Review by Win Wiacek
As a publisher, Gold Key never really “got” the melodramatic, breast-beating, often-mock-heroic Sturm und Drang of superheroes, as seen in Volume One by their most powerful character Doctor Solar spending his earliest career sorting out villainy and disasters in a white lab coat. The Supreme Science Hero was born when the distinctively named Doctor Solar was transmuted into a (no longer) human atomic pile with incredible, impossible and apparently unlimited powers and abilities.
Now distinctively costumed, and under the creative control of prolific writer Paul S. Newman, Volume Two develops more nuclear nightmares. Artist Frank Bolle provides slick understated visuals for one of the most technically innovative and conceptually spectacular series on the stands in 1964.
More factual opinions and inside information can be accessed in the foreword from Jim Shooter, a latter day Solar scribe, as well as a fond critical appraisal and background to what follows.
The nuclear nightmares begin with the latest ploy of mysterious mastermind Nuro, who wants a monopoly on atomic science. A fiend employing espionage and murder, his current scheme is to use mind-science to destroy his enemies, deploying ‘The Thought Controller’ to create hallucinations and exhaust Solar to the point of expiration. It initially works but Nuro has not reckoned on the devotion of girlfriend Gail Sanders and mentor Dr. Clarkson who help him overcome ‘The Final Challenge’.
The spy supremo then abducts America’s greatest cybernetic innovator and compels him to construct ‘Transivac, the Energy-Consuming Computer’. Rapidly becoming self-aware and autonomous, the monster machine seems easily able to complete its mission and destroy Solar, but when it goes berserk even Nuro neds his arch enemy to defeat ‘The Enemy Within’. Solar must then in two parts absorb unimaginable extra energy from our closest star to save humanity. Tragically, the solar overdose turns him into a 100 foot, mega-tonnage colossus and ‘The Sun Giant’ must perform extraordinary energy-consuming feats to reduce himself to human scale.
He’s still not quite there when Nuro strikes again, exploiting the Man of the Atom’s exertions and increasing amnesia to orchestrate ‘The Day Solar Died’. As the hero becomes a growing menace, only a token of love turns back the tide of terror.
Economic catastrophe stems from a sinister plot as ‘The Mystery of the Vanishing Silver’ sees Solar working for the government while Nuro’s top henchman Aral Uzbek demonstrates his own appetite for destruction and multi-tasking skills. It leads to a shocking new transition for all men of the Atom before order is restored.
When ‘The Meteor from 100 Million B.C.’ crashes into a swamp and buries itself down deep, hyper-fast evolutionary forces quickly generate waves of monstrous predatory life-forms that demand rapid responses and a pose a momentous moral quandary for Solar, Gail and Clarkson.
The epics end for now with Nuro and Uzbek’s latest terror-weapon prompting a full infiltration of Atom Valley and subsequent sabotage of a new reactor. While the Man of the Atom prevents nuclear catastrophe, the radiation alters his composition, giving him an uncontrollable new ability in ‘Solar’s Midas Touch’.
Rounding out this second tome, a bonus section culled from instructional science-themed filler pages. Class is dismissed following breakdowns of Doctor Solar’s Senses – specifically ‘Touch’ and ‘Hearing’– and a summation of ‘The Five Incredible Senses of the Man of the Atom’.
These tales are lost gems from a time when fun was paramount and entertainment a mandatory requirement. This is comics the way they were and really should be again. This was previously collected in hardback, and more thrills await in Volume Three.