Wed
Jul 20 2011 3:53pm

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Captain Atom

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Captain AtomEach weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: CAPTAIN ATOM!

The Concept and Characters: Captain Atom has had a strange road as a character. Co-created by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics in 1960, the good Captain has been (a) a fists-flying symbol of the nuclear age, (b) bought by DC in the 1980s, as a present for Dick Giordano, (c) revived as ponderous but action-packed Captain America-meets-Superman superhero slugfest in 1986, (d) reconceptualized and given a name change, to Dr. Manhattan, by Alan Moore for Watchmen, (e) turned into a bland supporting character in various team books, (f) revamped for a contemporary audience by now-DC-Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras, before the character’s name was changed to “Breach” because DC decided not to revamp Captain Atom after all, and (g) sent into the Wildstorm Universe where he exploded and caused a reboot of that alternate reality that didn’t do its job.

I’m sure there’s more.

But with a history like that, you can see why a line-wide relaunch with a potential blank slate is a good time to send a new Captain Atom series into the world. Without a fresh start, readers could easily be intimidated or confused by exactly who the character is and what he’s done. And rightly so. Captain Atom (and his various alternative identities) has been the subject of editorial fiat more than a Fox News reporter with a liberal bias.

He was once supposed to be the mega-villain behind a huge time-travel event series called “Armageddon 2001,” until readers guessed the secret and he was replaced by a minor-league superhero blowhard.

This new Captain Atom series clears the deck for a new version of the 50-year-old character. The core of the character is the same — a military man who gains incredible power over matter and energy — but writer J. T. Krul seems interested in exploring some of the more conceptual ideas behind the character instead of just using him as an excuse to write stories about a shiny flying guy who shoots energy blasts at the Rainbow Raider.

Krul describes Captain Atom as “a normal man forced to confront some rather weighty concepts about life and reality and existence.” And the press release puts it this way: “Charged by nuclear energy, possessing vast molecular powers, he has the potential to be a god among men — a hero without limits. But the question is this: Will he lose himself in the process?”

Sort of a thinking man’s Captain Atom. Or a punching man’s Dr. Manhattan.

The Creative Team: Writer J. T. Krul and artist Freddie Williams II don’t inspire a lot of confidence that the series will actually explore any of the nuances in its concept. Krul is notorious for writing one of the worst comics in recent history, and his work on Teen Titans and Green Arrow has been trashy fun at best and clumsy and vile and dull at worst.

Freddie Williams II (do NOT confuse him with J. H. Williams III, please) draws plastic characters with light bulb noses. That’s usually a bad thing, but Captain Atom is supposed to be glossy. And he does glow.

DC has a lot of faith in Krul, though, and he still doesn’t have a lot of comics under his belt. Captain Atom is a fundamentally different kind of project than any of the others he’s worked on so far, and maybe he’ll approach it in an interesting way after all.

Recommendation: Check out the first issue. When I first heard about this series, and saw the creative team, I immediately dismissed this as one of the few series I wouldn’t be buying personally, and certainly something not worth recommending. But the more I read about Krul’s attitude toward the series, and some of the behind-the-scenes buzz I’ve heard among people who have read his early scripts for this book, the more I think this might be worth checking out. If Krul nails the tone, and Williams pulls off the visuals, you’ll know in a few pages of issue #1. If not, it’s easy to pass it by.


Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

3 comments
JoeNotCharles
1. JoeNotCharles
But will the villain manage to crack his outer shell, threatening to cause the deaths of hundreds of innocents or fellow heroes as he melts down?

Because I've read that Captain Atom story, like, three times now, and outside of Watchmen it's the ONLY Captain Atom story I've read.
Lenny Bailes
2. lennyb
Didn't Andy Warhol tell us that everyone turns out to be either Monarch or the Time Trapper for 15 minutes?
JoeNotCharles
3. Cmwhitley
I'm looking forward to this one, not because I have any great love for the character or for J.T. Krul, but because the concept sounds different than most things DC is offering in the relaunch. Plus, I dig sci-fi stuff, so if Krul even gets close to staying true to that genre in this book, it will be a win for me.

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