Dr. Solar #5, "The New Man of the Atom!"

DR. SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM #5; Sept. 1963; Gold Key Comics; no editor  listed
on indicia.  On the painted cover (credited to George Wilson by the  Great
Comic Book Database), a foe in a fireproof suit fires a flamethrower at  the
green-skinned, red-costumed figure of the Man of the Atom, wrapping him in 
flames, but the blaze does not faze our hero, who knocks down the bad guy with a 
roundhouse punch.  The typset cover blurb reads, "FOR THE FIRST TIME -  Solar
shows himself as the invincible Man of the Atom!" (On my copy, at least,  the
same cover scene appears as a back cover pinup minus the cover log and blurb 

Review by Bill Henley

In 1962, Western Publishing,  which had long produced and packaged comic
books to be distributed under the  Dell Comics banner, ended its contract with
Dell and began publishing comic  books under its own Gold Key imprint.  One of
the reasons for the breakup,  reportedly, was the extreme conservatism of Dell
management regarding what kinds  of comics they would publish.  For one thing,
it's said, even though the  Silver Age of superhero comics was nearing its
height and competitors such as DC  and Marvel were gaining market share with
costumed guys, Dell refused to publish  superheroes, perhaps remembering how the
"long underwear heroes" became objects  of criticism, along with horror and
crime comics, during the Wertham era of the  1950's. 

In any case, when Western went off on its own as Gold Key,  one of the first
new titles it published was a superhero title-- DR. SOLAR, MAN  OF THE ATOM. 
(Some reference sources say DR. SOLAR #1, dated Oct. 1962,  was *the* first
Gold Key comic, though others state a GK issue of WALT DISNEY'S  COMICS &
STORIES preceded it.)  Even then, though, Gold Key took a  cautious approach to the
costumed hero genre-- specifically, it took them until  this issue, #5, to
make their new character actually a *costumed* hero operating  in public.

Atomic radiation was, of course, a popular source for  superhero origins in
the early Silver Age.  Several of the original Marvel  heroes got their powers
from radiation in one form or another.  Even before  that, Charlton came out
with Captain Atom, who gained "atomic powers" after  being accidentally
disintegrated and somehow reconstituted in a nuclear missile  explosion.  And in DR.
SOLAR #1, it was young atomic scientist Dr. Solar  (his real name, not a
superhero nom de guerre-- later stories gave his full name  as Dr. Raymond Solar)
who sacrificed his normal life to bring a critical nuclear  reactor under
control, but somehow, instead of actually dying, became a "walking  atomic pile"
living on radiation instead of air and food.  He learned over  time that he
could emit radiation in various forms or even turn his entire body  into beams of
light or other radiation-- but he dared not touch or remain close  to another
person without endangering them with his radioactivity.  Over  his first
several issues, Solar struggled to hide his condition, from all except  his friend
and boss Dr. Clarkson, while learning to understand his abilities and  use
them to foil various plots-- mostly masterminded by the mysterious  archvillain
Nuro-- to sabotage the Atom Valley nuclear research center.  

This issue contains two stories, and the first, "The Crystallized  Killers,"
features Solar still in his early non-costumed phase.  Working in  his
shielded lab, Dr. Solar "conducts a new experiment to turn energy into  matter".  He
finds success in transmuting an energy beam into a crystalline  object. 
(Curiously, the caption refers to the object as "no bigger than a  golf ball", but
the panel shows it as even smaller than that, about the size of  a marble and
held between Solar's finger and thumb.)  Solar and Dr.  Clarkson are excited
by the find and decide that it should be taken to a Mr.  Wolson, a New York
expert in crystallography, for analysis.  Flying to New  York City in his own
private plane, Solar dons a "radiation shielding cape"-- a  mackinaw like
garment, not a superhero-type cape-- so that he can meet with  Wolson without
endangering him.  As Solar shows the crystal object to  Wolson, an accidental
collision knocs the crystal to the floor, and on picking  it up, both are startled to
find that the impact has caused the crystal to grow  noticeably.  The two
scientists decide to "work through the night" in  Wolson's lab, but first Wolson
locks the lab door, apologizing for locking Solar  in with him but noting this
is a safety requirement of the lab's insurance  company.

But locked doors do not an impregnable fortress make, especially  when a
sinister figure has a copy of the key that will "get us into Wolson's  lab!"  Two
hoodlums prepare to invade the lab, donning twin disguises that  make them
look like identical brown-haired men with eye patches.   Meanwhile, Solar and
Wolson find that when the crystal object is struck it  expands further,
"splitting off new planes and building new facets!"  They  are even more excited when a
fluoroscope analysis reveals that the growing  crystal is an entirely new
element.  But also intrigued are the eye-patched  twin thugs, who appear on the
scene and order the scientists to "hand over that  sample!"  "But this has no
value to YOU-- only scientific..."  "Maybe  we're a couple of science buffs!" 
But actually, "Our orders are to get  that stone for somebody BIG!"  When
Wolson lunges at the hoods, one of them  shoots him with a pistol, leaving him
moaning on the floor.  "Finish off  the OTHER guy!  The LAST thing we need is a
WITNESS to a murder rap!"   But Dr. Solar doesn't finish so easily, as he
removes his radiatiion-shield cape  and begins to glow with heat.  The crooks are
baffled when their bullets  melt before touching the glowing Solar, and even
more nonplussed when he grabs  their gun and melts it too.  But as the crooks
try to flee, all are  distracted when the crystal rock begins to grow wiildly,
stimulated by the  radiation from Solar's body.  Quickly, Solar and the two
crooks are trapped  within the crystal as it grows to fill the entire room. 
Punching at the  crystal does no good, only causing it to grow further, and Solar
is inhibted in  his efforts to escape by the presence of the two crooks--
"This pair knows too  much of my secret already!"  He tries converting himself
into pure light,  blinding the hoods while he seeks an exit from the crystal. 
But even in  his light form Solar is unable to escape the crystal, which merely
reflects his  light-form back and forth.  But then Solar hatches a new plan,
deducing  that even though the crystal grows when struck, "no new matter is 
created".  If so, then the larger it gets, the more fragile it grows.   And so,
back in his human form, Solar strikes at the crystal again and again  until,
at last, it "shatters like a huge soap bubble!"

Freed of their  crystal prison, Solar and the crooks all grab for their
dropped gun (apparently  they had an extra one Solar didn't melt) but Solar gets
there first and gets the  drop on the crooks until police arrive.  He accuses
the crooks of murdering  the now-dead Wolson, but they in turn threaten to
expose Solar's secret;   "How can you believe that creep?  He isn't even human!  We
saw him  glowing so hot he MELTED BULLETS!  He even melted my gun!"  But
giving  Solar a knowing smile, one of the cops says he understands the bad guys'
ploy;  "You can't be electrocuted if you killed someone while you were INSANE!"
  Back at Atom Valley, Solar laments that the new element was lost since it 
disintegrated completely when the crystal burst, and further worries that his 
secret may be in danger.  But Dr. Clarkson relieves Solar of that fear by 
pointing out a newspaper headline; "WOLSON'S KILLERS FACE CHAIR-- Insanity Plea 
Story Not Believed By Jury!" 

The issue features a letters page,  "Solar's Science Forum", and one reader,
Gregg Way of Seattle, Washington, asks  for the identity of the uncredited
writer.  The editor says, "Solar's  adventures have been written by different
peopler and it's difficult to single  out any one of them for credit, " but "Most
of them, and all in this issue, were  written by Paul Newman, a regular
contributor to Gold Key Comics."    (The GCD confirms Paul S. Newman as writer of
the stories in this issue, and  also identifies Golden Age veteran Bob Fujitani
as the artist.)  Another  enthusiastic reader, Jim Connor of Key West,
Florida, urges the editor not to  include "space monsters" in Solar's adventures,
and is reassured, "Although the  basis of the character is pure fantasy, we try
to keep his adventures within the  realm of actual scientific fact.  Since the
existence of space monsters has  no basis in proven fact, Solar will probably
never meet one."  (I'm not  sure without reading through the rest of my set
of SOLAR whether that promise  was kept, but in any case, arguably there's a
lot better scientific  justification for believing in the existence of
extraterrestrial life, even  "space monsters", then there is for believing a man could
be exposed to a fatal  dose of radiation and gain the power to turn bodily
into radiation himself and  back again, rather than simply being killed.) 

(According to the GCD, this issue had an installment of SOLAR's regular 
filler feature, "Professor Harbinger".  He was an eccentric scientist who  in each
four-page story would address the reader describing some future  catastrophe
or bizarre change that science predcted would one day occur to the  world--
and then, at the end of the story, the Professor would be freaked out by  some
mundane chance occurrence that he thought was actually the start of the 
disaster of the issue.  I can't review the Harbinger story in SOLAR &5,  though,
since it seems to be absent from my copy, which has some loose pages in  the
centerfold area.  I guess I'm fortunate neither Solar story was  affected.) 

The second story in the issue, "The New Man of the  Atom", begins with a
burly, bald-headed, cigar-smoking man (who bears a  noticeable resemblance to Lex
Luthor), reading the same newspaper headline from  the end of the first story.
But he, Nuro, knows better than to imagine  that the two crooks' strange
story is merely a failed insanity plea.  He  hired the two thugs, and he believes
they fell afoul of the same atomic-powered  nemesis who foiled Nuro's
nefarious plans several times before--destroying a  "gold converter" that collected
gold at the cost of turning the seas  radioactive, wrecking a spy-in-the-sky
satellite, and exposing a minion with the  power of invisibility.  (All these
from earlier issues of SOLAR, of  course.)  But now Nuro has a clue to the
identity of his archfoe.  The  atomic-powered man must be the scientist who brought
the "strange crystal" to  New York in the first story, and a man with Nuro's
resources can find out who  that was.  Meanwile, the man in question, Dr.
Solar, is puzzled by a  mystery of his own-- why his hair, formerly dark brown,
has suddenly turned  white.  Solar's colleague and would-be girlfriend Dr. Gail
Sanders also is  startled by his hair change, but Solar warns her away from
him, starting to  reveal that he may be radioactive and cutting himself off. 
But when Solar  tries to confer privately with his one confidant, Dr. Clarkson,
Gail insists on  sticking around; "I WON'T leave!  For a long time I've been
afraid that the  sudden change in you was more than just (a) mental reaction
(to a reactor  accident)...You've acted strangely ever since!  You isolated
yourself--  never worked long with others, almost as if you might be DANGEROUS! 
Now I  want to know-- I HAVE to know!"  And so, at last, Solar reveals to Gail
the  secret otherwise "known only to (Clarkson), the head of security and the 
President"... the story of how the reactor accident turned him, Solar, into 
something both more and less than a normal human.  Upon learning the truth, 
Gail now understands why Solar has been so cool and reticent lately, but she 
wonders, "But you do still have human FEELINGS, don't you?"  Before he can 
answer he is interrupted by Clarkson, who has deduced the reason for the sudden 
whitening of his hair; "because of the enzymatic nature of hair follicles, 
that's where the slowest conversion took place!"  But Clarkson has a more 
important concern.  If Gail could deduce that there is something strange  about Dr.
Solar, so can others.  "I'm afraid your atomic powers CAN'T  remain secret
much longer!" 

But Solar has a possible answer to the  problem-- one familiar to all
superhero fans from the days of Siegel and Shuster  onwards, though in this comics
universe just entering the superhero age, Solar  thinks it's a brilliant new
stratagem.  "What if SOMEBODY ELSE seemed to be the Man of the Atom?  Suppose I
wore a UNIFORM and a headdress that would  HIDE my face (and) disguise me--
while identifying its wearer as the MAN OF THE  ATOM!"  (While talking, Solar
doodles a drawing of his proposed  "headdress"-- a cowl with a visor that,
probably coincidentally, closely  resembles the one worn by Cyclops, who debuted
with Marvel's X-Men just a few  months earlier.)  Clarkson muses, "Hmmm....you
mean deliberately set up a  red herring.... it MIGHT just work!" 

Meanwhile, however, the evil  Nuro sends his henchmen with flamethrowers to
set the prairie surrounding the  Atom Valley nuclear plant on fire, knowing
that the blaze will not only endanger  the station staff, but threaten to set off
nuclear missiles and ignite a  war.  That should be enough of a threat to
lure the mysterious "atom man"  out into the open, Nuro reasons.  And indeed, he
is right; Dr. Solar strips  off his normal clothes to reveal a bright red
bodysuit (apparently he took all  too literally Clarkson's comment about being a
"red herring").  A  distinctive emblem appears on his chest; "You certainly
picked the perfect  symbol-- the sign for RADIOACTIVITY!"  Nuro's flamethrowing
henchmen are  startled to witness a streak in the sky that resolves into a
red-clad figure on  the ground.  On Nuro's orders, they train their flamethrowers
directly on  him; "This flame is hot enough to stop a SHERMAN TANK!"  But it's
not hot  enough to stop the Man of the Atom, who wades through the stream of
fire as if  it were a warm breeze, and seizes the flamethrower hoses to melt
them.   Then a brilliant flash of light from Solar's body blinds and
incapacitates the  enemy agents. This leaves Solar, however, with the problem of
stopping the fire  they have already started.  It could be done by diverting a nearby
river to  flood the plain and the missile silos, but how can even the Man of
the Atom do  that?  It's Superman who has the might to "change the course of
mighty  rivers", but Solar improvises, turning his body (uniform and all) into
an  "atomic-powered drill" and digging a trench to lead the river water onto
the  burning prairie and into the silos, ending any chance of an accidental
missile  launch.  Firemen, arriving belatedly on the scene, are astonished by the
sight of the red-clad figure, and though he "blasts skyward in a crackling
bolt  of nuclear lightning", one of the firemen snaps a picture first.  The 
masked Man of the Atom appears on the front page of newspapers and is credited 
with preventing nuclear war, and Clarkson is delighted; "You've managed to 
establish a successful alter ego!"  "I only hope no one connects Solar the 
scientist with Solar, Man of the Atom!"  Not nearly so enthused is Nuro,  who
stabs the newspaper image of his foe with a knife blade; ""Blast that  mask!  I
STILL don't know who I'm fighting!   He must be some  supernatural creature with
extraordinary powers!  WHATEVER he is-- he must  be DESTROYED!"

And Nuro sure kept trying-- the bald-headed would-be world  conqueror was the
villain behind the scenes in nearly every issue of the DR:  SOLAR series,
whose original run continued through issue #27 dated in  1969.  The series was
rather low-key and cerebral for a superhero  comic,  with emphasis on science
(or at least pseudo-science) over  knock-down drag-out action or soap-opera
complications.  (Though a brief  four-issue rvival in 1981-82, written by one-time
Marvel scribe Roger McKenzie,  gave Solar a bad case of Marvel-style angst
over his inhuman condition and  inability to get close to friends and would-be
lovers.)  Still later, a  much altered version of Solar (dropping the "Doctor")
became a major feature of  the Valiant line of comics.  And currently, the
story reviewed above and  other early Gold Key SOLAR issues are available in a
hardcover archive-type  edition published by Dark Horse  Comics.