The character was created by writer Joe Gill and artist/co-writer Steve Ditko, and first appeared in Space Adventures #33 (March 1960). Captain Atom was created for Charlton Comics but was later acquired by DC Comics and revised for DC’s post-Crisis continuity. In 2011, DC Comics relaunched its superhero comics and restarted the histories of some characters from scratch, including Captain Atom, giving him a new origin, appearance and slightly altered powers. The character of Captain Atom was the inspiration for the character Doctor Manhattan who was featured in the miniseries (and later live-action film adaptation) Watchmen.
Throughout the years, the character has been featured in several moderate-to-short lived eponymous series, and has been a member of several different versions of DC’s flagship superhero team Justice League. In all incarnations, the character initially worked for the military. In the Charlton Comics continuity, he was a scientist named Allen Adam and gained his abilities by accident when he was seemingly "atomized" and then somehow reformed his body, now existing as an atomic-powered being. In both DC Comics incarnations, he is Air Force pilot Nathaniel Adam who was used as a test subject in a scientific experiment and wound up seemingly disintegrated in the process, only to reappear later as Captain Atom, now blessed with superhuman abilities. Over the years, DC has attempted to reinvent the character a number of times. For a period, the character assumed the mantle of the supervillain Monarch, and in 2005 DC attempted to retell the Captain Atom story with an entirely new character, Breach, who was subsequently discarded. In the new continuity following DC's 2011 relaunch, Captain Atom has never been a member of the Justice League and the team views him with distrust; his character origin and abilities were also revised.
Captain Atom has appeared in several animated television and film adaptations of Justice League and other DC storylines since the mid-2000s, where he is depicted as a powerful member of the Justice League whose abilities place him roughly on par with the franchise's flagship character Superman. In several animated depictions, he has served the role as government stooge when the government has brought itself into conflict with the Justice League.
The Charlton Comics version of Captain Atom was Allen Adam. The character's origin had Adam working as a technician in a special experimental rocket when it accidentally launched with him trapped inside. Adam was atomized when the rocket exploded while entering the upper atmosphere. However, he somehow gained superpowers that included the ability to reform his body safely on the ground. He was outfitted in a red and yellow costume that was designed to shield people from the radiation of his nuclear powers. When he powered up, his hair changed to a silverish-white.
Later, in his own title, he replaced his original red and gold costume with a liquid-metal outfit that was under his skin and which transformed when he powered up. Captain Atom's powers were similar to such other nuclear-powered superheroes as Gold Key's Doctor Solar and Dell Comics' Nukla. Captain Atom was first published in a series of short stories in the anthology series Space Adventures # 33-40 (March 1960-June 1961) and #42 (October 1961). Charlton began reprinting his short adventures in the anthology Strange Suspense Stories beginning with #75 (June 1965), renaming the title Captain Atom with #78 (December 1965) and giving the hero full-length stories and supervillain antagonists such as Dr. Spectro. (previous stories involved Cold War anti-Communist missions or dealing with aliens). Captain Atom later teamed with the superhero Nightshade, with whom he shared a mutual attraction. The superhero Blue Beetle starred in the initial backup feature, later replaced by a Nightshade backup series.
Captain Atom was canceled with issue #89 (December 1967). In 1975, the unfinished Ditko art for issue #90 was inked by John Byrne and published in the first two issues of the official Charlton fanzine, Charlton Bullseye, as the 10-page "Showdown In Sunuria" (writer: Jon G. Michels) and the 11-page "Two Against Sunuria" (writer: Roger Stern). Captain Atom next appeared in issue #7 (May 1982) of the new-talent showcase comic also called Charlton Bullseye, in a story by writer Benjamin Smith and artist/co-writer Dan Reed, which for some reason returned him to his original red & yellow outfit. The character's last pre-DC appearance was in AC Comics' one-shot Americomics Special #1 (August 1983), in a story teaming the Charlton "Action Heroes" Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade, and The Question as the Sentinels of Justice. This last story had originally been done for Charlton before the company folded.
The actual Charlton characters made their first reappearance in DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, which introduced Earth-Four as the native reality of Captain Atom and the world where all the Charlton Comics adventures had taken place. By story's end, Earth-Four (and the Charlton characters) had been incorporated into the Post-Crisis DC Universe, its history merging with that of the mainstream reality. The last appearance of this Charlton-era Captain Atom was in DC Comics Presents #90 (February 1986).
A new, post-Crisis version of the character was introduced in March 1987 with the launch of a monthly comic written by Cary Bates (long-time writer of The Flash and Superman), co-written by Greg Weisman and drawn by Pat Broderick.
This modern captain's name is established as "Nathaniel Christopher Adam", a United States Air Force officer and Vietnam War veteran. Adam had been framed for a crime he did not commit and was, under military justice, condemned to death; this taking place under the purview of Col. Wade Eiling in the year 1968. As an alternative to execution, Adam was "asked" to participate in 'Project: Captain Atom', a military experiment with little-to-no chance of survival, in exchange for an unconditional presidential pardon. He agreed. The experiment involved testing the hull of a crashed alien ship's durability by placing a human being (Adam) within the metal craft and then exploding an atomic weapon under it. The weapon went off and Adam, along with the metal, was seemingly disintegrated. Eighteen years later, Adam suddenly reappeared. The alien metal, now bonded around his body, afforded him incredible abilities far beyond that of a mere mortal. It was revealed that the alien metal could absorb energy but that past a certain threshold, any excess energy absorbed would force it to jump forward in time (how far forward depended on how much extra energy was taken in). Bonded with the metal, Nathaniel Adam now had powers that resulted from the metal's ability to tap into the "Quantum Field."
Flung into the year 1986, Adam now finds himself literally a "man out of time". And to boot, still in the hands of the military, most notably Wade Eiling. Now a general and the second husband of Adam's now-deceased wife Angela. Everyone had assumed that Nathaniel Adam had died on the day of the experiment, so his presidential pardon was never issued and the current governments refusal to acknowledge the previous administration's promised pardon. Seizing the opportunity at hand, Eiling uses the outstanding murder/treason charges against Adam to blackmail him into acting as a military-controlled, government-sanctioned superhero codenamed Captain Atom. The events of the Charlton stories are wisely referenced and used cleverly by Bates as a readymade, established cover story for Adam, a fabricated past to convince the world that he had secretly been a superhero for years and thus was able to quickly gain the trust of the public and a reputation as an unsung patriot and hero. For his non-superhero activities, Nathaniel uses the alias Cameron Scott, an Air Force intelligence operative. It was during this time he meets the superpowered terrorist, Plastique, who becomes a recurring part of Nathaniel's life. Early conflicts involve him coming to terms with the lost time he missed with his children (who are now close to his current age as a result of the time jump), the death of his wife, her marriage to Eiling, and the overall ramifications of his newly acquired powers. Later on, he learns that the 'Project: Captain Atom' had been repeated, creating the super-villain Major Force. Maj. Force is a bloodthirsty madman who has no qualms about carrying out any number of illegal "black bag" operations for the U.S. government and does not even remotely share any of Captain Atom's morality or classic sense of military/A.F. discipline.
Atom/Adam serves under Eiling reluctantly while befriending research scientist Dr. Megala of Project Atom, who helps Nathaniel discover more about his powers. Captain Atom later succeeds in clearing his name of the original treason charge and eventually rebels against Eiling, resigning from the Air Force and becoming an actual superhero. Captain Atom joins the Justice League at the request of the U.S. government, eventually serving as leader of Justice League Europe. During his career, he has a brief romance with Catherine Cobert, develops a friendly "rivalry" with Firestorm (whose nickname is "the nuclear man"), becomes involved with and eventually marries Plastique (ironically, a one-time Firestorm foe), learns basic heroics from Batman when he briefly loses access to the Quantum Field, and commands the metahuman forces during the "Invasion" storyline where Earth was under attack by an alliance of alien forces.
Captain Atom was canceled as of #57 in 1991 because Atom was slated to become the hero-turned-villain Monarch in DC's Armageddon 2001 crossover event; however, when word of this leaked out, DC changed the ending at the last minute. Atom and the Monarch character continue battling through time in Armageddon: The Alien Agenda limited series, until he is returned to his own time at the conclusion. Captain Atom then returns to the League, involved in the Zero Hour Crisis in 1994, founding an offshoot team, Extreme Justice in 1995. While leading Extreme Justice, Captain Atom comes across another version of Monarch, this one claiming to be the real Nathaniel Adam. Later in 1999, he is a member of the poorly received team known as the Living Assault Weapons or L.A.W., the members of whom are all previously Charlton Comics characters. In 2003, he again teams up with several former members of the Justice League as the "Super Buddies" in the humorous limited series Formerly Known as the Justice League. Around this time, various stories reintroduce Atom's conflict between his role in the superhero community and his responsibilities as a government agent.
At some point, Atom's marriage to Plastique ends in divorce. Apart from a brief mention of her at the beginning of L.A.W., the marriage appears to be forgotten. Plastique has reappeared in 2006 as a villainess again, undoing her reformation into a heroine. A later confirmation is brought in by the Captain Atom: Armageddon miniseries in which, after falling in love with Angela Spica of The Authority, Captain Atom reminisces about his short marriage with Plastique, and attributes their divorce to their irreconcilable views about world and politics, since Nathaniel, even in his spousal life, could not stop being a loyal soldier of the U.S.A., and Plastique could not simply put aside her life as a terrorist.
Later in 2003, writer Jeph Loeb returns Captain Atom to his roots as he went back to work for the government, this time for President Lex Luthor in the first story arc of the Superman/Batman series. Atom seemingly sacrifices his life to save Superman and Earth by piloting a starship to destroy a Kryptonite meteor, but as it had previously been established that this type of accident could not kill him, he soon returns to life and to the background of the DC Universe. In a 2005 issue of Superman/Batman it is made clear that Captain Atom survived the collision with the Kryptonite meteor, but has absorbed massive amounts of radiation and become a super villain described as a "Kryptonite Man." The radiation is siphoned out of Captain Atom using a device made by Hiro Okamura, the new Toyman, which returns Captain Atom to his usual self (if somewhat confused).
In 2005/2006, Captain Atom appears in a nine-part limited series entitled Captain Atom: Armageddon under DC's Wildstorm imprint. Captain Atom's sacrifice in Superman/Batman sends him to the WildStorm universe for the duration of the series. In this title, he wears a yellow/red outfit that was first seen in the 1996 Kingdom Come limited series.
At the moment of his apparent death, Captain Atom experiences a time-shift coinciding with his 2005 appearance in Superman/Batman, resulting in his arrival in the Wildstorm Universe. He quickly gets into a fight with an overzealous Mister Majestic and the fight ends with Majestic soundly defeated. Seeing the frightened reactions of onlookers, and puzzling over his own altered appearance, he realizes that he has somehow become trapped on an alternate Earth, one where superheroes are feared by the general populace. Mistaken by the local superheroes as the force destined to destroy their universe, he is in fact an instrument used ultimately by Nikola Hanssen, new host for half the essence of the Void, to reclaim her whole power (partially lodged in his own body, and cause of his altered appearance) and use it to trigger the reboot of the WildStorm universe, in the WorldStorm event.
Captain Atom returns to the DC Universe in Infinite Crisis #7 when Superboy-Prime punctured Breach, who wields similar energy-manipulating abilities. The end of Armageddon has him reappear in the devastated Blüdhaven. A year later, Captain Atom is revealed to be contained inside Blüdhaven and used to administer radiation treatments to metahumans. Apparently Void, able to finally let him go home, is unable to ensure his safety, and multiple damages to his radiation-shielding skin had left him comatose and unable to keep down his body radiation to safe levels; this forces the Atomic Knights to keep him constantly contained. In 2008's Countdown #8, it is learned that these ruptures were caused as part of a greater plan by Solomon the Monitor, in his plans to "recreate the Monarch" as part of a larger scheme to force the assimilation of the other Monitors.
After being fitted with an updated version of the Monarch armor (Armageddon 2001) to contain his radiation, the Captain awakens. Seeming to be mentally unstable, he breaks free, apparently kills the rampaging Major Force, and then releases a vast amount of energy, obliterating what was left of Blüdhaven. He remains missing until Kyle Rayner, then known as Ion, discovers him in The Bleed, a place between dimensions. The Captain indicates that he is traveling through The Bleed in order to operate outside the gaze of the Monitors. He discusses his time in the Wildstorm Universe, and his desire to visit other alternate worlds.
In the last panel of Countdown #45, Monarch is shown observing Forerunner. The following issue, Countdown #44, bears a cover by Ed Benes with the Monarch armor and features Monarch swaying Forerunner to his side, turning her against the Monitors. Monarch argues that the Monitors are genocidal overlords who must be defeated; however, the Monitors assert that Monarch is a supervillain whose plan is to cause a Multiversal war that will leave him the ruler of the unified Earth remaining in its wake. Monarch creates an army of foot soldiers, including the Extremists of Earth-8, the JL-Axis of Earth-10, and the Crime Society of Earth-3, and disposes of Forerunner when he reveals his plans for a multiversal arena tournament.
The four-issue miniseries Countdown: Arena features Monarch battling alternate versions of characters throughout the Multiverse to compile the strike team for his new Multiverse army, specifically one Superman, one Batman, a Wonder Woman, a Green Lantern, a Flash, a Blue Beetle, a Nightshade, a Starman, and a Ray. Monarch's behavior becomes increasingly violent, notably in the form of his killing all residents of the Eve of Shadows' country in retribution for her attempt to violate the Monarch's rule of "no escaping." Monarch is now paranoid, and unwilling to share details of his past to his "subordinates". However, the Red Son Superman and Liberty Files Batman discern that under the Monarch armor lies another Captain Atom, and so they employ his other counterparts—Breach (Tim Zanetti) and Quantum-Storm (Ronnie Raymond)—to assemble an army of Captain Atoms from the different dimensions to fight back. In Arena' s conclusion, Monarch reveals that Breach is his brainwashed accomplice and that he has lured his 51 counterparts in order to murder them and absorb their power. With his team of Eve of Shadows (Earth-13), Vampire Batman (Earth-43), Ray "the Ray" Palmer (Earth-6), the monstrous Scarab (Earth-26), Hal Jordan Jr. (Earth-12), Starwoman (Earth-7), Johnny Quick (Earth-3), Wonder Woman (Earth-34), Red Son Superman (Earth-30), and himself—the sum power of 52 Captain Atoms—Monarch believes he is ready to confront the Monitors, and does so, finally launching his war on Earth-51 against the exposed Monitors.
In a protracted fight against Superman-Prime, his suit is damaged, releasing a chain reaction that apparently destroys the entire universe of Earth-51 aside from its Monitor. It was later revealed that the Monitor Solomon had attacked Captain Atom in Blüdhaven, rupturing his skin and setting into motion his transformation into Monarch.
During Jimmy Olsen's investigation about Project 7734, the secret black-op commanded by Sam Lane to fight extraterrestrial menaces on Earth (including Kryptonians), it is discovered that an amnesiac and brainwashed Captain Atom is now one of the prized possessions of Sam Lane. Project Breach refers to his capture and brainwashing into a weapon (with Lane wanting to stress the similarities between Adams and Tim Zanetti) or Planet Breaker. Captain Atom refers to his name and rank as "Codename: Captain Atom".
Captain Atom returns in a co-feature in Action Comics #879 and appears in his normal costume instead of the Monarch armor he was last seen wearing. He is shown to reside in a mystical, medieval-reminiscent realm, attacking a highly fortified castle for unknown reasons other than, as he states, "his mission". After obliterating the castle's defenses, he has a brief flashback to a moment with the Justice League, then falls to the ground disoriented. No explanation is given for his return to his original appearance, his whereabouts since Countdown to Final Crisis, or why he has reverted to his heroic persona rather than that of the conquest-seeking Monarch. In Action Comics #880 it is revealed that Captain Atom has little or no memory of who he is other than his name. It is revealed that this mysterious realm is connected to Project 7734 and is part of his conditioning. Later, he is attacked by Major Force, an enemy believed to have been destroyed by Captain Atom himself when he first became Monarch. Mon-El appears and helps Captain Atom escape, taking him to the Justice League's satellite, where the League members declare that they are going to bring him to justice for his actions as Monarch. After a struggle with the League, Captain Atom tells them what he can remember. The League reminds him he was a hero who once saved the planet. He feels he has changed from the man he once was, and that he needs to go back to the magic world to make right what he has done. The Shadowpact are called on to join him on his quest and provide a way for him to reach Sorcerers' World.
Captain Atom appears as one of the central characters in Justice League: Generation Lost, a maxi-series that takes place during the wider Brightest Day event. At the start of the series, Captain Atom is recruited as part of a massive group of superheroes tasked with hunting down the JLI's founder and Ted Kord's murderer, Maxwell Lord. During an encounter with Max at the Justice League's former New York headquarters, Captain Atom is rendered unconscious alongside Fire, Ice, and Booster Gold. The former Justice League members awake to discover that Lord has used his mental abilities to erase his existence from the minds of every single human on the planet, save for those present at the embassy. and the others. Afterwards, Captain Atom discovers that Max has mentally influenced the US army into believing that he had betrayed them.
Captain Atom shares with the group that when he absorbed a nuclear bomb Max had set off, he found himself thrown through time to the future of 24th century, an Earth that had fallen into chaos through metahuman wars and backward in technology. Atom found a woman elderly and grotesque, who turned out to be an aged Power Girl, telling him it was Maxwell Lord who was responsible for all of this. Atom is then pulled back into the present, and tells the rest of the team that the world needs them to stop the instigated Max.
After find out the OMACs was dismembered droid, Captain Atom was struck by Magog who simply scoffs at the notion and states that he has come to kill Captain Atom at the behest of Max. In their battle, Captain Atom manages to convince Magog he is being manipulated by Max. Magog stops the attacks as he remembers Max's existence and Captain Atom is prepared to help him. However, Max is on hand and forces Magog to kill himself with his spear. Max uses his powers to manipulate everyone into believing that Captain Atom has killed Magog before leaving. Captain Atom realizes Magog's spear is about to explode with energy. Captain Atom tries to absorb as much as he can, thrusting him into the time stream again as a crater is left behind.
Captain Atom is propelled through time again to 112 years in the future, where a metahuman war against the OMACs had devastated the planet. Captain Atom battled for survival alongside the future versions of the Justice League, however they all are eventually contaminated by a new nanovirus version of the OMACs and one by one become OMACs themselves. As a dying Power Girl tells him that the catalyst for all this was the death of Wonder Woman by Max's hands, Captain Atom is returned into the present but not before Batman orders him to terminate the OMAC project to stop Max's plan.
During the final battle against the new OMAC known as OMAC Prime, Captain Atom allows OMAC Prime to absorb his energy, before reabsorbing the energy and overloading his powers, resulting in him being thrown into the time stream once again. Just before this occurred, Captain Atom grabbed Max and threatened to pull him into the time stream as well, unless Max undid the global mindwipe of his existence. Max complied and everyone on the planet had their memories of him restored before Captain Atom was pulled away to a time and space unknown. Max later released a statement onto the internet exonerating Captain Atom of the deaths in Chicago, saying far worse would have happened if he had not intervened.
Following the rewriting of history due to the Flashpoint event, the mainstream DC Universe is altered considerably. Captain Atom is reintroduced with altered powers, appearance and origin. He is still USAF pilot Nathaniel Adam. In the new reality, Adam volunteers to participate in an experiment conducted by a research facility called the Continuum. At this facility, Dr. Megala's research is focused on the quantum field and on "dimensional transfer through M Theory". Adam is asked to pilot the dimensional-transfer vessel by Dr. Megala, who is now presented as a particle physicist working out of Colorado, but is seemingly atomized during the experiment. Soon afterwards, he reappears, now an energy-based life form. According to Dr. Megala, Captain Atom's abilities are largely nuclear in nature and involve tapping into the strong nuclear force, the energy that binds protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Adam's physical atoms are constantly splitting apart, giving him incredible power. His body maintains integrity by instantly re-merging these atoms, but extreme use of his powers can interfere with this process and cause Captain Atom's form to become unstable. This leads to a fear that at some point Captain Atom's brain might lose its molecular stability and he won't be able to fix it before it impairs his consciousness or causes him to suffer some form of brain death.
In the new reality, Nathaniel Adam has only been Captain Atom for a few months and is still exploring his abilities, constantly learning new facets to them such as his ability to perceive wireless transmissions from cell phones and computers. He frequently returns to the Continuum so that Dr. Megala and the staff can help him further understand his abilities and occasionally so they can stabilize his body when he seems to be having problems. The world at large looks on Captain Atom with suspicion due to uncertainty about his agenda and the nature of his abilities. Some fear that he is leaking radiation and potentially poisoning those he comes into contact with. Several have remarked that the Justice League may have rejected Captain Atom for membership due to suspicion of how dangerous he is. Despite this, Nathaniel chooses to try and use his powers to help others on Earth, clandestinely if need be. However, during a fight with Megala, who had taken control of Firestorm's body, Atom is forced to absorb a massive amount of energy released which splits his molecules apart into the timestream. One of these pieces is found in the 31st Century, where he names himself Nathaniel Adym. Adym had become an agent of Echo, a covert branch of the Science Police assigned to monitor the timestream. As part of his duties, he had interacted with members of the Legion of Super-Heroes stranded in the past, in Legion Lost, along with his subordinates Agent Jocelyn Lure and Agent Yera Allon. Adym is last seen escaping the threat of his own singularity bomb, launching himself into the past.
In the DC New 52 universe, Captain Atom is a being whose atoms are constantly splitting and then reforming just as quickly, releasing massive amounts of energy. This surplus of power can be manipulated in a number of ways such as flight and the ability to transmute physical matter. Captain Atom has been seen to transform lava into snow by willing it and has been able to remove cancer from a human being. He can also absorb massive amounts of energy.
Captain Atom's abilities are largely nuclear in nature and involve tapping into the strong nuclear force, the energy that binds protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Excessive or intense use of his abilities has resulted in Captain Atom temporarily losing his own molecular stability. It is not yet known if he will be able to conquer this weakness with practice or not.
As an energy-based life form, Captain Atom's senses now operate on different levels than a normal person. He is able to sense and perceive radio signals, cell phone signals and other similar transmissions. He can also see the energy of certain molecules, such as when he notes the energy signature of the hero called the Flash and remarks that his molecules seem to be sparking with fire or lightning. He also does not need air, food or water to survive.
In the Post-Crisis DC Comics Universe, Captain Atom's Dilustel skin is tied into the Quantum Field, which enables him to absorb and manipulate theoretically infinite amounts of energy, limited by his willpower and imagination. This energy can be used for flight (which is generally faster than the speed of sound in Earth's atmosphere and up to half-light speed in the vacuum of space), super strength (shown at times to be on par with Martian Manhunter, though another source – the DC Heroes Roleplaying Game – defines his level of strength second only to Superman's among the heroes of the DC universe, though as Monarch he was capable of effortlessly overwhelming three versions of Superman), durability (he has survived exploding nuclear weapons, and even energy sufficient to wipe out all life within the Universe of Earth 51 – although this was his own energy) self sustenance and life support (allowing him to live and even speak in space), and controlling energy of any form. In addition to high speed flight he has been shown to possess enhanced reflexes. Atom's abilities stem from his link to the Quantum Field, which provides a virtually infinite source of Quantum Energy, which can be used for a vast number of effects. He commonly manipulates his energy into force field bubbles, or explosive "bombs", but the most common form is a simple energy blast. Atom has been shown to be capable of manipulating even exotic energies such as magic, and has a high degree of resistance to such attacks.
Over the years, Captain Atom has become an expert at energy manipulation and he can fire energy blasts from any point on his body, although he usually uses his hands for better aim. He can fire in multiple directions at once or from every point of his body at once. Several times he has "detonated", releasing a massive amount of energy at once, destroying objects within a certain radius, as demonstrated by his destruction of Bludhaven. On more than one occasion, he has used his ability to manipulate all forms of energy to prevent a foe using their own powers, such as the Ray and Firestorm.
If Atom absorbs too much energy at once, the energy transports him uncontrollably through time. Depending on the type of energy absorbed, he either goes forward or backward in time, though he also possesses the ability to voluntarily move forward in the time-stream. Captain Atom states that through concentration, he can briefly travel ahead in time ("about a week or so"). The process is exhausting and the period he can interact in the future appears to be limited to a few minutes before he returns to the present. In the case of involuntary quantum jumping, he is typically shown as being stuck in the time-stream for as long as it takes his body to process any absorbed energy.
Captain Atom can also convert energy to matter in the same manner he manipulates energy. Originally, he needed a pair of gloves invented by Blue Beetle to do so, but he has since learned to do so without them. He is capable of manipulating matter on an atomic or sub-atomic level at a limited scale. He has used his atomic transmutation powers to turn both Maul and Engineer back to their human forms. This power can be used instinctively or through concentration, though Atom has conceded he is not very good at it. In the same way, he learned to access weak force energy. As a consequence of his energy manipulation abilities, he is able to telepathically interface with computer networks. He has on occasion used this to repel telepathic intrusions by downloading information directly into other telepaths. With focus and effort, Captain Atom can increase any of his abilities to match his current willpower, up to an unknown level. As Monarch prior to absorbing the Captain Atom Brigade his powers and abilities were increased to such a level that he was capable of effortlessly containing several versions of powerful heroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and several Green Lanterns.
Atom has shown the capacity to absorb matter, as well as energy – typified by his absorption of the Captain Atom Brigade. As Monarch he possessed all of his inherent abilities – at much higher levels – as well as teleportation, and awareness of and access to different realities. He was capable of storing enough energy, that upon its release, was capable of wiping all life from the alternate Earth 51 – except for its Monitor and a single plant.
Recently, writers and editors have introduced a radioactive aspect of Captain Atom's physical makeup. This seems to contradict the quantum nature of Atom's powers as originally introduced, as he previously did not emit radiation when his skin was cut open. Towards the end of his series' run, it was speculated that Captain Atom is an Elemental (Quantum Elemental) along with Swamp Thing (Earth), Red Tornado (Air), Firestorm (Fire), and Naiad (Water).
In addition to his superhuman abilities, Nathaniel Adam is also an experienced United States Air Force pilot. It is notable that he is one of the few superheroes with a "Captain" appellation that corresponds to a military rank he has actually held. He is especially skilled in combat piloting and is also trained in military weaponry, strategy, and hand-to-hand combat. Adam also has strong survival instincts derived from his experiences during the Vietnam War.
Captain Atom's metallic shell, or "skin", is composed of a portion of the alien being known as Silver Shield, and is called Dilustel. Pieces of the alien's metal body were used in Project Atom, and on later subjects like Major Force and Bombshell. Nathaniel is able to coat himself with the metal, either partially or totally. Atom's symbiosis with the metal is such that even partially armored he is able to access the Quantum Field. The metal is almost totally indestructible, resistant to various degrees of damage from energy, heat, lasers, etc. Only X-Ionizer technology can cut the metal, as established when the Captain Atom Project uses it to remove the Silver Shield's skin. The katana wielded by the "Cambodian" that once sliced through Atom's side was also X-Ionized. The magical guns of the Crimson Avenger were able to crack his skin. Breaking through it causes Captain Atom to Quantum Jump as if he has absorbed too much energy.
The X-Ionizer is a molecular hardening technology invented by Doctor Heinrich Megala of Project Atom, introduced in the Cary Bates run of the DC Comics published Captain Atom. Because of the nearly invulnerable nature of the alien metal discovered, the scientists needed some way to cut it in order to perform experiments. Doctor Heinrich Megala of Project Atom developed a device that would make the molecular lattices of an object knit together in such a way that it became superdense and compact, in effect, making the object nearly indestructible. Also, any edge on an X-Ionized object would attain the sharpness of a monofilament edge, enabling the object to cut finer and cleaner than the most advanced blade or laser. Once transformed, the object would then be able to cut through virtually any material, including the Dilustel (quantum metal) skin of the Silver Shield which was used to empower Captain Atom, Major Force, and Bombshell. A mercenary known as the Cambodian wore a suit of X-Ionized armor, and uses an X-ionized katana to cut through Captain Atom's skin in Captain Atom #7.
Captain Atom has his own enemies.Avatar (Tanaka): Formerly the youthful sidekick of the Judomaster, Tanaka was orphaned due to war and traveled the world witnessing similar effects everywhere he went. Seeking to do away with international conflict, he collected artifacts from the gods and was driven mad. Declaring war on the war mongers, he toppled the Justice League but was ultimately defeated by Captain Atom, his former mentor, and their allies.
Doctor Spectro (Tom Emery): A scientist driven mad by his emotion-altering prisms, Dr. Spectro gained the ability to affect emotions directly. Post-Crisis, Spectro was a small-time crook General Wade Eiling used to create a cover story for Captain Atom.
Fiery-Icer: A mercenary with a suit that unleashes intense fire from his right gauntlet and frigid cold from the left, the mysterious Fiery-Icer fought Captain Atom on several occasions.
Ghost (Alec Rois): A physicist who developed a teleportation device that he used to become a millionaire, Alec Rois took on the persona of the Ghost and became Captain Atom and his partner Nightshade's Pre-Crisis nemesis. Post-Crisis, he was a cult leader.
Iron Arms: A mercenary that employs a backpack that powers powerful cybernetic arms.
Major Force (Clifford Zmeck): A rapist/murderer exposed to the same experiment that created Captain Atom, he betrayed the US government and became Captain Atom's Post-Crisis nemesis.
Monarch (Hank Hall): In an alternate future, Hank Hall goes mad and kills Earth's heroes in order to conquer the world. When the hero Waverider comes back in time to prevent this, he instead creates the paradox that made his future possible. When Monarch goes back in time to retrieve his past self, it was Captain Atom that failed to stop him. Captain Atom battled the villain through time to quell the guilt of his failure to stop him earlier.
Punch and Jewelee: A husband and wife team of villains who work as thieves and mercenaries. Post-Crisis, they instead fought King Faraday and Nightshade.
Thirteen: In reality a federal agent from Earth's future, Thirteen travels back in time with his partner Faustus, a talking cat, to prevent the Ghost from stealing an experimental missile and end up facing Captain Atom. He appears to be a sorcerer but it's unknown if he employs magic or science.
An alternate future Captain Atom is featured prominently in the 1991 series Armageddon 2001. A tragedy drives him insane and he uses his powers in vengeance. Unfortunately, it also triggers a chain of events which brings Monarch to the present 'time'.
Captain Atom appears briefly in flashback sequences of Alex Ross and Mark Waid's 1996 mini-series Kingdom Come, printed under DC Comics' "Elseworlds" imprint. His death at the hands of the villain Parasite, and the irradiation of Kansas this caused, results in Superman's return to action and sets the events of the story into motion. His outfit in this comic is a combination of his original Charlton uniform and his later DC costume. The Kingdom Come universe established and created by Waid and Ross would later be introduced to DC canon in the form of Earth-22. The Silver Age Captain Atom appears in the sequel The Kingdom: Planet Krypton #1 as one of the "ghosts" in the empty "Planet Krypton" restaurant.
In 2004, DC launched an ongoing series called Breach. The series was originally planned as a revamp of the Captain Atom concept, but Breach was subsequently re-conceived as a completely new character. The 2005 mini-series Infinite Crisis revealed that Breach would have been a native of Earth-Eight if the Multiverse had continued to exist after Crisis on Infinite Earths as his world's counterpart to Captain Atom. The 2007 series Countdown: Arena at first suggests that a new Breach was created on the Earth-8 the new Multiverse, although whether this indeed happened is called into question when the Breach featured in the miniseries is revealed to be the same mainstream Breach featured in the eponymous limited series. Breach is killed when absorbed into Monarch in the last issue of Countdown: Arena.
In the final issue of 52, a new Multiverse is revealed, originally consisting of 52 identical realities. Among the parallel realities shown is one designated "Earth-4". As a result of Mister Mind "eating" aspects of this reality, it takes on visual aspects similar to the pre-Crisis Earth-4, including Captain Atom and the other Charlton characters. The names of the characters are not mentioned in the panel in which they appear, but the Captain Atom is visually similar to Charlton's original version of the character. However, according to comments by Grant Morrison, this alternate universe is not the pre-Crisis Earth-4.
2007's Countdown: Arena features Captains Atom from alternate universes. The combatants of the series are introduced as a new Breach of Earth-8, a Ronnie Raymond/Nathaniel Adam fusion called "Quantum-Storm" from Earth-37, and another from Earth-38 who rules over his Atomic Knights. Additionally, issue #1 introduces a "Brigadier Atom" from Earth-13 married to Nightshade, and in Countdown: Arena #3, Breach gathers together a group of alternate Captains Atom, including Earth-13's Brigadier, the Captain Atom as depicted in the graphic novel Kingdom Come (Earth-22), and a Captain in a red/silver variant of the Monarch's costume, one similar to the Charlton Comics Atom (Earth-4), and a Hulked out variant named Attum from an unknown Earth. Several more variants are shown in Countdown: Arena #4, including a President Atom, a robot called Quantum Mechanix, Kid Quantum of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Captain Adamma, Quantum Boy, an anthropomorphic wolf version, a Soviet Atom from Earth-30, a Doctor Manhattan-lookalike, an energy based-Atom who makes calculations during his attacks, and a giant-sized actual atom. Grant Morrison's Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D (2008) depicts a Captain Allen Adam from Earth-4, a cross between the original Charlton version, Superman, Reed Richards and Doctor Manhattan. The DC Multiverse is refreshed following Flashpoint, but this last Grant Morrison-created Captain Atom is a main character in the 2016 comic The Multiversity - Pax Americana (2015).
In the alternate timeline of the "Flashpoint" storyline, Nathaniel Adam is a general who never went through with the dilustel experiment, and is consequently much older than in the original timeline. General Adam controls the body and physical actions of Project Six's body, using it to attack Booster Gold, believing him to be an Atlantean threat. During the battle, General Adam's control link is destroyed by Metahuman interference, causing Project Six's true personality to surface. General Adam loses control of Project Six but Booster fixes the control link. General Adam then attempts to use the link to kill Booster Gold. Fortunately, General Adam takes Booster Gold back to the base for interrogation, allowing Booster Gold to escape when the sight of "Project Superman" causes Project Six's true personality to resurface again with the damage caused by the attack, causing the ceiling to collapse on General Adam, who is knocked unconscious.
In Earth-4 of the DC Multiverse, Captain Atom's counterpart, Captain Adam, known as the Quantum Superman, is shown to exist. He is seemingly similar to Doctor Manhattan in many ways, having the iconic hydrogen atom symbol on his forehead and having bright blue skin which emits Cherenkov radiation, just like Doctor Manhattan's skin. However, he constantly needs to use drugs in order to keep his humanity, otherwise he risks turning uncontrollably powerful and emotionless just like Doctor Manhattan (although the latter can feel emotions), although he is still unable to become stronger than Doctor Manhattan even without his drugs.
In the prequel comic to the game Captain Atom joins Batman's Insurgency to combat Superman's growing Regime after the Man of Steel decides to forcibly instill peace on the world through any means necessary. During the climax of Year One Atom is selected to join Batman, Catwoman, Black Canary, and Green Arrow on their mission to the Fortress of Solitude to retrieve an enhancer pill as he is the only one who can stand on par with Superman. When the plan to distract Superman goes awry, Captain Atom fights Superman to protect the others, bringing the Man of Steel to a standstill where he admits he was chosen by the government to kill Superman should he go rogue. Before he can decide if he wants to go ahead with it, Wonder Woman appears and slices his containment suit with her sword, an act which will kill him and destroy anything in their radius. He then makes up his mind to take Superman with him and leaves the North Pole so that only he and Superman will be harmed. Unknown to him, Wonder Woman is in close pursuit, so when he does detonate outside the atmosphere the shockwave hits her directly and leaves her in a coma. While Atom dies, Superman survives, going on to continue his Regime.
The rights to Captain Atom and most other Charlton characters were purchased by DC Comics in the early 1980s. Originally, these Charlton characters were to be reintroduced in writer Alan Moore's limited series Watchmen; however, this was deemed to render the characters unusable for future stories, and characters inspired by the Charlton originals were used instead. Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan is based on Captain Atom, and like Captain Atom, gained similar powers through a similar scientific mishap.Captain Atom appears in the animated television series Justice League Unlimited, voiced by George Eads (in "Initiation") and by Chris Cox (in all subsequent episodes). This version of the character speaks with a slight Texas accent, and his true identity is "Captain Nathaniel Adams", a former member of the U.S. Air Force. In this series, Captain Atom is a disembodied mass of energy contained within a special suit, similar to Wildfire of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Like his comic counterpart, he can manipulate all forms of radiation, but his containment suit can only store a set amount of energy, which, if exceeded, causes him to explode like a nuclear bomb. He serves as a mildly antagonistic political foil for Green Arrow saying to Captain Atom, "I think you're what I marched against back in college." in much the same way the Silver Age Hawkman did in the comics; that is, the military officer and the former peace activist maintain their political differences through bickering during downtime, although this type of conflict has not been developed since the pair made peace in their first mission together. When Task Force X infiltrates the Watchtower, it is when the Captain is one of the few on duty. He is shown trying to save Plastique from the explosion the group uses to cover their escape. During the Cadmus arc, Captain Atom is briefly turned against the Justice League by his superiors in the U.S. Air Force, who at the time are acting on instructions from Project Cadmus. He challenges Superman in an effort to uphold his orders to keep Question in Cadmus custody, using "Red Sun Radiation" as a means of fighting him. Despite this he only hinders Superman briefly before being beaten after an extended battle. He is brought back to the Watchtower by Superman. When the Ultramen clones attack he blasts several clones who where advancing on himself, Huntress and Question. His appearances throughout the rest of the series are fairly minor. His last appearance is in the finale, where he is seen in the "curtain call" with fellow Ditko creations Question, Creeper, and Hawk and Dove.
Captain Atom appears in the Young Justice animated series, voiced by Michael T. Weiss. He is seen as a member of the Justice League in the hour-long pilot episode "Independence Day", and later makes a cameo appearance in "Schooled" where Amazo is shown utiliizing Captain Atom's abilities during a battle with Superboy. He is also featured in the tie-in comic, where he gets the team to investigate the crime he supposedly committed. His surname is also "Adams" in this version. He acts as the team's instructor on covert ops. In season 2, he becomes the new leader of the Justice League, when a number of its founding members leave Earth for a time to clear their names, following an attack on an alien planet that 6 members committed while under the control of the Light.
Captain Atom appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Powerless!", voiced by Brian Bloom. This version is introduced as "Nathaniel Christopher Adams aka Allen Adams aka Cameron Scott", an arrogant, pompous, egocentric hero who is fond of making public service announcements. After joining the Justice League International, he berates Batman due to his lack of any special powers and displays little respect for him (unlike other heroes who see Batman as an authority). However, during a fight with Major Force, Captain Atom is drained of his powers and loses confidence in himself. With the help of Aquaman, he learns to be a hero without his old abilities and in the end, Captain Atom takes down Major Force on his own and regains his powers. However the episode ends with a gag suggesting that Captain Atom didn't learn his lesson and still has very little respect for people without powers.
Captain Atom appears in episode 46 of Mad. He joins the other superheroes in a musical number that asks Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman why they are called "Super Friends."
The Cameron Scott alter ego of Captain Atom is mentioned as an associate of Plastique on The Flash.
Captain Atom appears in the animated film Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, where he is played by Xander Berkeley. He leads a team of superpowered individuals working for the government under the command of President Lex Luthor, consisting of Power Girl, Major Force, Black Lightning, Starfire, Katana and later Captain Marvel and Hawkman. He and his team try to convince Superman to join them, but he refuses to get involved with anyone working for Luthor. Later, Captain Atom and The Justice League defeat the assembled villains and try to arrest Superman and Batman for the murder of Metallo. During the battle, Captain Atom and Major Force overpower Superman. Although Major Force continues attacking Superman, Captain Atom stops him. Taking advantage of this, Superman defeated Captain Atom and Major Force as well as the entire team. After knocking out the others, he escapes with Power Girl and Batman. Later, Luthor berates Captain Atom for failing and orders him to finish the job. Captain Atom's team finds Batman, Superman and Power Girl and fight them again. Just as Superman defeats Captain Atom, Captain Atom sneaks away and overhears an argument between Batman and Major Force. While listening to the argument, he learns from Batman that Luthor had Major Force kill Metallo to frame Superman. Realizing the truth, he changes sides and redeems himself by absorbing the energy leaking from Major Force's containment suit (after Power Girl inadvertently ruptured the suit), a feat that renders him comatose. After Batman destroys the Kryptonite meteor that was heading for Earth, Superman defeats Luthor, who is then taken into custody by Captain Atom and his team.
Captain Atom makes a brief appearance in the animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, voiced by Lex Lang. In the film's beginning, he appears with the Justice League assist the Flash with Professor Zoom's bombs. Captain Atom helps Cyborg with Captain Boomerang's bomb. In the distorted Flashpoint timeline, Captain Atom had gone alone to end the conflict between Atlantis and the Amazons. Later on it is revealed that he has in fact been captured and is the source of power for Aquaman's doomsday device that had sunk most of western Europe. At the end of the film, Aquaman activates the doomsday device detonating and seemingly killing Captain Atom.
Captain Atom: Armageddon (by Will Pfeifer and Giuseppe Camuncoli, Wildstorm, 192 pages, November 2006, ISBN 1-4012-1106-2)
Action Heroes Archive Volume 1 reprints the Captain Atom stories from Space Adventures and from Captain Atom #78-82 (ISBN 1-4012-0302-7).
Action Heroes Archive Volume 2 reprints the Captain Atom stories from Captain Atom #83-89 and from Charlton Bullseye #1-2 (ISBN 978-1-4012-13466).