In Volume 2 and Volume 3 (probably also Volume 1, which I haven’t read), the main villain is a mysterious criminal mastermind named Nuro who uses a vast network of henchmen to carry out his dastardly capers around the world—all while never revealing his face. This volume is a little different, though. At the end of Volume 3, Nuro was killed by one of his evil plans gone awry, but not before transferring his mind into the body of his robot companion, Orun. Now, the minds of Orun and Nuro share a single body which is dubbed “King Cybernoid.”
King Cybernoid is the villain of this volume. He’s still bent on destroying the Man of the Atom in order to achieve his goal of . . . world domination? I’ve read three volumes, and I’m still unclear on that point. It’s probably world domination, though.
Gone now is the vast network of henchmen. Instead, it’s just Nuro and Orun and their indestructible titanium body against the world. They’re no less capable for that fact, though. Together, they destroy nuclear power plants, create all-terrain mechanical monsters that can create tornadoes and hurricanes on command, and attempt to conquer our world from a mirror dimension. King Cybernoid may, in fact, prove to be a bigger challenge to the Man of the Atom than Nuro ever was.
Then, around halfway through the volume, everything changes. It’s subtle at first. In Issue #28, the only thing different is the cover art. Other than that, it’s just another par-for-the-course adventure for the Man of the Atom, thwarting King Cybernoid’s latest plan. Same cheesy narration, same annoying kid sidekick . . . Nuro’s network of henchmen is back in his employ, though. That’s weird.
Then, at the beginning of Issue #29, his trusted colleague, Dr. Clarkson, calls Dr. Solar by his first name. In three volumes, no one has ever called Dr. Solar anything but Dr. Solar—not his colleagues, not his closest friends, not even his girlfriend. Now, suddenly, he’s “Ray.” His girlfriend Gail, on the other hand, is now “Dr. Sanders” for the very first time. She’s always held the doctorate, but she’s still just been “Gail” to all the menfolk, because she was a woman, and this was the '60s.
To top it all off, Ray Solar starts getting weirdly introspective, complaining about the terrible curse his powers have brought him, the danger it poses to others, the loneliness it brings him, and whether or not he’d be better off dead. Wow, this is getting kind of dark for a cheesy '60s—oh, I see what happened.
It seems we’ve made a time jump. Issue #27 was published in 1969. Issue #28 came out in 1981, and the remainder of this volume is from an attempted reboot of the series. The characters are deeper and more fleshed out now, but the adventures are less so. They’re still fun and interesting, but they’re shorter and don’t explore the full spectrum of the Man of the Atom’s powers quite as much.
This is not to say they’re not entertaining. There’s still plenty of action, and the better use of the characters makes up for anything the comics may be lacking. Sadly, it would seem that the audience of the time did not agree with my assessment, as the reboot lasted only 4 issues—all of which are collected here.
Finally, we jump in time once more, this time to 1975, with a bizarre crossover issue. The Man of the Atom makes a guest appearance in The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor, a comic about a brooding paranormal investigator who battles against ancient evils. It’s got sort of a Poe-esque writing style, and its villains are ancient witches and Dark Gods. It’s an interesting read, to be sure, but it’s clear from the get-go that Dr. Solar, man of science and atomic energy, does not belong in this comic.
Wikipedia tells me that the Doctor Solar comic was resurrected again in 1991, and I do hope that Dark Horse plans on collecting those issues together as well, as the story arc sounds fascinating. In the meantime, though, it’s hard to go wrong with Doctor Solar: Volume 4. It has the best of both worlds: cheesy '60s awesomeness, plus deeper, character-driven stories from the '80s. It’s got a number of great adventures from both eras—plus an evil robot criminal mastermind. Yeah, this one is definitely worth reading.