Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Max Fiumara and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
In Black Hammer, Jeff Lemire is playing around with the idea of superhero as genre. In that series, Lemire and his regular collaborator Dean Ormston are playing at telling superhero stories but also dramatic stories, comedic stories, and tragic stories. Using familiar superhero stories and character types, Lemire and Ormston are exploring many genres while wrapping the stories up in a superhero container. With the latest spinoff of Black Hammer, Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #1, Lemire and artist Max Fiumara tell the story of a very familiar science-powered superhero, continuing to use recognizable superheroes while trying to find new directions to push them.
Lemire and Fiumara obviously know what they’re doing here. Doctor Star’s real name is Jim Robinson, and when he appeared in an issue of Black Hammer, this was an amusing reference to James Robinson and his long run on DC’s Starman. Now the subject of his own series, Lemire and Fiumara turn Jim Robinson into their own Golden Age Starman in an almost beat-for-beat recreation of the old-time character. The timing is odd that a week after Lemire’s The Terrifics #1, a riff on Marvel’s Fantastic Four, comes out that he would now be doing a book for Dark Horse that’s a complete riff on DC’s Starman.
Within that frame of reference, Lemire constructs an origin story for Doctor Star that shows a driven scientist who’s given the opportunity to follow his heart’s desire thanks to the funding of the United States government who wants to beat Hitler in World War 2. The jump from fully-funded scientist to crime fighter is abrupt, never really giving Robinson a reason to assume a codename and go on adventures. The origin and motivations of the character are simple in a Golden Age kind of way with simplistic morals. “Might makes right” may be all of the reasons in the world for a man to use his superpowers to fight crime and war. Or maybe it’s just as simple as “what else are you going to do if you discover the ability to harness incredible powers through a scientific rod-like device?”
In drawing this familiar story, Fiumara also doesn’t stray too far from the established template. While moving away from the gothic horror that he did on Mike Mignola and Scott Allie’s Abe Sapien stories, Fiumara draws a fantastic mix of science, adventure, superheroes with a 1940’s flair to everything. His art along with Dave Stewart’s always immaculate choices in coloring conveys the highs and lows of Robinson’s own choices, from the exhilaration of finding the power that he believes into the lows of realizing what he’s lost along the way. For every choice that Robinson makes to use his powers to fight evil, the book marches forward to show the cost of those choices.
While the references for Lemire and Fiumara in Doctor Star #1 may be a bit too on the nose to its spiritual predecessor, it’s nothing too new because the Black Hammer stories have always worn their inspirations on their sleeves. Black Hammer is one of the best series right now because it uses these recognizable templates too spin stories off in all kinds of different directions. But in Doctor Star, Lemire and Fiumara stick too faithfully to the established models, practically retelling familiar stories, just using different names for their version of the characters.
Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrow #1 looks and reads as a very familiar story. It’s Lemire and Fiumara doing their own take on DC’s Starman and Justice Society characters. And this first issue offers an extremely faithful homage to James Robinson and his ground-breaking work. But for the series to stand on its own, it has to find a twist on what’s been done in the past. Lemire and Fiumara turn the homage upside-down in the final pages, offering their own spin on the story, so most of the issue feels like a cover-band version of Golden Age epics, the final pages hint that more will happen in future issues than just retelling old stories.