Andy’s Read Pile: Solar, Man of The Atom, Nuclear Family
Several weeks ago, I mentioned that I had been a fan of Valiant Comics as a teenager in the Early ’90s. This was mainly the influence of my cousin, JA Scott, who had bought into the company as the next “Marvel Comics” as they skyrocketed up the charts with such hits as X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Bloodshot.
However, some of their biggest hits came on the backs of several Gold Key legacy characters that they had the licensees for and thus became integral parts of their collective universe. These would be Turok, Dinosaur Hunter, Magnus, Robot Fighter, and Solar, Man of the Atom. Interesting that they all had commas in their name. Makes me want to be a Valiant/Gold Key character. Someone like “Andy Larson, Chicken Sandwich Lover” or “Andy Larson, Drinker of Beers”.
Anyways, so important were some of these characters to the Valiant universe as a whole, that when I heard that Valiant was rebooting their universe several years ago, but they had lost the licenses to the above mentioned characters, I almost said “Well…sh*t…how are they supposed to pull that one off?!?” In particular, the character that jumped out at me as being the most important loss to that continuity was in fact Solar.
For me, Solar, Man of the Atom was Valiant’s Superman. He was the most important and powerful character they had. He set the tone for the universe, and all the rest of the superheros towed the line behind him.
In fact, when Jim Shooter first wrote Solar at Valiant, he developed the notion that Solar had destroyed the universe, and actually remade it subconsciously. And when he had did that, he actually birthed into being the notion of a universe full of superheroes and supervillains, just like in the comics he read as a kid. So when we say the first 10 issues of Valiant’s original Solar run is “Alpha & Omega”, it really is. That is the birth of the Valiant universe. Solar’s universe. So for him to be absent from the proceedings is just plain wrong.
But the harsh truth is licensed properties and comic books are a fickled thing. You’ve all heard me complain about the fact the Rom, The Spaceknight isn’t a part of the Marvel Universe, and the huge problems I have with it. Solar is another of the those same characters. I guess at the end of the day though it’s almost a fool’s error to base your entire universe around characters that have to be licensed from other groups, to be at the mercy of others and their whims.
So instead of mixing it up with the Eternal Warrior and Ninjak, Solar now finds his home at Dynamite with the rest of the Gold Key Family. Thus, when I picked up Solar, Man of The Atom, Nuclear Family out of nostalgia for those old Valiant days I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been a huge fan stuff from the book’s author Frank J. Barbiere thanks in large part to his incredible 5 Ghosts series at Image several years ago, so I definitely thought reading it could be worth my time.
Was it? Let’s Read on to find out…
After some unknown number of years being a superhero off and on, Solar, Man of the Atom, seems to have finally passed the point of no return. After years of pushing his family away and dealing with his increasingly unpredictable powers, Phil Seleski has finally hit a breaking point, where the “math no longer makes sense”, or in other words, he’s dying.
He gets his assistant, Bently, to bring his estranged daughter, Gail, to his bedside (or protective “tank”side) to reveal his secret identity. But Gail gets more than she bargained for as Solar explodes bathing her what should be lethal forms of radiation, only for her to come out of it without a scratch.
Gail is taken to a hospital for observation when she is attacked by an alien robot warrior who wants to abduct her for reasons unknown. In her fight for survival, it turns out that she has the same powers as her father had. Not only that, but once she manages to beat back the creature and cause it to retreat, the original Solar appears to her as somewhat of an Obi Wan Kenobi style energy ghost.
After reuniting with Seleski’s assistant, Gail is given her own Solar suit, and together with the help of her father’s guidance, she manages to defeat the boss alien that had originally sent the killer robot, taking her place as the new Solar.
Oh yeah, and there’s also this whole subplot where Gail’s brother, Colin, runs the company that Phil helped build and he wants to sell it to long time Solar baddie, Nuro, before changing his mind and revealing in secret he also has Solar like powers.
Eh…that part I could have done without…
Things I Liked:
Let’s start off by saying that I absolutely loved the way that Solar’s powers were visualized in this story. Framing Phil as always the scientist, always the chemist, always the mathematician, and transforming bullets into steam while he thinks about chemical compositions.
It’s extremely original and effective at explaining exactly how his powers work, making him seem less god like and more analytical. That simple little change makes not only him seem more vulnerable but also more believable as a hero, which tends to make the rest of the proceeding story more tense and dramatic, which again, something that with characters of Solar’s power set doesn’t really happen to often.
Plus, another great side effect of this whole explanation of his powers is that it reinforces the fact that Phil is probably on the spectrum in someway. I mean, he seems horrible at interpersonal relationships, and I don’t mean in the normal way given the way he seemed to have shunned his wife and family. Then to see him constantly spiting out math and chemical equations mixed with that incredible brilliance and focus, all seems to point to something like Asperger’s.
It also helps defines his daughter’s personality and motivation after she gains the Solar powers. Her self determination, her creativity, and her need to be different from her father all explained by some simple inclusion of Solar spouting out chemical equations during a bank robbery. Kudos to you, Mr. Barbiere.
Things I Didn’t Like:
C’mon, that’s gotta be obvious, right? I mean I think it’s obvious. It’s what I stated at the beginning of this article. Oh, c’mon, you aren’t going to make me repeat myself again, are you?
Fine. Suit your yourself. The major thing I didn’t like is that Solar wasn’t in the Valiant Universe. There I said it. I’ll say it again if I have to. In fact, I did because I already said it in the first couple opening paragraphs.
But long story short, Solar is still one of the main 4 or 5 flagship characters in that Valiant Universe line up. I mean the below picture from their first big crossover event in 1991 says it all. It’s all about X-O Manowar, Magnus, Solar, Archer & Armstrong, Shadowman, Eternal Warrior, and the Harbinger Teens.
I think the new female version of Solar would have been great with the new line up they got at Valiant, and would have brought some much gravitas back to the proceedings over there. Sure, I’ve had Valiant fan boys squawk at me about how Divinity is pretty much the new Solar over there, but after reading Divinity (which remind me to do a read pile on at some point), I can say although it’s really good, sir, I’ve met Solar, I’ve had drinks with Solar, you are no Solar.
And it’s almost a conceit that although Solar isn’t in the Valiant universe in this book, he is close enough that he practically is. I mean they fight an alien with multiple arms that wanted to use Solar as a power source. Sounds a whole hell of a lot like the Spider Aliens from Valiant. Solar’s son, Colin, wants to sell his company to this Asian looking business man. Although yes, I agree, that could easily be a nod to the original Gold Key villain Nuro, it could have also easily been ruthless businessman Toyo Harada.
It’s almost enough to drive you batty. It’s like it’s staring you in the face. These are Valiant characters now. Regardless of how you slice it. They belong in the Valiant Universe. Jim Shooter made them fit in the Valiant Universe. To deny that fact, I’m sorry, is sheer folly. You are just lying to yourself if you believe otherwise.
Did I mention another of the absolutely maddening facts about this series and it’s links to the Valiant Universe is these fantastic alternative covers done for this series by one of the other big architects of the Valiant Universe, the legendary Bob Layton.
Bob co-created a number of the core characters for Valiant including X-O Manowar, drew some of the earliest issues of both Magnus and Solar as well as co plotted Archer & Armstrong #1 and Eternal Warrior #1. He later became Editor-in-Chief and Senior Vice President at Valiant after Jim Shooter left the organization.
Some of the special covers he created for this series were so great to see that it made me nearly fall backwards out of my chair. Take for example this awesome homage!
This play on the original Valiant cover for Solar, Man of the Atom #7 where he is first introduced to the X-O Manowar armor. Honestly, whether he was staring at that previous cover or whatever, Bob shows that he’s still got the goods to deliver that signature Valiant style that I remember from my youth.
Man, these are so good, that I definitely need to post another one. Here’s the alternate cover from Solar #3 which is actually a play on Valiant’s Solar, Man of the Atom issue #3.
As a reboot of the Solar story, passing the powers on to the next generation of characters and allowing the super hero franchise to get a fresh start with some new blood, this story works very well. Solar’s daughter, Gail, is interesting enough as a fish out of water, getting used to the tremendous powers that her father has passed on to her.
However, at times it seems like your typical by the numbers baptism of fire story, in which Gail is hucked into the deep end of one of her father’s unresolved conflicts and either has to swim to shore or die trying. From waking up in the hospital, having to fight the robot with powers she only instinctively understands, getting her super suit and growing into her powers by adapting them to her life as an architect, to finally facing down the alien boss in his spaceship lair to symbolically move out of her father’s shadow, it’s all a little too neat. It’s packaged too well. She even has the wise old sage giving her sound advice, in terms of the ghost version of the original Solar. It’s all very cliche’.
But as I mentioned, for as cliche’ as it is, it also works. Sometimes, familiar is the best way to go and get people to care. Telling them the same time tested “hero journey” tales is an effective shortcut into getting people invested in a new character, in this case, the female Solar, and be able to get the story moving along.
Plus there were some interesting story telling nuisances, like the explanation of Solar’s powers and how both Phil and Gail manipulate the same energies in different ways. Also, I guess there were all the subplots about Phil’s other kid, Colin, and his attempts to run Solar’s business. But I’ll be honest again, I didn’t really care about any of that. It got in the way of the bigger origin story of Gail and as a result, skipped over it more the most part.
In the end, I’ll bump this story up from a run of the mill reboot story to a slightly better attempt to push this 60 year old character in a different direction. Will I read more of this series from this point? Probably not, mainly because the lack of it being in the Valiant Universe really does still bother me. But for those of you that like Solar and really don’t care a lick about that, it’s a pretty enjoyable little tale.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B-