With a new villain on the loose cutting a swath of destruction and leaving a trail of bodies in its wake, our hero does the only thing he can – spend some time bonding with his bastard son. But is it all just ice cream cones and hypersonic jets for the good Captain?
Writer: Greg Weisman, Cary Bates
Artist: Will Conrad
Publisher: DC Comics
When we last left everyone’s fifth favorite captain (shouts out to Captains America, Picard, Hook and Crunch) had just had his ass whooped by psychopath turned supervillain Max Thrane. In this issue we learn that Thrane, now going by the stage name of Ultramax (which one would assume makes him the low cal, low carb alternative to Max Heavy), had worked as a professional assassin prior to his incarceration and it was the testimony of one of his former clients that put him away. Now that he’s free and full of crazy blue energy powers, Mad Max is on the warpath – taking out a peculiar collection of former associates in his quest for revenge.
Some of the victims make a bit of sense. A mob extortionist hiring a hitman is no surprise, and though I’m sure it doesn’t happen as often in real life as it does in movies, I can buy a successful executive using a hitman to take out potential rivals in the corporate world. Then there’s rapper Dzee, who looks a little bit like Ja Rule on a Kendall Jenner lip kit. Now I know that many people in the rap game came from pretty rough backgrounds and may have done some shady s--t before they hit it big, but what rapper with any street cred hires an international assassin to take out the dude they’re in a rap beef with? I’m sure he didn’t publicize it or anything, but that’s what is referred to in some circles as “a b---h move.” We also learn that Thrane even worked for Eiling at some point in the past, so why would this master assassin, contracted by CEOs and secretive government organizations slum it by taking on a hit for the DC Universe equivalent of the guy responsible for the Fyre Festival? But I digress.
Naturally, with a psychopath whose superhuman abilities are pretty much directly resultant from his own actions out there murdering civilians left and right, our hero does exactly what you and I would do – he spends an afternoon bonding with his estranged bastard son. Yes, rather than deal with the problem he created, Nathaniel Adam spends the day impersonating a JROTC officer to spend time with the aloof “brilliant slacker” son he never got to meet, Genji. They talk about the merits of military service, share some lunch and – for some reason – hop in an F-16 for a quick trip through the sound barrier. Now I won’t pretend to know a lot about ROTC programs, but is that part of the process of wooing would-be cadets? You can really throw someone with no concrete connection to the military into the cockpit of a fighter jet and zoom them around at Mach 2? I know Captain Atom is a celebrated pilot and all, but captain isn’t a super high rank AND he’s undercover at the moment. It’s not like he’s using his secret connections or anything, either, as Eiling and company complain about not being able to find him while his arch enemy is out there murdering people.
To his credit, Adam does eventually confront Ultramax toward the end of the book…unfortunately it kind of happens by accident. After learning that Genji has been under surveillance by General Eiling (Who, by the way, IS totally supposed to be Keith David. Called that s--t.), the good Captain rushes to the General’s house to ask “WTF?” It is at this point that Max makes his play on Eiling and we get a brief super-brawl between the two energy-based metahumans. Cap gets the best of the villain in this go around because he’s more familiar with the minutiae that comes from quantum powers, but the stage is set for escalation in the final issue of this series.
So yeah, I have some issues with the writing in this issue’s viability. I can totally buy Adam wanting to get to know the son he never got to meet so badly that he would put his own selfish desires ahead of a looming national security concern. Yet if the next issue comes and there’s no hint of any guilt from the Captain (who, let’s not forget, is responsible for Thrane getting his powers and, thus, any collateral damage they cause) he’s going to come off as wooden at best, or sociopathic at worst. I also hope that some of the issues brought up in this book find their way into other DC books because there’s no way they can address all the lingering threads around General Eiling’s machiavellian schemes or Adam’s son in a single issue that also features the climactic smackdown with Ultramax.
To touch on the artwork, it continues to be strong. Will Conrad is great at capturing action sequences and faces. Everything is consistent and well rendered, though that shouldn’t suggest it’s perfect. The biggest issue (which is more of a nitpick, but I’ve already started typing at this point) is the depiction of Adam and Thrane’s powers. I get that the effect he’s going for is a sort of crackling electricity aesthetic, and for some sequences it works well. The problem comes in the beam struggle clash toward the end of the book. Thrane busts through the wall and looks like he’s ready for a scrap while the Captain is poised and ready to defend, so far so good. They menace each other a bit, again pretty great, then they lunge at each other…and their energy goes everywhere but straight. It kind of weakens the tension of the sequence. It’s literally one panel, so this is a really whiney complaint to make, but still.
Overall, this is still a strong book, even if I am somewhat worried about the direction of the main character’s disposition. Bates and Conrad haven’t given me a lot of reason to doubt that they’ve got this thing covered, but as a critic, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little worried. Knock it out of the park, fellas.