Time travel is one of the key plot devices of superhero comics. The medium allows creators to take advantage of the genre’s fantastic nature to tell stories about characters learning to better understand themselves and their worlds by traveling into the past and the future. Valiant’s Doctor Tomorrow is a hero built on time travel. The original Doctor Tomorrow was the young heir to an industrial fortune fighting in World War II, using mysterious technology from the future that he discovered in his father’s factory. That technology ends up being more of a burden than a blessing, and his new mission becomes stopping that tech from going back in time and changing his life. Valiant is bringing Doctor Tomorrow back next year for a new miniseries, and while it significantly changes the hero’s origin, it holds on to the core idea of a hero fighting against the future.
Written by Alejandro Arbona with art by Jim Towe, colorist Diego Rodriguez, and letterer Clayton Cowles, February’s Doctor Tomorrow series follows a modern-day teenage boy, Bart Simms, who meets his heroic alternate future self. “We set out to create a character that’s true to the spirit of the original Doctor Tomorrow and to some of that comic’s core themes,” says Arbona. “How do you fight a future that you know is inevitable? We knew we wanted to preserve the core concept of a man out of time, with a twist—except it’s a different twist. And we knew we wanted to launch a valuable new superhero who will join the ranks of the Valiant Universe and stick around to fill a new niche after this comic is over. From those rough starting points, I set out to write a wild time-traveling sci-fi superhero story that would also be deeply personal and heartfelt for me, and that would hopefully resonate with my collaborators on a similar level, so we could create something resonant and memorable for readers.”
“Introducing Doctor Tomorrow at Valiant is awesome,” says Towe. “But introducing him in an enormous, potentially cataclysmic event stretching across the entire Valiant Universe and beyond?! Sign me up! On the creative side, this series scratches a lot of artistic itches for me, including everything from baseball scenes to massive action sequences. Since starting up work on this project, every day has been a blast at the drawing board.” The A.V. Club has an exclusive look at Towe and Rodriguez’s unlettered artwork for Doctor Tomorrow #1, spotlighting the story’s huge stakes as it shows the villainous Hadrian battling it out with all of the Valiant heroes, aided by the new Doctor Tomorrow.
Towe is excited for the opportunity to design the new version of Doctor Tomorrow after spending the last few years drawing well-defined superhero properties like Spider-Man, Deadpool, and Youngblood. “When you’re working on an established character like Spider-Man, you’re up against decades of iconic depictions with regards to poses and character acting,” says Towe. “You want to bring your own visual interpretation, while also not deviating too far from what’s come before. Creating a new character is full-throttle creative freedom—establishing every visual aspect from the costume to their body language. It’s challenging, especially knowing that you’re responsible for laying the groundwork of a character that will go on to future interpretations, but it’s without a doubt an incredibly rewarding task creatively.”
A former editor for Marvel and Valiant, Arbona has spent a lot of time in the weeds of superhero comics, giving him a deep understanding of how these shared universes function as well as how to collaborate best with a team. “I’ve been a writer pretty much all my life, but for most of that time, I was only writing for myself,” says Arbona. “Meanwhile I’ve been an editor in comics for almost fifteen years, a number of those years with Valiant. So now when I sit down and write for Valiant, I can come to it with an editor’s sense of what they’re going to need from me, what they’re going to need from the story. They’re actually very different jobs, and I can only really be in one mindset or the other at a single time, so I depend a lot on the help of my editors Robert Meyers and Drew Baumgartner. Their oversight has been hugely constructive and valuable. But when I review my outline or read over my scripts again, my editor brain zeroes in a little better than my writer brain on what this comic needs to be.”
“Editing also gives me a sense of what my collaborators want from the story,” says Arbona. “It’s easy for a writer to get stuck in their own little silo, but with the bird’s-eye POV of an editor, I can be more mindful of Jim Towe’s needs as a collaborator, and try to make this a comic he’ll be really excited to draw. I think about the coloring and try to make sure different scenes have different backdrops and light sources and color palettes for Diego Rodriguez to show what he can do. Before I even finish writing a page I agonize that the lettering will need heavy lifting, but I count on Clayton Cowles (sorry to this man) because I know he’s so talented. Best of all, even though we’ll still have to wait to see how this goes over, I’ve spent so many years meeting and talking with comic book fans that I really hope we give them a comic they’ll love reading.”
This collaboration leads to greater enthusiasm as the art team gets the opportunity to show off the full range of its talent, and Towe is especially appreciative of the variation in Arbona’s script. “Alejandro’s the best, and getting this opportunity to work with him has been an absolute delight,” says Towe. “I think readers across the board will really dig the story Alejandro’s crafting here. His scripts really nail this great balance between gigantic superhero action and quieter character moments, all while neatly weaving these new characters into the Valiant tapestry.”
“As soon as [Jim] started showing us character designs, we knew this comic was capturing lightning in a bottle,” says Arbona. “Jim has been a great collaborator in the truest sense. We’re not just working separately, each on our own part. Jim’s ideas and his artwork are giving this story its shape and its life. My conception of the characters changed after he drew them and I saw them come alive. The ways I imagined our heroes’ costumes and their abilities changed after Jim drew them. He tried out different ideas of his own and they were so great that my ideas changed and grew as a result. When I turned in my first script with a scene of kids playing baseball, and Jim told us how excited he was to draw that, I overhauled my second script for him, and now that issue has a really fun set-piece that I never would have gotten the idea to write otherwise. This whole comic has been a lesson in the beauty of a fruitful collaboration, and I think it really, really shows on the page.”