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“The Five Faces of Doctor Spectro”

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

The story opens “somewhere on the outskirts of a major city.”  Captain Adam and Gunner are sifting through the equipment left behind by Doctor Spectro.  Cap hopes to find something that will benefit man, as Spectro had been working on a new way to fight diseases before he became a side-show performer and later criminal.  After feeling the effects of Spectro’s light beams, Cap is convinced the doctor was on to something.

Meanwhile, the disembodied spirit of Doctor Spectro positions itself just right in the atmosphere and is hit by five simultaneous bolts of lighting.  The result is the birth of five mini-Spectros, each sporting a different colored costume.  They quickly learn that each one of them has a single light power.  The tiny Spectros begin collecting satellites and space junk to form a secret orbital headquarters.

Back on the surface, Captain Atom is beating down some neo-Nazis who want to rule the world.  Afterwards, while on a coffee-and-doughnut break (no kidding), Adam gets a call from his bosses.  There have been reports of “little men” raiding defense stations and stealing valuable equipment.  The little men fit Cap’s description of Doctor Spectro.  Adam puts the coffee and doughnuts down and flies back to the base to check in with Gunner.

I love the way Steve Ditko draws Captain Atom flying.  The movement of his body is very Spider-Man-esque.  Ditko has a talent for drawing people doing these fantastic things but making it look natural.

A nearby radio operator informs Cap and Gunner that the imps were spotted at the science center at Cape May.  I’m guessing this is Cape May, New Jersey.  Wherever it is, Cap wings it there in a hurry.  The mini Spectros are in a lab looking for a safe, which they find hidden within a desk.  Red Spectro heats up the door of the metal safe with his red beam after which Blue Spectro freezes it with his blue beam, making the door brittle, and it crumbles away.  They are carrying off a box marked “SECRET DANGER” when Captain Atom bursts in.

The two Spectros combine their heat and ice powers, which knocks out Cap.  They grab the box and run off.  When Cap comes to, he realizes the two Spectros were aspects of the original man.

The next night, the Green, Yellow, and Purple Spectros leave the space station on a foraging mission.  They hope to encounter Captain Atom to give him a taste of their powers.  While the other two are foraging (on a military base maybe?) the Purple Spectro stands watch at the gate.  He is approached by a little girl on crutches who mistakes him for a magical elf.  Purple Spectro pities the girl and uses his power (an  orange beam?) to heal her.  He echoes what Captain Atom said earlier about his powers being used to heal the sick.  He says he is still an enemy of mankind “because of the rest of me.”

Inside, Captain Atom shows up to take down the Green and Yellow Spectros.  They also shoot orange beams, which incapacitate the “man of molecular mastery.”

Captain Atom isn’t out for long.  He puts up a shield to protect himself from the radiation Spectro is flinging about (but, earlier issues established Cap could withstand this sort of attack… here he says that without the shield he would melt).  Yellow and Green lead Cap outside where they will outnumber him 3 to 1.

Outside, Purple Spectro is worried his cohorts will use the little girl (Kathy) as a hostage.  He leads her away to safety and then takes on Captain Atom.  His inner monologue indicates he wants to merge all the Spectros back into one with Purple in control.  He uses his beam (now blue) on Cap, which takes away the hero’s anger temporarily, making him not want to fight.  Purple Spectro escapes (presumably with Yellow and Green close behind).

Once Cap breaks the “spell” Purple Spectro put on him, he talks to Kathy.  She tells him how the dwarf cured her.  Cap realizes there is some good in Spectro, but he still has to take the evil genius down.

After taking Kathy home, Cap’s commanding officer tells him to put the Spectro case on hold.  Turns out several satellites have stopped operating and he needs Captain Atom to investigate.

Up in the space station, the Spectros have constructed a machine that should merge them back into one.  The other Spectros look forward to fighting Captain Atom once they are whole, but the Purple Spectro is hoping that his “evil side will vanish like Hyde did.”

Back on the surface, Kathy’s parents are having her checked out by a doctor.  The doctor says he has reconstructed Spectro’s machine but doesn’t know how to make it work.

In the upper atmosphere, Captain Atom comes across an unusual cloud formation.  He finds it is concealing Spectro’s space station.  The Spectros spot him before he spots them.  Yellow wants to use his heat beam (so the Spectros do each have multiple beams).  Purple convinces him to use his anger beam while Purple uses his happiness beam to confuse Cap.  When they strike, Captain Atom sees it coming and erects a screen (an emotion screen? New power!).

Cap punches Red and Yellow out.  The remaining Spectros overpower him and knock him to the ground.  Purple hits him with a sickness beam hoping Cap will pass out from the pain.  The Purple Spectro (mis-colored orange in the panel to the right) believes that once they are merged together, he can turn himself over to Cap and begin working on his theories and help people.

Captain Atom breaks free but is overpowered by the imps.  Purple Spectro manages to knock Cap out cold.  While he is out, the Spectros activate their machine and begin to merge together.  Cap awakens and tries to stop the machine by hurling a fireball at it (new power!)  The fireball actually seems to help the process and the one true Doctor Spectro is flung from the resulting explosion.

Cap turns Spectro over to the police, but it seems there is a lingering effect of the whole fiasco.  Doctor Spectro appears to have five separate personalities and doesn’t seem to realize he has been reformed into one person.

This issue also includes a short comic about UFOs and one about jiu jitsu as well as a strange editorial article entitled “The Strong Man.”  It is nice to see Captain Atom doing traditional super-hero stuff and fighting a recurring villain.  Doctor Spectro would be seen only one more time, in Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 before the character was revised in the 1987 Captain Atom series.  The art in this issue is beautiful, Ditko was a master.  The story was pretty good if hoaky in places.  Definitely an A.  I love Captain Adam relaxing over coffee and doughnuts.

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

Note:  Throughout this review, I have used the words “dwarf” and “imp” and the like.  I realize, as a fairly well-educated 21st century man, that these terms can be offensive to little people.  I only used them in the context that this comic book from 1966 used them.  I do not condone the use of the words, which some may find offensive.  They are used to point out how preposterous comic book dialogue could be (and sometimes still is).  I am a firm believer in equal rights and suggest all Splitting Atoms readers check out the Coalition for Dwarf Advocacy, a non-profit charity formed in 2006 to advocate for the full rights and benefits of individuals with short stature (dwarfs), and their families within the public and private sectors of society.

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