Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. Cover of a 1965 issue.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Gold Key Comics
First Appeared: 1962
Creators: Paul S. Newman and Matt Murphy
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Gold Key Comics got a tremendous launch in 1962 — a brand-new imprint of Western Printing, Gold Key started with dozens of titles that Western had formerly farmed out to …

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Dell Comics, a large majority of which were based on licensed properties such as Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry. But the new publisher also began introducing occasional original series of its own, such as Mighty Samson and The Close Shaves of Pauline Peril. The first of them was Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, who debuted as part of Gold Key's first set of releases, cover-dated October, 1962.

Like many fledgling comics characters of the early 1960s, Doctor Solar was a superhero. He got his broad energy-related powers the same way Captain Atom had two years earlier — by pulling himself together after having been disintegrated in a minor nuclear accident. Solar didn't immediately go the gaudy outfit, spiffy name route of most superheroes, however. At first, he performed his super deeds while wearing a regular suit, with a lab coat on top, with only a little coloration to indicate his super-status (when he used his powers, his skin turned green). His crimson costume, with a radiation symbol on the chest, was added in the fifth issue. As for the name — his actual name, right there on his birth certificate, was Phillip Solar; and the "Doctor" part referred to his Ph.D. in physics.

The first issue was scripted by Paul S. Newman, possibly the most prolific writer in the history of comics, who, along with editor Matt Murphy, created the character. The artist assigned to it was Bob Fujitani, who had drawn The Hangman for MLJ/Archie Comics, Crime Does Not Pay for Lev Gleason, and a host of other comics for a host of other publishers. The first few covers (before the advent of Solar's costumed identity) were painted by science fiction artist Richard Powers, whose impressionistic, other-worldly covers and illustrations had won him science fiction's prestigious Hugo Award, but who has done no other work in comics.

As off-brand superheroes go, The Man of the Atom (the ungainly monicker Solar went by when in costume) was reasonably successful. His comic was published regularly until 1969 and revived for a few issues in 1981-82. In-between, he made a few guest appearances in The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. He never generated anything in the way of licensing revenue. Western Printing got out of the comic book business in 1984.

In 1990, a new comics publisher, Valiant, acquired the character, along with Turok, Son of Stone; Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 AD, and other Western properties. Under the direction of Jim Shooter, Marvel Comics' controversial former editor-in-chief, Valiant modified those characters and wove them, along with new characters created under the Valiant imprint, into a standard superhero universe. In a later corporate shuffle, Valiant was replaced by Acclaim Comics.

Characteristic of its time, the Valiant/Acclaim version was more serious and had lots more death. The new Solar — the "Doctor" part was dropped — was physicist Phil Seleski. He had the nuclear accident, got the awesome powers, etc., but in this version, he became fanatically anti-nuke and went on a rampage of destroying nuclear power plants. Armed troops tried to stop him, and things escalated. It ended up with the entire human race falling into a black hole, which, as luck would have it, tossed Solar far enough back in time to where he had a chance to prevent the whole thing. The Gold Key version of the character was there too, at least in the beginning, as a shock-spawned hallucination given life by Solar's energy powers. (Oh, those '90s superheroes!)

Since then, he's been on T-shirts, in video games, and in all the other places you'd expect a '90s superhero to be. He doesn't happen to be appearing in comic books right at the moment, but as these things go nowadays, that's not necessarily a permanent handicap.


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