Friday, May 30, 2014

Number 1585: Man of the atom

By way of announcement, beginning with the month of June I am cutting my posts by 25%, going from four postings a week to three. I will post on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Many of you won’t even notice. It is time to cut back on the work. And yes, this is work. Nobody pays me, but it’s work.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled post...

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom was created by Gold Key comics to compete against the popular superheroes of the day. At the time I liked the first three issues, finding them well drawn in a more sophisticated, illustrative style, but lost interest when Dr. Solar gained a costume. I just didn’t think he could go toe-to-toe with what was coming from Marvel Comics. But I was wrong; the costume was what fans were clamoring for.

Jerry Bails, the godfather of comics fandom in the early '60s, had a letter in Doctor Solar Man of the Atom #7 in 1964, praising Gold Key for putting Dr. S. in a costume. Jerry was a bit more conservative about villains. He said, “Nothing destroys a super-hero faster than fantastic villains.” I’m reasonably certain the readers of superheroes wanted those fantastic Marvel Comics had proved.
The story is from that aforementioned issue #7. Script credited to Otto Binder by the Grand Comics Database, and art attributed to Frank Bolle.


Daniel [] said...

Doctor Solar had me a bit baffled as a kid.

He was from a publisher familiar to me, but not for superhero comics.

I hadn't read the origin story, came across issues only occasionally, and didn't know why he should be called “Man of the Atom”; his powers didn't seem particularly atomic. I guess that there was a presumed equivalence between the highly energetic and the atomic.

The visual style was unlike the other superhero comics that I encountered. There were painted covers, as if this were somehow pitched at adults (and indeed that might have been done to make them more attractive to parents). The interior art was like that of ostensibly edifying comic books — a matrix layout and an illustration style not unlike that of, say, Ladies Home Journal, including pastel colors.

Pappy said...

Daniel, your description captures how Gold Key comics looked to us readers of the early '60s, also. They had none of the over-the-top pizzazz of Marvel Comics, none of the total oddball qualities of DC. In my opinion they seemed closer to Classics Illustrated.

I think it had something to do with Gold Key not being subject to the Comics Code, nor submitting to an external censorship authority, yet operating under an internal code that was just as strict. They approached comics in a very conservative way. Still, I bought many of them, so go figure.

Stephen John Smoogen said...

Thanks Pappy for all the comics you have put up. I read them through an RSS feed and have enjoyed them quite a bit.

Dr Solar was always my favourite super hero but I only read him after he was no longer published. As a kid visiting my grandparents in the country there was an old country store with a shelf of picked through comics.. most of them Dr Solar from 8-10 years before. I picked those up and read them from cover to cover until they finally disintegrated in the late 1970's.

Thank you again for all the hard work you do on this blog.

Brian Barnes said...

I liked what Shooter did with Doctor Solar in the later years, but the original Gold Key Solar was a really bad comic, IMHO.

It has the vibe of the 40s super hero, will very ill-defined and almost god-like powers. There never seems to be a real external threat. This worked in the 40s -- for instance, Stardust the Super Wizard -- because they were filled with bizarre imagery and crazy vengeance plots (which probably influenced the horror comics to come.)

Shoe-horning a god-like, ill-defined being into more realistic plots is just boring. Shooter ran with it during his Valiant days to good effect, but here it's just a very flat story.

The weird Gold Key stark advertising like art isn't helpful, either.

Patrick Dilley said...

I love your blog. Thanks for all of the time and effort you put into it.


rnigma said...

Pappy, I'll miss your Sunday posts, but I understand.

I think Gold Key/Whitman went on as long as it did due to its TV and movie based comics, and licensed characters from Disney and elsewhere.



Can I admit that I never really cared for Gold Key comics? As Daniel mentioned, the coloring, for one thing, always looked dingy and drab, especially compared to DC or Marvel. The stories and art, comparatively, also were boooring compared to the other comic brands. I think the art more than the story contributes most to the overall lackluster appeal of GK comics to me. Bolle's art here typifies Gold Key standards; safe, basic, adequate, but certainly lacking any of the dynamism of a Kirby or a Kane, the big competitors at that time.

I did dig the painted covers, and I did own and enjoy a few GK comics, but as a kid with an allowance I was going to go with the sharper and more exciting DC or Marvels every time.

I don't understand GK art director(s), any one know who that was at the time? I mean, just tweaking the coloring would improve the comic immeasurably...Solar's skin is supposed to turn green when he's "actively atomic" or whatever. That shade of green on his face coupled with that awful maroon-ish suit is enough to make a person vomit. Also, on pages 4(6) and 11(13) his hands are shown in close-up, allegedly gloves yet there are fingernails present! Yeesh! Even when we encounter the bad guys, GK uses the same colors as Solar - sick green and maroon-ish pink! Were they trying to save money on ink? Blechh(!) on the color choices...

Another thing, in the entire story there are only two sound effects blurbs...another missed opportunity to bring up the excitement level from "yaaawn" to "ho-humm"...

Anyway, as a young comic buyer, if my favorite DC or Marvel comics weren't available, and I had a choice between a Gold Key, an Archie, or a Dennis The Menace, or even a Sad Sack...guess which comic came in last place?
-- Just one guy's opinion.

Russ said...

I'm pretty sure this was the first issue I bought. I was virtually unaware of Solar, until I saw a copy of #6 in the hands of a kid in a movie theater. The painted image of Dr. Solar fighting an android really intrigued me ,so I was ready when the next issue finally showed up.
Gold Key comics had an air of authority to me; comics like Magnus and Turok felt iconic, as if they'd always been around. I think the painted covers contributed to this impression. They were printed on different presses than every other company. And of course they were part of Western publications, which HAD been around forever and at one time owned the rights to seemingly everything. I always appreciated that they had their own identity and were not interested in imitating anyone else.

TIGER MOODY. said...

Hey man,
Just wanna say thanks for putting so much effort and work into this blog. I've been a golden age comics fan since inheriting a pile of my father's DC and EC comics in the late 1970s, and what you're doing is an extremely valuable resource. I'm certain that I speak for many.

Pappy said...

Interesting comments; I guess Apocolyte and Brian are definitely in the no-Gold Key camp, and there is at least one vote for Dr Solar from Stephen, and from Russ for Gold Key in general.

Thanks for weighing in, guys.

Also, thanks to those kind comments on the blog in general from Tiger, Patrick and rnigma. I appreciate your continuing support.