Yang & Romita, Jr. Discuss the "Truth" Behind Superman's Big Change
This post is a day late, but I’ll make that up to you by discussing two works that pretty much everyone have forgotten from a company that pretty much everyone has forgotten (except as a joke more often than not… and the publisher of Quantum and Woody). That’s right, we’re talking Acclaim Comics and two of its quarterly event books, and spoilers will pop up.
Man of the Atom by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson was published in the spring of 1997, very early in the publishing history of Acclaim Comics, which was a relaunched/retooled version of Valiant Comics under the helm of Fabian Nicieza. It wasn’t a success, but did put out some interesting comics like the aforementioned Quantim and Woody, it had Garth Ennis and Ashley Wood relaunch Shadowman, and this comic here, Man of the Atom had Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson lay the ground work for a relaunch of Solar, Man of the Atom, Valiant’s flagship character. And, man, you wouldn’t know this was a Solar relaunch from reading it. How you respond to Man of the Atom depends on what you go into it expecting. If you want Solar, Man of the Atom being a superhero or even showing up, you’ll walk away disappointed. If you want Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson working together months before they would embark upon a five-year run on Transmetropolitan, showing why they are such a fantastic team… well, you still may walk away disappointed. I actually like this book, but also recongise that is may not impress everyone.
The issue focuses on Frank and Helena Seleski, twins who are in search of ‘God’s footprints,’ who want to discover the true nature of existence. Frank is a scientist, Helina studies theology, so they’ve got their bases covered. In this issue, Frank’s study of tachyons leads to a direct confrontation with what appears to be God, while Helena blackmails the Cardinal at the Vatican to gain access to its library, learning some disturbing things from a book published two years from then, sent to the past, that predicts the end of the world, which begins when God comes in the summer of 2007. The issue ends with the two knowing what’s coming and, oddly, prepared. This is what they’ve searched for their entire lives, so what fear they experience is balanced with some excitement.
I didn’t read this issue until after I became an Ellis fan, so I always approached it as such. Cool science talk? Check. Bastard/bitch progagonist(s)? Check. Weird alien conspiracy mention? Check. Comments about how Americans hate smoking? Check. I always enjoyed it for those reasons. Also, as The Ultimate Galactus Trilogy proved, Ellis has an affinity for these large, end-of-the-world stories, at least in building them. And he does that well here. Frank’s confrontation with the special effects humanoid figure that is apparently God is fantastic. ‘God’ tells him how he went back to the birth of the universe and watched it happen, and how that split the universe in two, referencing Frank’s own research, which shows that should you travel back in time, any changes you made would result in the creation of a new timeline… but, more than that, the act of observing something changes it via the observer’s intent, so what did ‘God’ intend when he witnessed the birth of the universe? That intention is what dictates the tone/rules/I don’t know what of this new universe. It’s also the beginning of the explanation as to why the Acclaim universe is a similar-yet-different version of the Valiant universe.
Man of the Atom also contains some fun stuff with the perverse Cardinal. What? I grew up going to Catholic school, so I have a weakness for fiction that outright mocks the Church and calls them on their hypocrises. Though, the Cardinal’s statement about taking orders from a Polish virgin always makes me laugh.
Robertson’s art is inconsistent in this issue, probably depending on which of the two inkers did that page. I love the page that shows both regular Frank and ‘evil’ Frank of the hypothetical universe where he blew up the classroom he’s lecturing in. It’s a great visual and Robertson nails it.
Man of the Atom doesn’t really go anywhere, only introducing the concept of God coming to Earth, bringing destruction, and the Seleski twins as our protagonists. As the first issue of a story, it would work quite well. Sadly, Ellis and Robertson moved on to Transmet at Helix and Acclaim published…
Revelations by Jim Krueger and Patrick Zircher is the follow-up and is a weaker read. I don’t know why Acclaim didn’t get Ellis for the next book in this story (or why they would switch writers yet again when doing the Solar, Man of the Atom: Hell on Earth mini-series) but it was a mistake. Revelations isn’t that bad, actually, it just never really goes anywhere. After the build of Man of the Atom, Revelations needed a bigger pay-off than we’re given.
The issue consists of a lot of short scenes that kill time until the last quarter where ‘God’ is revealed totally as Phil Seleski, the Solar from the Valiant Universe, who travelled back in time to recreate the universe so the love of his life, Gayle, could live and survive (I guess she died in the Valiant books), but it resulted in bigger changes than anticipated, including him never being born. The Seleski twins are what Phil would have been if he hadn’t created this new universe. In the end, he strips off his special effects skin and leaves the world, and the twins put it on, becoming ‘God’ themselves.
As I said, it all sort of builds and doesn’t offer much payoff. The point of this issue (this event even) seems to be explaining why this relaunched Valiant universe is different. It’s insider ball that isn’t required. Was anyone really demanding an explanation other than… the characters were purchased by a new company and they wanted to begin again? Instead of actually delivering a relaunched/retooled Solar/Man of the Atom, they brought back the old one to explain the changes. In the process, there’s an attempt to explore the nature of God, but nothing of any real substance is said. There’s a discussion between Phil and what’s-his-name-in-the-X-O-armour that is rather well done as X-O guy attacks Phil, while Phil almost acts like an omnipotent being, working around him, constantly beyond him. But, even that doesn’t get at the heart of the issue.
Patrick Zircher does some nice work here, although it’s a bit rushed in spots — and his heart doesn’t seem to be in the scenes with Magnus or the Eternal Warriors or any of the other forced cameos that add nothing to the story. Isn’t it great when even the artist suggests that certain scenes are worthless?
Next week, I’ll continue the look at this story with Solar, Man of the Atom: Hell on Earth by Christopher Priest, Patrick Zircher and ChrisCross, the four-issue mini that… if I recall, doesn’t really improve on what came before, but maybe I’ll be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.
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