DC Comics acquired Charlton Comics in 1983, and the characters were revitalized so that they would fit into the long-established DC Universe. One of these characters was Captain Atom, who underwent a significant transformation following Crisis on Infinite Earths. He soon established himself as a major player in stories such as Kingdom Come and as a recurring member of the Justice League. In spite of these changes, DC managed to incorporate the Charlton history of the character into his new origin in a unique manner.
Captain Atom #1 (By Cary Bates, Pat Broderick, Bob Smith, John Constanza, and Carl Gafford) is the first appearance of this new version of the character. After being accused of treason, Nathaniel Adam was sentenced to death in 1968. Rather than facing execution, he was offered a chance to participate in Project: Captain Atom, which was intended to test the durability of alien metal. An atomic bomb was set off under a metal shell, however, the experiment did not go as planned. It would take him 18 years to emerge from the metal, bonded to it and able to manipulate energy through the Quantum Field, giving him a variety of powers.
Having become a man out of time, Adam struggled to adapt to a world in which significant changes had occurred since the explosion. The hardest thing for him to accept was the death of his wife. After his disappearance, she remarried and passed away shortly before his return. As well, despite the success of the experiment, Adam was not pardoned, as the present government did not consider the offer to be valid. Therefore, in order to demonstrate his loyalty to his country, he would become a public hero who operated under the authority of the authorities.
Captain Atom, however, had to be introduced in such a manner that would garner the public’s acceptance in order to be considered a hero of the people. The Captain Atom would appear on public television in Captain Atom #3 (by Cary Bates, Pat Broderick, Bob Smith, John Constanza, and Carl Gafford), explaining his backstory to the world, though with a slight twist. In an interview with television, Adam discussed his past, but rather than discussing Project: Captain Atom, he described the story of Allen Adam, the original Captain Atom from Charlton.
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A rocket technician named Allen made his debut in Space Adventures #30 (by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko) after being atomized in a work-related accident. He was able to generate energy blasts and rearrange the atoms in his body as a result of the event. In order to protect others from the radiation he emits, he wore a yellow and red suit. As an explanation for his absence from public view, he stated that he had operated in secrecy for many years. His powers had also changed over time, resulting in the transformation of his skin into metal. In the end, this transparency would help Captain Atom gain favor with the public, which had grown tired of Batman’s secrecy.
Despite acquiring the character from Charlton, DC was not obligated to include his past in their new stories. However, they did so with many of their characters, including Blue Beetle, whose lineage also remained intact. Allen Adam’s story was incorporated into the Captain Atom reboot to pay homage to the character’s past, as well as to add to the story. The character of Captain Atom has become one of the most powerful in the DC Universe, and has been featured in a number of major storylines. In spite of his fading relevance in recent years, the character’s layered origins may justify his return in the future.