Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Brave & The Bold: Captain Atom

(The Brave & the Bold: same name, different characters)

Emerging from the Cold War of the Sixties, the original Captain Atom was Charlton Comics most successful character of the Silver Age.

Accidentally trapped in an experimental space rocket (sheesh, how careless), Allen Adam gained awesome powers when his craft exploded.  Returning to Earth, his nuclear powers were thought a danger to his fellow man, so controlled by a striking costume (later changed to a blue/black metallic suit).

Written by, originally, Joe Gill, Cap did what Charlton Comics heroes generally did.  They had all-action patriotic ventures, where they were mightier than the villain.  In doing so, they completely lacked any grounding in reality that Marvel latched onto.  There was little personal life to speak of.  Tactical planning to defeat a more powerful foe was not usually an issue.

Not that the stories were not enjoyable.  They were great fun.  Doctor Spectro, Cap’s recurring arch-enemy, was particularly good, as was the Ghost in Cap’s team up with the heroine, Nightshade.

The most impressive thing about Captain Atom though was his artist -  the pre-Spider-Man, Steve Ditko!

Lasting from 1960 to 1967, Cap’s time came and went.  The stories, as I said, were entertaining enough but no match for Lee/Kirby’s Fantastic Four, for instance.

Cap did have a major influence on more than one character…
Firstly, the Kree hero, Captain Marvel.  Although the original Mar-Vell was substantially different, the cosmically aware character was unmistakingly similar.  The costume was changed from yellow to red, the atom changed to a star, the mask was the same, the powers (and vapour trail) similar.  Heck, both even had silver hair!  This was the closest to the original of all the spin-offs and incarnations.

When DC bought over the Charlton stable, comic genius Alan Moore wanted to use Atom in his new run – the Watchmen!  DC, however, didn’t quite like the idea of despatching a number of recently bought heroes to the grave, so Moore invented Dr Manhattan.

The Big Blue, though, was not really Cap. Sure, both had nuclear-spawned powers but that’s about it.

The second true incarnation of Captain Atom came in a DC series.  Here, Captain Nathaniel Adam was deliberately sent up in an alien rocket.  Framed for a crime he did not commit, Adam agreed on a suicide mission in return for a pardon.  Instead, the rocket exploded, melding Adam with the metal hull and granting him nuclear powers.

In a throwback to Alan Moore’s terrific Marvelman / Miracleman series, the Charlton adventures are put out to the public as a cover for the real origin of this Captain Atom.

With a nod to Dr Manhattan, this Atom also has some time-related powers.  For a time, this was to be utilised in a dramatic switch – Cap was to become Monarch, the villain of Armageddon 2001!

It never happened though.  Word leaked out and DC changed the ending.  His later appearances in this universe do not add too much to the character.
In a surprising change, Captain Atom then switches comic companies (although one bought over by DC) to the WildStorm universe.

It was an interesting twist.  Here, Cap goes from the superhero-celebrated world of DC to a more ‘adult’ Marvel-style universe, where superheroes are feared and distrusted.  Although the series worked pretty well, it did set in motion Cap becoming, well, strange.

There’s nothing really wrong with time-travelling characters but it didn’t work for Cap returning to that version of the DCU.  Atom had little character, being shunted here and there through quantum futures in different series.  He did have central roles to play, but more as a concept, rather than a fully-fledged character.

The New 52 saw DC re-start and re-invent their universe.  The likes of Batman, Wonder Woman etc. did change but not into completely different characters.

You may have heard of the controversy of bringing back the Watchmen characters.  But one factor is missing -  Dr Manhattan was already back!
In a weird development, the current Captain Atom of the New 52 has far more in common with Dr Manhattan than he ever has had with the original Allen Adam, or even the first Nathaniel Adam.  Even the costume has only a wink to the metallic Cap’s covering, being more the blue energy of the Doc.
And, in doing so, it defeats the object of ‘bringing back’ Captain Atom surely?

Indeed, Cap was cancelled after selling less than even Hawk and Dove.  Perhaps the problem with Captain Atom, as with Shazam, is that they just don’t fit into the regular DC Universe.  Perhaps a Charlton Universe is the place for him.  Oh, I don’t expect that to be popular enough for a title but if we are going to be limited to guest appearances, then maybe that should be travel to and from Earth-4 (as the Charlton world was termed), in the same way the JLA/JSA team-ups were so admired.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Poor Captain Atom. Good summary.

A character that seems to have so much potential but just doesn't catch on. At least with me.

I did think the DC idea of the Charlton series being a cover story for their 1st version was interesting but that was about it.

Adding to the list of sort-of spin-offs is Breach who was to have been a reboot of Captain Atom.

"Evidence of the change remains in the first issue (of Breach), where the protagonist, Major Zanetti, is called "Major Adams" twice." (Wikipedia)