Nathanael Adam believes he is a good man, but virtually everyone else in his life seems to constantly question both his goodness and his humanity. His is an elliptical journey, one that, from the series’ inception, has seen Captain Atom spin from pole to pole between that which makes him human, and that which makes him, well… something else, entirely. Following the events of the previous issue, Captain Atom #5 finds the titular character in a season of reflection, both literally and figuratively — and what he sees when he looks at himself is at once heartbreaking and terrifying.
Series scribe J.T. Krul plays the reflection metaphor masterfully, bookending the issue with scenes that depict the dual nature of Captain Atom’s self-perception: first, a pensive gaze into still water, which symbolizes Atom’s desire to be a man of peace, who lives only to help others and to make the world a better place; and later, a wide-eyed stare into the face of the monster he fears he might become. The pages between are packed with character interactions that further illuminate the rich layers of subtext present in the book. Captain Atom is man(?) at war with himself, yes, but there are also human voices shouting from both poles of his journey: at one pole are Ranita and Dr. Megala, whose apparent faith in his humanity serve to keep him grounded while his world spirals further beyond his control; at the other pole, Scott Alexander and General Eiling cry “Danger!” all the louder, seeing only a threat — or a weapon — when they consider his plight. This is the strength of Krul’s script, for if one reads Captain Atom in the same way as he or she might read Justice League, the point will be missed entirely. Captain Atom is an introspective book, an interesting blend of science-fiction and philosophy, mixed together within the trappings of a superhero comic. It is a sandbox in which Krul seems comfortably to play, and it doesn’t hurt that he plays in it quite adeptly.
Artistically, Freddie Williams II is a perfect fit for the journey that Krul has designed for the good Captain. There’s an ethereal quality to Williams’ rendering of Captain Atom, and it serves well to set him apart further from his human co-stars. Williams’ style is more than adequate to capture the (seemingly) thinning line between Atom’s humanity and his potential “otherness,” rendering him in such a fashion that he often feels dangerous, even as he’s attempting to help; for an example, one needs to look no further than the dream sequence spanning pages 3-6, wherein Atom imagines an attempt to save an injured Ranita, but leaves only death and destruction in his wake. Captain Atom is an example of a nearly perfect collaboration between writer and artist, and Krul and Williams seem to be having a blast with it.
Well, there’s the whole “Captain Atom as Dr. Manhattan” issue that keeps cropping up in reviews and on discussion boards. I’ll be honest: if the fact that there are a number of similarities between Captain Atom and Dr. Manhattan gives you heartburn, you’re probably not going to find much here to settle your stomach. I won’t deny that there are similarities, but given the history of both characters, I’d be more surprised if they didn’t share much in common. That said, I do wish Krul and Williams would be a little less blatant with their connections (having Captain Atom grow to enormous proportions is obviously going to call up images of Dr. Manhattan. Maybe find a different way to demonstrate the scope of his powers). I’m also not yet fully invested in the threat against which Captain Atom squares off at the conclusion of the issue. The “monster thread” has been dangling since the first issue, and now that we’re five issues in, I’m far more invested in Atom’s internal struggles than I am in some nameless, town-devouring beast. I have a feeling that monster thread has not yet been tied off, so I’ll reserve final judgment on it…for now.
Overall: Solid book by a solid creative team, and an entertaining read every month. I’m glad it survived the first cut, and I hope it sticks around for a while longer.