You may know him as a chrome-covered soldier and member of the Justice League, but his first appearance was another story entirely… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Space Adventures #33 awaits!
Writer: Joe Gill
Penciler: Bill Montes/Steve Ditko/Bill Molno
Inker: Bill Montes/Steve Ditko/Bill Molno
Editor: Pat Masulli
Publisher: Charlton Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2750.00
Previously in Space Adventures: These days, discussion of Charlton Comics is mostly limited to their canon immigrants to DC Comics after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, such the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, The Peacemaker and Nightshade. But Charlton dates back almost to the dawn of comics books, having started production in 1945 (though they were operating under a different name as early as 1940.) Charlton’s publishing practices were seemingly to get as many comics out, in as many different genres as possible, as cheaply as possible, grabbing their market share by sheer volume. Romance, war and cowboy comics were their bread and butter, with superheroes being relatively rare. In the mid-50s, Jerry Siegel created a couple of superhero books (including Mr. Muscles and Nature Boy), but their first real sustained stab at superheroes came with the Action heroes line, circa 1965. Of course, the first of those heroes came several years earlier, in this issue.
The first story in Space Adventures #33 is a relatively forgettable tale of astronauts who end up on planet Krylon (don’t inhale too deeply), but we quickly meet Captain Allen Adam who, thanks to a dropped screwdriver, is rocketed into deep space with little chance of escape or survival. Remember, this is being published in 1960 and was probably written in ’59, while the first actual human in space wasn’t until the spring of 1961. The fact that he has no breathing apparatus or protective gear is bad enough, but there’s also the matter that this particular rocket is carrying an atomic payload.
Floating in his most peculiar way, Allen Adam barely has time to register how different the stars look before he is annihilated in atomic fire. It’s a beautifully drawn sequence by Ditko, and one that really conveys the tragedy of a man being blown to smither-atoms because he dropped a screwdriver.
Fortunately, it’s also not the end for the good Captain…
I can’t remember the last time I read this particular story, but for the first time, I realize just how much of Captain Atom’s origin made it into the visuals of Doctor Manhattan’s origin. (For those not in the know, Alan Moore’s initial ideas for ‘Watchmen’ were based on Captain Atom and the other Charlton heroes, with many overtones of the originals making it into the final, altered work.) The bad part for Captain Adam is that his demise has been widely reported on by the news, making his survival a necessary secret, especially the part about “massive nuclear super powers.”
Thanks to a special suit made of “Dilustel” shielding, he is able to channel his powers without any danger to those around him (though the fact that it doesn’t cover his whole body is troubling) and once he has mastered his powers, he reports to the White House. President Eisenhower gives him a new costume to wear over his Dilustel and dubs him Captain Atom., America’s most secret weapon against all things bad, evil, atomic or otherwise. When a second missile test goes awry (which, honestly does call into question what the heck is going on at Cape Canaveral), Captain Atom leaps into action!
Reading this issue for the first time is shocking for a number of reasons: Not only is Ditko delivering on some pretty amazing visuals, even allowing for the degradation of Charlton’s cheap paper, this first adventure is very Golden Age, with a two-fisted American hero facing disasters rather than villains. Not only that, having only read the book in reprint form, I had NEVER seen Captain Atom’s light-blue (silver?) costume before, only the red-and-gold version seen on the cover. This coloration is not seen again as far as I can tell (though he does get a dark blue cowl on the cover of #42, which seems to be just a miscoloration), making Space Adventures #33 the only appearance of baby-blue Cap, with stellar Ditko art aiding a script that gets the job done, for a memorable 4 out of 5 stars overall. Captain Atom would get a big revival a few years later, which eventually led to his 1986 relaunch and the chrome shell we all remember today, but it’s strange to see that his original appearance not only predates much of the space race, but is early enough that’s it’s debatable whether it counts as part of the Silver Age!
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SPACE ADVENTURES #33
It's a good-looking comic with a unique color scheme for our hero, with one of the more interesting origins of the age.