Saturday, August 22, 2015

Atomic Reactions Three!


Then came the "Action Heroes". When Dick Giordano took over the editorial reins of Charlton Comics in the late 60's from Pat Masulli, he wanted to make the comic line more exciting and in keeping with a then surge in comics interest as a result of the pop-culture hit Batman TV show. To that end he wanted to create more heroes, but not necessarily "super-heroes" but low-powered types who had to really struggle to defeat their enemies. Judomaster, Thunderbolt, and a soon to debut Peacemaker fit the bill snugly. But Captain Atom and the Blue Beetle were world-beaters - what to do.

Well Steve Ditko, fresh from his days as the drawer of all things spidery, too control. He completely revamped the Blue Beetle creating one of the most durable superhero designs of all time. As for Captain Atom, things were a little bit more convoluted.


Beginning with Captain Atom #83, the good Captain was de-powered by a complicated set of circumstances which caused him to max out his abilities to restrain the danger of an out-of-control nuclear core. At first he's without any powers, but slowly they return, but not in the same way or degree as before. Suddenly the hero who could fly to the end of the universe was limited. With the new powers came a new look as in the very next issue he doffs his gold costume and puts on for the first time my favorite Captain Atom look. Actually "putting on" is an ideal way of stating it as the costume is actually a few coats of a special metallic substance which protects the public from his radiation as well as serving as a handsome outfit. He eschews a mask as he'd previously been publicly unmasked but no one seemed to connect the silver-haired Atom with the brown-haired Adam.


 The new Atom battles a relative small-time thug Iron Arms before in the very next issue teaming again with Nightshade, who became something of a regular, to battle the criminal duo Punch and Jewelee, two small-time thieves who get their mitts on some other-dimensional weapons. After that the Ghost returns and we discover that he has connections with a mysterious cadre of green-haired gold-armored women from another dimension, the same from which the mysterious weapons appeared.

After that Captain Atom is on his own again as he battles the bluntly-named Fiery-Icer, a criminal with basic motivations. This was the very first Captain Atom comic I ever read, the one that made me fall in love with the character. Then Cap goes on his strangest mission yet, aboard a time-warp ship built by the United States government he travels to the far reaches of outer space to answer a distress call from a mysterious planet assaulted by giant insects. He finds a world abandoned by its people and operating on automatic because they had become overcome by ennui when all the challenge in their lives was removed by conveniences.

Then Cap returns home in time to battle both the Ghost and a new foe called Thirteen, as these apparent criminals battle for control of a mysterious device Cap had unintentionally brought back to Earth with him. Thirteen has a fun cat familiar and uses seeming magic, but his secret is more complex still.

Then it ends...just like that. The "Action Hero" line folds, and soon both Dick Giordano and Steve Ditko are gone to DC.

But eventually another story drops, one plotted and drawn but not scripted when the axe fell. This story appeared many years later in the fanzine Charlton Bullseye in two parts, with a script by two fans and inks by an up and coming John Byrne. In the story Captain Atom and Nightshade fight their ultimate battle against the murderous Ghost and solve the mystery of the other-dimensional women who worship him.

Soon after that DC acquires the rights to the Action Hero line, and Captain Atom joins Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman in a spanking new DC Universe. There's some success of course, but rarely does he achieve the sparkling heights he had at Charlton.


To read this issue go here


To read this issue go here.


To read this issue go here


To read this issue go here


To read this issue go here


To read this issue go here


To read this issue go here.


To read this story go here and here.

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2 comments:

  1. Hey Rip! Great article. I love those old Charlton Ditko comics (especially Captain Atom and Blue Beetle). I used to buy reprints of them at a department store called Zayers, when I was a kid. They would sell them 3 at a time in a sealed plastic bag. My first Captain Atom story was the 2-parter where he gets his new look. That is one of my all time favorite costumes. I absolutely loved that story and Cap immediately became a favorite character of mine, and after that I bought every issue I could find with him in it.

    When DC acquired the characters I was not happy at all with the costume change they gave him. So boring. But I was glad to see them collect all those great stories into an Archive Volume. I was able to read all those comics that I could never find, and reread the ones I already loved. I picked up the first volume as well (with just Cap Atom in his old yellow suit), and I did not care for those stories nearly as much as the revamped versions.

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    1. I'm with you. The early stories have charm, but the Action Hero period stories are fantastic adventures with sweep and character. Love 'em!

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