Monday, February 25, 2013
Nuclear Men of the Atom
Today we're looking at these Men of the Atom and what makes them resilient tropes in superhero comics. They're rarer than some other archetypes, of course, because their powers are off the charts (which is part of the problem of writing for them), but their origins really aren't. Marvel Comics in the 60s were especially keen on getting people and things into irradiated spaces. Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four (to name but a few) were all changed by radiation, that mystical science of the Cold War. But they didn't become Dr. Solar or Captain Atom. For that, radiation can't just change you. It must destroy you completely. When you are remade, it's by your own force of will. YOU create your new body. You've become a Quantum Archangel (to borrow a phrase from a Doctor Who novel).
And of course, there are gradations. Doc Manhattan is on one end, more god than man, cold and aloof, his understanding of the universe giving him a sense of a big picture that makes the rest of us somewhat insignificant. At the other end, we might put Firestorm, who though he has these amazing abilities, retains his kid-like personality. Perhaps there's a reason Firestorm is classically made up of two people (beyond the fusion theme). Maybe one needs to keep the other sane and grounded. Most Men of the Atom seem to fall in the former category however, as the most recent versions of Captain Atom and Dr. Solar have both been more compassionate versions of Manhattan, somehow still in touch with their humanity through their love of a woman.
Is that what draws us to these Nuclear Hyperions? The play between human emotion and cold logic that is at the heart of us all? Maybe we should think of them as reverse Hulks, where the Hyde figure is actually the calm, smart one. The Hulk paradigm seems to say our bad side is our emotional side, but these heroes tell a different story, that we should be afraid our of reason, not our emotions. In reality, either side can be used for good or evil. And that's perhaps where the more moderate Firestorm comes in. He too is a split personality, with the intellect in tow as a spirit guide and the body led mainly by emotion and instinct. Yet, neither are shown as negatives. Firestorm achieves a balance the others struggle to keep.
Now I want to hear from you. Why do you like Men of the Atom, or why don't you?