Monday, January 21, 2013
To writer J. T. Krul's credit, his New 52 series Captain Atom: Evolution sets aside these tropes for a good science-fiction-y take on the character, less "Captain" and more "Atom." Unfortunately, Krul doesn't have much for the good Captain to do here; Atom flits from story to story, mostly cut-and-dried and mostly predictable. This is a good take on Captain Atom but there's little to raise this book above the level of average.
One unexpected bright spot in the book is Freddie Williams's art. Though a pioneer in the field of digital artistry, Williams's work has had a tendency toward distortion and repetition that gave books like Final Crisis: Run! and JSA All-Stars a dull sameness. But in Captain Atom, pleasantly, Williams's pages are much more controlled, and indeed he brings a unique ink-wash to the art, plus some selective coloring, that gives Captain Atom its own unique look. More's the pity that the book is not more dynamic, because the art alone deserves a wider audience (Captain Atom was cancelled in DC's Zero Month, after the next collection).
[Review contains spoilers]
In the first issue, Atom helps diffuse a volcano and nuclear reaction that threaten New York (each threat is somewhat improbable, but the audience won't argue with comic book physics). These are atomic-type conflicts, which demonstrate Atom's matter-changing powers (more like the classic Firestorm than Captain Atom), and also serve to introduce his lab tech supporting cast. There's no overt foe for Captain Atom in the first issue or in most of the book, which is a nice change -- rather the story is more about Atom's self-discovery.
It is perhaps as early as Captain Atom's second issue, however, that the series begins losing its way. Atom discovers he can see text messages and emails in the air around him (an unique power never touched on again), and hones in on a young cancer patient asking Atom for help; Captain Atom is indeed able to enter the boy's brain and cure his cancer. This is interesting, but the main conflict -- Atom fighting the boy's rogue cancer drugs -- has no bearing on Atom going forward; it's solely a (very fanciful) action scene because the issue needs one.
Krul's Captain Atom issues are like that. In the third issue, Atom intercedes in a conflict in Libya, not out of any specifically stated moral purpose nor a connection to the country, but simply because Atom wants to "do good." The climax of the book follows a similar pattern -- Atom fights a giant, mutated lab rat (silly in and of itself) that was experimented on and shares Atom's powers; that Atom is also a "lab rat" is painfully obvious, and there's not much more that comes out of the story -- no revelation about Atom's origins or the nature of his powers, no actual communion with the rat, just a standard fight-and-resolution.
Again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with the pieces Krul has in place here. General Eiling has been a military figure long-associated with Captain Atom stories, and Krul brings him in as Atom's foe-turned-begrudging helpmate (like an early Commissioner Gordon to Batman). This is again a nice difference from Captain Atom as Eiling's mindless soldier, and Krul does well preserving Atom's military heritage without letting it overwhelm the story. Krul also make a good comparison between Captain Atom and the Flash in the third issue as two DC heroes who move so fast, or whose powers are so all-encompassing, that they experience reality differently than others do.
Krul's Captain Atom, too, is simply likable. Without his trademark military arrogance, Krul's Atom is just a guy with a heroic nature, and his tenuous understanding of his powers leads to some charming moments, as when Atom turns a squadron of fighter jets into feathers. Krul's Atom is quite obviously a kind of young Dr. Manhattan, potentially dangerous and impossibly powerful, but unlike Manhattan, without the understanding of those powers.
All of this, again, is a credit to the Captain Atom mythos, such that it is. This is a Captain Atom that readers would want to follow, and if other writers could be trusted to preserve this Atom's youth and inexperience, he would be a fine addition to a team like Justice League (though one might question the need for both this Captain Atom and also Firestorm).
In Captain Atom: Evolution, however, Krul simply moves Atom between adventures and fights with nothing much really sticking, and this makes it hard for the reader to feel anything for the title. It's good that Captain Atom is around in the New 52, but there's little for which to recommend his solo series when it stands beside hits like Flash, Batwoman, Animal Man, and (the sadly cancelled) I, Vampire.
[Includes original covers. Sketchbook and various process pages by Freddie Williams]
More reviews coming up as our countdown to the end of the New 52 Vol. 1s continues!