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23422407776_31d4024a8d_o“Thirteen”

  • Writer: David Kaler
  • Pencils: Steve Ditko
  • Inks: Frank McLaughlin
  • Letters: A. Machine

This issue is a sad milestone for Captain Atom.  The first time the Captain was shelved, it was for three and a half years (from Space Adventures #42 to Strange Suspense Stories #75).  By the end of 1968, all of Charlton’s super-hero comics were cancelled, including Captain Atom.  This was the last issue published, and it had a cliffhanger ending.  The world did not get a resolution to the story for eight years, and Captain Atom didn’t get his own title again until 1987, twenty years after Captain Atom #89 was published.

The story opens at “a place hidden from the eyes of man,” what appears to be some sort of underwater complex.  The Ghost, installed as the ruler of this place, complains that he misses his old home and doing evil things.  His teleportation circuitry on his arm has been hidden, covered by skin.  He says if he could return home, he could resume his double life and even bring about the demise of Captain Atom.  The woman he is talking to reminds him that his teleportation device has been disabled so he is forced to stay in this place and rule these people.  The Ghost wonders who the original “Faceless One” was.

His female companion uses a rod-like device to pull up an image of Captain Atom on a viewscreen.  She and the Ghost see he is standing by a missile that the woman seems to recognize.  The blonde woman and the Ghost then meet with more women in a “council chamber.”  These women are the gold-wearing pigtail-having women who took the Ghost away in Captain Atom #86.  They agree that the Ghost must be allowed to return home in order to bring the missile back with him.

Back in Washington, just as Alec Rois (the Ghost) returns home, his butler hands him a package and a letter.  The letter is from the U.S. government, asking Rois to help them unlock the secrets of the missile.  The package contains a crystal ball, in which Alec sees the masked face of a man who calls himself “13.”  13 clearly knows Alec is the Ghost, and warns him not to interfere with his own plans to take the missile.

At a Texas NASA base, Captain Atom and Gunner are examining the missile when a warning message appears on the wall.  It reads, “I claim the missile for myself!  I will take it peacefully or fight for it!  Nothing can stop 13!”

Captain Atom warns Gunner to double the security and then heads out to find more info on 13.  He doesn’t go far when he meets the costumed man up in the clouds, joined by a flying black cat.  The cat, which 13 calls Faustus, warns his master to be wary of Cap.  13 conjures up some red scarves which begin to bind Captain Atom.  Cap turns up his heat and burns the scarves away.

13 throws silver coins at Cap, which stick to Atom’s body.  He then increases the weight of the coins to more than a ton each and Captain Atom plummets into the sea.  As he sinks, he begins to think his powers are useless against magic.  Cap manages to shake off the coins and then returns to base.  Gunner reports that no one showed up to take the missile but a letter came from Alec Rois.  Rois and his staff will be there that afternoon.  Watching through a crystal ball, 13 and Faustus look forward to giving Cap more hell but are wary of the Ghost arriving.

Within the hour, Rois arrives on base.  He and Captain Adam shake hands (they are old friends, each unaware that the other is their mortal enemy).  Adam warns Rois of 13’s attack and that the magician will probably make another attempt.

This is what bugs me about Alec Rois.  He knows Captain Adam and has been face-to-face with Captain Atom.  Aside from the similarity in the names being a dead giveaway, Captain Atom no longer wears a mask.  So, aside from different hair color, Atom is physically identical to Adam.  Like all it takes to hide your identity is to change your hair color or put on a pair of glasses.

After working for a bit, Alec says he is leaving his men to work while he rests.  This pleases Adam because it means he can switch back to Captain Atom to check things out.  Gunner promises to call Rois if anything turns up.

Alec returns to the lab as the Ghost and sets up a teleportation device to steal the missile.  But Captain Atom arrives and flings an atomic fireball at the Ghost.  Just as the Ghost is readying to teleport Cap out of there, Faustus and 13 appear.  13 makes flowers appear in the Ghost’s hands while Faustus conjures ropes out of nowhere to bind Captain Atom.

13 conjures up small animals and flings them at the Ghost while Cap continues to struggle to free himself.  He manages to break free and goes for 13, who vanishes before Cap can grab him.  Realizing he won’t be able to get his hands on Ghost or 13, Cap returns to the missile to guard it.

The Ghost whips out weapons from the Hidden Land, stinging strings and a force field box.  13 instructs Faustus to keep an eye on the Ghost with the crystal ball.

Back at the missile, the men have nearly cracked into it when their tools go wild operating on their own and a booming voice fills the chamber.  The voice of 13 warns the men that if they don’t stop trying to get in to the missile, they will have “bad luck.”  Captain Atom arrives, and gets the men to safety.  He remarks on how “spooky” the place is when 13 and Faustus pop up out of nowhere.

Just then the Ghost shows up wielding his stinging strings.  Captain Atom comes at the Ghost from behind, smashing him into a mirror.

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Gunner tries to take 13 from behind but Faustus conjures a giant umbrella and he becomes trapped inside.  13 uses the Ghost’s stinging strings and force field to subdue the Ghost, Captain Atom, and Gunner.

13 builds some sort of machinery under the missile while Cap, Ghost, and Gunner are suspended helplessly in the force field.  It is a shrink ray, which 13 uses to shrink the missile to fit in the palm of his hand.  Faustus carelessly knocks over the force field generator, freeing Cap and Ghost.

Faustus puts the Ghost in a “sound bubble” that prevents him from using his teleportation device.  Just before Cap grabs 13, the magician twiddles his fingers and the missile vanishes.  Cap demands to know where it was sent.  13, Faustus, Cap, and Ghost suddenly find themselves outside, hovering in the sky above the base.

The Ghost begins to suspect this isn’t magic at all.  He thinks magic can’t create a sound bubble to hold him.  What on Earth does he base this on?

Back on the ground, 13 binds Cap in chains (which he easily breaks).  Cap flings an atomic fireball at 13, which the evildoer turns into a flower.  13 and Faustus fly away just as the Ghost breaks free of the sound bubble.  The Ghost teleports away as 13 and Faustus vanish.

13 and Faustus reappear in “the distant future.”  As 13 removes his mask and costume to reveal a bald white guy underneath, Faustus comments on how fun it was to use their future technology to make Cap think they were using magic.  Joined by other future people (all bald men), 13 chides Faustus, saying that “playing for the future of Earth” was not fun.

Lamenting the fact that they made Captain Atom look like a fool, 13 peeks in on Cap with his “crystal ball.”  He witnesses Cap taking a call from the president, in which the president reveals that 13 was a secret agent who was working for the government.  The missile was sent to a secret base to be destroyed.  It isn’t clear how much the president knows about the future bald dudes.

Back in the “hidden land,” the Ghost is fuming about his failure, blaming 13 and Faustus.  The golden-wearing pigtail ladies (they are the Sunurians, although they haven’t yet been revealed as such in the comics) tell him to go back and get Captain Atom.  They want Cap’s fate to be determined in Sunuria.

To be continued next issue!  Except, of course, there was no next issue.  Eventually the story was picked up in a fanzine called Charlton Bullseye.  Roger Stern and John Byrne got their hands on Steve Ditko’s pencil work and finished the story, but that wouldn’t be until 1975.  THe next time Captain Atom was seen was a brief cameo in another Charlton book, Ghost Manor, in 1974.

This issue looked good, certainly.  Ditko and McLaughlin were a good team.  Frank McLaughlin went on to work for both Marvel and DC Comics.  He inked Captain Marvel  and Captain America for Marvel, and had notable runs inking The Flash with Carmine Infantino, Wonder Woman with Gene Colan, and Green Arrow with Dan Jurgens.  He was a regular inker for Dick Dillin’s Justice League of America.  Still alive and kicking as of this writing, Frank’s last contribution to comics was inking again for Dick Dillin in DC Retroactive: JLA – The ’70s #1 in 2011.  I give the artwork of Captain Atom #89 an A+.

The story, however… Why do the Sunurians want the missile?  Why do the future baldies want the missile?  Who was the original “Faceless One?”  Why can cats from the future speak English?  Where was the missile found?  What was inside the missile?  Why can’t sound bubbles be conjured magically?  Too much of this just didn’t make any sense.  This D story brings the overall rating of this issue to a B in my book.

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

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