Doctor Solar is another classic title, re-released by Dark Horse. Collected in this second volume are Issues #8-14, originally published in the 1960s, during a time when atomic power was both America’s greatest achievement and our greatest fear.
But, what manner of man is Dr. Solar? What powers does he wield as the Man of the Atom, and what evils does he use them to thwart? Well, the best way to describe the Doctor Solar comic is “Dr. Manhattan vs. Dr. Claw.”
Due to some kind of laboratory accident (I think), The Man of the Atom is able to transmute the matter in his body into any type of energy, from light to radio waves to nuclear heat, and much more. While this doesn’t make him actually all-powerful (because where would the challenge be in that?), it does allow him to perform a variety of near-godlike feats, including a fair few that were also performed by Dr. Manhattan himself. Makes me wonder if Dr. Solar provided any of the inspiration for Watchmen’s illustrious naked, blue superhero. Mercifully, The Man of the Atom has the decency to wear pants at all times.
Our hero’s nemesis is Nuro, a mysterious arch-criminal whose face we never see, and who enacts his nefarious plots using a vast network of henchmen and underlings. He gives these henchmen instructions via a small video screen in his office and can monitor just about anything from that screen, and talk to pretty much anyone, anywhere. Reading Nuro’s dialogue in the deep, raspy voice of Dr. Claw adds a whole extra level of entertainment to the Doctor Solar comic.
Like a lot of comics from the '60s, Doctor Solar is often cheesy, but a lot of fun. It’s that cheesy fun factor that makes these classic comics so appealing for me to read and review. But, the Doctor Solar comics are a little different from the other '60s comics I’ve been reviewing. The stories in Magnus: Robot Fighter were standalone and completely self-contained. No matter how much destruction was wrought upon the city, things would always be fixed, cleaned up, and tied in a neat, little bow by the end of each issue. Captain Midnight had the backdrop of World War II, so the ongoing issues persisted, but, even so, whatever immediate problem they were facing in each issue was solved, and the immediate villain was thwarted.
In Doctor Solar, the issues are still standalone, but they’re not exactly wrapped up with a bow at the end. Sometimes, this issue’s adventure, though technically resolved, has repercussions that carry on into the next issue. Sometimes, the heroes enjoy a minor victory, but there are still some bigger problem that they weren’t able to patch up entirely.
And, the villain is never caught. Not only that, but Nuro’s identity and ultimate motives are an ongoing conundrum for Dr. Solar and his colleagues. They’re continually frustrated as they try to put together the pieces of the puzzle that will reveal who this criminal genius is and why he wants to bring down the Man of the Atom.
On the one hand, this is kind of just a gimmick to get people hooked and make them anticipate the next issue. As are the slightly unresolved plotlines. But, the way they’re presented does seem to make this comic just a little bit deeper than the others.
Of course, there are still plenty of standard elements that need to be included. Like the faithful girlfriend whose job it is to be rescued occasionally and to be told by the hero not to worry her pretty, little head about whatever is going on. In this case it’s Gail, who works in Atom Valley and is one of only two people besides Dr. Solar himself who knows his secret identity. In most of the stories, she’s just background. For the most part, she’s not even important enough for the villains to capture. She’s there because if Dr. Solar were to rattle off all of that essential exposition when he was alone, he’d look insane.
But, here’s the thing: unlike a lot of the other window-dressing girlfriends of superheroes, Gail is established as being smart and capable in her own right. She’s not just a secretary or someone tagging along. She works alongside Dr. Solar in the lab and has a doctorate of her own. Once or twice, she comes up with vital information or is called upon to perform some highly technical task, in order to help save the day. She’s clearly an equal in this lab, but she’s still treated as window dressing, not just passively by the comic itself, but actively by the other characters in it. People fail to acknowledge her when she’s standing right in front of them, because they’re too busy talking to the “real scientists.” And, they call her “Gail,” whereas her colleagues are always “Dr. Solar” and “Dr. Clarkson,” even in casual conversation. Somehow, I think this marginalization is actually worse than if she was simply given no personality or defining characteristics at all.
But, don’t let my prolonged feminist rant dissuade you. This was an ongoing issue of comics of the day, and though there have been definite leaps forward, it’s still an ongoing issue today. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still good comics and worth a read.
And, Doctor Solar is a good comic. It’s just cheesy enough to laugh about, without venturing into “hilarious because it’s bad” territory. The adventures are fun, the stakes are high, and the Man of the Atom’s powers are so versatile that it’s pretty interesting to see how he’ll use them to get out of the latest seemingly impossible situation.
Also of interest is a bonus section at the end, a series of single-page fillers that detail things like how Dr. Solar’s powers work, the science behind them, and some of the cool technologies they use in Atom Valley (including a “laser death ray” that also cures cancer). Some of these technologies are based in real science, while others are clearly not, but they’re fun to read in either event, and in some cases shed further light on convenient plot points in the comic itself.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in Doctor Solar Volume 2. If you like classic superhero and sci-fi comics, enjoy a bit of cheesiness and some kind of silly moments, and are willing to overlook a few minor flaws, then you’ll probably enjoy this comic.