Friday, October 16, 2009

Captain Flash, Doctor Solar, Captain Atom and Nukla... Radioactive and Fabulous!

There's a whole subgenre of superhero that sprung up after WWII, the atomic superhero. Doubtless, after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, the subject of atomic power was on everyone's minds. A lot.

But unlike in Japan, where atomic energy produced nothing but giant monsters a'la Godzilla in film after film (inspired, doubtlessly, by the country's growing fears of possible genetic mutation due to having been exposed to so much radiation- sorry Japan.) here in the U.S. , we put a more positive spin on things. Atomic Power, which had made us the victors of WWII and the world's preeminent superpower MUST be a good thing. Instead of monsters, it gave us HEROES (to be fair, it gave US monsters, too. In the atomic age, monsters tended to shy away from the supernatural and more and more into embodiments of our own anxieties about the bomb).

Enter Captain Flash.

Published by the soon-to-be defunct Sterling Comics in 1954, Captain Flash was physicist Keith Spencer, who accidentally exposes himself to a deadly dose of cobalt. But instead of killing him, it gives him the ability to become an atomic superhero for two hours any time he claps his hands together. Heck, he's even riding a bomb on the cover of his first issue!

Captain Flash is also noteworthy because he is considered in some circles to be the first new superhero of the Silver Age. Captain Flash was drawn by Mike Sekowsky, who would go on to draw the Justice League of America.

Next up, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom.

Published by Gold Key comics in 1962, Doctor Solar (or just Solar, or sometimes The Man of the Atom) was Doctor Phillip Solar. Dr. Solar was exposed to a deadly dose of radiation trying to save another scientist during a meltdown caused by a saboteur. Rather than killing him, the radiation caused him to be able to convert his body into any type of energy. And, for some reason, makes him green when he's a superhero. Dr. Solar's costume is actually a radiation suit that keeps him from irradiating everyone around him.

And they just keep coming. In 1960, Charlton Comics brought us Captain Atom.
Captain Atom was Dr. Allen Adam, who was working on a experimental rocket when it somehow launched prematurely with him inside it. He was launched into the upper atmosphere where his rocket exploded, atomizing him. He somehow reformed his body on Earth, now with super powers. (If any of you were wondering, Doctor Manhattan from The Watchmen is based on Captain Atom.) Captain Atom wears a costume that doubles as a radiation suit to protect the people around him from the deadly levels of radiation he emits. Sound familiar?

Hey, when an idea is hot, keep trying it. In 1965 , Dell Comics gave us Nukla.

Nukla (Created by Captain Atom Writer Joe Gill ) was Matthew Gibbs a pilot and spy for the CIA. When his spy plane was blown up by the Red Chinese, the nuclear energy of the corresponding explosion somehow allowed Matt to keep his consciousness and re-form his atomized body. Nukla has fabulous nuclear powers, like the ability to become immaterial at will and fire "radiation free"atomic energy bolts. How does THAT work?

Of course, most of Marvel's Silver Age pantheon of heroes have some sort of link to radiation, but these four heroes have a common theme. All were exposed to deadly radiation and all were transformed into heroic figures. They are each hoping to be the Superman of the Atomic Age. Sadly, none of them made it. Perhaps because, as the cold war continued to escalate, we just didn't want a hero who reminded us of our own tenuous position.

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