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“The Cutting Edge”

  • Writer:  Cary Bates
  • Pencils:  Pat Broderick
  • Inks: Bob Smith
  • Colors:  Carl Gafford
  • Letters:  Duncan Andrews
This issue opens with Captain Cameron Scott in a flight simulator with Colonel Steve Trevor.  He is training for a mission so secret he knows nothing about it.  He chokes, causing the simulator to “crash.”  Trevor seems to have some confidence in Scott’s abilities, although Scott says he’s “no top gun.”
This bugs me because TOPGUN is the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, and Scott is in the Air Force, not the Navy.  I’m probably just splitting hairs here.  I’m sure Cary Bates figured it was an Air Force term because it is associated with pilots.  The Navy isn’t the first thing to leap to one’s mind when thinking of pilots.
Trevor refuses to give Scott any details about the mission.  He orders Scott to do eight more hours in the simulator.  Scott begins to wonder how his regular boss, General Eiling, will react to his being sent on a secret mission; does he know or will he consider Scott to be AWOL?
Of course, that is exactly what Eiling thought, as he reveals to Allard at the shooting range.  And he is highly ticked off that General Hillary tagged Scott for this mission “behind Eiling’s back.”  He’s afraid that Captain Atom’s secret identity will be compromised, but a quick phone call to the White House should get Scott off the mission.  And speaking of the White House, Allard has a communique from the oval office for Eiling.  Eiling has been promoted to a three star general, with a ceremony to be held the following Friday.  Eiling decides not to make that call to the president after all.  He doesn’t want Cameron Scott showing up to his three-star-general party.
Later, in Hillary’s office, Colonel Trevor and Captain Scott are finally being briefed.  He begins by pulling a paper airplane out of his briefcase.  He says it has been “treated” by an apparatus called the X-Ionizer.  The plane has a metallic sheen.  Tossing it toward a nearby metal filing cabinet, Hillary demonstrates that it can easily cut through any surface.
The problem is that the X-Ionizer was lost over Cambodia in 1969 when it was being transported to the West.  It was believed lost forever, destroyed in the plane crash.  However, over the past year, reports of X-Ionized objects have been turning up in Cambodia.  It has come into the possession of Ian Rydley, an ex-mercenary with “strong pro-West sentiments,” and he wants to hand it over to the United States.  To avoid setting off an international incident, Trevor and Scott are to fly stealth planes into Cambodia to pick up the device.  Scott was tagged because his file indicates he is an expert on Cambodian terrain.  From Scott’s perspective, it has not been that long since he has been in Cambodia, as Captain Nathaniel Adam.  Scott seems somewhat taken aback by the revelation that he must return to Cambodia, thinking “after all these years it has come back to haunt me.”
Later, strolling through a public park, Nate is telling Peggy and Goz horrible jokes.  This worries Peggy, because her mother told her Nate would always do that before a dangerous mission.  Goz says, “She’s on to us.”  Peggy just asks her father to promise he’ll come home.  Nate says he is coming back and that is a promise he will never break again.
45 hours and 7,800 miles later, two stealth planes streak towards the East, piloted by Captain Scott and Colonel Trevor.  With them is Goz and a Lieutenant Barker.  They spot three tails on their radar and lose them in some clouds.  They watch as three Russian MiGs pass them by.  17 hours later, they are in Cambodian air space and 25 hours later they are on the ground.  After all that time in those planes, their asses must have been really sore.
Nearby, a woman is watching the team.  She thinks to herself (in French) that the “younger man with the prematurely white hair” looks like an operative she left to die in Toronto several months back.  Reading Trevor’s lips, she discovers that it is, indeed, Captain Scott.  Careful readers will realize this woman is Plastique, whom Captain Atom tangled with once before.
After a six-mile trek through the jungle, Trevor’s team comes up Ian Rydley’s jeep.  It has been cut in half and Rydley is dying in the road.  He says, “s-spare… spare… spare,” before dying, which Barker thinks is his way of asking Trevor to kill him.  But he promptly dies anyway.  There is no sign of the X-Ionizer and Trevor remarks that the jeep was cut clean through, as if with a laser (get with the program, Trevor).  Before they have a chance to work it out, they hear loud explosions in the distance.
A kilometer or two away, Plastique is blasting someone, demanding the X-Ionizer.  Whomever he is drops the X-Ionizer but appears to been blown some distance away because of his blast-resistant shield.  Plastique indicates that she witnessed this stranger cutting the jeep in half. She goes over in her head her plans to sell the device to the Trike Corporation, unaware that an armored swordsman is approaching her from behind.
The team witnesses the swordsman taking a swing at Plastique, slicing her jaunty panama hat in two, narrowly missing taking her head off.  She drops the X-Ionizer.  As she blasts at the Samurai, Trevor and Barker retrieve the case.  It is empty.  Remembering Rydley’s dying words, he and Barker hoof it back to the jeep.
Witnessing the battle between Plastique and the mysterious Samurai from a different location, Goz loses track of Nate.  He realizes what his friend is off to do (Goslin knows Adam/Scott is Captain Atom, but Atom doesn’t know he knows).  Sure enough, Captain Atom launches into action.  Meanwhile, Trevor and Barker recover the real X-Ionizer from the “spare” tire on Rydley’s jeep.  Captain Atom stands between Plastique and the swordsman, lecturing her but not watching his back.  Much to his surprise, the Samurai swings his sword and manages to cut Atom’s metal skin.
Captain Atom punches the swordsman in the face before collapsing in a painful explosion.
And it is established right here that when the Modern Age Captain Atom’s shell is punctured, there is a release of energy.  It isn’t the power of a hundred (or even one) nuclear explosions.  It is big and it is bad but it isn’t end-of-the-world-bad.  That little bit of Captain Atom lore is retconned in later.
Meanwhile, Trevor and Barker have inexplicably made it back to the jets.  Barker promptly puts a gun to Colonel Trevor’s back.  He takes the X-Ionizer for “his government,” fully believing that between Plastique and “the Warlord,” Scott and Goslin are most likely dead.  He pulls the pin on a grenade and lobs it at Nate and Goz’s jet.  The stealth plane blows apart.
Barker explains that “his government” will use the X-Ionizer to create an unstoppable army of soldiers and machines.  He says they also want Steve Trevor, and orders the Colonel to board the remaining jet.  Barker doesn’t realize Trevor has surreptitiously grabbed a jagged piece of metal from the destroyed jet.  While Barker is trying to get Trevor onto the other plane, Trevor lashes out and cuts Barker’s throat.
Colonel Trevor comes upon an unconscious Goz in the jungle (most likely knocked out when Captain Atom exploded).  He awakens the Sergeant, who is not clear on what happened.  It is Goz who convinces Trevor to leave Captain Scott behind, knowing that they are all expendable and the retrieval of the X-Ionizer is the mission’s top priority.  He says Scott knows the terrain and is tougher than Trevor might think.
Back at the base, Peggy enters General Eiling’s office to find her brother Randy waiting there.  Their happy reunion is cut short when Randy says he is aware of Nathaniel Adam’s return and wants nothing to do with “the traitor.”  He says the only father who should matter to either of them is Eiling.  He says he hopes Cameron Scott/Nathaniel Adam never makes it back from his current mission.  Eiling seems extremely pleased at his stepson’s reaction.
Wow.  Very little Captain Atom in this issue of Captain Atom.  I like it.  It reminds me of the early Charlton days when Adam sometimes dabbled in espionage.  I also like the character of the Cambodian (although the Samurai is never referred to as such in this issue, he is later called “the Cambodian’).  Here’s a guy who can actually deal Cap some damage and does so without super powers.  I give this story an A.  And Broderick and Smith’s art is great.  Sometimes the book is a little light on the backgrounds, but I like Pat Broderick’s style when drawing the Captain.  I give the art an A, too.
It was upon reading this issue that I realized I have been spelling “Goz” wrong all along.  I have been writing it as “Gos,” clearly ignoring what Cary Bates wrote back in ’87.  I just thought I’d acknowledge that little mistake of mine.