CAPTAIN ATOM #79; Charlton Comics; Feb-March 1966; Pat Masulli, editor (and
also credited with creating Captain Atom); featuring "Captain Atom Faces Dr.
Spectro, Master of Moods!" Story by Steve Ditko and Joe Gill; pencils by
Ditko; inks by Rocke Mastroserio; lettering by Jon D'agostino. On the cover
signed by "Ditko & Rocke", Captain Atom slugs it out with Dr. Spectro, who is
clad in a costume with black torso and hood with a chest sunburst symbol,
rainbow-colored arms and leggings. Captain Atom is throwing atomic punshes
symbolized by atom symbols, while Spectro is surrounded by a multicolored circular
halo. The usual terrified bystanders cower in the background, and the blurb
invites us to "Witness the Birth of the Incomparable DOCTOR SPECTRO!
Different-- Dangerous-- Diabolical"
Review by Bill Henley
Captain Atom debuted for a brief run in Charlton's SPACE ADVENTURES in
1960-61, and then returned in 1965. STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #75-77 featured CA
reprints from the SPACE ADVENTURES run, and then with #78 the title became
CAPTAIN ATOM and Steve Ditko, who was then on the verge of leaving Marvel, began
producing new Captain Atom stories. So this issue features just the second
new story in the mid 60's run. On the splash page, Dr. Spectro shines a blue
ray on Captain Atom, causing the atomic hero to become the target of hate
and rage from a mob of bystanders.
"In the Southwest, an Air Force truck loaded with highly classified
equipment came to a barrier in the road".... the barrier is no product of the state
highway department, but the scheme of a hijacking gang which fells the guards
with nerve gas. "RODENT will pay plenty for this shipment!", the gang leader
exults. Maybe not, for at that moment "the mighty figure of Captain Atom"
bursts through the walls of Rodent's criminal hideout. Cap smashes through
metal barriers in his way, and when a steel wall over a foot thick blocks his
path, he merely "changes his molecular body structure" and dematerializes
through the wall. Felling Rodent and his men with very material fists, Cap
rescues a valuable "list of the gangs Rodent works with", but not before one of
the names on the list has been burned away. Acting on orders from Washington,
Captain Atom assumes an undercover civilian disguise to track down that last
gang, suspected of masterminding the truck hijacking. He has arranged to
meet his aide Gunner Goslin at a nearby circus, and while waiting for the
rendezvous he takes in the sideshow of a character advertised as "Dr. Spectro,
Master of Moods". Colorfully costumed as befits a circus performer, "Ladies and
gentlemen, few of you recognize the importance of COLOR in your lives!" the
good doctor explains to his audience. "By using COLOR and LIGHT I can make
you LAUGH or CRY, LOVE or HATE! CALM as a SUNSET or VIOLENT as a TORNADO!"
Urging the audience to "watch the changing lights", Dr. Spectro is able to
change their mood from happy and cheerful to somber. Captain Atom, in the
audience secretly, is intrigued by what appears to be a genuine ability with
"tremendous potential". But then a heckler mocks Dr. Spectro, calling him a
fake, and reminding the doctor of the hard-luck events which brought him from
the halls of science to the circus sideshow. Conventional physicians and
researchers scoffed at his claims to be able to heal patients by the use of color.
Now, taking out his frustrations on the hapless heckler, Dr. Spectro shines
a deep blue ray in his face, causing him to be overcome with terror and flee
Captain Atom plans to meet with Dr. Spectro after the show, but another
onlooker has taken an interest in the doctor-- the mustached leader of the
hijacking gang, who needs more money for his getaway and figures Dr. Spectro can
help him get it. When the gangster tries to enlist Dr. Spectro's services for
"just a joke on someone, the doctor rebuffs him, but the thug only warns,
"You'll do it the HARD way then!" Harder than he thinks, for a punch knocks Dr.
Spectro into his own apparatus which exposes the doctor to the full force of
his own refracted color-energy...particularly the red ray which "bathed his
brain....hate began to dominate his thoughts...to change his entire mind...."
He resolves that "I have POWER.... I can DESTROY them all! No one will
ever LAUGH at me again!" He now has the ability to beam his color-rays from his
own body through the symbol on his costumed chest, and his first victims are
the gang that accosted him, made sick and terrified by Spectro's blue ray.
Having fled Spectro's influence, however, the crooks are still determined to
pull off a bank job, and when Captain Atom's uniformed Air Force aide Gunner
runs into them and overhears their plans, they take him hostage. Meanwhile,
the disguised Captain Atom meets with Dr. Spectro and tries to convince him
to "benefit all mankind wity your discoveries", but it is too late for that.
Spectro strikes the Captain with his blue ray, and even he is driven away by
the effect of sickness and fear. While recovering, Cap realizes that Gunner
is missing, till he receives a signal on his belt-radio from Gunner, who has
been locked by the gangsters into the warehouse where the stolen air force
equipment is also stored. Flying to the rescue, Captain Atom learns from
Gunner that the crooks have gone off to rob the bank, and flies in pursuit while
Gunner calls the police. Arriving at the bank, Cap superheats a gun out of
the gangleader's hand, but the resourceful if unprincipled boss hurls a handful
of sand from an ashtray into Cap's face. Half blinded by the sand and
unable to use his full powers for fear of committing murder, Cap nonetheless
manages to slug the three gangsters into submission. "I should give you an atomic
punch, TRAITOR!", an angry Cap tells the leader (apparently stealing
military materiel counts in his eyes as an act of treason) though it only takes an
ordinary punch to lay him low.
But before Cap can savor his victory, he hears screams of terror indicating
that Dr. Spectro is on the rampage in the street outside. "Creating evil
hues never before seen by man" (though Charlton's printing plant is only capable
of reproducing a sickly yellow), Dr. Spectro beams his mood-ray at the
crowds causing them to flee in panic. The police and even Captain Atom himself
are also caught in the spell of terror, until Cap gets the idea of surrounding
himself with a shield of "pure heat-energy" which somehow protects him from
Spectro's color-rays. But though Captain Atom is no longer paralyzed by
terror of Dr. Spectro, the would-be benefactor turned villlain has more tricks up
his sleeve, or more precisely attached to his wrists. He uses wrist-blasters
to shoot color-rays at Cap in the form of sheer physical energy capable of
rocking our hero back on his heels. To top that off, Doc beams a blue ray at
the crowd which changes their fearful panic into raw mob hatred aimed at
Captain Atom. The weakened Cap is just barefly able to take to the air to avoid
the rage of the crowd. He comes up with the idea of forming an atomic
fireball from his hand to launch against Dr. Spectro. But this turns out to be a
mistake, for the Doc's "electromagnetic refractor" on his chest is capable of
absorbing the heat of the fireball and converting it to more energy for Dr.
Spectro's use. "Captain Atom's power now belongs to me!"
A barrage of orange rays momentarily stuns Cap, but he recovers and manages
to dodge another attack by Dr. Spectro. Cap throws a punch at Spectro,
Spectro punches back, and as so often in Ditko-drawn stories, the battle turns
into a knock-down, drag-out fistfight. Finding his power weakening, Spectro
renews it by causing a car's gas tank to explode and then absorbing the
resulting heat-energy. But as Captain Atom battles on, Spectro needs an even greater
source of power, and he finds it when Cap hurls him against a high-tension
power line. Rather than trying to disengage from the line, Spectro "stayed
there with 50,000 volts pouring into his body".... "The fool! He'll never be
able to control all the power he's absorbing!" Cap tries to halt the flow of
power into the line, but the supeenergized Dr. Spectro goes on the attack
with a barrage of multicolored beams. But as Doc hurtles at Captain Atom, what
Cap expects comes to pass; "Dr. Spectro had too much energy....he almost had
to burn out like a light bulb that has received too much voltage! "
"Destroyed by a hate that was too much for any man's body", Dr. Spectro's corporeal
existence vanishes in a blinding flash of rainbow energy. But as Cap reports
back to the local police and they ask if Dr. Spectro is gone forever, he
replies, "N-no, I...I don't think so, somehow....I feel he's still up
there....somewhere....waiting...!" And from somewhere in the sky, a disembodied voice
replies, "You are right, Captain Atom! I will return, and when I do, I shall
prove that I am supreme after all! Next time I shall not fail!" Dr.
Spectro did indeed return two issues later, in CAPT. ATOM #81.
The Blue Beetle backup series had not yet been introduced to CAPTAIN ATOM at
this point, so for a filler feature, we have "Moon-Run!" a sci-fi short
story clearly drawn by Ditko (and probably scripted by Joe Gill). In the story,
a uniformed pilot waves goodbye to "Iris, the girl he loved" as he boards a
rocket ship to pilot a routine run to the moon. As the ship buttons down and
lifts off, the passengers discuss the prospect that a new model of robot
will soon be used to pilot ships like this. The general agreement is it's a bad
idea, because robots are imperfect, lacking the judgment and courage that a
human pilot requires. Unconcerned with the chatter, the pilot performs his
duties, distracted only by the vision of his love imagined against a
background of space. But then the "stablizers meshed", and as the ship threatens to
fall into the sun or collide with meteors, the pilot battles bravely to keep
it under control despite being battered with radiation in the unshielded
control cabin. He ultimately saves the ship, but as the passengers praise his
bravery and try to care for his "injuries", they discover he is actually a
new-model humanoid robot. The damaged automaton reflects how the girl he fell in
love with feels the same "fear, disgust for robots" as other people, and so
he can never see her again. One of the passengers comments that "You really
can't tell the difference between one of these things and a real human! Boy
they've really made them perfect now!" Another man warns, "Take it easy,
he'll hear you!" but as tears leak from the robot's eyes, the first man scoffs,
"So what! The thing ain't got no feelings or emotions! It's only a robot!"