Time Jump: Rebirth
At the beginning of 2017, DC launched The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom miniseries, which largely re-established the character’s post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint origin, with some modern twists. But viewed through the lens of a universe transformed by the will of an all-powerful being, the story takes on added significance.
Written by Cary Bates and Greg Weisman and illustrated by Will Conrad, Fall and Rise sees the New 52 version of the character lose control of his powers in 2012 and time jump back to 1997, where he is able to establish a normal life and start a family. However, fate catches up with him and Nathaniel Adam is propelled forward to 2017, where he discovers that his wife has died and his son despises the father he never knew. His powers now manifest in a purplish hue, allowing Nathaniel to pass himself off as an all-new Captain Atom — a good thing, since the blue-skinned nuclear man who seemingly perished in 2012 is still seen by the world at large as a cautionary tale.
In other words, he has started over with a new identity, a second chance to save the world.
The Superman Theory and Other Hypotheses
Dr. Manhattan living in the DCU as Captain Atom would not only directly unite an analogue with the original — and make concrete the transformation of that original into the more complex hero he inspired — but would also serve at least a few of the themes and metanarratives surrounding Rebirth and Doomsday Clock.
First, there’s the “Superman Theory” outlined in Doomsday Clock #2’s text-based backmatter. It seems there is a conspiracy theory surrounding the fact that the vast majority of the world’s superheroes are concentrated in the United States — many people are saying that the U.S. government is creating these heroes. Many people. In the case of Captain Atom, this theory is literally true. And if Manhattan/Atom orchestrated the creation of the DC Universe as it now exists, from his perspective coming from a world where the only super-powered being was created by the government, there may be even more meat on this theory.
It might also play into the fact that Captain Atom seems destined to break bad. A heel turn isn’t inherent in a nuclear-powered superhero, per say, but it’s the way things have gone since at least Armageddon 2001. He cheated fate there, but an alternate version became Monarch in the Extreme Justice series (the less said, the better) and the original Nathaniel Adam ended up in the Monarch armor around the time of Countdown (doubly so). If we take Manhattan’s intervention a step further and say that he has been Captain Atom since the end of Watchmen, then all of Captain Atom’s DC Universe stories are in fact Manhattan’s. In that case, Manhattan’s guilt over events on his world may have re-enacted, over and over, in this new universe; each time he hits reset, history repeats.
He’s the villain, despite his best intentions.
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