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Captain Atom 83
"Finally Falls the Mighty!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND November 1966; Charlton Comics; Dick Giordano, editor. The cover by Steve Ditko depicts Captain Atom being battered by ricocheting ray-beams as a blurb warns us, "Be prepared for UNEXPECTED, STARTLING EVENTS ...when you witness THE DEFEATS OF CAPTAIN ATOM!" A panel at the bottom of the cover shows us a first glimpse of a blue-clad hero swinging on a rope from his flying bug-ship; "Plus the all-new adventures of the all-new BLUE BEETLE!"

Captain Atom had originated in 1960 in the pages of Charlton's SPACE ADVENTURES, and was, if I'm not mistaken, the first costumed hero ever to be designed and drawn by Steve Ditko. He was Captain Adam (I don't think he was ever given a first name during the Charlton run), a U.S. Air Force officer caught in the explosion of a nuclear warhead, who was disintegrated but somehow returned to life as a nuclear-powered being and, wearing a costume which also served as protective armor for normal humans against his radioactvity, fought for truth, right and the red, white and blue. CA disappeared from SPACE ADVENTURES after a year or so but returned in STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES (soon retitled CAPTAIN ATOM) starting in 1965, first in reprints from the SPACE run, then new stories drawn by Ditko following his departure from Marvel. The issue in hand features the start of an attempt to revamp the good Captain a bit, as well as the debut of another new/old Ditko hero.

The Captain Atom tale is titled "Finally Falls the Mighty!" on the splash page and is written by David Kaler (a member of '60s comic fandom who had a brief pro writing career with Charlton), pencilled (and probably plotted or co-plotted) by Ditko, and inked by Rocke Mastroserio. The very Ditkoesque splash page depicts a harassed-looking Captain Atom faced on one side by shadowy masked villain figures, and on the other side by the sneering faces of the public, shouting, "Captain Atom is a Menace!" "Harmful!" "Danger--Captain Atom!" As the story begins, Captain Adam, in his Air Force officer role, is suspicious as he spots Professor Koste, a scientist who was dismissed from government service as a security risk, leaving a public exhibit of Air Force technology. Adam's suspicions seem confirmed as a squad of green-uniformed thugs break into the building to steal the technology. They are met by Captain Atom, phasing through a wall and flying through the air to battle the thieves; a visitor to the exhibit is impressed; "And I thought I'd miss something by not staying home to watch that super hero show on TV!" The crowd of onlookers is endangered when a hanging spacecraft exhibit falls, but the Captain catches it. However, the crooks get their chance to escape-- and due to his exertions, Captain Atom finds that his protective costume has torn, allowing deadly radiation to escape and endanger the admiring crowds. The word gets out that the Captain is a "radioactive menace", and public attitudes abruptly change towards him; 'nstead of lionizing CA as a hero, the crowds shout, "He's worse than the Reds!" "What if he went berserk? We'd all be in danger from him!" "Why does he wear a mask?" and, of course, "The capitalists are engaging in radioactive warfare!" Meanwhile, under cover of these events, the sneaky Professor Koste is able to get into the Air Force exhibit and steal the mysterious "unit" that the green-clad thieves were after.

While seeking a scientific cure for his radioactive problems, Captain Adam is still concerned about Koste, and seeks information from a former colleague, Prof. Lipat, who worked with Koste on a "top secret project"-- not knowing that Koste has kidnapped Lipat and disguised himself as Lipat in order to regain access to the project. After checking security at the secret project, Capt. Atom goes to interrogate "Lipat", who panics and, in order to create a diversion, sabotages the project nuclear reactor. Captain Atom resolves to stop the deadly reactor himself-- "Let's see what one radioactive menace can do to stop another!"-- but finds the uncontrolled energies of the reactor threatening to tear him apart. Facing the reactor core, the Captain struggles to absorb the runaway energy into himself and shut down the reactor. He succeeds, but is left nearly prostrate by the effort. Still hanging around, Koste finds Captain Atom apparently helpless and summons his green-clad henchmen to loot the project. Seeing Koste's gang, CA rouses himself to go after them, but is shocked when, phasing through a wall, he finds himself stuck halfway through. He barely manages to back out of the wall, but finds he no longer has his atomic-powered strength; "Something happened during my struggle with the reactor...I'VE LOST MY POWER!" Hearing this, Koste orders his green-clad goons to the attack; "Hear that, men? We're on even terms! GET HIM!" "I may have no power, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten how to fight!" Cap declares, and at first he does give a good account of himself, even with only his fists against muttiple assailants. But the strain is at last too much for him, and he falls under the fists of his enemies. Koste orders his men to take the captured Captain to their helicopter while he finishes his study of the project reactor. "Meanwhile, miles away..." a pair of metal clad arms bends a steel bar, smashes through stone, and then the arms' owner declares, ""We're going to make a little trip to see Prof. Koste...RIGHT NOW!" Who is "Iron Arms"? How will Captain Atom come back from total defeat and disgrace? The answers will have to wait for the next issue of CAPTAIN ATOM... or my follow-up review.

But that's not all there is to this issue... Charlton's "action-hero" line under Dick Giordano's editorship was adopting a policy at this point of featuring seven-page backup features in each title, and for Captain Atom's backup, Giordano called on Steve Ditko to create an updated version of a hero who dated back to the Golden Age, but whose previous run as a Charlton character had been pretty execrable. The new Blue Beetle makes his debut in a tale with "concept and art" by Steve Ditko and script by Gary Friedrich, better known as a second-tier Marvel scripter of the '60s. No splash panel here, as the first page launches right into the story with a panel of newspaper headlines about the rampage of gangster and bank robber "Killer Koke". Meanwhile, late at night, a strange-looking insect-shaped vehicle sits on a rooftop, and its costumed occupant sets the ship's antennae searching for sounds of interest. No luck at first -- "Nuts! Nothing but a bunch of late late shows on TV!"-- but then, the antennae pick up the sounds of a bank alarm and gunshots. The blue-clad man sets his "sonic radar" to guide the flying bug-ship towards the sounds, and descends from the ship hanging from a cable--" I can do any necessary steering with the hand held controls! I hope it works as well as it did in my practice flights!" There is nearly a mishap-- "Oops! Got a little close to that building! This is my first real action-- and I'm a little nervous!" -- but our hero reaches the scene of the ongoing robbery and swings down towards Killer Koke's mob; "Get him, you guys! No costumed creep's gonna spoil this heist!" "Looks like the BLUE BEETLE is about to 'crash' a going-away party!"

As our hero wades into the thugs, the more experienced ones are a bit confused; "He ain't the Blue Beetle I once seen!" "No, I'm not! But you fellas will be hurtin' just as much when I'M thru with you!" As he holds his own against a half dozen thugs, the new Beetle waxes overconfident; "I don't want to seem immodest, but you guys really don't have much chance against the likes of me!" But a small bomb or grenade hurled from the getaway car stuns the Beetle, and the thugs crowd around trying to unmask him, only to find that his metallic helmet won't come off or tear. One of the gang has a more final solution-- pointing a gun, he advises, "Who cares who he is? I'll finish him off once and for all!"-- but the approach of a policeman causes the gang to flee, escaping with the bank loot. The Beetle summons his "Bug" through a control in his gloves and reels himself back into the vehicle, setting out on the trail of Killer Koke's getaway car. Spotting the car, the Beetle seizes it with the Bug's grappling "legs" and raises the car into the air, doing loops until the criminal occupants are helpless with dizziness and motion sickness. The Beetle leaves the thugs for the police, but Killer Koke seeks revenge by sowing a seed of mistrust; "It was all the Blue Beetle's fault, officer! He planned all the robberies, then double-crossed us! He's the man you really want!" And the arresting officer is sympathetic; "Veerry interesting! I never did trust those kooks who run around in costumes!" Nonetheless, the cocky new Beetle is pleased with himself for his first night's work, despite his close brush with unmasking and murder, as he flies off in the Bug to get some rest. "What new adventures await Blue Beetle? Only you, fellow Charltonians, can say for you hold old BB's fate in your ever-lovin' hands!" No revelation in this intro tale of who this new high-tech Blue Beetle was or how he came to replace Dan Garret, the old Blue Beetle...that would have to wait for future issues of CA and the new Beetle's five-issue run in his own title.