'Power That Defies Logic' In Solar: Man of The Atom Released Today – Five Questions With Frank Barbiere

Solar: Man of the Atom is back, today in fact, arriving in shops from Dynamite Entertainment as part of their Gold Key line up. The comic maintains much of its pulp origin, and has all those classic elements super powers imbued through radiation and the lurking dangers thereof for the central character. But it's also a book that's going to surprise you, and a healthy dose of that surprise stems from the fact that Frank Barbiere was handed writing duties on the book.


He's the genre-story obsessive behind Image's Five Ghosts series with Chris Mooneyham and the current Dark Horse series The White Suits with Toby Cypress. Barbiere discovered Solar to be a book where he was given a lot of freedom to make bold choices, and you'll find it to be a comic that is infused with a very modern concern for our old heroic traditions while celebrating the vitality that still mesmerizes us. And the artwork by Joe Bennett is so energetic that you never feel like your looking through the lens of history at a legacy character.

I shot some questions at Frank Barbiere, exactly 5 in number, to try to gauge his motivations in updating Solar and hopefully catch a sneaky glimpse of where the book might be going.

Hannah Means-Shannon: What were the elements of the older Solar comics that interested you and you wanted to preserve in this new comic?

Frank Barbiere: Solar always had a backdrop of science and science fiction.  While my main intent has been to move the book to a more character driven focus, I think it's such a unique feel; the original 60's stuff didn't even have him in a costume until a few issues in, in order to combat the growing superhero craze!  I really wanted to explore the idea of what a scientist would do if he was given a level of power that defies logic–and as we reveal, we'll have a new Solar who is pretty much the opposite.  It sets up a really nice contrast for me that all goes back to character–what an individual does with power defines the story, not the "powers" themselves.

HMS: It's funny because superhero comics are not known for their ability to change, but change is the big thematic topic in this comic. How do you feel about the role of change in hero stories that span long periods of time?

FB: I think a lot of long running books go through periods where things just get stale.  We all know the origins, we all know the setups, and we all know that the good guys are going to punch the bad guys to submission.  When you start introducing changes to this, it's when stuff gets fun and exciting again.  Yeah, people frown at the term "reboot," but the chance to take something that's been proven as "workable" and apply the things that work to something fresh…that's exciting.  You get to mine something that has elements of greatness and try to apply that to your own work.  For me, I wanted to tell a story about family and the relationships within–by applying the framework of the Solar mythos it grew into the story it is.  I'm really happy with it, and I think fans who are open to something new are going to be absolutely thrilled.

HMS: This is something of a "generational" comic that brings Solar up to date. What did you want to bring into the story to make it more "modern" and reach out to current readers?

FB: I really just didn't want the book to be about a lamenting scientist who is "over" humanity.  We see that character in issue one of Solar, and while there is fun to writing him, he is not going to be the character that defines our Solar.  It's been pretty publicly announced that we're going to have a brand new character take the mantle–a female character at that–and it was really important for me to set up a foil for her in the first issue.  We really can't define how different she is, what makes her tick and how her use of the powers is different, unless we see the old way first.  And yeah, there's a million brilliant and fun ways to make the classic take on Solar cool, but I very much wanted this to be MY book…not my rehash of 90's Solar, or 60's Solar for that matter.  I'm just so thankful that Dynamite really let me go for it and change pretty much everything.


HMS: How'd you come up with all the math and equations, the general "science speak" in this issue? After all, you're known for being a proud English major, as in your work on Five Ghosts with all its literary allusions.

FB: To my chagrin, I did research.  In a turn of good fortune, my father is actually a nuclear physicist so I talked to him a bit, and I've been reaching out to a few more people.  I knew if we started throwing equations in there I'd have to make them at least semi-believable…in fact, in the first lettering passes I was just writing (equation) in the spots until my brother read it and said "You know that Alan Moore would actually do the research, right?"  That was a funny exchange, but he was right–if I was going to take this seriously I needed to dive in.  In the upcoming issues we actually will have some "consulting" from people who know a lot more than me to keep us at least semi-credible…but with our new Solar, well…she's not exactly a scientist so it'll give us some more leeway, haha.

HMS: Without giving too much away, this is a very emotional and powerful first issue. Did you know you needed to start off with a bang, so to speak? How did you decide on the structure of this arc?

FB: The arc definitely has a character driven pace to it where we're setting up a very different sort of origin story, so I was pretty conscious that I wanted to start with a bank robbery.  This is a fun, classic trope for our classic Solar to dive right into and really gives us the space to explore who Phil Seleski is–a scientist not interested in super heroics–and really to build an excellent foil for our new Solar.  I had a lot of fun writing Phil, but really we're laying a groundwork to be subverted–this is going to be a very different book, and it really is character driven at it's core…something a lot of fans probably aren't expecting.  I knew I wanted to end the first issue the way we did, and I knew a lot of the stuff between Erica and Phil was important…so that's where we dedicate the meat of the issue.  Getting to know these characters is the mission with our first few issues, and I'm really happy with the way it's unraveling.  It's been a blast and I can't wait for everyone to see what else we've got up our sleeves!


Solar: Man of the Atom debuts from Dynamite in comic shops today!

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Hannah Means ShannonAbout Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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