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Captain Atom Vol. #1: Evolution Graphic Novel Review

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Captain Atom - Evolution
Captain Atom – Evolution

When using your powers means you’ll be killing yourself, it’s not something that’s going to stop a hero in a time of need.

Creative Team:
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Freddie Williams II

What They Say:
Charged by nuclear energy, possessing vast molecular powers, Captain Atom has the potential to be a literal god among men – a hero without limits. He is taking his powers to new heights – saving people all across the world in the blink of an eye. But as he uses his abilities more and more, Captain Atom realizes that he may be losing control of his powers, becoming a more dangerous foe to the planet than anything he’s ever faced! Don’t miss start of a legend from writer J.T. Krul (GREEN ARROW, TEEN TITANS) and artist Freddie Williams II (JSA ALL-STARS)!

The Review:
One of the things in the early 90’s that I loved about comic book collecting and reading was that you could get into a series and have a ton of older issues to go through. Back when Captain Atom got underway in 1987, I didn’t discover it until it was close to ending its run in 1991 so I had some fifty-odd issues to grab. And being that the character wasn’t exactly burning up the sales charts, quarter bins were my friend and I discovered a fun title that had some solid military undertones to it which gave the main character a very different feel from most other heroes, even those with something of a military background. Captain Atom had a pretty rough run at the end of that series since the big plans for him went awry and were changed at the last minute and he never really found a solid home after that. He moved from series to series, failed short runs for the most part, and most recently made a significant return in Countdown. Which, unfortunately, doesn’t really say anything positive for him.

With his fairly lengthy history, this relaunched series doesn’t give us much background on him and there’s a bit of expected knowledge in there which isn’t good. In fact, this issue doesn’t give us much of a clue to the man behind the power as Captain Atom is never referenced by his real name, or whether he can even turn off the nuclear powered body that he has. The book gives us a good look at his abilities right from the start as he deals with some rookie villain trying to take him down. Of course, he points out that shooting at him with laser beams doesn’t make sense when it comes to someone who can manipulate energy. What’s new to both the reader and to Atom himself is that he’s suddenly able to see down very deep into the molecular make-up of things and can disassemble things, such as turning metal to dust. But it seems to have an adverse affect on him as his hand starts to do the same just afterward, though he can will it back with some concentration.

The support system that Atom has is an area that could be really interesting to see fleshed out with a place in Kansas called the Continuum. It’s a big research facility that’s headed by the ultra genius Dr. Megala, a man who does not like to waste time with simple things. What he’s able to do though is quickly deduce the full problem, though with no solution at hand. It serves as a way to understand the problem that Atom has and the ramifications. Of course, there’s no real time for it to be explored, though we do have some great exposition about it, as events kick off that requires Atom to go do what he does best, which is to stop a volcano erupting near New York at a nuclear plan. It’s not exactly the most expected thing to happen, and it sets off a whole lot of problems (and is definitely timely considering the fears after what happened in Japan this year) and it lets Atom really show what kind of hero he is with the way he selflessly tries to save people. It’s not unexpected, but with the straightforward writing and the appealing artwork and colors, it works well in a pretty basic way.

Interestingly, the whole volcano aspect doesn’t get a lot of play as the real focus is on the way Atom is just trying to cope with his disconnect from humanity. Previous incarnations have kept him pretty human, emotional and all, but here there’s more of an effort to tie him back to what was done in Watchmen with Dr. Manhattan. His power level is off the charts, he’s adding more energy and is proving himself capable of holding it and there’s also an expansion on his powers as he starts to connect with the wireless datasphere that’s growing in the world. Like other aspects of his abilities, this is something that he has to learn to filter and adapt to so that he can remain as “normal” as he once was. But it proves to be an interesting point for him and others that shows that growing disconnect that’s becoming more prevalent.

While some like Ranita end up trying to get closer to him because she knows the man that he really is, others like Dr. Scott want him contained and destroyed if necessary, which has him going back to General Eiling to get some help. Through the art design here, Eiling feels like a third world dictator more than anything else and he plays up that role fairly well as he tries to make Atom a subordinate again to try and control him and then opts for just a more physical route in doing so. While this is an interesting angle to it, the internal conflict within Atom is explored a bit since he has ties to that military life and what it offered, what it provided to him, but he just further and further realizes that his old life is just that, and he has to move beyond it. It doesn’t help to solidify his position any further amongst others in the world since they still largely fear him though.

He does take a rather good approach for a bit in trying to move past his destructive side and doing some good things, though you can see how within the framework of a world of superheroes that it can be problematic. Curing a young child’s cancer makes you root for him all the more, but it’s not something that he does again. He spends a lot of his time while trying to figure himself out by doing lots of little good deeds, going unseen and coming across as an invisible guardian angel. But we’ve seen how this won’t get well explored and it doesn’t play to what superheroes are about in how they can solve every problem. But it does go to more of his real world style of viewing things. He does end up in the midst of a civil war, spending some time in Libya, and that brings in a guest appearance with the Flash that helps to cement Atom’s place in the world a bit more with how the big guys view him. Not that it doesn’t sow more confusion as well, but the end result is that we see some good interactions on both sides.

Visually, the series has a very good look as Freddie Williams II has an excellent painted look about it that gives it the kind of otherworldly feeling that it needs. I had read some of these digitally at first and those came across as a good bit more vibrant than what we get here, but the book largely captures it well. There’s a different style of detail to things here as it’s more about paying attention to the color design and how it flows with the pencils and inks. Atom has a good sense of power about him him and the flow of it with the wispy tendrils really makes him enjoyable to look at on the page. Similarly, I liked the way Eiling was portrayed since it felt like he just exuded power all over, though some of the stylistic choices left me a little cold. All told though, the book definitely stands out against most of the line because of the approach it takes.

In Summary:
Captain Atom is the kind of lower grade superhero character that I grew to love years ago that just has a hell of a hard time making it to the big leagues. He’s had his shots to be sure and lots of good stuff over the years (I loved his time in the bwahahaha era of the Justice League books) but there’s something about him that just holds him back. The lack of a solid solo book for so long is one of those things that’s added to it, so the chance to build up some new fans here is good. While this series starts off a little slow and awkward, especially for new fans, it does have some good hooks that can let the character grow and be explored. I’m cautiously optimistic, but at the same time I have years of history where I’ve seen how hard it is to make this character work. He’s not like others but there’s plenty of potential here as we get some decent storytelling and really appealing artwork.

Grade: B