Stew’s Reviews: Solar, Man of the Atom
Another week, another comic, fellow comic fans. But most importantly, my comic book store had their 30th anniversary sale the weekend of my writing this; Thirty percent off everything! I didn’t manage to get much that will be beneficial to reviews here in the near future (most of what I blew my cash on were non-book items like Kotobukiya statues or books that have come out within the last 5 years), BUT I did manage to get my mitts on Damage Control volume 2! So that was pretty exciting. A+ weekend.
Last week we discussed DC’s War of the Green Lanterns, the story of four cosmic heroes with the most powerful weapons in the universe [literally] at their fingertips. But what if a hero didn’t HAVE the most deadly weapon in the universe… what if the hero WAS the most deadly weapon in the universe? Well, that question’s not rhetorical, because this week’s story is Solar, Man of the Atom – Alpha and Omega (collected in Solar, Man of the Atom #0), the origin story of the energy-based hero of the Valiant Comics universe!
Brought to us by famous creators Jim Shooter and Barry Windsor-Smith, Solar is the original hero of the Valiant universe. He is not only the original; he is also the originator. Alpha and Omega isn’t just Solar’s origin, you see, it’s also the indirect origin story of all Valiant characters. Dr. Phil Seleski, the man who would become Solar, is a scientist in charge at a nuclear facility, and the story wastes absolutely no time in starting off by opening with a splash page of the facility going into meltdown. Seleski charges selflessly into the heart of the meltdown, and Shooter gives us some gruesome, imaginative details on his attempt at heroism early on here. Seleski first notes the burning sausage smell of his bare feet as he rushes down the metal steps towards the core, and when he finally finds a radiation suit to wear, he mentally notes on the “squish squish squish” he hears from the boots as the skin cracks off his feet and fills them with blood. He ends up throwing himself into the reactor to try to stop the coming devastation and not only does it work, but (since this is a comic book) he survives and is imbued with the awesome power to manipulate energy in all its forms!
One of the most prevalent tropes of all comic book media springs up when Seleski uses his powers early on to save a family trapped in a burning building after he accidentally teleports to the scene while watching the news. This outs him to society at large, and earns him the nickname “The Fireproof Man” in the media. Even with his existence public knowledge, Seleski is mostly unconcerned, and as his powers develop he begins to question if—and then accept that—he is a god. There’s really no reason not to think that he is; over the course of a few short issues, he shows some remarkably high-end powers. He is able to teleport himself and/or others with no effort. He can bend and twirl pure energy and light between his finger. He finds he no longer needs to eat (telling his love interest that he can take her out to dinner because his body “simulates all normal functions!”). He can tap directly into phone lines via a telephone pole. And this is all without ever actually being threatened by anything. When he is… well he grows even more fearsome.
Seleski is flanked in this story by two women. There is Gayle, a coworker that he has feelings for and that he starts to date as the series goes on, and then there is Erika Pierce, another coworker who has a crush on him. In the case of his relationship with Gayle, everything progresses extremely quickly and with little reasonable impetus. At the beginning of the arc, we are led to think that Seleski’s feelings towards Gayle are unrequited, but after a date(a date that Seleski fought for before finally getting), they seem to go into a full-fledged relationship pretty quickly, telling each other that they are in love and becoming almost codependent upon each other. Gayle flip-flops back-and-forth between loving Seleski and being terrified of him, though; at one point running away from a display of his power and going into hiding… only to tell Phil that she missed him and is excited to see him when he tracks her down months later. Pierce, meanwhile, first shows her crush by offering herself up as a physical companion to Phil, only for him to laughably rebuff her by responding “That won’t be necessary, Dr. Pierce”. Later, after seeing Gayle flee from his offer to share the experience of his power, Erika offers to let Phil show her instead. This leads to one of the most important moments in the entire Valiant universe, really, as Pierce is mentally broken down by the experience and feels violated by Seleski.
Angry at what she believes he did to her, Pierce convinces the military that Seleski is a worldwide threat and informs them of energy channeling techniques they can use to hurt him. They wait for him to re-emerge and launch their assault when Phil tries to reconnect with Gayle. The attack staggers him, causing him to vanish to regroup, and at this point, Seleski goes all Dark Phoenix and EATS A GOD DAMN STAR to replenish himself. It’s an abrupt change in tone from a book that was pretty grounded in basic life to that point. The jump from “bend some light, survive a fire, teleport a guy through a phone line” and “chow down on a sun and become pure energy” is… substantial. After returning to Gayle, Seleski’s powers pulse out of control, rending her apart. Oh, and then destroying the world, too. Again… kind of out of nowhere for a character that was basically just showing off to attract a coworker to that point.
It’s been a long time since I have read Solar’s ongoing series, so if I am off on my recollection here, feel free to correct me, but the regular series starts with Dr. Seleski recreating the world in an attempt to “do-over” everything, and that’s what gives us the Valiant universe all its other heroes. For a while there are two Seleskis/Solars running around, one of them evil (I think. Maybe evil-ish. Like I said… it’s been a while), and Erika Pierce becomes a mad goddess when she gains the same powers as Solar; she is the antagonist of the (admittedly very decent) Valiant crossover event “Unity”.
So yeah… Alpha and Omega is pretty crazy origin story that just throws as much stuff together as it can, as quickly as it can. I did follow Solar, Man Of The Atom for a while, but it eventually got too silly for me. Unity was a pretty good crossover, though, despite the fact that I never read much of the other Valiant books (but I hope to rectify that, having loaded some onto my Kindle to read and review for you kind folks sooner or later).
+Barry Windsor-Smith is a thumbs up. The guy is incredible. His art is emotive and dynamic and I just love it. Everything has such fantastic detail, and you can tell he really puts time into his craft
+The development of Phil Seleski as a character is intriguing to watch. He bounces around from feeling guilt-ridden to finding his powers amazing to being bored with day-to-day life and the concerns of anyone around him that isn’t Gayle. His growing narcissism is progressed well, too. Starting off just thinking his of powers as a humorous way to startle people, he then begins thinking he is incredible. And after questioning if he is, in fact, godlike, he ultimately begins to believe that he is god.
-Things just progress so quickly in this series; it’s almost like Shooter was taking a bet to see if he could finish this idea in as few pages as possible. The drawback here is that the characters feel hollow, and the reader is never given a reason to care about much of anything. The very first page is a nuclear meltdown that we are told is Seleski’s fault, but we never see how or why in the lead-up to it. Gayle is a paper character whose emotions appear out of nowhere and then sometimes disappear back into thin air when the story requires it. Why is Pierce infatuated with Seleski? We never see much between them, she just is. This book could have used about 30 more pages to flesh out a lot of things.
-Given what all Seleski is capable of, it seems a bit silly that the military is able to effectively harm him just because Pierce told them to move energy around. The guy was surviving in space before that point and ended up Phoenix-ing a star. A helicopter playing with light seems like a pretty weak plot device to move everything along.
Solar isn’t a bad book, but it is rushed and feels pretty choppy on the whole. Also… it just sort of ends. Seleski destroys everything and… that’s it. Until the ongoing series, of course, but as a stand-alone arc, it’s a pretty unsatisfying ending. It’s enjoyable as a story about a man growing more and more out of place in his own world, and Phil is an interesting character… but everything around him feels loosely sketched and shallow.