“Escape From Solitude!”
- Writer: Paul Kupperberg
- Pencils: Denys Cowan
- Inks: Dave Hunt
- Colors: Gene D’Angelo
- Letters: Albert DeGuzman
This story is commonly regarded as non-canonical. It is the final full-story appearance of the Bronze Age Captain Atom, but was published after the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths that merged all the worlds. Technically, Captain Atom does not exist in this world (his own series didn’t debut until a year after this was published). With the return of the multiverse in the New 52, whether or not DC Comics Presents #90 is canon or not is a completely moot point. This Captain Atom, Firestorm, and Superman no longer exist. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a fun story.
The story opens at Johnson Space Center Mission Control in Houston, Texas. The space shuttle Atlantis has blasted off and Captain Adam is communicating (and flirting) with a female astronaut on board. Watching the control room from an observation room are some tourists, two of which are Ronnie Raymond and his younger friend Rick Matthews (Ronnie is Firestorm and Rick is the brother of the female astronaut on Atlantis). On a monitor, the two can see the shuttle drop its booster rockets, but the ship’s engines haven’t fired.
NASA cuts off the PA in the observation room. Rick freaks out, fearing for his sister Connie’s safety. Ronnie tells him to chill out while he goes to find some help. Meanwhile, Captain Adam has someone take over his post as he rushes out of the room (this sort of thing used to happen in the Charlton series all the time).
Ronnie becomes Firestorm, apologizing to his other half, Professor Martin Stein, for pulling him away from whatever he was doing. Stein says it was okay as this seems to be a geniune emergency. Firestorm flies off to help.
At the same time, Captain Adam has ducked into a storeroom and transforms into Captain Atom. He also goes after the failing shuttle. We are treated to a retelling of his origin story. It hasn’t changed.
Captain Atom flies towards the shuttle, but sees something else headed for it that is emitting high levels of radiation. This jibes with readings Connie gave him. (By the way, Atlantis has somewhere made it to at least the upper atmosphere of Earth.) He blasts at the object.
Of course, the object is Firestorm. Captain Atom recognizes him and apologizes. Firestorm has no idea who Captain Atom is, though. Cap explains he works in secret, primarily for the president. Both men try to use their powers to help the incapacitated shuttle, but they seem to have no effect.
On board Atlantis, the astronauts only have 90 minutes of oxygen left. Out of nowhere appears a strange man in tattered clothing. He says he saw the shuttle was in distress as he was “passing by.” Then he notices that Connie is different (a girl). Outside, Firestorm says he’s going to seek the advice of a pro (which offends Cap).
Planetside, Superman is flying home to rest (he’s been busy lately — Crisis?). He notices a giant “S” symbol in the sky composed of scraps of paper. Investigating, Superman discovers Firestorm floating in the middle. He transmutes the paper back into oxygen molecules and explains the situation to Superman. Together, they head up into space.
Captain Atom decides not to wait for Firestorm and he boards Atlantis just as the stranger leaves with Connie. He tells her is name is Rayburn and he is taking her home because he is lonely.
On Atlantis, the astronauts clue Cap in on what’s been going on. Superman also shows up (beating Firestorm cause he’s Superman). Superman tells Cap to go with Firestorm to find Connie while he returns Atlantis to the surface. There isn’t a moment where Superman asks Cap who he is, so we have to assume the two have met.
As Firestorm approaches (he is much slower than Superman), he sees what he thinks is Captain Atom in the distance. As he gets closer, he sees it is Rayburn and Connie. As he gets closer, Firestorm becomes weak and passes out. Professor Stein calls out to Ronnie (Ronnie is in the Firestorm driver’s seat and Stein is a voice in his head). Captain Atom flies by and catches Firestorm, but he also feels weakened.
After safely delivering Atlantis to Cape Canaveral, Superman comes across Captain Atom and Firestorm passed out in the grass. Upon examining them with his x-ray vision, Superman discovers that their radioactive powers are having an adverse effect on each other. He picks Captain Atom up and flies him a short distance away, reviving him. Supes tells Cap to keep a few hundred yards away from Firestorm.
A short distance away, Rayburn is telling Connie not to be afraid of him. He says he has been imprisoned and has grown lonely. Connie says she’s not the answer he’s looking for. Rayburn, who has a simplistic Asperger’s reasoning, doesn’t understand what Connie is saying. She tells him he can’t just take people, but he points out that he can because he has.
An explosion nearby distracts Rayburn. He flies off to help whomever may be in need. Connie promises to wait for him, but books it as soon as Rayburn is gone. The source of the explosion is unclear (a little more exposition might help here). It is some sort of machinery that then wraps around Rayburn as it is being manipulated by Firestorm.
Rayburn breaks free and decks Firestorm. I’d like to point out right here that Superman is watching this entire exchange and is doing nothing to help. Firestorm falls, transmutes a truck top into a trampoline, and bounces back up towards Rayburn. Rayburn tries to tell Firestorm he isn’t his enemy, but his actions contradict that. He says again that he was imprisoned and is lonely. He blasts Firestorm, knocking the hero back. Finally, Superman asks if his help is needed.
Captain Atom finds Connie, still in her space suit, standing on a street corner. When he approaches her, Rayburn shows up and blasts Cap. Atom is knocked to the ground. Rayburn’s powers somehow cause all the manhole covers in the area to shoot upward. Captain Atom blasts them and checks on Connie. Rayburn scoops her up and flies away.
Superman and Firestorm approach Rayburn. Superman suggests a diplomatic approach. Rayburn says he only wants to help people. Firestorm says giving Connie up would go a long way toward proving that. Examining Rayburn closely with his supervision, Superman sees something he recognizes. He then flies off, leaving Firestorm with Rayburn.
Captain Atom flies in, careful to keep his distance from Firestorm. He demands that Rayburn surrender Connie and begins blasting at him. Rayburn says he will never surrender his “end of solitude” to anybody. Superman returns and takes over. He tells Rayburn that he is actually Dr. Sam Raybourne, a scientist employed by S.T.A.R. Labs. He had been exposed to deadly radiation and had to be isolated to keep others safe. Rayburn remembers this and said the isolation was driving him crazy. When he discovered he had gained nuclear powers, he escaped his isolation.
Rayburn drops Connie and passes out. Superman catches her and Captain Atom catches Rayburn. Connie says she is feeling weak, that she has absorbed a lot of Rayburn’s radiation. Superman says Rayburn is going to go critical, which Rayburn promptly does. He explodes and in doing so absorbs all the nearby radiation (including Connie’s, I assume).
The heroes and Connie go their separate ways.
Like I said, a fun little story. Lots of action but it ends abruptly, just like the Captain Atom stories in Space Adventures did. It was really great to see this version of Cap in the DC Universe, interacting with Superman and Firestorm. And DC’s tendency to throw Firestorm and Captain Atom together really does make sense. This is the last time the Bronze Age Captain Atom is featured in a DC book (excluding cameo appearances in the background of other books), and I’m digging Cowan and Hunt’s take on the character. I give this book an A.