Batman and the Flash may be the ones trying to solve the mystery of the smiley-face badge, but the return of Captain Atom to DC’s lineup may be the key to unlocking DC’s entire Rebirth storyline.
Captain Atom, originally created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko, has seen a lot of action over the years. One of Charlton Comics Sentinels Of Justice, he – along with fellow heroes Blue Beetle, the Question, Nightshade, Peacemaker and Peter Cannon/Thunderbolt – were a new breed of heroes. Captain Atom wasn’t the first hero whose powers were atomic in nature, and he wasn’t the last, but of all of them he’s the most complex and his abilities made him a true force to be reckoned with.
Since the Charlton characters first debuted in the DC Universe back in Crisis on Infinite Earths, they’ve met with mixed fortunes. Blue Beetle found success but was never considered an A-list player, despite his vital role in that groundbreaking series. Nightshade moved on to the Suicide Squad. The Question, the world’s most justifiably paranoid conspiracy theorist, headlined his own critically acclaimed series and played a major part in both 52 and the Justice League animated TV show. Peter Cannon never really found success at all.
As for Captain Atom, his origin and identity were tweaked to fit DC’s post-Crisis world. A soldier framed for treason in 1968, he volunteered for a scientific military experiment in the hope of gaining a presidential pardon. In the experiment, his body absorbed raw quantum energy and the liquid silver shell coating from an alien spaceship, and he was catapulted forwards in time to 1986. Struggling to cope with a world which has progressed without him and blackmailed by General Wade Eiling, he becomes a government-sponsored superhero and member of the JLI.
There were big plans for him beyond that, too.
Originally planned to become the time-travelling villain Monarch in the Armageddon 2001 series, Captain Atom looked set to become DC’s new powerhouse villain. However, that plan fell through due to behind-the-scenes problems, and his role was modified to instead battle against Monarch throughout various time periods. Over the years, he became everything from a living bomb who entered the WildStorm Universe to a government stooge. He even became the second incarnation of Monarch, years after DC had dropped the ball with him the first time around.
However, The Fall And Rise Of Captain Atom, a new six issue miniseries, could see him play a bigger part in DC’s current plans than anybody may suspect.
The story begins in 2012, the year his New 52 series was cancelled. Captain Atom’s body appears to be overwhelmed by the buildup of quantum energy. The resulting explosion sends him back in time to Kansas, 1994. But where does he go from there? More importantly, for a hero whose travels have been across the multiverse and all through time, is this even the world he left behind?
The possibilities here are many, and the timing of this series’ release is intriguing given the announcement that the next installment of Rebirth is on the horison.
After all, the old Charlton Comics’ Sentinels of Justice were the heroes that those in Watchmen were based on. Nite Owl was based on Blue Beetle, Silk Spectre was based on Nightshade, Rorschach was based on the Question, the Comedian was based on Peacemaker, and Ozymandias was based on Thunderbolt.
And, of course, Doctor Manhattan was based on Captain Atom.
The first Rebirth comic book teased that Doctor Manhattan may be at the heart of the DC Universe, shaping it over the years as he sees fit. Indeed, his hand may even be the one witnessed at the dawn of time in the Big Bang, as seen in Crisis On Infinite Earths (and also shown in the Justice League Unlimited animated episode The Once And Future Thing). Since Watchmen was set in 1985, the same year of DC’s classic Crisis, it isn’t hard to see a connection there (even if it was never originally intended) and to logically accept that Doctor Manhattan created the entire DCU.
Assuming that’s the case, and assuming that we’re supposed to see Doctor Manhattan as a cosmic villain, then our mainstream heroes are going to need a heavy hitter to battle him. Cue the return of Captain Atom.
Captain Atom has always been a minor character with vaguely-defined powers. Yet he’s also a character who can breach the boundaries of time, space and the entire DC multiverse. In fact, the only thing which has held him back in terms of power is his limited understanding of what he’s truly capable of. He may fly around like a normal superhero, but technically he has all the power of his alternate version Doctor Manhattan, which puts them on even ground. And now he’s started to overload for some strange reason.
Granted, there are many routes this new series could go.
Has he been sent back to the past in the New 52 DCU timeline? If so, he may be able to alter the course of many current titles. Or perhaps he’s gone back to the older DCU, before the New 52 took over? If so, he may also have bypassed some of the changes made in Flashpoint too, which again may put him in a unique position, and one before the WildStorm Universe was a part of the DCU. Or he may even be setting events in motion to create Earth-22 – the one in which Kingdom Come takes place – since the real turning point of that tale involved his death and the subsequent explosion it created in… Kansas, the same place where this series has him.
All of those possibilities raise the point that Captain Atom may be a big player in the near future. His ability to exist in time, the multiverse and beyond make him a powerhouse on the same level as Doctor Manhattan, and someone who has the potential to shape the world of DC’s Rebirth in the very near future.
For now all of this is speculation. Perhaps the new series is simply just another title relaunch, albeit one with a rather peculiar name. The timing of it may simply be a coincidence too. Yet the potential is massive, and it’s hard to predict just where it’s going. The only thing we can tell for now is that it’ll probably be another bumpy ride for Captain Atom…