Thursday, March 26, 2015

"I do not love thee, Captain Atom..."

Dear DC Comics,

No one likes Captain Atom.  

Not because you haven't tried to make us, though. DC has abandoned scores of interesting and at least mildly popular characters since the Crisis, including some with small but very passionate fanbases.  But DC never gives up on Captain Atom.  No matter how many times we do.

Nyeah, with great power comes great boredom, got it, got it.

And, oh, how you have tried!  You gave him a new origin.  You gave him his own series (more than once, I recall).  You put him in JLI,  You laughably made him the leader of all of Earth's superheroes during an alien invasion crossover.  And when the most recent Heroclix set, "Superman/Wonder Woman" was teased, five figures were shown: Superman, Wonder Woman, Superman foe Lex Luthor, Superman ally Krypto the Superdog, and... Captain Atom. OF COURSE. Because the kids, they ALL love Captain Atom.

"Whoa! I was going to pass on this set, because who wants clix of Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Krypto. But CAPTAIN ATOM?!  Take my wallet!'
Said absolutely no one on earth.

"Captain Atom is one of the most powerful beings on earth!" "Captain Atom is potentially more powerful than Superman!" "Captain Atom is the model for Dr. Manhattan!' "Captain Atom has fewer cavities and 32% more whitening particles!"

Please stop.  It doesn't work.  We don't care how hard or how many ways or how many times you try to convince us we should love Captain Atom.

"Cary Bates! THAT'll fix the problem!"

Captain Atom is a tool. Or a traitor.  Or a dupe. Or a pompous ass.  Or a hothead.  Who cries when defeated by a pickle jar.  And we don't like him.

I just TOLD you what you were, Captain Atom; jeez, try to keep up.

Captain Atom doesn't have a dedicated fanbase. He doesn't have a fanbase at all. Even that ne-er-do-well hipster slacker poseur layabout Jack Knight has a fanbase. Even G'Nort has a fanbase.  There are NO Captain Atom fans.  There are, at best, a Set of People Who Didn't Mind Him All That Much in That One Thing They Saw or Read for Some Other Reason.  You want to know how unloved Captain Atom is?  He doesn't even have a Facebook fanpage. And if he did, it would be called "A Set of People Who etc."  

Plus,  the only remotely interesting thing he ever does is blow up.
 Even Captain Atom knows when he's not wanted. Why doesn't DC?

I get it. You paid good money for him at the Charlton yard sale and you want to get your money's worth.  Plus, he hardly had any wear and tear on him, so he should have lots of good use left in him.  You just keep trying him on with every outfit you have in the hope of finding the right one. But it's really obvious that that's what you're doing.  Captain Atom is not an organic part of the DCU.  If he didn't exist or you didn't own him, absolutely no one, writer or reader, would be saying, "You know, we need a character like THIS."

Captain Atom worked well precisely once, ten years ago, when he was trapped in the Wildstorm Universe, where suddenly he seems like a shining beacon of goodness and common sense in that effed up world. Whose characters, I note, you have since tried to incorporate into the main DCU, failed, and are now spinning back out into their own continuity, where they belong.

That should be a clue; give him another universe of his own.  He and Blue Beetle COULD be the Superman and Batman of a Charlton Universe.  You could spend your energies trying to have more than one potential movie franchise--,er, I mean, comic book universe going at the same time. it's worked well with Earth-2, hasn't it?  Run with that.

Adding insult, while you're spending all this time and effort pushing Captain Atom on us, you ignore The Atom, who everyone likes.  But that's a post for another day....


Bryan L said...

Ah, Captain Atom. Convoluted backstory. Bizarre and constantly changing powers. Weird time jumping. Crappy villains. Really, what's not to love?

Sounding like a broken record, I will state that Cap's best portrayal to date was on the JLU TV show. A good ol' boy order-following not-too-bright straight-arrow soldier. And that characterization doesn't lend itself to a leading role (Gomer Pyle nonwithstanding). He made an intriguing foil for Superman there, but that's where he topped out.

John said...

Agreed, and this is yet another case of "seniority" in the DCU. Metamorpho is the native son. Firestorm is (even though nobody at DC would ever admit it) his disciple. Captain Atom is an complete reboot of a poorly-refreshed character of what actually wasn't a bad Charlton series, but is too similar to the other two to make sense.

And his costume becomes a little more bland every time (Alex Ross's awful "Atomummy" excepted), for some inexplicable reason. "You know what would make this more dynamic? Less color and fewer lines!" The Captain Atom of 2020 will probably just be a chalk outline.

There was one other time where they hinted at what Captain Atom could be, though. There was an issue of his Post-Crisis series where he lost his powers, so he dressed in his yellow-and-orange costume and had Batman train him. I always hoped that would be the status quo.

But by far the worst part is that, in all the reboots, they've changed his first name, but he's always Captain Adam/Atom, like they're not allowed to give him a non-ironic name.

I really would like DC to take a moment to let their "imports" shine in the mainstream books, especially the characters with some history behind them (Blue Beetle, Phantom Lady, Captain Marvel, Static, and maybe the Authority's Engineer, for starters), but the obsessive focus on "the Trinity" is all but choking the rest of the universe (and doesn't do a whole lot for Wonder Woman, either). But I assume that someone at DC really likes Captain Atom, instead.

At least it's not Son of Vulcan.

Chad Walters said...

Everything the public *thinks* Superman is, Captain Atom *actually* is.

Boring. Overpowered. Irrelevant. A government stooge.

Anonymous said...

Make him the hero of Mexico. Give him a sombrero.

Anonymous said...

Chad -- good heavens, you've nailed it.

I'm trying to think of a setting or a framing where he even fits. A shadowy hero works in a city of nighttime crime. A man who can leap tall buildings at a single bound works in a city with lots of tall buildings. A living nuclear reactor works in ...

If you can finish that sentence, you will be doing DC a favor. Because all I can come up with is "nowhere on earth, not in this century anyway". He could fit in with the LSH maybe, except they've already got Wildfire and I'm pretty sure Captain Atom is over eighteen (that's two disqualifications for LSH membership right there). Rann, perhaps?

Scipio said...

A living nuclear reactor works in ...


Anonymous said...

Well, if Scipio hates him, Captain Atom must have SOMETHING going for him. IMHO.

Scipio said...

Then you must have something going for you, too,

Anonymous said...

Different Anonymous here (the sombrero / living nuclear reactor one) -- a change in his powers would most likely help. What if he absorbed radioactive decay, which allowed him to ______? Still atomic in nature, but it could allow him to be something other than The Most Likely Cause Of Widespread Sterility In His City. I don't have a good idea of what abilities he would have, maybe "quantum" abilities like being in more than one place at once.

Gabriel de Faria said...

I Love it

CobraMisfit said...

"...with great power comes great boredom, got it, got it."


Seriously, they put you in JLI and you out-tooled Booster Gold. It's like they took all the un-fun traits of the Green Lanterns (Guy's jack-holery, Hal's pompousness, Kyle's tears) and shoved them into a shiny, hum-drum package.

Also, the whole "oh-woe-is-me-I'm-losing-my-humanity" bit is tired. Either let him and Vartox have a bromance romp across the galaxy or just let the character fade into some much-needed obscurity.

Like Scip said, DC, no one likes Captain Atom.

John said...

Ha! I just realized that none of us even bothered to point out that Captain Atom was denied being Monarch because...everybody guessed as soon as the "mystery" was introduced. Not to mention Breach, the character created because revitalizing Captain Atom was considered too risky and the only reason anybody knows the character exists is the cameo in Infinite Crisis...How boring do you have to be for DC to divert your big break twice, because even the big breaks are too boring.

I wonder if the right role for Captain Atom (assuming that a return to just returning him to Ditko's original vision, which is actually fun) would be to have him out in space defending Earth against alien invasions, spring-boarding off of the infamous Invasion! cover. He gets to keep the militant angle. He gets to be a voice of reason among far more radical "rebels." He gets to use powers that are no longer "politically correct" on Earth without anybody getting weirded out. Exploding to come back in a few days is (almost) a sensible strategy.

It doesn't make him any less boring, but at least it makes him sound important to whoever at DC keeps saying, "let's bring Captain Atom back," without having him pollute the rest of the line.

Give him the Blackhawks, too, as support. I love the Blackhawks, but they've never really fit into the DCU, and every new attempt is just a little more sad. Yes, sadder than when they became superheroes. Fighting an invading force in deep space, though, is a good match for them.

And good call, Chad!

Harvey Jerkwater said...

A few years ago, I found my run of the late-eighties Captain Atom. For some reason, I'd followed it for most of its run. And I could not remember why I must have liked it. Curiosity demanded that out come the stack-o-funnybooks.

After the re-read, I can say confidently that I still have no idea why I followed it back then. There was a kernel of an idea in that series that could have made for a good comic: "How can a good but flawed man, forced to live in the morally dubious world of espionage and secret military operations, keep his soul while performing his unwanted duty?" Yeah, they didn't execute that idea terribly well. Ah, well.

Agreed that his martinet role with JLEurope was not great. Fortunately, he had a tremendous metal mullet for much of that time, which helped.

Also: G'Nort is the best Green Lantern.

Oh, you love stories of space cops with magical wishing rings that were granted by immortal blue midgets in bathrobes, but adding a silly talking dog-man is a problem, because he detracts from the seriousness of it all? The GL Corps is irredeemably silly in its very essence; adding to it an idiot who holds his position purely due to nepotism is, comparatively, a dose of realism. Plus, man, who needs a leavening influence more than the Green Lanterns? Yeeg.

Okay, okay, lame comic relief characters are annoying. I just like seeing anyone needle the pompous bastards of the GLC, even accidentally.

Scipio said...

"Yes, sadder than when they became superheroes."


Randy Jackson said...

I like the idea of him being in outer space. I wouldn't mind seeing him exploring the galaxy for the UN or something like that. He'd need a companion, however. Maybe we could bring Zook back.

Nathan Hall said...

Anyone remember Armageddon 2000, where he was supposed to be the world-conquering Monarch?

That got changed out when the plot leaked.

The result: HAWK! That's right, Hawk got the one place Captain Atom belonged.

John said...

To be fair, the Listener is probably the best any of us would come up with after hearing that Batman told the President that we "just don't swing." That's almost as bad as the salute!

Konsumterra said...

Actually I always liked him - he is like cyclops a boring leader who self tortures himself and can potentially kill everyone around him. But i suspect i never paid a cent to read/watch him

i like idea of a charleton universe and lots of paralells

let grant morrison run with capt atom - let him crazy atom up and push his power to 11

Ferb Morgendorffer said...

Yep, any defense I could make was immediatly tossed out. Loved Invasion? Anyone could have filled his role of leader - heck, only reason it's probably not Superman is because of his own plotline at the time. Loved JLE? He was pre-Morrison Cyclops without the back-history with the team. What Crimson Fox saw in him I'll never know.

TheUUShadow said...

If Charlton Neo continues to grow maybe they could buy the characters back from DC and do them right.

Slaughter said...

Sorry Scipio, but you don’t even love Jack Kirby. What sort of person doesn’t love Jack Kirby? Hail to the King, baby!


I’m a proud Captain Atom fan, and yes they do exist. Captain Atom ftw!

Anyway, Cary Bates’ (yeah I know Scipio doesn’t like him either, but Cary Bates writes a great tale here) Captain Atom was a great fun and well-written book about a military man/spook who has to feign being a super-hero until he finds himself turning into a honest-to-god one. Great deconstruction-then-reconstruction (any deconstruction that isn’t immediately followed by a reconstruction is an attack on a genre, at least that’s how I see it in a certain level) about what makes a super-hero into a super-hero. It is great and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Pity nobody ever took him beyond his post-bates status quo (Project revealed, married to Plastique, re-conciliated with his family, finally a real hero rather than a government spy, etc) and gave him a role in the DC Universe.
Cap Atom being the leader in Invasion made perfect sense: He was the leader of JLE (if I remember right) at the time and was a military man. They don’t call him Captain for giggles. Besides, Superman at the time wasn’t such a big hero leader yet (CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT!) and often had to go out of his way with lame excuses not to join the Justice League. He wasn’t doing very hot during Invasion, either.
From what I remember, Cap Atom was great in JLE. He DID lead a team that saved the world from the Extremists – you know, the guys who threatened Earth with world-wide instant nuclear Armageddon while a certain Clark Kent was looking on uselessly (because if he did anything, the Extremists would drop ALL the nukes, everywhere. At the same time. That wasn’t a job for Superman).
I liked Captain Atom/Wildstorm: Armageddon, too. Seeing Captain Atom school all these grim ‘n gritty Wildstorm types on what super-heroing is about was fantastic. Pro-tip: If the civvies get afraid of a super-hero, someone messed up. Seeing him pwn that arrogant Mr. Majestic and those Authority dudes was a bonus.

If you want to give Cap Atom his own universe, give him a “Modern Charlton” universe – kind of like new Earth-2, but with Charlton instead. I like Pax Americana, but that’s not neo-Charlton, it’s a Watchman-ized Charlton verse. I would love to see a “synthethic” Captain Atom that mixes the 80-90s Military Man with Charlton Cap Atom. Also, I hate the New52 “Captain Manhattan”. I’m sorry, but I wanted to read a Captain Atom story, not an Atomic Autist story (nothing against autists, tho).

Scipio said...

"What sort of person doesn’t love Jack Kirby? "