This year on May 1, the ninth annual Free Comic Book Day, Dark Horse is offering readers a taste of the much-anticipated relaunch of the Gold Key superhero line. Heroes such as Magnus, Robot Fighter; Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom; Turok, Son of Stone; and others that first appeared in the 1960s from publisher Gold Key and were later retooled at Jim Shooter's Valiant Comics in the 1990s are now under the Dark Horse umbrella, once again with Shooter at the helm. "Doctor Solar/Magnus, Robot Fighter" will introduce the first stories in the newly-rebooted universe, with new adventures written by Shooter and illustrated by Dennis Calero and Bill Reinhold. CBR News caught up with the free comic's creative team to discuss the issue and these new takes on classic characters.
The relaunch of the Gold Key line at Dark Horse, announced at San Diego's Comic-Con International in 2009, starts with the Free Comic Book Day issue, which features two complete stories. "Free Comic Book Day was a brilliant idea. It has gotten better and better," Shooter said of the annual event. "Ours is a wonderful storytelling medium, the best, in my opinion, and if giving away free samples gets more people to give it a try, then what's not to love about that? I'm thrilled that publishers are now competing with new stories, each one trying to outdo the other - but each one secretly hoping that all of the FCBD offerings are great, because anything that gets readers interested in comics benefits everyone who loves comics."
Shooter has been involved in rebooting these characters before, scripting their adventures during his tenure as editor-in-chief of Valiant Comics in the mid-1990s. Now, as then, Doctor Solar and Magnus will integrate the iconic aspects of the originals while starting with a fresh slate. CBR asked Shooter who Solar and Magnus are this time around. "During the catastrophic failure of a thermonuclear fusion experiment, Doctor Solar is imbued with godlike power and becomes the God of Energy, the living embodiment of the power of the sun," Shooter said of the new Solar's origins. "But cutting edge science can also empower evil. Doctor Solar battles super-enemies and forces beyond ken to defend all existence. 'Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom' is set here and now. The human drama is intense and the action is epic-scale. Doctor Solar is a hero like no other.
"'Magnus Robot Fighter' is set in the year 4,000 CE, a time of ease and luxury," Shooter continued. "After a robot rebellion very nearly led to the slaughter of humankind, 1-A, a robot created to have human feelings, trained Magnus from birth to achieve the pinnacle of human potential - steel-smashing strength, a disciplined mind and the will to conquer any enemy. When robots arise in revolt again, when any foe or force threatens, Magnus dares to defend our kind.
"If you're familiar with the wonderful, classic versions of these heroes, you'll be glad to see that everything you loved about them is still there, and more; if you aren't familiar, you'll quickly see why they became icons."
"Doctor Solar" and "Magnus, Robot Fighter" take place thousands of years apart, but Shooter said that they do occupy a "shared universe," of sorts, "in the sense that they're both set in the real world, our world. It's a shared universe in the same way that you and I live in a shared universe with Alexander the Great," he said.
As far as the stories in the FCBD issue, Shooter told CBR, "In 'Fallout,' Doctor Solar deals with vast repercussions of the nuclear disaster that empowered him and battles a brutal enemy with terrifying, unearthly power. In 'Eyes to the Blind,' Magnus hunts down a renegade robot and the near-invincible killing machine he has created. I think both stories are good first looks."
"Fallout," the "Doctor Solar" story, is illustrated by Dennis Calero, artist of Marvel's "X-Men Noir." Calero got his start with Doctor Solar and the onetime-Valiant characters as Jim Shooter's intern during his college years. "Working with him and Bob Layton and Jade [Moede] and all those guys made me want to do comics as a profession," he told CBR. "It was watching comics get made in a fun and creative environment that made me want to do this."
Calero said that, despite the fact that "visually, Solar is Solar," he still has the opportunity to add his own touches to the character's depiction. "I'm thinking of more in terms of his physicality," Calero said. "Jim has come up with an origin that's both familiar and brand new and different, and it will affect the way Solar interacts with the world, which, in a way, has become very objective and scarily pragmatic."
A strong degree of Doctor Solar's interaction deals with light effects, which Calero is also handling by acting as his own colorist. "I am doing lots of modern effects to express that Solar is a being of transcendent power, whose very existence in many ways is totally alien," he said.
As to the issue's other feature, artist Bill Reinhold said that, much like Calero's Solar, his take on Magnus will also be faithful to the original. "In general, Magnus the character and other major characters will have their classic appearance, with some small changes. After that, my own drawing style would direct any other spin," Reinhold said. "Magnus and other characters can look more modern without major re-haul. Subtle changes in hair style and civilian clothes. For instance, Magnus's hair by Russ Manning very much reflected the '50s or '60s. But you can update and keep him recognizable without giving him a typical haircut for today."
Reinhold also has the opportunity to work with a setting 2000 years into the future, which can be quite a playground for an artist. "Science fiction is always fun to draw since so much is left up to the imagination. I'm inspired by modern takes on sci-fi, but also enjoy a retro approach," Reinhold said. "Chances are, tech that far in the future would nearly be invisible and assimilated into everything around us. Sleek is nice, but a little gadgetry is very fun to draw also. I really enjoy drawing the futuristic continent-spanning city NORTH AM. and its many levels of civilization from the most modern to the ancient lower levels and it's population.
"I look forward to all the cutting edge ideas Jim will bring to these stories. It will be an illustrator's treasure trove!"
Though the "Doctor Solar/Magnus, Robot Fighter" flip book is free, many shops have a limit on how many freebies fans can take home. CBR News asked Shooter what he would say to readers on the fence to sway them to pick up this issue. "The cover alone, by Raymond Swanland, makes it a must-have," he said. "The interior art by Dennis Calero and Bill Reinhold is terrific. There are two complete stories, each the first appearance of classic characters reborn. Significant stories. These aren't mere teasers. I think it's a great choice."
Jim Shooter will be appearing at Jim Hanley's Universe in Manhattan on Free Comic Book Day, May 1, while Dennis Calero will be signing at the Midtown Comics flagship store and Bill Reinhold will appear at Amazing Fantasy in Frankfort, IL, southwest of Chicago.