Frank Barbiere on the Sci-Fi Spin of "Solar: Man of the Atom"

For writer Frank Barbiere, writing Dynamite Entertainment's new "Solar: Man of the Atom" relaunch has been a strange experience.

Based on the classic Gold Key superhero and the latest in a line of Dynamite revivals that includes "Turok" and "Magnus: Robot Fighter," the new "Solar" series sees "Five Ghosts" and "The White Suits" writer Barbiere joining the likes of Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and Mark Waid to craft a new universe around the characters. But while those writers have largely collaborated together before -- and with line editor Nate Cosby -- Barbiere is the odd man out in some ways, which he feels fits the the radiation-suit wearing demigod of a hero just fine.

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"It's been flattering," the writer told CBR News about April's "Solar" launch with artist Joe Bennett. "This came about because Nick Barrucci at Dynamite really liked 'Five Ghosts' when it came out. He called me and was a really sincere, cool dude and asked about doing work at Dynamite. I'm like a nobody, so I said 'Of course!' I had no idea what that relationship would be, but he came back telling me about the Gold Key stuff. Then Nate e-mailed me separately not knowing that Nick had reached out and saying, 'Hey I'm doing this superhero thing, but I can't say what it is. Would you be interested in pitching?' And I said, 'Is it Gold Key? Because Nick already told me about that.'"

Once hired on for the team, Barbiere was surprised at how much leeway he was given with the sci-fi driven hero created by writer Paul S. Newman and editor Matt Murphy in 1962. "They handed me the premise and said, 'Do what you want. Just make this good.' I was really excited for that, but I also wasn't expecting it at all. I thought this would be a very closely curated book where I had to use all the character's history. But it continues to be an awesome experience because I'm writing it like a creator-owned book," he said. "For the whole Gold Key launch, the one rule has been for the books to be good. There's an exciting feeling of reinvention that I think will catch people off guard if they expect this to be very by the book."

As for Solar in particular, the writer noted, "I feel like Solar has been through so many iterations, and he's never really been a huge breakout character -- [this series is] a hard reinvention of the character, and at the root of that is we've given him a family. Each member of his family is a fully fledged character. It's not just 'I am daughter. I am wife. I am son.' We've given him something that helps define him as a character.

"It's approached from an almost sci-fi angle rather than punching people in the face," Barbiere added. "What's fun about it is that while I'm a huge fan of superheroes, my brain goes in a different direction. My favorite book of all time is 'Ex Machina' by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, and that's a superhero book in a very limited sense. Solar is very interesting because he's not a rough and tumble, 'punch everything' kind of superhero. He has a crazy, diverse power set. He can basically control all kinds of energy, and that's fun as a writer. The character is a genius, and he has unlimited power. So what can you do with that? We open immediately right in the action with him and show you how he processes the world, how he thinks about his powers and how he views himself."

While Solar does have a relaunch pedigree that's seen him revived several times -- notably at Valiant in the 1990s - Barbiere worked on the hero from the ground up without getting bogged down in his previous stories. "I felt like we needed to make this interesting past him being able to fly through space. I thought up what would make an interesting superhero book to me considering that power set, and then afterwards I went back and read a lot of the previous stuff. There's been a lot of good work done on the character, but I only looked at it retroactively. I think this will stand alone.

"There's a lot I'm building back in from the '60s mythology, and the '90s stuff I've looked at, too. We did want to make sure that people who read those books and identified with those takes would like this. But it was really important for me to give the character a much more firm foundation in terms of what makes him interesting and what the stakes in his life are."

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The writer is also hoping that the different take on the character will extend to the visuals on the book. "The artist on the series is Joe Bennett who's done a lot of great work, but I think he really caught the energy and the newness of Solar," he said. "It's been amazing to see what he's turned in, and I think people are going to be really surprised by the art. Then our colorist is Lauren Affe who does 'Five Ghosts' as well as 'Turok.' She really adds something to the mix, so the book looks awesome."

Overall, Solar's story from family scientist to godlike superhero will stand on its own, but that doesn't mean Barbiere hasn't been in touch with the res of this Gold Key brethren. "I talked a lot with Nate and Fred, Greg and Mark, so we've built this universe together. No one had to claim anything or demand that certain threads run through everything. The stories have been written on their own so they can be self contained," he said. "The nicest part of this was literally them giving me the agency to do what I want with this. Nate is an awesome editor with a lot of history, and there's a lot of trust built between the teams. I think the story we're doing here wouldn't necessarily fit with a more controlling take on the character."

"Solar: Man of the Atom" #1 arrives in April from Dynamite Entertainment.

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