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“The Games of Ragnath”

  • Writers:  Dan Reed and Benjamin Smith
  • Pencils: Dan Reed
  • Inks: Dan Reed
  • Colors: Wendy Fiore
  • Letters: Mathew Hopkins

This is not the same Charlton Bullseye fanzine series that Captain Atom appeared in before.  This series was actually published by Charlton Comics and was in color.  This issue is the only appearance of this particular version of Captain Atom.

Charlton Bullseye was a short-lived Charlton Comics showcase comic book series published from June 1981 through December 1982.  It featured several new stories using Charlton’s action heroes before they were sold to DC Comics in 1983.  Several other unpublished stories for the title were published by AC Comics.  This version of Captain Atom, who hadn’t seen publication since 1975, featured Ditko’s original Silver Age costume, a new secret identity, and a new origin story.

So, to set the stage, what was the world like in May of 1982?  On May 1, 1982, a crowd of over 100,000 attended the first day of the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was kicked off with an address by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.  On May 5, a Unabomber bomb exploded in the computer science department at Vanderbilt University and secretary Janet Smith was injured.  The Falklands War raged on.  And on May 30,  Cal Ripken, Jr. played the first of what eventually became his record-breaking streak of 2,632 consecutive Major League Baseball games.

This story begins with a retelling of Captain Atom’s origin.  But, it is a slightly different origin than the one presented by Steve Ditko and Joe Gill in Space Adventures #33 twenty-two years earlier.  What we have here is a brand new Captain Atom.  In the early 1960s, NASA launched a rocket bound for “the fringes of space.”  Trapped aboard was Captain John Adam.  The plutonium engines overloaded and bathed the helpless Captain in deadly neutron radiation.  The rocket exploded but this did not kill John Adam.  It only served to aid his transformation into a powerful being that would come to be known as Captain Atom. The origin is similar to the original.

Gone is the partially metal skin.  Back in his Silver Age costume and renamed “John” Adam, he is now a Colonel in the Air Force and has been fighting space baddies for twenty years at least (presuming this story takes place in 1982).

In downtown Miami, Colonel Adam and his fiance Janet Rogers are preparing for their wedding (to take place in two days) and honeymoon.  They are stopped on the street by an Airman who has a message for Adam.  He is to meet up with his C.O. as soon as possible.  Upset that he would be bothered while on leave, the Colonel vows to Janet that he’ll be as quick as possible and races away.  Once he is gone, the Airman turns to Janet and knocks her out with a special gas.

Ducking into a nearby alley, out of sight, Colonel Adam transforms into Captain Atom (So John gets promoted but Atom has to remain a Captain.  I wonder if he is paid a Captain’s salary or a Colonel’s.  Oh, who am I kidding?  It is the United States!  Of course he is paid a Captain’s salary!).

2.703 seconds later (how’s that for precision?), Captain Atom arrives at Cape Canaveral.  He approaches the General (the General is never named, but let’s call him General Eiling for the hell of it), surprised to see many other Airmen around.  As soon as he touches down, the General and his men open fire on Cap with futuristic ray guns.  Captain Atom is knocked out, and the men drag him to a lift that takes them to an underground installation.

The General delivers Captain Atom to a green-skinned alien identified as “Talnor.”  Talnor zaps Captain Atom with energy from his hand, going on about how Cap is a slave and will represent him in “the games.”  Captain Atom awakens and says he isn’t anyone’s slave and isn’t going to take part in any games.  Talnor projects an image of Jan, saying she will only remain safe if Atom doesn’t resist his commands.  Predictably, Cap tells Talnor to do with him what he will, but to release his fiance immediately.  The alien says he will not be commanded by his slave, saying he made a fair trade with the General; Captain Atom in exchange for high tech weapons.  The General says Atom is government property and therefore he can be sold.  This seriously angers Captain Atom, who tells the General he just made the biggest mistake of his life.  Talnor teleports himself and Cap away.  One of the soldiers asks the General if they did the right thing, and the General makes it clear he feels the world is better off with one less super-hero.

Talnor and Cap reappear 2,500 million light years away, having traveled at the speed of light, on a stage surrounded by aliens on the planet Ragnath.  The Gamemasters of Ragnath are hopeful that Captain Atom will provide him with entertainment.  Cap wonders if his abilities mean nothing to them.  They read his thoughts and think he is arrogant.  They decide to test him and summon forth a “beast-man” named Krog (another slave).

Cap throws Krog aside, saying if he fights anyone he’s fighting the Gamemasters.  Loyal to his masters, Krog leaps forward again but Cap kicks him in the face.  Talnor teleports or vaporizes Krog, thanking Captain Atom for the demonstration of his abilities. Captain Atom is supremely pissed off, wanting to know what gives Talnor and his people the right to make other creatures fight to amuse them.   Talnor says their power gives them the right and they enjoy the pain and suffering.  Cap calls them sick.  Talnor says it is their right as immortals.  The logic escapes me.  To prove their power, the Gamemasters teleport Jan in, whom they have dressed in an alien dress.  She looks like Dale Arden from the Flash Gordon movie, only wearing blue instead of red.  Captain Atom promises Jan that he will get her out of this, but has no idea how.

Talnor teleports them to the arena, which appears to be on a desolate moon or asteroid.  His opponents are to be Earthmen who have trained for ten years who have no desire except to see Captain Atom’s “cracked bones bleached by our sun.”  But if these men are from Earth, they’ve been surgically altered.  They are three men, two of them enormous; one very musclebound and the other quite flabby with a big metal right arm.  The third man…

Well.

The third man is a chicken.

Weird, yes.  But not without a precedent.  Twenty-one years prior to this issue, DC Comics introduced Green Lantern Tomar-Re.  He was a space-cop chicken-man.  So I guess it takes all kinds in the universal melting pot.

Space Chicken Man

Cap puts Jan behind him as the fat one, Claw, approaches.  Moving faster than Captain Atom can see, Claw grabs Cap in his metal hand.  Claw also has a life-draining power, which he uses on Cap and begins to drain his atomic power away.

Green Lantern Tomar-Re

Captain Atom, his power draining and his costume ripped in places, builds up his atomic energy and overloads Claw.  Claw instantly weakens and passes out, loosening his grip on Captain Atom.  But, while Cap was focused on Claw, Space Chicken Man grabbed Jan and began to fly away with her.  Cap gives chase, flinging atomic fireballs at Space Chicken Man.  Space Chicken Man throws Jan back towards the surface of the planetoid from a great height.

The Gamemasters, watching all this from a distance, increase their bets.

Captain Atom races after Jan, scooping her up inches from hitting the hard ground.  He momentarily thinks she does not deserve this; having her life endangered just because she is a friend to Captain Atom.  He gently sets her inert body down – she has fainted.

Space Chicken Man and Muscle Head approach Captain Atom, who vows that even if they kill him, he’ll see to it they never lay a hand on Jan again.  He dodges Muscle Head’s attack and then kicks Space Chicken Man in the beak.  Muscle Head demands that Cap face him, but Cap finds he can barely remain upright.  As Captain Atom tries to pummel Muscle Head, Space Chicken Man calls out to his comrade (calling him “Stone”), saying something is wrong.

Space Chicken Man collapses, as does Stone (but not before Cap nearly breaks his hand on Stone’s bicep).  Talnor reappears, congratulating Captain Atom on his victory.  Cap is confused, saying he did nothing.  Talnor says it doesn’t matter; that Cap is his most honored slave thanks to the unexpected victory.  He zaps himself and Cap back to the stage on Ragnath.

As he is addressing Captain Atom, the king of Ragnath also keels over, followed by Talnor and several Gamemasters in the audience.  That is when Captain Atom realizes (as his strength returns), that they are all being sickened by his own radiation.  It is leaking through the rips in is costume (like the Silver Age Captain Atom, the costume serves as a radiation shield).  Cap increases his output and announces to his captors that he is the reason they are sick.  He tells them he is a free man and that the Gamemasters will all die if they don’t follow his instructions.  The king quickly agrees.

Captain Atom demands that he and Jan be returned to Earth, and that the Gamemasters never bother Earth again.  The king agrees, but as Cap doesn’t trust Talnor, he creates a radiation belt around Ragnath that will limit their powers for a thousand years.  It takes the combined strength of all the Gamemasters to send Cap and Jan home, much to Talnor’s chagrin.

They reappear in a city park.  Captain Atom quickly leaves Janet, to do “something I should have done a long time ago.”  He dons a new Captain Atom uniform and flies to Cape Canaveral.  Bursting into the General’s office, he throws his Air Force uniform at his desk.  He says he is no longer Air Force property.  Cap tells the General he is not turning his back on his country but will not answer to the government.  The final panel has the caption “The Beginning.”  But it isn’t.  Captain Atom would not see publication again until the next year, and this version of Captain Atom was only seen this one time.

Dan Reed did a great job on the artwork of this issue.  Cap is more ripped than he’s ever been.  It isn’t my favorite look for the hero, but also isn’t bad.  It is nice to see the old Silver Age costume again (he even leaves sparkles in his wake like the Ditko Cap).  A solid A.  The story wasn’t spectacular, but by no means bad. It is clearly setting up new adventures for Cap that just never came.  We’ve seen heroes forced to fight many times, across all forms of entertainment media, but the way Captain Atom actually defeated his opponents was unique (and dumb luck).  I really liked Space Chicken Man, Rock, and Claw, but would’ve loved a little back story on them. I’d love to know where Colonel John Adam was going next. I give the story a B+.

There is also a back-up story in this issue called “You Look Like You’ve Seen a Ghost” in which Nightshade battles the Ghost.  Credited as writer and illustrator is Bill Black.  The Ghost is again referred to as Alec Nois (as he was when he first appeared), but by the end of the story he is Alec Rois again.

The Charlton “universe” was absorbed into DC Comics’ Multiverse when the Charlton characters were purchased by DC.  Because of the change of costume, rank, and name, I do not consider this the Silver or Bronze Age “Charlton” Captain Atom. Although most likely intended to be the Earth-4 Cap we know, the Charlton Bullseye Captain Atom is a separate character.

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