DC’s round of #0 issues is supposed to provide a jumping on point for new readers and give some background and insight into the characters for existing readers. I decided to take that challenge head on and read a comic that I’ve never read to see if this issue will teach me what I need to know about the character and convince me to pick up the ongoing story. Imagine my chagrin when I learned that Captain Atom had already been cancelled and the zero issue was the final issue. Still, there’s always the question of whether it’s a good read, and I can tell you that after the jump.
Previously in Captain Atom: It’s a zero issue in a rebooted universe so nothing happened.
Well, if you insist, there have been a few versions of the Captain, dating back to Charlton Comics. The through lines have been that he’s a military man and was part of some experiment that went wrong, winding up with crazy, nuclear powers. He was also the inspiration for Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame. But I still say that you shouldn’t need to know any of that to pick up a zero issue.
UP AND AT THEM
What I learned in this issue is that Captain Atom used to be a fighter pilot whose father’s death so upset him that he tried to fly his jet to the moon, apparently. This got him grounded so he volunteered for a secret, inter-dimensional experiment that goes wrong (of course it does) and turns him into a flying blue guy with undefined powers and a sudden urge to protect the military. Generally in these reviews I try not to list everything that happens in a comic, but that was it.
At first, all I know about the guy, Nathaniel “Nate” Adams, is that his father died and he’s so angry that he doesn’t care about his friends or his job as a pilot. So I can only assume volunteering for the experiment is because of a death wish, although he specifically assures the scientist Dr. Megala that this is not the case. Then when he emerges from the experiment as Captain Atom, Nate freaks out. OK, to you and me, finding yourself naked, blue and floating ten feet above the ground is the most important day of your life. But for someone in a comic book universe, it’s Tuesday. What’s the big deal?
Seriously, the guy has given up on life and has no motivations that I know of—how he should react to anything is a mystery to me. In the end, Captain Atom decides to become a hero to avenge his… No. Because his father always told him that with great… No. Because he was bullied as a kid and… No. Because he was a dedicated military officer… Well he was an officer, but not dedicated to anything. If this is supposed to be a mystery to the reader, then it’s not a compelling one. Nate only interacts with two people in the entire comic, and in both cases he’s ignoring their lecturing him.
With so little going on in this comic, I frequently asked myself “What’s going on?” What is the point of the secret experiment? What is Nate’s role in it other than sit in a chair and work a control panel? Dr. Megala mentions crossing dimensions and gives a speech about M theory that explains nothing except that the writer watched that one episode of Nova and thought M theory sounded cool. There’s not even enough pseudo-science that I can pretend to understand what’s going on. Thus when the experiment goes wrong, there’s no sense of what the stakes are or what outcomes I am supposed to hope for/fear. I’m watching it happen but I’m not emotionally invested.
MY EYES! THE GOGGLES, THEY DO NOTHING!
The art is very stylized, which is often a way to say that it isn’t very good but that it might be that way on purpose. The backgrounds are blurry. Hell, the foregrounds tend to fade out as well. So much ink is used on the shadows that basic, shape-defining lines are left out. I’d blame the inker, but it’s all done by Freddie Williams II. It’s like watching an “art” film where there’s Vaseline smeared on the lens to give it a dreamy, soft focus and cover up production values. In contrast, no ink was spared to show shadows, particularly on clothing folds or on facial wrinkles.
The basic rule in comics is that the more lines used to draw a face, the older the character, so Dr. Megala must be Anthro’s grandfather. His wrinkles are so cavernous that no light can escape their depths. My greatest joy in reading this book was when I imagined that the wrinkles were extreme “tribal tattoos” (think Mike Tyson) that change shape from panel to panel. Try it—it will improve your enjoyment of the art by 150%.
BOTTOM LINE: UP AND LET’S GO
On the positive side, this issue doesn’t expect you to know anything about the ongoing story to pick it up. On the other hand, it doesn’t provide you enough information to care about the protagonist. Captain Atom is introduced as a jerk and by the end of the issue he’s a jerk with superpowers. He doesn’t have enough motivation or personality to be an interesting jerk or an anti-hero.
If you’ve been reading Captain Atom, I can’t imagine this issue gives you any new information and certainly no satisfying conclusion. If you haven’t been reading Captain Atom, this issue gives you no reason to want to read more. I give Captain Atom #0 one and a half stars—It’s not the worst comic I’ve read recently, but one of the least compelling.
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!