Cancer to the Rescue
I've been mulling over how to express how I feel about this issue for a while now, and in all honesty even now I haven't been able to come up with a proper way discuss this issue. I have to say there will be some MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, since there's no way to avoid them. And I suppose that's a natural response to this comic, because how do you properly talk about a story where the conflict is resolved by giving a child his cancer back?
Now, immediately you might be a bit disgusted by this turn of events, which is natural and pretty much necessary in order to call yourself a decent human being. But I have to say in some ways this ending seems to work in favor of the story. The central conflict is all centered around how some years in the future, Nate completely loses his humanity, and is ultimately turned into a messiah by the people in this world whom he has saved. As a result of this, his future self comes to the conclusion that in order to best serve the world, he must destroy it, which is a common sci-fi trope, but one that was pretty well executed. In this issue, Captain Atom (or more specifically, one of his OTHER future selves) decides that in order to prevent himself from developing a god complex, he must stop himself from committing the act that made him believe that he could be a deity, which was curing a young boys terminal cancer. Since the entire series was centered around him questioning his place in this world as someone who has literally almost unlimited power, it makes sense that he would do such a thing if it meant preventing himself from causing such destruction.
The problem lies in how little such topics are elaborated on in some places. In a world where it is more than common for Heroes to be the kind of person who will save anyone they can, regardless of consequences, the fact that Nathaniel had to sacrifice a child to understand his limits and save the world is a very odd and very dark concept, and not enough time is given to properly explain the rational behind it. When Superman is perfectly willing to use any means possible to save a single life, even if it comes back to bit him on his @$$, then why can't Captain Atom do so? The idea of having to commit such an atrocious act for the greater good is a neat concept to explore, but too little time is given to it to satisfy me.
Upon re-reading it though, I noticed that it was one of the Captains other selves, the one who displays much less humanity than the "main" one, who pulled the trigger, so to speak, on the boy, with Nate-prime being completely unaware of this act. This makes things a little easier to swallow, and helps keep our hero more likable instead of turning him into a bastard for letting a child die, but it's still a sore point.
The nature of time travel is also something that could have used a bit more explanation. The last couple of issues were vague in a way that left a few thing open to your imagination, and also sort of made us feel like we weren't SUPPOSED to understand it, which is not a bad thing at all if done right. Unfortunately, this ambiguity left a couple of key questions unanswered when he went back to his own time period. Nothing that truly hurt the series, but something that weighed in a bit on my mind even after multiple reads.
I can't help but feel like this book could have used just one more issue to give a bit more time to fill in a few blanks and clear up a few points, but seeing how Captain Atom was recently cancelled, and writers obviously are told that their books were on the chopping block months before the general public, I have an admittedly unfounded suspicion that a few cuts were made to the script in order to make room for the final 2 issues which will wrap the story up for good.
That said, this issue does have some great moments that really worked much better than it's more problematic points. When Captain Atom's future selves are looking for a point in time to help change the future, we see them rationalize which events shouldn't be changed, and they raise some great points. We see a bit of his distrust for Megala, though mostly his actions instead of his morals, and also what seems to be him accepting the fact that he is, like it or not, one of the few people who could have received these powers that wouldn't have used them for nefarious, or reckless, ends. He resigns himself to the fact that him losing a chunk of his humanity is better than some of the other possibilities, and it's a pretty heroic thing to see him accept this burden. I also really liked the idea of him splitting off part of him, his humanity, and using that as an avatar, which, while a little out of left field, is a really cool concept. Instead of a disguise, he literally created another person from scratch to serve as his alter-ego, which is pretty awesome.
Art wise, some parts are better than others. The heavily stylized scenes in this issue aren't as polished as the past 2, though whether that's the fault of Freddie Williams or his inker/colorist I don't know. I did enjoy how the more powerful he got in this story, the less inking he received, which is a nice visual contrast and a good technique too illustrate his change in strength, but the general look and shape he took on when this happened was kind of ridiculous. However, there were still some great visuals and layouts, so in the end I look upon it positively.
Issue 10 drops the ball on some important points, but in other areas it more than succeeds. When all is said and done, the central theme of this installment, the fact that all people have limits to what they can do, is still competently expressed to us, and it made for an overall enjoyable book, if a little hard to take in. I'm gonna be sad to see it go, since this title is truly doing some interesting things in it's corner of the DCU.