The project begins! Max begins his reading journey through his Library with The Action Heroes Archives Volume 1 featuring the early Charlton exploits of Captain Atom by the legendary Steve Ditko! Check out the initial outing of this ongoing blog exclusively at superflycomics.com!
Super-Fly Comics & Games’ plucky sidekick Max Lake has embarked on a journey to read his collection of DC & other comics! Join Max each week every Friday as he takes on his Library! Titles reviewed by this blog do not necessarily reflect what the store has in stock, but you can always email the store to special order something that you’ve seen here at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call Super-Fly at (937) 767-1445 or just ask someone at the store next time you’re there for special orders. You can read past entries of the blog here. Any questions or comments for Max should be sent to email@example.com or feel free to comment in the comments section below. Check out @maxdlake to follow Max on Twitter. The things Max writes do not necessarily reflect the views of Super-Fly Comics & Games, and Super-Fly Comics & Games is not responsible for what Max says—especially anything that bugs you.
Entry written 1/1/2012
I decided to start today, as this project has been in the planning stages a long time. Plus, it’s New Year’s Day, the perfect time to make good on resolutions—and I’m only slightly hung over from last night’s festivities! With my lovely wife taking a nap, I can delve into some comics!
Kicking off the project is The Action Heroes Archive Volume 1 featuring Captain Atom. I’m starting with “A” for “Action” instead of filing this under “C” for Captain Atom, as the book has a second volume featuring not only Captain Atom, but the Ted Kord Blue Beetle and the original Question, Steve Ditko creations all. Steve Ditko worked at Charlton in 1960 and there with writer Joe Gill, he co-created Captain Atom—two years before Ditko would go on to develop his most famous creation Spider-Man with Stan Lee. Ditko drew many Captain Atom adventures before he went off to Marvel, and a few more after leaving Marvel, where he created the other characters for Charlton too. DC would go on to acquire these characters in the 1980s and integrated them into the DC Universe in their first company-wide event crossover ever, Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The first part of the volume is comprised of shorter stories, which originally appeared as part of Charlton’s Space Adventures anthology series. Many of these stories are only five pages, the first of which introduces Captain Adam—a fantastic US Air Force “career man” and “a trained, dedicated soldier who was a physics prodigy at eight, a chemist, a ballistics genius!” As the story opens, Adam is repairing a nuclear missile on the inside when he drops his screwdriver moments before liftoff. Wasting time trying to get it, Adam is trapped, shot into space, and earns the “genius” description by being completely obliterated in the missile’s detonation all over a bloody screwdriver.
As the ground crew and Adam’s two colleagues, Gunner and General Eining (who was no doubt the basis of the character General Wade Eiling in the subsequent DC series) mourns the loss of a great man, they hear Adam’s voice coming from the missile launch pad. Surprising, there is Captain Adam, with torn clothes and completely radioactive with powerful abilities! He builds a protective suit out of Diulustol (which on the cover and in every other story is yellow and reddish orange; here it is purple and blue) and reports to the President of the United States, who gives him the code name Captain Atom! The adventures continue from here.
The next issue of Space Adventures featuring Captain Atom stories advertises that “You could win a real live PONY!” on the cover with a picture of a pony’s head. The story is about a Russian cosmonaut getting space sickness, but Captain Atom can’t save him without starting World War III! This and a few other stories are great Cold War tales that are reminiscent of some sci-fi movies I’ve seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
On the next cover, the Pony contest is still going on and the story is a weird one. Captain Adam’s friend Gunner has a son who has been having strange dreams where he flies through space on the backs of giant green birds. Captain Atom finds out he’s really doing just that somewhere in space, while he simultaneously dreams—in reality! It’s difficult to describe and I am sure that read as crazy jibberish, and indeed it’s bizarre, it’s surreal, and it looks beautiful as rendered by Ditko.
Red rockets from Russia with Love are firing out at America in another yarn, and soon many of these stories blend together. It seems time after time, Captain Atom is called in to dismantle or destroy a nuclear arsenal of missiles poised to wipe out life as we know it to gain power, or even just to prove a point by mad dictators and random kooks. Captain Atom also deals with extraterrestrial menaces too, including pissed off Venutian babes, some mud men who want to make the Earth into a slave colony, and alien invaders intent on destroying Captain Atom! After the action, Atom becomes Adam to wrap up with the USAF. Many stories end with Captain Adam winking at the reader. “I guess we’ll never know how those missiles got shot down. Eh, General?”
The shorter stories keep things high paced and often start en media res… However, things don’t always work out so well in the shorter format. One story has Captain Atom stopping missiles fired from an unknown location with the entire world ready to retaliate against one another if the missiles hit. It turns out that the missiles were fired by aliens trying to start World War III on Earth. Upon discovering the aliens, Captain Atom disintegrates them right away without even attempting to talk to them. Adam explains: “There was no time to ask questions General! Sorry!” More like: “There was no time to finish the story readers! Sorry!”
Following the Space Adventures stories are full length issues of Captain Atom, which were produced after the time Ditko left Marvel. The feature length stories of the Captain Atom issues surprisingly don’t pack as much oomph as the shorter stories, though the last two stories in the volume are exceptions to this and are pretty well rounded tales with “The Five Faces of Dr. Spectro” even standing out from the crowd as a pretty cool (albeit weird) tale, despite the fact that Dr. Spectro is admittedly a pretty lame villain.
The final story “Captain Atom Versus The Ghost” introduces the Nightshade character, a member of the Suicide Squad and later Shadowpact in the DCU. She is more of a spy smasher with martial arts skills and does not exhibit any of her “dark force” powers here. This issue was an introduction for the villain the Ghost as well, who became a persistent thorn in Captain Atom’s side during Cap’s years at Charlton.
Unlike the modern version of the Captain Atom character who is stuck in his radioactive suit at all times, Captain Atom can transform between his human (though still shielded) Captain Adam guise and his Captain Atom superhero identity. He even goes undercover in a couple missions, notably the one with Nightshade where they are both at a party in their civilian identities admiring one another not knowing who the other truly is.
The stories are not all drawn by Ditko as Rocke Mastroserio draws a couple and inks all of the later issues over Ditko’s pencils. This is disappointing; though Mastroserio’s art is not godawful, it’s not anywhere near as standout. Whereas the aliens Ditko draws in one story look unique and creative, aliens seen in a Mastroserio illustrated story are just generic bug eyed globs of men without much imagination put into them. Later in the Captain Atom issues, Mastroserio almost exclusively (and disappointingly) inks over Ditko’s pencils. Ditko was still working on his last issues of Amazing Spider-Man when he returned to Captain Atom in 1965 and didn’t have time to ink his own stuff, so it doesn’t look as great but it’s still nice.
Containing Ditko’s first super hero work makes this a notable volume. All of the early, short Captain Atom stories are both penciled and inked by Ditko, and they look fantastic for it. The Mastroserio inks are alright, but they detract from Ditko’s distinct style. It’s a must for fans of Steve Ditko, and it’s classic Cold War super hero sci-fi stuff, but it might be a little dated for current Captain Atom fans.
I was able to read this entire archive in one day, which is surprising! Archive editions are pretty long and usually take me awhile. I guess I was motivated to get this one done! I’ve got a few more archive editions coming up next, so I better hunker down. Starting tomorrow, I’ll dig into Action Heroes Archives Vol. 2!
Happy New Year!
NOTES FROM NOW (written 7/7/12): It was great to finally start this project back in January and get a lot of reading and writing done in one day. However, I was still scanning, finding and formatting images for this entry right up to just before going live with it. I plan to have pictures for most entries. However, I don’t think all entries will be anywhere near this picture heavy.
I really like Captain Atom, and was excited about his New 52 DC series, but it has now recently been announced that it is canceled and will end in September. It was different, but I liked it. Even though the New 52 Captain Atom sold worse than Rob Liefeld’s Hawk & Dove book which was canceled in March (ironically, Hawk & Dove are also Steve Ditko creations) here’s hoping for more Captain Atom in the DCU.
It’s also humbling only now posting something written over seven months ago. However, I’ve given myself a fair amount of lead time. Knowing me (and the scope of this project) I’ll probably need it.