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“Yesterdays Once More”

Writers: Cary Bates & Greg Weisman
Pencils: Alan Weiss
Inks: Joe Rubinstein
Cover Artists: Jerry Ordway & Ty Templeton
Colors: Greg Theakston
Letters: Helen Vesik
Editor: Mark Waid
Executive Editor: Dick Giordano

Secret Origins was an ongoing comic book series published by DC Comics from 1986 to 1990. It spanned a total of fifty individual issues as well as three annuals and one special. Unlike Secret Origins (Volume 1), this series did not rely on reprinted material, but provided new and sometimes updated origin stories based on the framework provided by their original authors. The initial format of the series focused on the history of a single character, alternating issues between Golden Age characters and Modern Age characters. Beginning with issue #6, the title changed to a double-sized format and featured at least two character stories per issue, one Golden Age tale, and one modern tale. Occasionally, the series would alter its format to accommodate multi-title tie-in stories including the Legends crossover event and the Millennium crossover event. With the exception of issues #32-35, each issue of Secret Origins was a self-contained comic with no lead-ins to previous or later issues. Secret Origins #32-35 was a multi-issue event chronicling the entire career of the Justice League of America and its various members. This issue featured the Modern Age Captain Atom, Rocket Red #4, and Green Lantern Gnort.

The cover art of this issue was fine. I found it nothing special. Jerry Ordway and Ty Templeton did a good job and I have nothing to complain about. It isn’t spectacular but it is by no means bad. I like the red eyes and the yellow energy aura surrounding Cap. I thought they were a nice touch. As far as action shots go, it isn’t astounding. Just three super-heroes flying out of a building.

The big payoff is inside!

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The opening splash page of the Silver Age Captain Atom is beautiful. Alan Weiss really seems to have captured Steve Ditko’s essence. Cap even has the little stars following him! Unfortunately, there are places later in the story where the art was less than stellar.

I have one complaint about this page. Why is Pat Masulli given creator credit for Captain Atom? I’ve never seen him credited before. He was Executive Editor of Charlton Comics when Captain Atom first appeared in Space Adventures #33, so I suppose a case could be made. I’ve just never seen him credited as a creator. Oh, well. On with the story.

A group of people have gathered in a Las Vegas hotel conference room to discuss Captain Atom. They are calling themselves “Friends of the Captain,” and appear to be a support group for people who have interacted with Captain Atom in some way. They’re a fan club of super-hero groupies. They’re discussing their thoughts on Captain Atom’s “classic” costume when the youngest among them, Theresa Delgado, calls the “meeting” to order. Theresa, regular Captain Atom readers will know, is part of the Air Force’s “Captain Atom Project” PR team.

Theresa asks General Datko, an aging soldier, to share his story. His name being “Datko” was not lost on me, and I had to wonder if his first name was “Stove.” Datko holds up a screwdriver and says his Captain Atom story is probably the oldest one, as it is the origin story. He tells the story (sort of ripped from the pages of Space Adventures #33) of the young Air Force man trapped in an Atlas rocket after dropping a screwdriver inside minutes before the launch.

The fact that the airman got stuck in the rocket seconds before launch always seemed a bit hokey to me, but in this telling of the origin, it seems a bit more believable. The screwdriver bounces further into the rocket and he scrambles in deeper to recover it, becoming horribly stuck. He thought the ground crew knew he was still inside and wouldn’t launch. But, as in the original Gill/Ditko story, the ground crew realizes he’s still inside when it is too late and the rocket launches. Of course, the rocket detonates in the upper atmosphere and the airman is vaporized.

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“Even though my head is smaller than my hand, I still love Captain Atom!”

Later, while glumly sitting in the dark, Stove Datko is contacted by the airman, who was able to survive the blast and return to Earth. “Maybe it was something in the mix of the atomic radiation and the cosmic rays… or maybe it was some unknown ‘X-factor’ that will never be found for sure. I didn’t know or care about the explanation,” finishes Datko. “All I knew was my friend was alive and back on the base that very night.”

Miss Delgado then introduces Buddy Larson, a folksy country boy. He says he owes his life to Captain Atom, and begins to share his story.

As a boy, Buddy was very sick. Doctors didn’t know exactly what he had, but knew he’d be dead within a week. Buddy mentions that his father was a n Air Force mechanic, and that is presumably how Captain Atom found out about his sickness. Cap shows up in Buddy’s hospital room, takes the boy by the hand, and abducts him.

The two fly off into space. Luckily, Buddy has a child-sized astronaut suit to wear as he rides Captain Atom’s back into outer space. They land on an asteroid and begin to play tag. What the kid didn’t know, but Captain Atom did, was that the asteroid’s radiation had healing properties that completely cured the boy.

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This story was lifted from Space Adventures #40, and was titled “The Boy and the Stars.”

Theresa Delgado next gives the floor to Matilda and Harry Denison. Matilda tells a tale of she and her then-new husband Harry being lost at sea on the other side of the world in a life raft after their boat capsized. They drifted into a Naval atomic testing area and were in danger of being vaporized by a hydrogen bomb when Captain Atom appeared out of nowhere. They watched him come in as the bomb detonated. He scooped up their raft and flew them to the safety of a nearby resort island. He swore the Denisons to secrecy, promising that they would be able to tell their story one day.

The last speaker introduced is a Russian cosmonaut named Uri Voskoff. Twenty-five years earlier, the guidance system on his orbiting spacecraft failed and he began to spiral towards the planet’s surface. Out of his window, he sees Captain Atom grab hold of the craft and guide it safely to the spot where it was intended to splash down.

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Uri says that Captain Atom revealed himself to the Soviets only because he knew they’d never admit their cosmonaut was rescued by an American super-hero. This part of the story is a paraphrased version of “The Second Man in Space,” which appeared in Space Adventures #34.

Miss Delgado excuses herself and goes into an adjoining room, where General Eiling and Dr. Megala were watching the meeting through a two-way mirror. The two are not happy with the performance they just witnessed. Of course, the story of Captain Atom gaining his powers in a NASA mishap and being a super-hero in secret for years was a lie. All of the speakers at the Friends of Captain Atom meeting are paid actors. And the General and Megala found inconsistencies in their stories.

Eiling suggests changing Buddy’s story from being flown to the asteroid belt to being flown to the Arctic, where he was exposed to healing radiation. He suggests changing the Denison’s story and having Cap approach from a different direction, as they would have been blinded if they watched him come from the direction of the blast. Eiling also suggests they change Uri’s story so that Captain Atom releases the capsule’s parachute and can remain unseen by everyone except Uri. Lastly, he orders “Datko” to lose the screwdriver prop.

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“But, General! It distracts people from my disproportionately small head!”

Dr. Megala finds the whole charade distasteful, prompting General Eiling to very breifly sum up Captain Atom’s “real” origin story (from Captain Atom #1).

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Nathaniel Adam, an Air Force Captain, was a condemned traitor who volunteered to be the test subject in a government experiment. Megala and Eiling detonated an atom bomb under him to see if an alien metal would protect him. The metal not only protected Nate, but bonded with him and transported him 18 years into the future and endowed him with amazing powers.

Megala leaves in a huff. Miss Delgado hands the actors their new scripts and they run through their parts again.

Now, knowing what I know about Wade Eiling, after all these actors get their parts right and have them recorded for posterity, they are all going to be killed. With the possible exception of Theresa Delgado, these peoples’ days are numbered. Eiling does not like loose ends.

I give this story an A. Bates and Weismann were writing the regular Captain Atom series at the time, so this fits right in within the continuity. And I definitely liked all the nods to Steve Ditko’s original stories. And it was great to see Cap back in his yellow suit.  The art, however, was not the best. After a really promising start, things went a bit “Liefeld.” Alan Weiss did some work for DC Comics and Marvel in the 70s-80s, but not a long run on any one book. Joe Rubinstein, who inked this issue, said of Alan Weiss, he was “the most difficult guy in the business to ink, without exception.” He went on to say he really liked inking Weiss’ pencils. I guess you had to be there. It isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen and perhaps Weiss was under some pressure to meet a deadline. I give the art a D, making this adventure of Captain Atom a C.

Captain Atom next appears in Justice League International #20.

I discussed this issue of Secret Origins on Ryan Daly’s Secret Origins Podcast on 4/18/2016. Although I was a bit hard on Alan Weiss, Ryan did open my eyes to how good Weiss could be with inanimate objects. Check out this image below as an example:

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The tubes and wires and whatnot of the rocket really do look great and adds to the whole claustrophobic nature of the scene.

(All characters and images belong to DC Comics and I am not making any profit off this blog.)

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