Doctor Tomorrow #1: Valiant’s Big Departure is One of its Best
Doctor Tomorrow #1
Written by Alejandro Arbona
Art by Jim Towe
Variant Covers by Kenneth Rocafort, Stacey Lee, Raul Allen, Doug Braithwaite
Published by Valiant Entertainment
In what Valiant has dubbed “The Year of Heroes”, late 2019 and 2020 has already seen the company bring in a slew of new writers and artists to try their hand at building upon and expanding the current and back catalog of Valiant characters in a mostly successful manner. Of course, Valiant has gifted their staple characters like Bloodshot and Rai to new teams of creators, but have also drawn upon the talents of these new creators to revive some of their more lesser known characters as well. This is where Doctor Tomorrow comes in: a superhero comic through and through with a nostalgic Saturday-Morning-Cartoon aesthetic and a narrative built around classic time travel tropes.
Doctor Tomorrow #1
I will have to say when I first saw that Valiant was giving readers an updated Doctor Tomorrow comic, all I could do was smile. Upon his first iteration, this character was a joy to read and melded history and superheroes to great effect. Originally launched during the VH2 generation of Valiant, a generation that saw the company bought out by video game publisher Acclaim Entertainment, the comic chronicled the exploits of Bart Simms as he traveled through time to affect the course of history. The series was created by Valiant veterans Bob Layton taking writing duties, along with Don Perlin handling pencils. The series would run for a total of 12 issues and told of Doctor Tomorrow’s battles against Nazi’s, his blacklisting at the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy and even fighting the Vietcong alongside Gilad the Eternal Warrior. Unfortunately, the series concluded in 1999 with Layton leaving his post as writer because of creative differences with Acclaim, and the character has been out of commission since.
Just as the original Doctor Tomorrow’s adventures saw him jumping through periods of time, we have now jumped into 2020, a little over two decades since the original character’s run ended, to the release of Doctor Tomorrow #1. This new series from Valiant sees Love is Love contributor Alejandro Arbona and Spider-Man/Deadpool artist Jim Towe pool their talents to bring this character and his world to life in amazing ways. If you are looking for a genuine superhero book among Valiant’s league of anti-heroes, then this series will be a breath of fresh air for you.
Spoiler Warning! Proceed at your own risk!
Doctor Tomorrow begins en media res with an action scene that sets an extremely high bar for the rest of the series, and a bar that I hope the book will meet in future issues. Doctor Tomorrow is knocked through a skyscraper and into the ground with such force it creates a crater. Getting up unscathed, we see him fly back towards a battle at supersonic speed. Using effective page to page pacing, we see he arrives as a mysterious, purple caped villain is literally facing down the entirety of the Valiant Universe. We see Shadowman, X-O Manowar, Ninja-K, Eternal Warrior, Hard Corps, Savage, Faith, Peter Stanchek and even the Red Legend from Divinity III. We even get hints at the power Doctor Tomorrow holds as he corrects Aric’s approach to fighting this villain upon his arrival; now that’s clout! Bright colors and bold lines frame the action for the next few pages, but the book does not shy away from a bit of shock value and violence with Hadrian, we learn the villain’s name a few pages in, shooting energy blasts from his hands, disintegrating a few of our Valiant favorites with relative ease. At the conclusion of this battle Hadrian inserts a purple vial into his chest and causes black hole-like “vacuum decay” to envelope Earth. Before destroying the world, Hadrian says, “It’s only the beginning,” even as we as the audience, see this world ending. This was the perfect way to begin this book, as Arbona and Towe have constructed such an enticing narrative and visual hook in these first 8 pages, I could not stop there.
The rest of the book serves as an exposition piece to establish a creative foundation for this book to flourish, and we are given just enough character development to keep us invested in this story; characters. We are introduced to a teenager Bart Simms and his friend Gretchen in Berkeley, California. The two are doing some batting practice while quizzing one another about topics from their physics class. We learn that Bart’s mother has passed away and his relationship with his father is strained. We are presented with a few scenes that highlight the strained relationship between Bart and his father and these work extremely well in the context of the story. I found that these scenes were effective in their appeal to my emotions as the pacing and art made them highly relatable along with the fact that these types of issues are ubiquitous in every family. Positioning this scene immediately after the action also alludes to a classic narrative structure built around catharsis, a building up and relieving of emotions.
Soon after a fight with some other teenagers who happen to be picking on Bart, we see an explosion occur nearby. Upon running up to the crater, an older Bart in the Doctor Tomorrow costume emerges from the dust and smoke, and informs younger Bart that he needs him to, “save the universe.” Meanwhile in Long Island, New York, we see another explosion near a power station and Hadrian floats up into the panel wanting a superconductor for an unexplained reason. These two scenes continue the trend of effective narrative pacing and serve to draw a distinct dichotomy between Doctor Tomorrow and Hadrian. This reinforces the classic superhero versus supervillain archetypes on display in this book and builds up an atmosphere of nostalgia. Future Bart then gives young Bart his own Doctor Tomorrow suit and explains that he is technically not from his particular dimension, but an alternate reality. He says it is, “…complicated science,” so I will take his word for it. Young Bart activates the suit, and we are presented with a newly, knighted non-alternate reality Doctor Tomorrow. When Young Bart activates his suit; however, readers are presented with monitors turning on “elsewhere” in the universe. An alien and young woman are alerted to another “vacuum decay” occurring on this day because Bart activated his suit and thus another example of how to masterfully frame a narrative relating our first glimpses of Doctor Tomorrow with the conclusion of this issue.
Doctor Tomorrow #1
So far, I have heaped praise on this issue for its story pacing and balance, classic superhero versus supervillain plot and bright and vivid colors and action, but there is one aspect of this issue that I felt was a bit heavy-handed. After Bart and Gretchen’s altercation with a couple of kids in the neighborhood, the two have a conversation about reacting to the situation from a place of anger and the difference between right and wrong. Of course, I get why this is included. From a narrative perspective it makes sense to foreshadow or hint at the possible struggles of the hero, but the way it is presented in the book, it comes off as overly didactic. In my opinion, it does not affect the pacing in a major way, but for one whole page the pacing falters ever so slightly because of this.
Overall, Doctor Tomorrow #1 is an excellent book. From the the colorful and energetic action scenes to the well-paced and classically structured narrative, it sets and maintains a standard that I hope it carries through each and every issue. I am a huge Valiant fan and thoroughly enjoy reading the stories of their stable of heroes, but I did not realize how much of a breath of fresh air Arbona’s take on a straightforward and classic superhero versus supervillain series would be. Couple that with Jim Towe’s clean and vibrant aesthetic, and this book begs to be read. I am ready to learn more about the mysteries established in this issue and what storylines inevitably are birthed by this series. Doctor Tomorrow comes highly recommended.