Solar: Man of the Atom #2

Writer Frank Barbiere introduced the Seleski family last issue, establishing dad Phil as the character of Solar, son Colin trying to help his father control and understand his powers, and Colin’s twin sister Erica who doesn’t want much to do with either of them. With those intros out of the way, Barbiere focuses on Erica in “Solar: Man of the Atom” #2, and her unusual condition and experiences following last issue’s explosive conclusion. Consequently, artist Joe Bennett doesn’t get to draw the title character as much this time, but when he does Solar very much looks to be the Man of the Atom, and a powerful one at that.

Barbiere uses the ’90s Valiant Comics incarnation of the character as the template, but immediately throws a spotlight on the differences from that version, rather than the similarities. Most notable is the notion that Seleski has twin adult children, and in this issue Barbiere explores another disparate idea, namely that the adult child trying to distance herself from her father is the one now exhibiting some of his powers; powers that Phil himself as yet doesn’t even fully understand. Solar is largely a catalyst, one that Barbiere smartly uses as a launch point for a number of fresh and compelling story threads. There are other elements still that round out the story, like the armored alien whose appearance is evocative of Jack Kirby’s Thor villain, The Destroyer, but nonetheless looks impressive and plenty dangerous as rendered by Bennett.

Through all of Solar’s manifestations over the decades, though, the one thing that has remained largely consistent is his appearance, and Bennett plays along just as well as past artists have, although he doesn’t get much opportunity here to demonstrate that. But when he finally does on the story’s final page, his take is probably one of the most impressive in the character’s history; it’s far more dynamic than that typically seen in the competent but vanilla house-style art commonly used at the old Valiant, and almost rivals the beautifully painted covers by George Wilson during the original Gold Key run. This issue sports its own colorful, attention-grabbing, almost pop-art style cover by Juan Doe.

With the main character mostly in the background, Barbiere has to utilize more straightforward storytelling techniques than he did last issue, but he does so effectively. The issue starts off with a sequence that appears to be a flashback, and shows the early dynamic between Erica and her brother and father, or at least her recollection of it. The uncertainty of exactly what’s being told here is the first thing that grabs readers, and ties into the present-day and largely-unseen Solar. The rest of Erica’s story shows her bold and take-charge personality, one that’s further demonstrated through her own first-person narrative.

“Solar: Man of the Atom” #2 is what truly defines this series as a character-driven comic, and under Barbiere and Bennett it stands out as one of the better reinventions of this touch-and-go character. Solar himself has yet to be rigorously explored, but that’s just something that makes this comic even more enticing to readers.

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