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“The Return of Dr. Spectro”

  • Writer: Cary Bates
  • Pencils: Pat Broderick
  • Inks: Bob Smith
  • Colors: Bob Le Rose
  • Letters: Agustin Mas

This issue opens with journalist Mabel Ryan reading an article about Captain Atom to her publisher.  It is the story of Captain Atom (in his Bronze Age costume) fighting Doctor Spectro for the final time.  Of course, the story is totally bogus because Dr. Spectro and the Bronze Age Captain Atom are fabrications created by Eiling and his cohorts.  In the article (from a magazine or book entitled “Captain Atom Tells His Story”), just as it appears Spectro is getting the best of Cap, he goes nuclear and blows up Spectro’s base.  Cap sees Spectro escape in some sort of capsule and he is never heard from again.  Mabel is trying to convince her publisher to let her go out in search of Spectro.

Mabel says to her publisher (Walter) that Captain Atom has become a hot media property, joining the ranks of “…Max Headroom, Eddie Murphy, and Crocodile Dundee.”  Oh, brother.  What horribly dated references.  Well, it was 1987.

Back at the base, Dr. Megala is explaining to Nate what we’ve all already figured out.  When he absorbs too much energy (as he did in issue 3), he will be bumped forward in time equal to the amount of energy he has absorbed (what a crappy power).  He advises Cap to exercise moderation.  Nate, meanwhile, is playing with a yo-yo.

Babylon comes in with orders for Cap from Eiling.  Nate says he is on leave still and plans to take Peggy to the carnival.  Babylon chucks the orders as Nate leaves, much to the pleasure of Dr. Megala.  Nobody likes General Eiling.

Meanwhile, at a government building in downtown Washington, DC, Mabel has gotten a friend to pull some strings and is searching through a national database.  She won’t say what she is looking for, and instructs that the program they are running be deleted when they are done.

At the carnival, Nate and Peggy are riding kiddy rides with Goz.  When Nate goes for cotton candy, Peggy confides in Goz that her dad is sort of treating her like a kid.  He gave her the yo-yo.  She says her father seems oblivious to the fact that she is only five years younger than him.  Goz tells her to give Nate time, that her dad is still adjusting to his new world and life.  It is pretty clear that Nate told Goz and Peggy about the time-jump, but probably left out the Captain Atom part.  Goz sees another Airman at the carnival (he assumes the guy is looking for Cap) and excuses himself to go talk to the man.

When Nate rejoins Peggy, he asks after Randy.  He says whenever he brings his son up, Peggy changes the subject.  She says it is nonsense and quickly changes the subject.  A barker interrupts them and suggests Nate try and win a prize for his lovely girlfriend.  This pisses Nate off, but Peggy seems slightly amused.  Ew.

Meanwhile, Goz intercepts the Airman and takes Cap’s orders, promising to deliver them (he outranks the courier).  Then Goz slips into a photo booth and uses a little spy camera to snap some pics of Cap’s orders before delivering them to Nate.  Seems sketchy.  What’s he up to?

Later, in a “small midwestern town,” Mabel comes across a man named Tom Emery at a pool hall.  I’d like to know what is going on there, but we cut back to Nate and Peggy, who are visiting Angela’s grave.  Nate says he misses his wife, and doesn’t understand why she married Eiling.  Neither do I, Nate.

Goz makes his ill-gotten photos into slides and studies them.  Nate’s orders are written in a code that hasn’t been used since before the Vietnam War.  Goz is confident he can decode the message, and then “…I’ll know for sure if my gut is right about you.”

Back in the “small midwestern town,” Mabel is sitting in a poorly-lit office with Tom Emery (he appears to be the owner of the pool hall).  She explains how she used her government connections to create a database of people who could be Dr. Spectro.  She said that the top of the list was Roy G. Bivolo, the Rainbow Raider.  However, Bivolo was in prison at the time of Captain Atom’s last battle with Dr. Spectro.

But, Mabel says, Bivolo had a lab assistant who suddenly came into money a few years back and paid off all his debts.  A lab assistant named – yup, you guessed it – Tom Emery.  Emery tells Mabel that anyone who puts on a costume is a freak and tells her to get out.

Firestorm was on the cover of this issue.  He is in this comic, isn’t he?

On her way out, Mabel mentions the $50,000 advance her publisher gave her for Tom’s story.  This piques Tom’s interest, and the two of them drive off to his house (Tom makes sure she has a cashier’s check first).  During the drive, he comes clean about Dr. Spectro; that it was Tom, using Bivolo’s old equipment.  Of course, we know this can’t be true.  Dr. Spectro was made up, wasn’t he?

Later, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Captain Atom is on hand at the unveiling of a new plane.  There is a crowd of civilians watching, one of whom really seems to dislike Captain Atom.
Who is this brown-haired fellow who so dislikes Cap?  I would say it is Ronnie Raymond (AKA Firestorm), but Ronnie is a redhead.

Back at Tom’s place, he is showing off his equipment and telling Mabel “his story.”  He claims that he didn’t go in for goofy costumes or aliases because that just attracted attention from super-heroes.  Then he found out about a “secret” super-hero named Captain Atom.

Back at Wright-Patt, the demonstration of the “Vanquisher” goes on.  The general who is hosting the event describes the plane’s revolutionary automated guidance system, the new “Smart-A-Z-Z” (real subtle, Mr. Bates).  Just then, someone launches a heat-seeking missile at the Vanquisher.

The crowd panics.  The young man who has a hate-on for Captain Atom sees that Cap isn’t springing to action.  He decides to take matters into his own hands.
He transforms into Firestorm (pulling his cohort Martin Stein away from a delicious hoagy).  Finally, the Nuclear Man is on the scene.  Captain Atom quickly flies off after Firestorm, leaving Goz (whose presence here makes no sense and is mis-colored as a white guy) to observe “…these two are going to mix about as well as oil and lemonade.”

Cap tries words first.  Let it be known he didn’t start this.  He tells Firestorm to stand down.  Firestorm says Cap is afraid folks will see him for the “silver-plated phoney” he really is.  Stein (who is a disembodied voice in Ronnie’s head, for those who don’t know) advises Ronnie to use better manners.

Firestorm zips around Cap and flies after the plane.  Captain Atom again gets between Firestorm and the Vanquisher and tells him again to stand down.  Firestorm will have none of this and sucker-body-slams Captain Atom.

Firestorm fires some nuclear bolts at the missile (which both Ronnie and Stein think is weird for having not yet hit the plane), but Captain Atom deflects the beams and absorbs them.  Cap and Firestorm barrel head-first into each other as the missile makes contact.  Firestorm is knocked to the ground.

The missile was a dummy warhead, to demonstrate the plane’s maneuverability.  The Vanquisher lands safe and sound.  Captain Atom advises Firestorm to better assess the situation in future conflicts.  And, yeah, Ronnie’s a bit of a hot-head (pun intended), but how was he supposed to know it was a demonstration?  Go easy on the guy, Cap.
You too, Professor Stein.

In the crowd below, watching as Firestorm and Captain Atom fly off their separate ways, Goz gets a look at Cap with his binoculars.  He thinks, “Funny thing about that silver skin and those glowing eyes, ol’ buddy… together they do a great job of keeping your secret from just about everybody.  Almost everybody.”  So that’s what Goz’s gut is telling him; that Nate is Captain Atom.  Oh, and Goz is black again.

Back at Tom’s place, Mabel says she’s convinced that Tom is Dr. Spectro.  She gives him the cashier’s check and then uses Tom’s phone to call one of her associates, Sissy, back in Washington.  Sissy tells Mabel she’s stumbled upon a big story: Captain Atom’s entire origin story is a fake.  Sissy gets cut off (rather ominous) and Mabel dials another number.  She tells Tom she’s calling her publisher to stop payment on his check.

Tom admits he made everything up.  Then he uses one of Bivolo’s machines to incinerate Mabel.  He says that maybe the whole Dr. Spectro thing was made up, but he’s decided that he will be the new Dr. Spectro.

I expected better from Captain Atom’s first interaction with another super-hero.  I wanted more fighting.  Or talking.  Or anything, really.  After putting Firestorm on the cover, he doesn’t show up until halfway through the book.  But I liked the Dr. Spectro stuff in the beginning, from Cap’s fake past.  And I like Tom Emery (so far).  I’m very pleased that Cary Bates worked the Bronze Age villain into the Modern Age mythos.  The Tom/Mabel and Peggy/Nate stuff were this issue’s saving graces.  It earns the book a B for story.  A for art again.  I’m really digging Pat Broderick’s style, although I’m not crazy about Tom’s weird Harry Potter glasses.  I had a few complaints about the colors, but nothing major.  Overall, this is a B+ book in my opinion.