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“Live or Let Die?”

  • Writer:  Cary Bates
  • Pencils:  Pat Broderick
  • Inks:  Bob Smith
  • Colors:  Carl Gafford
  • Letters:  Duncan Andrews

The first thing to strike me about this book is the cover.  It is an homage to Michelangelo’s Pietà sculpture housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.  The statue depicts Mary holding Jesus after he has been crucified.  In this case it is Plastique holding Captain Atom after he has been cut open by the Cambodian.  This touches on a running theme with this incarnation of Captain Atom; he was raised Catholic.  That really comes in to play heavily about thirty issues down the line.  We’ll get there.

As this is a continuation from Captain Atom #7, we are treated with a quick refresher.  Cap is passed out after releasing a bunch of energy from his cut.  Plastique is standing over him, contemplating killing him.

Plastique refers to Captain Atom as the only man who has bested her in a fight.  Is she forgetting Firestorm?  Or does he not count because Ronnie Raymond is a teenager?  Probably she just has a very selective memory.

As she stands over Cap, savoring this moment when she will kill him, a group of armed Cambodians in red shirts and caps emerge from the jungle and approach the Samurai.  He comes to and orders his men to kill Plastique and Captain Atom.  They open fire, but Plastique quickly picks up Cap’s unconscious body and uses him as a shield.

Plastique kills the soldiers with her pink energy blast but the Cambodian is protected by his X-Ionized shield and armor.  She uses her blasts to topple a tree on top of the Cambodian, the picks up Captain Atom’s inert body and carries him deeper into the jungle.

Meanwhile, in General Eiling’s office, he and his stepson Randall are playing chess.  Randy wins just as his tearful sister Peggy bursts in and throws her jacket at the board.  She is upset that Randy and the General don’t care that Captain Scott (aka her father Nathaniel Adam) hasn’t been heard from.  Eiling tries to calm her, but she knows neither the General nor her brother give a damn about Nate.  Randy catches her in the hallway after she storms out and hands her a transcript of Nate’s trial.  He wants her to read it cover-to-cover to find out “exactly what kind of man Nathaniel Adam really was.”

Now, I may be reading too much into this, but Randy’s use of the word “was” seems to indicate – on some level – that he may think his father isn’t the criminal he always believed he was.  Like a part of him desperately wants to believe Nate has or can redeem himself.  I’m probably stretching here.  I really want to like Randy but Cary Bates isn’t making it easy.

Back in Cambodia, every time Plastique stops to rest she notices that Captain Atom’s condition seems to have worsened.  He’s feverish and his wound appears to be bubbling with what looks like lava.  She has no idea what to do for him.  Why does she care?  Perhaps she sees him as her only way out of the jungle.

She finds shelter in a cave just in time to miss a downpour.  She doesn’t think Captain Atom will live through the night.  She watches him sleep, wondering if there is anything she can do about his wound.  She finally decides to attempt using her own powers and cauterize the cut and burn away any infected tissue.  She does so, causing Captain Atom to sit up and scream in pain and revert to his human appearance.

Plastique recognizes Cameron Scott, but already suspected he was Captain Atom.  As he lays there, curled in the fetal position and naked, Plastique approaches him with her right hand charging with power.  She hates both Cameron Scott and Captain Atom.  Now would be a prime time to kill him, in his weakened human form.  She flashes back to a time after her last encounter with Cap.

She was being transferred from Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana to a maximum security prison in Ontario.  The transport was ambushed and Plastique was freed by her comrades, who then dissolve their relationship with her.  That is why she put her terrorist skills on the open market and how she came to be in Cambodia.

Nate awakens the next day, surprised to find himself with Plastique.  He is equally shocked when he realizes he is naked and that she knows his secret identity.  She outfits him with a stolen Cambodian uniform and they begin trekking through the jungle.  She explains that she kept him alive because she knows he is an expert on the Cambodian terrain (she learned this when watching his group and reading their lips).  As they hike along, Nate tells her she knows what he must do once he is strong enough to transform again.  While she doesn’t admire his directness, she is glad she kept him alive.  They make good time.

As they climb the Dangrek Mountains, Nate tells her they’ll be in Thailand soon.  Plastique then decides she will kill him.  But she loses her footing and slips, nearly falling over a cliff.  Nate catches her by the wrist and hangs on, halting her fall.  He can’t keep hold of her without transforming and she warns him this might rip open his wound.

Disregarding the consequences, he transforms and lifts her up.  The wound didn’t open.  Captain Atom says, apart from a little numbness, he feels fine.  He seems to be able to heal at a rapid rate (New power!).  Plastique decides it would not be prudent to kill him now, but will wait until they are out of Cambodia.  They continue hiking (But why?  Can’t he just fly them out now?).

Just as Plastique is preparing to attack, Captain Atom sees something behind her and pushes her to safety. It is the Samurai (the Cambodian), who narrowly misses taking Plastique’s head off.  Cap dropkicks him, but he regains his balance using his sword and amazing reflexes.  The Cambodian smacks Cap in the face with his shield.  He blasts back but the shield protects the warlord.  Plastique decides now would be a good time to head for Thailand.

Captain Atom jumps and narrowly misses being cut in half, but the Cambodian grabs his ankle and slams him to the ground, dazing Cap.  As the Cambodian prepares to slice Cap in half from the rear, Cap reaches back and blasts him in the face with two-fisted quantum fury.  The Cambodian goes down, but one of his soldiers emerges from the jungle and opens fire.  Plastique returns and takes the soldier out before he can hit Cap’s wound and reopen it.  The two hightail it to Thailand.

Back stateside, Eiling is receiving his third star from none other than President Reagan.  Babylon and Dr. Megala are in attendance as well, though they don’t seem pleased.

Megala and his assistant feel Eiling’s third star is not deserved.  Babylon notices that Randy and Peggy have ducked out of the ceremony early.

Randy is upset with his sister because she maintains her father’s innocence even after reading the transcript.  She says all it did was strengthen her belief that someone framed Nathaniel Adam.  She throws the report at her brother and storms away.

In a little Thai village, Nate meets up with Goz, who was waiting for his friend’s arrival.  Plastique blends in with the villagers, but not before Goz spots her.  Nate pretends he doesn’t see Plastique.  Goz isn’t buying this and disapproves but lets it go.  The two soldiers board a helicopter and fly away, watched by Plastique.

This was a fun (if wordy) issue.  Not a lot of action but what is there is splendid.  The Cambodian, with his X-Ionized sword and lightning-quick reflexes, is a worthy adversary for Captain Atom.  And I really like the vulnerability Cap showed (not that he had much choice; he was unconscious through most of the book).  And the stage has been set for a few interesting things to be resolved (Randy’s devotion to Eiling, Peggy’s devotion to Nate, and the uneasy alliance between Plastique and Captain Atom).  Cary Bates told a good tale and managed to make Plastique a lot less two-dimensional.  And Pat Broderick knocked it out of the park with the cover alone.  A+