Friday, August 6, 2010

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom #1

One of comics' more enduring characters, Solar has been around the block with far more publishers than any of his contemporaries, without undergoing so much as a single wardrobe revision. Bouncing from Gold Key to Valiant Comics, along for the ride when the latter transformed into Acclaim Comics, the character is back in the limelight with yet another new first issue under the Dark Horse banner. Likewise, the career of the new title's author, Jim Shooter, has enjoyed similar leaps and bounds across company lines. The big question, though, is whether an author who made his name in the mid-1970s still has what it takes to rejuvenate a character that didn't exactly connect with modern audiences in his last outing. The short answer? No. No, he certainly does not.

A brief monologue early in this issue provides a good example of what's wrong with Shooter's dated style of writing. Realizing that his creations are literally leaping off the page and coming to life, a struggling comic book writer embarks on a lengthy diatribe from his lonely home office. Problem is, there's nobody else in the room for him to talk to. He's literally emptying his brain to the reader, which wouldn't be completely terrible if he weren't taking so long to explain something that was fairly obvious from the first panel. Evidently subtlety and restraint aren't utensils that Jim Shooter has seen fit to carry in his toolbox this year. After all, why leave your readers to think for themselves when you can spell everything out in three dull pages of excessive dialog? Later, Solar himself goes into the same kind of word-heavy trance when outlying his far-fetched origins. Shooter overloads the scene with irrelevant details and still somehow forgets to make it even remotely interesting. It's like reading a textbook with bad illustrations.

Oh, right. The illustrations. Dennis Calero handles the entirety of Solar's art duties, from pencil and ink to digital color, but it quickly becomes clear that his contributions aren't worth any kind of celebration. The issue's visuals are stiff and awkward, lost in a futile attempt to follow in Jae Lee's somewhat minimal recent footsteps. While he successfully matches Lee's unusual habits in terms of shading and rendering, Calero's compositions are missing the attention to detail and impressive framing that's persistent in the Dark Tower alum's work. Solar's backdrops are also nowhere near as textured, so they feel sparse and empty without a valid reason. Calero tries to erase this shortcoming by way of a few digital coloring shortcuts, but they're really more of a cheap last-second bandage than a viable alternative to the issue's visual missteps. It's hollow, uncomfortable, third-rate work that would've single handedly kept this issue from being considered a serious work if the writing weren't also so dim.

The new Solar is about as much fun as a party with Stephen Hawking. If you wait long enough and stretch your brain far enough you might learn something new, but the road to get there is long and dry and you'll need a special encyclopedia and superhuman patience to understand it. It's overwritten but short on concept, accompanied by lazy, shoddy artwork and a wooden cast of characters. Don't waste your life in this way. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 1.5

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