Free Comic Book Day: Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom/Magnus, Robot Fighter

Written by Jim Shooter
Art by Dennis Calero and Bill Reinhold
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

If you were reading comics in the early ’90s, you almost certainly knew about the last time Jim Shooter revamped Magnus, Robot Fighter and Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom. The first two titles at the now-defunct Valiant Comics, Shooter had bought publishing rights for the old Gold Key characters from the ’60s and turned them into the cornerstone of the Valiant Comics line. After Shooter left, the characters got revised several times at Valiant and then new-owners Acclaim, but soon after Acclaim’s publishing division folded the rights reverted back to Random House. Dark Horse has now signed up for publishing rights for the characters, and has brought Jim Shooter back to take another crack at the characters. But can lightning really strike twice a second time? So far, I’d have to say no.

The first half of the Free Comic Book Day flip book focuses on Doctor Solar, who like both the original Gold Key character as well as the first Valiant incarnation, gained his reality-shifting powers through an accident at a nuclear power plant. There are some good bits in this story, like Doctor Solar trying to explain to his old boss all of the new sensations he now experiences with his complete control over energy. "Cosmic rays smell like butterscotch. Time feels like… liquid silk. Neutrons are prickly…" he stumbles forward. It’s that sort of small moment that makes me think it could work again, if Shooter tries to explore what a strange person Doctor Solar has become. The majority of the script falls flat, though. Telling "you might be a redneck" jokes makes the book feel weirdly dated (even though it’s supposed to take place in 2010), and his fight with another super-powered being comes across dispassionate and boring, almost like it was there due to obligation rather than because it might be interesting. Dennis Calero’s art is likewise stiff and unenergetic; the fight scene in particular looks staged, and Doctor Solar flies off afterwards with his legs at such a strange angle it’s hard to not stare. I liked some other small touches along the way, like Doctor Solar following a live transmission back to its source in order to find where it’s happening, but on the whole there just isn’t much oomph.

There are similar problems with the second story. Here, Shooter strays even less far away from the original source material, as in the year 4000 we have Magnus fighting rebel robots. Shooter lays out the basic origin information for the character, but he doesn’t bring anything new to the table at all. I suppose that Magnus being able to see what the enemy robots can view could be interesting, but it comes across as a lazy way to get Magnus back in on the action rather than actually tracking down the bad guys. Bill Reinhold’s art isn’t bad, although it too lacks a certain level of energy. Still, it at least looks very classic and crisp, but when Magnus jumps out of a flying ship I’m not sure what it says that Leeja’s hair looks more energetic than the plummeting action figure form of Magnus.

So far, I don’t have much hope for Dark Horse’s revivals of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom or Magnus, Robot Fighter. Shooter’s dusting off the properties doesn’t come across as original or interesting; there isn’t a hook in either one of these stories that make me think that I need to sign up to buy the monthly series that debut in July and August. When a book given away on Free Comic Book Day fails to grab your attention as a reader, that’s not a good sign at all. This is, unfortunately, just dull.

1 comment to Free Comic Book Day: Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom/Magnus, Robot Fighter

  • Just

    Your last line summed this book up perfectly: dull. With the exception of the dynamic cover art, there was absolutely nothing to be excited about in these pages. I had high hopes for these series, and might even still give the first issue of Magnus a try since it was the stronger of the two, but all this really accomplished was to make me wish the rights to the Valiant books would get cleared up so I could read those again. Very disappointing.