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SOLAR
SOLAR

POSTTHE SECRET ORIGIN OF SOLAR -- PART 1 OF 4
MAN OF THE ATOM

For two harrowing weeks in October 1962, the entire world stood on the brink of nuclear devastation –- not in some far-fetched comic book fantasy, but in real life.

Russia had built a nuclear base in Cuba, and then-President John F. Kennedy had demanded its unconditional removal. Kennedy warned Russia that if SOLARthreatened, the U.S. was prepared to issue “a full retaliatory response" -- in other words, the USA was prepared to drop a nuclear bomb.

Fearing the outbreak of atomic war, American schools held “bomb drills,” and teachers directed young children to practice hiding under their desks in the absurdly naive belief that this would offer some measure of protection against a worldwide nuclear holocaust. It sounds totally ridiculous, and it was, but it happened! I know, because it happened to ME, Robby Reed, the creator of this website and author of this article!

The USA and Russia were eyeball to eyeball, and the world held its breath as the so-called “Cuban Missile Crisis” brought the planet closer to the brink of nuclear annihilation than it had ever been before. Would one side blink -- or would the crisis initiate World War III, setting the earth ablaze with futuristic atomic weaponry?

From this seething nuclear crucible came… DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM.

SOLAR 1
Solar is often compared to a similar hero -- CAPTAIN ATOM, created by Joe Gill and Steve Ditko. First appearing in Space SSS 75Adventures #33, Capt. Atom got his superpowers after being atomized in a spaceship accident, just as Solar was created in a nuclear accident. As Stan Lee has said many times, "it always seems to be an accident!"

When Capt. Atom "powered up," his hair became silver, just as Solar's face became green. But Capt. Atom was created in March 1960 -- two years PRIOR to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he appeared in a fairly conventional superhero series (if the word "conventional" can be applied to ANY strip drawn by the utterly unique Steve Ditko!).

Solar, on the other hand, debuted at the very HEIGHT of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was an unconventional series bursting with unique, pseudo-scientific plotlines. How did the title come about? Who created it?

SOLAR FLARE-UP
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In the early 1960s, Western Publishing, a printing company, decided to launch a line of comic books under their new imprint, GOLD KEY. Most of Gold Key’s titles were licensed properties, but a few titles featured all-new characters.

Gold Key launched their line in October 1962 with the original creation DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM, co-created by Gold Key editor MATT MURPHY. Murphy wrote or edited everything from Casper the Paul S. NewmanFriendly Ghost for Harvey comics to Steelgrip Starkey for Marvel’s Epic imprint.

Solar co-creator and writer PAUL S. NEWMAN (no relation to the actor), was a New Yorker born in 1924. As a boy, Newman was an Eagle Scout with 54 merit badges. As a man, he became a highly-decorated World War II veteran.

After the war, an interview for the "Date with Judy” radio show lead Newman to DC. They were publishing a comic book version of the show, and they hired Newman to write it –- his first job in comics.

Newman went on to become, as the Guiness Book of World Records calls him, “the comic industry’s most prolific writer.” His longest-running series was “Turok,” which he scripted for 26 years. All together, he wrote a staggering 4,100-plus stories for virtually every comic publisher. Newman worked steadily until his death in 1999.

"To get my 4,000-plus stories approved,” Newman once recalled, “I had to submit another 5,000 plots that were NOT approved! In the old days, you wrote a comic book for about $10 a page or about $300 SOLARan issue. I'm not a millionaire, but I made a very good living."

In 1962, Newman co-created SOLAR. The character’s “real” name was Dr. Raymond Solar. In his superhero identity, he was known as "The Man of the Atom." In contrast to the good doctors Fate and Doom, Solar’s title was not an honorific. The character actually had a Ph.D. -- in physics -– albeit a degree whose validity may be somewhat suspect. “Newman had a fine sense of the bizarre,” according to Nexus writer Mike Baron, “but his understanding of science was rudimentary.”

Jim Shooter agrees. “I think the folks at Gold Key were trying to do it realistically,”  Shooter adds, “but they just didn't have the horses. The writers they had just didn't know anything about science. The artist they had drew real people well, but couldn't draw the science-fiction side of it very well.”
Bob F
The “artist they had” was BOB FUJITANI (pictured left). Born in 1920, Fujitani has drawn Mandrake, Rip Kirby, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant and dozens of other strips, as well as Astonishing Comics and Two-Gun Kid for Marvel, plus Black Condor and Dollman for Quality. He is perhaps best known for his long Hangman run at Archie Comics.

Here’s how Fujitani drew two key pages revealing Solar’s atomic origin -- a nuclear accident which was, as they say, “ripped from the day’s headlines”:
SOLAR 1
SOLAR 1

NuroSOLAR'S ARCH ENEMY

Instead of using his new powers to fight crime, Solar fought his arch-enemy -- the fiendish NURO, a nefarious figure who was part Blofeld from James Bond, part Luthor from Superman, and part evil mastermind from every Republic serial ever made. Initially, the completely bald Nuro was only seen in silhouette, or from behind (see panel right). He looked a bit like Spider-Man’s big, bald foe, the Kingpin.

One might think such a seemingly mundane antagonist would prove wholly inadequate against a hero capable of changing his very form into energy, but Nuro was remarkably inventive. He produced a constant and surprisingly effective stream of high-tech computers, raging energy beings and robotic evil twins, all positively MAD to destroy Solar.


SOLAR COVERS by POWERS and WILSON

The first two SOLAR covers were painted by RICHARD POWERS (1921-1996), a Hugo Award winner who had painted more Powersthan 1,500 covers for science fictionpaperbacks. Powers’ trailblazing style, a G Wilsoncombination of heightened realism and spaced-out “special effects," was like a sci-fi version of DC's Vertigo line.

Covers for the rest of Gold Key's Solar run were painted by workhorse GEORGE WILSON (pictured right). In addition to his millions upon billions ofGold Key covers, Wilson also did zillions of paperback book covers.

Pictured below
are the first six SOLAR cover paintings, shown without any logos or cover copy. Click the images to radically expand their atomic structure!

covers

SOLAR PHASE TWO

Bob Fujitani left SOLAR with issue #5. He was seceded by FRANK BOLLE -- another World War II veteran who returned from the war and broke into comics, penciling westerns such as Redmask and The Frank BolleBlack Phantom.

“They needed an inker to finish up an issue of Doctor Solar," Bolle recalls. "There were about 4 pages to do and the deadline was looming. I took a look at the pencils and said 'no problem,' but they were apprehensive about it. They suggested I ink on transparent paper over the pencils and return both my inks and the separate pencils to them but I thought that was just silly and double the work. So I turned in the inks for those pages and they liked what they saw. After that I had the job.”

Bolle went on to illustrate the Lone Ranger and Sherlock Holmes, as well as several other Gold Key titles, including Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery, Flash Gordon, and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Born in 1924, Bolle currently illustrates the newspaper strip “Apartment 3-G,” shown below:
Frank Bolle

Bolle drew Solar from scripts by writer Paul S. Newman, a writer with whom Bolle had only a passing familiarity, and apparently no great respect. Bolle recalls, “I met Paul once or twice as he would be leaving the office and I'd be coming in, and I'd say 'hello Paul.' He was another one of those hack writers who would always hand in good work and then they'd switch him to Boris Karloff stories or Ghost Stories and they'd plug him in where they needed him; he was always there.”

THE HERO GETS A UNIFORM

Like the Fantastic Four, who began their comic careers in the November 1961 without costumes but found themselves wearing all-blue superhero suits just a few issues later, Solar got an all-red uniform (complete with goggles and radioactive chest symbol logo!) in his 5th issue (Sept. 1963). Solar was actually shown designing his own uniform:

Frank Bolle

And here’s the spectacular debut of THE MAN OF THE ATOM in his now-familiar uniform:

Frank Bolle

As Jim Shooter mentioned, Frank Bolle can draw PEOPLE quite well, but as the panel below (from Solar #8) shows, Bolle's ability to render the more fantastical elements of the series was limited. Solar's human form is perfectly proportioned, but the depiction of Solar's foe -- a giant cardboard box with a frowny-face balloon for a head and mechanical lobster-claws for hands -- is, um, somewhat less then menacing.

Frank Bolle
Another example. It looks very METALLIC and DEADLY ENOUGH, doesn't it? I mean, for a reconverted refrigerator with a spring for a brain, it's very METALLIC and DEADLY looking. Isn't it?!?!
Frank Bolle
Never mind. Here's an explanation of SOLAR's five incredible super-senses:
Solar 17
Below are three of my favorite SOLAR covers by GEORGE WILSON (1921–1998), this time pictured WITH logo and cover copy. Solar had many logos -- the one used on these covers (Solar #10, #12, and #14) is my favorite.
Covers
From SOLAR #10, January 1965, here's one of my favorite pages in the series:
Covers
Here's a page from my favorite SOLAR story, "SOLAR vs. SOLAR" (#19, April 1967):
Covers
Frank Bolle
CREATIVE MERRY GO-ROUND

For the next several issues, SOLAR was written by Dick Wood -- but the good doctor had trouble keeping a steady artist. Solar #23, a fairly lackluster entry in the series, was drawn by Al McWilliams.

With the next issue, Ernie Colon (pictured left) took over art chores for the Man of the Atom's book, which he drew for just two issues. Pictured below is a page from Colon's debut outing from SOLAR #24 (July 1968), titled "The Deadly Trio."
Covers

The original Gold Key incarnation of SOLAR MAN OF THE ATOM ended with #27 (April 1969). But Solar's flame did not die entirely. He reappeared as a special guest star in THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR #14, June 1975 (cover by George Wilson, shown below), as well as SPEKTOR #18 and #23.
RM


RADIOACTIVE MAN, MAN OF RADIOACTIVITY

Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics Group published the hilarious Gold Key parody/tribute cover seen below, featuring Bart Simpson’s favorite superhero, Radioactive Man (who is largely a parody of Solar):
RM

CONTINUED...
Part 2

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