After they blow him to bits… the adventure begins!

One of the things that kind of sucked being a kid in the mid 1980s was that a lot of the more serious turns many comic books took were kind of lost on a 10 year old me. Sure, I knew a comic like Suicide Squad was awesome, but it was awesome to me because it was super villains teaming up to do spy stuff, and holy crap they could DIE. The actual Cold War and political intrigue stuff was lost on me at the time. DC’s original Captain Atom reboot was cool to me in the same way. Sure, half the time I didn’t know what was going on, but the concept was AWESOME.

Originally published by Charlton Comics, Captain Atom’s only real claim to fame was that he was co-created by comics legend Steve Ditko (tho this was enough to make him one of Charlton’s most popular characters). He was just one of several nuclear powered superheroes that came out during the nuclear power years of the late 50s and 60s, and there wasn’t much to make him stick out. Just another scientist who gained super powers via an accident. It wasn’t until the Charlton Comics line was purchased by DC in the 80s that the character was taken in a direction that made him more interesting.

Dig that tag line. And DC made good on it too. The new Captain Atom was a Vietnam era Air Force captain and family man who had been unjustly accused of murder and treason, and forced to participate in a mysterious government experiment involving an alien alloy in order to gain a pardon. That experiment? GETTING BLOWN UP WITH AN ATOM BOMB. Tell me that’s not one of the coolest origins ever.

“So, how’d you get your superpowers?”
“Oh a spider bit me. How about you?”
“I volunteered to be blown up with an atom bomb.”
“……”

So yeah, the man agrees to be blown up with an atom bomb in order to at least clear his name for his family’s sake, only to merge with the alien alloy and get blown forward 18 years in time, where he finds that the jerk Colonel who forced him to be in the experiment had married his wife, raised his kids, and had him declared dead rather than issue his pardon. To add insult to injury, the government uses the old charges to force him to go to work as a government super hero under the command of a certain jerk General who once upon a time used to just be a jerk Colonel.

Sure, the Captain can now fly, and shoot energy blasts, and gets to run around mostly naked because he now looks like a shiny silver Ken doll, but he’s stuck being bossed around by the guy who got him blown up and married his wife (who’s now dead), his now grown kids hate his guts and don’t know he’s alive, and he has to pretend to be somebody else while getting used to 18 years of a changed world. Great, great concept for it’s time. A little bit of Quantum Leap, a hearty sci-fi tinged dose of the Rip Van Winkle archetype, a dash of soap opera, and of course some traditional superhero fisticuffs.

Despite a stint with the Justice League during the popular Giffen/DeMatteis era, the Captain never really got a chance to shine on his own again once his series was canceled in 1991, and quickly became nothing more than a go to big gun for when a big gun character was needed. Even worse, the character was recently shunted off into the Wild Storm universe, where he did pretty much nothing, then was brought back and shoe horned into a villain role during Countdown to Final Crisis, making good on the early 90s plans to reveal him to as Monarch, the big bad guy behind the Armageddon 2001 mini series (the plans had been scrapped when the idea leaked, and they changed the identity of Monarch to Hawk, from Hawk and Dove, at the last minute. Which of course made zero sense based on the story that had been told up until the reveal).

Nowadays, the Captain has been cured of his villainous tendencies (courtesy of some convenient amnesia) and is running around in some magical mystical castle world. Yeah, don’t ask me. You’d think a character that was the basis for Doctor Manhattan would get better treatment. Lord knows that jerk General is doing well. He had his mind put in the body of an invincible immortal giant (with tusks), and was last seen trying to stage a hostile take over of the Suicide Squad…

Poor Captain Atom. After all this time, his nemesis still has a more stable life than he does.



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