Sunday, August 2, 2015

Solar Reflections One!

Dated October 1962 the debut issue of Doctor Solar hit the stands as the fledgling Gold Key brand was first trying to establish itself after the split from Dell. The talents at Western Publications were eager to try out their own stuff and adding a "superhero" seemed necessary for  a comics company. Under a lush and mysterious Richard Powers cover, this comic seemed to be what it was -- a strange blend of science fiction and superheroics, with less attention on the latter.

In the debut story "Doctor Solar's Secret", we meet Doctor Philip Solar, a nuclear physicist who works at Atomic Valley. There he is trapped inside a sabotaged nuclear pile and the radiation, which kills his colleague does not kill him, instead he finds himself changed and weirdly quickened by the radioactivity. His skin becomes a vivid green and he seems to be dead save that he isn't. The only person who knows his secret is Dr.Clarkson, his boss, who works with Solar to keep him alive by giving him access to radiation he needs. Ignorant of his true nature is Gail Sanders, a newly arrived and quite attractive scientist who is smitten with Solar. The man behind the sabotage is the mysterious Nuro, who will be the villain throughout the series.In the second story "An Atomic Inferno" the agent of Nuro runs afoul of Gail and stops her and destroy Atom Valley before she can reveal his secrets, but not before Solar can save the day. The agent pays for his failures.

Esteemed science fiction artist Richard Powers does the first two covers for the series run before George Wilson takes over. The artwork on the early issues is by Bob Fujitani and it is stellar, offering up the a nicely dramatic but still exceedingly real world for Solar to operate in. Frank Bolle became the regular artist with the sixth issue and his style is certainly in the spirit of Fujitani's but alas to my eye lacks some of the power. The ubiquitous Paul Newman writes the scripts for all the Solar comics, and Matt Murphy is given credit as co-writer.

In subsequent issues we get stories like "Remote-Controlled Traitor" which has Gail Sanders kidnapped by Nuro's agents and she becomes a saboteur before she is confronted and saved by Solar, and  "The Night of the Volcano" has Solar leaving the confines of his laboratory and rushing to save the region from a tremendous volcanic eruption which had been unwittingly triggered by experiments from Atom Valley itself. Eventually he visits undersea cities and confronts aliens other scientists with odd and sometimes villainous goals. Always the mysterious and malevolent Nuro is lurking behind the scenes,even sending a robot to infiltrate Blue Valley in one issue. 

These early stories have a specific science fiction feel to them, as the always staid and conservative Gold Key folks were really reluctant to tap the superhero vein, but rather wanted to market a character who was just a scientist with an unusual condition. They seemed to be designing for television shows rather than superhero comics. Of course they eventually relented and gave Doctor Solar a costume in the fourth issue, but the nature of the stories really didn't change all that much in these early issues.

Here are the covers for the first seven issues. 

More "Solar Reflections" to come next Sunday.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nuclear Summer!

As we enter the heat of the summer it's time for a closer look at comics and movies and characters who use radiation as a motif. Expect to see a new atomic character each day in the Favorite Cover section, look to the weekends for opinions and reviews of vintage radiation heroes Doctor Solar from Gold Key and Captain Atom from Charlton. Look for other significant atomic heroes from across the decades to get a focus. And look for reviews of offbeat movies which have radioactive themes, many in surprising ways. Most days the posts this month will have a radiation theme, but Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays will for certain right now.

Let me kick things off with this link to Radiation and Man, a delightfully optimistic Canadian comic book from 1972 which looks at the history and lore and nature of radiation.

As noted at the site the giant blue man on that cover does evoke the specific memory of Doctor Manhattan of  Watchmen fame.

And of course everyone knows that Manhattan himself is a variation on the classic Captain Atom created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko at my beloved Charlton.

So Duck and Cover amigos! The "Nuclear Summer" begins!

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Summertime For Hitler!

Hitler! The name still resonates in the culture, a single man who has become the very symbol of unblinking hatred. Adolph Hitler became for the World War II generation an icon against which every atom was put to the wheel against his brutal aggression. The way in which his name is still evoked with such relative ease makes me wonder sometime if people don't miss the nostalgic glow of presumed simpler times when enemies were easy to identify and against which they were eager to rally their will. Of course those years were far more complicated, but having a shared mission is something that can give a fragmented society its identity and mission. But we forget that was the very thing Hitler was so very good at too; it's a dangerous game to play.

The current threats in the world are more complex than the evil of Hitler and his associates, a cultural struggle not between merely two societies but between two religious worldviews, neither of which is exactly as its opponent would cast it. The practitioners of terror abroad lust after the "Great Satan" they can turn their venom against, and likewise the cultures of the West seem eager for some demon of their own against which to rally their populations and their troops. Sadly that effort can result in some truly ugly notions about people who appear strange, and can create some brutal and unfair representations of who the enemy is, often seeking to reduce them to something less than human to more readily justify the terrible things which might be thought to be required in the inevitable struggle.

Here are fifty comic book covers from across the decades which showcase the terrible and sometimes terrifying image of the Hitler and in some instances his Axis allies Mussolini and Hirohito. Some of the images challenge our modern morality, but are at least understandable if not justifiable given the tenor of the times. 

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