Wednesday, July 27, 2011

JLA #99 (Late August, 2004)

The JLA and friends managed to work out Crucifer's whole story, including the Atom's role in helping to finally end his wretched existence. The League and Doom Patrol teamed up to free the prisoners in Castle Crucifer, and progressed to spoiling his attempt to restore The Tenth Circle to corporeal existence. Crucifer retreated to his castle, where he was confronted by the divided force of heroes and traitors to his plot.

The Atom and Rita Farr had just been kickin' it in the other dimension, waiting for the Chief to give the word, before finally, simultaneously, from opposite directions, they karate kicked Crucifer's heart box to pieces so that it reverted back to his chest on Earth. No, I don't know how that worked, or why they didn't just bring it back with them hours ago, or why they couldn't have staked it right there. Superman, while holding a crucifix, then punched Crucifer in his bloodless love muscle. Somebody should have picketed the DC Comics offices over that. Not religious people, but activists for the ethical treatment of comic book readers who kept buying this series after Joe Kelly left.

Later, Manitou Raven was already back at the Watchtower without explanation to deliver more exposition and shed a solitary tear over pollution. Faith, still dressed like an Oklahoman lot lizard, was feeling well enough to become Nudge's new mentor in the upcoming Doom Patrol spin-off series, which began with a two-page prologue involving those escaped vampires having captured the Chief, but only after the Doom Patrol had left the Watchtower alone, even though they were totally going to drag Batman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter into a guest appearance anyway. Batman told a joke about Crucifer's heart being in the right place. In a metatextual moment, the JLA silently stared in horror and the petrified readers returning the terror-filled gaze. In Jesus' hallowed name, we beg thee, why?

Man, what a stupid resolution to a progressively more terrible story. Rather than tell the tale, Manitou Raven facilitates a massive expository data dump on all things Crucifer, so that the JLA never actually has to uncover evidence through a proper investigation. This forces a six page prelude to the cliffhanger from last issue, so pity the reader who bought this in trade paperback with the expectation of a single seating experience. Not that the cliffhanger mattered, because how exciting was the premise? It's the World's Greatest Super-Heroes plus the Doom Patrol on a small town football field against a handful of unnamed immature metahumans, some bloodsuckers, and townies. Whoop-dee-do. Hey, how is it Manitou Raven managed to leave a door open for the Atom to the exact point in the right dimension where Crucifer's heart was located, anyway? Additionally, where did Manitou Raven come back from at the end of the story, and how did he manage that? By the way, was anybody impressed with the Doom Patrol's performance here, or learning that the last two pages of this six-part story forced the reader to continue to a two part coda in their new series? Most importantly of all, who in their right mind figured generic ass vampires were enough of a threat to tie up the JLA for an issue, even before adding a second super-team? Holy Hanna, this thing got horrid in a hurry!

"Heartbreaker!" was blessedly the final chapter of "The Tenth Circle" to afflict mankind. It was foisted upon an unwitting populace by John "Hates You" Byrne, Chris "Bore" Claremont, and Jerry "The Bystander" Ordway. Did I mention they had one of the black kid metahumans call John Stewart "Homes?" That happened.

The Tenth Circle

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Breach #4 (June, 2005)

With the Beacon destroyed, the Army was preparing to clear out of South Africa. Major Zanetti sat on the sand, having kept silent since the previous day's events. Doctor Campbell Chambers approached Tim, who finally asked who the two men flying toward the camp were.

Superman and the Martian Manhunter were surprised to find themselves surrounded by troopers pointing guns at them. "Well-- this isn't quite the welcome we expected. We're the JLA." The c.o. replied "Sir, we're the U.S.A... Army, that is. I'm Captain Yoshiba. What are you folks doing here?" While Superman explained the the League was investigating unusual energy patterns, J'Onn J'Onzz reached out telepathically to Major Zanetti.

Tim asked Campbell about the strangers. "Oh, that's right... They appeared while you were in your coma. Major, those are superheroes. Our self-appointed saviors." And here Tim thought his outfit was ridiculous. A soldier took offense to how Tim spoke about Superman. "I'm sure he is... Wait, you're serious? That's the big guy's name? Not too much of an ego, eh?" The Doctor was surprised to see Tim display a sense of humor, and he confided that she and her husband had helped keep him sane. He wanted her to know, "before these rages take over for good."

In the first of several instances, J'Onn J'Onzz's telepathic eavesdropping was represented visually through the Martian pantomiming the Major's motions a panel apart. Superman was clearly stalling as he tried to reason with the intractable Captain Yoshiba. J'Onzz asked about "that being," and Dr. Paul Chambers began to answer "Mr. Manhunter, sir--" but was silenced by the captain. "That is classified information, sir. And JLA or not, it will remain classified."

Tate was flown to a German base for questioning by his stepfather, General McClellan, who was relieved to learn his boy had minimal contact with Zanetti. However, he was again disturbed to learn the reason for Tate's side trip to Limpopo was "a brunette with a weird accent and a smoking fetish. Right out of central casting... She was incredibly... compelling..."

Conspiracy novelist Tobias Underwood had begun work without his usual uncredited writing partner in his isolated cabin in the woods. He looked suspiciously like Dr. Ward from Project: Otherside. The cigarette smoking woman appeared after a long absence, assuaging Tobias' fears that "the killers" may have gotten to her. Such fears were unfounded, and she was ready to help Tobias start their new, final book. "We shall call it... Breach."

The army was taking soil samples for analysis of alien traces, but Tim said plainly, "You won't find any. We leave no traces... I meant they probably don't. Slip of the tongue." Batman, sneaking about in the distance, did find traces of Kobra, however.

Superman didn't figure Captain Yoshiba liked him much, and in the absence of a clear threat, the JLA would have to leave. "A hidden threat is often the most lethal. I tell you... something is going on here. And it centers on that individual. From the moment we arrived, I sensed powerful thoughts, thoughts that concern me. At times, unfocused, on the edge of perception. But then moments of frightening clarity... that sears like fire." As the Manhunter flew off without warning back toward the army, Superman shouted "J'ONN!" Yoshiba started freaking out, demanding to contact General McClellan about the situation.

The Herdsman opened a wormhole somewhere, and the Major began tripping out. "Th- there are more of them! Five more. I-- I can sense it." Yoshiba thought he was having another episode, and ordered restraints. Campbell Chambers tried to calm Tim with her hand on his shoulder, which spooked Paul. The Major sent troops flying when they tried to clamp him. Paul pulled Campbell to safety. "I perceive the world differently now. More keenly than these blind idiots. They don't see the growing danger, because they can't. What weak things they are!"

A voice was heard amongst the soldiers surrounding Zanetti, and a translucent blue cape slowly began to appear, until the form of the Manhunter from Mars stood between them and the Major. "So. As I suspected... you were the source of the energy disturbance we detected. Intriguing. Your thoughts burn brightly through you. I feel their heat. They are chaotic, a mass of conflict and pain. They do not... belong. Thus, I ask you... before anyone is injured... stop."

The Major somehow knew the Herdsman wasn't dead, "I know he has brought others with him. And I know this refugee from a bad drive-in movie wants to stop me. Which makes him my enemy. And enemies are to be-- destroyed!" Tim halfway liquified the Alien Atlas with an energy blast. "You said you felt my thoughts? And you still wanted to stop me? What kind of monster are you!?" The kind whose injury would justify the Man of Steel popping Tim in the kisser.

In the suburbs, a nuclear family of two white parents, two mixed gender children, and a house cat fussed in the morning. Something turned up at their door. Tim sensed a horror awaiting them, giving him the strength to knock "Groovy Guy-- or whatever they call you--" on his ass. Heat Vision burned through the Major suit, and Campbell Chambers rushed out to once again defend Zanetti. "Stop! This man is not your enemy. He's an American soldier, one who's undergone tremendous trauma. Something someone like you may not understand. He deserves your respect-- not to be treated like your latest punching bag. Why don't you listen to what he has to say?"

Click To Enlarge

The Major created a wormhole of his own, but before he could walk through it, a Hand of Steel clamped onto his shoulder. Tim tried to warn Superman, who was certainly in for an "interesting" jolt, but nothing fatal. The Kryptonian grappled with Zanetti until the army could restrain him, and the wormhole closed.

Batman draped a cape over a haggard looking Natural form Martian, and Kal-El asked if he was all right. "I am... coalescing." As for Tim, "I could not read him precisely, my friend. I only know beneath the intense chaos of his thoughts... there is a dark core that threatens to grow and overwhelm him." Regardless, the Flash radioed Batman to tell the team the Pentagon had ordered their immediate evacuation. Superman planned to keep an eye on the operation though, as "They're in over their heads..."

Paul was angry at Campbell for endangering herself, but the fairer Dr. Chambers feared Tim Zanetti had a purpose the military was preventing him from fulfilling. "I can't shake the feeling that something... big... is happening. Something frightening. And that if we don't start listening to him... it will be too late.

"Heroes" was by Bob Harras, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez. Where Captain Atom was Steve Ditko at his earliest and most commercially mainstream, Martin does an excellent job of gently tapping the vein of divine weirdness Ditko mastered in the late Silver and Bronze Ages. He also works a fine looking on-model Martian Manhunter. Harras does a great job of making everyone on the scene wrong and right, really testing the loyalties of the reader. Tim has some of his dimensions restored in this issue, no pun intended, and the Herdsman's machinations are conveyed with a proper sense of terror. A good issue all around.

Brave New World

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

JLA #98 (Early August, 2004)

While the Tiny Titan was trapped in tinseltownland(?), the JLA finally tracked down the Doom Patrol, who'd been running a parallel investigation the whole time. Putting everybody's stories together, J'Onn J'Onzz revealed "I am now able to shed light on the whereabouts of the Atom."

The Chief had Rita Farr shrink down to millimeter size, a power I didn't recall her possessing, but a quick web search taught me otherwise. At least she was nice enough to complain about mimicking the Atom's main power. Maybe it screws with her menses or something, so she'll stay big like we like her? Anyway, a line was attached to Farr and she was equipped with an audio-visual transmitter. Rita climbed into Manitou Raven's stones. Down she went through a "dimensional nexus," then off to the crystal palace, guided by alien worshipers to "Doctor Atom, I presume?" Ray offered, "Dr. Palmer, actually." He recognized Rita as a former associate of Dr. Caulder's who had an "accident," but she claimed not to have actually perished, as long reported. "Nope. Not permanently, anyway." This was all referring to a failed targeted reboot of Doom Patrol continuity, which was later incorporated into the familiar one, so just roll with it. The Atom explained that Crucifer had been using this place as a "side-door dimension" to get around from place to place and, during layovers, set himself up as a sadistic deity. Palmer showed Farr the "sacred relic," which was broadcast back to Caulder's lab...

"Convergence," part five of "The Tenth Circle," was by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Jerry Ordway. That really is a great looking Atom, in a lame-brained story where he accomplishes little. Sigh.

The Tenth Circle

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Atomic acCount for September/October, 2011

Back after a brief hiatus, because there's a whole lot of Atom stuff coming from the DCn√ú.

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
1:25 Variant cover by DAVID FINCH
RETROSOLICITED • On sale AUGUST 31 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US RATED T • Combo pack edition: $4.99 US
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
Comics superstars Geoff Johns and Jim Lee make history! In a universe where super heroes are strange and new, Batman has discovered a dark evil that requires him to unite the World Greatest Heroes!
This spectacular debut issue is also offered as a special combo pack edition, polybagged with a redemption code for a digital download of the issue.
The Atom will at some point be a part of an expansive double digit rotating membership, possibly at even before Jim Lee falls behind schedule and Scott Clark fills in! I'm all a-tingle!

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
1:25 Variant cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
1:200 B&W variant cover by JIM LEE
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Combo pack edition: $4.99 US
Retailers: This issue will ship with three covers. Please see the order form for more information.
What happens when the World’s Greatest Detective takes on the world’s most powerful alien? You’ll find out when Batman and Superman throw down. Batman will need all his intellect, cunning and physical prowess to take on The Man of Steel.
This issue is also offered as a special combo pack edition, polybagged with a redemption code for a digital download of the issue.
In this issue, the Atom will almost certainly not appear! I was just covering my ass on #1 in case the flashback begins in modern times, but nobody's liable to bother with the Mighty Mite until late in this arc or the next.

#15 cover by MIKE S. MILLER
#16 cover by DOUG MAHNKE
#15 on sale OCTOBER 5 • #16 on sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Following the tragic events in the last issue, the heroes must pick up the pieces of a shattered League. With Superman AWOL and seeking revenge, will Lex Luthor be the hero of the day? And can anyone keep the Man of Steel from hunting down and killing Brainiac?
And in issue #16, Hal Jordan and the other human Green Lanterns have been recalled to Oa under emergency circumstances. Brainiac’s main fleet has been located and he’s gone to war with the Sinestro’s Yellow Lantern Corps on Korugar! The mission: Containment, allowing both enemies to annihilate each other!
This thing? Still happening.

In this collection of issues #81-93, the JLA and their Earth-2 counterparts, the Justice Society, must save the Red Tornado. Plus: Solomon Grundy and the timely threats of world hunger and pollution.
$59.99 US

Captain Atom

Written by J.T. KRUL
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Charged by nuclear energy, possessing vast molecular powers, Captain Atom has the potential to be a literal god among men – a hero without limits. But the question is: Will he lose himself in the process?
Don’t miss the start of a legend from writer J.T. Krul (GREEN ARROW, TEEN TITANS) and artist Freddie Williams II (JSA ALL-STARS)!
So, Dr. Manhattan, the series?

Written by J.T. KRUL
On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Losing control of his powers, unable to stop the sensory overload in his mind, Captain Atom wants nothing more than to find a quiet place to regroup. But how can he shut out the signals floating in the air – especially when they’re crying out for help?
With this combination of writing and art, I have no interest in this combination of writing and art. I kind of like Freddie Williams a little when he first got started, but got over it, and I've never liked this scripter.

On sale OCTOBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
The team is taking Espionage 101 from Captain Atom. Their class project is to solve a cold case that involves a forty-year-old murder mystery, a military conspiracy and a half-decent chance that none of them will come out alive.
JLU-style Captain Atom! Tempting...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Breach #3 (May, 2005)

Kaaterskill Falls, New York. Herdsman was near a forest waterfall. Sensing a presence, he attacked, and was easily rebuffed. The cigarette smoking woman wished for his report following recovery from injuries sustained during his first battle with Tim Zanetti. "There is immense power in that one. He is... different."

"Of course he is. I have set things in motion, old one. Now we will see how our warrior deals with his next test... when his son comes calling"

Limpopo Province, South Africa. Tate McClellan had dreamt of his father again, and thought about it as he hiked into the night. In a barren recess, Tate found an extremely gnarled tree. In the distance, he saw a light.

Tim Zanetti could sense the evil in this place, where the Herdsman breached our plane. Visions filled his mind, and he erupted with energy. Calming down, Tim had a talk with Dr. Paul Chambers. Tim felt like a freak, worried over the fate of his family, and inadvertently turned a desk into a distorted mess with his touch. "...The Herdsman... I'm afraid I'm... losing myself. I still remember how I felt when I fought him-- and the power that came with it-- I enjoyed-- wanting-- to kill." Paul touched Tim on the shoulder in a gesture of comfort, and I suppose trust, since the containment suit had so far been less than reliable.

Government agents reviewed evidence of the Herdsman's presence in Metropolis and Kansas, specifically grotesque sheathes of human flesh seemingly emptied of any interior structure. The Herdsman's collateral damage signature at Project: Otherside matched archival footage from the 1980s, including the original breach event at Baikal. No "Rifter" activity had been expected so soon, and even though there was some relief from Major Zanetti's performance against the Herdsman, "imagine an entire invasion of these creatures..." General MacClellan warned, "We can't keep this a secret much longer. They're leaving calling cards, like Limpopo. And believe me, if we heard about this event... others will have, as well."

Tim had stripped out of his whites and hovered at rest in a corner of his room. A voice ordered him to come, and though a soldier tried to bar his way, it didn't take much of a threat to get the poor kid to move aside. In the distance, an orb of green swirling energy with purple tentacles underneath ripped itself out of the earth. An piercing squeal had everyone present covering their ears in pain, while the Beacon questioned Zanetti. "You are late, brother. Report... The blood of the past cries out for retribution... You are late. Penalties will be applied."

The Beacon had the same stench as the Herdsman, and Tim nearly drowned in its influence, until the last gasp of his humanity saw him renew his struggle. Energy blasted Tim hundreds of yards to a hard landing, where he was approached by a concerned Tate. Tim blasted the young man to keep him from making deadly contact with his physical form, and was shocked to recognize his little man Tate as an adult.

Shock was met be shock as the camp was assaulted by fighter jets. Agents of the international terrorist cult Kobra parachuted from above, and tried to tow the beacon with grappling hooks. Tim hesitated to use his powers, instead picking up conventional firearms. However, Kobra's advanced technology had disabled the military's equipment, allowing for wholesale slaughter. One Kobra trooper recognized Tate as a civilian, but "Kobra allows for no eyewitnesses." The threat to his son's life saw Tim reduce the Kobra forces to ash. The Beacon intended to end all other human life in the immediate area to insure their unclean hands would never touch its self, but Tim tore into it with his own mitts. Tim saved everyone Kobra hadn't already killed, and destroyed the Beacon, but "I feel so... lost?" Tim denied knowing Tate when asked if they had met before. Instead, he walked away from the damage he'd wrought.

"Something has... changed. Something intangible is... gone. Like a piece of me just died. But what it is-- or was-- I can't say. And for reasons I do not understand... I start to cry."

A Kobra trooper reported back to Talia, daughter of Ra's al Ghul, and current leader of the cult. In typical Bond villain fashion, she killed the man for informing her of the failure to acquire the Beacon. Perhaps she intended to save face with the men with whom she was having a meeting, heavily obscured fellow members of the new Secret Society, most likely Lex Luthor, Black Adam and Deathstroke the Terminator.

From the Watchtower on the moon, the Martian Manhunter observed, "Amazing. This is the third unidentifiable energy signature emerging out of South Africa in two days. The Pentagon told us the initial two were from an operation they were conducting. But this one is far more powerful." Batman had thought that notification was odd. "I agree. There were indications here of time/space distortion that current military technologies could not hope to achieve." Batman thought this warranted further investigation, and Superman agreed.

"The Beacon" was by Bob Harras, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez. There was not a single straight-on shot of the JLAers during that final sequence, recalling how the super-heroes were treated in an old Alan Moore issue of Swamp Thing. In fact, Harras and Martin seem to be doing their level best to make this series something more sophisticated and ambitious than the norm. They don't quite pull it off, landing more in the vicinity of overly self-serious, but it's still a good looking book that reads well. Seriously though, you can only get so much mileage out of DC's answer to Hydra, no matter how nice the redesign.

Brave New World

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

JLA #97 (Late June, 2004)

The Atom suspected that at some point in his shrinking to enter the telling stones, he had passed through a pan-dimensional portal, and was now in a plane where his powers didn't work. After Ray spaced out on feeling like Alice in need of a White Rabbit, he tuned back in on the alien priestess. The Mighty Mite was told that the wardens who attacked him would be tortured to death for their transgression against his divine self, but he asked that they be spared. The priestess agreed, but pointed out that "The Precursor took delight in such suffering." This would be the first divinity, who appeared to the people scores of generations prior, and left them a sacred relic that Ray got an eyeful of. "Oboy. This trip just keeps getting better and better."

"Interlude on the Last Day of the World," part four of "The Tenth Circle," and possibly the most pretentious story title of all time, was by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Jerry Ordway. Once again, the Tiny Titan just pops in for a tiny page count, two pages for a massively tangential b-plot that, while aiding in the ultimate resolution, will make little sense.

The Tenth Circle

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Breach #2 (April, 2005)

Dr. Paul Chambers was overseeing the application of Tim Zanetti's red polymer outer skin to dampen his powers, since his uncovered body emitted a dimensional distortion field that turned people into a puddle of mess on contact. Unfortunately, Zanetti had been in a near psychotic rage since emerging from his coma. Paul was working with Dr. Campbell Chambers, his wife, who suited up to pay Tim a visit. Before they parted company, Campbell chided Paul for his taste in laughable conspiracy books by Tobias Underwood. Campbell tried to explain to Zanetti what he had become, as best as modern science could tell, as well as revealing that he was the sole survivor of Project Otherside. Tim was distracted by a pounding in his head, wondering where his family was, and the sense that "Something... is coming!"

General McClellan discussed Project: Otherside with his superiors, and the importance of Major Zanetti in dealing with further projected breaches. They thought the next wouldn't be until 2020.

The Limpopo Province, Africa. Jacob Kekana herded sheep, and fingered a medallion on his neck while singing a love song. Suddenly, a dimensional portal opened up, rending his flesh and dragging him from off the earthly plane. Hours later, something like Kekana emerged, but it was not human. The figure had purple skin, glowing eyes, and was elongated in a fashion most unnerving. In a native tongue, he said "I am Jakob Kekana-- I am a Herdsman-- and I seek kinship." He continued singing his song as he walked through a wormhole.

In Nairobi, Kenya, the adult Tate McClellan was sitting on a bar patio, talking candidly with a mysterious brown-haired smoking woman. They discussed his dreams about the death of the father he couldn't remember in a freak storm, and how a recent one ended with him telling his dad it was time to come home. Tate's stepfather Mac came up, and the journeys Tate was taking to exotic locales to develop his writing. Tate hoped the girl would forgive his uncommon babbling, and listened when she suggested a trip to Limpopo Province. "I make people comfortable. It's my gift."

The Herdsman arrived in Metropolis, and killed a bum for his jacket. "I seek the young kinsman... You are not who I seek. You are a weak, weak thing. But at times, small sacrifices are more than enough." A redneck couple passed him on a rural road some time later, startled by his over seven foot tall stature. Always with a smile, "Jakob Kekana" murdered them and overturned their car. Finally, the Herdsman found his kin, and passed through comic panel borders and desert floor into a secret military base. A few lives later, he had found Tim Zanetti. "This is-- wonderful, brother! Now comes the testing."

Zanetti leapt at Kekana. "You attack? Good. Good! In the beginning, the bloodheat is all we feel. I remember it well. Your mind is clouded by thoughts not your own-- but that will change, young one. That will change-- if you deserve life. For we cannot-- suffer-- a weak kinsman..." Kekana manhandled Zanetti for a bit, until his rage burned through his polymer shielding. The pair then burned a hole out of the complex and continued the fight in the desert. Kekana was impressed by the birthling's exceptional strength, and turned to ash once he'd decided Zanetti had passed his first test, again singing his song with a perpetual grin. "That was-- so easy!? I-- enjoyed-- killing him. Dear God-- it felt... right. What is happening to me? What was that thing? What the hell is going on?" Tim used to be such a nice, even-tempered guy...

"Herdsman" was by Bob Harras, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez. The pace picks up a little tiny bit, but most of the ground not covered by Jakob Kekana was familiar enough to Captain Atom fans to be redundant. The Herdsman is one creepy-cool dude though, and I look forward to seeing more of him.

Brave New World

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

JLA #96 (Early June, 2004)

J'Onn J'Onzz failed to locate the Tiny Titan telepathically, so Green Lantern John Stewart gave analyzing the telling stone with his power ring a shot.

The Atom woke up from his beat down with quite the headache. "Oohhhhh... That's why I never loved being a super-hero. Sooner or later, there's fighting. Not much affection for bruises or broken bones, either." Shoot, who are you trying to fool, Ray? We all know you better than that.

The Mighty Mite was still trapped in both a slick crystalline world and at one indeterminate size. Other, more reserved green insectoid types in regal gear approached. "Same basic phenotype as the creatures who attacked me... only this one wears clothes." Palmer was surprised when the group prostrated themselves before one from "the world beyond the world!" Ray recognized, "English? Old-school accent and phrasing to match. Makes my life a little easier, but raises a whole lot of questions."

"The Heart of the Matter," part three of "The Tenth Circle," was by the famous X-Men creative team of John Byrne and Chris Claremont, joined by the inks of Jerry Ordway. Not a bad team for an Atom story, now that they've laid off the MPDialogue. Shame Byrne's next Tiny Titan project had him drawing that ugly Ryan Choi costume instead of Ray's sleek threads.

The Tenth Circle

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Breach #1 (March, 2005)

The Siberian Wilderness, somewhere north of Lake Baikal. The near future. Breach carved a path underground for his former friends to escape the oncoming menace. Chambers was dying from a head injury, his wife shedding tears in his name. The senator reached out to touch Breach, but he warned that if she made physical contact, "The tissue damage to you would be both extensive and irreparable." General McClellan started to reach for her, but held back. The senator's adult son wanted an answer to his question of the powerful being before them. "I... am as you see me. Nothing more. Nothing less."

April 17th, 1983. Major Tim Zanetti sent his little man Tate to bed with thoughts of the boy's birthday the next day. Tim worried about the toll of military life on his wife and son, but Helen knew that moving from place to place was part of what she signed on for. The puppy would help, of course. Toast in hand, Tim kissed his wife goodbye and began the drive out to Camp Liberty.

Mac was "a born worrier. He thinks a missing requisition form is going to lead to a court-martial!" He was good for looking after "Fido" until Tim could get back to his office on base, but chided his buddy for the name. "Blame Dr. Faulk, my classics professor at the Point. Scarred me for life. I'm sure Tate will come up with something with more pizzazz. Mac was part of an evacuation of all nonessential personnel before the big experiment. The scientists were especially tense, although Bertillini was handling it much better than Ward. Major McClellan offered a military salute to the more informal Tim, who returned it with a grin and a handshake before they parted ways.

Dr. Bertillini explained Project Otherside. "If all goes well tonight, we will send 400 batches of positive protons from the arch-emitter, on a four-mile-long speedway... followed by the release of an equal number of anti-protons. When they collide, the protons will duplicate, on a miniature scale, the birth of our universe: the Big Bang. Bits of matter and energy will be hurled from our dimension into others-- breaching the membrane that separates our three known spacial dimensions and that of time-- and giving us access to dimensions undreamt of. As you know, Major, intelligence suggests the Soviets are far ahead of us in this research... which is why Otherside is considered essential to national security." Dr. Ward groused, "Yes, heaven forfend anyone be ahead of us." Ward was concerned with just how dire the consequences of their experiment would be.

McClellan was drinking at a bar while the TV discussed President Reagan's special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, meeting with Saddam Hussein about the conflict with Iran. A mysterious smoking woman met with Mac as scheduled to pick up a briefcase. As Ward predicted, things were proceeding as planned on their end.

Red hour arrived at Project Otherside, and things immediately went wrong. A large, sucking hole opened between dimensions, drawing Dr. Bertillini in. Major Zanetti hung on for his wife and son until the flesh ripped from his body. The storm was so large and horrifying, Helen and Tate watched it from the window of their house. Hours later, when things calmed down, a search and rescue team came upon what was left of Tim Zanetti. His white "skin" glowed with energy, and at his touch, a rescuer's body erupted into a hellish mass of tumorous sickness. Mac was there, and hoped Tim could forget his former life.

Four years later, the government had finally stabilized Zanetti's condition within an incubation chamber. Mac wished they'd just let him die, but the government still held hope that Zanetti would prove useful when needed. "We didn't start this, Major. Baikal wasn't our mistake."

Today, after years in a vegetative state, Tim Zanetti woke up to demolish his chamber. He was successfully contained by armored troops with special equipment. "My apologies. We've been waiting for this day a long time, sir. My name is Dr. Paul Chambers. And it is a privilege to welcome you-- to the year 2005. McClellan also heard the news. "Tim... God help me... You can't save us, buddy. Dear God, I'm not sure anyone can."

"Otherside" was by Bob Harras, Marcos Martin and Alvaro Lopez. The project began life as an update of Captain Atom, merging elements of the Gill/Ditko original from the '60s and the Bates/Broderick update from 1987. For reasons unknown, DC decided to alter their plans after the first issue was already in production, with surface elements altered to treat Breach as a new character, but the brass tacks were unmistakably recycled. Just like the Silver Age Captain Atom, Breach was a military officer involved in a research project given extraordinary powers through a catastrophic accident. As with the Post-Crisis rewrite, the hero lost decades of time. Atom's best friend was "Goz," and Breach's "Mac." Both men's wives remarried to generals they served with in the past, and had their sons adopted by the same, but only Captain Atom had a daughter, as well. I could go on, but you get the drift.

Whereas the 1960 Captain Atom laid all the basics out in a handful of pages, and '87 in the first issue, Breach played by the rules of decompressed storytelling that still plagued the industry of the time. Three pages were devoted to establishing Tim as a family man, one silent page to his morning commute, five pages to touring the facility and explaining the project, two pages to introduce Mac, four pages of insinuating Mac's involvement in the accident, six pages of the accident itself, five pages to Tim finally waking up, plus the four page flash-forward at the beginning. It took an extra forty-five cents and eight pages to cover maybe four pages of the original origin story. It's a story told well enough technically, with solid dialogue and art, but the pace is freakin' glacial.

Brave New World