“Two Against Sunuria”
- Writer: Roger Stern (also credited as “Guiding Light” is Dave Kaler)
- Pencils: Steve Ditko
- Inks: John Byrne
- Letters: John Byrne
- Cover Artist: Joe Staton
“Two Against Sunuria”
Balor the Barbarian, Barb Weaver, Blue Beetle, Bronze Age Captain Atom, Charlton Bullseye, CPL Gang, Damara of Arcadia, David Kaler, Gunner, John Byrne, Jon G. Michels, Nicola Cuti, Nightshade, ROC-2000, Roger Stern, Steve Ditko, Sunurians, The Ghost
“Showdown in Sunuria”
At the close of the 1960s, Charlton’s superhero titles (including Captain Atom) had been cancelled, and licensed properties had become the company’s bread and butter; publishing comics featuring popular cartoon characters such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat, luring several such titles away from Gold Key Comics. Charlton also published Bullwinkle and Rocky, based on Jay Ward Productions’ Rocky and His Friends/The Bullwinkle Show.
Charton Bullseye was a fanzine published from 1975-76 by the CPL Gang highlighting Charlton Comics. It was a large format publication, with color covers on card stock and black & white interiors (although the first issue was black and white throughout). Charlton Bullseye published several previously unpublished Charlton superhero and adventure stories, along with articles on Charlton comics, news, reviews, pinups, and more.
The CPL Gang was a group of comics fans who published the fanzine Contemporary Pictorial Literature (CPL) in the mid-1970s. Founded by Roger Stern and Bob Layton, the CPL Gang included Roger Slifer, Duffy Vohland, and the young John Byrne, all of whom themselves became comics professionals by the tail-end of the 1970s.
CPL rapidly became a popular fan publication, and led to the CPL Gang forming an alliance with Charlton. They first got permission to publish a one-shot called Charlton Portfolio (actually CPL#9/10) in 1974 which included the unpublished sixth issue of Blue Beetle.
During the mid-1970s, both Marvel and DC were publishing in-house fan-zines publications, and Charlton wished to make a return to the superhero market, as well as establish a fan presence. The positive response to Charlton Portfolio led to the CPL Gang getting approval to publish a Charlton-focused fanzine, Charlton Bullseye. This in turn led to Charlton giving Layton and Stern access to unpublished material from their vaults by Steve Ditko and many others. Much of this material made it into the five issues of Charlton Bullseye, including the continuation of the story dropped after Captain Atom #89.
When this comic was published, the United States was embroiled in the Watergate scandal. The Rocky Horror Show opened on Broadway in March. April brought us the Fall of Saigon and an end to the Vietnam War. And the first Monster Truck, Bigfoot, was created by Bob Chandler (truly a great American milestone).
This is and the story in Charlton Bullseye #2 are the two last published Captain Atom stories drawn by Steve Ditko, the Captain’s creator, and the character had been absent from the spinner racks for eight years. Before the story, we are treated with a quick refresher on the main players.
This is the first time the Ghost’s captors are referred to as “Sunurians” in print. Also notable, Captain Adam’s name has changed from Allen Adam to N. Christopher Adam. It isn’t indicated what the “N” stands for, although the Modern Age Captain Adam’s first name is established as “Nathaniel.”
In the mysterious land of the Sunurians (Sunuria?), the Ghost is pleading his case with the ruling council. He wants to teleport Captain Atom to them because he has spent the past eight years idle and wants revenge. This seems to contradict the ending of Captain Atom #89 in which the Sunurians were about to send the Ghost out to bring Cap to them. Why did they decide to wait so long?
The High Priestess addresses the council and the Ghost. She says if he fails in his attempt to defeat Captain Atom, it could mean his own doom.
Meanwhile, in New York, Captain Atom and Nightshade are fighting a giant robot. As Nightshade goes after it in her gliding Nightshademobile, Cap enters the robot by becoming intangible and confronts the baddies inside who are operating it. They draw weapons but lose sight of Cap when he bends light rays to become invisible (New power? Invisibility isn’t new, but he’s never mentioned “bending light rays” before.).
Captain Atom throws the surrounding thugs around as Nightshade boards the robot. She uses a “black light beam” to blind a goon. As another thug reaches for the self-destruct button, Cap throws an atomic fireball at him. No longer under the control of the men onboard, the robot pitches forward. Nightshade hits her head and blacks out. As Cap is radioing Gunner for emergency medical help, he and Nightshade vanish.
They reappear in Sunuria, surrounded by the Ghost and a few Sunurians. Captain Atom runs away, leaving the unconscious Nightshade behind (bad form, Captain). The Sunurians tell the Ghost that he must tend to the injured Nightshade before pursuing Captain Atom; it is their “warrior’s code.” The Ghost agrees, knowing Cap can’t escape Sunuria. They discover she has a hairline fracture of her skull, which they can heal. However, if she suffered brain damage they cannot help her. The Ghost thinks if that is the case, it would be kinder to let her die. He still does not realize that she is his friend Eve Eden or that Atom is his friend Allen (er… N. Christopher I mean) Adam.
Meanwhile, N. Christopher Adam is flying around Sunuria, commenting that it looks like something dreamed up by H. Rider Haggard. He sees evidence everywhere that the Sunurians worship the Ghost. He is attacked by some Sunurians (women again; we’ve never seen a male Sunurian) but manages to evade them before having a thought that completely baffles me.
“Whoever runs this set-up must’ve been frightened by a Xerox machine.” A Xerox machine was, in 1975 (and today) primarily a photocopier. If the Sunurians are frightened by photocopiers, that would seem to indicate they are afraid of copies. Which makes no sense because they are all blonde pony-tailed women (as if clones or copies of one woman). If that is the case, wouldn’t they then love Xerox machines? Or does he mean “fear them” in the way Christians are taught to “fear God?”
As Captain Atom flies off to find a place to hide (to conserve energy for the inevitable confrontation with the Ghost), the Ghost is having troubles of his own. The high priestess shows up wanting to know why he isn’t fighting Captain Atom and is letting “her finest troops” take on the superhero. Rather than point out that he is obeying the Sunurians’ own crazy “warrior’s code,” the Ghost takes offense to her referring to the soldiers as “her” troops. He points out that he rules, and that they are his troops to do with as he pleases. She agrees, begrudgingly.
Meanwhile, the Sunurians have found Cap’s hiding place. He gets fed up with outrunning them and sets out to find the Ghost and Nightshade in earnest. I can’t help but wonder why he left Nightshade behind in the first place.
Speaking of Nightshade, the Sunurians restore her with “healing rays.” The Ghost drags her behind him, calling out to Captain Atom. He threatens to kill her if Cap doesn’t surrender. Rather than run the risk that the Ghost might be bluffing, Captain Atom comes up through the floor beneath him and socks him in the jaw.
It ends there. I’m guessing they took a full-length story and chopped it in half to make room for “The Guardian Spiders” featuring Damara of Arcadia and Balor the Barbarian, “ROC-2000: A Family Album,” a Blue Beetle pin-up and an article about the hero, an interview with Nicola Cuti, and a couple other pin-ups and articles.
The artwork of this story, despite the lack of color, is absolutely beautiful. John Byrne’s inks really compliment Steve Ditko’s pencils. According to editors at Charlton, Ditko didn’t like to ink his own work. I wonder what he thought of Byrne’s work. As Ditko grants few interviews, we may never know. I’d love to hear his thoughts on what became of Captain Atom after the character left his hands. Perhaps I have some earnest Googling to do tonight. Anyway, the story itself is passable. It feels incomplete and a bit lopsided on its own. I give it a C. Add that to the A+ artwork and Charlton Bullseye #1 gets a B from me.
This “universe” was absorbed into DC Comics’ Multiverse when the Charlton characters were purchased by DC. This universe became Earth-4.
This issue is a sad milestone for Captain Atom. The first time the Captain was shelved, it was for three and a half years (from Space Adventures #42 to Strange Suspense Stories #75). By the end of 1968, all of Charlton’s super-hero comics were cancelled, including Captain Atom. This was the last issue published, and it had a cliffhanger ending. The world did not get a resolution to the story for eight years, and Captain Atom didn’t get his own title again until 1987, twenty years after Captain Atom #89 was published.
The story opens at “a place hidden from the eyes of man,” what appears to be some sort of underwater complex. The Ghost, installed as the ruler of this place, complains that he misses his old home and doing evil things. His teleportation circuitry on his arm has been hidden, covered by skin. He says if he could return home, he could resume his double life and even bring about the demise of Captain Atom. The woman he is talking to reminds him that his teleportation device has been disabled so he is forced to stay in this place and rule these people. The Ghost wonders who the original “Faceless One” was.
His female companion uses a rod-like device to pull up an image of Captain Atom on a viewscreen. She and the Ghost see he is standing by a missile that the woman seems to recognize. The blonde woman and the Ghost then meet with more women in a “council chamber.” These women are the gold-wearing pigtail-having women who took the Ghost away in Captain Atom #86. They agree that the Ghost must be allowed to return home in order to bring the missile back with him.
Back in Washington, just as Alec Rois (the Ghost) returns home, his butler hands him a package and a letter. The letter is from the U.S. government, asking Rois to help them unlock the secrets of the missile. The package contains a crystal ball, in which Alec sees the masked face of a man who calls himself “13.” 13 clearly knows Alec is the Ghost, and warns him not to interfere with his own plans to take the missile.
At a Texas NASA base, Captain Atom and Gunner are examining the missile when a warning message appears on the wall. It reads, “I claim the missile for myself! I will take it peacefully or fight for it! Nothing can stop 13!”
Captain Atom warns Gunner to double the security and then heads out to find more info on 13. He doesn’t go far when he meets the costumed man up in the clouds, joined by a flying black cat. The cat, which 13 calls Faustus, warns his master to be wary of Cap. 13 conjures up some red scarves which begin to bind Captain Atom. Cap turns up his heat and burns the scarves away.
13 throws silver coins at Cap, which stick to Atom’s body. He then increases the weight of the coins to more than a ton each and Captain Atom plummets into the sea. As he sinks, he begins to think his powers are useless against magic. Cap manages to shake off the coins and then returns to base. Gunner reports that no one showed up to take the missile but a letter came from Alec Rois. Rois and his staff will be there that afternoon. Watching through a crystal ball, 13 and Faustus look forward to giving Cap more hell but are wary of the Ghost arriving.
Within the hour, Rois arrives on base. He and Captain Adam shake hands (they are old friends, each unaware that the other is their mortal enemy). Adam warns Rois of 13’s attack and that the magician will probably make another attempt.
This is what bugs me about Alec Rois. He knows Captain Adam and has been face-to-face with Captain Atom. Aside from the similarity in the names being a dead giveaway, Captain Atom no longer wears a mask. So, aside from different hair color, Atom is physically identical to Adam. Like all it takes to hide your identity is to change your hair color or put on a pair of glasses.
After working for a bit, Alec says he is leaving his men to work while he rests. This pleases Adam because it means he can switch back to Captain Atom to check things out. Gunner promises to call Rois if anything turns up.
Alec returns to the lab as the Ghost and sets up a teleportation device to steal the missile. But Captain Atom arrives and flings an atomic fireball at the Ghost. Just as the Ghost is readying to teleport Cap out of there, Faustus and 13 appear. 13 makes flowers appear in the Ghost’s hands while Faustus conjures ropes out of nowhere to bind Captain Atom.
13 conjures up small animals and flings them at the Ghost while Cap continues to struggle to free himself. He manages to break free and goes for 13, who vanishes before Cap can grab him. Realizing he won’t be able to get his hands on Ghost or 13, Cap returns to the missile to guard it.
The Ghost whips out weapons from the Hidden Land, stinging strings and a force field box. 13 instructs Faustus to keep an eye on the Ghost with the crystal ball.
Back at the missile, the men have nearly cracked into it when their tools go wild operating on their own and a booming voice fills the chamber. The voice of 13 warns the men that if they don’t stop trying to get in to the missile, they will have “bad luck.” Captain Atom arrives, and gets the men to safety. He remarks on how “spooky” the place is when 13 and Faustus pop up out of nowhere.
Just then the Ghost shows up wielding his stinging strings. Captain Atom comes at the Ghost from behind, smashing him into a mirror.
Gunner tries to take 13 from behind but Faustus conjures a giant umbrella and he becomes trapped inside. 13 uses the Ghost’s stinging strings and force field to subdue the Ghost, Captain Atom, and Gunner.
13 builds some sort of machinery under the missile while Cap, Ghost, and Gunner are suspended helplessly in the force field. It is a shrink ray, which 13 uses to shrink the missile to fit in the palm of his hand. Faustus carelessly knocks over the force field generator, freeing Cap and Ghost.
Faustus puts the Ghost in a “sound bubble” that prevents him from using his teleportation device. Just before Cap grabs 13, the magician twiddles his fingers and the missile vanishes. Cap demands to know where it was sent. 13, Faustus, Cap, and Ghost suddenly find themselves outside, hovering in the sky above the base.
The Ghost begins to suspect this isn’t magic at all. He thinks magic can’t create a sound bubble to hold him. What on Earth does he base this on?
Back on the ground, 13 binds Cap in chains (which he easily breaks). Cap flings an atomic fireball at 13, which the evildoer turns into a flower. 13 and Faustus fly away just as the Ghost breaks free of the sound bubble. The Ghost teleports away as 13 and Faustus vanish.
13 and Faustus reappear in “the distant future.” As 13 removes his mask and costume to reveal a bald white guy underneath, Faustus comments on how fun it was to use their future technology to make Cap think they were using magic. Joined by other future people (all bald men), 13 chides Faustus, saying that “playing for the future of Earth” was not fun.
Lamenting the fact that they made Captain Atom look like a fool, 13 peeks in on Cap with his “crystal ball.” He witnesses Cap taking a call from the president, in which the president reveals that 13 was a secret agent who was working for the government. The missile was sent to a secret base to be destroyed. It isn’t clear how much the president knows about the future bald dudes.
Back in the “hidden land,” the Ghost is fuming about his failure, blaming 13 and Faustus. The golden-wearing pigtail ladies (they are the Sunurians, although they haven’t yet been revealed as such in the comics) tell him to go back and get Captain Atom. They want Cap’s fate to be determined in Sunuria.
To be continued next issue! Except, of course, there was no next issue. Eventually the story was picked up in a fanzine called Charlton Bullseye. Roger Stern and John Byrne got their hands on Steve Ditko’s pencil work and finished the story, but that wouldn’t be until 1975. THe next time Captain Atom was seen was a brief cameo in another Charlton book, Ghost Manor, in 1974.
This issue looked good, certainly. Ditko and McLaughlin were a good team. Frank McLaughlin went on to work for both Marvel and DC Comics. He inked Captain Marvel and Captain America for Marvel, and had notable runs inking The Flash with Carmine Infantino, Wonder Woman with Gene Colan, and Green Arrow with Dan Jurgens. He was a regular inker for Dick Dillin’s Justice League of America. Still alive and kicking as of this writing, Frank’s last contribution to comics was inking again for Dick Dillin in DC Retroactive: JLA – The ’70s #1 in 2011. I give the artwork of Captain Atom #89 an A+.
The story, however… Why do the Sunurians want the missile? Why do the future baldies want the missile? Who was the original “Faceless One?” Why can cats from the future speak English? Where was the missile found? What was inside the missile? Why can’t sound bubbles be conjured magically? Too much of this just didn’t make any sense. This D story brings the overall rating of this issue to a B in my book.
This “universe” was absorbed into DC Comics’ Multiverse when the Charlton characters were purchased by DC. This universe became Earth-4.
“Ravage of Ronthor”
Thousands of light years away (what happened to the millions?) on Earth, Captain Atom is reporting to a military base. The besieged planet has sent an SOS and the American military is responding. He is to pilot an experimental space craft that uses space warps rather than traditional rocket fuel. Realizing that it has been thousands of years since the SOS was sent, the rocket was developed to actually “break the time continuum” so that Captain Atom can arrive just after the message was sent. The craft will only work with Captain Atom supplying his own power.
“The Menace of the Fiery Icer”
In my review of Captain Atom #86, I said I wanted a Cap solo adventure, not another team-up with Nightshade. Well, I got my wish. But Nightshade is still here, in a back-up story as Blue Beetle now has his own title (the series ran from June 1967 to November 1968 but was only five issues).
This issue begins with Allen Adam and his buddy Gunner stationed at a missile tracking station in the Caribbean. They are taking a dip in the ocean after work when Adam spots a swimmer in trouble (being approached by sharks to be exact). Adam leaps to the rescue, transforming into Captain Atom.
Captain Atom punches and kicks the sharks as Gunner swims the man to safety. Yeah, that’s right. Captain Atom punched a shark. Who’s the badass now, Aquaman?
Meanwhile, a masked dude in red leading a group of green-clad masked dudes storms the missile base. Turning a dial on his belt, the red guy blasts the MPs with heat, forcing them to drop their rifles before knocking them out with a blast of cold. Then he starts blowing crap up by augmenting the temperatures he is blasting.
Captain Atom, still beating up sharks (quite unnecessarily at this point) hears the explosions. He leaves the shark victim with Gunner and heads for the base, moaning about what a lousy vacation this has been.
Cap starts punching the guys in green. An MP calls out a warning about the man in red. “His powers of heat and cold are deadly!” is met with the retort, “Meet the Fiery Icer, boys!”
Okay, it was the 60s. Comics were aimed at kids. The name says his powers. I must pack away my snide comments for now. The Fiery Icer it is. NOT a dumb name at all. A name of POWER. A name to be FEARED. A name to be rubbed on sore muscles…
Captain Atom turns up his own heat to combat the ice from the Fiery Icer. The men in green dive onto Cap, who dispatches them easily. The Fiery Icer creates a steam effect allowing him and his men to escape undetected.
Searching for the villain and his goons, Cap sees a freighter off-shore. He rightly assumes it must be where the Fiery Icer has hidden. Spotting his approach on the radar, the Fiery Icer switches on his “magneto-beam” to draw Atom in closer. Then blasting him with an “instafreeze beam,” and wrapping him in “freezing cell-belts,” the crooks manage to completely subdue Captain Atom.
For someone as powerful as he is supposed to be, Captain Atom sure does get subdued a lot.
The crooks drop their frozen bundle overboard to die at sea like “Professor Javits,” the man Cap and Gunner rescued from the sharks. Sinking fast, Cap manages to melt the ice he was encased in but the belts are quickly freezing the water around him. Resurfacing, he turns back into Captain Adam to conserve his strength.
Adam spots the freighter but is quickly captured by the Fiery Icer’s goons. He is taken to their headquarters on the shore and is thrown into a room with none other than Abby Ladd, the reporter who hates Captain Atom. The Icer reveals that Ladd was searching for Javits when he captured her.
Adam feigns an escape attempt, taking a heat blast from Fiery and falling into the water nearby. As Abby cries over the “dead” Allen Adam, Adam changes back into Captain Atom underwater. Forgetting he has the power to become intangible, Atom searches for a way to get back in undetected.
Finding a generator, Atom tries something new and draws power off of it in an attempt to recharge himself. It works (new power!) and power surges back through him.
He makes for a radio room, taking out the green-clad thugs as he goes. Cap radios Gunner for backup, and begins searching the base for the Fiery Icer. The Icer is about to freeze Abby Ladd to death when he gets news that Captain Atom is alive and busting up the place.
Catching up to Cap, the Icer encases him in ice again, but Atom breaks out easily. The villain manages to knock Cap over and begins pouring ice and fire onto him. But Captain Atom keeps bouncing back from the attacks.
As Gunner and a group of MPs storm the building, Captain Atom and the Fiery Icer continue to battle, destroying the building around them. Just as the Icer is getting the upperhand, Captain Atom comes up swinging again and beats his enemy into unconsciousness.
Changing back into his uniform and into Allen Adam, Cap goes to free Abby Ladd. He tells her he is alive thanks to Captain Atom, who has done a lot for this country and isn’t the glory hound poser she thinks he is. Abby begins making dinner plans with Adam but Gunner rescues him by saying Eve and her Senator dad are waiting for him back at the base.
We never learned the Fiery Icer’s motivation. Why did he attack the base? What did Javits have to do with it? What was Abby’s story about? How did the Fiery Icer get his weapons? Who was he? I know I promised I’d start having more fun with these old comics, but this one was a sloppy mess.
However, despite his unfortunately stupid name, the Fiery Icer proved to be the most formidable adversary Captain Atom has faced yet. He really gave Cap a run for his money. And the Ditko/Mastroserio team has once again knocked it out of the park. The images I’ve selected for this entry back that claim up. The A+ art and the D story combine to give this issue a C. It really could have been so much better.
This “universe” was absorbed into DC Comics’ Multiverse when the Charlton characters were purchased by DC. This universe became Earth-4.
On the letters page, a reader named Sean Cook in Eldorado, Kansas turns out to be sort of prophetic. He suggests a team called THE CRIMEBUSTERS, featuring Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Nightshade, Thunderbolt, and the Question. In Watchmen #2 (written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, published in October 1986 – nearly twenty years after Captain Atom # 87), the superheroes of that era banded together to form THE CRIMEBUSTERS. The Watchmen Crimebusters were Dr. Manhattan (inspired by Captain Atom), Nite Owl (inspired by Blue Beetle), The Comedian (inspired by Peacemaker), Silk Spectre (inspired by Nightshade), Ozymandias (inspired by Thunderbolt), and Rorschach (inspired by The Question). Coincidence? Or did Moore and Gibbons see Sean Cook’s letter?
“The Fury of the Faceless Foe”
Time: Noon, Place: Times Square, Occasion: The Return of the Ghost!
The Ghost appears briefly in Times Square, laughing maniacally and teleporting people away left and right and teleporting cars on top of each other. When the police show up, he vanishes. On the same day at the same time in New Haven, Nightshade (in her floating Nightshademobile) spots the Ghost running into a library. She throws “ebony bombs” at him (these appear to be smoke bombs) but he dodges them easily. He teleports away before she can get a grip on him. Meanwhile, at the Pentagon (still noon on the same day), the Ghost appears in front of Captain Atom and Gunner. As Cap lunges, the Ghost dissolves Captain Atom and reforms him further away. He then teleports out before Cap can get the upper hand.
Back at the suburban home of the Ghost (aka Alec Rois), three men dressed as the Ghost teleport into his lab. He has sent out hired goons, manipulating them from a distance. He pays the flunkies and sends them away, saying he will have need of them in two days. The Ghost then reveals (talking to himself, a staple of comic book villains) that he stole “ghost devices” from Punch and Jewelee when he was kidnapped by them (in Captain Atom #85). Soon he will have amassed enough gold to destroy Captain Atom and Nightshade.
The next morning, back at the Pentagon, Captain Atom, Nightshade, and their boss seem unable to piece together that the three Ghosts were three different people. Cap admits it was fate that defeated the Ghost last time, and they can only hope to get lucky again. Abby Ladd bursts into the office to give Cap a tongue-lashing. When Nightshade giggles, the “lady news hound” turns her fury onto Eve. Ladd says if they don’t catch the Ghost soon, she’s going to have her father force Senator Eden to investigate their department (Senator Eden is Nightshade’s father). Abby leaves them and Cap’s boss says not to worry about her.
That evening, the Ghost teleports aboard a half-sunken tanker off the coast of Cape May, surprising his men their. He checks on his equipment, which includes a gold-making machine. He then checks on a special force field he’s created that he plans to lure Cap and Nightshade into, saying it will be “the end of them.”
Thousands of miles away, a strange group of women appear to be watching the Ghost’s progress (referring to him as “the faceless one”). They say he is their long-lost God.
As the days go by, the Ghost keeps appearing in random places, faces Captain Atom and Nightshade, then teleports out before committing any actual crime. Their chief calls them into his office (I find it funny they never gave the Chief a name – in the Modern Age stories he would be General Eiling). He tells them they’ve traced the Ghost’s unique radar signals to Cape May and sends them out to investigate.
Captain Atom and Nightshade split up. He checks in with the nearby military base. They are able to pinpoint the source of the signal the Ghost is using – the sunken tanker. Cap radios Nightshade to meet him there. He sneaks on board, but once again the Ghost is a step ahead.
Cap flings atomic fireballs at the Ghost to distract him before attempting to tackle his enemy. The Ghost blasts Cap with some yellow electricity that seems to subdue him. Nightshade jumps the Ghost from behind, but he slips away and she finds herself similarly subdued. The force field holding them down is draining their power.
In true 1960s villain fashion, the Ghost then reveals his secret plan to the two prone heroes. The force field draining their powers will also somehow drain gold out of the world’s oceans. He leaves to start his evil (and baffling) plan.
Nightshade turns into a shadow and is able to slip free of the force field. She turns the machine off, switching back to her regular form before Cap sees her as a shadow (why doesn’t she want him to know what her power is?). Weakened but not defeated, Nightshade and Captain Atom set upon the Ghost and his goons.
When Cap grabs the Ghost’s wrist to prevent him from using his teleporter, the Ghost flings a brick at Captain Atom’s head.
Let me say that again.
The Ghost threw a brick at Captain Atom.
Look, don’t take my word for it.
Nightshade tries to stop the Ghost from teleporting Cap to Nowhereland but finds herself facing the same prospect. As he raises his hands to banish the two heroes forever, something happens and the Ghost freezes. But it isn’t just him. Captain Atom and Nightshade are also frozen in place. Just then, three women enter the room’; the women from earlier who called the Ghost “the Faceless One.” One of them is armed with cables like the ones Punch used last issue.
The women return Captain Atom and Nightshade to the shore, and say they are taking the Ghost to “the Hidden Land.” He seems cool with it, as long as the “hidden land” has gold. Dude always has his eyes on the prize. He is loaded into what looks like a submarine that quickly departs.
As soon as the paralysis fades, Captain Atom goes after the ship but all trace of it has vanished. Once again, the Ghost has escaped. His henchmen are rounded up, and Cap and Nightshade are left wondering if they’ve seen the last of the Ghost.
This was a nice issue. It progressed an ongoing story and added a little more to an established villain. I do have a complaint. I don’t dislike Nightshade; I’d like to learn more about her powers and why she’s keeping them secret. But does a hero as powerful as Captain Atom even really need a partner? How about another solo story? It was nice to see Gunner hasn’t been forgotten, though. Too bad “the Chief” is so two-dimensional he doesn’t even get a name. It was an okay story, even if it is all setup for something more to come. It is a B story with A art. Let’s call it an A-.
The letter page has the usual applause for Steve Ditko, Captain Atom, and the Blue Beetle backup stories. Two knuckleheads from Virginia and West Virginia hate Cap’s new costume so much they banned all Charlton comics. They are most likely the reason why Charlton Comics eventually ended up going the way of the dodo.
There is also a Steve Ditko/Gary Friedrich Blue Beetle backup story. It promises at the end that Beetle will soon be starring in his own title.
One interesting thing to note about this issue: the letterer is credited as “A. Machine.” Rather than having each issue hand-lettered, Charlton went with a typesetter. Comic book lettering is and often-overlooked and forgotten form of art. Those guys put in just as much work with what they do. And they bring us great words like “splort”, “flunkel,” and “kapow!”
“Strings of Punch and Jewlee”
This issue marks Captain Atom’s seventh birthday and his twenty-seventh published adventure (including his story in Peter Cannon… Thunderbolt #53 and excluding the reprints in Strange Suspense Stories).
It begins on a golf course. Two men come upon a pretty blond woman teeing off. She knocks her ball into the rough, and the older of the two men (identified as “Professor Bolt”) goes in after the ball. Next to the ball he finds a ruby. As he picks it up to examine it, a wire shoots out of the trees and ties itself around his wrist. An electrical charge shoots down the wire and stuns Professor Bolt.
The wire is being manipulated by a flying man dressed as a jester. The woman calls him “Punch” and uses the ruby to hypnotise Professor Bolt into submission. As Punch takes the professor to his car, the woman sets off to hypnotize the other man.
Later that day, in Washington, news reaches Captain Allen Adam of the missing scientists. He is at Alec Rois’ house, enjoying the pool with Eve Eden (Nightshade). Neither of them is aware that their friend Alec is actually the Ghost (from Captain Atom #82). Adam is trying to get Eve to reveal more of herself to him when a massive gem appears out of nowhere and encloses Rois within it. It explodes and appears to vanish, knocking the heroes out cold.
Apropos of nothing, there’s a cool ad for Charlton comics on the next page.
Upon recovering, Captain Atom and Nightshade report to the Pentagon. Their chief believes they were hypnotized. Although he wants to send them both looking for Rois, Captain Atom has to report in for some tests. Nightshade is sent to the Long Island golf course where Bolt was taken.
Meanwhile, in their secret lair (on Coney Island), Punch and Jewlee reveal how they came about their powers in a sloppy bit of exposition.
They were “cheap carny crooks” who came across a mysterious chest on the beach. In the chest they found pixie boots that gave the wearer the ability to fly (which Punch wears) and special “hypno-gems,” complete with a mind-recording device that explained how they are used. They use their newfound powers to purchase an old carnival and build a cool lab within it. They have been kidnapping scientists and recording their “brains” for unknown reasons. They set out for upstate New York in search of another scientist, Lewis Coll.
Coincidentally, Professor Coll has been running a barrage of tests on Captain Atom all day. Feeling weak from the workout, Cap drinks a tranquilizing draught that will make it easier for Coll to measure the radiation he emits. Unfortunately, it is while Atom is in his weakened state that Punch and Jewlee burst into the lab. Punch gets Cap with the electric cables while his partner puts Coll under her spell.
I would like to point out that in this panel the spelling of Jewlee’s name is different. I know it is a nitpicky little detail, but it stood out. When the characters appear in later comics the spelling is “Jewelee.”
Cap tries to use his communicator belt but Punch stops him. Punch and Jewlee steal Coll’s helicopter and fly away with Coll and Captain Atom under their influence. Cap was able to send a repeating signal from his belt which directs Nightshade to Coney Island.
When Captain Atom regains some strength and takes a swing at Punch, Punch hits him with a burst of electricity. Cap is thrown in with Rois, who is now only feigning the symptoms of being under Jewlee’s spell. Alec isn’t happy to see the meddling Captain Atom. It is because of Cap that the Ghost’s teleportation circuitry on Alec’s arm can no longer be removed. Captain Atom begins to come around.
Skulking around the old carnival on Coney Island, Nightshade sees Punch and follows him. Her super power is finally revealed – she can become a shadow.
Punch and Jewlee have Captain Atom hooked up to the brain recording device. They reveal that their plan is to sell all the scientific secrets they have stolen to the highest bidder. Nightshade steps out of her shadow and attacks Jewlee. Cap bursts out of the machine and goes after Punch. Rois takes advantage of the distraction to teleport some of the duo’s equipment to his own lab.
Captain Atom gets the upperhand and yanks away Punch’s electric lines. Cap follows Punch into one of the carnival rides (the Tunnel of Love), punches him again, and takes the villain back to his lair. Nightshade, who has beaten Jewlee, is busying herself restoring the memories of the kidnapped scientists. But Jewlee regains consciousness and makes a break for it. Alec Rois realizes he can stop her but does not. Jewlee escapes.
In the last panel, Punch is plotting revenge on Captain Atom and Nightshade from his prison cell, as are Jewlee (on the lam), the Ghost (Alec Rois), and Abby Ladd, the reporter who wants to expose Captain Atom as a fraud.
The letters page of this issue mostly applauds Steve Ditko, his work on Captain Atom, and especially the backup Blue Beetle stories. However, John Angell of Winston-Salem, NC (hey I used to live there!) thinks the new Captain Atom is a stinker, unoriginal and stupid. He challenges Charlton to rise above the sort of storytelling DC Comics resorts to (funny, considering where Captain Atom ended up after Charlton).
This issue also includes another Blue Beetle backup by Gary Friedrich and Steve Ditko. At this point I think the character deserves his own title, but that’s still a few years down the road for him (there was a brief Blue Beetle series from Charlton but it only ran five issues).
The storytelling of “Strings of Punch and Jewlee” leave much to be desired. The clumsy exposition only served to make the two major villains more two-dimensional. I like that Alec is Allen and Eve’s friend while neither the heroes nor the villain are aware of their enemy’s secret identity. But one thing I hate is sloppy continuity (Alec Rois was Alec Nois when we first met him). The artwork is superb, Ditko and Mastroserio are a good team. It is this issue’s saving grace. I give Captain Atom #85 a C+.
“After the Fall, a New Beginning”
Picking up where Captain Atom#83 left off, Professor Koste takes Cap to his secret mountain lair. Restraining Captain Atom, Koste breaks into worldwide television signals and unmasks the hero on air. Koste demands a ten million dollar ransom for Cap, whom he does not recognize as Allen Adam because of Cap’s white hair.
The public is split on the issue, with some saying Cap isn’t worth the ten million dollars worth of gold that Koste has demanded. The government decides to pay, though, saying that “project rebirth” is worth the cost. The folks running Project Rebirth say the “formula” is ready and they are just waiting for “his return.” Jesus? No, most likely Captain Atom, whom Koste has locked in a cell he can’t escape without his powers.
Cap discovers that some of his power has returned. He is super-strong again, so he throws open the cell door. He fiddles with the lock so his captors will think he picked it and is still powerless, and takes off down a corridor. He doesn’t get far before he is set upon by Iron Arms, a bald dude with “power-pack generated arms.”
Cap plays weak and Iron Arms returns him to his captors. Iron Arms refers to Cap as “the famous Captain A.” This, coupled with the public’s reaction to Cap being unmasked, seems to clear up once and for all the question of Cap’s anonymity. Clearly he is a public super-hero.
Koste locks Cap in a cage suspended over a pit before leaving with Iron Arms. Cap escapes down the pit to the water below. He swims through the underground waterway and surfaces at a nearby lake. Returning to his base, an airman (Gunner? hard to tell) informs him the ransom has been paid.
Frustrated, Captain Atom flies off to intercept the payment, but Koste has already collected. He is planning to destroy the remotely-operated helicopter that delivered the money. Koste learns that Cap has escaped and figures he’s dead at the bottom of the pit. They see him approach the helicopter on a monitor and detonate the chopper when he gets close. Koste and Iron Arms realize that Cap has his powers and knows where they are and will come for the ransom gold. They plan to use it to buy equipment to make more power packs like the one Iron Arms sports.
Back at the base, Cap is accosted by Abby Ladd, a reporter with a Washington newspaper. Cap tells Gunner he has no time for reporters and Abby gives the Captain a tongue-lashing. Basically she calls him out for being a big heap of failure.
Atom and Gunner head into a lab where they’ve been working on a liquid metal formula. Cap hopes that by using it he can lead a normal life (“I can go to the beach and not be a menace to everyone there,” he thinks). Gunner says it will be sprayed on to Cap’s body, is invisible, and absolutely radiation-proof. Captain Allen Adam strips to his undies and gets sprayed. The metal (which they just said was invisible) comes in different colors, specified by Adam. They even spray his logo on his chest.
Heaps of time pass and there is no change in his radiation output. Adam figures it is just another failure, and with his dwindling powers and bad public image, he figures he’s done being Captain Atom. Abby shows up and reminds him of what a failure he is. Cap decides that, failure or not, he’s still obligated to bring Koste and Iron Arms to justice. When he grabs his old uniform and begins to make the change into Captain Atom, he finds that his new uniform emerges on his body. The power he expended to change is what finally charged up the new suit.
He discovers he emits no radiation, even when he switches back to his “regular” clothes. He kisses Abby for prompting him to make the change, which angers her even more. This lady really hates Captain Atom. Cap then heads back to Koste’s secret base.
The idiots are still there. Captain Atom starts socking bad guys left and right. He knocks Iron Arms down with one punch. Koste uses a special power-draining weapon in Cap, who destroys it but as a result suffers a great loss of power. Iron Arms takes advantage of this and begins pummeling Cap with his iron arms. The two fight to a near standstill before Cap, severely weakened, gets in one last good punch that puts Iron Arms down for good.
With all the baddies out cold (Koste was knocked out when Cap took out his power draining machine), Atom radios the base to send an extraction team. He disarms Iron Arms.
Adam finds that the public has more or less forgiven his failures after he brought in Koste and Iron Arms. Abby Ladd, seen at some swanky function, is still pissed off at the good Captain for all his failures and stealing a kiss from her. She says that Captain Adam, at the same function, is “a much better man” than Captain Atom.
This issue also features the “Captain’s Column” letter page (mostly folks gushing over the new Blue Beetle) and a Blue Beetle backup story by Dick Giordano, Steve Ditko, and Gary Friedrich but I won’t be reviewing it for this Captain Atom blog.
Captain Atom #84 is great. One of my favorites. Finally Cap is feeling more like a legitimate super-hero rather than a super-powered spy. The costume is colorful and nice, but I think I preferred the original yellow one with the cowl. This issue was well-written (if you overlook Abby’s truly puzzling hatred for Cap [she’s like Captain Atom’s own personal J. Jonah Jameson] and the ridiculously-named “Iron Arms”) and beautifully drawn to boot. It looks like Ditko and Mastroserio poured a lot of love into this one. I give it an A.
“Finally Falls the Mighty”
The security of the whole free world was at stake! Every agent of the United States was put on extra alert! That’s how Captain Atom came to be allied with Nightshade, one of the most attractive spy smashers that our country has ever had! Together this powerful pair find themselves confronting an almost impossible task of capturing a man who could disappear at will. But how do you catch a ghost?
And so begins a new chapter in Captain Atom’s life. He gains a new nemesis and a new friend in this issue. Both of which would follow him into his new life at DC Comics twenty-one years down the road.
Captain Atom is called to the Pentagon, where he is briefed on the Ghost, a criminal that has been “causing havoc for private industry.” They believe he will soon strike the government but don’t know where. As “ghosts have no use for industrial secrets or classified information,” Cap suspects it is “an outer space being or a very clever man.”
Cap is informed he’ll be working with a female agent named Nightshade (that darling of darkness). This will be her first mission. She arrives, her black ponytail bouncing. She wears a mini-skirt over black tights and a mask – clearly she is a super-hero – but her powers are not yet revealed. She and Cap are given tickets to a party being held that night by “Alec Nois.” The military believes a few of the Ghost’s agents will be there.
Meanwhile, “in another part of Washington,” the Ghost arrives in a darkened office and removes his mask. Through flashbacks we learn his name is Alec and that he suffered hardships when he was growing up (girls didn’t like him because he was poor and boys didn’t like him because he was studious). He built a teleportation device and used it to rob banks and the like. His goal is “Operation Golden Ghost,” which he will execute once he has stolen the floor plans for Fort Knox.
Meanwhile, Allen Adam is readying himself for the party, thinking to himself that Nightshade will be more of a burden than on asset. As Eve Eden (Nightshade) prepares herself for the party, she is thinking how great it will be to be teamed up with that hunky Captain Atom (1960s comic stories at their best here, folks).
Later, at the Alec Nois party, Adam is having trouble figuring out which of the guests could be the Ghost. He is impressed by Nois’ wealth, though, wondering how Nois made his first million. Then all heads turn to see Eve Eden arrive (she is a “jet-set” leader and a Senator’s daughter).
Alec flirts with Eve. Adam takes notice of how hot she is. Cap doesn’t know Eve is Nightshade, Eve doesn’t know Adam is Captain Atom, and nobody suspects Alec is the Ghost.
Adam sees a waiter pass a message to a dude. He follows the dude to another room, where he is on the phone arranging Ghost stuff. Eve also saw the exchange and makes an excuse to break away from Alec, who also wanted to break away from Eve to do more Ghost stuff.
Eve follows the dude outside. She changes into her Nightshade costume instantly (that must be her super power – super clothes changing). She flips the guy and demands to know what the message said. Just then, the Ghost materializes before her. When she takes a swing at him, he vanishes and reappears a few feet away. This is when Captain Atom joins the fight. With the wave of his hand, the Ghost teleports Nightshade and Cap to another dimension.
Before long, the two are teleported back where they came from, but the Ghost is long gone. Cap remembers overhearing the Ghost’s flunky mentioning “section 18.” Nightshade tells him section 18 is a secret file and map room at the Pentagon. Cap picks her up and they fly off.
The two heroes burst in on the Ghost in section 18 just as he has located the plans to Fort Knox. He teleports the blueprints away, makes a stupid Beatles reference, and vanishes before Cap can get him. He reappears before Nightshade and taunts her. This goes on for a little bit. The heroes can’t catch him. Before he teleports out for good, he says, “I’m going to do what Goldfinger failed to do! I’m going to steal the gold in Fort Knox!” Man, this guy loves his pop culture references.
The two heroes return to the Nois house and change into their civvies. Adam is shocked to learn Eve Eden is Nightshade. Eve thinks Allen Adam is a hottie. When Adam asks her why she does the super-hero thing, Eve dodges the question. They return to the party.
The next morning, they make their report to their C.O. The next morning? What if the Ghost’s plan was to go straight from the Pentagon to Fort Knox? Was it really necessary to return to that party and then report their findings the next day? It was okay, though, because the Ghost didn’t act that night.
Back home, Alec “Ghost” Nois studies the blueprints. He talks about getting a crew together for the job.
Adam and Eve (yes, I know) opt to drive to Fort Knox in their civvies, afraid their super-identities would draw too much attention (but Cap can turn invisible and really doesn’t even need Nightshade!). They pass a suspicious truck on the road and think it might be tied in to the Ghost’s heist.
The Ghost receives word that everything is nearly in place for the heist. He collects a “machine” that will help him with his heist, makes a Lincoln reference (sheesh), and teleports away.
Fort Knox is on high alert. For some reason, Cap and Nightshade dropped their plans to approach stealthily. They are in an Air Force helicopter in full costume when the Ghost arrives. Cap jumps out and flies down. Nightshade waits for the helicopter to land and then takes out four armed thugs in hand-to-hand combat. So she’s a scrapper.
Inside, Cap uses is invisibility power to freak the Ghost out. He snatches the Ghost’s machine out of his hands. Still invisible, Cap socks the Ghost in the face and the Ghost goes down. Figuring his teleportation power comes from his gloves, Cap sets out to remove them. But the Ghost was only feigning unconsciousness. He kicks Cap in the face.
As Cap is going down, he rips the glove he has clenched in his hand. The exposed circuitry goes haywire and the Ghost is enveloped in a mass of orange energy. Cap believes the Ghost is defeated for good, but Cap doesn’t realize he is in a comic book and nobody stays dead.
This issue also includes an article about Sumo wrestlers and a short two-page “educational” comic featuring Judomaster’s “favorite throws” by Frank McLaughlin. Also a special announcement from Charlton that soon they will start printing fan letters in the pages of Captain Atom.
This one is pretty good. I would have liked to have learned more about Nightshade. When I was introduced to the character years later, she had the power to travel long distances quickly via black portals she generated and could cross dimensions. Perhaps some of that will come into play here in the Charlton universe later on. A solid effort by Ditko and Mastroserio; these guys make a great team. I like the Ghost in spite of his weird references. David Kaler told spun a fairly good yarn. A well-done book but nothing too spectacular. I give Captain Atom #82 a B+.