When Superman hit it big, every company that ever even thought about publishing a comicbook jumped on the superhero bandwagon - it was like having a license to print money. As those companies began to fold, though, they were bought out by their more successful competitors. Since DC was the big dog, they ended up owning the rights to characters from dozens of publishers, and since they didn't want the rights to expire, they had to find a way to use the characters every few years. Somewhere in the mass buy-offs, they'd come up with a generic hero who went by the generic name of Captain Atom.
The original Captain Atom, from Charlton Comics, was one of those guys who was involved in an accident that, in real life, would have killed him. In a rare move for comics, said accident actually did kill him - it also gave him the power to bring himself back to life, conveniently enough, as well as flight, power blasts, granting wishes, walking on water, healing the blind... okay, maybe not those last few. He served his country both as a hero and as an Air Force officer, but was eventually forgotten.
When DC got the rights, they couldn't do much with a pre-Vietnam soldier, so they changed him, by making him a pre-Vietnam soldier. Wait, what? Roped into an unsafe experiment, Captain Nathan Adam was strapped on top of a nuclear bomb as it was test-fired. What his presence was supposed to accomplish is unclear. What it did accomplish was merging an alien metal with Adam's skin, granting him energy powers and launching him decades into the future, where the government used him as a spy in the superhero community. To help establish him as a hero, the '60s adventures were retconned into a publicity cover story to fill in the gap between his "origin" and the present.
Captain Atom has remained a fairly low-level hero in the DCU, but his best stories were always the ones where he had to reconcile the differences between his sense of duty as a soldier and his personal convictions, and that's the way in which Jeph Loeb used him in the first arc of Superman/Batman, "Public Enemies."
Though Captain Atom has always been a favorite project for customizers - paint a Superman silver and you're done - he's never had an action figure before. Mattel was supposed to do one in their JLU line, but he has yet to materialize. This figure is based on Ed McGuinness's artwork for the comic, so he's got the same massively bulky look as the rest of the figures: huge shoulders and chest, narrow waist, big thighs.
There's some debate about whether these figures all share the same body or not. Sure there are minor cosmetic differences, but that only means they didn't physically come out of the same mold; the underlying bodies are exactly the same. The biggest differences are past the knees and the elbows, but the muscle structure on the core of the figures is exactly the same. It's like when ToyBiz gives us Iron Man and Silver Centurian Iron Man - different figues, same body.
But that's a prime example of how well this line duplicates McGuinness' art. The guy only draws one body type, so why shouldn't the figures all look the same? Heck, it was even a plot point in "Public Enemies," so more power to them.
Captain Atom doesn't have any major paint errors, but that's no big accomplishment, since he's mostly one color. The silver is nice and shiny, without being vac-metallized. His colors, though similar to Superman's, are lighter - his boots are sky blue and his gloves and chest symbol are closer to salmon than red.
Though DC could have gotten away with just repainting Superman's head, they didn't - Captain Atom is nicely coiffed, though that big wave in the front doesn't look strictly "military regulation." His eyes are yellow and rimmed with black, and he's got a big frown on his face. In fact, all the figures in this series seem to be unhappy, but they looked that way in the art, as well.
Captain Atom's design allows for a bit more articulation than his fellows. Just like the rest, he moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees, but because his "clothes" all have flat edges, he also moves at the gloves and boot tops. Just like Superman, he would have benefitted greatly from a balljointed neck, so he could look up as he flies. He doesn't have any accessories, but since he didn't use any in the story arc, that's fine.
Captain Atom is a surprisingly interesting character, considering that he's never been able to hold down his own comic for very long. Still, as supporting characters go, Atom is pretty good, and unpredictable enough to be a bit of a wild card in whatever story he's in. It's hard to believe he's never been cast in plastic before, but DCD did a great job.
Why is Captain Atom always relegated to second-class citizenship? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.