Review by C.J. Bunce
The short-lived but fan favorite TV series Heroes launched a concept that really hadn’t been tried before in this way: starting each episode not at the beginning of the story, but well into the story, and often at the best part–that point where the guy is hanging over the edge of the cliff, right where the cheerleader falls off the building, or right where the samurai gets the sword in his gut. You feel a little bit of a slingshot at the back of your head at first, then you grab the rope, the boat pulls tight and before you know it you are skiing along with the characters at full throttle into the unknown. Captain Atom #1 is a comic for readers who like wall to wall action, and it avoids any introductory phase–placing us right where the story gets good. There are no gimmicks here that you might find in other books, just a good read that makes you hate having to wait a whole month for the next issue.
If you’re not a regular DC Comics reader, you may not think you know Captain Atom but you probably just haven’t put it all together yet. He’s so familiar and you can’t quite place why you know him, even though he is not another current Justice League headliner (although he has served in the Justice League and led Justice League Europe in the past). If you’re like me, you read his comic back in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s, or you saw him in the more recent Superman/Batman. But more likely you recognize him as Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, either the comic or the movie, because what comic reader hasn’t seen one of those? Alan Moore originally designed his atomic man as Captain Atom, but DC decided not to let him use the newly absorbed Charlton Comics pantheon of characters in Watchmen at the last minute. As stunning and surreal as Dr. Manhattan was portrayed in the Watchmen movie, he really comes to life in the new DC 52 Captain Atom #1. And he’s not aloof like Dr. Manhattan–speaking to us through his thoughts we get to like this guy and feel for his circumstances quickly. Dr. Manhattan is in the background in this shot from the Watchmen movie:
Like our heroes in the first issue of the new Justice League, superheroes are finding themselves as targets more than heroes. Captain Atom finds himself defending himself against an attack, only to learn his powers are more expansive than he knew. He begins to melt metal and it seems congeal and drip off the page. Captain Atom surprises himself. Like Han Solo said “sometimes I even amaze myself.” Although I have liked most of what I have seen so far from the new DCU, this is the first ‘zine where the story doesn’t let up from the first panel through the last panel.
It can’t be easy drawing the visual expression of seemingly unlimited power as pure energy. Freddie Williams II is at the top of his game here. JT Krul has taken what he did with the edgy Soulfire and Fathom series coupled with his hero work on Green Arrow and has paced out a story with non-stop action, a smart hero, and intelligent writing. We are pulled through the story via Captain Atom’s own thoughts and watch him try to control what is probably uncontrollable. Williams renderings of Captain Atom as distinct from the rest of the art, and coupled with Jose Villarrubia’s creative use of color–red and blues are used to stunning effect–this book made me want to track down some 3D glasses to see if this could be viewed in actual 3D (I looked and couldn’t find the pair that came with the Chuck Season 2 DVD set).
For new readers you get enough back story to see what is going on. Krul slips in background information just when you want it and sets up the action for coming issues. Williams’s style seems inspired by the eye-popping visuals of Michael Golden, Howard Chaykin and Alex Nino–and this makes sense as a character who absorbs energy has got to ooze energy across the page.
I also like characters who are seemingly stronger and more powerful than the often one-note Superman. Like Captain Marvel, Captain Atom is a character that makes you glad to know there is someone else out there who can carry the weight of the DCU world. Like Firestorm, an old favorite hero with similar powers, this guy is not just a human in a supersuit.
Eagerly waiting for Issue #2!