With the recent announcement of six DC Comics titles being cancelled in April, some eagle-eyed commenters noticed that on the sales charts, there was one title in the bottom seven that hadn’t gotten the axe: “Captain Atom.” So with that in mind, you might be wondering what you’ve been missing in the one book to survive the cull. The answer? “Dr. Manhattan: The Early Years.”
All right, that’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s hard to read “Captain Atom” and not see the Dr. Manhattan influence having come full circle (since the original “Watchmen” pitch had used the Charlton Comics characters, with the Dr. Manhattan role originally filled by Captain Atom). J.T. Krul is writing the character as one that’s hugely powered, with abilities far greater than what we’ve seen before. Because these are the early days for the character, though, he’s still a mixture of inexperienced and naÃ¯ve, fumbling his way through both his own powers and a military that is out to get him.
What helps stand Captain Atom apart from a lot of other characters is his overall determination to try and help rather than hurt. It would be an obvious take on the character to say that with a military background, he’d be rushing out and blowing things up left and right. Instead, we have a character whose biggest concern is trying to help Ranita (whom he accidentally burnt quite badly with his powers last issue) without causing any further damage along the way. Likewise, when he finally confronts the monster that has been lurking in the background of previous issues, his initial instinct is to figure out what’s going on. So far as he can tell, it’s just trying to protect itself, so he doesn’t wade in blasting but instead tries to understand just what the creature is.
The one downside to the writing of “Captain Atom” is the slow pace. (Ironically, that could have helped save the title, since I can’t see how everything could get wrapped up by #8 if necessary.) It’s taken five issues for Captain Atom to finally go up against the creature that’s somehow connected to his power, and in general nothing seems to move too quickly. A faster, peppier storytelling pace could only be a good thing here.
Freddie Williams II and Jose Villarrubia continue to shine on the art front. The opening page, with a turtle swimming through a reflection of Captain Atom on the water, is pretty near perfect. From the gentle, concentric rings of ripples beginning to form, to the icy blue colors that form Captain Atom (plus the delicate shades of red that form his logo), it just looks great. The turtle itself is perfectly rendered, and the gentle shifting down of the vertical panels is a nice series of steps for the eye to follow. Even with the slow pace of the comic, what Williams and Villarrubia are doing here makes this book well worth reading.
“Captain Atom” has a lot to live up to right now. It’s not too late for a sales climb, but I feel like it needs a snappier speed and something to grab new readers’ attention. All the pieces needed are available (good overall idea, strong artists), with one strong nudge needed to slide everything into place. For the sake of “Captain Atom,” that nudge better come soon.