Sunday, April 03, 2005


Captain Atom was one of the Charlton Comics characters that DC bought the rights to, along with Blue Beetle, Nightshade, and Judo Master. Now why haven’t they made a Judo Master comic? I’d buy that. Anyway, Captain Atom first appeared in Space Adventures #33 in 1960, published by Charlton Comics, a smaller comic company that went out of business in the 70’s. DC bought all the Charlton characters, apparently as cannon fodder for "event" comics. I can just see those sinister DC Editors in their Star Chamber, talking about the latest crossover marketing scheme: "We're gonna call it The Crisis Gauntlet and to kick the whole thing off, we're gonna kill Judo Master."

I digress. Let's talk about Captain Atom. The character’s first modern appearance was in Captain Atom #1 in 1987, drawn competently by Pat Broderick. In the sixties, Air Force Captain Nathaniel Adam (get it? Captain Adam!!!) was tried and convicted of treason, despite his protests that he had been framed. The sentence for his supposed crime was death, but the Air Force offered Adam a full pardon if he would take part in a top secret research project. For the project, Adam had to allow himself to be wrapped up in a cocoon composed of an alien alloy captured from a crash-landed spacecraft. The entire cocoon was then placed on top of a Hydrogen bomb, which was promptly detonated. The alloy fused with him and he became the “quantum-powered” Captain Atom. A human nuclear reactor, he could fly, shoot quantum blasts, absorb tremendous amounts of energy, etc.

I’m spending entirely too much time talking about Captain Atom. The comic book was okay – he fought villains like the psycho Major Force and the explosive babe Plastique, who was a Quebec separatist terrorist. No shit. It lasted 57 issues, and he also appeared on and off in Justice League comics and in lame cancelled comics like Extreme Justice. The character was never very popular for one simple reason... Captain Atom is a tool. Whenever writers need an asshole superhero, they get Captain Atom. He’s constantly trying to beat up other heroes on behalf of the federal government. Whenever heroes get in trouble with the government or the military, they always have to fight Captain Atom. He’s an arrogant right-wing imperialist war-mongering asshole. I know, that’s a mean thing to say about a comic book character, but it’s true.

Let's talk about this issue, the Annual. I'm going to be blunt: On the cover it looks like Captain Atom is getting rogered* by Major Force. It does, look. "Enter: Major Force” indeed.

This is one of the rare comic book annuals that was actually produced by the book’s regular creative team. The tradition of double sized annual issues began with DC in the 60’s – they were usually put out in the summer months and promised extra story! Extra excitement! In reality, many annuals featured reprint material or were created by a different creative team. The stories were usually sub-standard inventory stories that had no effect on the ‘regular” storyline. Marvel had a tradition in the 90’s of having a crossover storyline running through all their annuals – you know, a mutant life form fights Daredevil in his annual, then grows bigger and fights Spider-Man in his annual, then grows bigger and fights Thor, etc. Generally speaking, annuals suck.

This annual sucks, too, but not for the usual reason. It sucks because the story, by Cary Bates, sucks. Specifically the dialogue. Regular Captain Atom artist Pat Broderick supplied his usual decent work, but man, the dialogue!

“My pal the Captain needs help – and I’m just the major who’s gonna give it to him!”

As usual, Captain Atom is a pawn of The Man in this issue and is generally just a tool. The psychotic villain Major Force is introduced – he goes on to kill Green Lantern’s girlfriend and stuff her corpse in a fridge, although some say Ron Marz did it.

Again, just to reiterate -- Captain Atom is a tool.

*By "rogered" I mean "fucked up the ass."


Anonymous said...

To be fair to Captain Atom, most of the times he was acting on the behalf of the US government, it wasn't entirely his choice.

And that "This major..." dialogue was supposed to be simplistic so the crowd and journalists around would hear it and remember it -- it was part of a fake origin setup by the government for Major Force.

I recently reread most of his title and it really lost its way by about issue 20 or so. Before that, it wasn't a bad book.

Anonymous said...

I've only read the first 12 or so but the reason he was canceled was the reason zI liked him! THE TOOL!!!

Anonymous said...

You'd think a nuclear-powered tool would have been more popular with the ladies. Fuck fighting supervillains.

I actually liked Cap most of the time in his own book. Sure he was a stooge for the government, especially early on, but that was because he was getting blackmailed/fucked over hard by them. From a character standpoint, it was also to build up the whole 'loyalty/duty/following orders vs. conscience' conflict until it got to the point that he just said fuck it and walked out. Giffen got a few laughs out of him in the JLI/JLE days, but after the JLA tried to get serious again the whole book and everyone in it sucked hairy donkey balls.

Most of the time when he appeared outside of his own book Captain Atom was indeed a tool. On a really good day he was lucky to only be a douche. But I blame lazy or incompetent writers as much as anything for turning him into the go-to guy when the Man wanted to keep anybody down. And it's hardly Cap's fault that nearly anything Dan Vado ever wrote for DC was the literary equivalent of ass cancer. (See Extreme Justice.) Cap suffered along with the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Man, a Quebec seperatist terrorist? The heck was Captain Atom doing fighting her?! I thought the US didn't give a damn about Quebec. The rest of Canada is the same way.

I wanna see this villainess. Just for amusement factor.

Anonymous said...

Ok, new idea:
Lets make the Judomaster a chick,
make Cap Atom, Ee-vill for no reason
"Question: How does he become ee-vill?"
We'll fill in the details later. And then Superman-Prime rips open his chest and destroys Earth-51!
Why Earth-51?
I hate the number 51!
We'll find a way, DC always does...somehow no matter how stupid it sounds!