Sunday, August 30, 2015
Solar Reflections Five!
With the demise of Gold Key comics and later still the Whitman imprint which had replaced it for a time, the Doctor Solar character lay dormant for many years. Then Jim Shooter and his associates wanted to start up a new comic book company after Shooter's dismissal from Marvel.
While at Marvel Shooter had tried to initiate a "New Universe", one apart from the more traditional superhero one and in which the laws of nature and science were more consistent with the real world we live in. There would be an attempt at verisimilitude which was largely impossible in the sprawling Marvel Universe, full as it had become with all manner of super-beings. This New Universe was pretty much a failure save for a few titles like DP7 and Psi-Force both of which had more than a tiny similarity to Marvel's X-Men.
Shooter took this basic idea of a new universe though and used it as the template for his new company which was dubbed Valiant Comics. The core of Valiant was familiar names from the vintage Gold Key imprint of decades past such as Magnus, Turok, and Solar. The Doctor Solar we meet in this new rendition is much different. In an origin story which weirdly was serialized in the first ten issues of the series, while the main story itself started where the origin would eventually end, this saga was one filled with mystery from the get go.
Like the Doctor Solar of the Gold Key comics this one was the product of a nuclear accident. Dr.Philip Seleski is a fan of the vintage comics and also a brilliant man who creates fusion technology which hopefully will give the world vast power. But it goes wrong and he is changed into a godlike being who slowly comes to terms with his new status while those around him such as love interest Gayle Nordheim and his boss Dr.Dobson grow to fear him. Added to the cast this time is a troubled woman named Erica Pierce who comes to be a critical part of Valiant's storytelling. Selesky, who sometimes jokingly refers to himself as "Solar, the Polish Sun God" grows to use his power more and more trying at times to remove what he sees as threatening nuclear power and consequently the authorities become wary. In a final move he takes Gayle with him and in an act of foolish bravado ends up destroying the world as we know it. The world then he recreates and this then is the Valiant universe, now changed in weird ways and full of super-powered possibilities not before possible. In that world he eventually finds a role which calls upon the unrealistic optimism of the vintage Doctor Solar of the classic Gold Key Comics.
It's complicated to say the least. But it is a full-blooded realization of what being a superhero might really be, a challenging and engaging take on the character. Eventually Shooter is ushered out of the company he helped create and Solar goes on to become a mainstay for the Valiant imprint.
Eventually though the end comes after many changes in title, direction and even ownership. The 90's were a heady time for comics with lots of money folks seeking to make bundles on the fan interest the funny books created. It made for some bad comics and for some greedy outcomes which eventually nearly killed off the industry.
But that wasn't the end of Doctor Solar Man of the Atom.
Jim Shooter made a compact with Dark Horse Comics and produced eight more Doctor Solar issues about a half decade ago. They featured some very refined art and were heavy on the science which like the Valiant stories of many years before played with the conceits of the superhero and applied them to a more realistic world. While interesting the comics were not especially exciting and the series was cancelled.
But that was still not the end of Doctor Solar Man of the Atom.
Nowadays Dynamite Comics has the license and has (as usual) produced some few issues but dozens of covers. I've peeked at it, but it's not my cup of tea alas.
And that wraps up Solar reflections for now. Doctor Solar has proven to be a durable character and vivid concept. The costume is so simple and memorable that it has helped certainly and it's ironic that is the case since Gold Key was so reluctant to create such a distinctive look.