Monday, February 25, 2008

Atom Rant

Can we talk about Captain Atom today?

I'm no longtime Captain Atom fan. I mean, really; are there any? Captain Atom, like the most of his Charlton Comics brethren, is a one of the DCU's red-headed stepchildren. For writers as well as readers, it's been hard to figure out what he's like, let alone where belongs in the DCU.

If you want a sense of how far DC was from knowing who these characters were and who they wanted them to be, (re-)read Crisis on Infinite Earths. Could Ted Kord have been a less pleasant hero? "Can the telethon, pal; you got our donation. I'll join your gabfest." Could this person be less like the Ted Kord of the Blue Beetle series, let alone of the one of the JLI?

Captain Atom, on the other hand, was simply damned by faint attention. I read his own series for a while, but still never got a sense of his personality. As far as I could tell he was a Air Force officer but dumber than a grunt and the only sparkle he had was from his skin. He was Hal Jordan without the charm. Or the ceiling tiles.

But I learned to adore him when they sent him on his Grand Tour of the Wildstorm Universe. Out of the shadow of the DCU's mainstay icons, he truly shone (and not just because of his skin) like a beacon in the dark world of Wildstorm. He became more than a superhero for me; he became a hero. He was powerful, righteous, intelligent, resourceful, passionate, and reasonable. Most important, he was a tower of morality.


Someone remembered that he was supposed to be the bad guy in Zero Hour, before that surprise was spoiled by leaks and then abandoned (for a replacement patsy too ridiculous to be named). And so it was decided that he was to become Monarch (as he was supposed to have been the first time).

I was disappointed by the decision, but resigned to it. Because it they went to the trouble of shining up Captain Atom to new heights of herodom, the tale of his fall into universe-threatening villainy would surely be Shakespearean in its pathos.


Captain Atom goes from being the shining example of heroism in the Wildstorm Universe to a masticator of scenery and master organizer of a multiversal army of worldkillers? Because of....what exactly? Some trouble in Bludhaven? No; no I don't think so.

I want a better explanation, DC.

I demand one.


Anonymous said...

I hear you. In a search for an answer to this exceedingly important question I checked the Wikipedia page for Captain Atom a few months ago. I don't have the heart to check it again but I believe it said something to the effect that he woke up mentally unstable after returning from the Wildstorm U and being contained for months by the Atomic Knights, who encased him in the Monarch armor. That's not a rationale, that's just lazy as far as I'm concerned.

Someone badly needs to do a "Nathaniel Adam's Head" storyline addressing what happened during his comatose period. Quantum Force equivalent of Parallax? Bat-Mite? Jax-Ur? Give us something, DC! And, while you're at it, grab Pat Broderick from the mid-80s to draw it.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually a Captain Atom fan, so far to the extent that my secondary purpose for going to Comic-Con last year was to pick up more of his series.

He's always been a bit of a tool, but thats what made him so fun! It was what distingushed him.

I also like the powers and the whole look.

Then when he was sent to the Wildstorm universe he just shined so brightly. He was a tool in the DC universe, but here he was (like you said) a hero. Captain Atom was reasonable and geniunely tried to avoid confrontation with these people.

Then he... got shot into Bludhaven and went crazy?


Zaratustra said...

I'm convinced Captain Atom came back from the Wildstorm Universe with the ability to make any comic he is featured in turn into garbage. Battle for Bludhaven, Countdown, Arena - all this time we were blaming Superboy Prime, but perhaps a more sinister figure is behind the comic collapse?

Captain Infinity said...

It's magic. They don't have to explain it.

Patrick C said...

I'm with you. A complete 180 from his Wildstorm appearance. Why go through the trouble of sending him to Wildstorm and doing his thing there? He seemed somewhat reasonable in the Ion series. I'd be very interested in a Captain mini explaining this better.

Also, as is often the case, some of his best appearances were in JLU.

Plus, wasn't the General (now appearing in Suicide Squad!) his original archenemy? Before he was Shaggy Man'ed up.

ticknart said...

On Saturday, at WonderCon, I asked the DC Universe Panel, "Why did putting on the Monarch armor make Captain Atom go crazy?"

Dan Didio said that Captain Atom was just doing what he was right.

I asked him why he went crazy.

Didio said that Atom was already hurt (I think his word was cracked, but I might be remembering that wrong.) and that the events in Captain Atom: Armageddon...

I cut him off and said, in a pretty whiny tone of voice I'm sure, that Captain Atom hated the kind of heroes he saw in Wildstorm, so why did the armor turn him into one of those sorts of "heroes"?

Didio hemmed and hawed so I changed my question to "Will we ever get a story that explains why Captain Atom went crazy?"

And the answer I got was a diplomatic "No."

I don't even mind that he's a villain now, I'd just like a story leading me from point A to point Q. I mean at least all the Hal fans got Emerald Twilight.

Scipio said...

Correct. "The General" is short for "General Eiling", Nathaniel Adam's CO (who married his "widow" after Nate disappeared).

Anonymous said...

The biggest slap in the face was Arena #4.

Spoilers (just in case)

In it you get every Captain Atom brought from every other universe to fight Monarch. He rips them all to shreds and just mocks them the entire time. He saves the original for last and blows off an arm, but the Original Captain Atom stands defiantly. Monarch then shoots off the top half of his body.

Why is this a slap in the face? I mean we got to see Captain Atom the hero stand against a monster at the cost of his life? Isn't that a good Heroic Story? Yeah it is, until you consider what it means.

It means in the Multiverse there's only one itteration of Captain Atom left, Monarch.

We can't look forward to seeing the Earth 4 Captain team up with Vic Sage!

Captain Atom is dead, only Monarch is left.

Until 5 years pass by and DC needs to renew the trademark?

Gustavo said...

Count me in with the ones that liked Cap's 80s series. It was a sort of realistic military setting, and Eiling, before he was Morrisoned into the General, was a very interesting counter character, far more complex than a one note villain.

Seems to me that DiDio has major beef with Wildstorm in general, and that as he is meant to do with everything he doesn't like, either completely ignores it, or decides they need to be killed.

And the shame here is that unlike the JLI brilliant run, some 20 years ago, this JUST HAPPENED! And as you Scip point out, and several of your posters agree, it was probably one of the best takes on the character ever.

Oh well... I so wish that DiDio hated Kingdom Come too so we would be saved the endless and pointless JSA arc. ( a book I used to love, BTW. Bad Alex Ross, bad! )

Anonymous said...

If we're lucky it will be revealed that Atom never left the Wildstorm Universe and this is really Major Force in disguise or something. (A Major Force from somewhere else in the Multiverse?)

Or maybe he is an imperfect duplicate of the Atom from the 52 while they were all identical, (before Mister Mind starting eating all that History...) and Maybe the Heroic post Wildstorm Captain Atom will return and kick the snot out of this chump...

Or maybe I'm just really disappointed by this non-sensical turn of events... *sigh*...

Justin said...

DC's handling of their new multiverse has been a bit of a headscratcher, as the "Monarch kills every other Captain Atom" example shows.

In interviews after 52, Mark Waid and the other writers did nothing but talk about the storytelling possibilities and "sense of wonder" the new worlds would bring, and how they didn't want to catalogue them right away and spoil the fun of discovery. And then the very next year DC nails most of them down (Elseworlds, mostly) and kills a bunch of them off.

Of course, they could just be setting the stage for a reversal of some kind, but stringing people along for 52 issues just to say "fool you!" at the end is a bit much.

Mark said...

Maybe it's the Monarch from Extreme Justice? Or not, since it was revealed Captain Atom was some sort of duplicate of the real Nathaniel Adam? (The Captain Atom Clone Saga!) But yeah. One of those two. Whichever one is eviler, that's Monarch, the nice one is trapped somewhere.

That's the explanation in my head, anyways. And it only required me to read Extreme Justice! (NOTE: Do not do read Extreme Justice. It isn't worth it)

suedenim said...

I loved the original DC Captain Atom series, which is really one of the unheralded gems of the '80s, IMO.

But I've long been resigned to the fact that nobody has really gotten the character (or, come to think of it, Wade Eiling) right since Cary Bates and Greg Weisman on that series.

Eiling got it even worse, being changed from a complex adversary who's not necessarily *wrong*, to a Brit lefty caricature of The Evil American Military Man, to the new No-Longer-Shaggy Man.

But I kinda made peace with the idea that Captain Atom was never gonna get a fair shake 10-odd years ago.

CandidGamera said...

It wasn't Zero Hour, it was Armageddon 2001.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, blessed yes!

I have been ranting about this through the whole of Countdown. I always loved that Nate was a military mook. It made him very real to me.

The things that Pfeifer did with him over in Wildstorm were inspired while still keeping the character grounded in his mookishness. Finally one would think that Cap was getting his due.

Nope. One black hat and twirlable mustache later.... (sigh).

I've been trying to form a blog-post about this for months but it always devolved into stream-of-conciousness profanity and crying.

Thank you -as always- for being more articulate than that.

Free Nate Adam!

Anonymous said...

Captain Atom has been mishandled since "Armageddon 2001". Before that he was a major player in the DCU, not only a heavy hitter right up there with Superman, but a respected leader. Does anyone remember how this character led the heroes of Earth in the Invasion! series? He was admired by all superheroes and the world at large, so much so that he was chosen to lead the European branch of the JLE. After some initial uncertainty, he acquited himself quite well, showing himself to be wise, compassionate, and a guy who didn't take any @#$% from anyone.

Then he was "lost in time" in a succession of wretched Armageddon mini-series. He was given one ridiculous weakness, which was if he absorbs too much energy he will leap forwad in time. This led to him popping up around the DC universe, whining whenever someone hit him with a lot of energy.

He came back from his meanderings through time and participated in the "Judgement Day" story where the Justice League fought the Overmaster. In this story he was protrayed as a class-A jerk, contrary to all his previous portrayals.

In Superman/Batman, he was portrayed as a mindless government stooge who sees the error of his ways and then gets blown up.

He took another hit when Mark Waid and Alex Ross decided to make Captain Atom a walking nuclear bomb. His metal shell is torn open and he blows up, taking out Kansas, precipitating the entire story of "Kingdom Come". If either creator had done their homework, they would have found out that Captain Atom does not have nuclear powers, he has quantum powers, and is definitely not a walking bomb. "Kingdom Come" is an "Elseworlds" story, but despite that, he suddenly became a "nuclear hero" from that point onward in the mainstream DC universe, a notion that carried over to the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.

Captain Atom used to be very cool, a powerful hero who was respected and looked up to. Even Superman took orders from him during Invasion! Can you imagine that happening today?

Due to mishandling of the characer, Captain Atom has been saddled with some unfortunate character traits and some stupid revisonings of his powers.

I would say that what has happened to Captain Atom is indicitive of a larger attitude DC has had towards their characters were not on "Super Friends". You might even call this the "Alex Ross effect" (He being an artist who is quite vocal about not wanting to acknowledge characters other than the 'classic' ones). In the 1980s, DC pushes its 'iconic' characters but also pushed a lot of other ones, too. This is why we saw characters like Booster Gold, Mister Miracle, Blue Beetle, Wild Dog, Silverblade, Captain Atom, and the Question starring in their own series. DC revamped and pushed the icons, but pushed the other guys, too. Since the 1990s, DC has seen fit to have Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc, central to EVERYTHING that goes on in the DCU, which had the natural effect of nudging to the sidelines guys like Captain Atom. When he did pop up, the character was so NOT a central character to the DCU that it didn't matter to the creators what his powers and personality were established as. They could toy with him all they want, the result of which is the mess we have today, a shadow of what was once a good character.

SallyP said...

Well, I never really liked or disliked Captain Atom, frankly, I always considered him to be something of a dolt in the old JLI. But an amiable dolt.

I didn't read the Wildstorm crossover, but I did read Ion, and he showed up there, wearing the Monarch armor, and being extremely polite and helpful to young Kyle Rayner when he got lost in the Bleed. So imagine my confusion, when all of a sudden in Countdown he turned villanous. It was too sudden, and too drastic, and there was NO explanation for it.

I can only assume that Mephisto had something to do with it.

Scipio said...

Actually, Ticknart, I can accept sudden turnabouts into villainy (even though they are lazy and unjustified). It's comics... .

What I cannot accept is that when someone becomes a villain


I'll believe a man's way of thinking could change overnight; but not his way of speaking.

Scipio said...

'Eiling got it even worse, being changed from a complex adversary who's not necessarily *wrong*, to a Brit lefty caricature of The Evil American Military Man'

Nice call.

"I would say that what has happened to Captain Atom is indicitive of a larger attitude DC has had towards their characters were not on "Super Friends"."

Another nice call. But it raises one question: when does Aquaman start to benefit from this??!?!?!?

ticknart said...

Scipio -- I hope I didn't say I can't accept sudden changes to villainy, because that's not what I meant. I just like some explanation, especially since I know there's a story in there. One that could explain the change in speech.

To keep my brain from exploding over this issue, I came up with my own theory that tied with much nuttiness that went on with Captain Atom since 2001, because I happen to enjoy the nuttiness from 2001 and Zero Hour. While it's kept my bran from exploding, I don't think it'd make a good story.

My brother decided that this new Monarch is a melding of Captain Atom and Major Force from when Atom absorbed energy from Major Force (he told me this took place in the Superman/Batman arc, which I haven't read), sort of like the Onslaught character from Marvel. That story was bad in the '90s and certainly wouldn't satisfy me today.

Maybe finding the answer about the change will always be left in limbo.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there will be a "Save Captain Atom group" at some point? I mean if the Hal-O-Philes could muster the will demand the return of a character who was boring and a lush just before Emerald Twilight maybe we can get a Captain Atom Group that wants the Wildstorm Heroic Captain Atom back.

-Also, maybe DC is just against heroes with Captain in their name. I mean look at the butchery of Captain Marvel over in Trials of Shazam!...

Anonymous said...

Well dang, I'd been just assuming he'd changed into Monarch in issues of something I'd missed.

Y'know they could salvage him by revealing it's really Hawk.

Stephen said...

he's trying to save the world is his pathos. thats what he says when he recruits people. isn't that enuff(sarcasm implied)

Diamondrock said...

Well, I'll admit that I enjoyed the Monarch stuff, because I love a grandiose, over the top, megalomaniacal villain as much as the next guy. But then, I thought Hal as Parallax was *hilarious* fun. So maybe I'm not the guy to go to.

That said, I *would* like to see a "why did Captain Atom turn evil" story. It'll probably hit the stands in 2018...

Omar Karindu said...

In fairness to Grant Morrison, Eiling's heel turn actually happened near the end of Ostrander's Suicide Squad. In that series, a single panel of a darkened office revealed that Eiling was one of the Cabal, the nasty shadow government that had been trying to murder the Squad and control all of America's superheroes for its own ends.

Morrison's JLA followed the notion up; in fact, during the Eilign story Oracle mentions his membership in the Cabal at one point.

Bryan-Mitchell said...

I liked the DC Captain Atom series. It seems as if none of the writers who have written him since actually read that series because they have pretty much ignored or totally misunderstood his powers ever since.

More than even being suddenly evil, he is suddenly powerful enough to kill multiple Supermen at once.

Arena was entertaining enough for me. I just liked seeing the cameos of alternate versions of characters. However, they killed so many of them and in it and Countdown have destroyed so many earths that I have a hard time believing that they aren't going to undo the multiverse or reboot it again in this Final Crisis.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is General Eiling becoming the Shaggy Man kind of like "What if General Ross became the Hulk"?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, like a Hulk with really bad teeth but better skin...

Question... does the Eiling Shaggy man have to shave alot or did he find a way to make the Shaggy Man stop growing a ton of hair...?

googum said...

Like so many Justice Leaguers, Captain Atom is written one way in his solo book, then another in a team book. I thought his appearances in Superman/Batman were the worst: Atom plays the government tool role, then gets blown up for like the fifth time. Hell, he's catching up to Red Tornado on that front.

(Underlining the suck: the only Captain Atom action figure currently from the Superman/Batman line.)

Tony Z™ said...

"I don't even mind that he's a villain now, I'd just like a story leading me from point A to point Q."

Which is my entire issue with it. I don't care who turns evil, who dies, who comes back to life. For me, it's just a story. It's not the meaning of life. But I want to know why.

I don't care if Jason Todd comes back from the dead, as long as I'm told how it happened. Superboy-punch is about as lame as it could've been, but I would've been angrier if he'd just suddenly showed up alive with no explanation and nobody noticed (harryosbornmephistomagiccrap).

And how does Cap/Monarch justify having heroes fighting to the death as doing what's right? That makes no sense. Unless he's evil. And we don't know why or how he became evil. Argh.

And bring back Pat Broderick. I won't ask for a detailed explanation on that one.

Glen said...

I prefer the Captain Action shown in the Action Hero Archives. The one that's the best officer in the Air Force, not the pathetic tool of the military industrial complex who married a terrorist.

Bryan-Mitchell said...

I think they are really missing out on some interesting character dynamics by not playing up the fact that both Captain Atom and Hal Jordan are supposed to be in the Air Force. It would be an interesting dynamic between the two characters.
However, Atom is being taken down the Parallax route and what with the armor and all it would be easy to say, "No, it wasn't him in the armor at all!" which I'm sure they will do in 5-10 years.

Omar Karindu said...

Why is DC so desperate to have a Monarch running around anyway? Has he ever been interesting regardless of who's in the suit? Has he ever come up with a classic DC "problem plot" for the heroes to unravel, or is he just a cosmically misplaced manque for Marvel's Gaston Leroux-inspired Doctor Doom?

I say: No More Monarchs!*

Give us back Captain Atom, and give us a properly DC sort of villain! None of this dull nonsense about multiversal armies and melodramatic but horribly vague schemes of conquest. Give us the likes of Despero, a foe direct in his ambitions and either wittily manipulative or utterly brutal in his means.

But don't keep giving us this rotten heel-turn concept from an overlong, spot-rewritten Annual crossover whose bright spots -- seeing some clever possible futures for the heroes -- had nothing to do with the antagonist.

*Unless it's the Monarch of Menace. Anyone who punks Batman with a hypno-crown and glue-shoes is worth having back.