Dr. Solar makes triumphant return at Dark Horse

By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

Sept. 14, 2010 -- “Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom” is a superhero who refused to die – because two publishers wouldn’t let him.

Solar was one of the “big four” characters of Western Publishing’s Gold Key line in the 1960s, which included Magnus, Robot Fighter; Turok, Son of Stone; and Mighty Samson. They were consigned to limbo after that publisher went belly up, until most were revived by Valiant Comics in the 1980s. Valiant went out of business too, but Solar is back again – this time at Dark Horse Comics.

Solar’s triumphant return is the result of two men who have done the most to keep the Western/Gold Key properties viable for years, and are now enjoying a “team up.”

“When I started Dark Horse [in 1986],” DH publisher Mike Richardson said, “I inquired at Western Publishing (whatever version existed at the time) about the characters and who owned the rights, and it turned out I had been beaten by Jim Shooter.”

Shooter, a former editor-at-chief at Marvel Comics, launched Valiant in the late 1980s with Solar, Magnus and Turok at the center of his line, with Shooter himself writing most of the titles. Shooter’s version of the characters lasted until 2000, when Acclaim (which had bought Valiant) went out of the comics business. Richardson, meanwhile, settled for reprinting the 1960s Gold Key comics in classy hardbacks. The Solar and Magnus reprint series are complete, Turok is up to volume 6 (and counting) and Mighty Samson Vol. 1 just arrived.

But even better, so have the first two issues of a new Solar series, plus the first issue of a new Magnus, with miniseries starring Turok and Samson launching in November and December, respectively. And the writer on these new series? Yep, Jim Shooter.

But don’t expect these books to be exactly like the ones he did at Valiant 20 years ago.

“I just didn’t want a continuation of those (Valiant) series,” Richardson said, “because they had built their own continuity, and I didn’t want to have to be a slave to their continuity. I wanted to start fresh, with the characters I knew at Gold Key, and create our own continuity. … It’s a different world now that our characters are gonna live in.”

Shooter agreed. “Mike and I talked about the possibility of my redeveloping the [Gold Key] characters a number of times over the course of three years or so before I was finally ready to go and he was ready to pull the trigger,” he said. “I don’t remember which time he said ‘start all over,’ but I knew what he was up to. He made me re-think everything, and the new stories are better for it. Like a fox he is, that guy. Cunning and clever.”

The new Solar #1 arrived last month, with a character Shooter describes as “the premier archetype of energy-empowered heroes; real-science-based heroes; and heroes whose power level approaches being godlike.”

Solar’s origin and powers remain pretty much the same as they have been since the 1960s, where a nuclear reactor accident (actually, sabotage) results in Dr. Philip Solar becoming a being made entirely of, and able to manipulate, energy. (If that sounds familiar, Alan Moore swiped the origin for Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.) Other 1960s holdovers include Solar’s boss and confidante, Dr. Malcolm Clarkson, love interest Dr. Gail Sanders and Solar’s mysterious arch-foe, Nuro.

But Shooter also introduces a host of new characters in the first story arc, titled “Troublemaker,” such as Leviathan, Glow, Moloch the Devourer and Surya the Sun-God – some of whom are as powerful as Solar himself. One such is Whitmore Pickerel, a hack SF writer whose improbable creations come to life.

“The same cutting-edge science-run-amok that empowered Doctor Solar can also empower others, less well-intentioned – and that generates epic-scale action,” Shooter said. “I guarantee you will see things in this story you’ve never seen a hero do before.”

Other new characters include a family for Solar. But that’s not the extent of the innovation.

“Writing a powerful character with godlike powers presents as many opportunities as it does difficulties,” Shooter said. “Lazy writers weaken the hero to make it easier on themselves to inflict jeopardy. Bah, humbug. Stan Lee taught me to ‘magnify’ the hero in the archaic sense, that is, make the hero great – and then bring it on. Challenge his greatness. You just need to work. Do the job.”

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 700

Comment by Dagwan on September 16, 2010 at 3:23pm
I've enjoyed the first 2 Dr. Solar issues, without having ever (EVER!) read the character before. I have read one or two of the original Magnus comics when I was a kid, and the new #1 was just as boring to me as those were.

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Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on September 16, 2010 at 4:29pm
I, too, have been enjoying the new Dr. Solar series. He doesn't solve all of his problems with his fists, or energy manipulating abilities in his case.

I am skipping the new Magnus series, as I read the FCBD comic of that and that seemed more Magnus, Robot Talker than Robot Fighter.
Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on September 17, 2010 at 6:33am
Solar, in my book, has one of the best superhero uniforms ever. I'd definitely put him in the top 10.
As a kid, I would occasionally come across a Solar book and I remember really enjoying them. However, I could never really follow up on that enjoyment because Gold Key/Western comics were really hard to find in my area.
I gave the Valiant series a try, but (at least at the time) it never really grabbed me.
I will eagerly give this new series a try.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on September 17, 2010 at 1:13pm
I'm reading the new Solar (and Magnus, too, for that matter), but I haven't quite made up my mind whether I like it or not. It certainly is as different from the Valiant version as Valiant was from Gold Key. I started a discussion of the series on the main forum with issue #1, but I really didn't have anything new to add about issue #2. It's not bad, it hasn't yet grabbed me. I'll keep reading for a while yet and add something to the ongoing thread if I have anything new to say.
Comment by Captain Comics on September 17, 2010 at 1:20pm
I have to say that I really love the covers. What grabbed me as a kid in the 1960s were the painted Gold Key covers, which were strikingly superior to anything else on the stands. (Of course, it was a little disappointing to OPEN the books, and see mediocre, journeyman art. But still ...) If nothing else, this series has great covers!
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on September 18, 2010 at 11:46am
Speaking of covers, I hope you plan to read read/review The Mighty Samson.* Some collections of Gold Key material reprint the covers with title. logo and blurb, others sans copy; The Mighty Samson reprints the covers both ways.

*In the past I have tried not to influence your choice of review material in any way, then later found myself disappointed when a particular archival volume has passed without your comment. Our tastes are so similar, though (usually), that, because neiother one of us can read everything, I've begun dropping subtle (?) hints as to what I would like to see you review.
Comment by Newsboy on September 18, 2010 at 1:07pm
What did I miss, Jeff? Just curious.

Also, back in the '60s, Gold Key would often run the cover on the back cover sans copy -- I guess as a pin-up, or maybe because they simply didn't have an advertiser willing to pay premium prices for the back cover. Anyway, that may be why you sometimes see covers without copy in reprints. After all, in many cases, they were part of the original package, and are certainly available without much extra effort.
Comment by George on September 18, 2010 at 3:56pm
Some Gold Key art wasn't good enough to be called "mediocre" or "journeyman." Joe Certa's art on the Dark Shadows comics was awful, in my opinion. It wouldn't have passed muster at Marvel or DC at the time (40 years ago).

Certa wasn't exactly dynamic on Martian Manhunter in the '50s and early '60s, but his art then had a certain goofy cartoonish charm. But his DS art was the pits.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on September 20, 2010 at 10:11am
Which of my "subtle" hints did you miss? I remember we talked about Steve Ditko's The Creeper in one on your blogs, for example, but you didn't write an in-depth feature review of it, did you? I was also curious about your reaction to the fist volume of The Phantom dailes, but if you did a review of that I missed it. There are some others, too, which are no longer so fresh in my mind. Here's some not-so-subtle hints, though, if you're taking requests: Gold Key's Doctor Spektor (which hasn't shipped yet) and Archie newspaper comic strips (which has). Feel free to ignore these requests; they're only suggestions and I won't be offended if you review something else. I think the Archie newspaper strip collections, though, would be ideally suited to the more mainstream audience of your syndicated column.

Speaking of Joe Certa, his style reminds me a little of Mike Sekowsky's, bit I do think Certa was off his game by the late '60s/early '70s. One thing, he draws Barnabas running full tilt in a distinctive way in virtually every issue! His art may not have passed muster at Marvel or DC, but then again, Dark Shadows is a title which couldn't have been published by Marvel ot DC at the time (because of the Comics Code, to which Western/Dell/Gold Key did not submit their books).
Comment by Captain Comics on September 21, 2010 at 4:44pm
The "Barnabas running" thing jumped out at me, as well -- especially since it was exactly the same way the Martian Manhunter ran. I guess it was the only pose Certa knew. Another oddball Certa tic -- which was actually less in evidence in Dark Shadows -- was exaggerating brow creases. Maybe because he drew a bald superhero for 15 years, but he really loved drawing brow creases! Very distracting. Anyway, I'll talk about that more when I review Dark Shadows, which will probably be next week.I've already done this week's, and covered four books, but didn't have room for all I wanted to say about Dark Shadows.

Which brings up your point, Jeff, and you're right -- I can't read everything, which is why some things go without comment. For example, I didn't buy Steve Ditko's The Creeper initially, because I already own all the issues it reprints, so why spend the money? Then I ended up buying it anyway for my thesis (I wanted to see if the Foreword would be helpful, and it's easier to research a hardback than crumbly 45-year-old comics in a box somewhere), but too late to review it. I also didn't buy the Archie newspaper strips because -- just between you and me -- I'm not a big fan of narrative comics strips. The format is so restrictive that it takes months to tell a relatively simple story, and the daily recaps are maddening. So I hadn't planned to buy the Archie newspaper strip books. I did buy The Phantom dailies, for the historical value -- but haven't had time to read it yet. I didn't intend to review it, because I doubt I'd have much nice to say about a format I don't like, so it went to the bottom of the pile. So I may get around to reading it in ... oh, I dunno, 2020.

Another aspect is that I buy most of my collections/graphic novels from Amazon. I know, I know -- that's not supportive of my LCS. But they cost more there, plus there's sales tax. And given the sheer volume of books I buy (often $300-400/month), that really stacks up fast. I love my LCS, but I'm not throwing away a thousand dollars or more a year if I can help it.

The upshot, though, is that Amazon shipping is different than comic-shop shipping. Usually it's much later, but sometimes it's early. I received Land of the Giants before it arrived at the comic shop, for example, whereas I still haven't received Mighty Samson Vol. 1. So sometimes a review is delayed because I simply don't have the book yet. Dark Horse books especially run several weeks or even a month behind the comic shop. I imagine this is done on purpose to help comic shops stay competitive with online bookstores, but it does complicate my schedule.

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