Sunday, March 27, 2011

2005 Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Absolute Edition cover by George Pérez

Click For Full Image

Captain Atom was surprisingly prominent on the cover, probably because a) the Silver Age appearance(s) has gotten so little play since the DC acquisition, it immediately says "Infinite Earths," b) the book was the introduction of the Charlton characters to the DCU, so the old school Captain stands out where the Ditko Blue Beetle came over relatively intact, and c) only hardcore geeks are going to blow a c-note on a terribly dated comic book event that looks like a family bible on a cocktail of steroids and LSD. I'd have provided a spotlight scan, but even I didn't bother going back to this well again, pretty pictures or not.

Also pictured: Firehawk, Negative Woman, Power Girl, Lady Quark, Wonder Woman, Harbinger, Martian Manhunter, Superboy-Prime, the Golden Age Ray, Firestorm, Captain Marvel, Harbinger, Dr. Light II, Earth-2 Superman Kal-L, Kid Flash, Earth-2 Wonder Woman, the Fury, Earth-1 Superman Kal-El, Alexander Luthor, Jade, and the Psycho Pirate.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Captain Atom: Armageddon #1 (December, 2005)

"Not long ago..." Mr. Majestic stabbed Spartan with a sword, and pink energy exploded. They were calling each other by their first names like good little X-Men clones, and Spartan was asking to be stabbed, and something something Void something something annihilation and scene. This was all very gay, both in tongue-in-cheek misread subtext, and as juvenile derogatory for a bunch of obtuse crap that's meaningless to anyone but the most devout Wildstorm geek.

"Not long ago..." Captain Atom volunteered to fly a giant composite Superman/Batman robot away from Earth into a soon-to-collide kryptonite asteroid that would otherwise exploded our planet into itty bitty bits. This wasn't as gay, even though Captain Atom pictured himself in tighty whities while thinking about "another cockpit" before getting swallowed by the head of a metal penis. The artist was lazy enough to cut and paste that happening twice. Also lazy was the wimpy two page look at Captain Atom's Post-Crisis incarnation before blowing himself up to escape a lousy Jeph Loeb plot thread.

"Hell. Better pay attention. I've got a job to do. Goodbye. And God bless America."

A bald Captain Atom appeared for a moment in front of Superman and Batman, sometime after his funeral, probably to pay off a teased return that wasn't properly thought through. He then was transported to the Wildstorm comic book universe, where he flew uncontrollably into a building like a missile.

An EMT tried to help an old man who giddily anticipated his death by super-hero collision. The EMT got a splinter of pink Void energy in her paw. Captain Atom got a "new" costume that was on loan from his brief appearance in Kingdom Come. The EMT ran away in fear of the super-human, because a) you would too if some dude knocked over your building, and b) everyone on Wildstorm Earth was afraid of super-humans, because that kind of bloodletting happened all the damned time there. Mr. Majestic then showed up to start punching Captain Atom.

Grifter was in a bar, drinking to the memory of his dead robot friend who got stabbed to death at the beginning of this synopsis. He got excited when he saw the stabber fighting on the TV.

Captain Atom took some blows, then decided to show how tough he was by pounding Mr. Majestic into the ground. Atom thought he was being heroic, but all the bystanders were still afraid of him, even after he explained that he was a super-hero. You see, Wildstorm is a dark, hardcore universe where puny humans are always caught between gory battles and political upheavals, while DC is a bright, happy universe where super-heroes' wives get sodomized and their kids murdered and whole cities razed but everyone still loves super-heroes anyway.

"A Scream Across The Sky" was by Will Pfeifer, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope.

Homage Studios Sunday

Monday, March 14, 2011

2007 Rittenhouse Archives DC Legacy The Atom Multi-Case Incentive Sketch Card by Cat Staggs

Click To Enlarge

5" x 7" Sketch Card
Copic Markers/White acrylic and gel pen

Painted Atom art is damned rare, and I've been waiting to post this one for a while. Great stuff, as I love when the Tiny Titans turns something as commonplace as loose wiring into an adventure prop.

Spring Break Staggs
2011 The Huntress Art
2007 DC Legacy Martian Manhunter Chase Card
2009 "Tales of Wonder Wonder Woman" Charity Auction Art
2009 Zatanna Commission

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who's Who Vol.IV Captain Atom Cover Detail (June, 1985)

Art by George Pérez & Dick Giordano

I'm not sure if my first exposure to Captain Atom was my brother's brother's copy of Americomics Special or Crisis On Infinite Earths, but either way, there was something distinctly "off-brand" about him. Down to the very name, Captain Atom seemed funky and generic, while not really being memorable enough to be outright bad. Blue Beetle and the Question each had solid Steve Ditko designs that translated well into their 1980s revivals, but Atom had an ugly, busy costume that was also strangely quaint and retro. Thanks to early exposure to Pete Morisi's stuff, I could forgive Peter Cannon his bare legs and booties, but Captain Atom's randomly colored limbs and tunic were all over the place.

A vastly different and much improved Captain Atom came out of DC's new continuity, and we were reintroduced in the seventh issue of either Justice League International or Atom's solo series. Crossing Captain America and the A-Team with the Silver Surfer seemed pretty novel at the time, even if Cary Bates was something of a Johnny Come Lately on the jock of the western zeitgeist. Nathaniel Adam was a soldier in Vietnam accused of a murder he did not commit. In order to avoid prison and a lengthy separation from his young family, Adam submitted to becoming a guinea pig in a secret government experiment to test an alien metal. One explosion later, Nathaniel Adam quantum leapt twenty years in time, gaining incredible powers in the bargain. For the record, this actually predated the "Quantum Leap" TV show by years, and it was interesting to see the hero-out-of-time premise applied to someone for whom the chronal shift had meaning. Nathanial Adam lost his wife forever, and had a struggle getting back into the lives of his children (who were nearly the same age as himself) because of their having been raised by his nemesis, General Wade Eiling.

I picked up a batch of the solo series cheap at my first ever local comic shop in Texas before moving to Nevada. The plus side was that Vegas newsstands were a lot more welcoming to DC comics than Houston's, but the down side was that the lack of direct market access meant I stopped collecting Captain Atom with #12. I found that one on a spinner rack at a school fundraiser. Still, the character benefited by "staying golden" in my mind, leaving my acquaintance with the introduction of Major Force. As it turned out, Captain Atom never had much of a rogues gallery, with some serious losers upcoming. By the second year, the series lost its main draw in the spectacularly detailed art of Pat Broderick, and Cary Bates began transitioning out of comics not long after.

I managed to keep up with Captain Atom somewhat through Justice League Europe and guest appearances, but he really faded off my radar without the solo series. I still thought he was cool, but messes like Armageddon 2001 and his being recast as a militaristic reactionary in the '90s really soured the brand. Need I really mention Extreme Justice, or the chromium mullet? Unlike most characters, Captain Atom never really escaped the excesses of that era, and seems to bounce from heel turn (Monarch) to wimpy redemption (The Alien Agenda/Armageddon/etc.) without anything resembling a purpose beyond trying to please. stop. sucking.

I've continued to enjoy Captain Atom in the new millennium by ignoring modern comics as much as possible. Captain America is possibly my all time favorite super-hero, but I haven't read his book for more than one year's worth of consecutive issues since the first Waid/Garney run in the mid-90s. I have such a clear ideal conception of who "my" Captain America is that I choose not to bother with runs that stray too far from the essential core of the character. While I hold Captain Atom in considerably less esteem, and he's a far less rigidly defined character, my approach to being a fan of the character is much the same. Even though it was a bit simplistic, I appreciated the integrity and conviction of Captain Atom as a super-soldier who follows orders to the bitter end during his appearances on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. It echos the politely nationalistic original interpretation of the character I've discovered through archival reprints of the 1950s & 60s stories.

From an artistic standpoint, I understand why creators ran as far away from Alan Moore's take on the Charlton heroes as they could manage. However, since Moore had only really updated and darkened the characters as they were conceived, this also meant distancing the heroes from what they were meant to be. Ditko & Gill's Captain Atom was a brilliant, mild mannered demigod of the nuke, where as much as I liked Bates & Broderick's work, their Atom was mostly a chrome Firestorm with more than half an average brain. It also doesn't help that at Charlton, Captain Atom was a Superman amongst "Action Heroes" more akin to Iron Fist and Daredevil. DC Comics historically abuses any character they purchase that was the juggernaut of another line, because any threat to the eminence of the Man of Steel must be castrated as publically (and somehow, as often) as possible. I call it getting Shazamed. Meanwhile, Captain Atom finds no respite even in old gang reunions, because he never fit in with the largely non-powered Dick Giordano edited Charlton characters. Maybe he needs to form a new clique with Son of Vulcan?

To my mind, Captain Atom as envisioned by his creators was a magnificent representation of the Mad Men era. Satellites and martinis and the apex of the American century. I wish he could have been kept in that period, since I think it would give him a killer hook, like it did Martian Manhunter in the '90s. I really do think Captain Atom should be the confident conservative hero of the DC Universe. Pro-military, believes in a free market, perhaps somewhat moralistic, but without losing his pragmatism and compassion. Let him butt heads with guys like Superman without diminishing him through a shameful defeat. Like Lex Luthor, there could be less losses and more stalemates, substituting conniving with the recognition that these are two good men with conflicting ideologies. Such potential can be mined from Captain Atom, but not before he quits being a wimpier, dumber, U.S.-bound Silver Surfer with bad hair.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Who's Who Vol.IV: Captain Atom (June, 1985)

I'm bored with Ray Palmer for the moment, so I think we'll spend enough time in March with Captain Atom to warrant a return to using his own banner.

I look forward to reading the stories where the first few lines of this biography draws its material. I've only read about Allen Adam so far, and it sounds like things got even more super-goofy once the Ditko redesign kicked in. When did the name "Nathanial" take hold, anyway?

The art here is by Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, who ended up reworking an entirely different Charlton character for the 1980s, the Question.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Space Prowlers

After being detected while stealing top secret documents from the United States government, the alien invaders known as the Space Prowlers came into conflict with Captain Atom. The intruders provided the hero with his first real challenge, armed as they were with laser weapons capable of weakening and even killing Captain Atom. The murderous Space Prowlers attempted to ambush the Captain with a fleet of small ships, but were eradicated in a nuclear explosion created by the hero. Captain Atom then located their mother ship in the region, and destroyed it from afar, seemingly ending the threat of the Space Prowlers.

First Appearance: Space Adventures #37 (December, 1960)