After last issue’s explosive ending, Captain Atom is blasted back into the past–only he’s considerably less atomic. What’s a not-so-super hero trapped in the 90s to do? If he’s anything like me he’ll spend an inordinate amount of time playing Final Fantasy VII.
The Rise and Fall of Captain Atom #2 (DC Comics)
Time travel is always a tricky concept to work with for storytellers. In addition to having to define the “rules” of the temporal displacement (are working with, say, Back to the Future rules? Timecop? ::shudders:: Lost?) you’re tasked with creating a world that speaks to the day and age in which you’ve set your story. In this, the second issue of this six part story of the Atomic Man, writer Cary Bates focusses more on the former at the expense of the latter.
At the end of the previous issue we saw our hero explode after his powers became too unstable, only to somehow survive and emerge in a normal human form. As we pick up in this book, Nathaniel Adam (funny that his name worked out like that right? The DC Universe has a serious sense of irony) has been living in the year 1996 for a little while, but can’t shake the hero game. We follow him over the course of the year as he tries to understand the rules of his jaunt through time (note: It’s….unfortunately…the Lost rules.) and finds love along the way.
It’s a humanizing tale that gives a bit more personality to a character whose backstory has most typically boiled down to “used to be in the Air Force.” Here we see not only how resourceful Adam can be (he explains how he managed to get by with no friends, family or identity), we actually get little character moments that explain bits of his personality. This ranges from insignificant details like his lack of enthusiasm for sports to his more traditional and romantic side, like asking his romantic interest’s parents for permission to marry her.
While I enjoyed the writing, the artwork is more of a mixed bag. Will Conrad has a real eye for replicating famous faces. Every principle character looks suspiciously like celebrities (With Doctor Sato coincidentally looking like Lost’s Yunjin Kim), but the realism of the characters’ faces stands in contrast to sometimes awkwardly surreal anatomy. I get that this is a… well, former superhero, and they tend to be surreally jacked, but look at Adam’s torso on page 5 and you’ll know that we’ve breached the uncanny valley of believability.
Later in the book, when Adam is accosted by crooks trying to hijack his car, the art feels rushed. The faces are flimsier, the motion of the action is indistinct, and we see another example of Conrad’s biggest challenge: explosions. There are times where he can create passable combustion effects, but sometimes we’re stuck in fireworks territory.
Still, that shouldn’t imply that this isn’t a good book. It may not reach the highs and promise of the first issue, but when does that ever happen in a second issue? The end of the book sets up what I assume will be a defining conflict for the rest of the series: Adam’s attempts to get back to the 90s. Hopefully not by wearing JNCO jeans and listening to Korn.