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Captain Atom

DC Universe Classics
by yo go re

You loved Dr. Manhattan in this year's Watchmen - now get ready to love his real self!

Rather than face a life in prison for a crime he did not commit, Air Force Captain Nathaniel Adam volunteered to take part in the top secret "Captain Atom Project". But an atomic explosion accidentally bonded a living alien metal to Adam and sent him hurtling forward in time to the modern day. the transformed convict was given a new lease on life as the nuclear-powered DC Superhero, Captain Atom.

As you're well aware, Captain Atom was the inspiration for Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan - a normal guy, blown apart by a science experiment, gains phenomenal cosmic powers (without the itty-bitty living space). Atom was also originally intended to become the villain Monarch in the 1991 DC crossover series Armageddon 2001, but when the info was somehow leaked on the Usenet (thanks, proto-nerds!), it was changed to Hawk, probably the worst possible solution in the whole big mess. And that's why you don't change the ending of your mystery just because someone guesses it.

Captain Atom really would have been an ideal choice for DCU's Wal*Mart series: ultra-plain body, simplistic paint apps, only one new mold... plus his general lack of popularity. They could have dumped him in there, and saved, say, Black Lightning for a series where there was enough money to do him right. Atom nearly is the Platonic Ideal of what Mattel hopes to accomplish with these toys: a generic body with no distinguishing marks. Yes, it's a nice sculpt by the Four Horsemen, but for god's sake, it's hard to come up with new things to say about it when it's used for, like, 72% of all the figures.

The one piece of the sculpt that's new, and therefore worthy of narration, is the head. Despite being an Air Force captain, Atom's always been portrayed with big, wavy hair that would look more at home in 1950s rock or 1970s porn. We're not saying he needs to be high and tight, but the military frowns on its fighter jockeys sporting a bouffant. Despite being one solid color (or perhaps because of it) the detail on the head shows through very well, and even the figure's neutral expression seems to have personality.

Captain Atom has the standard DCUC articulation: balljoints at the neck and shoulders, h-hinges at the hips (allowing for balljoint-like motion with less harm to the sculpt), hinges at the elbows, knees, torso and ankles, and swivels at the wrists, biceps, thighs and waist. His body is painted silver, but not vac-metallized, which is doubly good, since there are already a few noticeable scrapes in the surface. His blue boots are a lighter color than we normally see on Superman, and his red gloves and chest symbol are desaturated. Watch out for the edges between the silver and the colors, because they're unreliable.

Four out of the five figures in DCU4 have a variant (take that, Ares!), and Captain Atom's is his golden Alex Ross-designed costume. The design mixes both the current (silver) Captain Atom and his original 1960s Steve Ditko costume into one look that plays to the major theme in Ross' work at the time: taking the superhero symbol and blowing it up to ridiculous proportions, then placing it on the body in a strange way. Todd McFarlane has One Giant Boot™©, Alex Ross had One Giant Logo (pat. pend.). The Kingdom Come costume made it into the real comics in 2005's Captain Atom: Armageddon, which is probably why the costume was chosen for the variant. Of course, don't plan on integrating him with your actual Kingdom Come figures - remember, DCD's not in scale with anything. If you like the eyesore, don't worry: he's still a cinch to find, even now.

Captain Atom comes with the central part of the Series 4 BAF, Despero - that's central in a metaphorical sense as well as a literal sense. It's the head and torso, as well as a few accessories - yes, Atom gets nothing, but his BAF piece gets a harness, a pistol holstered on the belt, and a truly gigantic rifle that even Cable would be proud of. But don't feel too bad for Nate: other than some attachable Firestorm-style energy blasts, there aren't really any accessories that would be right for him.

Every series in a toyline has to reach a specific price point - not the price you and I pay at the stores, but the (much higher) price the company has to stay under in order to make a profit. This is calculated based on the entire series, so if one figure costs out high, another has to be put in the series that costs out low. So it's no surprise that the super-generic Captain Atom (and Batman Beyond, as long as we're on the subject) was in the same series as unusually complex Cyborg and Ares. Yes, Captain Atom is boring, but he's boring so that someone else can be exciting. And with no major joint or construction problems, "boring" is a step up from the usual DC Universe offering.

-- 06/10/09

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