Captain Atom #1
“Evolution of the Species”
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Freddie Williams II
Colors: Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
Editor: Rachel Gluckstern
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Though created and published under the Charlton Comics banner in the 1960s, the Captain Atom property really came into its own in the 1980s with the launch of the Cary Bates-written and Pat Broderick-illustrated series of the same name from DC Comics. Bates was really ahead of his time, crafting a hero stuck in a world he doesn’t recognize and being manipulated by the military industrial complex, and the shiny, sleek redesign offered up by Broderick was quite eye-catching. With this relaunch writer J.T. Krul and artist Freddie Williams II have taken a number of cues from the Bates/Broderick interpretation of the character, but they’re also made it their own as well. This is definitely a new and different Captain Atom, but I don’t know it means it’s an improved interpretation of the character. DC really hasn’t known what to do with the title character since it did an about-face with its plan to turn him into the villain Monarch in 1991 (the secret slipped out, and DC quickly revised its “Armageddon 2001” story to make Hawk the surprise bad guy), and it still doesn’t seem as though the publisher has found any other label for Captain Atom other than “generic super-hero.”
As Captain Atom faces off against an armored foe wielding energy cannons, the relatively new hero discovers a new manifestations of his nuclear-based powers as he transforms the metal of the villain’s exo-suit into dust, albeit by accident at first. The revelation of that new power is followed by another, more unsettling discovery. While Captain Atom may be able to manipulate the atoms of other objects, using his powers is causing instability in his own molecules. Despite the danger and the need to study his nuclear form more closely, the hero doesn’t rest, as Manhattan faces a dual threat of a seemingly natural (though impossible) disaster and a resulting crisis at a nearby power plant.
So I sat down to read this comic book, and I found a story about a nuclear-powered super-hero who’s uncertain about using his transmutation abilities and is guided by a more experienced scientist who’s unable to act physically of his own accord. I know, it sounds like I read a Firestorm comic book, but no, the cover clearly states this is the first issue of Captain Atom. I admit this interpretation of the title character isn’t an exact duplicate of the original vision of Firestorm, but there are a lot of parallels — too many for my liking. Maybe it’ll be a moot point once DC releases its new take on the Firestorm concept next week, but for now, Krul’s reimagining of Captain Atom seems a little derivative.
Speaking of Firestorm, the new, tweaked design for Captain Atom sees wisps of energy being emitted from the top of his head, almost like a corona. It’s not quite fire for hair, but it’s close. Fortunately, the visuals are quite a bit different, and the air, almost gaseous look for the shtick here is also in keeping with the superhuman physiological conflict Captain Atom must contend with. Williams has discarded the silver, candy coating that defined Captain Atom’s look before, and while he’s maintains the same general design, there’s a looser, more energy-based look at play. Williams has adopted a much looser style for this project than we’ve seen from him in past efforts, and that method is also in keeping with the central challenge in the story. The sequence in which Captain Atom realizes what’s happening to him is particularly effective. In it, the effects demonstrate how far his form is removed from humanity, but his expressions remind the reader the hero is still a regular guy who’s having trouble dealing with the impossible circumstances in which he finds himself. The effort to portray the title character as energy rather than an armored sentinel is aided a great deal by Jose Villarrubia’s glowing, almost eerie colors. The shading and glowing quality of the colors bring a ghostly tone to Captain Atom.
As far as I know, the Continuum — an apparent nuclear-research facility and Hadron Collider in Kansas — is the title character’s new base of operations, and the notion of a nuclear-powered hero working with a nuclear physics facility is a novel addition that makes a lot of sense. Krul has also opted to bring back Dr. Megala, the wheelchair-bound scientist I believe was responsible the experiment in which the captain’s developed powers in his previous incarnation. Krul’s vision for Megala has a lot more personality and is therefore a more plausible and enjoyable character. I rather enjoyed this smart-ass spin on Stephen Hawking. The threat that arises by the end of the issue was a disappointment. Other than the fact it appears to be a monster, the script is silent on what or who it is, and it seems like a rather cliche science-fiction/super-hero antagonist.
Overall, this is capable, competent but unremarkable super-hero-genre storytelling. There’s nothing in the plot or dialogue that’s particularly off-putting, and I like that DC, J.T. Krul and Williams have opted to rebuild the property from the ground up and taken advantage of the clean slate offered by the New 52 stunt. The problem is the changes haven’t made Captain Atom a more interesting character. He’s a standard super-hero now, and aside from the terminal nature of his powers, he doesn’t seem particularly special anymore. Captain Atom #1 is, unfortunately, a rather boring read, and I’d rather my super-hero comics be campy or cheesy than boring any day of the week. 5/10
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