For Shooter, the rebirth of the characters hit particularly close to home. "If you know my history, I've worked at Marvel and then I started a company called Valiant and we got the rights [to the characters] from Western Publishing," he said. "I redeveloped Magnus Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar Man of the Atom, Turok, and more... we had a lot more planned, but we never got that far. Eventually, they faded away."
But Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson had other plans, scooping up the rights to the line after Variant's demise. Shooter and Richardson talked for years about rebooting the properties, with no success. "And then things all came together just before San Diego last year -- I needed a gig, and he was ready to go, ready to focus on it. He had tremendous ideas and we started hooking it up, and next thing I knew I was on the stage at San Diego getting announced by Mike," Shooter recalled.
"It's a very exciting project for me -- but it's very hard," Shooter said. The reason? While Shooter had already relaunched the line previously, Richardson was adamant that the comics scribe not go back to where he had been before. "I had to put it outside of my head and start over. It forced me to do things... maybe a little bit smarter this time."
For some on the panel, however, Shooter had savvy to spare -- especially to former Valiant intern and current comics artist Dennis Calero, who is taking on Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. "I remember when we learned that Torque was Magnus' father, and I was like, 'did you plan that?'" Shooter replied with a smile: "I plan everything."
Robot Fighter artist Reinhold said that the impact of the Gold Key line -- especially Russ Manning -- led to his interest in the line, which had influenced artists including Steve Rude. "I've just been studying it now and looking back at the history. I've got the collection of the Gold Key books and I've been looking at the old Valiant stuff too. It's been interesting to see the different views on it and see where we're taking it," he said. "The whole universe of Magnus Robot Fighter, with all these levels of possibilities, you could do so much with it, and it really fills my imagination."
"There are only a handful of really iconic characters, but Magnus and Solar and Turok, there was nothing like them before and they really have a feel for represent different things, really clear-cut, the looks of the characters. The first time I saw Dr. Solar, that red costume and that visor, I just thought, it was so cool," Warner said. "I like that we're relaunching those characters, but not throwing away what I thought was so special about those characters."
"It was cutting edge at that time," Reinhold added, saying that that quality was what they were looking for most in the relaunch. "You can stay true to that character, but we want to put on the cutting edge of today."
"And beyond," said Shooter. "We're trying to think into the future and not be constrained by this decade."
To that end, Warner said, that Doctor Solar and Magnus cover artists Raymond Swanland and Michael Komarck were new to the comics industry, having honed their craft in painting fantasy and magic in a style that evoked the painted covers of the Gold Key era. Referencing Doctor Solar cover artist Komark, Campbell said, "it reminded me of some ways of the classic illustration of painting of that era. I just saw his work... what struck me in part in terms of Solar, he had done some paintings of like, a wizard... it was this energy crackling between his hands... I immediately thought of Solar."
"I like to look at it as if I had never seen it before... it took me awhile to do that. But you have to do that, because otherwise you'll just be repeating yourself," Shooter added. He said that he knew that readers sometimes make a stack of their latest purchases: "We want to be on top of that stack. We want to be -- no question -- the one you read first. And we want you to argue which one of ours you'll read first."
Showing off some artwork from Magnus, Reinhold said that "with this story we were talking on the classic with the look and feel of the robots and we're branching into other things too. I really like a lot of designs from the old stuff. So the challenges -- I don't know if I'd call it a challenge as much as an enjoyment -- of dealing with these characters and the kinds of scenes of the futuristic city and the robots... it's just fun to do." Because he was using robots as opposed to human opponents, Reinhold said he was really able to push the envelope: "When you're working with these characters that aren't human, you get to do certain things you wouldn't be able to do if they were human. If they were human, you might have to rate the book differently."
Warner said that one of the wrinkles of Magnus was the fact that these antagonistic robots may be more than they appear. "Robots look like robots, but these are Artificial Intelligence, and they have their own kinds of personalities," he explained. "I found myself kind of being pulled... the emotional space I was in was unfamiliar with where the story was going."
He also discussed Shooter's style, specifically his ability to keep the stories running fast.
"Jim's scripts are so well thought through -- he has a lot of science background in his writing, and having drawn all the comics all these years, having the reference material embedded in the script and thinking every shot has been really well thought and thought through," Warner said. "Jim can come up with some very challenging things for artists to construct, but as an artist, thinking through this visually, it's like there's a movie running through their head about what they're reading. They're not thinking about this picture, followed by this picture. I think Jim thinks it through in a lot of ways that I don't think many other people do."
Shooter said that his techniques were passed down during his time at Marvel, through greats like Stan Lee, with him actually drawing sketches to match his script, just to make sure the panels work and flow together well. "We used to call that 'Kirby Basic,'" Shooter said. "It was easy to fill the in-betweens in your mind." His goals were not to just be simple and instinctive to the eye, but also to be rich and deep.
When it came to Doctor Solar, Calero said his goals were "balancing wonder and the fantastic. What Jim is doing is creating a science fiction epic. Some of the characters happen to wear costumes and we have some tropes from the superhero genre.. [but] to me, my approach is to sort of present stuff... just to show how would it be if you were standing on the street at a pizza place and a guy in a red suit was floating in the air, fighting a robot monster, how would that look?
"I'm actually entertained by reading the script -- and that's not always par for the course," Calero said. "A script can do everything that it needs to do to give you what you need to illustrate it... but that's work. To Jim's credit, his scripts are very entertaining, and it shows you what the reader will find entertaining about the page."
When relaunching characters like Magnus and Doctor Solar, Shooter described that it was a matter of separating the truly iconic elements of the property from the more interchangeable trappings. "What is the essence of this character? If I had 100 people who had read Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom in the 1960s... he's some guy, had some sort of thermonuclear accident, or atomic back then. Uses it to accomplish heroic things. They probably wouldn't remember the kind of car Dr. Solar drove, which was what, a Jaguar?" Shooter said. "They probably wouldn't remember some of those details...Little details around the edges, you can change those. You can change those if it makes it better."
Another example Shooter used was in the case of Turok -- he was originally a member of the Kiowa tribe. But upon writing a scene with Turok fishing, Shooter realized -- the Kiowa didn't know how to fish. "OK, those are details -- I can fix that. And I did. And I created a justification for how he knows so much -- he's traveled a lot and he's seen a lot of things, and he is therefore capable of teaching a young boy things that he would not know," Shooter said. "I had a tremendous amount of research, and I wanted to get it right. I had the time and I wanted to nail this thing."
Warner and Shooter discussed in-depth the idea of origin stories -- and whether or not they were required in the opening issue. "I think sometimes that works, but sometimes an origin story right off the bat, what it takes to get from dude to superdude sometimes isn't the most interesting way to start a story. Sometimes starting in the middle of the action in costume and who they are is often a more dynamic way of starting a story." Still, Shooter will establish an origin story for each character, not necessarily as a story to be printed, but as a guideline to ground the character's roots. "He understands the origin and the basics of the character and how they came to be... so he can write a story written later but never loses that key thread."
"I try to approach every comic book as if it were the fist comic book anyone had ever read. And I've heard people say that means it has to be simple or stupid... that's not true. The first comic book I ever read was Spider-Man #2, it didn't tell you the origin... it didn't burden you with anything you didn't need to know to understand the story," Shooter said. "Anyone can pick up any book at any time, and hopefully, find it groovy. There's a reason to care about these people, to then find out where they came from."