Captain Atom #1 (March, 1987)
“Point of Origin”
Writer – Cary Bates
Penciller – Pat Broderick
Inker – Bob Smith
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Editor – Dennis O’Neil
Special Thanks to Greg Weisman
Cover Price: $1.00
“Hey, have you checked out our consignment section?” asked the friendly comic shop owner.
“The what now?” was my erudite response.
One of the shops I venture down to somewhat seldomly had turned about one-third of their sales floor into a consignment area. Folks could sell their books through the store, and the shop would take a cut. It’s the first time I’d ever encountered this, so I figured I’d check it out.
Of the area’s offerings were two titles I’d long wanted to collect, but felt rather overwhelming to consider… Blue Devil and Captain Atom.
Blue Devil was marked at $25.00 and was a complete set. Captain Atom, however, was $40.00 and was missing about a half-dozen issues (I had a smattering of issues from both series’ so there were sure to be some doubles as well). This was October, 2010, and I had just finished working a government contracted position… I wasn’t bringing in any money at this point, so I decided against grabbing them. I suppose it can be asked why I was in a comic book store in the first place when I was in-between contracts… what can I say? I’ve got a problem.
As I was leaving, the shop owner furrowed his eyebrows and commented on the fact that I hadn’t found anything. I told him what caught my eye… and he asked if either of those sets had a red sticker on them. I popped over to check, and in fact… both sets had a large circular red sticker on their respective bags.
He advised me that the red sticker was to indicate which sets were selling at 50% off. Well, hell… that changes everything. Picked up both sets for a song, and headed home in the uncharacteristic Phoenix rain (it’s funny the things you remember… I also stopped at a Dutch Bros. drive-thru on the way home for a cup of coffee that was almost impossibly smooth).
Captain Atom had long been on my radar. Ever since reading his exploits in Justice League Europe, the Captain Atom series was placed on my “if you see it on the cheap, pick it up” list that I would keep in my pocket every time I went out. This was pre-smartphone for me, so my lists were all hand-written at this point.
Prior to this great find, my Captain Atom collection was quite modest. Maybe a dozen or so issues… including, for whatever reason, three copies of the issue I wish to discuss today, Captain Atom #1. Is it worth owning more than one copy of? Let’s find out…
Falsely(?) accused of treason, Captain Nathaniel Adam agreed to take part in the Captain Atom Project in exchange for his life and freedom. The Project sought to bind him to a metal alloy procured from a crashed UFO. It is 1968.
We open as the project is about to be conducted. As the process commences, Nathaniel is nervously telling jokes… trying to keep his mind off of what’s to come. The idea that he may not survive the proceedings… the fact he may never again see his family. The project is the brainchild of Dr. Megala and is being overseen by Colonel Eiling.
Nathaniel Adam is seemingly vaporized and it appears as though the project was unsuccessful. As this is occurring we join Adam’s wife, Angela sharing her apprehension with Nate’s best friend Jeff Goslin. They discuss the probable danger the project brings with it. Goslin is confident in his buddy’s survivability and assures her that all will go well. Nathan and Angela’s young children (Randy and Peggy) are also present for this scene.
The scene shifts to the Winslow Air Force Base. It is nighttime and there is something of a quantum explosion on the airstrip. A humanoid glob of metallic energy has made its presence known. The Base attempts to defend itself, opening fire on the creature. The glob blasts back with energy emanating from its hands. It’s not until taking the full force of a rocket launcher to the gut that the metallic mass collapses to the ground.
Inside the facility, the humanoid is strapped to a bed and studied. Much to the surprise of the scientists, the creature exhibits many tell-tale human qualities. The creature adapts its form a few times, internalizing its mass… molting layers of its own mass. The process ends with Nate in his more familiar Captain Atom metallic body-type. He wakes up, and begins to speak.
(Now General) Eiling recognizes who and what he is looking at and demands the room be cleared. Adam comments on Eiling’s seemingly advanced age and almost immediate ascension from Colonel to General. Eiling hints that it’s no longer 1968 when he begins naming all of the people who had died in the past couple of decades… including Adam’s own wife. This proves to be too much for Nathan to handle as he begins glowing a bright red. Eiling orders the room be filled with nerve gas to sedate the Captain.
Eiling then meets with Dr. Megala, who now appears to be more synthetic than human. His torso sits in a high-tech wheelchair with mechanical arms. Megala proposes that during the process, Nathan was somehow thrown into the fourth-dimension of space-time. He continues by commenting on the power Adam may now command, and asks if Eiling ever considered that potentiality.
Eiling takes his leave. In the hallway he orders a subordinate to ensure that within the next 12-hours Megala, who is one of the few “in the know” about the Captain Atom Project, is rendered brain-dead. Megala, either overhears… or just knows Eiling well enough to assume what is to come makes a distress call to a “Babylon”.
Adam is placed into a body bag and loaded onto a rocket ship. Eiling plans to launch Adam into space. Of note, the servicemen all believe Adam to be an extraterrestrial rather than the result of a decades old government project.
As the rocket lifts off, a man brandishing a hypodermic needle enters Megala’s room. Before he can act, a large man emerges from the shadows and stabs the invader in the neck with his own needle. This imposing fellow is Babylon, and he is working for (as well as protecting) Dr. Megala.
We rejoin Adam as he awakens in total blackness. He hears the rocket engines, and realizes his current plight. He destroys the vessel and begins plummeting to Earth. He is shocked to find that he now has the ability to fly. As he approaches the ground, he decides to follow Route-202 to his family home.
Upon arrival, Adam peers into the window only to find that a different family now inhabits his house. So curious… the buildings, roads, and even the cars… all different. Megala and Babylon arrive, and enlighten Adam to the fact that he is currently 18 years in his future. It is now 1986.
Megala proposes a partnership. He brings Adam to his secluded mountainside home to help him work on mastering his powers. Unbeknownst to them, General Eiling has eyes and ears all around. The next several pages are tantamount to a training montage… Adam’s body is hit with all manner of ballistics, and he spars with Babylon.
After receiving sufficient intel, Eiling orders an assault on Megala’s retreat, and reaches out to contact the President of the United States. Once at Megala’s, Eiling orders to speak with Adam. Adam is more than happy to oblige, and demands Eiling take him to see his wife.
Eiling takes Adam to the grave of his wife… it is revealed that since Nate had been believed vaporized, Angela Adam remarried… her next husband? General Wade Eiling himself. Adam begins to break down… he now knows Eiling not only shared his wife’s bed, but also had a hand in raising his children. Adam’s own children would look at Eiling as though he were their father.
Eiling then informs Adam that the current administration has no obligation to honor the pardon he had earned by participating in the Captain Atom Project. He states however, that if he were to become a secret operative for the United States while acting as the superhero Captain Atom… a new pardon may be granted.
One week later, Eiling meets with the President to discuss Captain Atom as well as consider moving on to “phase two”… and we are [to be continued…]
What a way to start a series!
This was yet another Post-Crisis re-imagining that really pulls me in. I must admit, I have no experience with the Charlton or any Pre-Crisis iteration of this character, so I am ignorant as to whether or not there are any similarities between the versions. Of note, this is listed in most online databases as Captain Atom volume 3, counting the two earlier Charlton Comics volumes. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to omit the “vol.3” for this one. For all intents and purposes, this is the first DC Comics volume of this title.
Of potential interest, we are introduced to the President of the United States in this issue. Oddly, he bears absolutely no resemblance to Ronald Reagan. In this very issue there is an advertisement for the DC crossover Legends, which actually features Ronald Reagan as a plot point and character. I’m not sure if this was a conscious choice to have the President of the United States not be Reagan in Captain Atom, or if there is perhaps something lost in the art. It has been a couple of years since reading this series, so I cannot off the top of my head remember if this gets rectified/clarified.
This was an incredibly well-written issue… Captain Atom is introduced as such a likable and sympathetic character. Dr. Megala and Babylon serve their purposes well, in training Nate and perhaps helping him adjust to the hustle and bustle of the 1980’s. General Wade Eiling’s face is just begging to be punched in! Such a slimy, self-serving jackass. You read this while picturing the moment that Atom is just going to haul off and sock him! Such a great antagonist. The mysterious happenings behind Adam’s accusation of treason is a great underlying way to keep moving the story forward.
This was an ad-free (barring inside covers) issue. At no point in my reading did the story feel as though it dragged. Oftentimes in over-paged issues, there may be a lull or downtime) in the narrative. Captain Atom #1 sidesteps all that quite handily, every scene felt as though it mattered.
I feel as though by reading this issue, I’ve kinda talked myself into doing another full read-through of the series… it really is that good.
|I can’t not think of the McDonald’s Mac Tonight Moon Man mascot.|
Pat Broderick is definitely one of my top artists of the 1980’s. I honestly cannot think of anything he’s drawn that I haven’t liked. I recently started a read-through of the Fury of Firestorm, and was surprised with how much I dug the art. Broderick’s Captain Atom work is no different. Fantastic stuff panel-in and panel-out. Faces are clearly identifiable and highly emotive, an absolute treat to behold. Action scenes are fantastic, and the settings are wonderfully detailed.
Highly recommended. I hope that this summer’s DC Comics Rebirth event facilitates the return of this Captain Atom. If you’re so inclined, DC’s digital site has the first 31 issues of this series up at $1.99 per. At least in my area, this series is easily found in the cheap-o bins. If digital comics make your teeth itch like they do mine… maybe treat yourself to a “bin dive” sometime soon. Either way, you should certainly check this series out.
Also… I have recently been introduced to a wonderful Captain Atom (and Booster Gold)-centric podcast. Pop in on the Silver and Gold Podcast and read along! You can follow the show on twitter @SNGPOD4779
Interesting Ads: (This was, for the most part an ad-free issue… pickins be slim)
UPDATE 5/7/23 – “Remastered” for WordPress!