Monday, September 8, 2014

Solar, Man of the Atom: Alpha and Omega (Classic Valiant)

In 1991, 1960's Gold Key comic series Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom was remade (along with other GK property Magnus, Robot Fighter) by Jim Shooter, co-founder of Valiant Comics. Shooter was apparently a big fan of Solar as a kid, and I have a bone to pick in that regard. You'd think if he was such a fan, he'd know that Solar was never the character's superhero name! It was his actual name, and never used as a superhero moniker, nor was it ever meant to. He was The Man of the Atom.

Alpha and Omega is the origin story of Valiant's iteration of the Solar character, and it was stupidly spread out over the first ten issues of the series as six-page backup stories. After a long ten months, readers finally knew just who the hell they were reading about!

Dr. Phil Seleski is a nuclear physicist at the Edgewater nuclear plant in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Something goes terribly wrong one night with his new fusion reactor, and Seleski is able to shut it down, but at a seemingly terrible cost-His body is charred beyond belief, and radiation is flooding the city. However, the radiation suddenly all disappears, and Seleski shows clear life signs despite being a withered husk, burnt at the core of a nuclear meltdown. Seleski soon heals, and realizes that the accident has given him incredibly powerful abilities to control and absorb radiation, move matter, and much more. At first, his colleagues at Edgewater-including his boss Dr. Dobson, and the bitter Dr. Erica Pierce-run tests, trying to determine the cause of Seleski's new powers. Growing increasingly annoyed at the constant tests, Seleski seeks companionship with his colleague and crush Dr. Gayle Nordheim. Things begin to go horribly wrong when Seleski, angry at the numerous faults in nuclear plants over the world, sets about fixing them. The governments of the world are appalled by Seleski's inconceivable powers and hostile attitude, and set about destroying him before he can do any more damage...

Solar Man of the Atom: Alpha and Omega isn't bad, technically, but it's boring, tedious, and there are more than a few aspects that piss me off about it, like the fact that it has nothing to do with Solar, Man of the Atom! This story squanders its 79 page limit in many ways, such as it's overabundance of splash pages, and having many, many pages have only two to four panels. The characters are cutouts who never really advance naturally. Drastic changes do happen, mainly to Phil Seleski, but character development just isn't here. There's even some unfunny comedy at one point, which is really out of place! This story is just too long, and it meanders to get to the point. When it gets around to having Phil Seleski start considering himself a god, it's really abrupt, as he seemed pretty grounded up until that point.

Another big problem is that Phil Seleski is constantly narrating! I don't narrate my life as it happens, especially not when I'm in dire situations such as a nuclear meltdown! Now, real-time internal narration in comics is something that can work, so long as the comic in question is A, good, and B, doesn't overuse the device, but Solar, Man of the Atom, and in fact the majority of Valiant comics, overuse it like crazy. Numerous Valiant heroes narrate interminable walls of text, yet we know nothing about their character, whereas other Valiant series' The Second Life of Doctor Mirage, and The H.A.R.D. Corps have zero narration, instead relying on actual dialogue to get across characterisation (and succeeding beautifully).

As this was a serialized story, there are numerous poor transitions between sections when you're reading it all in one go. This could have been bearable if they had chapter heading, but it'd still be abrupt and a nuisance.

There's one particularly stupid scene in Alpha and Omega, when Seleski first performs superheroics. He runs into a burning house to save a family, all the while constantly narrating to himself. First of all, he mentions how he can't see where he's going through the inferno, even though he doesn't see through eyes anymore, as he's pure energy. And even if the fire is simply encompassing all the space in the rooms, he can view reality at different frequencies. Another dumb line is when he first runs into the flaming house, and he says "I'm fireproof...I think". He thinks! This scene's biggest flaw is that there's no reason given why Seleski didn't just put the fire out. He could totally do it!

Phil Seleski is a boring main character. He has one note-'I am now God!'-and that's it.To top that all off, he's not even all that likeable. The romance between him and Gayle isn't very well written. It's sudden, out of nowhere, and it makes a lot more sense for Phil to end up with Erica rather than Gayle, as she's just a colleague, whereas he and Erica are both lonely souls, who interact a lot more.

Gayle is a pretty meh character. She's likeable-ish, but she has the personality of a plank of wood. Edgewater manager Dr. Dobson is almost more than a one-dimensional cowardly bureaucrat, but the writing doesn't quite pull through enough. Thankfully there's at least effort to give his character depth.

Erica Pierce is a problematic character, and that's tied either to Jim Shooter's poor writing in this series, or his apparent sexism/misogyny. To start with, the reason she starts hating her soon-to-be mortal enemy Phil Seleski is just because he doesn't want to sleep with her. I am not kidding! The other big problem with her character is that she is both one of the more sympathetic characters in the Valiant universe, and the greatest hero (Yeah, from all I've read from Valiant comics, I fully support Pierce's 'evil' plan in the Unity crossover), yet is constantly treated as a villain, and scorned.

Oh, and Jim, Gayle is a scientist, not a secretary-You call her Doctor! This was a bearable problem in the Gold Key series, because that was written in the '60's, when sexism was annoyingly prevalent, but in the '90's, it's inexcusable for the male characters to always call their female colleague by their first name instead of rank or surname despite Gayle referring to them with the latter options. Maybe I'm looking into things a bit too much, but Jim Shooter really pisses me off! I've read too many of his comics for the sexism and/or misogyny of these to be merely unfortunate and separate unintentionally denigrating happenstances.

The writing is really poor in regard to Erica, as her hatred for Phil Seleski is really out-of-nowhere. At one point, she's intrigued by him, and wishes to be shown 'the nature of all things' (an offer Gayle refused), but after that, things go awry with the writing. When they go back to the normal dimension, Erica is suddenly going on about how violated she feels because of Seleski, which doesn't make much sense for her to say, given what happened in 'unreality'. As a place of pure thought, it's 'no place for low confidence', so the self-loathing Erica has a bit of a hard time, given her own horrid life. I say a bit, because Seleski only has her in Unreality for about half a minute, and the cause of the troubles in Unreality are tied to Erica's abuse-filled home life-Seleski is pretty blameless in this situation.

The artwork here is ok. It's good in some places, and mediocre in others. Particularly bad is one line-"Got a scissors?". Got a scissors! Oops, much?! One particular thing of note is the so-called biggest comic panel ever. In each of the first ten issues of Solar, there's a pullout splash page, and when they're all put together, they show the ending. This was a poor idea, in my opinion, as one, when all put together, this panel is way too big, and two, the placement is off, in my opinion-These pages are shoved right in the middle of things, and likely confused the hell out of readers for ten months (an introduction does say the pages are portraying the story's climax, but that's pretty vague information, especially as it was nearly a year before readers would find out what Alpha and Omega's ending even was). It would have been much better if these were just pages that were part of the book, and all came at the end, in order. Here's hoping the Alpha and Omega trade did that.

One final thing to talk about is continuity, and Acclaim Comics. In the Valiant universe, the Gold Key Solar comics are just that-Comics. They end up inspiring Phil Seleski to become a nuclear physicist, and as he subconsciously causes a disaster just like the one in the Solar comics to give him superpowers, he ends up destroying the universe, and when he recreates it, it's now teeming with comic book-y stuff thanks to the effect his imagination had on the recreation. Now there are evil aliens who have traversed the universe slaughtering entire galaxies, while Earth is apocalyptically screwed by evil mutants for a thousand years. After another thousand years of human suffering, Earth's future is finally ok, more or less...then evil alien robots come and kill billions. Flashforward to the Solar Acclaim comics, where it's explained that the Acclaim universe was created when Seleski went back in time to see the beginning of the universe. His mere presence drastically altered the universe, recreating it once more. All of this is the fruit borne by a single comic book series! Jesus, I bet the Paul S. Newman and Matt Murphy of the Valiant universe are wishing they never put pen to paper!

To finish, Alpha and Omega is a lacklustre origin story to Solar, Man of the Atom, and not worth your time.

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