Back in Action: Rucka and Robinson on Captain Atom

Rucka and Robinson on Captain Atom

the first page of the Action #879 Captain Atom co-feature

Captain Atom is back in July, and Superman’s got him.

Well, more specifically, the Superman books have got him, and they’re not letting him go.

Starting with Action Comics #879, Captain Atom will star in a co-feature that re-introduces him to the DC Universe. But is it the same Captain Atom? And if it is where’s he been since he was last seen as “Monarch” in the pages of Countdown after playing a role in the destruction of one of the many multiple earths?

For some answers, and more teases, we spoke with the co-feature’s writers, Greg Rucka and James Robinson.

Newsarama: How did the Captain Atom co-feature come about for your two? Was it something where you looked at each other and realized that you needed to be doing more writing…

Greg Rucka: Oh, that was exactly it (laughs).

NRAMA: But seriously, did DC come to you with the idea of a co-feature in Action, and asked who you’d like, or was Captain Atom already on the table along with the whole deal?

James Robinson: The idea of the co-feature was put forward, and we’d always kicked around the idea of Captain Atom being a part of Superman’s world, so that was a pretty obvious choice for a co-feature, and also, Captain Atom fit the other criteria, which is that they should star characters who have a definite fan interest, but not enough, or the character isn’t strong enough right now to maintain a monthly book.

So he worked on a couple of levels. But the problem was that if we brought in another writer, it would be just one more piece of confusion. There’s already three writers and Geoff, in his Adventure Comics run will be involved, even though that’s a little ways off. So it wasn’t as if Greg and I were thinking “Oh my God, we can’t wait to add another ten more pages!” to our workloads, but the benefit of writing it ourselves outweighed the problems and confusion that adding another writer to the mix could have introduced. This way, we can keep it in our control.

NRAMA: So how do you and Greg work together on this?

JR: I think Greg would agree that we have a very effortlessness way of working together, which I’m surprised how much fun and how easy it is to work together – would you agree Greg?

GR: Oh absolutely. It’s always energizing to work with really talented people, and I find it easier when you’ve got a partner in crime, when you’ve got somebody you can bounce this stuff around with, and to talk about him like he’s not here, the ideas just shoot forth out of James’ head. We’ll have conversations where we’re trying to figure out where we want to take something or some character, and he’ll throw out half a dozen very good ideas one after another – it’s like watching a professional dealer in Vegas sliding cards to players on a table.

When the ideas are moving that quickly, it’s fun – you’re on your toes, and it brings out your best game. I really think that’s been evident in New Krypton, and when the issue of the co-feature came up, it was pretty clear how to go about doing it. James is doing the heavy lifting on this. I’m assisting on plots – he’s doing the bulk of the work.

JR: But in terms of Captain Atom – it’s only ten pages – with two people writing it, it would probably take more time if it was just me writing it. What Greg does, and while he’s very, very complimentary to me and my ideas, he does have a lot of ideas too, but also he has a grounding. If you read those entries in 52 - what the other writers talked about with Greg was that he wanted to make sure things got back down to the ground so things weren’t all over the place. He was keeping track of the plotlines and making sure that everything was moving forward.

So, if I were doing Captain Atom on my own, it would be a disaster. The intros weren’t very hard to figure out, but as Captain Atom starts to becoming a more ongoing part of the throughline of the books, Greg’s going to be the lifesaver.

GR: I can tell you tight now that when the co-feature starts, the fan reaction is going to be “What the ---?” I think that there will be a contingent that will be ticked off by it – there’s always that contingent who, when they find something different that’s not explained immediately, they become furious. So the furious brigade will be burning us in effigy from the start, but it makes sense – there’s a reason for it all.

JR: Just to be tantalizing, there’s also a reason why, even though we had five pages of the first co-feature complete when they previewed it, we only wanted them to show one. From the second page onward, it’s nothing that you would expect.

GR: James is absolutely right – you will turn that first page, and say, “Okay – that ain’t right.” In all sincerity, people will be wondering what we’re doing, and what’s going on, but it all will be explained.

NRAMA: Just to be clear though, this is Captain Atom, Nathanial Adam, who’s been appearing for years in DC titles – and who recently went through quite a lot in Countdown

GR: Yes.

NRAMA: Would it be fair to say that there’s a fair amount of redemption in this story, or a putting him back on the tracks in a sense?

GR: I think it’s very fair to say that, in many ways, this is a very redemptive story.

JR: Yes, absolutely. I don’t know how much all the various things that he’s gone through we’ll refer to, but the idea that his life hasn’t necessarily come out the way he intended, and this is his chance to get things right, now, is there.

There was a time when he was a fantastic DC character, and he just somehow got lost along the way. We just want to bring him back and make him great again.

NRAMA: What makes him such a good fit for Superman’s universe?

JR: There’re two things. One is that he never really felt like he belonged in the world of Barry Allen, Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen. Obviously, he was part of the Justice League, but he was floating around. The idea of bringing him into Superman’s world, in terms of his powers and his abilities makes sense – he’s different from Superman, but immensely powerful. Also, he’s very important in another way - one of the main villains were working with here is General Lane and Black Bag Op 7734, and we’re sort of painting this gigantic brush of evil across the U.S. military. SO it was important to us to have a military character who was a heroic good guy who shows that we don’t think the entire military is bad, but rather there can be a bad general or a bad black bag op.

GR: Right – it’s General Lane who’s bad, not the military, and we want to make that clear. In point of fact, there are many, many soldiers there who believe in service and aren’t megalomaniacal paranoid lunatics.

NRAMA: Taking a quick look at Captain Atom’s powers – it seems that if you go back with the character to his earliest appearances, even the Ditko days when he was a Charlton character, and some of the earlier DC appearances – it seems as if you can do so much more with his powers, given how far science has advanced in the past 25 years. To let the tail wag the dog a little – he’s as powerful, or more powerful than Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen. Will that be playing into your story and use of Captain Atom at all? After all, a strong argument could be made that, based on his powers, he’s the most powerful character in the DC Universe…

JR: Yes, down the line it will. The situation that we’re starting out with immediately – the fact that he has his powers is important. Why he’s doing what he’s doing…his powers are part of why he’s doing what he’s doing. So that was something that we were thinking about at the time. Also, he’s obliquely referred to in July’s Jimmy Olsen Special as a “planet killer.” So you’re right – he could destroy the world. So that’s an aspect to his powers that, when we get into the big event that we have planned for next year, you’ll see that played out.

The strange thing sometimes with writing comic books is that you want to sit down and tell the whole story, but with just 20 pages, or in this case, ten, you just can’t. You’ve got to pace it and pace it, and pace it. We’ll get there eventually – and I think readers will see that all along the way, al these things that people thought weren’t important were very important. So Captain Atom and his powers and his personal journey will all get covered and will all be dealt with.

GR: Right. Captain Atom is starting in a place with regards to his location and his powers is outside of his box. It’s going to be a slow escalation before you get to the full-on article, but it’s coming.

NRAMA: One last question – how would you two describe that only page that’s out there?

JR: It’s three panels, all showing Captain Atom, and through his internal monologue, we realize he’s on a mission, and it’s a mission of a type that he’s done before. He’s in a forest – it would be in Eastern Europe, it would be in England, it could be in Appalachia. We don’t know where he’s going, but we know there’s going to be violence and action very shortly.

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