Sunday, August 2, 2015

Solar Reflections One!

Dated October 1962 the debut issue of Doctor Solar hit the stands as the fledgling Gold Key brand was first trying to establish itself after the split from Dell. The talents at Western Publications were eager to try out their own stuff and adding a "superhero" seemed necessary for  a comics company. Under a lush and mysterious Richard Powers cover, this comic seemed to be what it was -- a strange blend of science fiction and superheroics, with less attention on the latter.

In the debut story "Doctor Solar's Secret", we meet Doctor Philip Solar, a nuclear physicist who works at Atomic Valley. There he is trapped inside a sabotaged nuclear pile and the radiation, which kills his colleague does not kill him, instead he finds himself changed and weirdly quickened by the radioactivity. His skin becomes a vivid green and he seems to be dead save that he isn't. The only person who knows his secret is Dr.Clarkson, his boss, who works with Solar to keep him alive by giving him access to radiation he needs. Ignorant of his true nature is Gail Sanders, a newly arrived and quite attractive scientist who is smitten with Solar. The man behind the sabotage is the mysterious Nuro, who will be the villain throughout the series.In the second story "An Atomic Inferno" the agent of Nuro runs afoul of Gail and stops her and destroy Atom Valley before she can reveal his secrets, but not before Solar can save the day. The agent pays for his failures.

Esteemed science fiction artist Richard Powers does the first two covers for the series run before George Wilson takes over. The artwork on the early issues is by Bob Fujitani and it is stellar, offering up the a nicely dramatic but still exceedingly real world for Solar to operate in. Frank Bolle became the regular artist with the sixth issue and his style is certainly in the spirit of Fujitani's but alas to my eye lacks some of the power. The ubiquitous Paul Newman writes the scripts for all the Solar comics, and Matt Murphy is given credit as co-writer.

In subsequent issues we get stories like "Remote-Controlled Traitor" which has Gail Sanders kidnapped by Nuro's agents and she becomes a saboteur before she is confronted and saved by Solar, and  "The Night of the Volcano" has Solar leaving the confines of his laboratory and rushing to save the region from a tremendous volcanic eruption which had been unwittingly triggered by experiments from Atom Valley itself. Eventually he visits undersea cities and confronts aliens other scientists with odd and sometimes villainous goals. Always the mysterious and malevolent Nuro is lurking behind the scenes,even sending a robot to infiltrate Blue Valley in one issue. 

These early stories have a specific science fiction feel to them, as the always staid and conservative Gold Key folks were really reluctant to tap the superhero vein, but rather wanted to market a character who was just a scientist with an unusual condition. They seemed to be designing for television shows rather than superhero comics. Of course they eventually relented and gave Doctor Solar a costume in the fourth issue, but the nature of the stories really didn't change all that much in these early issues. All the stories were written by the phenomenal Paul S. Newman save for the seventh which was written by Otto Binder.

Here are the covers for the first seven issues. 

More "Solar Reflections" to come next Sunday.

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