Captain Atom is not Dr. Manhattan. Let’s get that out of the way. He might look like Dr. Manhattan, have similar powers to him, be just as naked as him, and even be the inspiration for him, but there’s enough difference between the two for Captain Atom to stand on his own. J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams bring him back in his first solo ongoing book since 1991 in a first issue worth checking out.
J.T. Krul’s writing doesn’t require any knowledge about the character, but this isn’t an origin story. He introduces Captain Atom mostly through captions with the Captain’s own narration carrying the story. It’s a pretty common way of getting the story moving, and it’s similar to his Green Arrow #1 from earlier this month. The rest of the characters seem to exist only as a way of giving more information about Captain Atom. i.e. Dr. Ranita Carter is used to explain a bit of Cap’s back-story and life before he became a hero, Dr. Megala merely explains Captain Atom’s powers and weaknesses, etc. It’s a quick way to give a lot of information, but it weakens the story. Krul feeds us facts throughout, and doesn’t leave much room for emotion or character development.
To Krul’s credit, he manages to simplify scientific concepts down to the point where they’re understandable. After a few lines of Dr. Megala explaining that if he loses focus, Captain Atom’s body starts to dissipate, Captain Atom says “Sounds like a fancy way to say–,” to which Megala replies “Using your powers could kill you.” Most of the science is explained in a similar matter, which is crucial for those who aren’t scientifically inclined in the slightest.
The story itself is like a bow and arrow. It takes a few seconds to get set up and pulled back, but once Krul lets the story go, it launches at full speed. Other than the first few pages, the first half of the book is almost completely talking heads, and there isn’t a ton of action. Fortunately, once it gets going, it gets intense very quickly. There’s a volcano in the middle of Manhattan, and there’s the threat of nuclear reactors melting down. Captain Atom rushes to the scene, and it leads to a harrowing cliffhanger for a first issue.
Even when the pace of the comic slows, Freddie Williams’ art and Jose Villarrubia’s color job pick up the writing with highly stylized approach. Most of the art is filled with heavy blacks, but not Captain Atom himself. It makes our hero stand out against the dark background in an interesting way. Large panels and splash pages are where the art really gets a chance to stand out, and there are a lot in this issue.
Williams’ pencils do a great job of capturing the tone of the characters. The Captain himself looks surreal, Dr. Megala looks like a creepy old man, and the homeless guys look dirty and musty. Even without the writing, there’s a good chance you could tell what each character was like, solely by looking at them. All the characters are consistently drawn this way, which is to say, they’re drawn with care and precision from Cap to the most minor characters. It’s that attention to detail on every character that a lot of books on the market right now are lacking.
Captain Atom isn’t in the same tier as some of the top books from DC’s New 52, but it’s definitely better than the average #1 issue has been. It’s possible that a book with a fairly unfamiliar character can be forgotten among the titles with bigger and more recognizable characters, no matter how well written or drawn (Greg Pak and Fred van Lente’s Herc comes to mind). But if you’re looking for a sci-fi title that isn’t as dense as some of the other books, but is just as entertaining, this is a book worth checking out.
WRITING: 2 / ART: 4 / OVERALL: 3