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The ’80s Revisited: Captain Atom Annual #1


captain_atom_annual_0001The Dark Side of the Force

Writer: Cary Bates
Co-Plotter: Greg Weisman
Penciller: Pat Broderick
Inker: Bob Smith
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Duncan Andrews
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: 1988
Cover Price: $1.25

I’ve long been aware of Captain Atom, and have even read some issues here and there with the character. I believe he was in some Justice League (America) issues; I know he was in Armageddon 2001; I read at least most of the Captain Atom: Armageddon series he was in, blowing up the Wildstorm universe some time back; there’s the parallel with Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen…and of course, the character’s brief but pivotal role in Kingdom Come, to name a few offhand. I think I may even have read the first issue or two/few of his 1980s ongoing series at one point, though I don’t consciously remember much beyond the basic origin (so I probably read it around the time I read Watchmen back in the early 2000s).

Going through a stack of comics recently, I happened across this issue–certainly a quarter-bin find–and it struck me as interesting "in the moment" to read due to the cover proclamation: "Enter: Major Force!" I’m more familiar with Major Force as the character that killed Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend (stuffing her body in the refrigerator) back in the early days of the new direction for Green Lantern. Having briefly revisited that era recently in covering the Zero Hour crossover, I was all the more curious about how long the character had been around. This issue seems either a first appearance, or at least a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths (CoIE) first appearance. Given the character tying into Captain Atom’s origin and some guessing, I’m pretty sure this is the first appearance of the character.

The issue opens with a conspiracy-theorist radio show, the host talking about a corroborated incident of a UFO crashing in a quarry. We then move to Captain Atom arriving on the scene, and something emerges–an alien creature that the Captain winds up fighting. Meanwhile, an anonymous Major joins the scene, and we see that events are being manipulated to create an apparent origin of a new super-hero: that of a Major helping Captain Atom and being fused with an alien creature. When, in fact, this is the result of a later experiment like the one that created Captain Atom, but with different variables…and the "alien" is in fact another test subject. Due to his position and government involvement, Captain Atom goes along with things, introducing/endorsing this new guy to the public…as they get Major Force. Predictably (this comic is from 28 years ago!) Force doesn’t "work out" in the role of super-hero, as his methods are violent and don’t account for innocents/civilians. When CA tries to rein things in, the Major fights back. Captain Atom emerges from the battle victorious…though in its course he seems to have made a decision, delivering his message ("I quit!") along with the unconscious Major Force to his government handlers.

The issue has page numbers, with the story ending on a page numbered ’39’ so this is basically a double-length issue. As an Annual, it’s a ‘special’ issue, with a bigger story (but relatively self-contained) than just another issue of an ongoing series. Being from the late 1980s, and evaluating this (having read it), it seems to be an Annual from when such things "counted," and were truly a bonus or special issue along with the ongoing run, and having stuff important to the character’s ongoing status quo. In this case, the issue seems to be the point at which Captain Atom has had enough of just going with the flow and taking orders, and after seeing what the government/his handlers are up to, he can’t stick around simply accepting the status quo.

As an Annual (and a first one, at that), I figured this to be a decent sort of one-shot, though a lot of that comes from my own experience with comics, and DC history/continuity. We don’t get a lot of context/background on Captain Atom or a supporting cast in this issue, but we do get some slight references such that knowing what I do, it all fits.

I’m good with the art–it neither blows me away nor disappoints…it just "is." This looks and feels (visually and story-wise) like an ’80s comic, and something to it (such as the introduction of a character I know gets used more and in key ways years later) feels a lot LIKE the start of a new super-hero universe…which at this point, the then-current DC Universe essentially was. And I like that.

The story itself is decent, and seems to draw on existing continuity (at least from the Captain Atom series) and expects the reader to at least somewhat know what’s going on; introduces a new villain/antagonist or opposite version of the hero with an origin, background, some character/world-building, and ultimately resolution…while leaving things open for later use of the character as well as modifying the status quo (presumably, at least!) for the ongoing series. I notice that quite unrelatedly, this is the second issue in the last few days I’ve read written by Bates (the other was Action Comics #428) and am pretty sure the co-plotter (Greg Weisman) is the same who eventually did Gargoyles for Disney years after this.

For an issue that I only paid a quarter to purchase, this was definitely a good value for the time it took to read, and I enjoyed adding this piece to the puzzle–I’ve now read the introduction of Major Force and this also re-kindles a bit of my interest in the early Captain Atom series (I believe I have the first year or so of issues SOMEWHERE in my collection).

While this issue won’t hold the reader’s hand, it’s a solid piece with a nice length, and is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the title character, villain, or this period in DC‘s history. If you find it in a bargain-bin–MAYBE up to $2ish–its well worthwhile. At a higher price, I’d say you’d have to really have a specific interest in this, rather than anything casual.

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One Response

  1. […] Several months ago, I read a random Captain Atom Annual from the late 1980s. It was the first Captain Atom comic I remembered reading in years (though I believe I forgot entirely about the character’s appearances midway into the New 52, as well as the character even having a series in the early New 52 days!) It was shortly after reviewing that Annual that I learned there would be a new mini-series by the writers of that time–Bates and Weisman. Of course, I assumed it would be yet another $3.99-an-issue mini, given a number of DC‘s other recent ones. […]

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