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Captain Atom 84
"After the Fall, A New Beginning!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND January 1967; Charlton Comics; Dick Giordano, editor. The lead story is Capt. Atom in "After the Fall, A New Beginning!" Script by Dave Kaler, art by Steve Ditko with inks by Rocke Mastroserio (a longtime Charlton stalwart whose inks made a pretty good match for Ditko's pencils). The main cover scene depicts an ebullient Captain Atom charging forward, knocking villain henchmen over like bowling pins and shrugging off a blast-ray from a machine, while a pair of metallic arms rise to threaten him in the foreground. The good Captain is clad in the new costume to be introduced in this issue. The previous costume, dating from CA's original 1960 run, was primarily yellow with red belt, boots and mask. This one is more multi-colored, with blue torso, trunks and boots, silvery arms, red leggings-- and no mask.

The splash panel recaps the dire events of the previous issue (which I reviewed last week). Captain Atom was revealed as a public menace after his protective anti-radiation costume was torn; a top secret device was stolen under his nose; and, after he depleted his atomic power bringing a runaway reactor under control, the renegade Professor Koste and his minions captured him and flew him back to their secret base. "The mighty Captain Atom was now a powerless prisoner with no future, unless there could be... a A NEW BEGINNING!" (The double "a" there is letterer Herb Field's typo, not mine.)

Arriving back at his secret base inside a mountain, Prof. Koste has Captain Atom put in restraints and prepares for a "TV special". He breaks into network TV broadcasting (causing one distraught viewer to complain, "Now how will I learn if Rodney confessed on 'Satan's Place'?") and, while hiding his own face, unmasks Captain Atom and demands ten million dollars ransom from the U.S. government for his return. The Captain thinks his secret identity as U.S. Air Force Captain Adam is exposed, but though he has met Adam, Koste only thinks Capt. Atom looks vaguely familiar. The Captain realizes that this is because Adam is dark-haired but when he is charged up as Captain Atom, his hair is white. Duh.

Though public opinion is mixed as to whether CA is worth ransoming-- "Some super hero! He couldn't even stop them from removing a little bitty mask!" says one member of Cap's admiring public-- the government decides to meet Koste's demands; "It's a high price to pay! But Project Rebirth is worth it!" (Project Rebirth? Didn't that create Captain America, not Captain Atom?) However, though he is sitting in a cell, our Captain has no intention of waiting passively for release. He begins to scheme how to escape without his atomic powers, but then realizes that his super-energy is slowly returning-- enough to break the lock on his cell. But as he searches for a way out of the hideout, he is greeted by a metallic punch in the jaw. "It's a pleasure introducing myself this way...Iron Arms is the name!" Energized by a power pack on his back, Iron Arms batters Captain Atom, who pretends to be worse hurt than he is in order not to reveal that his powers are returning. Iron Arms returns CA to the custody of Koste, who has the Captain placed in a cage hung over a cave abyss. But then, following standard villain operating procedure, the villains assume CA is helplessly unconscious and leave him alone and unguarded while they go to "talk business". Actually, Cap's powers are still returning, and he breaks out of the cage and lets himself drop into the underground river below, figuring correctly that it will have an outlet he can use to escape. He hurries back to the Air Force base hoping to halt the delivery of the gold ransom, but finds he is too late, the gold is on its way in a "radio controlled helicopter". CA fl ies after the copter, while the villains discover him gone from the cage but assume he is still powerless and has perished in the abyss. They are disabused when they see CA flying toward the radio copter, but blow it up in his face by remote control. "They never would have blown up that copter if the gold were still in it! FAILED AGAIN!"

While Koste and Iron Arms make plans to use the gold ransom to finance the building of more super-power packs for their army of henchmen, Captain Atom returns to the base to face the scorn of Abby Ladd, an influential reporter who is gleefully covering the disgrace of a hero. But CA has more important concerns than media bias; there is still Project Rebirth, which may enable him to continue functioning as a hero. His aide Gunner Goslin explains, "This formula is liquid metal! Sprayed on your body it will be absorbed under your skin and will be invisible and radiation-proof!" "I'll be able to act like a human being again if this material works! " Captain Atom muses. "I can go to the beach and not be a menace to everyone there! It also means that I can get rid of this mask and design a new uniform...a NEW LOOK will give me a better public image!" Protected by an anti-radiation suit, Gunner proceeds to spray the liquid metal onto Capt. Adam's exposed skin, but as the process is completed his radiation count is "still way over the danger level" "It will take time to take effect!", Adam replies, but as the minutes and hours pass with no change in his deadly radioactivity, Adam concludes that the project has failed and he will have to either resume using his old uniform or "give up being Captain Atom!" Meanwhile, Abby Ladd (who seems to have remarkable access to a secret government project) is pounding on the door and yelling that the villains Koste and Iron Arms are escaping justice. Adam realizes that she is right and reaches for his old costume as he prepares for action. Suddenly a change occurs and he finds himself with the new look he has sought. "IT WORKED! It only needed the power charge that makes me Captain Atom to work perfectly! Turning on the power causes the metallic substance absorbed by my skin to come to the surface as a metal covering OVER my skin!" The color tints added by Gunner to the liquid metal now appear and form CA's new blue, silver and red outfit (spotlighted in a full page Ditko panel). Moreover, "There's no radiation count!" Gunner declares-- even when CA subdues his power charge and becomes Captain Adam again. Charging out the door, Captain Atom finds Abby Ladd still there-- "Hello, Wildcat! I ought to kiss you for pounding on the door that way! In fact, I think I will!" As Abby fumes (and no doubt plans to make sexual harassment charges against the Air Force), a charged-up CA flies back to the lake fed by the underground river that connects with Koste's cave hideout. "I hope the baddies are still there! I want to thank them for all the embarrassing situations they put me in with my fists! Up and at them, Captain Atom!"

Arriving at Koste's base, CA finds that Koste and Iron Arms and their goons are indeed still there, though preparing to move out. CA makes short work of the uniformed thugs, and when Iron Arms attacks him, he finds him a different proposition from the weakened Captain Atom he fought before. But Koste steps in, boasting "I've suspected your power was atomic (uh, yeah.... did the name "Captain Atom" and the atom chest insignia maybe give you your first clue?) ...that's why I prepared this radiation draining gas to stop you!" Cap destroys the gas device with an atomic fireball, but is left weakened enough to give Iron Arms more of a chance against him. It comes down to a Ditko style slugfest between Cap and Iron Arms, which Cap ultimately wins with a "last desperate blow". He summons the Air Force to round up the bad guys and retrieve the gold ransom, and is content to fly back to base himself at a leisurely pace; "I don't even mind being outflown by pigeons after what I've been through!" Headlines bllare, "Atomic Hero Makes Good!" but public opinion remains mixed, with one woman declaring "Handsome or not, I still think he's a menace" and another replying "He can menace me any day!" And at a Washington party, Abby Ladd still proclaims her scorn for Captain Atom and her preference for another guest, a humble Air Force officer; "A real hero is more like the handsome Captain Adam here! He does his duty and no one ever reads about it!" "Better bite your tongue, baby...that's my alter ego you're talking about!" our Captain replies in his thoughts. "And so we leave as Capt. Adam faces an evening with Abby! Well, what's the word on our new Captain Atom?"

But that's not all... we still have a seven page Blue Beetle feature by Ditko (plot and art) and Gary Friedrich (script). Flying across the city at night in his Bug-ship, the Blue Beetle fears he will be spotted and trailed by a police helicopter, but he evades pursuit by dropping underwater and entering the sub-river entrance to his secret lab/headquarters in the "old Kord building". "Dad's old laboratory never ceases to amaze me! if it weren't for the years of hard work he put in, there wouldn't be a Blue Beetle today! But thanks to the pooling of his knowledge and mine, criminals will never again be safe to stalk the streets of the city!" As the Beetle pulls off his mask, he continues congratulating himself; "Not only is this the swingin'est hideout in town, but who would guess that Ted Kord, scientist, is secretly the Blue Beetle?" But doing a security check of the premises, Kord is disturbed to find his secretary Tracey snooping around the Kord office; "By Ringo's bangs, what's Tracey doing here so late? She's been acting suspicious ever since I returned from that expedition to Pago Island! Could she possibly suspect...?" (Editor's note: "We could tell you about it now, but we love to keep you in suspense.") He is further perturbed as an ominous looking masked figure breaks into the Kord building and threatens Tracey; The "Masked Marauder" demands access to Ted Kord's experimental records and then threatens to kill Tracey when she claims to have no access to the locked records. The Blue Beetle makes a timely appearance and beats up on the "Marauder" (didn't he make an appearance over in Marvel's DAREDEVIL about this same time?) but, overconfident (which seems to be this new hero's chief weakness) he allows the Marauder to get in a sucker punch and bash him with a stool before escaping, despite an attempt by Tracey to help. "Are...are you all right?" "Of course I'm all right! I always go around getting clobbered over the head with solid oak stools! It's good for my brains!" The Beetle directs Tracey to call the police while he goes after the Marauder, but actually, figuring the Marauder has made his getaway, BB resumes his Ted Kord identity in order to meet the arriving police and find out how Tracey will explain her late presence in the office. The Marauder does escape, musing that though he did not find the information he sought, "I have a hunch I know who the new Blue Beetle impostor is!" while the Beetle did not discover his identity as Count Von Steuben. Ted Kord arrives at his office to find Tracey; "It's been so exciting! Some costumed character who called himself the Blue Battler or something was here!" Before Ted can interrogate Tracey, the police arrive, led by Homicide Detective Fischer. But to Kord's shock they are little interested in the breakin Tracey has reported; instead Fischer wants to talk to Ted Kord himself, at the police station. "We'd like to talk to you about the murder of Dan Garret!" Though he denies any knowledge, Ted Kord is suddenly nervous and sweating, and Tracey wonders if her own suspicions which she was in the office to investigate have been confirmed. "What happened to Dan Garret, the old Blue Beetle? Who is Ted Kord, the new Blue Beetle, and what mysterious secret is he hiding? (The final panel is a small shot of the previous Charlton version of BB and his redheaded alter ego.) Don't miss the next exciting episode in the all-new adventures of the all-new BLUE BEETLE!" Perhaps for my next review I'll pull out the issue of BLUE BEETLE in which the secret of Dan Garret was finally revealed...I wouldn't want to keep you all in suspense too long, even if Dick Giordano did.

In the summer of 1967, my usual comics reading was almost entirely Marvel...but I was on vacation in northern Michigan and found that a mom and pop grocery store in the area had a big stack of relatively recent comics on sale for a nickel each.... and given the temptation of cheap comics plus time on my hands, I lapsed from my quasi-religious Marvelite loyalty. Some were DC's, but many of them were Charlton "action hero" titles. I think this was the first one I picked up, and it hooked me, not only on Captain Atom and the new Blue Beetle but on the idea that Charlton could produce decent comics. Ironically, by that time the action hero titles were cancelled, or about to be....I don't think I ever bought one new off the stands. But I bought all those I could find at that grocery store, and then went on a hunt over the next few years that eventually got me the whole run of the Giordano-edited hero titles, including CAP, BB in his own short-lived title, THUNDERBOLT which I also liked a lot, JUDOMASTER, which was OK, and PEACEMAKER, which I didn't care for that much, but bought them because by that time I was becoming a Charlton hero completist (though not fanatical enough to bother with the mostly God-awful pre-Giordano output, such as the previous run of BLUE BEETLE). With Charlton's sketchy distribution and schlock reputation among fans, the Giordano hero books had a feeling of being "hidden treasures", and I still have a considerable feeling of nostalgic affection for them.