onsdag 11 maj 2011

Jim Shooter: "Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom: Troublemaker"

Jim Shooter is back. Now he's writing "Doctor Solar" for Dark Horse, and he's doing a very good job of it.

Physicist Phil Solar finds himself in the middle of a singularity when an experiment with a supercollider-generated micro black hole used to generate fusion power. In his last nanosecond of consciousness when shredded to quarks, he somehow took control of the energies swirling around him and remade himself – only younger and fitter, and with control over the energies that had threatened to destroy not just himself, but the world itself.

Or something like that.

Anyway, reshaping himself, and to some extent the time-space continuum, Doctor Solar damaged reality as we know it, generating anomalies that will come to haunt him. The first major threat created by this is the problem he needs to solve in Troublemaker. A writer of shoddy fantasy adventure stories gains the power to make his creations come alive. The first, a huge brawler named Leviathan, is an accident, but when he realizes what has happened seeing Leviathan on television wreaking havoc, the writer decides to make another of his characters, the impossibly curvy sexpot named Glow, come to life. She's a disappointment, though, because the "musky scent" he's equipped her with in the novels turns out to be so strong as to be a major turn-off.

So Doctor Solar not only has to deal with the major disruption of his own life that the accident (actually caused by sabotage) has caused – everybody thinks he's dead, and even apart from that, he's got issues to work through – he also has to track down the fantasy writer, Whitmore Pickerel, and tell him to can it. No more creature creation. Pickerel promises not to, and then, after Leviathan and Glow get together and have noisy sex in his apartment, creates a woman more to his own tastes – beautiful, kind and caring Susan. Then, he creates a protector to protect them against both Leviathan and Doctor Solar.

Only problem is, the protector turns out to be anything but. Instead, he's Mesopotamian god Moloch, come here to Earth to rule it and eat its children. He forces Pickerel to use his imagination to create an army for him with which to defeat Doctor Solar and take over the world, and also takes over Pickerel's newly-created ideal woman Susan as his own. And then he launches his war on Earth and Doctor Solar, and unfortunately, the latter is somewhat busy trying to sort out his feelings for a beautiful young co-worker to give the fight against Moloch his full attention...

In this book, Shooter shows his talent for creating complicated, interesting characters – both Phil Solar and Whitmore Pickerel are more than just cardboard stereotypes – and putting them in situations ripe with moral and other dilemmas. Shooter had a maxim that a character's conflicts was what revealed his/her character to the reader, and it's still a sound principle for storytelling.

He also – like he did very well in "Star Brand", in Marvel's abortive "New Universe" – explores the situation of suddenly gaining tremendous power, and does so in an interesting manner, revealing more and more about Phil Solar and his situation in the process. The trials and tribulations of Glow and Leviathan, trying to make their way in a world they didn't create, and didn't even really know about two days ago, is also interestingly depicted.

So all in all, this is very much worth your while. I have only two reservations. The first has to do with the artist of the first quarter of the book, whose artwork is unfortunately rather weak, consisting to a too-large extent of uninteresting talking heads. Then, Roger Robinson takes over the art chores with a Howard Chaykin-influenced style that works quite OK. The second is the casual raping of Susan by Moloch. It is not shown in pictures, but it's obvious that is what it is, and it does leave a sour taste in my mouth. I know very well that Moloch is supposed to be the ultimate evil and all that, but it is all too common for writers of fiction to throw in a casual killing or rape in order to establish what an evil character they're depicting – see Gladiator, Tombstone and a host of other films for examples of that – and I may be a bit too sensitive on the behalf of the fictional characters being fictionally killed, raped etc, but I simply don't like it. (See Women in Refrigerators for some of the consequences of this stereotypical method of writing. I don't think it has anything to do with misogyny; it's just that the majority of superheroes are men, so it's their girlfriends who take the heat when people around them get hurt by the inherent dangers of their trade – you tend to keep the main character, the superhero, alive for as long as possible, so if anybody'll die that'll have a tremendous negative impact on him, it's more likely to be his girlfriend than him.)

Anyway, recommended. Shooter is an excellent writer, and this does look like a promising series.

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