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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #182

Happy Canada Day to all our readers from the Great Maple-y North. If it’s a Canada-themed entry you’re looking for, hit up the archive for Eh-pril and M-Eh!

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

For more on Captain Atom, check out Ditko Looked Up and International Hero. And the Wiki‘s pretty detailed. Cheers.


I really know next to nothing about the Nat Adam version of Cap; pretty much all my experience with the character outside of the JLI era is through the two Action Heroes Archives volumes, which only reprint his earliest and final adventures (I believe it’s just the stuff Ditko was involved in aside from a couple of 70s stories published in Charlton Bullseye; at the very least it’s only Ditko’s Atom and Beetle work, with none of the Nightshade backups, Peacemaker, etc.) I’m not really sure how well he could ever really fit in without about as much tweaking as was done to arrive at the Nat Adam version from Allen Adam. That said, depending on the overall character and thematics of Earth-Four, I’d love to see Monarch meet the yellow-clad Allen Adam (or Renee Montoya meet the “classic” Objectivist Question)

Wasn’t Breach a failed attempt to update Captain Atom? Whatever happened to that?

I didn’t mind the Wildstorm crossover, actually. The Monarch stuff is yet another stupidity to add to the pile in the latest Marvelisation of DC…

Ian Astheimer

July 1, 2007 at 8:47 pm

Breach was intended to be a revamp, yeah, but that was changed during pre-production.

The character exploded during Infinite Crisis, and Captain Atom appeared in the same spot a moment later, back from his Wildstorm adventure.

Too bad Canada Day, Eh-pril, and M-eh had no love for T.M. Maple.

What, no mention of his role in JLU, voiced by John C “Perry Cox” McGinly?

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Jaap – Actually, the was *The Atom* (Ray Palmer) that McGinley voiced. Captain Atom was played by CSI’s George Eads.

I like Cary Bates’s revamp. One clever thing they did was rather than completely throwing the original away, they turned the original run into false back-story to the current one.

Stephane Savoie

July 2, 2007 at 9:26 am

The Wildstorm series wasn’t terrible; just sort of pointless. In it he wore the costume designed for him by Alex Ross, one intended to be reminiscent of his original golden costume.

Andrew Collins

July 2, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Captain Atom is one of my all-time favorite characters. I got rid of a huge chunk of my comic collection a few years back, but I did hang onto my run of the 1980’s Cary Bates/Greg Weisman Captain Atom series. It wasn’t the greatest comic ever, but it was a good, solid superhero comic. Bates & Weisman portrayed Captain Atom as a lifelong military man suddenly thrust 20 years into the future and gifted/cursed with amazingly powerful abilities, and it really worked as a superhero story.

Cap’s highpoint at the time came from being designated the “Leader” of Earth’s forces during the Invasion! crossover, something he turned out to be pretty good at. But even then, it was clear that DC didn’t seem to have a true idea of what to do with him. His role in the Giffen Justice League was limited. He was later revealed to be a government-placed spy. By issue #50 of his series, all of the major plot points had been tied off and Cap was left to flounder. It’s no wonder DC considered him for the Monarch role. It was tragic what happened to Hank Hall in response to the story leak, but I was relieved they didn’t ruin Cap by turning him into a villain like that. He’s one of the most powerful characters in the DCU and he should be featured as prominently as Superman, but I always felt like no writer or editor quite knew what to do with him. Much like Firestorm. He also got married to the villainess, Plastique, and their pairing was then promptly all but forgotten about in the comics. I only just read recently that they had divorced and I thought, “They did? When?”

Cap’s recent foray into the Wildstorm universe was “meh” (I especially missed the silver bodied Cap. The gold look was atrocious…). And now that he looks to be leaping back into the Monarch role again, I’m worried that we’re about to see the undoing of Cap in the DCU. I guess they’re trying to make way for the return of the Charlton-verse on one of the other 52 Earths.

Oh well, at least I have the 80’s series and his appearances on the JLU cartoon to enjoy. :)

Random note: The 80’s series features one of the few non-Vertigo guest appearances by Death from the Endless, somewhere around issue #42 or 43 of the series.

Amazing how many of my favorite characters have Ditko to thank for them–at least in part.
The silvery arm period is great–I have some in reprints.
I loved his own series up to issue 50 when all was revealed, but I wan’t fond of the art after PAt Broderick left. I think Rafael Kayanan tried to emulate Ditko, but without success.

I personally loved Captain Atom: Armageddon. While a government agent seemed to be an odd choice to be representative of the more heroic side of the DCU to contrast with the more violent and abrasive Wildstorm universe, I think he carried it off well. ^_^

I’m not entirely convinced his current identity as Monarch has him as a villain, since he’s done nothing villainous so far. Heck, considering the direction the Monitors are going, it seems to me that Captain Monarch might actually be the hero of the whole thing. ^^

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