Friday afternoon at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, the team behind Dark Horse’s relaunch of “Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom,” “Magnus, Robot Fighter” and “Turok” gathered to discuss the upcoming series, which debuts with a Solar/Magnus flip book on Free Comic Book Day. On hand for the panel were Director of Publicity Jeremy Atkins, “Doctor Solar” artist Dennis Calero, “Magnus” artist Bill Reinhold, writer Jim Shooter, and editor Chris Warner.
After an introduction by Atkins, Shooter began the panel by describing his history with these characters, which he once revitalized at Valiant Comics in the 1990s. “They did pretty well, for a while. After I left, I’m not so sure,” Shooter said of the Valiant books. “[Dark Horse Publisher] Mike Richardson had always wanted the rights to those characters, as the legend goes, and he was actually trying to acquire them around the same time I was.” After three years of trying to get the characters restored at Dark Horse, “things came together before the San Diego convention last year,” Shooter said.
The chance to do things over, Shooter added, “forced me to rethink everything, and maybe do things a little smarter this time.”
Calero took the mic next, also sharing his background. “My first experience with Solar was actually interning with Jim at Valiant years ago,” Calero said, adding that the day-to-day excitement of working in comics changed his career path – he had nearly finished a degree in architecture.
Though Reinhold only began studying “Magnus” and the character’s history upon coming on to the new title, he said that “I’m just excited because the whole universe of Magnus, Robot Fighter has so many layers of possibilities”
Atkins added, “Let’s be honest: a guy who fights robots is timeless.”
Chris Warner, who will be editing all of the new series, has a somewhat longer history with these characters. “I’m old enough to have bought ‘Doctor Solar’ books off the stands when I was a kid,” Warner said. He noted that the Gold Key books, with their painted covers, stood out from other comics available at the time. “Magnus and Solar and Turok; there was nothing like them before,” he added. “The first time I saw that red costume and that visor – this is just so cool. Or for Turok, a guy fighting dinosaurs with a bow and arrow – this is probably not a good idea.”
In keeping with those covers that first caught his eye, Warner said that the new series would “bring that cover feel, as well, but with artists who are a little more contemporary.” Both of the announced artists, Raymond Swanland on “Magnus” and Michael Komarck on “Solar,” are new to comics but were brought over by Warner from the world of Magic: The Gathering. Speaking of Komarck, Warner said, “he had never done comics but when I offered him the gig he said, ‘God, that would be fun.’ And, of course, the first thing he turns in is mind-blowing.”
Reinhold then discussed his thoughts and artistic process on bringing “Magnus” to life. “With this story, we were touching on the classic, with the look and feel of the robots, which I had a a lot of fun doing,” he said. “I like a lot of the designs from the old stuff. I don’t know if I’d call it as much of a challenge as an enjoyment, of dealing with these characters in a futuristic setting, with these robots, and deciding how many pieces they’re going to break into when you smash them.
“When you’re dealing with these characters who are not human, you get to do things you might not do if they were human,” he said, in reference to a displayed page of exploding ‘bots. “If these were humans, you might have to rate this book differently.”
Even so, Warner noted that there are some unsettling questions posed by the series. “The robots look like robots, but these are artificial intelligences – they have personalities,” he said. “It was part of the story that was – uncomfortable isn’t the word for it, but the emotional space was unusual compared to what you would expect from this type of character.”
Several members of the panel discussed Shooter’s lengthy scripts, which the writer said could run 15,000 words and have reference materials embedded. “Jim can come up with some very challenging things for the artist to construct, but it helps to see the writer thinking through it visually,” Warner said.
Warner, who broke in as an artist when Shooter was editor-in-chief of Marvel, recalled that, “Once you start getting work at marvel, Jim would bring you in to the office and give you the fifty-cent storytelling lecture. It was called that because comics were fifty cents–now it would be like $4.95.” The lecture was comprised of a run-through of a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby issue of “Fantastic Four.” “Jim had this fundamental understanding of how things relate,” Warner said.
Called upon to discuss his own artistic processes, Calero said, “To me, clearly what Jim is doing with Solar is creating a science fiction epic. This is a science fiction story where some of the characters happen to wear costumes, it has some super hero tropes.”
“There are reasons for the costumes,” Shooter said.
“There’s a level of strangeness and oddness I’m trying to bring to this, in addition to action and wonder,” Calero continued. “I’m actually entertained when I’m reading [Shooter’s] scripts, which is not par for the course when I’m reading scripts. In their entertaining you, it tells you what the reader will find entertaining.”
Shooter then talked through his ideas for reinventing existing characters. “If I have iconic characters, I try to think about what most people would know about this character,” he said, calling upon the idea that, if one hundred people were asked, what would they say about the hero. “Anything that is the essence of the character, you keep that; any of those things around the edges, you can change them – you don’t have to, but you can.”
Shooter also mentioned an origin, or #0 issue, for each series, though they will not be the first issues that appear, and at this time it is undecided how and if these will be rolled out. He noted that, for the modern Doctor Solar’s origin, “I can’t have him walk across an atomic pile” as the original had done, and his solution was to “invent a new way to build a fusion reactor.” “I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The writer also said that there were aspects from the original “Turok” he felt he needed to explain in order to make the character credible, such as the fact that he knows how to fish despite the fact that his established tribe did not. “He’s traveled a lot,” Shooter offered.
Warner noted that Shooter’s practice of writing an origin issue in advance of the series, even if it was not going to be the first issue, was an unusual but useful idea. “Back in the day, every first issue was an origin story,” Warner said. “Sometimes that works; sometimes what it takes to get from dude to super-dude is not the most interesting way to get into the story.” Warner said, though, that too often when the origin story is put off, that origin “gets gassy” as more and more is added to a character’s back story without a clear beginning point. “Knowing that origin from day one, [Shooter] can tell a story that takes place down the line with that origin always in mind, so that when it rolls out later it works much better.”
Shooter added that a strong secret origin “sets up an intrigue that, when we finally do the zero issue, people will be looking forward to it.”
Atkins then opened the floor to questions.
Asked whether Turok, Magnus, and Doctor Solar would occupy a shared universe, Shooter said, “Unless I’m asked to write something that takes place in the land of Oz, the stories I write take place on Earth.” He further explained by saying, “in the sense that you and I live in a shared universe with Alexander the Great, yes.” If an eventual story warrants, though, they could indeed cross over, or events in one could affect the world of the others.
As to whether Shooter’s new line would parallel his work at Valiant in another way, by using the Gold Key characters to anchor new or other neglected super heroes, the writer had an enigmatic reply: “Let’s just say, watch!”
One Valiant practice a fan begged not to see repeated was coupon-clipping sendaway issues. “Gotcha,” Shooter said. “When we did that at Valiant, the only thing we can say in our defense was that we never made a dime off those things. It was all free, even those foil covers, we gave them to retailers. It was like giving them a gold record. Of course, that doesn’t redeem us.” Working with Dark Hore, though, Shooter said such things would be unlikely anyway. “I think you can expect the high road.”
Calero, recalling his intern days, said, “those ideas weren’t generated because we thought, hey this will make us a lot of money. It was, wouldn’t it be cool if the issue where Solar creates a black hole had an entirely black cover, and wouldn’t it be funny if Barry [Windsor-Smith]’s signature was in the corner of it.”
“And I paid him for it!” Shooter added.