INTERVIEW: "Fantastic Four" EP On Character-Driven Approach, Sequel Plans
Comic Books, Film
And, so we continue our look back at Acclaim Comics’s reinvention of Solar, which began with Warren Ellis, continued through Jim Krueger, and ends here with a four-issue mini-series. Spoilers, of course. There are always spoilers.
Solar, Man of the Atom: Hell on Earth #1-4 by Chrisopher Priest, Patrick Zircher, and ChrisCross is a comic mini I found it difficult to get through. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help skimming over long speeches involving characters that I couldn’t care less about. The new Eternal Warriors and Turok? Whatever. X-O? Fuck off. I want to see the promise of Man of the Atom fulfilled, people, not some lame mini-crossover event. Except, it’s a mini-crossover event continuing in the tradition of Revelations rather than Man of the Atom, which was a horror story. There is nothing more terrifying than God coming to Earth. When does that not mean that the world is over? It always means that! Ellis understood that and treated his lead-in to that event as such: God visits Frank Seleski and gives him cancer just by being near him… and then takes the cancer away when he leaves. I don’t know why, but that idea scares me quite a bit. Nothing in Revelations or Hell on Earth gets near that… I’m not sure I blame Priest or Jim Krueger, because I don’t think Acclaim wanted something that would get near that. Acclaim made the mistake in the first place by hiring Warren Ellis to set up a story that would not be written. I had the hope during Revelations that things would improve with Priest, but they don’t. Despite beginning in a promising way.
If you’ll recall, Revelations ended with the Seleski twins joining together to form this universe’s Man of the Atom after Solar from 1999 in another universe shed his powers. (And, right there, we see a big area where this thing went off the railes…) This story begins with them destroying a city when trying to rescue a cat from a tree because moving around energy is far more complicated than they imagined. Okay, now we’re cookin’! Great idea! And where does that go…?
Nowhere. It goes nowhere. Concepts of the moral implications of their actions is raised and they decide not to use their powers anymore. Helena grows depressed. Frank is not quite like we’ve seen him before… it’s hard to match Ellis’s voice for characters, but Priest can’t do it. Add that Patrick Zircher has altered his actual physical appearance — longer, flowing hair, a muscular build… it doesn’t quite fit with what came before. From there, things devolve into a convoluted mess of Eternal Warriors preparing to kill ‘God,’ a man named Jimmy Six showing up and causing all sorts of trouble, plus things with some lesbians, Magnus, and appearances by Quantum and Woody.
I would go through the plot, but it didn’t engage me. It felt too ‘superheroey’ for my tastes, one stuck in odd conventions that didn’t quite match the subject matter of the story. The use of other Acclaim characters felt forced and unnecessary (particularly since they don’t actually do much to affect the twins); they go off and have their own little adventures that seem like they’re important but aren’t really. I’ve praised Jim Starlin for doing the same thing in his ’90s work for Marvel, but the difference there was simple: there, it was entertaining and came off like it matter, while, here, it isn’t and it doesn’t. So, forget those parts.
Frank and Helena Seleski as God. This is an idea that is not explored really, shunted to the side as the two argue and Priest creates a lot of internal melodrama between them that didn’t exist until this point. The dynamic between them is altered significantly in this story as it’s revealed that their father was a religious nut who molested her, leading Frank to kill him… somehow. As a result, Helena both worships and hates Frank. That’s different from their initial dynamic, which was more equal, more suggesting that they were lovers. Their candor and closeness always gave me that feeling rather than the one created here. Neither is ‘in charge’ or ‘god’ to the other. Both are bastards, not just Frank. Of course, that dynamic wouldn’t work for this story since their actions as Man of the Atom would be different. They were be more harmonious and unified in their vision… so where’s the conflict?
There’s very little to do with the idea of humans becoming ‘God’ that hasn’t been done before, especially within the confines of a superhero universe where the logical implications of what would happen cannot be followed through. Of course, these characters aren’t ‘God,’ because, while all-powerful, they lack the all-knowing element (though, if one is all-powerful, couldn’t they make themself all-knowing?) and that’s not interesting! One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is the god-like character that is omnipotent and omniscient, because there’s no way to write that character, because it has to know everything and how do you write a story with conflict and drama around such a character? It knows everything already! It can’t be surprised, it can’t be fooled, it can’t be stupid, it can’t be beaten, it can’t be engaged with in any ‘normal’ way… it’s beyond us, put simply. And there’s no learning curve to knowing everything: you either know it or you don’t. There’s no adjustment period to becoming all-powerful, because if you’re all-powerful, why do you need to adjust to anything?
My expectations of this work were unrealistic, honestly. They were my problem. It’s not fair to bring in outside ideas and hold the work accountable — even though we all do that with every piece of art/entertainment we encounter. That said, don’t raise the ideas if you’re not prepared to really deal with them. Again, I’m speaking of Acclaim Comics more than anything, because they didn’t help matters by having Ellis begin this story as he did with Man of the Atom.
What did we learn here? I don’t know, except that I didn’t enjoy reading Solar, Man of the Atom: Hell on Earth.
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