When DC Comics’ New 52 hit, readers were introduced to a brand new Captain Atom — one with an altered powerset and new abilities with the internal moral dilemmas to go with them. At the hands of series writer J.T. Krul, Nathaniel Adam has begun to realize the full scope of his new abilities, even going so far as to cure a young boy of cancer, and according to DC’s March solicitations, readers will get to see exactly how this version of Captain Atom came to be.
“[‘Captain Atom’] #7 is kind of an origin issue, but it’s done in a different way because it also keys into what’s going on in the story,” Krul told CBR News. “In a way, #7 is kind of a standalone issue, but it’s also a prologue, a jumping on point, for the second arc that we’re doing for the next six issues beyond it.”
According to Krul, the origin will pay homage to the character’s roots while clarifying who Nathaniel Adam was in the New 52-verse. “[In] the origin issue, we touch upon the accident and how he became Captain Atom, but really the origin issue is more about getting to know Nathaniel as the man and getting a glimpse of elements of his life and what it was like before the accident,” Krul said. “I think that’s one of the things that we haven’t been able to explore based on where Nathaniel is in his life right now. He’s been struggling with humanity, so he hasn’t been able to focus on specific events in his past. We’re going to see glimpses of his earlier life leading up to the accident and after the accident. It’s done in a non-linear way. We wanted to play with time, we’re also exploring a little more with the numbers you’ve been seeing in the issues. Some people have picked up on it. If you look at Issue #3 when Captain Atom is trying to neutralize the nuclear blast, obviously there’s a time effect there. He essentially reverses the flow of the impact and saves one of the soldiers. We see this counter, which is a time code, that starts counting backwards. Again, as far as the big number in the backdrop, we’re going to see the beginning of time, if you will. Not going back to the Big Bang, because obviously the Big Bang was longer than 6574 years ago. That was something we came up with that was a cool way to give Captain Atom his own view of the universe and of the world. We wanted to have something because of the time aspect and because we knew what we were going to do in ‘Flash,’ and we knew what we were going to do going forward in the second arc. We wanted to have something that could serve as a clock, but not be a clock — not just be a standard year. We wanted it to be a little different.”
The writer also mentioned the origin serves as a point of connection with readers, since prior to #7 they will not have seen Captain Atom as a regular guy. “What I’m hoping with this is that they’ll be able to identify with him more than they have because that’s part of the dilemma with a character like Captain Atom,” he said. “Captain Atom in his world feels alienated from the people around him in the same way that Captain Atom the character is someone alienated from readers. It’s hard to identify. It’s one of the challenges of a character like, say Superman. When someone is so powerful and so beyond anything and is dealing with things that are far beyond us, you want that thing to relate to. I think that’s one of the reasons why someone like Spider-Man has lasted so long. He’s the average kid we can all relate to. A lot of those stories are like that, where an average person gets great powers. We connect with those things, and even though they have great powers, Peter Parker’s life is as much of the story in ‘Spider-Man’ books as fighting crime.”
In addition to revealing Captain Atom’s life before powers, Krul hopes the supporting cast will help him reconnect with his own humanity. “What I really hope is that this origin issue will give readers a little more understanding of who he was before all this,” Krul said. “That’s something that we’re going to be tinkering with not exclusively in the storyline where this kicks off, but in stuff down the road. It’s a matter of him trying to reconnect with his own humanity, and obviously Renita plays a big part in that because he’s formed a bond with her. He likes her and it’s almost like it’s important to try to nurture any sort of connection he can have. Megala’s there, but Megala’s such a highly evolved scientific mind that he’s almost more robotic than Captain Atom is. Not because of his physical disability, it’s more because of the way his mind works. He’s always on another level.”
Getting into the way Captain Atom’s mind works has been a big focus of the first few issues, and it’s something Krul says will continue to drive the story moving forward. “So much of this book and so much of what’s going on with the character is in his head,” Krul explained. “It’s almost like he is his own enemy in the book and the powers and the way they affect him are intended as a foil for him. In that respect, absolutely, because it is that notion that that’s what he’s trying to get back to. He’s trying to get back to that notion of being a man again and trying to be normal to the extent that he can, but he hasn’t found that way. If that’s what he misses, then obviously, that’s the stuff that’s going to be pushed to the forefront of his mind of the things that he misses. It’s almost like having those powers are stranding him on that island, and what’s he’s going to do when he’s not surviving and building a hut and drinking coconut milk? He’s going to be thinking about what life was like back there, what he misses and what he wishes he could get back to.”
One of the major plot points of Captain Atom’s new powerset is his ability to do nearly anything — proved when he cured a young boy’s cancer in “Captain Atom” #3 — but what happens after a hero cures cancer? Why wouldn’t he just cure all the cancer in the world? “There is that issue of what can he do and what can’t he do,” said Krul. “That is something we are dealing with and that’s a thread not only in this arc, but it’s a constant thread throughout the storyline. The first arc has a lot to do with how he sees himself and the extent to which his powers are changing him and the fears he has. With the end of #3 with General Eiling showing up, that’s the central focus of Issue #4. As we move forward through the rest of this opening arc, it is that issue of what the dangers are, what is Captain Atom afraid of? What happens when you have these unlimited powers? Is it too much? He already talked about the concept of divine intervention and just because he can intervene, should he? It’s also that notion of, if there are no limits to anything you can do, what’s the dark side of that?”
The concept of a dark side to power is a theme that will continue to manifest itself as Captain Atom moves forward as a hero. “If there’s a dark side to Captain Atom, what does that look like? And he’s aware of it, because you’d have to be,” Krul said. “That’s what makes him a good hero. His biggest flaw is the uncertainty that he has in his own mind — because he can do anything. If he didn’t have any uncertainty, then he would be going all balls to the wall all the time, but he has grappled with that. That’s something that plays out in the opening arc. We actually start getting to the notion of the threat that’s been looming over in the shadows under his radar, which is the rat in the first issue and we get to see the evolution of this rat creature. That’s going to come to a head as they square off against one another.”
As for the writer himself, Krul feels that telling Captain Atom’s story is different than traditional superhero fare and compares the feel of the book to a Vertigo title. “I feel like it’s been a tremendous opportunity to stretch a different muscle,” he said. “This is very different comic book storytelling than the one I’m used to doing and that I’ve done in the past,” he said. “To me, it’s almost got a Vertigo feel with it. I think pairing it up with a book like ‘Animal Man’ or ‘Swamp Thing’ where you’ve got these protagonists, but it’s not a traditional superhero book in the sense of he doesn’t really have a supervillain in the book. He’s been dealing with these other things and that’s what the story is. The story is about this character and him fighting himself in many ways and challenging himself in this condition. That’s been one of the best parts of it for me in terms of being able to explore these greater issues and really getting into the character and have that be the focus of the story instead of it being just a narrative backdrop sometimes while they’re punching guys in the face and flying around.”
Additionally, Krul had nothing but praise for the book’s artist, Freddie E. Williams II. “Working with Freddie Williams has been fantastic. I haven’t had this much of a collaborative working environment since working with Mike Turner on ‘Soulfire.’ We really are building this world together. Just the other night I talked to him and we talked for an hour about stuff. We talk a lot, we talk about the story, we talk about the character, we talk about what’s cool, what’s not cool — it’s been a very great back-and-forth process. It’s been fantastic. He’s a tremendous artist and the book looks beautiful. His work has just been amazing. I’m having a blast with it. Jose [Villarubia] is on the colors and my editors Rachel [Gluckstern] and Rickey [Purdin] and everybody at DC, it just seems like everybody’s on board and we’re all just liking what we’re creating. Sometimes synergy just happens and it’s just working really, really smoothly. That’s just been utter joy.”
“Captain Atom” #4 is on sale December 21.