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“Blast from the Past”

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

This issue – this storyline – is one of the biggest reasons I loved the 1980s-90s Captain Atom.  I was intrigued by the cover (two different versions of Cap within the familiar version of this series).  Three Captain Atoms?  Didn’t I already get the whole origin story in Captain Atom #1?  I didn’t recall other versions of Cap.  Of course, my love of this concept only grew when I learned that Cap was an established character already with a backlog of adventures.  Remember, in 1987 I was still new to comics.  I only knew DC and Marvel and had no idea that other companies ever existed.

The story opens with Captain Atom appearing on Nightzone with Tod Donner (an obvious nod to Nightline with Ted Koppel – Tod Donner even looks like Ted Koppel). Cap says he’s come on the show to let the American public know what he’s all about and to ease any fears they may have (this issue hit the stands the same month as the final installment in DC’s crossover event Legends in which the public had grown to mistrust and fear superheroes).  Tod dives right in and asks Cap how he came to possess his amazing powers, so Captain Atom reveals his secret origin.

One problem – as readers know – the secret origin he gives is a complete fabrication.  Atom says he was an Air Force aerospace engineer who was trapped inside a Titan missile when it launched.  The missile’s atomic payload was set to detonate at an altitude of 300 miles.  But rather than killing the engineer (as it should have – and would have if this weren’t a comic book), it gave him super powers.  He was able to re-integrate himself back on the ground.  He fashioned a costume for himself (the one Ditko designed in 1960) and began to fight crime in secret.  Atom explains he chose to work in secret because of his insecurities.

He claims he worked behind the scenes for years, choosing to help only when he could remain anonymous.  He found that a delayed effect of the accident that created him manifested itself gradually as his skin began to become metallic.  Undeterred, Captain Atom fashioned a new costume and went about his secret day-saving ways.  Of course, this new costume is the redesigned Captain Atom from 1966 (also designed by Steve Ditko).  It is in this new form that he rescues – and falls in love with – a sky-diver named Eve (which is another nod to the Charlton Captain Atom and his girlfriend/sidekick Nightshade – aka Eve Eden, another Ditko creation – Adam & Eve, get it?).  However, Eve is dying, and does so shortly.  Standing at her grave, Captain Atom vows to do his super-heroics in public and no longer hide.  He thanks America for their time and signs off of Nightzone.

Although the cover sets this origin story up, it is really just the subplot of this issue.  The real story is about Nathaniel Adam butting heads with his superiors and attempting to reconnect with his children.  The military want Captain Atom to rescue a disabled nuclear sub but Adam flatly refuses because Eiling has not lived up to his end of their bargain.  He agreed to be a military weapon if Eling would allow him contact with his children.

The military bigwigs tell Cap if he refuses orders they’ll court-martial him.  Again.  Cap tells them to go ahead and do it and he’ll go public with “the lie.”  Adam tells them he’ll do what they want if they’ll do what he wants and walks out.  Ballsy.  The Admiral who was giving the disabled sub presentation tells Eiling to get Captain Atom under control or he will go to the Joint Chiefs.

Outside, Adam runs into Jeff Goslin outside.  He has some intel for the Captain, saying that Peggy will be at Dulles that evening.  He offers to drive Cap, but Adam says he has to do it alone.  We see him flying off as Captain Atom while Gos thinks to himself, “Same old Nate.  He always did it his way.”

At the airport, Nate waits for his daughter in the terminal, holding a sign that reads “Miss Eiling.”  When she approaches, he is dumbfounded by her resemblance to his dead wife.  He asks her if there is a quiet place they can go talk, calling her “Peggy.”  As she has not seen him since she was a very little girl, she doesn’t recognize her father.  She quickly realizes Eiling didn’t send this guy to pick her up, that a Captain would never pull this kind of duty.

“Look – I admit,” she says, “you’re kind of cute, Captain.  Maybe you’re a real sweet guy.  Maybe you’re even a dream date.  Or just maybe you’re a girl’s worst nightmare.  Thing is, you see, I’m never going to find out.  Me being an Air Force brat and all, I have this rule – no offense, mind you – but I never – I mean never – get involved with men in uniform. ”

She climbs into a cab as Adam stands there dumbstruck.  She delivers her parting blow, “And by the way, my name is Margaret.  Nobody calls me ‘Peggy.’  G’night Captain… uh, what was your name again?”  But she doesn’t wait for a response.

This is very weird for Nate.  He totally failed to connect with his daughter, who thought he was hitting on her, and thought he was cute.  Totally despondent, Adam changes to Captain Atom and flies off to rescue the disabled sub after all.  He floats above it and absorbs the leaking nuclear crap.  The crew witnesses as he appears to go critical and vanishes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I thought the first meeting with Peggy was funny and sad and even kind of creepy.  I like that Cap’s fake origin story is basically Ditko’s Captain Atom origin.  I like when Cap gets mad at the military bigwigs, his eyes do that angry flare thing.  I like that Dr. Megala had Adam’s back in the meeting (he played part of the Nightzone broadcast at Adam’s request).  The art is beautiful, the story is compelling.  This is definitely an A.

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