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Location: Lancashire
Member Since: Sat May 17, 2008
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Subj: Doctor Solar:Man of the Atom #9 - A Funny Thing Happened...
Posted: Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 07:09:29 pm EST (Viewed 283 times)

If there is one thing to hold up about Dynamite's revival of Doctor Solar it would be choice of tone.
Tone can be all-important when launching any new book today - should it be light? Dark? Quirky? Humorous? Or just plain... weird? The decision can make or break the books chances on the marketplace, but in the case of a known quantity like Gold Key's Solar:Man of the Atom there is some form of a track record by which to gauge a likely way forward where tone is concerned.
A new publisher requires a new approach where licensed properties are concerned so Dynamite Publishing in their own attempt to sell the concept appear to have opted for a midway point somewhere between Quirky and progressive. Progressive meaning handing the role to a woman, Philip Solar's daughter in fact. And in doing so one might expect such a switch in both practical outlook and the gap between generations to produce a more galvanised and radical incarnation of Solar... rather dissapointingly then writer Frank Barbi has thus far failed to develop and capitalise on daughter Erica's everyday worldview and moral outlook upon her coming into possession of her now ghostlike fathers power and mantle.

Opening the latest issue of Solar:Man of the Atom the potential of this now female led series can be glimpsed in the opening page of a babbling but info-dumping Erica apparently tellig us, the audience, the story so far. It's an amusing sequence of panels as here Frank Barbi sells us on the possibility that this book is fullfilling the 'Quirky' element of a commercial slice of entertainment. Erica fills us in on the mad world of being her fathers inheritor and the unreality of what it is Solar does by trade, and as we turn the page we find that actually it isn't (just) the audience she has been bringing up to date but boyfriend Dave, an everyday sort of guy with his feet planted firmly on terra-firma.
So, a normal couple thrust into a fantastic and surreal situation, Erica is now capable of just about anything she can think of and the possibilities in exploring the impact of such power thrust onto this everyday relationship are wide and varied. Except... Frank Barbi seems utterly disinterested in pursuing the interpersonal and everyday moral challenges which being Solar would imbue on any normal person. Having divulged her secret to the awed but doubtful Dave it isn't the ramifications of this new state of affairs that concerns Erica or the writer, rather it is an inexplicable invasion of faceless drones at a nearby nuclear power plant that interests, and so straight onto a generic action sequence as the Solars take off to investigate...

What is the reasoning behind the publisher handing Doctor Solar's legacy to a woman?
Sex appeal? Not dressed in a full white bodystocking no. Is it perhaps a tale of a Father/Daughter bonding? Or a generational clash between two different era's and values? Whatever, the theme and reasoning of a Woman of the Atom is not readily apparent as yet in this book. Upon reading the first pages some potential is obvious - the woman coming into power and a reversal of the traditional gender roles is immediately familiar territory to anyone like me who remembers William Messner-Loebs deceptively intelligent Doctor Fate in the early 1990's.
With the retirement of husband Kent Nelson from the role of Doctor Fate it was long suffering wife Inza Nelson's turn to adopt the mantle and power, and step out from the shade of her all-powerful husband to assert both her own independence and stamp her righteous moral authority on the world around her. Landlords, traffic congestion, drug addiction, homelessness, all were topics tackled with great moral passion and not a bit of naiveity. Inza's was a moral passion and concern for the world around her that helped the series last an impressive Forty-odd issues, a feat never seen before or since for a Doctor Fate volume. But in his customary embracing of both the the mundane aspects of everday life and more down-to-earth topics over the weird unfathomable events which typically mark a Doctor fate story William Messner-Loebs managed the not unimpressive feat of producing a very readable and occasionally thoughtful incarnation for the Doctor.
The series is now all but forgotten, but thanks to its choices in tone and subject matter it stands the test of time by being immediately accessible to the reader and featuring a central character who's determination to use her newfound power to better the people around her is fascinating and inspiring to watch. Naive though she is in her outlook to tackling what are eternal social problems it is the moral passion that drives her to care about others aroun her that makes Inza Nelson never less than likable. She tries. And that is all that matters in the end.

And on the other end of the spectrum we have Erica, Solar's as-yet-ignorant-to-others daughter. The exasperating thing about Dynamite's Solar:Man of the Atom is that despite it having all the potential to be more than it is, to do something intelligent with a Woman's perspective on great power, the series has by now shown that it has in fact absolutely no interest in exploring anything fresh or novel in content. No aspirations to follow the examples of previous inventive Doctor Solar series'. No, as Erica is content to follow her fathers ghostly lead in all things Frank Barbi & Jonathan Lau's volume of Solar:Man of the Atom is proving a competent but unremarkable bargain basement superhero ramble. Certainly not in any danger of being compared to the seminal series from Jim Shooter and Barry Windsor-Smith, and certainly not deserving of being recalled years later in the manner of Inza Nelson's now forgotten but intriguing time as the only truly compassionate version of Doctor Fate... Dynamite's intention with the series is laudible, the execution however struggles to lift itself above pedestrian.

Published over 20 years ago Doctor Fate was one of DC Comics' lowtier titles featuring a not very popular character and with an unremarkable ever rotating cast of artists contributing. What does it say about the modern superhero paradigm then that what was once an unremarkable unloved book with average storylines can today be considered rather brave and distinctive...?
Subject matter such as drug addiction and the lack of affordable housing were by no means limited to William Messner-Loebs work, Peter David, John Ostrander and Alan Grant were similarly engaging audiences with storylines rooted in topical subjects, and when looked back on today the quality and often brave attempts to discuss social problems in a serious way seems a radical contribution to make. Back then however this approach to more grounded storytelling was just the norm. What does it say about the superhero mediums progress that in 2015 such topical storycrafting isn't just rare, it is actively shied away from...

The shame is the Independent Publishers are ideally placed to embrace such down to earth and serious subject matters, experimenting and taking chances with storytelling approaches is what they do best after all. Doctor Solar has all the ingredients of being just such a relevant book, and yet with a free reign to progess the series writer Frank barbi shies away from anything but the most unimaginative of superhero problems and cliches. Not for Erica any battle for her independence, nor curiosity and interest in the problems of neighbours and hr fellow man. No, Solar's new identity is in fact not all that far removed from that of the old Doctor Solar - conservative, self absorbed. With no interest in engaing with the wider world and its people...

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