First off, I promise that this is indeed a review of the Valiant Comic series Doctor Tomorrow, but before I get to the actual review proper I’d like to make what might at first seem to be a bit of a detour, however, I promise this will all connect. Of course, how well I make that connection is up to you to decide, but I feel this is an important topic I need to address before I move forward reviewing indie comics.
Recently on Twitter Heather Antos, a senior editor at Valiant and Image comics, caused a bit of a stir when she made the statement that pirating comics is wrong and is hurting the comic industry. As is inevitably the case whenever anyone criticizes piracy online, she had a number of people messaging her attempting to justify their piracy with claims such as that it brought wider awareness of indie books to the masses, encouraged people to step outside their comfort zone, and would lead to more readers down the line. All of these arguments were debated well by Ms. Antos, but it seemed that by the time the dust settled neither side had budged much in their stance.
Antos is not the only person connected to indie comics that has spoken out about internet piracy. Lonnie Nadler, author of the phenomenal Black Stars Above, has also recently spoken out against piracy, sharing that his book had been illegally viewed over 30,000 times online. That’s a staggering number, especially when one considers that the first issue of the book itself sold just over 7,000 copies. Now, I completely understand that not all of the 30k downloads would have necessarily been purchases, but if even half of the people who illegally downloaded that book had instead bought the work legally, it could have doubled the sales and encouraged Vault to continue to take risks with what they publish. For those who make the argument that these illegal downloads will lead to future sales, stories like this show just how infrequently that seems to be the case.
It should come as no surprise, but I do not support the illegal downloading of pirated comic content. I believe in rewarding publishers and creators that I like with my money, and I like encouraging indie publishers to take more risks with what they put on the shelves. Indie publishers do not rake in billions like Hollywood studios and record labels. Sadly I have seen good books, and even good publishers, die a slow death of a thousand cuts from lack of sales, and many indie creators have lamented how illegal downloads of their books have skyrocketed, while their sales, and hopes for continued publication, plummet. If we want there to be a diverse marketplace of interesting indie books, it’s important to throw whatever financial support we can behind creators and publishers, and do whatever we can to encourage them to take continued chances on unique ideas. Without financial support, these books and publishers will fold, and we’ll be stuck with only the most popular mass-market media.
So, what does this have to do with Doctor Tomorrow? Well, like many comic reviewers, I occasionally get solicitations from indie publishers that include pdfs of new books. There are a number of indie publishers whose books I could almost exclusively read for free because of this. Some might feel that I am paying for the free books by spending my time writing articles about them for the publishers, giving them press in return for the books; however, I like to take the time to also go out and buy physical copies of the books I review, to put my economic support behind my written support. I don’t like getting something for nothing, and I believe that the only way to really support the creation of ambitious new indie titles is to show the publishers that books like that will receive financial support from the community, which takes me to Doctor Tomorrow.
Here’s the blurb:
Teen hothead Bart Simms is about to meet the Valiant Universe’s greatest hero… himself! The can’t-miss superhero adventure of 2020 starts here!
Like with a lot of Valiant books, I don’t have a super-strong background in their characters. I have read bits and pieces off of ComiXology, and I did read the Doctor Mirage series that came out a few years back, which I enjoyed but also struggled a bit to understand in the larger context of the Valiant universe. I have a ComiXology subscription and did go back to reread some of the older books, and that has encouraged me to try out more Valiant in the future. That, by the way, is the proper way to uses reading online comics to support future artists. Comixology Unlimited allows you to “borrow” books like a library, and the publisher gets some kickback from your reading, meaning you are supporting the publishers while also getting a lot of books for cheap. Anyways, back to the review.
Valiant publishes solid comics, but they also have a unique disadvantage compared to many other indie publishers in that most of their characters have a long publication history and exist in a shared universe, which means that as they attempt to relaunch titles and bring in new readers, they also have to balance that out with the character histories and fanbases that set forward certain expectations. So where a normal indie mini from someone like Boom or Vault can be its own unique thing, Valiant books have to go a step further to draw readers in while also educating new readers as to what is going on so they can follow the story.
Issue 1 of Doctor Tomorrow is not the most reader-friendly first issue, seemingly by design. The issue begins with an epic superhero battle featuring all of the Valiant heroes (I think) struggling against some big bad named Hadrian. Leading the forces is Doctor Tomorrow, who it is implied has only recently arrived on this Earth. Hadrian quickly destroys the heroes, blows up the world, and steps into another dimension that might be the main Valiant Universe, I think, and then starts setting up for the next attack. Meanwhile, Doctor Tomorrow appears before a younger version of himself that exists in this new universe, tosses him a super-suit, and enlists him in the fight against Hadrian. This is a bit of a retelling of Doctor Tomorrow’s original origin story that I looked up, wherein he was a WWII age hero that got a super-suit from the future.
It took me a couple of read-throughs before I felt confident that I understood what was going on in the issue enough to actually follow the plot and write about it, and I still feel like I missed stuff. However, like I said previously, this is seemingly by design, and the reader is put into the same situation as our young protagonist Bart, trying to play catch-up in a crazy world that we are only just starting to understand. I still wish we had gotten a little more backstory in the first issue, and that author Alejandro Arbona had taken a bit more time with this first issue, but still, I felt it was overall solid and worth taking a chance on.
My issues with the first, um, issue aside, once I read issue 2 I felt like I had a much better grasp on the story and what was going on in the book, and issue 2 does take a bit more time to help the reader catch their breath and understand what is going on. That being said, issue 2 also introduces aliens and what appears to be an interdimensional scientist, I think, so yeah, I’m still not 100% sure on everything happening but I at least found myself enjoying the story more, and I was really interested in reading issue 3 right after.
Issue 3 was the best of this 5 part series so far. I don’t want to spoil anything but there is a big reveal that, sadly, I do feel would have worked better if more time had been spent on backstory at the beginning of the book, but still manages to elicit a bit of shocked surprise and set up the rest of this short series nicely. Overall, I have enjoyed what I have seen of this series so far, and I am looking forward to finishing off the series and seeing where it goes. If you passed on the first two issues or struggled with issue one like I did, let me encourage you to give Doctor Tomorrow a second chance, and to pick up issue 3 this week and see if you agree with me that it’s worth the work.
So, what am I trying to say with all of this? Well, I guess the best way to sum everything up is to say that we need indie publishers like Valiant comics, and we need to support them as best we can. Without indie publishers, we’re stuck with the constant loop that is Marvel and DC comics, the two juggernauts that spend most of their time trying to repeat the other’s success. Marvel and DC are not in the business of taking risks, they are in the business of cashing in on what they know will sell. We need indie publishers to not only provide an alternative to the big two but also to challenge them to try new things. Indies have always long served as a push for Marvel and DC, and if they were to disappear the comic market would be much bleaker because of it.
Without the financial support of the comic book community, indies simply will not survive. As comic book fans, I feel we have a duty to not try to justify piracy by saying that these are huge companies, or that “we were not going to buy those books anyways,” or any of the other excuses you can come up with. This doesn’t mean that you should blindly throw your money at something if it isn’t quality, but at the same time taking an occasional risk on a new indie title financially is not only a big help to the publisher but also to your LCS who took a gamble on those indies. If we want this crazy medium to continue churning out the weird, wacky, and wild then we need to do what we can to support it, especially right now when there is so much uncertainty in the world of comics.
So drop some cash, even if it’s for a single book or trade, check out something new, and keep comics different!