We’ve talked a bit here about CHARLTON BULLSEYE, Charlton’s last gasp attempt at producing new content by soliciting work gratis from fans and would-be creators. Publication would be the only compensation that such hopefuls would receive–but undaunted, and sensing an opportunity to have their work distributed from coast to coast, the response was overwhelming. Honestly, more people may have submitted work for consideration to CHARLTON BULLSEYE than were reading it (Charlton titles still had the lousiest distribution of any mainstream comic book publisher.)
One of the first and best respondents was Dan Reed. His Blue Beetle and the Question team-up story had run in the very first issue of CHARLTON BULLSEYE, and he followed it up with a second tale six issues later–this one starring Steve Ditko’s other Charlton super hero, Captain Atom. This was the first new Captain Atom story that had seen print since the cosmic stalwart’s series had ended in the mid-1960s. thanks to Ditko’s artwork and his strong plotting towards the end of the run, Captain Atom was well-remembered by fandom. Reed certainly seemed to be enamored of him, as he took it upon himself plot, pencil and ink this story himself. The final copy and dialogue was handled by Benjamin Smith, who had likewise worked on that first issue.
Interestingly, Reed doesn’t pick the character up from where Ditko had left him off in the 1960s. And this likely comes down to the fact that Reed liked the character’s original costumed look better than the later redesigned costumed that Ditko moved him into. Reed wasn’t alone in that assessment, I suspect that if you questioned the fans of that period, a majority of them would have agreed. I wasn’t one of them, though–I liked this original costume just fine, but preferred the later redesign. But that wasn’t enough to rob me of any enjoyment in this story.
Reed’s artwork here is stronger than it was on his first story, though his inking is a bit spotty in places. The crummy Charlton printing doesn’t help matters either. Looking at these stories as a fan of the time, I expected Reed to go on to more and better things within the field, but he never seemed entirely to break through into the mainstream. His work still had a fannish edge of crudeness to it, but it showed a lot of promise. (A more polished inker would have helped, too.)
Captain Atom, of course, would be sold along with the rest of the core Charlton Action Heroes to DC, who would incorporate them into the unified DC Universe they were building in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. So this story was left adrift, just a fun romp that wasn’t ever referenced again.
The storyline was a bit of a trope, even then, but I always liked the wrinkle that, rather than simply having been selected and abducted to fight in these alien gladiatorial games, Captain Atom was instead sold to the aliens in exchange for new weapons systems. That seemed both genuinely heartless and entirely too plausible to me.
Reed didn’t just go back to the old costume for Captain Atom, but he also made use of the idea that the attire was specially designed to protect those around him from the radiation he would emit while in his super hero persona. This drawback was dispensed with when Ditko introduced the new costume, which was bonded to Atom molecularly and which blocked out any harmful radiations full time.
The ending promises a new status quo for Captain Atom, one that would never be explored. It also prevents this story from being inserted into the continuity of the 1960s strip (as does the Captain’s fiance Jan.) None of this really mattered in 1982 when the story was published–but like so many comic book readers over the years, I worried about this stuff.
As a short six-page back-up, Bill Black (soon to be of AC Comics) contributed a much more polished-looking NIGHTSHADE story, starring the heroine who had appeared in the CAPTAIN ATOM series in the 1960s. Even the lettering here is far more professional.