All Associated Cover/Issue Images
Fire: You can’t just root around Checkmate. This is the largest collection of intelligence operatives on Earth. Their “resting state” is mondo extreme, gun in hand, finger on the button, knife at the throat paranoia.
Captain Atom: The parts of me that are human are… they’re disappearing. And I mean literally. There’s almost nothing inside me now but… energy. And it’s not just physically. I feel less human. I’m losing my tether to humanity. Losing what it’s like to be… a man!
Old Karrie: And Clark. Oh, Clark. He fought so hard. S-s-s-o hard. Hard enough that he started to hurt the world. So.. he lay down, he let the end come. Let the world live, even like this, but at least it would live.
Synopsis "Splitting the Atom"
Maxwell Lord has convinced everybody except the old members of the JLI that he doesn’t exist. He has manipulated them into reforming with a replacement Blue Beetle and Rocket Red, but has warned them to stay out of his way. Booster Gold and co are now determined to find and expose Max’s activities. The Blue Beetle’s scarab has traced Max to Checkmate Castle. The new JLI now gathers in their old New York embassy to debate their next course of action.
Captain Atom has been in a reflective mood since a Russian soldier died because of Max’s arrogance (Rocket Red#00 – last issue). He recalls his own origin as the product a Vietnam War era military experiment. He has been keeping secret what happened to him immediately before Max wiped everybody’s memories. Max had planted an unusual atomic bomb and Atom had been forced to absorb its explosion to save his friends. They assumed that he’d harmlessly released the energy in orbit, but he had actually been thrown into the time stream.
Captain Atom found himself on a colonial farm apparently somewhere in the Old West. He calculated that he had 19 hours 43 minutes until he fully metabolised the energy that he had absorbed and snapped back into his original place in space and time. He was found by Mary and Luke, a pair of farm children, and then by their father Robert. Atom explained away his metallic skin by telling them that he had become separated from a circus freak show. Robert offered him hospitality, but as night fell Atom made a startling discovery. The sky was dominated by a moon that had an entire hemisphere blown away. The Captain pressed Robert for the date and shocked to be told it was 2351 AD.
Robert reacted angrily to Atom’s mention of the old superheroes and asked him to leave. There was some sort of world war, but the details had been lost over the generations and only some of the names were remembered. Robert’s father intervened and agreed to take Captain Atom to see a woman called “Old Karrie” who was there when the war came. Atom confesses to Robert’s father that he is afraid that whatever is left of his humanity is slipping away. He finds Karrie at the centre a radioactive plain. He is shocked to discover that the frail, blind woman is actually Power Girl (Karen Starr). She is almost powerless, but is still too invulnerable to die. She tells him that everybody died in the war – even Superman stopped fighting out of fear that his efforts would destroy the world around him. As Atom starts to snap back to the present day Power Girl screams at him that the war was started by Maxwell Lord.
Captain Atom now tells his allies that “All of our friends, our families and everyone on Earth… they have no idea who [Maxwell Lord] they’re up against or that he’s even out there. We do. It’s on us. We’re the ones to stop him.”
- When Captain Atom absorbs too much energy it causes him to jump into the future. He slowly metabolizes the energy until it dies down to a level that causes him to snap back to his original place in time and space.
- Maxwell Lord’s actions have created a divergent future where there was a world war that included the meta-humans. The moon was blown apart and the remnants of humanity were knocked back to a the equivalent of the pre-industrial 18th century. The only survivor was Power Girl, blind and frail, but still too invulnerable to die.
- Captain Atom weights three-quarters of a ton.
- His powers allow him to absorb/block radiation close to him protecting people nearby.
You see, JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST #6 is such a game-changer for the series, is just SO BIG a revelation that by telling you ANYTHING at all would blow EVERYTHING for you. I mean, it’s HUGE!
It was a warning that for once worked (I seem to have a knack of running into spoilers).
This issue is a real left turn for the series. Captain Atom had been unusually sullen during the earlier issues and now we know why. That he’s been hiding a time jump was one thing, but the details are surprising. The big splash on page 11 is amazing and eerily beautiful. comicBOOKchris on iFanboy put it well when he said.
This was a wonderfully clever issue. That first twist about when Captain Atom learned about his surroundings really threw me through a loop. If I didn’t already think that this was the best DC books on the stands, this issue would have convinced me.
We also know the point of that bomb in the first issue. It’s an interesting twist and turns Max’s protestations on their head. He had argued that he just wanted his friends to be a team again and asked to be left alone. However, we now see the outcome of Max’s schemes – a future world war that knocks the survivors back to a pre-industrial level. Greg at CBR points out why this is such an important twist,
Up until this point it’s been hard to shake the idea that the heroes are chasing Maxwell Lord because he’s a bad guy, rather than any one specific thing he’s done. It’s not an unreasonable motivation, but it’s also not terribly compelling.
There is a nice pace to Nate Adam’s journey in the future. He knows that there is nothing else for him to do other than to wait for the energy to be metabolised. Seeing him open up to Robert’s father is revealing. The old man relates the story of his father talking to his dogs to explain Captain Atom talking openly to him. The implication is that Captain Atom, at least in the old man’s opinion, sees normal people as being like the dogs. Nevertheless, their pairing is interesting and reveals a lot about the Captain’s current emotional state.
The second big revelation – that “Old Karrie” is poor Power Girl – is something of a shock. Time hasn’t been kind to her, but I suppose we wouldn’t look better if we’d live to reach 350-years-old. The red cloak is a nice nod to her old cape.
Fernando Dagnino has scenes and setting that he can really get his artistic teeth into this issue. Some of the forced angles used to show the lunar debris look a bit odd, but other places are absolute dynamite (the moon reveal and the kids finding Captain Atom to name two).
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1.1 – Winslow Air Force Base. Today the air base in Winslow, Arizona serves as Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport. It was mentioned in the 1980s comics as being the Air Force base where they stored the alien UFO.
1.2 – Captain Atom’s original secret identity was, as Jason Fetterley points out in the comments, called Captain Allen Adam. Allen Adam first appeared in Charlton Comics’ Space Adventures #33 (March 1960). In the original Charlton origin he was a rocket scientist/engineer who became trapped in a launching atom bomb. He was believed atomised when the bomb exploded, but he was able to pull his body back together by sheer force of will. A side-effect of this was that he gained superpowers which he of course then used to become a superhero. If that origin sounds familiar it’s because it’s the same origin as the Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan. DC Comics purchased the old Charlton Comics library in the 1980s and planned to integrate it into the DC Universe. Part of that was a project by Alan Moore which eventually evolved into the Watchmen. You can still see the parallels between Night Owls and the Blue Beetles.
DC Comics wound up reviving Captain Atom in a 1980s series by Cary Bates and Greg Weisman (the same Greg Weisman who is now helming the new Young Justice cartoon). Their new origin explained that the Charlton Comics origin was actually a cover story created by the US Military. This time around USAF Captain Nathaniel Christopher Adam (in best A-Team fashion) was sentenced to prison for a crime he did not commit. He volunteered for a risky experiment in exchange for his freedom. The details from the 1980s Captain Atom series and the origin presented here are broadly similar.
1.3 – The 1980s Captain Atom series went into the origin of the alien space craft. It is actually a sentient creature from a another plane of existence called the Quantum Field. US scientists carved sheets of metal off of it and built a cocoon that they sealed Nate Adam in. They then detonated a nuclear device under him.
2.1 – The unique properties of the metal caused it to fuse with Adam’s skin transforming him into the metallic Captain Atom. However, the energies involved bounced him decades into his future (our present). He was given the cover identity of Cameron Scott and was adopted as the US Government’s very own superhero. It was under their orders that he joined the Justice League International – a condition of the US government agreeing to its UN recognition.
The government gave him a superheroine girlfriend called Nightshade, an arch-enemy called Doctor Spectro, and even fabricated evidence that Atom had worked alongside the original Blue Beetle (Dan Garrett). The second Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) eventually discovered that something was a miss and investigated with Mister Miracle and Booster Gold. Initially they working against Atom, but he regained their trust and they helped exonerated him of treason.
4.2 – There has been some question as to what Captain Atom actually is. In the last issues of his own series he was described as a Quantum Elemental (an entity on the same sort of footing as Swamp Thing, Red Tornado, or Naiad). Later in the Extreme Justice series it was explained that the Nate Adam that returned to our Universe was actually a quantum duplicate formed by the alien metal and that the real Nate Adam was actually a supervillain called Monarch. That plotline was quietly forgotten until other writers made the real Nate Adam a supervillain also called Monarch. James Robinson extracted Captain Atom from that mess in a co-feature that ran in Action Comics. It looked like Captain Atom was back just being Nate Adam, but some of the monolog in this issue implies that Judd Winick and Keith Giffen are playing with his identity again.
4.3 – This scene took place in issue one.
5.2 – This particular stunt shown here, of his absorbing energy and then releasing it, seems to have been made popular after it was used in the “Initiation” episode of Justice League Unlimited.
6.2 – The children are identified as Mary and Luke later in conversation.
7.3 – The detail about his energy absorption is possibly new. During the 1980s Captain Atom could absorb energy, but if he absorbed too much energy too quickly he would be bounced into the Quantum Field and emerge at a seemingly random point in space and time. This mirrors what happens during his origin when the atomic bomb explodes and propels him from 1968 to 1986. For example, in Armageddon 2001 Captain Atom absorbs energy from an explosion and is propelled back to the age of the dinosaurs.
7.5/8.1 – interesting juxtaposition here. The Captain ponders how mechanical he’s become – hmm, a metal man acting like a robot – and is shown with inhuman, point-like eyes as he concentrates, but in the following panel on the next page his focus is broken and he’s shown with far more human eyes.
8.2 – The farmer with the gun is identified as Robert by his wife.
8.3 – Ah, the old circus troupe time traveller explanation for the superhero/Starfleet costume. It must be some sort of rule that every circus sideshow has at least one alien/time-traveller waiting for the right moment to jump home. Superman even did it in “Time And Time Again” when he was stranded in the 1940s and got a job as a circus strong-man under the alias “Samson”.
10.1 – Is Captain Atom nude? Not really. His body is coated with an alien metal. The surface detail – like the chest symbol – are etched into that second skin. Nevertheless, Bombshell – the Teen Titan who has a similar skin – feels to necessary to wear normal clothing.
11.1 – The destruction of the moon is a common trope in science fiction and has even happened in one of the old Legion of Superheroes continuities (during the aforementioned “Time and Time Again” Superman story). This particular one, of a time traveller discovering the shattered moon, could be inspired by or referring to the 2002 adaptation of HG Well’s Time Traveller.
What I like about this picture is that the moon isn’t raining death on the people below. If the Moon were to break apart the pieces, as shown here, would continue orbiting the Earth – their centre of gravity doesn’t change, only their arrangement around it. Over time those large fragments are going to bump and grind into each other and get slowly worn down. The debris gets worked into smaller and smaller pieces which would eventually form a Saturn like ring around the Earth.
12.3 – 2351 AD is about a century before Booster Gold’s time. It’s also the 24th and one half century – the home year of Duck Dodgers! Do you remember the original 1953 cartoon. It ends up with Dodgers (Daffy Duck) and Marvin the Martian trying to blow each other up as they claim Planet X. The resulting explosion leaves them and the Eager Young Space Cadet (Pork Pig) clinging to a tiny fragment of Planet X. A fragment of a celestial body decidedly smaller than the one floating in the sky in this issue.
13.1 – Luke refers to the superheroes as “The Names” and Robert accuses Captain Atom of being a “religious nut case.” There is more to this post-disaster future than we’re being told. Why are the superheroes worshipped? Are they the devils or the saints in this cosmology?
13.5 – Robert’s dad doing his best Willy Nelson impression.
14.3 – The war happened before Robert’s grandfather’s grandfather’s time. That’s seven generations back including Luke and Mary. A generation is usually recognized to be 25-years so he’s referring to stories that were circulating about 175 years before his time which is still over 150 years into our future.
15.1 - A horse called Calliope. In Greek myth Calliope was the muse of heroic poetry, an apt name for a horse belonging to man who appears to believe in old stories about heroes.
15.6 – Captain Atom: “almost nothing inside me now but energy.” Something like this has been demonstrated in a couple of places. In Kingdom Come the Parasite splits Captain Atom’s metal skin causing an atomic explosion. It devastates the Kansas farming belt and precipitates the crisis that eventually brings Superman out of retirement.
16.1 – Captain Atom has two children, a son Randall and a daughter Margaret. After Nathaniel Adam was believed dead his wife Angela remarried. Unfortunately she married Wade Eiling, the s.o.b. that had framed Adam in the first place. By the time that Nate emerged from the Quantum Field his wife was dead and his children were adults (not much younger than he was).
19.2 – “You just weren’t around anymore” – it sounds like Captain gets killed or he gets shunted into another time and can’t return.
19.3 – Power Girl is from a parallel universe, a different version of Krypton. It has been established that Kryptonite only effects kryptonians from the same universe as it – that is to say Kryptonite from the Krypton of Universe Zero only effects Kryptonians from Universe-Zero and Kryptonite from Universe-Two only effects Kryptonians from Universe-Two. Its been used before, but was a pretty big plot point in the Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds mini-series. Either the Kryptonite she was referring to was from her own Universe or it was from Captain Atom’s Universe and thus didn’t have the potency to kill her outright.
21.2 - The turning point for the series. Maxwell Lord just erasing knowledge of his existence is just an inconvenience if he doesn’t actually do anything. Now we know that he’s up to something that needs to be stopped. There are still a lot of unanswered questions – how, when, or why did he start the war. Power Girl admits that her memory isn’t very good. She tells him that it started with Max Lord, but was it something thing he did or was it something that he didn’t do. Max says he’s trying to save the world. Is he trying to prevent this future or is he trying to bring it about?
22.2 - What isn’t obvious to me is if Captain Atom has revealed his adventure to his team mates or whether this is just a general statement that he’s making to them.