Also available in one of the new Modern Comics 3-Bags was this issue of CAPTAIN ATOM, the issue prior to the one I’d purchased previously. This was a bit of a mixed blessing, in that it meant that I knew exactly how this story turned out and much of what happened in it before I even read it. But it was still a pretty cool comic book, with Steve Ditko exploring further some of the same themes he’d used extensively in Spider-Man. Here, once again, the hero is vilified and distrusted by the public whose interests he serves.
This was all in the service of reinventing the Captain as a more reasonably-powered, human hero, as I had seen play out already in CAPTAIN ATOM #84. Also, I know that most fans of the character prefer this gold-and-red uniform to the later blue-and-silver one that Ditko introduced in the back half of this story–but I don’t agree with them. This costume is fine, but I prefer the later maskless, steel-armed version of Captain Atom.
Everything starts out simply enough, as Captain Adam and Gunner notice Professor Koste, a scientist who had been dismissed from his government position as a security risk, prowling around a public display of the Air Force’s latest technologies. When a masked gang appears in order to tr to loot the place, Captain Atom is quick to take them on. But then, suddenly, as the criminals divert Atom by causing a heavy ceiling-mounted display to fall, the golden hero’s protective costume tears, leaking radiation that threatens the crowd. While nobody is harmed by this turn of events, the would-be heisters do get away, and the public is alarmed by the revelation that their protector might be more dangerous to be around than the threats he combats.
It doesn’t take long before a full-on smear campaign against Captain Atom is blanketing the media, a typical occurrence in a Steve Ditko comic book. Atom is desperate to redeem himself in the eyes of the world, and to the President. Following a lead to one of Koste’s known associates, Atom arrives too late–Koste has already assumed the identity of the other man, and used it to infiltrate the experimental reactor that’s being worked on. When Captain Atom shows up at the reactor site, Koste panics, and sends the reaction into overload.
In a sequence reminiscent of Spider-Man lifting Doc Ock’s enormous machine off his back, Captain Atom fights his way into the reactor and attempts to shut it down by hand. But the awesome forces that are being unleashed play havoc with his atomic structure. Making the supreme effort, Atom manages to shut down the reactor, but passes out from the strain of doing so.
Koste, meanwhile, is the one person who hasn’t evacuated the reactor, and he sees his chance to study it more closely. He calls in his associates, the army of goons who tried to rip off the Air Force display at the start of the issue. As Captain Atom comes to, he finds the base under siege and flies to the defense–only to discover that his powers aren’t working correctly.
Realizing that Captain Atom is ow human and vulnerable, Koste’s horde of minions attack him. Captain Atom puts up a hell of a good Ditko fight for a number of pages, but he’s eventually overwhelmed by the superior numbers and beaten down. And that’s where this story closes out, with Atom battered unconscious, and somewhere else a pair of steel-shod arms showcasing their power–a new threat waiting in the wings. To Be Continued!
The back-up story in the issue starred the Blue Beetle–in fact, it was the very first adventure of the all-new Blue Beetle, a fact that i wasn’t initially aware of. It’s a short feature, one that never even reveals who the man under the Beetle’s mask is. But it does give a pretty thorough rundown of this new Beetle’s equipment and attributes. The Beetle himself indicates that he’s new at being a super hero, and the Killer Koke gang that he’s pursuing articulates that he isn’t the Blue Beetle that readers have known up to this point.
At one point, the gang has felled the Beetle and tries to unmask him–only to find that his costume is made of a woven metallic material and that his mask somehow locks onto his face, thus preventing anybody from removing it. I loved this bit of business as a kid, and used versions of it in a number of the super heroes I made up.