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: 793

Comment by Figserello on September 21, 2010 at 8:21pm
BTW Jeff, some of the content of that early Phantom strip was reprinted in the Australian Phantom comic lately. Smiley and his friend inciting war between the tribes to get their hands on a diamond mine. Only cost about $5. I'm reading it at the moment.

I don't mind the frequent recaps. I'd feel short-changed if they edited them all out. It's interesting to see the writer working within the framework of that particular form.

The Phantom is one of the coolest superheroes out there, still, and as the 1937 date of those strips attest, perhaps the very first of the 'body-stocking' wearing type. (A practrical choice for athletic manouvres in steamy jungles!)

I'd like to do a post or two on him some day. So much of that strip is done so well! They really knew how to keep a single property going over such a long time without cooking the golden goose.
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on September 22, 2010 at 11:24am
Thanks, Cap, for sharing your thought process on how you choose which collections to review. I'm pleased that you plan to review Dark Shadows. I planned to write a review of it myself, but I ended up saying almost everything I had to say about it during the discussion of Arnold Drake, continuity and fan expectations which I started last week in the comics forum. (It's a good discussion, I think; be sure to read it if you have the time.) I know the time you spent here is (understandably) limited these days, but there are some collections I read (quite a few of them, actually), that no one else on the board other than yourself reads, so my interest in what you choose to review is quite selfish.

Time was I'd post something about everything I read, but my board time is more limited today than it once was, too. As it is, there are many collections I'd like to comment on (The Phantom among them), but by the time I find the time, so much time has passed that what I read is no longer fresh in my mind. (That recent collection of Flash Gordon comic books is another example.) I'll still likely get around to writing something about everything we've mentioned already, and I hope you don't mind the occasional "subtle hint."
Comment by Lumbering Jack (M'odd-R8-Tr) on September 23, 2010 at 6:52am
I'm actually in the process of reading the new Phantom hardcover (from Hermes Press), and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. (And in truth, I read it while in the lavatory ... so the recaps are helpful!)
I've never been much of a Phantom fan probably thanks to the oft-mentioned "glacial pace" but I like reading it as a collection. Things move quickly within a collection, so its probably more ideal than their original format.
The art is spotty at times (particularly in long shots), but there's been a lot of pictures of Sala and Diana in risque (for the time) outfits, so that's a bonus.
Seeing the Phantom legend roll out is a treat. And at least once I've seen an apparent reverse in direction after Falk decided to change the plot of the story.

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