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“Bialya Bound”

Written by Cary Bates & Greg Weisman
Pencilled by Paris Cullins
Inks by Bob Smith
Colors by Shelley Eiber
Letters by Carrie Spiegle
Edited by Denny O’Neil & Dan Raspler

It seems kind of a shame that the main story in a Captain Atom annual wasn’t drawn by Pat Broderick. But at least he shows up in the backup story. It has a beautiful cover by Paris Cullins who also did the interiors. He is one of my favorite artists so I’m relatively pleased with this so far.

The issue opens with a bunch of tourists swamping a travel agency and going on about how great Bialya is now. “Once an arid third world country,” it seems to have become some sort of vague paradise under the leadership of Queen Bee. This all happened following a media blackout and the world at large can only speculate about what transformed the little country.

Two tourists arrive in Bialya, Cameron Scott and Sarge Steel. Sarge Steel was a detective/spy character published by Charlton Comics during the 1960s. As he was published during the time of Charlton’s Action Heroes line of superheroes, and had loose ties to some, he is sometimes included with that group. He was purchased by DC Comics along with the other action heroes. Also arriving is Dmitri Pushkin, also known as Rocket Red #4, member of Justice League International.

Dmitri is visiting the country as a semi-diplomat while Nate and Sarge Steel are being a bit more covert. Rocket Red isn’t hiding his identity at all but the other two are trying to blend in.

The first thing Nate takes notice of in the country is the abundance of video cameras. They are literally everywhere, with Queen Bee having eyes in all corners of her country. There are also posters everywhere stating “your Queen loves you,” and the people seem genuinely happy and not at all subjugated. Later, he interrogates a native who tells him how devoted to her country and her people Queen Bee really is. Why, she gave him a ride to town once when his car broke down and she fed his baby.

Nate thinks that so far this assignment is as exciting as watching paint dry. I’m right there with you, Adam.

Things start to come to a head that night. A team of high-tech mercenaries is attacking the palace at the same time Sarge Steel is breaking in and Rocket Red is paying a visit. Dmitri leaps into action against the mercs as Nate ducks into a phone booth to turn into Captain Atom (not realizing a camera is trained on him. Steel decks one of the mercs just before the Captain arrives on the scene. Just as he is about to mop these terrorists up, who should appear on the scene but good old Major Force?

I say that sarcastically, of course, as Major Force is my least favorite supporting character. We don’t actually see him take anyone out, as he is off-panel, but we do see his powers and we know he’s in this issue because it was announced on the opening splash page.

The people of Bialya are none-too-pleased to see Captain Atom, as the last time he was in the country (in Justice League International #17), he killed their resident super-hero “the Thunderer.” He flies off and Dmitri tries to exchange pleasantries with Steel (who ain’t having it). This is the 80s and nothing is more offensive to a red-blooded patriot like Sarge Steel than a dirty commie super-hero. Cheer up, Rocket Red. You don’t know it yet, but the Cold War is almost over.

Back at their top-secret lair, the six mercenary/terrorists are meeting with their boss, the former super-hero turned super-villain Jack O’ Lantern. He tells them Queen Bee is proud or them. So the whole thing was a set-up just to flush out what super-heroes may be in Bialya. After dismissing his men, he gleefully thinks to himself that Captain Atom is the “prime candidate” for the “next phase of the experiment.”

Queen Bee contacts Jack and is none-too-happy that he staged the fake raid. Had any Bialyan citizens been harmed, he would have been in for a world of hurt. She also informs him of her choice of subject for her experiment. She has chosen Cameron Scott, who she knows is Captain Atom. So she and Jack arrived at Nate as a test subject independent of each other.

Jack sends some sort of signal or energy wave or something to Nate’s room, and it hits just as Major Force creeps in through the window. But Captain Atom has been expecting his old frienemy and he throws the Major across the room. But it looks like Force hasn’t come to fight. Force makes himself comfortable on the bed and reveals he’s been in Bialya for weeks. It turns out the microwave surveillance system in the country blocks the Air Force’s monitoring equipment so he’s been off Eiling’s radar.

Major Force says he’s been having a semi-romantic relationship with Queen Bee, which makes Nate decide he’s had enough. He packs his bag, makes a rude hand gesture to the Major, and exits the hotel room. As his plane flies back to the states, he notices Rocket Red flying away from the country as well.

Nate isn’t home for long before an overwhelming urge to return to Bialya overcomes him. He cannot fight the urge and transforms into Captain Atom. As soon as he is over Bialyan airspace, their military fires on him (at Jack’s order). The Captain makes short work of the anti-aircraft guns and crashes into Queen Bee’s palace.

In the Queen’s bedroom, he is greeted by Jack on a video monitor, who seems to know an awful lot about Cap’s urge to return to the country. What I don’t get is if he wanted Captain Atom to return and drugged him so he would, why did he fire on him when he did? Anyway, he hits Nate with some knockout gas and it’s night-night Captain Atom.

This has always bugged me too. Captain Atom can survive in the vacuum of space for an undetermined length of time. How can simple knock out gas work for him? He clearly has super breath holding just like Superman. I guess I can chalk it up to him being out of his mind from whatever it was Jack did to him, but this plot device has never sit right with me.

When he awakens, Captain Atom is strapped into a high-tech dentists’ chair in Jack’s secret underground lair. Of course, Nate recognizes Jack as a member of the defunct Global Guardians, a one-time hero turned Queen Bee flunky. Jack reveals that because of his tampering with Nate’s brain, the hero had the un-fightable urge to return to Bialya (which is kind of obvious) and this mind control is also keeping him from ripping apart the chair he’s strapped to. Maybe that’s also why he couldn’t hold his breath. He also tells Nate that as long as he stays in Bialya, he’ll feel fine, but once he’s out of range of the mind-control technology, Nate will go through withdrawal pain so horrible he’ll be compelled to return.

Because of his unprovoked attack on the country, the citizens hate Captain Atom and want him out of the country. Jack reveals that the Queen will most likely banish him. This still doesn’t make sense. Nate would have been much more useful as a pawn who was loyal to the Queen. Jack ordering the military to attack him still doesn’t add up. Jack does reveal that he wants information from Atom, and if the Captain cooperates he may be able to stay. But it seems like once the mind control set in, Cap would have played ball anyway. It just doesn’t add up.

Back at the Queen’s bedchamber, Major Force is demanding to know where his “buddy” is being held. The palace security won’t tell him, so he starts matter-blasting folks. But Queen Bee calms him and tells him whatever he wants to know.

Back in the underground base, Nate is filling Jack’s head with lies. He’s passing off the Big Lie as his actual backstory, so maybe the mind-control technology isn’t really working so well after all. When the Queen shows up, he proudly reveals his progress, but Queen Bee knows the story Nate is spinning is a fabrication.

Captain Atom bursts out of the restraint chair and reveals that it was him focusing on his fake backstory that allowed him to beat the mind-control. How convenient. What if they had used it on Superman?

Jack goes for his magic lantern, but Nate blasts him out cold with quantum energy. He then burns Queen Bee’s copy of the Captain Atom Project files. The Queen then reveals her ace in the hole. When she quietly exclaims that Captain Atom is attempting to kidnap her, Major Force bursts through a wall and threatens to pound on him. And Major Force can take out Captain Atom. He is stronger and has comparable powers. We’ve seen Atom take a beating from Force before.

However, when Captain Atom says that he will fight Major Force until the country is nothing but rubble, Queen Bee jumps in and stops her lover. She can’t have the citizens of her beloved country caught in the crossfire of a quantum pissing match between the two. She allows Nate to walk free.

On his way out of the country, Captain Atom spots Sarge Steel and gives him a ride back to the U.S. And the story is over. Talk about an anti-climax. I’d forgive it if we’d gotten some pages of Cap and Force slugging it out, but space had to be left for the “Private Lives” story I guess. Also, what happens when Nate returns home? He’ll just have the urge to return again, right? Or can he get it out of his system like heroin?

This story wasn’t worthy of being an annual. I hate to say it about my beloved Captain Atom title, but it was really stupid. Cary and Greg phoned this one in. Paris Cullins and Bob Smith were the book’s saving grace. The art was a solid B but the story was an F. Overall, Captain Atom Annual #2 earned a D from me. The main story did, at least. I haven’t even touched the B-story yet.

“Reckoning Day” was by Cary Bates and Greg Weisman again. The art was by Pat Broderick and Michael Bair with colors by Shelley Eiber. Letterer was Carrie Spiegle and the story was editied by Dan Rasplar and Denny O’Neil.

The story opens with Nate’s friend “Gunner” Goslin getting ready for a date with Peggy Eiling. Peggy, of course, is General Wade Eiling’s stepdaughter and the biological daughter of Gunner’s best friend Nathaniel Adam. The two have kept their relationship a secret from Nate so far, as Gunner has known Peggy since she was in diapers and Gunner is afraid of how his old friend would react.

Just then, Captain Atom bursts though the wall of Gunner’s apartment with his angry eyes flaring. He has found out about Goz and Peggy, and he is not happy at all. Gunner tries to explain that neither he nor Peggy meant for this to happen, but Nate doesn’t care. He powers up to take Goz out with a quantum blast just as the phone starts ringing and wakes Goz up.

Ah yes, the old it-was-just-a-dream trope. We know it well. It is 11:30 am and Peggy is calling to find out where Goz is. The old codger has overslept. As he showers and dresses, Gunner cannot get dream-Nate’s words out of his head. The old coot is overcome with guilt.

He meets up with Peggy outside the nostalgia shop where Nate works. They go inside and introduce themselves to Starshine as “friends” of Cameron Scott. Since Peggy and Nate are roughly the same age, no one would buy them as a father and daughter, despite Nate’s white hair. Starshine reveals that Cameron never showed up for work, which is a thing he does often apparently.

Gunner is upset that they missed Nate because this was going to be the day they revealed their relationship to him. If I were Goz, I’d be relieved that I dodged that bullet for at least another 24 hours. But he’s worried because he has to sweat over it even longer. Peggy says her dad will take the news in stride. Goz has been in their “family” for years, and Nate can’t say anything about the age difference because Starshine is at least ten years his senior. Ah, poor stupid Peggy.

We are then dropped into what is obviously another dream. Nate, as Captain Atom, is flying his blindfolded best friend and daughter to an undisclosed location. This is obviously a dream because A) Peggy does not know that her father is Captain Atom, and B) Nate does not know that Goz knows he’s Captain Atom.

Dream Nate flies Dream Goz and Dream Peggy to the White House, where they meet the Reagans. Because it is 1988, Ronald Reagan is the president of the U.S. In both the real world and the DC universe. Ron and Nancy want to host Goz and Peggy’s wedding on the White House lawn. Goz responds to Reagan in the positive, but does so out loud.

He has fallen asleep in Peggy’s car as they are leaving Starshine’s shop. Man, Goz is old. The two kiss and drive away, ending the little story.

Yeah, I’m so glad we got those seven pages of nonsense instead of a more fleshed-out ending to the Bialya story. I don’t feel robbed at all. I remember the year of the “Private Lives” stories. Most of them seemed pretty boring but it was nice to see the other side of super-hero life. I appreciate the story, but at the point that the B-story so obviously takes something from the A-story, I get a little ticked off.

The art was beautiful. Really, no one has ever done Captain Atom justice like Pat Broderick. Definitely an A+. And the story, while short and unnecessary, was at least kind of compelling. A B+ that was well-earned. Overall, I give this little bonus an A, but still would have preferred it was just left in the pages of the regular series.