Welcome back to The Valiant Tangent, the series of articles whose goal it is to chronicle some of the stories and characters of Valiant Comics and the things that made them not only cool, but some of the greatest of all time.
Now, on to the good stuff. This month we’ll be wrapping up our look at one of the earliest stories from the Valiant Universe—Solar: Man of the Atom #1 – #4 (“Second Death”). Not only will we see a resolution to a really complex storyline, but also we’ll be introduced to characters that will play enormous roles in future Valiant titles. In fact, these characters will appear in a title that this series will delve into soon…Harbinger.
If you didn’t read the last article that went into great detail about the first half of this storyline, then don’t read any further! It’s not that anything will be spoiled for you, but you’ll probably be really confused. Lots of stuff happened in the first half of “Second Death,” so I recommend clicking on the link to the previous column to get acquainted with this story. In fact, if you haven’t read any of these columns, then why not go back and read all of them? If you’re reading this at work it’s not like you have anything better to do, so go for it. If you’re a loyal reader of this column (and you really should be), don’t worry…we’re not going to spend a lot of time going over everything that happened before. We’re going to jump right into this baby. That being said, here is the short version of what went down. Phil Seleski gained immeasurable power and accidentally destroyed his universe. When he did that he created a black hole that sent him back through time to a point right before he used his power to destroy everything. He meets a slightly younger version of himself (for clarity we’ll call him Dr. Seleski) and tries to prevent him from making the same mistakes that Phil made. Along the way Phil’s mind literally splits in half and creates another persona for himself…Doctor Solar, a red jumpsuited superhero straight from the comics. They fight and Phil is seemingly destroyed. And that is where we left off.
See? I told you it was confusing. It will get easier, I promise.
Solar: Man of the Atom #3
Written by Jim Shooter, Penciled by Don Perlin, Inked by Bob Layton and Thomas Ryder, Colored by Kathryn Bolinger
Issue #3 begins with Doctor Solar (the costumed comic book character come to life) chasing and apprehending a car full of gun-toting gang bangers. He uses his energy powers to weld the doors shut, and his super-strength to pick up the vehicle with the bad guys trapped inside. In typical comic book super-hero fashion, Doctor Solar drops the crooks off with the police and says, “They’re all yours, officers. If you don’t mind, I’ll be on my way.” If we were reading Spider-Man or Superman, the cops would probably thank the hero for capturing the villains before waving goodbye as the hero flies off to look for more evildoers. But this is the Valiant Universe, and the stories take place in a world that is supposed to be like ours, that is, in a world where it is unusual to see people flying and shooting energy from their hands. So it’s only natural that when Doctor Solar wants to leave, the cops actually do mind. They tell him to stay because they’ll “need to take a statement” and ask him questions. For crying out loud, he’s a guy that can pick up a car and fly!! Not something that you see everyday, and the cops treat Doctor Solar with the appropriate amount of suspicion that the situation requires. Think about it. Yeah, it would be cool to see Spider-Man in real life climb up a building in front of me, but at the same time I think I’d be more than a little freaked out. I mean, come on, that’s creepy!
Anyway, Doctor Solar flies away, much to the dismay of the cops, and heads back to Muskogee, where he is staying with the little boy Dwight and his mom, Tammy. The next few pages have Doctor Solar talking to Dwight and Tammy about everything that has happened to him the last couple of issues. This scene is an example of classic storytelling by Jim Shooter. The scene is essentially exposition, a way for the reader to know what went on before. But it is presented in such a way that it doesn’t just seem like the writer preaching to us. And it also serves another highly important reason…it serves as an introduction to a whole new section of the Valiant Universe. Doctor Solar relates his story to Dwight and Tammy, and feels that the world he is in has no room for superheroes. He realizes that things don’t work the same way they do in the comics, specifically referring to the police incident. Feeling down and out, Solar doesn’t know what to do with himself. Tammy mentions that she saw an ad in the paper that might help Doctor Solar out. It’s for an organization that helps people that feel as if they are abnormal and special. It’s called the Harbinger Foundation. The ad is an important one that will reappear in many other Valiant comics. Keep a look out for them. We’ll be getting to all of them eventually.
So Doctor Solar calls the foundation and makes an appointment. They are located in Dallas, but it’s no big deal because Doctor Solar can fly. So he flies to Dallas and enters the Harbinger Foundation building. At first glance everything seems very normal. The receptionist is very polite and professional, and Doctor Solar is treated with respect. Not once does anyone look twice at a man wearing red spandex and a visor. The building is very large and seemingly not filled with many employees. Doctor Solar is introduced to a Mr. Kuramoto, an executive for the Foundation. He’s taken into a very large conference room where they begin to talk and discuss exactly what it is that Harbinger does. Basically, they are in the business of helping people who are “different” to achieve their maximum potential and make the world a better place. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Surely there’s not any hidden agenda.
So, Mr. Kuramoto asks Doctor Solar to tell him why he came to Harbinger. Doctor Solar decides to show him why instead. He uses his powers to make a coffee pot float above the table. Mr. Kuramoto finds it fascinating. Doctor Solar then asks Kuramoto why no one has made any comments about why he, Doctor Solar, is dressed the way he is. Kuramoto tells him that employees of the Harbinger foundation are respectful of others, and that he would be more than happy to show Doctor Solar around the facility and introduce him to the staff. Doctor Solar declines and decides to explore in his own special way. He uses his abilities to see behind the walls of the huge conference room, and is surprised to see groups of employees with hidden cameras and computer equipment aimed right at him.
Kuramoto assures Doctor Solar that they videotape all interviews, but that he can request complete privacy if Doctor Solar is uncomfortable. Doctor Solar replies, “There’s more than videotaping going on here. This room is wired up like a moon probe. Please step aside.” Then he punches right through the thick one-way glass to get a closer look at the equipment and the people hiding there. As he walks into the hidden room the employees start to get a little freaked out. One of them is on the phone, and from her dialogue it seems like her boss is on the other line. (He is, and we’ll meet him in a minute. And when we do, better pay attention. You’ll be seeing him again. A lot.)
Doctor Solar walks over to a file cabinet with computer disks and picks one up, apparently “reading” the data just by touching it. The mystery boss on the other end of the phone tells his employee to destroy the disk before any confidential information can get out. A big strong dude in a business suit touches the disk in Doctor Solar’s hand and it immediately disintegrates. Huh? Someone else with powers? You bet.
The strong guy touches Doctor Solar, but is immediately blasted backwards when Doctor Solar turns on the heat. Another employee (codename: Thumper) punches Doctor Solar across the room, and practically punches off half of his head in the process! Apparently, this chick has super-strength, and the shot seemed to have caused Doctor Solar some pain. But he blasts her away, and then manipulates the gravity around her so she floats harmlessly in midair. All the while, the “boss” is on the phone. Doctor Solar grabs the phone and, after converting himself to energy, travels through the phone line to get to the other side. He winds up coming out of the other side of the line in an airplane, and meets the “boss”. Allow me to introduce you to Toyo Harada, the man in charge of the Harbinger Foundation and a major character in the Valiant Universe.
At first glance, he is a very respectable business man and very pleasant to boot. Most impressive, however, is his total unflappability. I mean, check it out, here is this wealthy businessman flying in his jet somewhere above the Earth, and out of nowhere a man dressed in a red jumpsuit with weird energy bursts coming out of his hands flies out of his telephone right in front of him. And what does he do? He calmly speaks to his employee on the phone, tells her to clean up the mess at the office, tell everyone they are doing a great job, and to take the company out for lunch. This guy is just cool.
And then he turns his attention to Doctor Solar.
Again, uh oh.
With a mere look from Harada, Doctor Solar starts to twist, shrink and dissipate. It’s apparent that Harada has some sort of highly powerful mental abilities, and he is using them to contain Doctor Solar’s energy. But why? Well, as we’ll learn in future columns, Harada believes that it is his responsibility to protect the world from beings of immense power. And, Doctor Solar definitely falls into this category. He feels that a being with as much power as Doctor Solar should not be running around unchecked and intends to do something about it. Do Harada’s motives stem from some sort of innate benevolence, or is there another reason why he wants to rid the world of what he considers to be dangerous beings? Stay tuned…it’s a question that will come up repeatedly in future books, and we’ll explore it even further in our next column, which features a certain armored barbarian…but more on that later…
Harada tells Doctor Solar that the world is experiencing highly unusual weather phenomena because of an explosion in Antarctica the day before. Scientists believe that a meteorite crashed and caused the explosions, but Harada believes that it was Doctor Solar that made it happen, and the images in Doctor Solar’s mind of the arctic location that Harada can pick up on just prove his theory. (It looks like Harada has telepathy also.) And, because of the threat that Doctor Solar presents to the planet, Harada feels that it is necessary to stop him at any costs.
This illustrates another aspect or characteristic of the Valiant Universe as a whole—actions have consequences. Super-powered beings don’t just battle in crowded city streets, knock down buildings and then leave as if nothing happened. Every thing that any character does or says has an affect on every other character in these books. This will be more clearly illustrated as we delve deeper into the Valiant library, but I just want to make sure that you understand the kind of world that we are reading about. Remember, the Valiant Universe is supposed to be the next best thing to the real universe. (On a related note, I used to love the old Marvel series Damage Control. It dealt with this exact issue. Who cleans up the rubble after a fight with a super villain? Who pays for it? It was a fun series, and you should definitely search for it in quarter bins.)
Back to the fight. While Harada is “battling” Doctor Solar, small fires break out in the plane. The pilot alerts Harada through the intercom that there is a fire, and Harada does something that really illustrates just how powerful he is. He tells the pilot that he, Harada, will lower the plane beneath the clouds, open the windows to let the rain in, and contain the fire. That’s right; Harada will do this, not the pilot. How? With his mind. He takes control of the plane and still manages to contain Doctor Solar’s energy. And, he doesn’t even break a sweat! (Apparently telekinesis is another power he has.) And, just a quick note about how his powers are illustrated—they don’t appear as they would if this was a Marvel book. When Jean Grey moves an object with her mind or uses her telepathy to get into someone’s head, we see funky energy waves around the object or her head to tell us that she is using her powers. Here in the Valiant Universe, there are no such things. When Toyo Harada moves something with his mind, it just moves. No blue or pink energy bubble around it. This is yet another way that the Valiant Universe is supposed to be like the “real” world, and it is very much related to the lack of sound effects in Valiant comics. This is supposed to be as non-comic-book-y as possible (well, except for the books to be about super-powered beings and all…).
Just when Doctor Solar appears to be beaten, he fights back and actually manages to regain physical form…much to the shock of Harada! Now, the fire in the plane is raging out of control, and Doctor Solar fights Harada in the cabin. The battle is furious, and, after a moment, the plane breaks up and explodes! Doctor Solar manages to survive the explosion and subsequent crash and flies away from the wreckage. But, what about Harada? Are his mental abilities strong enough to survive such a thing? No tease here…hells yeah they’re strong enough! Toyo Harada will be back, and just wait until we discuss his story and the story of the Harbinger Foundation (coincidentally enough, we’ll get all this information when we discuss the comic Harbinger in the coming weeks).
As Doctor Solar flies away, we see another figure in the background looking after him. No, it’s not Harada, but Phil, the being with the same energy powers as Doctor Solar that destroyed his universe and came back in time and space to prevent it from happening again! (For those that are confused, check out the column about Solar #0.) You didn’t really believe that Phil was destroyed at the end of the previous issue, did you? Phil flies behind Doctor Solar and contemplates killing him and reabsorbing his energy but doesn’t have the courage to do it. He flies away unnoticed as he hatches a plan. So, what’s the plan? He goes back to where his nuclear facility is and finds Dr. Erica Pierce alone in a local bar. Feeling awful about what he is about to do, Phil introduces himself to Pierce and gets her to leave with him. What is he planning? Why does he feel awful? The answers to these and other questions are coming right up!
One more quick note about Toyo Harada. This guy makes Professor X looks like a child with a headache. Moving on…
Solar: Man of the Atom #4
Written by Jim Shooter, Penciled by Don Perlin and Barry Windsor-Smith, Inked by Bob Layton and Thomas Ryder
This is the issue where the mass confusion gets resolved, I promise. We start with Phil in a seedy motel room with a sleeping Erica Pierce. Phil wants to use Pierce however he can so she can do anything to prevent the nuclear fallout that is supposed to happen at the facility where she works. The only problem is that his plans don’t work as expected. Pierce has lots of emotional baggage (that we’ll be exploring that in future columns), and is not receptive to Phil’s ideas. In fact, Phil himself feels guilty about using her this way, and decides to fly off and try to prevent the accident another way.
Meanwhile, Dr. Seleski and the rest of the crew at the nuclear facility celebrate as the fusion reactor is turned on for the first time and appears to be stable. But, as we all know from reading Solar #0, things don’t remain stable for long.
Things are about to converge, and it starts when Doctor Solar appears in the office of Dr. Seleski’s psychiatrist friend, John. At the same time, Phil shows up. Immediately, John knows that Dr. Seleski is not crazy after all…most notably because this is the first time John is seeing Dr. Seleski’s “other selves.” Thinking that Phil was destroyed in Antarctica, realizing that he was wrong, Doctor Solar once again engages Phil in battle.
The fight is epic, and takes the two beings halfway across the country. Doctor Solar wants to destroy Phil because he believes that Phil destroyed billions of people (which, in fact, he did, but it was an accident). Phil wants to destroy Doctor Solar because he is constantly in Phil’s way when all Phil wants to do is stop Dr. Seleski from making the same mistakes that he made in the alternate universe.
My head hurts too, it’s okay.
Suddenly a mushroom cloud appears on the horizon, and Phil realizes that the nuclear reactor blew up, just like it did in his world. Doctor Solar flies to the explosion (because that is what superheroes do) while Phil follows from a safe distance. On his way to the plant, Phil sees Dr. Seleski hop in his jeep and drive towards the facility, exactly what Phil did when the accident happened on his world.
Once inside the plant, Phil sees Doctor Solar near the reactor. Doctor Solar believes that since this is where Phil gained his powers, it stands to reason that this is where Phil’s powers can be taken away. Of course, this is corny comic book logic, and what Doctor Solar doesn’t understand is that this nuclear reactor has the power to kill both him and Phil at the same time. They fight some more, badly injuring one another in the process.
The next bunch of panels might look familiar, and they should. They are panels of Phil arriving at the plant, putting on a containment suit and heading towards the reactor—the exact panels from Solar #0 drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. The dialogue is exactly the same. The only difference is that we do not get to see the captions of what is going on in Dr. Seleski’s head (for those, check out #0). This process of repeated panels is something that will occur many more times in these early Valiant books, and I think it is a brilliant manner of storytelling. Sure, it would be easy for the artist to just draw the panels over again instead of taking the exact ones and reprinting them, but I think that reusing the existing ones solidifies the story more. Once we get to Unity (the massive crossover), you’ll be able to see how well this process works. Entire scenes from one book appear in multiple books, each from a different point of view. What I mean is that if it appears in a Solar book we might have Solar’s inner monologue. But the same scene appearing in a Magnus or X-O Manowar book might have captions illustrating other characters’ points of view. It’s very effective, and will become much clearer as we go further into these stories.
Anyway, Dr. Seleski prepares to run into the reactor room just like Phil did in #0. At the same time, Phil and Doctor Solar continue their battle, when suddenly Doctor Solar grabs Phil and leaps into the reactor, probably thinking that doing that will neutralize Phil’s powers. It’s only when they are floating in the reactor that he realizes he was wrong. And, it is while they are slowly being destroyed that Phil finally manages to convince Doctor Solar to merge with him once again, thereby finally making Phil the whole person he was when he first came to this universe. Simultaneously (in Barry Windsor-Smith-drawn panels), Dr. Seleski makes it to the reactor room. As we know from Solar #0, he will jump into the reactor, gain powers and then stop the radiation leak. This time, however, Phil comes out of the reactor to talk to Dr. Seleski. They talk, and Phil makes Dr. Seleski a dealÂ—Dr. Seleski can have the unlimited power that he has always dreamed of as a kid, and Phil can have another chance to live a normal life without causing mass destruction. The only way to do that is for them to merge. Dr. Seleski agrees, and Phil slowly burns the flesh off of him while merging with his mind.
And, at long last, only one figure remains. It’s Phil, but it’s also Doctor Solar, and, most importantly, it is Dr. Seleski. All three versions of the same being are now in one body, and are all just one person. From now on, I’ll refer to this being simply as Solar. Solar looks exactly like Phil and Dr. Seleski, except his hair is brown with gray temples. It’s a kind of mix between the two guys. He has all the powers that Phil had and, with a wish, stops all the radiation from leaking out. Other rescue workers appear in the reactor and are stunned that the radiation levels are zero. Solar tells them that safety measures must have kicked in, when suddenly they all run over to a being crumpled on the ground. It’s someone in a containment suit, someone that was in the reactor room the whole time with Phil and Dr. Seleski before the merge. It’s Erica Pierce, and the workers take her out of the room for medical attention. This is a very important scene because Erica Pierce was also in the reactor room in Solar #0, and we all know what happened to her. Will history repeat itself? Perhaps, but that is a story for another time…
The story concludes with Solar talking to John, the psychiatrist, about everything that happened. Solar has Phil’s memories of what happened to his doomed universe, and that knowledge is what will keep Solar in check. He doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
And there you have it. This is how Solar became who he is, and it is this Solar that is the star of the comic book from this point forward. His story will continue, and it is tightly intertwined with the future of the Valiant Universe. Thanks so much for reading, and I hoped you enjoyed it. If you did, the greatest thing that you can do is to go to your comic shop and find some old Valiant books to read. I guarantee that you’ll like them more than some of the crap that they call comics today.
Next month we’ll be looking at X-O Manowar, a brutal action comic that quickly became one of my all time favorites. If you’re expecting Iron Man, you might be a little disappointed. Get ready for some hardcore ass kicking…believe me, you won’t want to miss the next column.
See you next time!