DC Relaunch Review: Captain Atom #1: Why you shouldn’t try to write like Alan Moore

 

Captain Atom #1

Writer: JT Krul

Artists:  Freddie Williams II, Jose Villarrubia

 

Captain Atom #1 is a strange comic.  Completely divorced from older takes on the character, this issue sees a generic nuclear powered superhero gaining amazing new powers at the cost of his individual consciousness over the course of the story’s 20-pages.  This can be done brilliantly (see Watchmen) or ridiculously (see every other time it’s been attempted).  In captain Atom, JT Krul is not up to the task of matching Alan Moore.  I know; I was shocked, too.

 

This plot revolves around Captain Atom’s big change.  At first, he’s a generic superhero whose nuclear powers begin to make him… lost substance… when he turns steel into air.  Transmutation apparently messes with him, so he goes to a scientist who tells him if he keeps this up, eventually he may lose self-awareness.  Immediately, through sheer coincidence, of course, New York is hit by a volcano and a nuclear reactor is going off.  To fix everything, Atom is forced to let himself fully lose substance at the end of the issue.  Naturally, he’ll be back just fine next issue, though with a new personality.  Normally, I avoid spoilers, but, well everything flows from one scene to another in the most predictably convenient fashion.  It’s weak plotting to rely so heavily on coincidence after coincidence, but, well it keeps the story moving well enough that it isn’t a fatal flaw in one issue.

 

My main problem with Krul has always been that he has a poor ear for dialogue.  Very little his characters say could ever be attributed to anyone in real life, and his people, as a result, don’t feel real.  This is, I would expect, less an issue in this comic, where the protagonist is defined by losing humanity and will, likely, do better with Krul’s dialogue than most others.  The problem, however, is that we don’t get any of Captain Atom’s real personality here aside from some awkward exposition, so there’s really not much to measure the change against.  Worse still, there’s no reason to care about Atom, which leaves it emotionally unfulfilling that he’s losing his personality.  I just don’t care that a guy who I have no attachment too who has no personality is going to be changed.  It’s the author’s job to create either a situation to make me care (the clichéd sacrifice for NY won’t do it) or characters compelling enough to make the change feel important.  At both, Krul doesn’t succeed.

 

Over time, we will surely get more of Atom’s past, and more reason to care about what he’s lost, but for now, the entire hook seems to be what Atom is turning into now that he’s lost himself.  Without knowing what he was, and knowing that this isn’t a book that will be allowed to change the DCnU, there’s little tension is his next story’s helpfully titled Messiah Complex.  At it’s most likely, Atom will be a Dr. Manhattan derivative (ironic for the obvious reason that Manhattan’s original pitch was to be Capt. Atom) done less effectively, not that it’s necessarily a slight to not be up to Watchmen.  The problem is, however, inviting comparisons to that classic with a derivative hook that just won’t be as good as the original.  There’s potential for something new, but between the plot here, editorial, and the quality of the original, I have serious doubts as to whether that potential will be reached, although, sheer curiosity at DC’s gumption in trying might get me back for another issue or two.

 

The art is a major part of why I’m considering returning to this book. Freddie Williams II hits an absolute home run with this material.  From Captain Atom’s clear fight scenes to expressive, focused art, Williams is doing as good a job with the material as possible.  Sure, the layouts are common enough, but given the set up, the story doesn’t really call for more.  And what’s in those layouts is truly dynamic.  For that, Williams owes a debt to Villarrubia, the colorist, as everything really jumps off the page.

 

The plot is coincidence laden and, at this point cliché.  The characters are two dimensional with no real reason to care about the protagonist’s fate despite a cliffhanger ending.  This apes a better work that it very likely has no hope in reaching the quality of.  The art is very good, but done in a fairly standard format for a superhero comic.  All of this leads to a below average comic, but one that has a spark.  It may be a spark earned by another, far better story that changed comics when all that this aspires to be is a good superhero version of the same, but the spark still remains.  There’s promise here.  5/10.

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