The funny thing about Captain Atom is that the most famous version of the character isn’t even named ‘Captain Atom.’ Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ refashioning of the character into Dr. Manhattan is more well known than the traditional superhero form of the character, so much so that, when a version of the character turned up in “Final Crisis,” Grant Morrison clearly drew upon Dr. Manhattan more than Captain Atom for ‘Captain Adam.’ Some of the early buzz for the new “Captain Atom” suggested something more Dr. Manhattan than Captain Atom, but little of that actually shows up in the first issue aside from focus on the hard science of the character’s powers. Those powers are the only connection between the two characters.
Not that not being a Dr. Manhattan comic is a bad thing, or a strike against “Captain Atom” #1, per se. The bad thing is that there’s not a lot that separates this from any other superhero comic except the hard science talk. Captain Atom overnarrates much of the issue, babbling nonstop without revealing anything of substance about himself. We learn that he’s having some problems controlling his powers and he doesn’t actually understand much about science because he was just a dumb pilot before becoming Captain Atom. He has a support crew, including an anti-social Stephen Hawking-esque science mentor, and they do all of the big thinking for him before he rushes off to another crisis.
At this point, if all that’s separating the character from any other random superhero is his powers, there’s a problem. If the end of the issue is any indication, this could be the first step in the title becoming something different, but that doesn’t excuse beginning in such a broad, mediocre fashion. If the plan is to wind up at some different, new, exciting place, why not start there? This is meant to be the place to grab someone checking out the first issue and a vague sense that maybe it will become something more than just another superhero comic in a few issues isn’t a strong selling point.
The one difference this comic has going for it is Freddie Williams II’s art. In the past, he’s used a more cartoony style than he does here, where he favors heavy blacks and suggestive line work that implies the shapes of objects more than illustrates them. It’s a visual style that plays into some of the underlying ideas of Captain Atom’s powers and how everything is matter and energy, and his ability to alter those things to become other forms. In Captain Atom’s world, nothing is truly stable and the art reflects that. Together with colorist Jose Villarrubia, the hero stands out in every shot, drawn and colored differently. He’s more solid and brighter than everything else. The comic is more fully formed visually than it is in the writing.
There are suggestions of an interesting hook for “Captain Atom” except it’s buried under a typical, average superhero comic. The art points to something unique about the character and his relationship to the world, while the writing only mentions that in a long expository scene about his powers. Maybe this comic will become more of a stand-out as it progresses; unfortunately, that possibility isn’t certain and isn’t presented in this issue.