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“Death Knell of the World!”

  • Writer: Joe Gill
  • Pencils: Steve Ditko
  • Inks: Rocke Mastroserio

“What happens ‘when worlds collide?’  It looked like all of the people of Earth would soon know, for a mysterious planetoid from the interstellar regions beyond our solar system was bearing down on Earth… on a collision course.  Captain Adam, U.S. Air Force knew that the planetoid must be stopped… or a world would die!  He also knew that one man could possibly hope to save Earth from a horrible fate… Captain Atom, atom-powered super being.  But the task seemed impossible even for Captain Atom’s awesome powers…”

And with that, the bar is set pretty high with Captain Atom #80.
cap.atom.80.1This story opens with a space capsule returning to Earth but something has gone wrong.  The fuel system is jammed and the astronaut is trapped in orbit.  Back in the control room on Earth, the crew is panicking.  One of them is, of course, Captain Adam.  He leaves the control room and transforms into Captain Atom.

Cap quickly flies up to the failing spacecraft.  The control room folks urge the astronaut to “give her one more try.”  Cap grabs the ship and steadies it.  The ground crew cheer and the astronaut is left thinking he saw something out the window.  So Cap is still working in secret?  Didn’t the last issue establish him as a well-known hero?  Why is he still keeping a low profile?

Upon landing back at Cape Kennedy, Gunner tells Adam that General “Eining” is looking for him.  This is a character we’ve not yet seen but it is probably no accident that in the 1980s Captain Atom series for DC, there is a very prominent character named General “Eiling.”

The general tells Adam that the president wants an account of how he became Captain Atom.  So what do we get? Yet another retelling of Cap’s origin.  I guess Gill thought folks forgot it in the four months since the last retelling.  Perhaps he just had space to fill.  He does state that “the existence of Captain Atom is one of the nation’s most closely kept secrets!  Only a few of the key men are aware of the fact that America has a top-secret weapon in a man called Captain Atom.”  This really bugs me.  I realize that continuity wasn’t always a big deal in comic books of the 60s but come on!  Enough with the secret-not-secret super hero thing already.

Gunner barges in on Adam as he is dictating his report and tells him the president needs Captain Atom at the observatory at Mount Palomar. The Palomar Observatory is located in north San Diego County, California. According to their website, it is “a world-class center of astronomical research that is owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology.  The observatory is home to five telescopes that are nightly used for a wide variety of astronomical research programs.”

It takes Cap six minutes to fly from Florida to San Diego, where he meets up with a scientist fellow.  The scientist has Adam look through a telescope, where he sees a rogue moon out past Pluto that will crash into Earth in exactly two days.  Seconds later, Captain Atom is in outer space, flying towards the rogue moon.  His plan is to land on the surface and detonate himself like an atomic warhead.  However, he quickly learns that the moon is artificial.  Within it is a “vast alien civilization.”

The first person Cap comes upon – humanoid in appearance – is Celest.  Cap quickly says he means no harm, but Celest’s bodyguard – an elderly fellow named Valdar – runs to her aid brandishing some sort of gun.  Captain Atom becomes cocky and quite rude, calling Valdar “Santa Claus” before disintegrating his gun.  He asks to see their leader, who happens to walk into the room at that moment, and he is Celest’s father.

The leader is Drako, and is well aware that his world is going to collide with Earth, but tells Cap they don’t have the power to stop it.  Atom says he’ll use his own power, but Drako warns that “the pressure of stopping our world, or even shifting its course, would upset the entire gravitational compensation apparatus of our manufactured planet!  In short , all of my people would be crushed to death!”

Drako says he can build a gravitational motivator but he lacks the materials to build it.  Captain Atom offers to gather the materials.  Before he sets off, Valdar warns Cap that Drako is a despot, but a capable scientist.  Valdar says the motivator will most likely work, but warns Cap not to trust the leader.

Cap sets out to gather the things Drako needs.  Meanwhile, word has gotten out on Earth about their predicament.  Gunner looks to the heavens and says Captain Atom is their only hope.

Just before Cap heads out for the final piece for Drako’s motivator, a tearful Celest stops him and warns him not to trust her father.

Once the motivator is complete, Cap steps inside to power it up.  It does stop the rogue world, resulting in parties in the streets back on Earth.  But it turns out the motivator doubles as a holding cell.  Cap can’t leave and he can’t use his full power (as it will kill the people on the rogue world).

Celest jumps into the motivator, which kills her but frees Captain Atom.  Drako is distraught over being the creator of the thing that killed his daughter.  Valdar steps in as the new leader.  Cap heads back to Earth, saying to himself, “Only if men abandon selfish personal desires and work for the common good can there be peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”

Not bad.  Ditko and Mastroserio’s art is beautiful and we gets lots of space scenes.  The story is pretty good, but I could’ve done without the retelling of Cap’s origin.  Still, I give Captain Atom #80 an A.

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