Doctor Solar #1
Written by Jim Shooter
Art by Dennis Calero
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Kyle DuVall
The latest resurrection of Dr. Solar: Man of The Atom, represents the reunion of a legend and what might best be called a semi-legend. The legend is former Marvel Editor-in-Chief, former founder of Valiant Comics, Jim Shooter. The semi-legend is Solar himself. Dr. Solar, Man of The Atom, is a creation as venerable as the classic Lee/Kirby characters Shooter shepherded during his tenure at Marvel, yet he’s a character whose notoriety has never matched his longevity. Alas, this latest effort to kick start The Doctor probably won’t change that too much. The debut issue of the new series doesn’t ignite the supernova needed to push the character into the first tier of superherodom, in fact, it may not even provide energy to warm his existing cult of fans.
Quite frankly, Doctor Solar: Man of The Atom #1 is a terrible comic. Poorly drawn, colored to the point of incoherence, and clumsily written, veteran Jim Shooter injects no enthusiasm or novelty in this debut issue and artist Dennis Calero’s visuals are shamefully out of place. Indeed, the tone of the book is so matter-of-fact, the plotting so diffident that you would think Shooter was writing a ho-hum fill-in issue in the middle of a not-particularly engaging ongoing series. When you are dealing with the debut of a new series starring a marginal character, "business as usual" is not a formula for success.
Shooter’s plotting serves up a double-whammy of been-there-done-that, combining the timeworn plot device of a writer whose fictional creations are coming to life, with a belabored recitation of Solar’s origin story. Issue 1 picks up in media res with Solar battling a purple leotarded galoot who is robbing a pizza joint. Solar, whose powers make him a Silver Surfer/Dr. Manhattan level bad-ass, has a surprising amount of difficulty subduing the ill-conceived stock bad guy. When the job is done, he flies back to his lab for a multi-page “holographic” recitation of his origin, an origin that could and should be summed up in about three panels. He’s basically Dr. Manhattan, kids, and Shooter and Calero’s interminable regurgitation of the backstory can’t help but be superfluous in a post Watchmen world.
Perhaps the hoary old comic-characters-come-to-life-in-a-world-they-never-made schtick is Shooter’s attempt to get down with that self-referential style all the kids are into these days. Unfortunately, the sitcom-level wackiness and lackluster execution of the concept just ain’t going to cut it in a world where post-modern whiz-kids like Grant Morrison are running around pulling triple backflips through the zeitgeist. Shooter’s dabbling has all the freshness and nuance of one of those 1960’s Marvel stories where Jack and Stan show up in Fantastic Four, but with none of the charm.
Calero’s art is a catalogue of the most irksome excesses of modern comics, from pencils that don’t look as much photo-referenced as traced from mediocre snapshots, to gaudy, effects-laden coloring that calls to mind the primitive days of computer rendering, when folks couldn’t seem to keep their cursors off the toolbar. There’s digitally rendered smudges, gauzy pastel smoke effects, omnipresent gradients in place of linework… Calero basically trots out the whole rogues gallery of frustrating computer gimmickry. The character designs are on the laughably goofy side of bland. The lukewarm corniness of the costumes of the new characters might be explained away by the self-aware nature of the plot, but even with that in mind, the designs lack the goofy retro pizzazz an artist like Frank Quitely or Mike Allred might bring to the table. If Shooter’s laid-back tone and retrograde plotting was a weak attempt to create a nostalgia book, Calero’s art smothers the effort completely.
Issue 1 is a double-sized book -- unfortunately, the extra page count is filled out by a reprint of the original Doctor Solar #1. It’s about as bland a slice of silver age-velveeta as one could expect. It’s also another recitation of the Doctor’s origin. Competent but unexceptional, the backup, in itself, is a pretty strong argument for why the Doctor never hit it as big as Spidey or the Flash.
Dr. Solar #1 is an ominous harbinger of what might lie in store for all of the Shooter-scripted Gold Key/Valiant revivals Dark Horse has in the works. Ill-conceived on every level, Dr. Solar really needs to go back to formula. Shooter was always a better editor and cat-wrangler than writer. Putting Shooter in place solely as a creative supervisor to the titles might be a good move. Sadly, as it stands now, unless there is a radical change, the future of Dr. Solar may be headed for a total eclipse.