Or – “Green Skin And Red Suit Used To Make For Some Awesome Painted Covers…”
So, it’s a bit confusing, so I’ll go over it again… Back in the day, Western Publishing had more than one comic book imprint, one of which was Gold Key Comics, home of Doctor Solar, Doctor Spektor, Magnus, Turok and others. In the 80’s, they relaunched Solar to a complete lack of response before licensing him to Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics during the 90’s comic boom. When that went under, Shooter tried to buy the character rights (now owned by Random House) with a new Valiant company, but apparently jumped ship to Dark Horse when they got the rights to Solar and company.
Previously, on Doctor Solar, Man Of The Atom: Doctor Phillip Solar was involved in a radiation accident (which apparently happened all the time in the 60’s) that gave him incredible superhuman powers but forced him to forever wear a special radiation suit to keep from melting the eyes of his friends and loved ones with pure unadulterated atomic death. Whenever Solar (who’s superhero name was “Man Of The Atom”, as Doctor Solar is his secret identity) suspected spies, or aliens, or the presence of his arch-enemy Nuro, he would power up, his skin would turn green and he’s nuke the bajeezus out of them. Years later, in an alternate reality, a man named Phil Seleski (who grew up reading Phillip Solar’s adventures) was likewise affected by an accident, but was empowered far beyond radioactive bursts and flight, becoming a nigh-gawdlike being who called himself Solar. His adventures in AT LEAST four different universes put Solar on a different level than any of his comrades, operating in a greater multiverse filled with unknown and awe-inspiring visions. Now, a new Doctor Solar has arisen…. Is he Solar? Is he Seleski? Is he both, or neither? The answer, my friends, is yet to come, so let slip the atomic powered green squirrels of war, and play on!
In the first issue of Doctor Solar, we met the Doc, and discovered that the same anomaly that gave him his powers (a reactor meltdown as we’ve seen twice before in the lives of the various Doctor Solars) has empowered a writer named Pickerel to bring his creations to life. Problem is, his creations are Leviathan, a dull-witted bruiser with an endless hunger and super-strength, and Glowtorch, an alien temptress whose pheromone manipulative powers give her a “musky” scent that in real life makes her pretty unpleasant to be around. Solar tracked Leviathan to the writer’s home last ish, and we open with some fighty-fighty. Given that one of the combatants is a big tough gork, and the other is a living quantum energy generator, it’s a short battle, ending with Solar warning Pickerel that his creations are not just real… They’re his own problem to deal with. If he doesn’t handle his charges, Solar warns him, then Solar himself will get involved. It’s an oddly meta scene, really, especially since Leviathan spouts lots of gibberish including “flork,” a faux obscenity that this story’s writer used in his own run on Legion of Super-Heroes not so long ago. There’s also an awkward and annoying sex scene between Glowtorch and Leviathan about which the less said, the better.
The real meat of the issue comes when Doctor Solar contacts his boss for assistance and guidance, trying to figure out what responsibility he, himself, has for these odd events. Since the quantum wave disaster was Solar’s doing, he feels that they’re his problem and is afraid to “play God” (a recurring theme from Valiant’s Solar stories) and destroy what seem to be living creatures. Pickerel, however doesn’t share his fears. As the superhumans destroy his house, empty his bank account, and do unspeakable things to his bed and bathrooms, he studies the intarwebz for assistance, deciding that his brainchildren are merely “tulpas,” beings of pure thought. He chases them away by threatening to unmake them, and sets about creating the perfect wife for himself. (Let’s be honest, most of us would, with the power to create anyone we wished, probably work on the perfect mate. If nothing else, we’d probably create some sort of playmate, in all the creepy senses of the word “play.”) Doctor Solar plans a return from beyond, as all his friends and family think he died in the reactor incident, while Pickerel realizes he needs more than a girl. He needs a powerful watchdog in case his creations OR Doctor Solar return. With the help of his new super-hot brilliant imaginary girlfriend who does windows, he works something up, while Solar is forced once again to deal with Leviathan and Glowtorch. Rather than beat them up, the good Doctor gives them a thousand bucks, buys them clothes, and sends them on their way, only to run afoul of Pickerel’s latest creation: A giant demonic being of nearly infinite power. It blasts him seemingly to atoms, growling “I am Moloch… And you are dead.”
Hmm. First things first, I have to comment on the change in art. Denis Calero, who handled issue one, is no longer on board the Solar train (according to the letters page ((YAY!)) something suddenly came up) but the visuals by Roger Robinson are actually better, to my eye. In some panels, he has an edge that reminds me of Howard Chaykin, and the characters (especially Glowtorch) are less stereotypically comic-booky in his hands. Of course, that may be counter to the point of the whole thing, as their actions and dialogue are completely cliche, right down to her crying “Don’t you hurt my man!” as Solar confronts Leviathan. The names, the costumes, and the motivations of Leviathan, Moloch and Glowtorch are pretty shopworn by now, which I think is the point. Pickerel is, after all, a bad writer by design. Of course, the “Is this a bad actor or a really great actor impersonating a bad actor?” question is a difficult one to answer, and it’s even more obvious when we’re dealing with a writer. Solar seems to be a very well-rounded character, and Whitmore Pickerel’s pathetic little life is fun in a “point and laugh and be glad you ain’t him” sort of way, but it’s hard to separate some of these metafictions from their place in my real fiction. Susan the super-wife is well-handled in a subtle way, but her genesis and actions are more than a little bit sexist in their execution. Even with the questions I have on that level, though, Doctor Solar’s second adventure is an interesting one, and I’m interested to see if lightning can strike again with this character, especially if we’re just goig to see Phil Seleski Mark III in these pages. Overall, though, I’m intrigued and it’s a nice looking book, so Doctor Solar, Man Of The Atom #2 earns a hopeful 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. It’s hardly perfect, but it’s certainly a good start for a new comic book world. Let’s hope that we can hold off on Unity 2010 long enough to establish a decent fanbase…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: How inclined are you, in general terms, to pick up a book where the creative team is returning to a character they once did wonders with? Can you think of any cases of lightning successfully striking twice?