Today, Peter and Patrick are discussing Captain Atom 7 and 8, originally released on March 21st, and April 18th, 2012.
Peter: As we continue in the post modern world of Captain Atom, we are seeing a lot of references to time and not-so-intuitive nature of cause and effect. The running clock which accompanies every scene-change ensures that this theme remains pervasive throughout. Time is ever moving around us, but in the world of Captain Atom, it’s something entirely different.
Issue 7 opens in ancient Egypt in the Napta Playa, as humanity first began keeping track of time. The Napta Playa is the site of one of the world’s earliest time keeping devices, a circular stone structure that is thought to be a archeoastronimical calendar. Jump ahead to a far-flung future, where we see a Star Child-esque Captain Atom. This future version is clearly evolved, including obvious bone structure differences, as well as adding a second set of thumbs. GROSS!
Flash to the present time, where we see Nathaniel watching over the little boy that he saved from brain cancer. The kid appears to be doing much better – he runs around with a smile and a Captain Atom t-shirt. This gets Atom thinking about who else he could help. Back at the Consortium, Atom offers to cure his Stephen Hawking friend, Megala. He refuses the offer, saying that his life would be drastically different if he wasn’t in the chair, implying that his physical restrictions make him more committed to his work.
In the lab, Nathaniel has an intimate moment with a supercollider (I’m certain that he is the only one who can do that). It takes him down memory lane and allows us to see a little more of his past and how he came to be Captain Atom. Afterward, he does the teenage-romantic-movie-thing and follows Renita on her date and watches from outside in the rain. Until he is approached by the future Atom.
So, Captain Atom and Future Atom jump into the Timestream, which is portrayed as a very river-like thing, moving to the ebb and flow of events. But there are other versions of Atom in the Timestream. In addition to evolved Atom, we have Tribunal Atom and Telepathic Atom. They explain that, instead of influencing the past themselves, Team Atom will send Nathaniel into his own the future to prevent the destruction of Earth. He arrives in the future and realizes that people have come to worship him. They all have the Atom symbol in emblazoned on their hands a la Logan’s Run.
He visits the Continuum, only to find that Megala is pretty crazy, and attacks him for not giving him what he wanted years ago — not a physical body, but a further enhanced mind. Megala blames the current state of the world on Captain Atom, because, in curing Renita’s hand, he imbued her with his power.
These issues are pretty good. They give us some insight into the overall structure of the book with the explanation of the clock, as well as some background into Nathaniel’s past, leading up to his transformation into Captain Atom. The clock that Krul has been peppering throughout the series began when the human race began keeping track of time. It’s an interesting experimental idea to have this clock running throughout the series, and while I’m still slightly critical of how random and forgettable these numbers were in the first six issues, I’m interested in where Krul is going with this sort of commentary on the nature of timekeeping. It makes sense from the Timestream aspect, that time is ever moving, not just by traditional calendars, but from the moment when mankind understood the concept. When Future Atom and Nathaniel enter the Timestream, the clock is blank, indicating that time doesn’t flow in the Timestream, since history appears more as a reflecting pool for observation.
I really like the idea that there are different iterations of Captain Atom. The Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Tribunal, and the Telepath give us an insight into the different things that Nathaniel could become. The most interesting of which is the whole Tribunal affair, because they are three separate minds, so despite their seemingly the limited vocal abilities of each individual, they are bond to confer in order for anything to be accomplished.
The obvious God references aside, I really did enjoy this exploration of the character. Sending him to a future where everyone worships him — and wherein he has taken measures to make the world perfect — is a very interesting idea, and gives us a continuing look into the scope of this character and his powers. I foresee that this will become a recurring theme and something that will be revisited time and again.
Freddie Williams’ art is again really cool. I think that I like it because it is so different from the other New 52 books. Obviously the most striking difference is that it is not a cell shaded book; the seamless integration of colors, without solid black outlines really works well with this book and it’s philosophy. It works well with the concept of the fluidity time and the whole Timestream concept.
What interests me the most about this relaunched Captain Atom series is that this is a superhero comic which is more philosophy than fist-fights. These issues were entirely involved with looking at the nature of time, and we are beginning to see that Captain Atom’s powers are lending him a cosmic insight. The future Captain Atoms have evolved beyond his current form, and it’s clear that the present Captain Atom is in the process of discovering that same ability to achieve quantum enlightenment. Instead of pitting this relaunched Captain Atom against an increasingly powerful set of super villains, Krul has Captain Atom exploring the limits of his own abilities, and his relationship with time and his teenage heartthrob self.
Patrick: I was only luke-warm on the first arc in this series – I think partially because they involved the Cap’n fighting a Big Bad. It’s a weird dynamic when a writer tries to create tension by giving an invincible hero a physical task to complete. Like 98% of Superman stories I grew up with, there’s no chance the hero will fail, so why tell the stories of his heroics?
As it is for just about any narrative, it is the limitations – the failings – of the hero that are most compelling. Why do you love Bruce Wayne? Why do you love Hal Jordan? We love them for what they are unable to do, we love them for the mistakes they keep making. So naturally, when the reach and the abilities of a hero are expanded infinitely, their ability fuck it all up is equally expanded.
Monthly Unfair Comparison to Dr. Manhattan: Unlike his Watchmen counterpart, Captain Atom has not lost perspective. Indeed, all it takes is to put him in a room with different versions of himself to see how grounded our hero is. You make fun of Atom stalking his not-girlfriend on a date with her boyfriend, but the fact that he’s even that invested in the life of another human being is curious. Remember that scene in issue #4 where Atom has a chat with the Flash about whether its right for them to interfere in the lives of people who are literally too slow to perceive their intervention? This doesn’t appear to be an issue for Nathaniel: anyone that asks for help is going to get it.
This poor character has so little control over how his powers are used. When he escapes the Timestream for the future, he’s made to view the end of the world. He muses to himself: “Is this supposed to be a benefit of my powers?” Damn straight clairvoyance is a benefit – quit bitching about it and snap into action. I can’t help but compare the scene in the Timestream to Swamp Thing #7. In Swamp Thing Alec Holland is halfway between life and death and he demands that the Parliament of Trees grants him the power to become Swamp Thing so he can fight The Rot. I get that we’re in a space outside of time and not between life and death, but the basic concept is the same: the hero inhabits a metaphysical space until he’s ready to take action. The difference is Alec jumps out of the plane while Nate is basically pushed.
There’s a ton of cool sci-fi philosophy so far in this story arc. I loves me some time travel, and while I generally regard DC’s Timestream as insufferably silly, the concept of a space outside of time is sorta cool. I know Booster Gold is stomping around the DCnU, but it does seem like the relaunch in general is going light on the time-travelry. For instance, I don’t think Rip Hunter has made an appearance yet. As long as we’re talking about how these change (or don’t change) the DC Universe, the Fetal Cap’n clarifies that we are not dealing with parallel universes. As fans (AND NERDS), we know full-well that the Multiverse will be phasing its way into existence with the launch of the second wave in a mere two weeks.
You kinda gloss over the origin story. Which is fine, by the way. It’s not an emotional origin, but a physical one. ACCIDENT OCCURS DURING A SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENT. Now roll D12 to determine which powers he gets. YAWN. What is compelling about this whole particle-accelerator-induced flashback is the chaotic nature of his memories. Two pages from this otherwise mundane origin are fucking awesome. The first depicts the first time he ever felt all squishy inside from touching a human being side by side with the last time he had flesh with which to touch a human.
Also, check out how the borders on these pages look just like the Timestream. That’s cool foreshadowing. All those little extras do more than rescue a dull origin story and elevates the whole sequence.
All things told, I’m glad this series is really going for crazy plot developments: it’s really the only way to engage this character in a meaningful way. I hope Krul and Williams find more ways to tie the sci-fi story elements to the emotional journey of the most powerful being in the universe. That’s a tall damn order, but without meeting it, I don’t know what role this series serves.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?