In 1989, Marvel Comics put two of its then-top creators Stan Lee and Mike Zeck in charge of a dynamic new series titled Solarman. Two issues in, it was picked up as an animated series but then, nothing.
In July, the character has returned with a creator-owned series from Scout Comics spearheaded by former Batman and Milestone editor Joe Illidge with Deadpool artist N. Steven Harris. Overseen by the character's original co-creator Dave Oliphant, Scout's new Solarman series reimagines the one-time environmentally-conscious superhero into an angst-y, socially conscious hacker-turned-hero on the run from the police, the military, and even aliens.
Newsarama talked with several of those involved with this series ahead of the the release of Solarman #2 on September 28.
Nrama: Joseph, how did you get involved with this new Solarman book?
Joseph Illidge: Brendan Deneen, owner of Scout Comics, reached out to me. The creators of Solarman, David Oliphant and Deborah Kalman, chose Scout Comics as the house to revamp and reintroduce the character as a Black male superhero. With the new direction for Solarman, Brendan wanted me to co-write the series with him, and I dove in fully committed.
Additionally, I’m the Editor of Solarman. With my past work as an editor for DC Comics on their Batman line of books and as an editor for Milestone Media, Inc., the first Black-owned comic book company that published a line of superheroes of color with DC Comics starting in the 1990s, I was given freedom to put together a team for the book.
N. Steven Harris: Well, Joe and I go waaaay back to our days in college at the School of Visual Arts. He knows my work and work ethic. We had the opportunity to work with each other when he was at DC Comics years ago and another small opportunity around four years ago. So, when he called about this chance, it was pretty much a no brainer.
Illidge: Color artist Andrew Dalhouse has worked on The Flash for DC Comics and Faith for Valiant. Letterer Marshall Dillon has worked for Dynamite Entertainment and other publishers, and is one of the most professional people in comics.
Nrama: So just who is Ben Tucker?
Illidge: A teenage hacker living in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. His mother’s dead, his father’s a police officer, and when he’s not getting beaten up by bullies, Ben’s using his skills to expose the dealings of shady businessmen and politicians.
Ben’s likeable, but he’s arrogant and angry. He’s hacking for selfish reasons, and he has a chip on his shoulder.
The first story of Solarman is going to break his stable, problematic world to pieces, as Ben becomes a fugitive.
Nrama: Steven, how did you go about redesigning the character from its previous iterations at Pendulum and Marvel?
Harris: Well, I hadn’t seen the previous designs and didn’t even know the character existed in the 80’s until recently. I hate to admit that, because I was a huge comic book fan then. I am still a fan, just not as huge. Budgetary concerns.
Anyway, redesigning the character was collaborative effort. First, I considered, Ben Tucker’s background. A bi-racial teen, a loner, a computer hacker, frustrated, etc. Joe and I looked up images of real people through online image searches and some actors fitting the bill. Add a little angst, not just teen angst, but angst that is particular to Ben and his unique situation. Now, his Solarman persona was something that required going a little wild and seeing how it would be received by the rest of the team. Fortunately, it was liked by all. This experience has been a total collaborative effort, so there is plenty of back and forth between all of us.
Nrama: Who is after Ben?
Illidge: The police from various states, because of something that happens in the first issue.
Operatives from a government division going back to the mid-20th century, because of the source of Ben’s power.
Extraterrestrials, because humanity as a race is more of a problem than a boon to the cosmos-at-large.
Ben’s road, literally and figuratively, to becoming a hero is going to be a winding one.
Nrama: Speaking of winding roads, Solarman itself has gone through a winding road to reach this point.
Dave, you originally created Solarman in the late 1970s and did a book through Pendulum, with Marvel doing its own version years later. How did you come to connect with Marvel back then?
Dave Oliphant: As president, founder and CEO of Pendulum Press, Inc., a children’s educational publishing company, we created the very successful Illustrated Classics and Contemporary Motivators series that included a number of famous licensed titles, including Star Wars. During that era, there was a fuel shortage in America and I thought it would be very appropriate on our part to remind students that there are other sources of power available, not just oil. So, we created an Energy Awareness Program featuring a character I had created called Solarman, who had a secret identity as a baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He came from outer space and as hokey as it was, the kids and teachers loved it because the message was relevant and presented in an entertaining way!
One day, Stan Lee and then-Marvel president, Jim Galton, called me and asked if I would be interested in making Solarman a Marvel character, and the rest is history. We agreed, but I maintained all ownership of the character. Stan Lee, Margaret Loesch, and I proceeded to create a new Solarman story based on Ben Tucker, an aspiring teen comic book artist, and Gormagga Kraal, an alien villain from outer space. Marvel published two comic books and both issues sold out of over 400,000 copies! When the 22-minute animated Solarman pilot was complete, which I owned because I paid Marvel over $400,000 for the production, they became a licensee. Stan, Jim and I went on a dog and pony show in Los Angeles. Almost immediately, we got an offer for 64 animated episodes (a strip) from a major studio to the tune of $15 million. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the studio had to cancel their Letter of Intent, because their consultants warned them that superheroes were falling out of bed and Saturday morning cartoons would also be disappearing. Equally unfortunate, Marvel soon declared bankruptcy.
I then put Solarman to sleep, and voila, many years later, I found Brendan Deneen and Scout Comics which is turning out to be a blessing.
Nrama: Brendan, you're co-writing this but you're also the publisher. How did that all come together?
Brendan Deneen: I was running the Ardden Entertainment (Scout Comics was originally founded in 2008 as Ardden Entertainment and then became Scout about a year ago) booth at New York Comic Con in 2014 when I was approached by Dave Oliphant, the creator and owner or Solarman. He asked me if I was a publisher and when I said that I was, he showed me issue #1 of the original Solarman written by Stan Lee and published by Marvel. Iremembered buying that comic when I was in high school!
I immediately saw the value in the character and in the character’s legacy. Dave was the very first person I spoke to at NYCC that year, and I believe I was the first publisher he spoke with. He called me after the con and told me that he had decided that I was the man for the job, and I was incredibly excited and humbled by the prospect. It was a great NYCC (I also met Kristen Gudsnuk of Henchgirl fame at that con!)
Ardden went through a lot of changes in the following year, including a changeover to Scout Comics, and the book was unfortunately delayed while we got ourselves together again. But the delay may have been fortuitous because it led to Joe, Steve, Andrew and Marshall’s involvement. We are all extremely proud of issue #1 and of the entire upcoming first story arc. As if that wasn’t enough, we are now developing a feature film version of the comic with Debra Martin Chase, the producer of The Nanny Diaries, among many others!
Nrama: How would you compare and contrast this Solarman with the previous Marvel and Pendulum versions?
Oliphant: Today’s Solarman is absolutely relevant to today’s world. There is no comparison.
The new version of Solarman is awesome!
Deneen: I was only aware of the Marvel version, which was very much a product of its time and of Stan Lee’s writing. It’s a fun character, very true to traditional comic book storytelling. I think there are brilliant elements in there, many of which we are using in the new version, though obviously modernized for the modern day.
This new Solarman is very much rooted in the 21st century and I think it’s fun to see the two versions side by side. They actually show an interesting progression of comics over the last twenty-five years. I think they’ve become more sophisticated, even though it’s important to us to make sure that a sense of fun and excitement is injected into each and every issue, both Solarman and other Scout comics. I’m very proud to be working on this character!