Comics / Spotlight

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom #1

By Andy Frisk
July 21, 2010 - 17:10

Ah, the 1990s…a decade that witnessed perhaps the biggest boom and bust ever experienced in the world of the comic book market, and the much lamented (or much maligned depending upon your view) Valiant Comics was right in the center of, if not the leading cause of, this boom and bust. Variants, chromium covers, over production…Valiant either did it or started it all (again based on your opinion). What was so sad though was that Jim Shooter’s greatest creation could have really stood the test of time and joined Marvel and DC Comics as one of the best superhero comic book publishers of all time. The characters were there, the storytelling was there, the tight continuity was there, the artwork was there…Valiant is long gone though, and the current owners of the rights to the majority of the Valiant Universe’s characters don’t seem to have any plans to move forward with them as evidenced by their long dormant website. With Dark Horse Comics now owning the rights to the original Gold Key characters Doctor Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter, and Turok Dinosaur Hunter, and with Jim Shooter helming up these characters’ new adventures…well, us old Valiant fans can only hope that Valiant’s current owners sell to Dark Horse thusly reuniting the Valiant characters with their three main core characters. We can dream…

Valiant Solar

We’ve come not to praise the glories of the now more or less defunct Valiant Comics’ legacy of great art and storytelling, but to bury it as we look towards the updated and rebooted exploits of a reinvigorated and Shooter scripted Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom series. When considering Shooter and Solar though, it becomes obvious that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Shooter has a penchant for stories about god-like characters and their moral feats and failings. What would one expect from the guy who co-created The Beyonder at Marvel Comics? Shooter writes some great stories when given the chance to create or utilize such characters. Shooter’s Valiant incarnation of Solar was so powerful that he was quite literally responsible for the fictional creation of the fictional Valiant Universe. It’s a great story, and can be read for mere pennies. Old Valiant overprints lay collecting dust in bargain bins throughout the country waiting to be re-discovered (and should be). Shooter’s Dark Horse Comics’ Solar, judging from issue #1 of his new series, looks to be in the same league power wise as he is morally ambiguous, or more aptly put…human.

Although the character of Doctor Solar predates him by about two and a half decades, the Valiant and Dark Horse Comics incarnations of Doctor Solar owe much to Alan Moore’s Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame. In fact, having been one of the few comic book readers to have discovered Watchmen AFTER I discovered and read Shooter’s Valiant incarnation of Doctor Solar, I somewhat blasphemously compared Dr. Manhattan to Doctor Solar in the sense of “I’ve seen this done before!” While Solar came first and Manhattan essentially was a copycat of Solar’s powers and origin, Manhattan embodies the Alan Moore type of gravitas that Solar, as envisioned by Shooter at Valiant, would only be able to tap into and utilize in his characterization of Solar. This is not to say that Shooter in any way stole from or borrowed too heavily from Moore’s Manhattan to create the Shooter Solar, but the great collective unconsciousness that all creators and artists tap into endeared Shooter with the same idea of the all powerful but flawed god character that Moore created for Watchmen. Both are unique enough yet similar enough to warrant close comparison, but given their relative proximity of creative inception who can say who influenced who? Like the great Steve-O of SLC Punk remarked with regards to whether it was The Sex Pistols or The Ramones who “started” punk rock, “Who cares who started it!” Both bands, like both characters rock.

Valiant Solar #1

Doctor Solar like Dr. Manhattan not only rocks, he all powerfully rocks. When Dr. Phillip Solar got trapped in an experimental reactor as it created a miniature sun and subsequent black hole during a sabotaged experiment and Phil became “united with the energy around” him discovering “it was like being connected to the control panel of the universe,” he became Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom. With the ability to transform energy into matter and vise versa, he essentially has mastery over the universe. With such power in the hands of a fallible consciousness though, things are bound to, if not go awry, at least become complicated. When Phil changes about 18 seconds of his past centered around a mistake he makes involving his relationship with fellow scientist Dr. Gail Sanders, he unwittingly “generates a quantum wave that damaged timespace,” creating anomalies that give rise to some interesting superhero/super villain fisticuffs. Much like Solar accidentally created the Valiant Universe; he has powerfully altered his new Dark Horse Comics one. Like I said—the more things change, the more they stay the same. The concept of Solar’s role in creating the Valiant Universe worked years ago as a plot device (and quite interestingly at that) so Shooter’s tweaking and resurrection of it now seems like a decent way to get the new Solar off the ground. What Shooter does going forward will be just as interesting given his track record.

Dark Horse Solar #1

Series artist Dennis Calero (X-Factor) brings a minimalist look to Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom. Background detail is scarce. Most backgrounds are limited to a penciled free look comprised of one solid color and nothing else. While his pencil work is solid in all the necessary sequential art categories, it is his coloring work that is most eye catching. Besides the boring one color backgrounds, Calero’s use of color to illustrate Doctor Solar’s powers in use nearly makes up for the lack of penciled detail. The scenes where Solar weaves holographic projections to illustrate his experience in the reactor and to describe the quantum wave he accidentally unleashed that is creating the space-time continuum anomalies are nearly carried soley by Calero’s colors.

Things to come!

So while this new Dark Horse Comics’ incarnation of Jim Shooter’s version of Doctor Solar has a great deal in common with his Valiant Comics’ version, and Alan Moore’s Dr. Manhattan, Shooter has plenty of opportunity to strike out in new directions with Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom. He’ll basically have the creative freedom to develop Solar in a way that he was kept from doing once he was ousted from Valiant before Acclaim (the now bankrupt and defunct video game maker that bought Valiant) ruined the greatest collection of comic book superheroes dreamt up since the birth of the Marvel Universe. He’s definitely off to a pretty good start.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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