While on a mission to capture a new villain Captain Atom discovers that he has new powers. He can transmute matter. But doing so makes his powers unstable and threaten his ability to keep himself contained. Warned of the risks to his person, Captain Atom uses his powers once more to save New York City from a volcanic eruption. Will Captain Atom evaporate just as his new series is about to launch?
This Captain Atom has been revised. The theme of the nuclear super hero was a popular one in the 1960s with three distinct characters being introduced with relatively the same powers. There was Captain Atom from Charlton Comics, later purchased by DC Comics, there was Doctor Solar the Man of the Atom GoldKey Comics and fin ally there were little known characters Captain Flash and Nukla from Sterling Comics and Dell Comics, respectively. Each of them were created as a reaction to the atom bomb in the United States and the new nuclear age. Whereas at Marvel Comics, the nuclear age gave readers the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, these heroes channelled the fears and the hopes of Americans. Somehow, each of these characters was related to weapons research or the military. They gained their powers and used them for the good of men.
It took Alan Moore’s The Watchmen to look at the genre and extract from it a definitive imprint on what these characters meant. They roughly had the same powers. Alan Moore’s Doctor Manhattan was really an updated Captain Atom who stood above humanity and perceived time and space in a different way. He was not much human anymore. Solar Man of the Atom, during his days as a Valiant Comics character also reached way ahead into the ultimate potential of such a powerful character. While Doctor Manhattan and Doctor Solar were showing the world how to write a nuclear character, Captain Atom in the 1980s and 1990s was stuck in a military thriller about a military man thrown in the future and fighting for his freedom from his overmasters. The series was full of tragedy, intrigue and suspense. However, it continually failed to ignite the interest of readers. It wasn’t bad, but one Captain Atom’s problem was that he was a character potentially more powerful than Superman that had to have a cap on how awesome he was or could be. There just too many powerful characters at DC Comics in those days. DC Comics almost made him a villain to allow him to reach his full potential, power-wise, but recanted and used Captain Atom as a punching bag for anyone very powerful for the next decade. In 2005, DC Comics tried to revive Captain Atom but at the last minute changed him into a new character called Breach. It turns out later that Breach was really an alternate version of Captain Atom that was trying to reach into the godhood territory that had made Doctor Solar and Doctor Manhattan so popular.
Here, Captain Atom has been stripped of all his DC Comics history and one assumes that the writer will slowly try to recapture the magic that made characters such as Doctor Solar and Doctor Manhattan so popular. Even the design and colouring of Captain Atom has changed. He is more energy than a man cast in metallic body. He’s already fighting for his humanity. However, the one problem this issue has if this Captain Atom is to emulate the success of similar character is his lack of a human tether. We learn very little about him and who is was before. Is he still Nathaniel Adam? Does he have an emotional attachment to anyone, forcing him to remain human? We don’t know. Most of the issue centers on Captain Atom’s inner monologue about his powers, yet we learn very little about what motivates him and what kind of a man he is. What we do learn is that he’s willing to sacrifice himself to save lives.
I’m not a fan of Williams. I didn’t like his work in JSA All-Stars. But here, he’s actually effective. The energy that grows and ebbs works for his style. I’m not annoyed at all by his take of Captain Atom, although he’s not my favourite artist. What he draws is classic super hero and it’s just right for this series. Now, whether this series will make it is another story. I’ll stick around for the next issue, and maybe the concept of a Doctor Solar and Doctor Manhattan-like character in the DC Comics universe will materialize. So far, I can’t say this creative team is not getting it.