Captain Atom #s 2-5
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 per issue
I undertook last fall to review all 52 first issues of DC’s relaunched lineup, which it dubbed “the New 52.” It was a lot of comics, and as a result, I reviewed a lot of comics I never would have read otherwise. Among them was Captain Atom #1, to which I had a lukewarm reaction. In my review of the first issue, I dismissed the series, positing the title character was “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.”
That was the last I thought I’d see of the relaunched series, but thanks to my local comics retailer’s efforts to clear out surplus backstock, I had the chance to sample subsequent issues at a bargain-basement price. I couldn’t resist revisit the book at a buck an issue. I discovered Captain Atom wasn’t the boring comic book I thought it to be. However, while I’m pleased I took a second look, I still wasn’t won over, finding the pacing to be lacking and the concepts being explored too strongly influenced by a landmark comic of the 1980s that DC’s about to mine for new stories and sales this summer.
Former Air Force pilot Nathaniel Adam has been transformed into the quantum-powered super-hero known as Captain Atom, and he’s discovering his powers come at a great cost. Whereas once his greatest concern was the potential for his powers to literally rip him apart, he soon learns almost nothing is beyond his abilities now. He can perform invisible miracles, intercept any conceivable kind of energy. He also learns he can pose a danger to those close to him, and that he’s seen as a liability by other superhumans, a weapon to be controlled by the military and a source of conflict for those around him. As he struggles to find a place for himself in the world, a malevolent creature with a similar energy signature is skulking through a city unchecked, growing as it consumes everything in its path.
His efforts on Captain Atom have proven to be a creative turning point for artist Freddie Williams II, who’s always boasted a fairly conventional super-hero, pop-art style. He offers a much more unique and engaging approach here. His spectral portrayal of the title character reinforces the struggles he has with his energy powers but also the cosmic omnipotence he discovers as well. I like this take on Captain Atom much more than the silver-candy-coated version DC offered up in the 1980s. Williams contrasts bright, smooth lines with darker, grittier looks for key scenes. His work on this series looks like a cross between Tom Mandrake’s style and than of Criss Cross.
Of course, Jose Villarrubia’s vibrant, textured colors are a major contributing factor to the striking look of Captain Atom. The glowing brilliance of his work was especially apparent in the third issue as it guest-starred the Flash and offered even more opportunities to play with color representing energy. The strength of the interior artwork is unfortunately not matched by the cover images provided by “Artgerm.” The covers strive for a painted look, but the images are fairly generic in tone and fail to reflect the content of the comics.
In the comments thread for my review of the first issue, a reader compared the New 52 Captain Atom of Dr. Manhattan of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. Last September, I said I didn’t see the parallels, but man, they were more than apparent in subsequent issues. Krul’s exploration of Captain Atom’s powers as a phenomenon that was distancing him from mankind and that was elevating him to a god-like status screams out so powerfully throughout #s 2-5 of the series, I can’t help but wonder if this was the result of a retooled pitch for a Dr. Manhattan comic. Certainly, exploring a super-hero as a potential divine entity isn’t a new idea, nor is it solely Moore’s domain, but the similarities to the new Captain Atom’s journey and key scenes and ideas from Watchmen were too strong to overlook. At times, Krul’s handling of the subject matter is intriguing and challenging, but at others, it comes off as derivative and too thinly veiled as an homage.
I think the biggest liability of the series — or at least the first five issues or so — is the failure to offer the title character a solid antagonist. Sure, he contends with a jealous scientist, a boorish military man, disease and mankind’s propensity for self-destruction, but there’s no real villain in the traditional sense. Now, if that were the overall philosophy behind the book, I could get behind it, but instead, writer J.T. Krul takes five long issues to put the big bad monster in front of our hero. The buildup to the confrontation between marvel and monster is far too slow, and the distorted mass of flesh and energy fails to come off as gross and as scary as Krul clearly intended. Furthermore, there’s nothing apparently special enough about the ugly threat to justify the long road to the inevitable confrontation. 6/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.