Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watchmen Weekend Wrap-Up: Captain Atom and Nightshade

Welcome back, Groove-ophiles! Today we're gonna take one last look at the Groovy Age characters that served as the inspiration for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen! For our grand finale, we'll focus on Captain Atom (transformed in Watchmen to Dr. Manhattan) and Nightshade (Watchmen's Silk Spectre). Remember,
= and
= . Got it? And away we go!

Captain Atom first appeared in Charlton's Space Adventures #33 (December 1959). The first super-hero co-created by artist Steve Ditko (along with writer Joe Gill), Captain Atom looked to be Charlton's answer to DC's Superman and Green Lantern. Ditko and Gill actually produced one of my all-time favorite origin stories in that fateful issue. Let's take a little peek, shall we?

(Man, whoever colored the interior story must've been asleep when they told 'im about Cap's red and gold togs, y'think?)

Ditko's inspired art, along with Gill's taught and tense scripts made this strip a stand-out. The good Captain appeared issues 33-40 and 42 (December 1959-March 1961, May 1961) of Space Adventures before disappearing. In March 1965, Charlton began reprinting Captain Atom's exploits in Strange Suspense Stories, beginning with issue #75. The reprints lasted until Strange Suspense Stories' final issue #77 (July 1965). This time, however, Captain Atom didn't disappear. In September, 1965, Captain Atom #78 (picking up the numbering from SSS) hit the stands with brand new stories and art. Co-creators Gill and Ditko returned to their creation (aided and abetted by the wonderful inks of Roke Mastroserio), this time with the freedom to spin more fabulous tales than their previous 5 to 9 page format had allowed.

Changes began with Captain Atom #82 (July 1966). The cover gave us two new characters in the Captain Atom universe; a new villain called the Ghost and a new heroine by the name of Nightshade. Looking at the first page, we had a new writer by the name of David Kaler, as well.

Nightshade was the daughter of a U.S. Senator and his extra-dimensional wife who learned she had the power to become a living, two-dimensional shadow. A pretty cool power, and coupling it with martial arts abilities made her quite a formidable opponent. She teamed with Captain Atom for a few issues, seeming to develop a bit of a romantic bond with our hero. Then in CA issues 87-89, Kaler teamed with artist supreme Jim Aparo on Nightshade's solo back-up strip and filled in the details of Nightshade's origin. Here are some highlights from that classic tale...

Steve Ditko gave Captain Atom a sleeker, "more modern" look with issue #84 (November 1966). Some fans flipped for it, others were reaching for a barf bag. Personally, Young Groove kinda dug it! Take a look and decide for yourself, Groove-ophile!

When Captain Atom ended with issue #89 (September 1967), both the Captain and Nightshade disappeared from the comics racks, seemingly for good. But weird things happen in comicbook land, don'tcha know? In 1977, Modern Comics, an imprint of Charlton Comics, began reprinting vintage Charlton comics in toto (but with new ads). Among those reprinted were three key issues of Captain Atom, #s 83-85. Then in 1978, Charlton reprinted the Captain Atom stories that had appeared in the original Space Adventures (the same ones that had been reprinted in Strange Suspense Stories) in their new Space Adventures title (issues 9-12 , February-October 1978). But wait, there's more! In February 1982, fan writer/artist Dan Reed created a brand new Captain Atom story for Charlton's Showcase-style title, Charlton Bullseye (#7). Captain Atom, Nightshade, and other Charlton Action Heroes appeared in two comics published by Americomics (Americomics #1, cover-dated April 1983 and Americomics Special #1 cover-dated August 1983).

From there, it was on to DC where the Captain and his pals would not only inspire Watchmen, but gain new lives (and sometimes, as in Captain Atom's case, new identities) in their own DC titles.

Whew! I hope you enjoyed this Watchmen Weekend, Groove-ophiles! We'll be back to our regularly scheduled Diversions on the morrow! Til then, be cool, baby!


  1. I was always impressed that the good captain's secret identity was Captain Adam... I mean, that's right up there with Hurricane's alter-ego of Harry Kane! Loved Ditko's work on Captain Atom. Ask any British fan of a certain age, and they'll have first seen this stuff in one of the Alan Class reprints over here.

  2. Groove:

    I enjoyed your series on the Charlton heroes very much! I was a kid in the mid-70's and especially remember the Modern Comics reprints! I notice that DC has some archives editions, but maybe I try and track down some originals at the next convention I attend... don't know what sort of price range they're going for these days. Thanks for the great series!

    Fr. Dan

  3. Finding Charlton comics on the stands was always an adventure — and a lot of fun. They weren't consistent in their distribution.....and they always used a different type of paper stock than other publishers did, which made them seem even more exotic. The paper trimming was often uneven....and the ink was muddy.....but somehow, that made Charlton even more charming.

    But Charlton was probably the non-Marvel publisher I bought most often, and Ditko was a big reason why. Cool stuff here, Groove!



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