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“Captain Atom Faces Doctor Spectro: Master of Moods”

  • Writer: Joe Gill
  • Pencils: Steve Ditko
  • Inks: Rocke Mastroserio
  • Letterer: Jon D’Agostino

This issue marks the beginning of some major changes for Captain Atom.  Over the span of issues 79-84, he becomes more of a traditional superhero.  Spectro is Captain Atom’s first “real” supervillain.  The character resurfaces and is even included in the 1980s reboot by DC.  Over the next five issues of the series, Cap will start fighting supervillains, he’ll begin doing so openly instead of being a secret government agent, he’ll begin working with other superheroes, and in issue 84 he gets a major costume change.  But all these changes begin here in issue #79 with Doctor Spectro.

Now it wouldn’t be a 1960s Charlton book without at least one thing thrown in there to confuse me.  In the box on the first page that credits the creative team, the first line is “created by Pat Masulli.”  It only confused me for a second because I quickly realized it was Dr. Spectro that Pat Masulli created and not our dear Captain Atom (a Ditko/Gill joint).  Pat Masulli was the executive editor of Charlton at the time, and was an accomplished artist himself.  He was the creator of Sarge Steel (although sometimes that credit is given to the great Dick Giordano, who did work on the series with none other than Joe Gill – who himself spun quite a few plates at Charlton in the sixties), as well as Son of Vulcan.  Masulli retired from comics (or withdrew from comics depending on who is telling the story) in 1967.  He died in 1998 at the age of 67.

This story begins with some thugs knocking over an Air Force transport truck loaded with “highly classified and expensive equipment.”  Through some heavy-handed exposition, we learn they are working for a fellow called “Rodent.”  At the same time, “many miles away,” Captain Atom bursts into Rodent’s lair.  His thugs recognize Cap, so I’m guessing Gill and Ditko have decided at this point Captain Atom is no longer working in secret.  Rodent has elaborate traps set for Cap, but they prove no challenge for our hero.

Cap declares, “I’m going to smash you and your racket, Rodent.”  Oy, the dialogue… like something from the Adam West Batman TV series (which premiered the month before this issue hit the stands, by the way).  Rodent starts burning his records while his henchmen keep Captain Atom busy.  They don’t keep him busy for long, and Cap manages to grab a document while knocking out Rodent.  It is a list of gangs Rodent works with – only one name on the list is obscured.  Atom uses his belt radio (new – er – gadget?) to pass the info to Washington.

Captain Atom is informed of the truck hijacking, and that two of the names on the list are people who are in Cap’s area.  He is told to go undercover and track them down.

Days later, Captain Adam is at a local circus.  He is supposed to meet Gunner there to exchange information (so Goslin is now in the spy business with Cap).  The meet-up is to take place at Dr. Spectro’s side-show.  While Cap is waiting, the show begins.  Billing himself as “Master of Moods,” Spectro claims to have control over light and color, which can alter moods.  Cap is impressed, but another patron is not – he heckles Spectro.

Now, I have to point out that on page 5, Captain Adam is in his civilian clothes in one panel, then inexplicably in his Air Force uniform in the next one.  cap.atom.79.1

The heckler sends Spectro into a flashback, where he recalls “the authorities” scoffing at his belief that he could cure the sick with color.  He was fired from wherever he worked, but didn’t give up on his work.  Every time he presented his idea to others, he was openly mocked.  So he became a circus performer so he could continue his experiments and test his theories on people.  And Spectro was right.  When he blasted the crowd with a red ray, everyone (including Adam) become depressed.

Spectro uses a blue ray on the heckler, who is overcome with fear and runs off.  Captain Adam is alarmed and decides he needs to talk to Spectro after the show.  What he doesn’t realize is that the gang leader whose name was burned off the list is also in the audience.  He wants to use Dr. Spectro to cause a distraction in town while he knocks over a local bank.

Adam meets up with Gunner, who has no new info.  Meanwhile, the gang leader is trying to get Spectro to go along with his “joke.”  Spectro says he’s fed up with jokes so the gang leader socks him in the jaw.  Dr. Spectro falls backward into his light and color machine and he absorbs all the refracted energy.  The resulting power he now has twists his mind and he vows to teach everyone who ever mocked him a lesson.  He blasts the gang leader and his henchmen with a green ray that makes them feel sick.  They run off.

Gunner catches a smoke while Adam goes to speak with Spectro.  The crooks pass him, blabbing about their upcoming bank robbery.  They realize Gunner has overheard them, so they pull a gun on him.  Meanwhile, Adam is trying to convince Spectro to use his discoveries to benefit mankind.  Spectro says he’s already tried that and was laughed at.  He blasts Adam with the green ray and Adam rabbits out of his tent.

Gunner, who had been knocked out by the crooks, comes to in a storage room behind an iron door.  He uses a secret radio hidden in his dogtags to contact Adam.  As Captain Atom, he homes in on the signal and rips open the iron door.  Cap quickly realizes these are the jokers who hijacked the Air Force truck.  Gunner clues Cap in on the bank job.

Cap catches up with the crooks at the banks, where they are hard at work on the vault.  He uses his heat blast to make one of the hood’s guns sizzling hot.  But the boss criminal (and they really call him the “boss criminal”) refuses to give up.  He flings sand from an ashtray at Cap, which momentarily blinds him.  It doesn’t slow Captain Atom down, who takes out the goons and gives the boss criminal an atomic punch.

Just as the cops arrive to mop things up, Doctor Spectro makes his move.  Out in the street, he’s shooting colors left and right.  People run away in terror, and even Captain Atom and the cops succumb to the fear ray’s power.  Captain Atom generates tremendous body heat which deflects the fear ray’s power.

Doctor Spectro converts all his light and color into pure power rays, knocking Captain Atom back.  He then uses blue light to cause the bystanders to hate Cap.  Realizing the crowd in being manipulated, Cap leaps beyond their reach and creates an atomic fireball in his hand.  He flings the ball at Spectro, who absorbs the power, and stores it so he can use it for himself.

Spectro blasts Atom with Cap’s own power, knocking Captain Atom to the ground.  But Spectro’s second blast misses Captain Atom, and Cap gest a punch in. Spectro punches back (Captain Atom remarks, “He’s got a wallop too!”).  Dr. Spectro’s color ray blasts Captain Atom off his feet, but he suffers no real ill effects.  It basically comes down to Atom and Spectro trading blows.

Spectro blasts a nearby car’s gas tank.  The car explodes, and Spectro absorbs the power of the explosion.  He hits Captain Atom with a a ray “more brilliant that the sun, with more power than an atomic blast.”  With a “last desperate lunge,” Atom smashes Spectro into nearby power lines.  Spectro begins to absorb the energy of the power lines.  Cap tries to cut off the power before Spectro can take in more than he can control.

cap.atom.79.3Supercharged with “more energy than any man had ever held before,” Dr. Spectro hurtles after Captain Atom.  Spectro continues to blast Atom, eventually burning out like a light bulb that has received too much voltage.  Doctor Spectro simply fades away.  When the police ask what became of the evil doctor, Cap says he feels Spectro is still up there somewhere.

Overall, I really liked this issue.  It is obvious they are taking Captain Atom in a new direction.  This is Joe Gill and Steve Ditko at their best (so far).  Captain Atom #79 is definitely an A.  Venturing close to A+ (the ham-handed exposition in the first few panels bring it down).

This “universe” was absorbed into DC Comics’ Multiverse when the Charlton characters were purchased by DC.  This universe became Earth-4.