When Captain Adam, USAF (he's called Allen Adam once, but he never seems to have a first name) is accidentally trapped in a rocket and exploded in outer space, he manages to reintegrate himself on Earth, endowed with amazing atomic powers. He becomes Captain Atom, costumed super-hero and the United States' new secret weapon in the Cold War.
I must apply my usual caveat about vintage comic books: take them as you find them, they are plot heavy, character light, not always PC. "The Action Heroes Archives" gets an additional caveat. Although this volume is published by DC Comics, the Action Heroes line, including Captain Atom, was originally published in the 1960s by Charlton Comics, one of the many also-rans in the comic book industry, that nonetheless created a body of work that is beloved even today. The fact that one of the creative figures behind this line was comics legend Steve Ditko, certainly makes these stories worthy that sentiment.
This volume contains two runs of Captain Atom. The first half covers the initial run of stories published in "Space Adventures" in the late 1950s-early 1960s. Pencilled and inked by Ditko, the writers of most of these stories is forgotten, although some were written by the prolific Joe Gill. Each story ran five pages, with Atom pitted against a variety of menaces, including aliens, spies, and foreign threats. Indeed, there is an interesting thread of jingoism in these early stories. It should come as no surprise that these stories, while mostly enjoyable, are very limited in terms of plot (usually containing four pages of set-up and a page of resolution) and devoid of character development. In all fairness, the stories identified as written by Gill were the best of the lot. Most important, Ditko, while not quite at the level of Spider-man, was still producing some fine art work that makes these stories, many of which are bad, worth reading.
The second half of the volume represents the early issues of the character's second run, when, after a hiatus of a couple of years, Charlton made a stab at a real "Action Heroes" line. Captain Atom was given his own book (picking up on the numbering of "Space Adventures," which Charlton did all the time), and, under the plotting of Gill and Ditko, full-length stories and a new sense of character development. Atom's supporting cast was expanded. He even got a partner, the female super-agent Nightshade. He also began to develop recurring villains, most notably Dr. Spectro, a brilliant scientist who developed light technology that changes people's moods. This second run is a vast improvement over the original stories, and, while not the best the Silver Age of comics has to offer, is still worth reading. Again, the main draw is Ditko's art, although now the art is supporting some legitimately good writing.
Sadly, Charlton dropped the "Action Heroes" line not quite a year after it started. In the 1980s, Charlton sold the characters to DC, who integrated those characters, including Captain Atom (although with substantial revamping) into their own universe.
I presume that DC intends to simply archive all of that material under the title "Action Heroes," as opposed to giving each character their own volume: there simply isn't enough material to justify it. Given DC's rather erratic publishing schedule for their archives, I'm not sure when to expect volume two. As I enjoyed this volume quite a bit, I can't wait for more that great Ditko art, which makes lame stories enjoyable and good stories close to great.
As an aside, the image amazon has posted for this book is out of date: when DC released it they used a different cover image and called it the "Action Heroes Archives." Still the same book.