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It’s the Eighth Day of Ditko, but there aren’t any maids a-milking inside, no. DITKO WEEK! brings us the very first superhero he ever created!
182. Captain Atom
Captain Atom was Steve Ditko’s original super-creation with writer Joe Gill. First appearing in Charlton’s Space Adventures #33 in 1960, he was a real atomic age sort of fellow. Captain Allen Adam found himself trapped in an experimental rocket and blasted to literal atoms, but he pulled himself back together– only with superpowers! He flew around, zapped things, hung out in space– y’know, the usual.
Most of these early stories were quite short, and very much influenced by the Cold War. Captain Atom could usually be found foiling the maniacal plans of mad generals and stopping nuclear missiles from destroying the civilized world. And, yeah, on occasion he would fly off into space to find a kid whose dreams came to life and produced a giant cosmic bird creature. Steve Ditko’s dynamic art really carried both the standard and the bizarre plots along in his usual spectacular fashion. They were fun stories.
Captain Atom later landed in his own solo series, which lasted for two years and gave him a facelift– now he had shiny metal arms and a more traditional red/blue color scheme, as opposed to his nifty yellow duds. It was much more of a superhero book– he teamed up with Nightshade and fought some crazy super-villains like the Fiery-Icer, Dr. Spectro, the Ghost, Thirteen, and Punch and Jewelee. Eventually, though, his popularity waned and Charlton folded. Atom would appear a few more times, including the short-lived Americomics revival, but that seemed to be all she wrote. That is, until DC bought all the characters.
As you probably know, Captain Atom was the inspiration for Doctor Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Relatively same origin– different execution.
The next incarnation of Captain Atom showed up in his own series by Cary Bates and Pat Broderick. This time, he was really Nathaniel Adam, an Air Force pilot framed for treason and subjected to a weird experiment that blasted him into the strange future of 1986 and gave him super-atomic powers and a crunchy
candy metal coating. He ended up joining the Justice League and even led its European division in the classic Giffen/DeMatteis JLI era.
It was not meant to last, however. His series was canceled and he was slotted to be revealed as the big villain, the Monarch, in the Armageddon 2001 crossover. The revelation was leaked to fandom early, however, so the plug was pulled at the last minute and another Ditko creation, Hawk (of Hawk and Dove) was shoved in as replacement villain. Atom got a reprieve, but he didn’t do much with it– yeah, he was in Justice League and Extreme Justice, complete with over-rendered ’90s grimace, but he didn’t get to do much.
His most prominent appearance of late was in the Captain Atom: Armageddon mini, in which he blew up again and landed in the Wildstorm Universe. I have no idea how that one turned out, but apparently he’s back in the DCU and he’s wearing the Monarch armor. It’s been over fifteen years, but his villainous destiny has apparently caught up with him.
Captain Atom is yet another character who started off as a cool Ditko creation and ended up being horribly mistreated. Hmm. Notice a pattern, anyone?
I love the original Captain Atom stories, in all their marvelous nuclear-fearing sci-fi glory, and I believe they’re being reprinted in the Action Hero Archives, along with the other Charlton superhero stories, yes? Cool.
As for the current Captain Atom– well, them’s the breaks, I guess. The concept is strong enough, however, to provide many strong stories in the future– let’s hope we get to see them!
What do you think? Can a Cold War atomic superhero work in the modern era? How would you go about updating the concept/character?
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