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Doctor Solar, Man of the AtomGo to HydrogenGo to OxygenGo to OxygenGo to Hydrogen

Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, Number 2, December, 1962, page 23.

©K. K. Publications, Inc.
"The Night of the Volcano"
Writer: Paul S. Newman
Penciler: Bob Fujitani
Inker: Bob Fujitani (?)
Colorist: ?
Letterer: ?
Editor: ?

 After over twenty years of partnership, comics distributor Western Publishing split from comics publisher Dell Comics and started their own line of comics under the Gold Key imprint. Most of their output consisted of licensed characters like Twilight Zone and the Walt Disney Duck stories. In addition, Gold Key's New York and Los Angeles editorial offices both started a few original titles. From LA came Magnus, Robot Fighter, and from NY came the ground-breaking title shown here, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, created and written by Paul S. Newman.

 The title broke with super-hero precedent in many ways. The origin story in issue 1 had most of the standard ingredients. A nuclear accident caused by a spy in the employ of international criminal Nuro transforms noble Dr. Solar into a walking atomic pile. Over the course of the first few issues, Solar gradually learns how to control his powers. He can generate most forms of energy, but when he uses up too much power he weakens and needs to recharge from a source such as an atomic pile or a radioisotope. He lives as a hermit in a lead-lined lab in Atom Valley, and dresses in anti-radiation gear to work near his colleagues. A very interesting twist is that he has no costume (not counting his green face) until midway through issue 5, when he dons cherry-red spandex. He works instead in an ordinary white lab coat and Ray-Bans.

Another oddity of the early issues is that Western did their own color separations and printing at Poughkeepsie, NY. The pages were pre-ruled and paneled in non-repro blue, and the artists fit the stories to the prescribed panel layouts. However, the outside panel borders were never ruled because the Western color separators did such precise work that they didn't need the panel borders to align the colors. Gold Key comics were also slightly larger than other Silver Age comics, and most of the early issues had painted rather than penciled, inked and colored covers. The word and thought balloons were rectangular rather than oval. These factors give the pages their unique look.

In "The Night of the Volcano," the second story in issue 2, an experimental underwater atomic mine detonates but fails to explode. Dr. Solar volunteers to go underwater to disarm the device. The writer's trust that the readers would accept this reckless Cold War atomic experiment is remarkable! After a snack of a radioactive cobalt pill, Solar heads into the ocean and turns on the juice, electrolyzing water into a cocoon of hydrogen and oxygen gas. Unfortunately, the writer fails to recognize that two separate electrodes are needed to split water, and that the hydrogen-oxygen bubble itself is a heck of a powerful bomb! Nonetheless, Solar disarms the mine by cutting the firing circuit, which fortunately does not spark. Solar notices that the detonator has caused a crack in the ocean floor which activates the nearby volcano. Great place for a nuclear test! After the frightened townspeople march on the laboratory, chief scientist Dr. Clarkson admits that they made a blunder. Solar beams up to the volcano to investigate. He caps it by becoming an atomic fireball and causing the walls of the crater to collapse. Solar is exhausted, but he has forgotten his stash of cobalt pills! Dr. Clarkson tracks Solar by using a Geiger counter. Clarkson revives Solar with a cobalt pill back in the lab, and the townspeople thank some sort of miracle ("...named Dr. Solar," thinks Clarkson) has extinguished the volcano.

Early Gold Key comics, especially Dr. Solar, are a treat for the comics collector and chemist alike. The graphics are sensational, and the use of science is far above the standards of the time.

[Most of this information comes from Carl Gafford's Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom Index, originally written for Capa-Alpha (a.k.a. K-a), the longest-running comics apa, having started in Oct. 1964. Thanks, Gaff, for permission to use it.]

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