([identity profile] wrote in [community profile] scans_daily2009-06-08 03:59 am

Captain Atom's Perfect Moment

Since Captain Atom is probably not as familiar to most readers of this journal as is a certain other super-heroic Captain, a little context for this scene might be appropriate.  Cary Bates and Greg Weisman created in the post-Crisis Captain Atom almost the perfect deconstruction of the classic superhero, and in particular, the trope perhaps most central to the classic super-hero: the secret identity.  Their Captain Atom wasn't really a superhero at all; he was a government agent masquerading as a superhero in order to spy on the real heroes, particularly upon the Justice League. 

As part and parcel of this, his handlers created an entire false back-story for him, using, in essence, the Silver Age Charlton version of the character created by Joe Gill.  This served as another element of deconstruction of a classic super-hero trope: the origin story, and the repeated ret-cons they tend to undergo.  The fictional stories invented by Gill became fictional-stories-within-the-story, this time used as a lie to establsh Captain Atom as an experienced super-hero deserving of the public's trust, instead of as entertainment.

In the end, though, the whole tangled web of deceptions would suffer one fatal flaw: How could the conspirators trust one another?  Indeed, they could not, and one of them, Dr. Heinrich Megala, emplaced a fail-safe satellite that would, in the event of his death, automatically broadcast all the dirty secrets of the Captain Atom project to the world.  And here we go....

Yes, Cap can see the Black Racer (one of at least three anthropomorphisms of death in the DCU) and the soul of the recently departed.  Yes, that makes complete sense once you understand Cap's whole mythos, but that's for another post.  So Megala has died in the final battle with the Faceless One, but even though Eiling had nothing to do with it (actually, that's also the subject for another post), the fail-safe has activated.

Note how he refers to "on of [his] most dangerous enemies," as if he understands that the public understands that certain villains "belong" to certain heroes. Of course, the legend Eiling created for Cap included a rogue's gallery, drawn of course from Cap's Silver Age Charlton adventures, like Dr. Spectro.  But in any case, it was all a bluff on Megala's part.  Right?  Or was it?

No, it wasn't.  In the end, Megala was gambling that Captain Atom would do the right thing.  And he was right.  But note what Cap says: "I have tried to live up to my meta-human powers, to the examples set by my Justice League comrades, and to your misplaced faith in me."  Truly a metatextual speech if ever there was one.  Coming at the height of the so-called "Dark Age" of comics, when every oh-so-clever hack was tearing super-heroes down by making them all into blood-thirsty, "grim-and-gritty" "badassess" who were scarcely distinguishable from the villains they fought, here's this speech by perhaps the most cynically-conceived anti-hero of the age, breaking the fourth wall to address the reader, saying, in effect on behalf of the whole industry, nostra culpa.

Having deconstructed, or taken apart, the super-hero, what have we learned?  Yes, they lie about who they really are.  They promote false legends of themselves.  Ridiculously, they maintain rogues' galleries of villains who are enemies for them and them alone.  They do all this and more, and yet still, they are good.  The super-hero is still an ideal to live up to.  We do ourselves no service by tearing these myths down just for shock value or to bump profits temporarily.  I just hope Rucka and Robinson can live up to the standard set by Bates and Weisman.

[identity profile] 2009-06-09 03:51 am (UTC)(link)
Aww, that stinks.

[identity profile] 2009-06-09 03:52 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, and thanks for the offer - only if it's no trouble!