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REVIEW:
DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS CAPTAIN ATOM
By Thomas Wheeler


There are a handful of characters within the DC Universe that have reached various levels of prominence since their introduction, that are interesting in one common point -- they were not invented at DC. Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, and a number of others, were technically developed by Charlton Comics in the 1960's.

It is a testament to the fact of Mattel expanding their license with DC Comics a while back that their agreement with DC now includes the ability to include these Charlton characters in their toy lines, and as of the fourth assortment of the superb DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS series of action figures, one of them -- CAPTAIN ATOM -- has joined the lineup. Blue Beetle is in the works, and The Question recently won a ToyFare poll to be added to the lineup at some point.

DC Universe Classics is the extension of the DC Super-Heroes line of 6" scale action figures by Mattel. This line, formerly very Batman-Superman-centric, has been expanded as much as Mattel's license with DC has been expanded. And I hope it has a long and healthy run.

It's interesting, in a way, because Mattel's specialty has generally not been action figures. Ask anyone, and they'll say that Mattel's strong points have been Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars. Nothing wrong with those products. But I have been extremely impressed with the overall, and in my opinion increasing, quality of action figures (not that there aren't still a few problems which I intend to address) that Mattel is producing, and I greatly look forward to seeing what they do with DC Universe Classics, DC Infinite Heroes, Justice League Unlimited, and Masters of the Universe Classics. I predict good things. I pray for a very long life for all of them.

Certainly Captain Atom is an impressive figure. Let's consider his background:

Captain Atom was created by writer Joe Gill and artist/co-writer Steve Ditko, he first appeared in Charlton's Space Adventures #33 (March 1960).

The character was part of the group of heroes transferred to DC Comics in 1985, introduced during the legendary CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, in which the Charlton heroes were supposed to have been residing on one of the various Earths in the DC Multiverse, designated "Earth-4", an Earth which curiously (!) had never encountered any of the other worlds. Captain Atom and Blue Beetle participated quite heavily in the series, especially.

Captain Atom underwent something of an overhaul, post-Crisis. In both incarnations, the character was a military official, (scientist Allen Adam in the Charlton version, Air Force pilot Nathaniel Adam in the DC version), who was caught in a scientific experiment and "atomized". He was able to reform his body, and found that he had acquired superhuman strength and endurance, the ability to fly, and to project energy blasts.

I'll bypass the Charlton version of the character, and focus on his DC incarnation. The modern captain's name was established as Nathaniel Christopher Adam, a United States Air Force officer of the Vietnam War era. Adam had been framed for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to death under the watch of Col. Wade Eiling in 1968. As an alternative to execution, he was invited to participate in a military experiment with little chance of survival, in exchange for a presidential pardon. The experiment involved testing the hull of a crashed alien ship's durability by exploding a super nuclear bomb under it. Adam survived as the metal melted into his body and the excess energy threw him forward in time 18 years.

This coating with alien metal gave the revised character a full-body silvered metal look distinctly different from his previous incarnations.

Regaining coherence in 1986, Adam found himself a man out of his time and in the hands of Eiling, now a general and the second husband of Adam's now-deceased wife. Everyone had assumed that Nathaniel Adam had died on the day of the experiment, so his presidential pardon was never issued and the current government refused to acknowledge the previous administration's promised pardon. Seizing the opportunity at hand, the government used the outstanding murder/treason charges against Adam to blackmail him into being a government-controlled superhero codenamed Captain Atom. The events of the Charlton stories were established as simply the cover story for Adam, who also was assigned the alias of Cameron Scott, an Air Force intelligence operative.

Upon his initial return from the Quantum Field, Nathaniel Adam was portrayed as the classic "man out of his time". Early conflicts involved him coming to terms with his lost time with his children (who were now close to his current age as a result of the time jump), the death of his wife (who had married his nemesis Eiling prior to dying), and the overall ramifications of his newly acquired powers.

Atom/Adam served under Eiling reluctantly, while succeeding in clearing his name. Eventually, Atom rebelled against Eiling, resigned from the Air Force, and found some fulfillment as an actual superhero. Captain Atom joined the Justice League at the request of the U.S. government, eventually serving as leader of Justice League Europe. During his career he had a brief romance with Catherine Cobert, developed a friendly "rivalry" with Firestorm, battled Major Force (his would-be successor), learned basic heroics from Batman when he briefly lost access to the Quantum Field, and commanded the metahuman forces during the Invasion storyline.

In 1991, Captain Atom was canceled with #57, as Atom was slated to become the hero-turned-villain Monarch in DC's Armageddon 2001 crossover event; however, when word of this leaked out, DC changed the ending at the last minute. Atom and the Monarch character continued battling through time in Armageddon: The Alien Agenda limited series, until he was returned to his own time at the conclusion. Captain Atom then returned to the League, founding an offshoot team, Extreme Justice in 1995. Whilst leading Extreme Justice, Captain Atom came across another version of Monarch, this one claiming to be the real Nathaniel Adam. Later in 1999, he was a member of the poorly-received all-Charlton-character group L.A.W. In 2003, he again teamed up with several former members of the Justice League as the "Super Buddies" in the humorous limited series "Formerly Known as the Justice League." Around this time, various stories reintroduced Atom's conflict between his role in the superhero community and his responsibilities as a government agent.

Later in 2003, writer Jeph Loeb returned Captain Atom to his roots as he went back to work for the government, this time for President Lex Luthor in the first story arc of the Superman/Batman series. Atom seemingly sacrificed his life to save Superman and Earth by piloting a starship to destroy a kryptonite meteor, but as it had previously been established that this type of accident could not kill him, he soon returned to life and to the background of the DC Universe. In a 2005 issue of Superman/ Batman it was made clear that Captain Atom survived the collision with the kryptonite meteor, but after absorbing massive amounts of radiation and becoming a super villain described as a "Kryptonite Man"; the radiation was siphoned out of Captain Atom by a device made by Hiro Okamura (the new Toyman) which returned Captain Atom to his usual self (if somewhat confused).

In 2005/2006, Captain Atom appeared in a nine-part limited series entitled Captain Atom: Armageddon under DC's Wildstorm imprint. Captain Atom's sacrifice in Superman/Batman sent him to the WildStorm universe for the duration of the series. In this title, he wore the gold/red outfit seen in the Kingdom Come limited series.

At the moment of his apparent death, Captain Atom experienced a time-shift coinciding with his 2005 appearance in Superman/Batman, resulting in his arrival in the Wildstorm Universe, another imprint of comics titles that had been acquired by DC. He quickly gets into a fight with an overzealous Mister Majestic and the fight ended with Majestic soundly defeated. Seeing the frightened reactions of onlookers, and puzzling over his own altered appearance, he realizes that he has somehow become trapped on an alternate Earth, one where superheroes are feared by the general populace.

Captain Atom's most recent adventures surround some of the multi-Earth events of Infinite Crisis and the subsequent Countdown series, but frankly, are so confusing that just reading them on Wiki gave me a headache, they don't really pertain to this particular action figure, so I think I'm going to save us all a nasty need for an aspirin and spare you the details. Suffice to say Captain Atom found his way back to the mainline DC Universe just in time to have the Multiverse restored, and he hasn't really been the same since...

As to his powers and abilities, Captain Atom's metallic shell, or "skin", is composed of a portion of the alien being known as Silver Shield, and is called Dilustel. Pieces of the alien's metal body were used in Project Atom, and on later subjects like Major Force and Bombshell. Nathaniel is able to coat himself with the metal, either partially or totally. Atom's symbiosis with the metal is such that even partially armored he is able to access the Quantum Field. The metal is almost totally indestructible, resistant to various degrees of damage from energy, physical, heat, lasers, etc. Only X-Ionizer technology can cut the metal because that is what the Captain Atom Project used to remove the Silver Shield's skin. Breaking through it causes Captain Atom to Quantum Jump as if he had absorbed too much energy.

Captain Atom's Dilustel skin is tied into the Quantum Field, which enables him to absorb and manipulate theoretically infinite amounts of energy, the amount of which he can use is, of course, limited by his will power. If Captain Atom absorbs too much energy at once, he is sent hurling through time. Depending on the type of energy absorbed, he either goes forward or backward in time. This energy can be used for flight (which is generally faster than the speed of sound in Earth's atmosphere and up to half-light speed in the vacuum of space), super strength (shown at times to be on par with Martian Manhunter), self sustenance and life support allowing him to live and even speak in space, fire and control energy of any form. He commonly manipulates his energy into force field bubbles, or explosive 'bombs', but the most common form is a simple blast.

Over the years, Captain Atom has become an expert at his energy manipulation and he can fire from any point on his body, although he usually uses his hands for ease of aiming. He can fire in multiple directions at once or from every point of his body at once. Several times he has "detonated", releasing a massive amount of energy at once, destroying objects within a certain radius. On more than one occasion, he has used his ability to manipulate all forms of energy to prevent a foe using their own powers, such as the Ray and Firestorm.

Captain Atom can also create matter in the same manner he creates energy. Originally, he needed a pair of gloves invented by Blue Beetle to do so, but he later learned to do so without them. In the same way, he learned to access weak force energy. With focus and effort, Captain Atom can increase any of his abilities to the match the amount of will power he uses to gain it.

In addition to his superhuman abilities, Nathaniel Adam is also an experienced United States Air Force pilot. It is notable that he is one of the few superheroes with a "Captain" appellation that corresponds to a military rank he has actually held. He is especially skilled in combat piloting and is also trained in military weaponry, strategy, and hand-to-hand combat. Adam also has strong survival instincts derived from his experiences during the Vietnam War.

So, how's the figure? Very cool. Captain Atom, for a time, anyway, was regarded as a top-tier superhero right alongside the likes of Superman and Batman. During the "Invasion" storyline, he was given command of much of the superhuman forces by the President of the United States. Certainly his power level is not easily matched. And perhaps to enforce this "top-tier" status, Captain Atom was given an appearance that was distinctive, and yet also straightforward.

The character is almost entirely silver. Unlike Marvel's Silver Surfer, however, Captain Atom has visible hair. It is of moderate length and fairly wavy, especially in the front. Like his body, the hair appears as silver when he is "powered up". While perhaps a bit of artistic license, one also has to be impressed with the level of control Nathanial Adam has over the alien metal to be able to cover his hair without it losing its shape.

However, Captain Atom is not entirely silver. He has red gloves, blue boots, and a red symbol on his chest that looks something like the silhouette of a traditional illustration of an atom. While not entirely conventional, as it doesn't show a central circle with orbiting lines, if one were to take those orbital paths and draw a line around their entirety, and then color it in a solid color, it could look very much like this.

The figure has a distinctive head, of course, but otherwise uses the body molds created for -- for lack of a better term -- "standard human males" in this DC Universe Classics line. Some people have a problem with the same set of molds being used for multiple figures. I don't, really, as long as doing so doesn't affect the intended look of the figure.

Mattel has shown an abundant willingness to create distinctive figures when necessary -- Cyborg, Deathstroke -- even parts of figures, such as Nightwing. But if the "standard human male" body works -- why not use it? And it works as well here as it has on Green Lantern, Orion, or anyone else that has made use of it.

There are, however, two issues that I would like to discuss. One pertains to the specific Captain Atom figure that I picked up, the other pertains, unfortunately, to quite a few DC Universe Classics figures out there.

With regard to the specific one I picked up, there's a bit of a mold glitch. Usually I catch this sort of thing. On the other hand, the figure is, I would say, 95% just fine, and given the relative scarcity of these figures at this time, I wasn't about to pass him up. But one can see on the right arm -- the lower arm and the lower portion of the upper arm -- some molding problems. I'm not sure if the pieces were pulled from the mold too roughly, or if they weren't molded in their entirety properly, but there's some pretty distinct "scarring" here, for lack of a better word, that shouldn't have happened. I really hope that this isn't the case with all of the Captain Atoms out there (and I highly doubt that it is), and in any case, this is a quality control problem that needs to be addressed, because there's no good reason for it.

The second matter I want to discuss is something that Mattel seriously needs to address, because in my opinion it is a significant quality problem. It took me three tries to get a really good Captain Atom. Why? Well, there was the molding issue on the first one. As to the second one -- the way the articulation is designed on these figures, there is an upper-leg swivel just above the knee joint. That means that the knee-joint is somewhat similar to the old "swivel arm" of G.I. Joe figures. It's a fairly small piece which consists of some of the leg musculature and an attachment point for the lower leg. Now, that musculature is fairly well-defined, as one would expect on a super-hero, and the left leg and right leg "knee joints" are categorically NOT interchangeable. Which -- unfortunately -- didn't stop the second Captain Atom from having two left knees. This also ultimately explained what's wrong with my Nightwing figure, as he has the wrong knees on BOTH legs. They don't line up, and there's no practical way to switch them out, either.

I am finding myself having to give these figures, now, a "fine tooth comb" visual inspection before I buy one. And given how scarce they still tend to be, sometimes I don't have a lot of selection. The point is -- I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO DO THIS! I realize the assembly-line nature of these figures, but for me to get two figures with the same essential problem. Come on, Mattel!

I know, I tend to ramble a bit when I encounter a problem. So let me say this -- this is otherwise a really magnificent figure (once I got a properly assembled one). And I know there's a lot of fans of these Charlton characters out there who have waited a long time to see some of them added to ANY of Mattel's DC offerings. So here we are -- here's Captain Atom in what I firmly believe is Mattel's most impressive DC-based line, the Universe Classics. And it really is a superb figure. The paintwork is well done. The silver is a very shimmering metallic, just a few steps removed from a full chrome job. The eyes are a deepset yellow outlined in black. The symbol is nicely done. The gloves and boots add a good bit of color.

Certainly the articulation, when properly assembled, is superb. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel near the knee, knees, and ankles. Mattel has really created an excellent basic body form here that can readily be used for a great many DC characters, and I sincerely hope it gets the chance.

So, what's my final word here? This is really a very cool figure. Captain Atom's current status in the DC Comics Universe might be rather up in the air, but Captain Atom's status in the DC Universe Classics action figure line is -- hey, this is very cool and very impressive. Mattel has done an excellent job with this interesting character, and anyone who's ever been a fan will certainly want to acquire him. There is a gold variant out there, as well, that's pretty cool.

The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS CAPTAIN ATOM most definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!