Who's Captain Atom?

Who's This? The Quantum Man.

The facts: Created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics in 1960, "Allen Adam" (or sometimes (Adams) first appeared in Space Adventures #33, then for the next 8 issues of that title, then moved to Strange Suspense Stories (#75 in 1965) which became "Captain Atom" from issue 78 (and on through 89). When DC Comics bought the Charlton heroes, they were first supposed to be handed to Alan Moore for Watchmen, but when plans changed, his character became Dr. Manhattan. Post-Crisis, several of Charlton's babies became surprisingly BIG DEALS in the DCU, Captain Atom among them. "Nathaniel Adam" got a complete revamp and his own series (which lasted several years, and in which the Charlton origin was used as a "cover story" by his government handlers) as well as the leadership spot in Justice League Europe. He even led Earth's forces during the Invasion event. For a refugee from Earth-4, that's a lot. Things went pear-shaped with Armageddon 2001, which was meant to reveal him as the hero-gone-bad-10-years-hence, Monarch, but then didn't, shunting him to a kind of limbo - a couple of dummy Armageddon projects, a role in Extreme Justice and L.A.W., convoluted storylines involving some version of Monarch or another, and he sacrifices his life in Superman/Batman of all places, which turns him into the Kryptonite Man. He returns in the early 2000s under the Wildstorm imprint, and becomes Monarch for real when he returns to the DCU proper. It's all pretty grisly for a hero who made it to the A-list in such short order in the mid-80s.
How you could have heard of him: The New52 had a Captain Atom series that essentially made him Dr. Manhattan; it only lasted 12 issues. Rebirth included a mini-series called The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom, which restored him to post-Crisis specs, although his metal skin is purple now. He's still hanging around and participated in the Dark Metal event. Animation fans will have seen him in Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice and The Brave and the Bold.
Example story: Captain Atom (Charlton series) #84 (January 1967) "After the Fall a New Beginning" by Steve Ditko, David Kaler and Rocke Mastroserio
I had a couple of Charlton issues of Captain Atom as a kid (well, Modern Comics reprints) and I knew him as a guy dressed in yellow. The first time I ever saw that blue suit was in the Who's Who entry. So what if we look at when he made the transition between the two looks?

In the previous issue, Captain Atom had been captured and apparently de-powered by the villainous scientist Koste. Now, Koste broadcasts the hero's face on every channel and asks for 10 million dollars in ransom!
The only thing preventing Koste from recognizing Allen Adam is the white hair, which only manifests his superhero identity. That might be a clue that his powers aren't entirely gone, and sure enough, while sitting in his cell, he notices them coming back - enough to break out, if not exactly fight Koste's minions.
Ah, it's a ploy, so that when the Captain is lowered into a shaft inside a bird cage, he breaks out easily, and jumps into the water and underground caverns below. By the time he comes up to the surface in some canyon, he can fly again and returns to base. Too late though. Koste had already collected the ransom, in gold. The reporters aren't kind to him. Though unmasked, Adam can't very well have a normal life because he's highly radioactive. The suit is the only thing that protects people around him from getting a lethal dose. But his government handlers have come up with a liquid metal that should allow him to control his radioactivity.
Now we're seeing the seeds of what would become DC's version of the character. It seems bizarre that his HEAD isn't radioactive (which is why he can wear a partial mask and isn't forced to wear a hood), but that's the Silver Age for you. While Adam is waiting for the metal to gel, mean reporter Abby Ladd comes knocking and shouts about Koste laughing at him through the door. She's right, he thinks, and grabs the old suit to get after him, radiation-proof skin or not, but when he activates his powers, he finds he doesn't have to.
Recognize the pose? And it works, no radiation (unless he fires it through his hands, obviously). And it's the new and improved Captain Atom who goes back to Koste's lair, with a new look and a daring catch phrase.
To put the beat down on Iron Arms and any other minion who crosses his path.
But Koste still has that power drainer cannon, which he can destroy, but not before it has an effect.
More fisticuffs with Iron Arms ensue, but just as the henchman is about to deliver a final blow, Captain Atom gets him right in the glass jaw and takes him down. The bad guys are captured, the gold recovered, his powers slowly recharge, and now all he has to worry about is Ms. Ladd's bad publicity. A cross between Lois Lane and J. Jonah Jameson, Ladd thinks guys like Captain ADAM should be held up as heroes, not gloryhounds like Captain ATOM. Oh Silver Age, never change.

With the introduction of this pesky journalist, it seems that this was more than a new look, it was a new direction. They added a supporting cast member and took away a "Marvel-style" weakness. It didn't save the character, or indeed, the line, as the whole thing would collapse within the year. Unpublished stories would turn up in Charlton Bullseye in the mid-70s, and it's with this look Captain Atom was originally integrated into the DCU (in Crisis and Who's Who). But though he was completely revamped for the post-Crisis DCU, it was obvious writer Cary Bates had read these comics, as they certainly paid them more than lip service.

Who's Next? An Australian jerk.


Jeremy Patrick said...

Gosh that Who's Who artwork for the character is ugly!

Siskoid said...

I don't know why you would tap Denys Cowan to do a Ditko pastiche, it's odd.


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