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“Sweet Dreams Major Force”

  • Writers: Cary Bates & Greg Weisman
  • Pencils:  Pat Broderick
  • Inks:  Bob Smith
  • Colors:  Nansi Hoolahan
  • Letters:  Agustin Mas

What do you do when you create a super-hero so powerful he could give the God-like Superman a run for his money?  Who can you pit such a character against?  You can’t have him butting heads with other super-heroes all the time, can you?  No.  You create an all-new super-villain with comparable powers as a foil.  But first you try to pass him off as a super-hero.  And hope he never stuffs anyone’s dead girlfriend into a refrigerator.

It was November 3, 1987 that this issue was published (cover dated February 1988).  Captain Atom was no longer a freshman in the DC Universe.  It was the 38th appearance of the character since his reboot a year prior.  He’d made a name for himself in the pages of his own book and had played an essential role in Millennium.  Time for the Captain to face a new and deadly foe…

But not yet.  That’s still to come in Captain Atom Annual #1.  This issue is merely paving the way.

It begins in a lab.  A creature, referred to as “the Major,” is being monitored by General Eiling and Dr. Megala.  His temperature is 214 degrees Celsius and his weight is 505.46 pounds.  He is some distance away, being tracked from afar in a mobile lab.  Dr. Megala indicates that the Major is journeying through the quantum field, just as Nathaniel Adam did.  Nate’s arrival a year before was unexpected.  The Major, it seems, was expected.  The gear tracking him is all underground.  Eiling indicates that they are, indeed, prepared for “Major Force,” thanks to data they collected from Captain Atom’s trip through the quantum field.

Major Force materializes underground in the same molten stage Nate was in when he arrived.  Eiling wastes no time and hits the Major with Delta-9 gas, instantly incapacitating the Major.  Allard operates a winch to pull the Major to the surface.  He awakens just as they are lowering him into a truck, where he is hit with more gas and knocked out again.  Eiling showers Allard with praise, saying he knew he was the right man for the job.  It seems odd at first, but makes sense later on.

Allard’s mind wanders to a time when he was a child.  He was hiding in a closet in his home.  He opens the door slightly, obviously frightened.  All he can hear are “her” screams.

This scene parallels a memory Nate is having at the same time.  A young boy hiding in a closet; hiding from his father.  This young boy, though, is Randy Adam.  He is not hiding in fear.  He is playing hide-and-seek with his father, whom he calls “the greatest.”  This is the memory Nate’s mind is wandering over as he is being transported via helicopter to the Arctic headquarters of “Project Majestic.”

Nate (still using the name “Cameron Scott”) is paying a visit to his son Randy (aka Randall Eiling).  He hasn’t yet seen his son since he emerged from the quantum field with super powers.  He’s reconnected with his daughter Peggy but Randy considers his birth father a traitor and murderer.  As soon as he touches down and gets into the facility, he and his pilot see rushing soldiers and red flashing lights.  There is some kind of trouble in the field, where Randy currently is.

Back at Project Captain Atom, Lieutenant Allard, General Eiling, and Dr. Megala are overseeing the Major’s preparations.  While he is still in his “molten” stage, they are having microphones and cameras implanted within the Major’s (soon-to-be) metal skin.  He also has 63 Delta-9 micro-gas pellets implanted in his brow so he can be easily subdued.  Eiling isn’t taking any chances with this character.  He doesn’t want another Nate, disobeying orders left and right while being insubordinate.  He is also being implanted with an explosive in his neck, so that if becomes too unstable or dangerous they can literally blow his head off. Megala clearly doesn’t like it.  Allard clearly agrees with Eiling that the Major needs to remain under their constant control but still looks angry as he observes the operation.

Back at Project Majestic, the control room is abuzz.  They are tracking an unknown object and see that the Russians are tracking the same object.  Three Soviet tanks are headed for the object and it appears they will reach it before the Majestic team will.  Visibility in the blizzard outside is near zero.  When Nate’s pilot turns to address him, he discovers that Captain Scott has left the room.

Nate is out in the snow.  He “knows” someone who can help Randall Eilings team… the “silver guy.”  Randy, aboard a snow crawler called a “Locus,” determines that the object is broadcasting an energy signal into the sky at regular intervals.  It is clearly sending a signal to someone or something.  They find the object, which appears to be a small red probe of some kind.  It appears to be extra-terrestrial.

Captain Atom appears overhead, but doesn’t take any action at first.  He observes the American soldiers exiting their Locus and approaching the probe.  They are unaware that they are also being watched by a Soviet tank crew.  Eiling’s team does eventually spot the tank, but Eiling continues toward the probe.  Captain Atom admires his son’s “stones.”  Cap knows that the Soviets in general would want to avoid a confrontation, but the tank crew might not be so level-headed.  Also wary of starting an international incident, Cap burrows under the ice so he won’t be seen.  Cap melts the ice under the now two tanks on the scene and they sink.  One of the tank commanders calls for air support.

The probe has stopped broadcasting.  Eiling’s team have collected it and are hurrying toward the Locus when the Soviet plane arrives.  Their orders are simple.  If “Mother Russia” can’t have the probe, then no one can.  They open fire on the Majestic men, but Captain Atom absorbs the blast, hidden by cloud cover and the blizzard.  Randy thinks he sees something in the sky as he closes the hatch on the Locus.  The plane makes another pass, ready to fire its four remaining missiles.  Nate is seriously ticked off.  He does the “eye flare” thing as he retaliates.

Captain Atom blasts the plane, destroying it.  The pilot appears to be killed.  Super-heroes aren’t supposed to kill people, even Soviet soldiers.  What’s that about?  Superman wouldn’t have killed the pilot.

Back at Project Majestic’s base, Randy is clearly not impressed by Nate’s presence.  He refers to his father as “Captain Scott,” and shows him the respect he would to any officer that outranks him (Randy is a lieutenant).  Nate asks his son to not stand on ceremony with him as he is Randy’s father.  “Depends on your point of view, sir,” replies Randy.

Before walking out on Nate, Randy agrees to pass judgement on his father until Nate has a chance to “prove [his] side of things.”  But he also clearly has no interest in maintaining any sort of relationship with his father.  Randy is truly “General Eiling’s Man.”

The story then cuts back to Allard’s childhood memory.  He emerges from the darkened closet, terrified.  His mother has stopped screaming, but the “big man” is making sounds.  He watches in horror as the “big man” chokes his mother to death.  He doesn’t understand what he is seeing, but it will never go away.

The nightmare never ended for Allard.  The man who killed his mother was Clifford Zmeck, a former supply sergeant for the 601st Airborne, U.S. Air Force.  He was convicted of the rape and murder of Elaine Allard in 1969, sentenced to life in prison with no hope of parole.  After the apparent death of Nathaniel Adam, a new test subject was needed.  Zmeck was not a volunteer like Nate.  Almost a year to the day, the experiment that gave Nate his powers was recreated with Zmeck. 200% more alien alloy was used on Zmeck but the result was the same.  He appeared to be killed.

Of course, he was transported to the future just like Nate.  And in the lab, as Zmeck’s body lays prone in the next room, General Eiling confronts Lieutenant Allard.  He tells Allard he has read Allard’s file.  He knows Martin’s motivation for being involved in the Captain Atom/Major Force Projects.  He says he understands why Allard’s finger is hovering over the button that will detonate the charge in the Major’s neck, and wouldn’t blame Allard if he did it.

General Eiling refers to Martin Allard as “the true son of my heart.”  He has a proposition for Allard.  Whether Martin accepts or not, Eiling promises him that when the time comes, Allard will be the one who ends Major Force’s life.

To be continued in Captain Atom Annual #1.

This was an important issue.  Nate finally comes face-to-face with his estranged son.  Major Force emerges from the quantum field.  We get Allard’s back story.  It is great except for one thing.  The violent imagery doesn’t seem entirely necessary.  Did we really have to see Zmeck kill Allard’s mom?  I don’t argue that the image was powerful, and it did leave an impression on my fifteen-year-old mind when I saw it.  I just think maybe Broderick could have cut the panel short at Zmeck’s wrists.  And what’s with Cap killing that Russian pilot?  I know he was trying to kill Randy, but there were dozens of ways Nate could have subdued the pilot without killing him.  This issue was just so violent.  I give the story a C but Broderick’s art an A.  I mean, violent or not, unnecessary or not, that was a mighty powerful image.