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“Point of Origin”

  • Writer: Cary Bates
  • Pencils: Pat Broderick
  • Inks: Bob Smith
  • Colors: Carl Gafford
  • Letters: John Costanza

This is the first appearance of Captain Atom in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity.  Every appearance of him prior to this point never happened as all the parallel Earths in the multiverse merged into one.

Cary Bates was a bit of a prodigy.  Bates began submitting ideas for comic book covers to DC Comics at the age of 13, and a number of them were bought and published, the first as the cover to Superman #167.  Thank you, Wikipedia.  He was 39 years old when he was tapped to write the new ongoing Captain Atom series for DC.

Pat Broderick was 34 and already had worked for both DC and Marvel.  During his time at DC, Broderick worked on FirestormCaptain AtomBatman: Year ThreeSwamp Thing, and Green Lantern.

So what was our world like in March 1987?  In January, New York mafiosi Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Carmine Peruccia were sentenced to 100 years in prison for racketeering.  Nine days later, Pennsylvania Treasurer Budd Dwyer shot and killed himself with a revolver during a televised press conference after being found guilty on charges of bribery, fraud, conspiracy, and racketeering (It was tragic and sad and Bud was later found to be innocent.  The video can be found online, but I strongly advise against anyone seeking it out.).  The same month this comic came out, the Irish pop band U2 released The Joshua Tree (in my opinion, their finest album).

This issue opens in a control room with a sign over a huge TV screen that reads “Captain Atom Project, Docket #788 UR9544, -Countdown in Progress-.” On the screen we see a young man in his underpants sitting in what looks like a metal Terry’s Chocolate Orange.  He’s cracking jokes but looking nervous.  Observing this, a scientist on crutches who we learn is Dr. Heinrich Megala, says, “I take it you are not amused by our subject’s attempt at bravado, Colonel Eiling.”  To which his partner replies, “Nathaniel Adam was found guilty of treason and sentenced to die.  If he survives this experiment, the government has agreed to commute his sentence and make him a free man.  That prospect does not ‘amuse’ me, Dr. Megala.  Not in the least.”

Already there are a lot differences.  Charlton’s Allen Adam was a super genius.  DC’s Nathaniel Adam is a crook or killer or something.  Treason could be anything.  We’ll find out more about that later.

The egg closes up and lowers down underground.  Adam mentions what a dumb name “Project Captain Atom” is.  Shut up, Nate.  I like it.  He reminds Colonel Eiling to deliver a letter to “Angela and the kids” in case things go South for him.  Eiling rips the letter up, showing us just what kind of a douchebag he is.  Wait, kids, he gets even douchey-er.

There is an explosion.  A nuclear bomb has been detonated under the egg. The egg melts itself onto Captain Adam.  He stands up, still telling his awful jokes.  He’s cut off mid-sentence as he vanishes.

We cut to a tranquil park.  Angela Adam is there with her kids, Peggy and Randy.  Randy is riding the shoulder of Jeff Goslin, an airman who is apparently Nate’s friend.  This is a call-back to the old series, where Captain Atom had a friend and confidant name Jeff “Gunner” Goslin.  Jeff tells Angela that a spaceship crashed in Nevada a year before that had a hull made of an impregnable metal alloy.  Nate is going to help them find out if it can be destroyed or not.  That is the extent of his knowledge of what is going down.

So that’s what the chocolate egg is made of.  Nate is a crash-test dummy.  Seems really implausible that they’d use a human being, even a criminal.

Jeff assures Angela that Nate will be okay.  “Lissen up,” he says, “this is the same Cap’n Adam who went down with his plane 30 miles inside Cambodia and managed to walk out again a week later.  The man’s a natural-born survivor, Ange.  He’s got a knack for it.”

So Nate was in Cambodia.  He’s in the military.  That puts this in the 1960s.

Cut to an airstrip at night.  A fighter is coming in for a landing (the pilot’s name is Maverick – Top Gun reference) when a glowing ball of energy appears on the strip.  A humanoid shape emerges and blasts the plane with some sort of energy.  The plane skids to a stop and we see a sign that reads “Winslow Air Force Base. Restricted.”

Now we cut to the interior of an office.  The man at the desk is on the phone with his daughter, Margaret Eiling.  Ah, so this is Colonel Eiling.  His aide (Martin Allard) bursts in and says there’s an infiltrator on the base. “The infiltrator doesn’t appear to be human, General,” he says.

Back on the field, soldiers have opened fire on the creature.  The bullets bounce off, but a rocket knocks it down.  The creature, a glowing red molten lava creature, collapses and delivers the punchline to the joke Nathaniel Adam was telling when he vanished.  The Sergeant in charge (Goslin, naturally) is about to open up with another volley when the creature glows and layers of its mass disappear.  It passes out and is brought into a lab and strapped to a table.

The head scientist, Harry Hadley, reports to Allard that the creature appears to be taking on a more human form (heart beats at 72 bpm, temp is 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and breathes oxygen).  Allard loses his shit because he thinks it is an indestructible alien come to do horrible things.  The General comes in in time to see that – apart from silver metallic skin – the creature appears completely human.

Everyone is shocked when the creature speaks English.  It looks at the General and says, “Eiling! What happened to you. You look so… old!”

General Eiling clears the room.  He recognizes that the creature is Nathaniel Adam. Nate is as surprised as Eiling that he survived the Captain Atom project.  He tells Nate that in the short time (in Nate’s perspective) that he was gone, John Wayne has died, as have Martin Luther King (which Nate remembers) and Robert Kennedy.  That makes Nate lose his shit and break free of the straps holding him down.  Eiling goes on to tell him Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Jack Benny, Anwar Sadat, Indira Ghandi and John Lennon are all dead.  Nate sees himself and freaks out.  Eiling has him gassed and he passes out again.

Then Dr. Megala pays General Eiling a visit.  He is in a wheelchair and appears to be a quadriplegic.  He has robot arms attached to his chair that he must control with his mind.  Megala realizes that the creature was Captain Adam, bumped ahead in time from 1968 to 1986 by Project Captain Atom.  He has merged with the alien alloy and traveled in time 18 years.

Eiling leaves Megala, then orders Allard to have Megala killed.  Eiling has the still-unconscious Adam loaded into a rocket and blasted into space.  (See, I told you ripping up the letter was the tip of the General’s douchebaggery.)  Meanwhile, Allard’s assassin is stopped by Megala’s bodyguard Babylon.

Cap comes to on the rocket.  He realizes where he is and what is happening.  He blows up the rocket with his energy blasts, surprising himself.  As he plummets to the Earth’s surface, he is struck by lightning but is unharmed.  Still, he’s pretty sure he’s going to die when he hits the ground.  But when he relaxes and accepts his fate, he finds he can fly.  So he flies home.

But a new family is in his home.  It still hasn’t sunk in for Nate.  Megala and Babylon  show up, the doctor having anticipated Adam would go to his old home.  Megala tells Adam it is 1986.  He then brings the Captain to his estate.  Megala explains to Adam: “Ancient Chinese masters called it ch’i — the invisible, intangible form of matter which is present throughout the cosmos.  Modern physics concurs.  But we call it the quantum field.  It is the underlying essence of all matter and all energy.  You, Nathaniel Adam, have experienced what science has only been able to observe on the subatomic level.  You have passed through the ch’i — the field — from one place in space/time to another without travelling in between.  You made the damndest quantum leap in history.”  Megala speculates that the metal alloy attunes itself to Adam’s ch’i and draws power from the quantum field.

Eiling has spies watching Megala’s house and recording everything.  They report to him everything they’ve learned.  Megala and Adam discover that the metal alloy skin absorbs all kinds of energy and that Adam is now super-strong.

Eiling leads a team into Megala’s home and demands to see Captain Adam.  But Adam is in the room, having learned he can “turn off” his metal skin to blend in with the normies.  Eiling says he can lead Adam to his wife, Angela.  Cap picks him up and flies off, demanding to see her now.  Eiling leads him to a cemetery.

Angela died in 1982.  Eiling says she mourned Adam for three years before (weird plat twist) falling in love with and marrying General Eiling!  I told you he was a bad dude.  He knew damn well when he tore up that letter, he was going to woo Adam’s widow.  But why? Just to be a dick, I think.

The General presents Cap with a Presidential order calling on Adam to provide service to his government as a secret operative.  Eiling says Adam will have plenty of time to pursue clearing his name (Adam insists he is innocent of treason).  A costume of sorts is fashioned for Captain Atom with a nuclear symbol on the chest, gloves and boots.  How they etched these things on the metal is a mystery, as they have established earlier in this issue that lasers have no effect on the alloy.

The issue closes with Eiling in the White House with President Reagan, discussing Phase Two of Project Captain Atom.

So that’s it.  Pretty well-executed for an origin story.  Vastly different and more complex than Ditko’s Captain Atom.  I like Eiling as a foil for the Captain.  I like that they brought Goslin into the story.  Some of Cary Bates’ stories on the Captain Atom series were wonky at times, but I think he kind of knocked this one out of the park (I know I nit-picked a little, but it was overall a great story).  The art was pretty good.  Sometimes, Broderick’s faces seem kind of the same.  Allard looks like Hadley, Adam looks like Allard, and later in the series sometimes Gos looks like Babylon.  But honestly, that’s the extent of my criticism.  I love the way Pat Broderick draws Captain Atom.

So… Story: A, Art: A.  Captain Atom #1 is definitely “A” material.  I look forward to rereading the entire series.