Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unhappy Valentine's Day: Captain Atom & Plastique

It's another bloody Valentine's Day, so POTA has teamed with Firestorm Fan to present two sides of a bad romance, the relationship of our own Captain Nathanial Adam and one Bette Sans Souci, also known as "Plastique."

Plastique got her start as a Firestorm villain, which is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a bad guy. Virtually none of them have ever been any damned good, and most are second or third generation, after earlier incarnations got killed off by co-creator Gerry Conway and/or drafted into a Suicide Squad that earned the name. If they don't fall into the category of "endeadened" or "Mort of the Month," they're probably just an evil duplicate of Firestorm, because a hero who resembles a Bic lighter wearing a pirate shirt is a perfect template for replication.

Not quite what I was expecting under that raincoat, but surprisingly close, all things considered.

Plastique falls into the lame category, in a Mulberry purple unitard with baby blue highlights and a built-in popped collar. I don't know how her stingray chest emblem relates to plastique explosives, but it probably served to remind her to unzip her collar as low as possible to put her breast asset forward. She only ever wore a mask on her debut cover, The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #7, presumably out of shame over its contents. You see, Plastique was a Québécois separtist, meaning she employed terrorism to try to make Canada let go of that one province of theirs where everybody speaks French. It's sort of like Louisiana wanting to secede from the United States. So she's like a raging Cajun demanding the stop of the world's exploitation of her homeland's natural gas and boudain reserves, or in this case, she holds hostages at New York's 4th largest newspaper to keep them from "raping" the forests of Quebec. 1982 seems so very far away suddenly, am I right?


Plastique's costume was covered with metallic silver discs that looked like land mines from Mongo. I thought the whole point of plastique explosives is that it's a soft, malleable material that could maybe run through piping in a costume, or heck, I suppose you could shove it up your butt if it meant not wearing a suit covered in She-Hulk's diaphragm? Anyway, Plastique was only a plot complication, with the main conflict being how the alter egos could transform into the super-hero while trapped in a public place. As soon as Firestorm manifests, he uses his powers to strip Plastique naked and steal her bombs when they fell off. Yes, really.

Dude, never say the word "fat" once a chick is naked, even if she does expect you to use Juggernaut™ brand condoms.

Sometime into the second year of the series, Gerry Conway realized that he'd burned through all his leftover Spider-Man villain concepts, and instead of coming up with some for a Nuclear Man, just brought back new versions of the same crumby goons. Plastique was still in prison, so a terrorist friend named (I kid you not) Le Flambeau started blowing up stuff while demanding her release. Instead, some other guy brought an experimental serum into a federal prison to inject Plastique, giving her generic energy blast powers. Again, plastique is usually connected to a timer or trigger, so giving her powers like Marvel's Boom-Boom/Boomer/Meltdown would have been perfectly reasonable. As we've established, there is nothing reasonable about Plastique, like for instance that to the best of my knowledge the mysterious "doctor" who came up with the serum didn't show up again, nor did anybody else seem to use the serum, and Plastique wouldn't even show up in Firestorm again for the remaining six years of its run.


Instead, Plastique turned up a couple of years later in the second issue on Captain Atom. For those who don't know, the original Captain Atom debuted eighteen years before Firestorm, and inspired Doctor Manhattan. Once DC got ahold of him though, Atom became pretty much Firestorm if Ronnie Raymond had been drafted into Vietnam. Not only is that a long story, but it took an entire extra-sized first issue to tell it, so Plastique ended up being his first Post-Crisis villain. The new creators, including the Firestorm artist that designed Plastique, were still figuring out what to do with a somewhat less dumb second Firestorm running around the DCU. What they initially came up with was to make Nathaniel Adam a spy for the U.S. government trying to infiltrate Plastique's terrorist operation in Toronto, Ontario. I guess that's only a province away from Quebec, so I suppose it's like a Pennsylvania Dutch terrorist hitting Manhattan.


It was here that things got weirder, since Plastique didn't trust Adam, possibly because he was a prematurely graying American WASP with a phony background as "Cameron Scott" provided by the military. Still, that doesn't explain stripping Adam naked, tying rope around his neck and extremities, suspending him from a warehouse ceiling, and leaving a time-activated video message telling Adam his own nervous sweat would detonate the bomb wrapped around his waist. I can only assume this was a test run for her abortive retaliatory plans to sexually humiliate Firestorm. There is so much wrong with that scenario, not the least of which being that she wasn't even sure Adam wasn't an honest-to-gosh fellow terrorist, and that she left the TV hanging upright so that it appeared upside-down to Adam. That's just plum inconsiderate.

What could have been a victory for reverse sexism was of course ruined by Adam becoming Captain Atom and Nathaniel's nipples having been drawn harder than Burmese Bells by Pat Broderick. Let's just say I'm not confident as to where the moisture activating the bomb came from. It's also worth noting that not only was Captain Atom's cold decking the girl afterward memorialized as a magazine cover, but that his fully extended arm somehow managed to fly between Plastique's splayed legs as she was sent flying through the air in high heels with a pained but unblemished expression. "Everything Frederick Wertham said was exactly right," said magazine publisher Larry Flynt.

In case all of the above wasn't kinky enough, Plastique showed up less than a year later on a cover where she takes the place of the Virgin Mary in Michelangelo's Pietà while holding the quasi-nude Captain Atom, taking over the role of Jesus Christ. This was the place from which their "romance" sprang. Good... Lord! How could the contents of this story possibly match the deviant heresy of that image? Well for starters, as mentioned, Captain Atom basically looked like a Chippendale's dancer wearing only gloves and boots, and he gets stabbed from behind by some big Samurai guy's sword, causing him to shoot loads of globulous streaming "energy" across his belly. Plastique starts carrying Atom around over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes, occasionally using him as a human shield. Then the Captain develops this David Cronenberg body horror pink pustule covered growth that has to be burned off with modern science. This causes him to revert to regular nakedness, which Plastique appreciates as they spend every waking hour together for weeks while traveling through Cambodia, reminding me of the first Emmanuelle movie (though what doesn't?)

This was not the doggy style he was aiming for.

A year or so later, Captain Atom and Plastique met up for another jungle adventure/heavy petting session, this time involving Nate in forced servitude while wearing an explosive dog collar. That apparently wasn't pervy enough, so additional make-out partner Nightshade was brought in. As always seems to be the case outside of the sunny San Fernando Valley, the girls weren't that into it, violence ensued, and Nate was left with cobalt blue balls.

However, he'd by this point joined Justice League Europe, and begun romancing their liaison Catherine Colbert. As a French brunette, the Captain must have decided to cherry-pick attributes from the ladies who'd left him behind. Speaking of such, four years since jumping through time, Nathaniel Adam still hadn't consummated any of these relationships, instead choosing to enter the realm of death to find the long dead mother of his children, Angela Adam. This will come up later.

A) Why's the Cap'n wearin' Mammy Two Shoes' best skirt?
B) Proxy Jesus Trades Y-Chromosome For Energy Blasts?
C) Swipe of a previous cover homage to a sculpture = Creative bankruptcy?

Okay, Catherine was only wanting to have sex with Captain Atom, and when she realized she'd be stuck with him mooning over her afterword, she asked to just be friends. Nightshade was really a non-starter relationship. Angela was dead. Meanwhile, Plastique was going nuts, her powers were out of control, she was facing life in prison, and being defended by no less than queen nutbar Jean Loring. It's kind of funny that after the Atom divorced Jean following his making her career by secretly helping on all her cases, another Atom shows up to overtly do the same. The Captain came up with some half-baked scheme to get out of testifying against Plastique by marrying her. Nate finally got laid, Bette found the jail cell proposal "compelling," and the long meandering creative team needed a big blow out for their final fiftieth issue together. I haven't seen motives so pure for entering into an engagement since Michael and Lisa Marie united Jackson to Presley. You could tell that this love was true by the way Sans Souci took a steaming dump on the America (and Canadian!) justice system then disappeared for the final seven guest-creator-filled issues of the series.

What came next was the most ugly, twisted and stupefying turn yet-- the 1990s. First off, Captain Atom was supposed to become evil and kill every other hero in Armageddon 2001, but that idea was scrapped, leaving the character in limbo. He then came back as a republican hardliner, and got back into the government super-hero game. This allowed Nate to dump Plastique without actually facing her, but after deciding a tryst with Maxima was too desperate and suicidal even for him, called Bette up again. Unsurprisingly, there aren't a lot of prospects for a former terrorist with C-list super-villain status who attempted to assassinate the president, was released on a dubious pardon, is still wanted in Canada, and is technically an illegal alien. All it took was one phone call after months out of contact for Bette to be all "Oui qui, mon dieu! I adore mi amore! Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?"

You had me wrapped around your finger. But did you have to-- did you have to let it linger?

They were almost immediately re-engaged, right around the time Captain Atom was confronted with an evil alternate version of himself who challenged the legitimacy of his identity but was not engaged to a French-Canadian. Score! Of course, continuing a grand tradition of heroes shutting their significant others out of the Justice League, Plastique was stuck in guest star mode throughout the life of Captain Atom's awful spin-off team, Extreme Justice. She did however get a headband, metal shoulder pads, and a thong because 1995 demanded it. At least Nate had finally told her that his spy alias of "Cameron Scott" wasn't his real name, although it would probably be the name she'd be taking, continuing a foundation of trust and honesty that grounded their relationship in J-E-L-L-O.

You know you're in a bad relationship when you can't find anyone to throw your fiance a bachelorette party besides Maxima, and that she invites Carol Ferris, who has a demonic Predator baby in the club's bathroom. Maybe that's why the wedding that was a week away was turned into a "longer engagement," a phrase that pretty much insures it all ending in irreconcilable differences. Nate actually said the words "I just want to feel like I know who I am first." Gah-- no wonder he's the bottom. To mark this inauspicious occasion, Plastique pretty much disappeared for the final issues of Extreme Justice before it too was cancelled. Some chicks can't take a hint. It takes a special kind of coyote crazy to gnaw two series off to escape matrimony.

The new policeman costume, the Danish Schoolboy one underneath, or the leather one-piece with tassled pasties and a metal ring in the open crotch?

Despite nearly a decade of perfectly good stringing along, Captain Atom & Plastique were finally married in a fashion befitting their status in the DC Universe... off-panel, and acknowledged as an afterthought. It was like that time Nightwing and Starfire's priest exploded before they'd exchanged their vows, but somebody forgot to pass that along to writers on other books, so they were "married" for a few guest appearances before totally breaking up. For no good reason, it stuck in a book called The L.A.W. with a straight face. Further, this was a book by two over the hill Charlton creators who didn't even like Captain Atom, sidelined him for most of his obligatory role in the mini-series, dressed him like the old Allen Adams Captain from 1960, and yet referred to him as "Christopher." Despite the series being poorly received on account of it sucking rocks, it somehow made its way into continuity, and set the standard for even worse Captain Atom scripts to fail to reach through to the present day.*

Despite this indefensible marriage act, or more likely because of it, everyone forgot about Plastique some more and set about unbinding the union at the first opportunity some writer decided "Eh, I guess we can use Captain Atom for this, if that's the best I can get." Just to add insult to injury, in the mini-series that confirmed the divorce, all Captain Atom wanted to talk about was how much better his weeks long relationship with Angela "The Engineer" Spica was to his entire marriage (and his relations with every other super-heroine besides.) Hell, I had to reread the thing to make sure Nate didn't dismiss his departed soulmate and inspirer of longterm chastity, coincidentally also named Angela.

Despite everything, I'm kind of sorry these two crazy kids didn't work things out. Writers have tended to treat Captain Atom like some salute-happy soldier boy despite his couter-culture maverick leanings, which would be trickier if he was still shacked up with a Canuck commie. Plastique has gone back to being a villainess high on T&A and less even her thin motivations of old. At least when she struggled with heroism and domesticity, she showed some depth. Also, both these people are severely damaged, and found a peace and affection through asanawa and pelvic explosions of various types. Today, they're just two lonely veterans of foreign affairs, each far less than the sum of the whole.

*I have never read an issue of the DCNÜ series by J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams, but I have been made aware through solicitations that it is written by J.T. Krul and drawn by Freddie Williams, and is set in the DCNÜ. A=A.

1 comment:

The Irredeemable Shag said...

Frank - I can barely type through the tears of laughter! Thanks for joining me in this insane and pointless crossover! Most of all, it's been fun!

Your description of Plastique's deathtrap for Captain Atom alone made all this work worthwhile! LOL!!!

Now we just gotta figure out who in the Firestorm universe boffed Martian Manhunter for a crossover next year! :)

The Irredeemable Shag