white bread as I remember from his run in ‘Justice League Europe.’
Once again, this book suffers from a lack of real villainous presence. Atom battles a nameless dude in a mecha suit, a nuclear reactor and a mysterious volcano. Maybe if he’d fought the evil monster rat, I’d have been more interested. And it would be one thing if the lead character were simply captivating on his own, but he’s not! He’s just… some guy.
My biggest issue with this book was his new power set, the ability to transmute matter… because that’s already someone else’s power set! Firestorm’s! Everyone who reads DC Comics knows this! This would be like if Batman could all of a sudden communicate with sea life! Everyone would respond, “There’s already a guy who can do that!” Can’t he have atomic powers that are NOT the exact same atomic powers that someone else already has? He vaguely refers to his old powers, being able to absorb energy and redirect it, but very little time is spent dwelling on this.
I don’t want to be too harsh, since this is the first issue. Atom is perfectly affable, but he’s kind of like that friend you have that is perfectly sweet and smart and funny, but that you absolutely could never date, despite knowing what a great guy/girl he/she is.
Captain Atom, I’m sorry, but it’s not you, it’s me.
CAPTAIN ATOM #1
Written by JT Krull
Art by Freddie Williams II
Cover by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau