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WHttDCnU? – Captain Atom: Evolution

WHTTDCU-Titles-032

Captain Atom has had many comic series, featured in many big stories and a number of teams and team-ups. And yet, for a good deal of readers, including me, Captain Atom is just sort of there. If you ask me who he is, I can say that he was a US soldier turned radioactive accident powered atomic superhero. Sounds familiar don’t it? Originally created for Charlton Comics in 1960 as a space rocket technician and later acquired by DC Comics, a new version of Captain Atom called Nathaniel was the inspiration for Dr Manhattan from the DC published Watchmen. Suffice to say, what with Watchmen film adaptation making it big globally the likes of the captain here gets unfairly called out as a rip off by many newcomers to comics. Both version of Cptn Atom and Doc Manhattan were obliterated in accidents and reformed on an atomic level with new powers gained from the chance survival as an energy being, but Captain Atom is a little more grounded to Earth than his timeless counterpart.

Knowing better that he’s an incredible force in his own right, The Plague Doctor and the Vigil have set out to challenge the nuclear hero and see how he measures up in the new universe. Join us again for:

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE DC NEW UNIVERSE?

– QueenQeeko

WHTTDCNU-synopsis

plague-doc-rWe begin this delightful comic with Captain Atom fighting a guy in a suit. We don’t know anything about this guy, of course, or for that matter, about the suit. They’re all unimportant details, because the only point of this random criminal is to show that Captain Atom is losing control over his powers. He wins the fight by dissolving the entire suit, breaking the bonds that hold the atoms together, leaving Mister Random powerless in the street.

Maybe this wouldn’t worry Atom so much if his own body hadn’t also started coming apart at the seams. But in any case, he’s nervous enough to pay a visit to a secret facility called The Continuum, to speak to Dr Megala – the only person who knows enough about quantum mechanics to help him.

Oh, and there’s also someone called Ranita hovering around and being a workaholic. She’s completely unimportant in every way.

Megala warns Captain Atom that his powers could end up dissolving him to death if he overdoes it. But suddenly a volcano appears in the middle of New York, sending a power plant into meltdown. Of course, Atom dives straight into the reactor to stop it, and dissolves into atomic soup. But no big deal. He just reconstitutes himself, and he’s good as new. Except now he can suddenly perceive EVERY WIRELESS SIGNAL EVER, and he needs to go back to the Continuum so that somebody can make the noise stop.

Megala sticks him in a superfluid bubble while he explains Atom’s backstory to Ranita, who apparently didn’t know any of it.

Who is she again?

Anyway, one Dr Alexander turns up soon, and starts going on about how Atom is too dangerous and can’t be trusted. While Alexander babbles, Atom magically learns to filter all the EM noise he’s receiving, well enough to isolate a single message – an online video from a boy dying of cancer. Somehow, Atom manages to find the kid, shrink down to microscopic size and cures him.

He spends the next week or so drifting from one situation to the next, intervening here and there, in tiny, undetected ways that always end up looking like coincidence, or sheer, dumb luck.

When he finally does show his presence, it’s in a war zone, where the Flash is trying to do what he can to help out. Talking to him reveals that even the Justice League thinks Atom is too dangerous and can’t be trusted. But that conversation is cut short when a nuke goes off, and Atom has to dive into the centre of it to absorb its energy and stop it killing everything in sight.

This spectacular stunt gets the attention of General Eiling. Now, this general is not especially bright, and he seems to think that if he talks to Captain Atom like a walking nuke, then Atom will happily come along and agree to be America’s nuclear deterrent, helping them to “police the world.” When Atom doesn’t agree to this, Eiling promptly turns around and tries to murder him, which goes about as well as you would expect, really.

Atom manages to escape the army and return to the Continuum, where Ranita tries to console him. But she just ends up burning her hands on his skin, causing everyone to think that he’s too dangerous and can’t be trusted. Even though she was the one who voluntarily, willingly put her bare skin on the face of the bright, glowy, potentially radioactive man with powers that she doesn’t understand.

Now, while all this has been going on, a mutated, blobbish organic mass has been feeding and assimilating other creatures into itself. The hideous blob started life as a simple rat, exposed to the same kinds of experiments that created Captain Atom. And through no fault or malice of its own, it’s gone from consuming dog-zied prey all the way to emptying an entire town. One the military notices its existence, they quarantine the place. But when Atom notices the existence of the mass, he takes matters into his own hands, quickly discovering that it also has the power to absorb energy, like him.

Miraculously, he manages to convince the General (the same one who tried to kill him) that nuking the monster would only make things worse. Instead, Atom dissolves it at the molecular level.

And then, because reaching Ranita was his goal all along, he returns to the Continuum and heals her hand, under the guidance of Doctor Megala.
As Dr Alexander turns up and embraces Ranita, Atom soars off, content with the fact that even though he can’t really have a life, and even though he’s forced to be alone, he can take comfort in this.

Somehow.

WHTTDCNU-art

vigil-lI don’t really have many good things to say about the art of Captain Atom. However, I will say something positive about the coloring. The coloring, when it focuses around Captain Atom and his powers, looks great. I love how multiple colors swirl together and pop out. Especially when his powers are used to detect radiation. It ups the art for me, which is a shame because the rest of the art is fairly lack luster, although it does action scenes well.

When it comes to the art and character designs, they are pretty sketchy and almost unrefined. It looks like chicken scratch to me and it honestly detracts from the overall quality of the comic. The character designs all look inconsistent from one another and a bit unappealing to look at. Whereas Captain Atom’s design is meant to represent his now inhuman status, with the smoke coming out of the top of his head being a nice touch, the normal humans all look, well, they look more inhuman than the guy made out of living energy in a containment suit. The best example I can think of it Dr. Megala, who, I know is supposed to be deformed, but the way he is designed makes me not want to look at him. So, I guess the art succeeds in that department.

I will say that I like how the art does action scenes. They look exciting and engaging. However, this brings me to another problem I have with the art: It gets pretty cluttered. And when it gets cluttered, it becomes hard for me to follow and all I am looking at is an asexual silver man flying around and stuff happening around him.

Overall, while the art can look great during action scenes and the coloring can be put to good use, the out of place character designs and the cluttered mess that it can become really put me off of the art.

 

plague-doc-rI don’t have anything against fuzzy, sketchy art-styles. In the right setting, with the right tone, they can be fantastic.

The art style in Captain Atom, on the other hand, is atrocious, and I could barely stand reading the comic the first time, much less going through and reading it again so that I could write my review.

The art style starts out as being sketchy, with a slightly fuzzy quality to it. Pencil lines are still visible beneath the inking, and some of the coloured textures look like they were literally coloured in with a dollar-store water colours set.

This is actually fine, and I have no complaints about that.

But then the style changes, and it never really manages to stay consistent between one panel and the next, or even one character and the next. Captain Atom, for instance, is drawn with barely any black outlines, to emphasise his magnificent shininess. His outlines are more or less clean, and his proportions are actually pretty decent.

Ranita is much more heavily outlined, at least in most places. Occasionally, we can see parts of her outline that are incomplete. Her style is a little bit less realistic and more cartoonish, with less detail filled in, and thinner proportions than seems standard.

Genreal Eiling has still more dark outlines, blending into heavy shadows drawn entirely in black. His face is mostly drawn with shadows, no matter where the light is actually coming from, and for some reason, the way the shadows are drawn almost makes his face appear covered in fur, almost like he’s suffering from Hypertrichosis.

Finally, we come to Dr Megala, who is downright terrifying. His outlines are so jittery that it’s difficult to believe that he was drawn by the same artist as the other characters. And even this changes, from one panel to another.

I will give the book credit for one thing; the action is pretty dynamic and flows really well. But that’s about the only good thing to say about a comic whose art makes me want to throw it against a wall.

WHTTDCNU-writing

vigil-lThis is probably the first time I can say that… stuff happens in this comic. Stuff happens and it all connects in a way that would constitute a plot. Captain Atom flies around. Does stuff. There is a mutated rat that is consuming everything in a town. A volcano shows up in a city. Cap’s assistant/handler, Ranita is in love with him. General Eiling is the “Big Bad Military Man” who is here to… rattle the saber. He meets the Flash for some reason. Then Captain Atom fights the Mutant Rat Blob. He is betrayed and…. then he goes into space and it flashes to 20 years later with the world blown up. That is all that happens. And I am very sure it was part of an overarching plot.

That’s the problem with this comic. Stuff happens and I cannot think there is actually an overarching plot. Most of the comic is Captain Atom monologuing on and on and on and people talking about how he is dangerous or he is a savior or something. Basically, talk, talk, talk, fight, talk, talk, talk. That’s all. As such, it is really hard for me to get into any of the characters or care about the story. At all. The writing is definitely the weakest point of this comic for me.

 

plague-doc-rTrue to form, this science-based superhero book turns out to have some pretty major science flaws, especially noticeable in the second volume. But since writing about them would take up this entire section, I’ll shove that into a special bonus section, so that I can discuss the rest of the writing in this book.

This story seems to have, as far as I can tell, no overarching antagonist at all. Now, this is not a problem. I actually like that; for the moment, Captain Atom’s powers are enough of an embuggerance that I can deal with him facing only minor villains, like the  mutated rat or General Eiling.

That being said, even though there is no concrete antagonist, the book does seem to have a slightly preachy “Humans Are Bastards” theme running through it, so I guess humanity as a whole can be considered an antagonist as a whole. Scientists end up creating one of the villains, which turns out to be nothing more than an innocent rat, grown vast enough to consume a town.  The Genreal views Atom as nothing more than a nuclear warhead, and pretty much says so right to his face. Everyone else either distrusts Captain Atom, fears him or wants to use him for their own ends.

The only exceptions to this seem to be Ranita and Megala, and the latter only because it was his experiments which put Atom into his current predicament.

Now, there’s nothing obviously wrong about any of these themes. But the execution was just badly handled. Many people distrusting Captain Atom is to be expected. Every single human alive distrusting Captain Atom (except two) stretches the bounds of believability. It makes one wonder whether these people really are worth saving.

Also, the mysterious “cliffhanger” at the end, if you can call it that, does nothing to make me want to read the next adventure after the conclusion of the first one. The writing was completely unsatisfying in almost every single respect.

BONUS SECTION! (Bad Science with the Plague Doctor!)

Captain Atom is a superhero based around quantum mechanics. Therefore, from the beginning, I expected several pretty blatant violations of certain scientific concepts, not to mention a few pretty strange ideas about what quantum-based superpowers would actually mean for the character, and what they would allow him to do.

And boy, did this story deliver!

I’m not going to clog down this section with every example I can think of, but I will mention what were, to me, the two most egregious flaws.

Why is it that when Captain Atom suddenly gains the ability to perceive wireless transmissions, he can also decode the content of those transmissions? Youtube videos, complete web pages, phone calls and text messages. Each of these are encoded in a specific way. Each of them needs a decoding mechanism at the other end, and in a modern setting, that’s going to mean software. Did becoming Captain Atom also imprint Nathaniel’s brain with a library of video codecs? Does the Unicode text standard come as part of the package? No? Then, as I understand it, all these EM transmissions should be perceived as … noise. An endless assault on his senses, that he can’t understand, and from which there is no escape.

And then we have his power to unbind the nuceli of atoms in a target of his choice, causing them to dissolve.

Wait a second …

Doesn’t splitting an atom release energy from the nucleus? I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

Sure, our Random Guy in a Suit isn’t going to become a bomb, because Atom isn’t fissioning every atom at once. But still, an uninteresting … shall we say 100 kg suit has enough matter to release an enormous quantity of energy if all its nuclei are suddenly unbound. Does Captain Atom absorb it all? Because he doesn’t seem to be showing any strain at all, unlike in later scenarios where he basically does the same thing.

I know, I know. It’s a comic, not a physics paper, but noticing the implications of Captain Atom’s powers, and then building conflicts around them, wouldn’t exactly ruin the story. In fact, it would probably open up more options for interesting stories, which is something this book desperately needed.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation

vigil-lAs for the characters…. Captain Atom is the hero. Ranita is the love interest. Scientist guy who might have been named Kyle is… there. Dr. Megala is the mad scientist with ulterior motives (?) and Eiling is the Big Bad Military Man who views Cap as a weapon. That’s all these characters are to me. They are character roles that they were made for and nothing more.

Ranita has really no character. Megala is… there. And Eiling… Ok. General Wade Eiling is one of the oldest antagonists in the DC Universe. This guy hates metahumans and was a long time adversary of Captain Atom. He eventually placed his brain into the body of a creature called “the Shaggy Man” and became a full time adversary of the Justice League. This Eiling is just a generic military bad guy who is there to make trouble for the good guys.

As for Captain Atom… Ok, why didn’t we start with his origin story? How many people actually know the origin of Captain Atom? Seriously. Captain Atom is one of the most obscure DC Heroes. I doubt that any new readers will actually be familiar with Captain Atom off the bat.

As for his character, I can certainly empathize with Cap’s predicament of being a living nuclear reactor, but Lord Almighty does he wear out his welcome with the monologuing! He is always monologuing. ALWAYS MONOLOGUING! From beginning to end, for six issues, he is monologuing! This isn’t Frank Miller’s Daredevil or Batman! STOP MONOLOGUING! It does not make your character endearing, it makes you annoying and repetitive. By then end of the comic’s first arc, I was so beyond caring for Captain Atom’s character that I was just glad it was over. So in short, the characters are bland and Captain Atom is more annoying than sympathetic.

 

plague-doc-rIn a former life,  Captain Atom was once Airman Nathaniel Adam, victim of one of Dr Megala’s science experiments. The trouble with the way his character is written is that I can’t really see that. Aside from the pages where he’s explicitly shown to be scientifically uneducated, he reads like someone who was always a little out of place in the Air Force, even when he was a normal human being.

For one thing, the comic never shows any friends of his.  None of his old Air Force buddies that General Eiling might have tried to recruit to his cause. Atom never really shows a desire to go back and reconnect with anybody specific. He seems to have no family that misses him, nothing about being human that he wishes he could do. For all intents and purposes, he has no personality, no history, no goals or ambitions. None of those usual things which let readers empathise and connect with a character.

The other characters are extremely undeveloped and flat, with single personality traits or desires making up most, if not all of their personalities. Almost none of them trust Captain Atom though. I guess that might be important, somehow.

General Eiling was just irritatingly thick. I mean, if you want to get someone who is questioning their own humanity onto your side, then there are better ways to go about it than treating them as if they’re not human. Unless angering the walking nuke (to prove how dangerous and uncontrollable he is?) was the entire point. In which case … congratulations, General. You’ve just personally guaranteed that Atom will never, ever want to have anything to do with the US Armed Forces, ever.

And Ranita?

Well, she was definitely … present.

I think she said some things?

There was an incident with her burning her own arm off, or something. I don’t really remember. She was just an incredibly dull character who contributed nothing to the plot, had no memorable interactions with any of the characters, and could have been entirely replaced by any other generic human-shaped object.

WHTTDCNU-conclusion

vigil-lI was incredibly disappointed by this comic. I wanted to like it. I like the concept for Captain Atom. It has so much promise as a character study of a man transformed into a walking nuclear reactor, but it squandered it.

The art was cluttered and had a hard time of transferring between panels with discernible continuity.

The writing was all over the place and lacked focus and there was little to no characterization of any of the characters. Honestly, skip this one. It is bland, dry, confusing, and boring. Read something else. Something that actually has a plot and story.

 

plague-doc-rI admit, I do kind of want to know what’s up with that cliffhanger ending. Is it really the future of the world? Is it some potential future that Atom perceives – not set in stone, but very possible, unless Atom does everything he can to change it?

Maybe I’ll look it up on the DC Wiki or something. It would save me the flat characters, the terrible art, the bad science, the protagonist devoid of personality.

I do not care to read through the next book. I wouldn’t buy it. I wouldn’t even torrent it, and I certainly don’t recommend it. There are better heroes and much better stories elsewhere in the DCnU, and I would much rather be reading about them instead.

WHTTDCNU-comic

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