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Solar Man Of The Atom: Volume One - Nuclear Family

    Ian Jane

  • Solar Man Of The Atom: Volume One - Nuclear Family

    Solar Man Of The Atom: Volume One - Nuclear Family
    Released by: Dynamite Entertainment
    Released on: December 9th, 2014.
    Written by: Frank J. Barbiere
    Illustrated by: Joe Bennett
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    Frank J. Barbiere, Solar Man Of The Atom: Volume One - Nuclear Family collects the first four issues of Dynamite's revamped Solar: Man Of The Atom series that was launched earlier this year. Those unfamiliar with the character may not know that Solar originally appeared in a Gold Key Comics series that debuted in 1962 before being brought back by Valiant Comics (this run featured some great artwork by Barry Windsor Smith and Bob Layton) in the early nineties, continuing into a run carried on by Acclaim. In 2008 the character went to Dark Horse Comics but now resides along with quite a few other Gold Key characters with Dynamite Entertainment. Solar gets around, it would seem.

    When the series begins, some armed robbers hit a bank. An alarm goes off, there's a S.W.A.T. team outside but before they can do their thing, something or someone lifts one of their tanks off of the ground. Inside the bank a man in red tights with an atom symbol on his chest and a protective visor over his eyes appears - our titular hero, of course. Just as he's about to save the day, something happens and he coils back in pain, his brain awash in scientific formulas as everyone runs for cover and the bank literally beings to melt. Above the Earth some aliens listen in on a newscast about the event and we learn that he's gone into hiding.

    Cut to an office building where Colin Seleski meets with a scientist named Preston. It seems Preston and Colin's father, Philip, have been working on something in secret but Colin's investors don't like secrets. What Colin doesn't know is that Philip is Solar and when Colin finds him in the basement lab, he's not in good shape. He calls for Erica, and we flashback to see a woman of that name listening to Iggy And The Stooges working away at a drafting board. Turns out she's Philip's estranged daughter, Preston shows up to bring her to him and they go back to the lab where Philip, in full Solar costume, is in a protective tank. As Erica tries to figure out what's going on with her dad, flashbacks show us how Philip became Solar, how his head is constantly full of equations and formulas and how he wields great power… and then everything explodes.

    Erica wakes up in the hospital, her husband Dave at her side and a Doctor Prince attending to her - she's been exposed to radiation but the details are unclear as to how and why. The site where she recently saw her dad? The Geiger Counters are going off the charts, but Colin and his team are trying to find out what happened to Solar/Philip. Preston is missing, and Erica assumes Philip died in the explosion. That night, Erica wanders from her bed and, in a sleepwalking daze, is woken up by a kid just before a giant metal monster speaking in an alien tongue bursts in. As this happens, Erica's head fills with scientific formulas and beams of energy shoot out from her hands. Her father then appears - she can communicate with him but it doesn't seem anyone else can see him. They head to Preston's place where Philip insists she ask him about the suit. Preston opens a strange looking case and before you know it, Erica is covered in a red suit with a familiar looking atom logo and visor. She's become what her father was.

    While this is going on, Dave tries to get to Colin who is in the midst of talking to a Doctor Nuro who is interested in buying the company, which is now in trouble given that, well, there was a huge explosion and all of Philip and Preston's work seems to be gone.

    A second alien robot shows up and Erica can't defeat it on her own this time. Philip tries to train her, she pushes back but soon relents and under his tutelage sends that robot packing… only for a half dozen more to take its place. Philip tries to get his daughter to listen but she's not having any of it, she wants to do things her way… it's not going to work out so well, while Colin's rebuke to Nuru's offer makes him not a friend but an enemy.

    Barbiere has a good handle on the characters here, paying tribute to the Solar comics that came before this run in a fitting way but bringing Erica in quickly as the central character so that he can bring this update in different directions rather quickly. Having Philip accompany Erica on her first adventures is a nice touch, and it makes sense in that here she's not just another new superhero somehow managing to control her abilities without rhyme or reason: she's being taught, and often times quite begrudgingly. As such, we get to explore their dysfunctional family dynamic, which helps with not only character development but by infusing aspects of the series with a good sense of humor as well. It's traditional comic book style superheroics but damn if it isn't both fun and creative, qualities far too often absent in stories about people running around fighting evil in funny outfits.

    As far as the artwork goes, Joe Bennet does most of the work here but additional work from Richard Case, Roger Robinson, Matthew Marks, Sandy Jarrell and Jonathan Lau appears throughout the four issues. The book doesn't make it overly clear who did what and you can see a shift in art styles throughout the four issues here, particularly in the fourth issue where there are some later pages that take on a softer, more detailed style that works well but stands in contrast to the Kirby-inspired visuals that come before it. The colors are handled by Lauren Affe, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Mauricio Wallace and Luigi Anderson and they're pretty consistent. Lots of bright hues throughout the series as you'd hope for and expect given the way that the story plays out, but never at the expense of the detail in the penciling.

    In addition to the first four issues of the series, this TPB also includes a good amount of 'bonus material' including some raw pencils and script pages, a cover gallery that includes all of the variants, a few of which are Bob Layton pieces that update/pay tribute to some of Barry Windsor Smith's classic pieces from the early nineties revamp.

    All in all, this is a fun read that leaves you wanting more - which is what a good comic should do. The series so far puts entertainment front and center so don't expect loads of heavy depth or brooding characters, instead, go into this one with fun on your mind and you won't walk away disappointed. It has a nice Silver Age feel to it but at the same time works quite well as a modern day superhero book. Here's hoping Frank J. Barbiere sticks with it, as he's onto something here.

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