Monday, October 31, 2011

Captain Atom #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Freddie Williams II
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Stanley Lau

This is the character who inspired Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, of course. I’m not very familiar with Captain Atom beyond that, but the story suggests that Krul is broadly taking a cue from Manhattan’s portrayal: Atom is growing more powerful, and he’s worried about an increasing detachment from the world—both physically and psychologically.

Which I always find an interesting approach to superheroes, because it’s the perfect launch pad for stories that, at least in theory, explore and go beyond the established boundaries of the genre—see Soldier X, for instance.

But in this case, the execution doesn’t even come close to tapping that potential. The story boils down to two extended fight scenes with generic villains (a giant robot and a giant mutated rat) and even more generic inner monologues, plus an interlude that introduces the hero’s generic supporting cast (mad scientist type, sympathetic young assistant). As far as character motivations, conflicts or even just mildly interesting moments of character interaction are concerned, the script completely fails to deliver. There’s nothing there beyond the barest bare bones of an utterly generic superhero set-up.

Who is Captain Atom? What does he want? Why is he floating around to fight super-villains? I don’t know. And I don’t care, either, after reading the story.

Williams and Villarrubia take a fair stab at giving the book a unique look, and they succeed with the protagonist. Largely thanks to the color scheme, their Captain Atom looks vibrant and interesting. Unfortunately, the world around him—which means everything else in the book—is so muddled and downright ugly that it makes me wonder if anything went wrong during the production process.

In the story, the hero has to worry about accidentally dissolving his own substance and disappearing into the ether. Judging from this debut issue, I fear it’s already too late.

Grade: D

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