You may remember Valiant Comics’ Solar, but three decades earlier, Gold Key Comics brought us a brief Atomic Age of their own. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #1 awaits!
Writer: Paul S. Newman
Penciler: Bob Fujitani
Inker: Bob Fujitani
Editor: Bill Harris
Publisher: Gold Key Comics/Western Publishing
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $300.00
Previously in Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom: The story of Western Publishing is an interesting one, as the company started out providing content for Dell Comics in 1938. In ’62, the company decided to go into business for themselves, creating the Gold Key imprint and continuing a number of titles that started in the Dell era. Much of their output was licensed material, but there were a number of original series as well, including Turok, Son of Stone, Magnus, Robot Fighter and today’s featured hero: Doctor Philip Solar!
Doctor Solar’s introduction is in saving his new colleague Gail from a rocket sled, then embarking on a tour of their experimental nuclear facility. I have to admit, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t read this issue until I picked it up for today’s review, and Bob Fujitani’s art is wonderful. It looks even better in the Gold Key house style, which eschews the black panel border of most comics for a look that reminds me of children’s books rather than Silver Age comic books. Of course, it is the 1960s, and the Cold War is in full swing.
Solar’s colleague, Dr. Rasp, is actually an enemy agent who wants to steal the secrets of energy-to-matter transmission, targeting Dr. Solar for assassination. An attempt to sabotage his car proves ineffective, but Rasp follows up by sabotaging the atomic pile that powers the facility! Solar arrives just in time to find Dr. Bentley trying to prevent the meltdown.
Solar manages to stop the meltdown, but Bentley is dead and his skin has turned to a glowing green from the intense radiation that he has absorbed. But he’s not only perfectly healthy, he’s emitting radiation as if he were a walking atomic pile himself. Living his clothes with cadmium-lead film, Doctor Solar submits to a startling medical examination.
Even his eyes are irradiated, allowing him to fire radioactive beams from his eyes. It’s a good thing that he wears those unexplained dark glasses at all times, huh? Careful Silver Age comic readers may recognize the whole “atomic scientist betrayed by a spy in his agency, accidentally irradiated and turned into a green creature that’s probably not human any more” motif from ‘The Incredible Hulk’, whose first appearance came in May of 1962. The resemblance ends there, however, as Doctor Solar’s powers are less physical and more energy-related.
He quickly realizes that his accident was sabotage and uses his new abilities to find Doctor Rasp, only for the spy to be killed remotely by his handlers. Solar’s first issue ends with a cliffhanger, wondering who was actually behind his accident. There’s also no sign of his iconic red costume with the visor and radiation symbol, which doesn’t arrive until issue #5, nearly a year later! Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #1 is a beautifully-drawn issue with a slightly higher tone than I expected from the era, with a little actual science mixed in with the comic-book pseudo-science, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. It’s easy to see why there have been so many attempts to relaunch him for new audiences (and for more than just his incredible scarlet long-johns.)
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DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM #1
It's not what I expected, but it's a really good-looking and remarkably literate comic book with more comic-strip action hero DNA than superhero.