Doctor Tomorrow is a five-issue mini-series from Valiant Entertainment written by Alejandro Arbona with art by Jim Towe. Issue three-hit your local comic book store this week with a major plot twist. Thanks to Valiant, Monkeys Fighting Robots has an exclusive interview with Arbona.
About Doctor Tomorrow:
Doctor Tomorrow first appeared in Operation: Stormbreaker #1 back 1997, and was created by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn. The character is reimagined as a teen hothead and star athlete, Bart Simms. He is about to meet the Valiant Universe’s greatest hero…Himself!
WARNING! – There are spoilers below if you have yet to read Doctor Tomorrow #3.
Enjoy The Interview With Alejandro Arbona
MFR – Doctor Tomorrow deals with time travel and a multiverse, how much world-building was involved?
Arbona – The beauty of working in a shared universe is that there’s already a lot of world-building ready for us to run with, from time travel and giant robots to big, colorful superheroics. At the same time, this is a story we basically cooked up from scratch. The multiverse came up a little bit toward the end of the run of Ivar, Timewalker by Fred Van Lente and Pere Pérez, but for the purposes of this story, we had to build up how all of it works, what the rules are, what the stakes are. But the funny part is that we actually did so much world-building that a lot of it never even made it into the comic, and since this part of the story is over, we’ll never have a chance again. For instance, we’d initially planned a scene where Faith helped out with Bart’s flying lesson. Doctor Tomorrow was really excited to meet her, because 20 years ahead in his own universe, she’s a famous, beloved hero, as Joshua Dysart and Kano established in a comic that I was editor of, Book of Death: Harbinger, where we saw tens of thousands of people turn out in droves to grieve at her funeral. In my original outline of the flying lesson, Doc was so starstruck to meet Faith that he blurted out, “I was at your funeral!” and she got super creeped out. Naturally, that was also meant to foreshadow that Doc turns out to be a huge creep in a lot of ways. Spoiler!
MFR – There is a twist in issue three, can you talk about how you set up the reader for the twist?
Arbona – There’s a lot that we laid in, during the first two issues, that pays off in issue three, and I think you can see it in the re-read. Doctor Tomorrow is really arrogant and pretty awful in a lot of ways. At first, you might not think about it, because he’s a commanding, take-charge leader, and an alpha superhero type. But look again. He’s quick to give in to anger, quick to resort to violence. He always jumps to the first conclusion, and jumps straight into a fight. And when you realize how much unhappiness and anger the teen Bart has, and how badly he copes with it, you can see how he’s bound to turn into that guy. Bart is literally a supervillain in the making.
MFR – Young Bart is at an important crossroads in his life, and then with the multiverse, he can see how several different paths turn out? Does the multiverse make it easier to write your main character, and if so, how?
Arbona – The multiverse concept was the whole key to this character. In the original Doctor Tomorrow by Bob Layton and several artists, Bart Simms was a man in the 1940s who received a box that was mysteriously sent back in time full of sci-fi super-gear and schematics. He uses it to build himself all sorts of futuristic gadgets and vehicles, and then he says he’s from the future…a man out of time, with a twist. But as far as being a hero goes, he’s fundamentally compromised. He’s dishonest, he lies about the origin of his powers, and he spends the rest of the series trying to stop whatever caused the box to go back in time to begin with, so he can prevent himself from ever becoming Doctor Tomorrow in the first place and ruining his life. It was a really unorthodox superhero story, and if you can’t quite tell, I’m a huge fan. That and Jim Starlin’s Warlock, another brooding, heady comic about a superhero who becomes his own tormentor and regrets so much of what he’s done. But when Robert Meyers and Drew Baumgartner and Fred Pierce and I started talking about a new take on this character, we knew right away that the time-travel hook couldn’t be repeated. You can’t tell the same story again, and you can’t just tweak it and mix it up, because the balancing act of logic and causality falls apart. We also didn’t want to do anything dark or pessimistic, we were all on the same page that we wanted to do a fun, light-hearted superhero comic and establish a character who was morally upstanding, and aspirational, tinged with a Silver Age sensibility—one of Valiant’s few superheroes ever to wear a cape. In a way, it’s like that Simpsons joke where they do an Itchy & Scratchy focus group and find that the kids want a realistic, down-to-earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots. When I got the prompt to pitch a new Doctor Tomorrow, the idea I seized on right away was the moral compromise at his core, the lie that forms the basis of his superhero persona, and the drama of his remorse about letting himself become that guy…while also being light-hearted, colorful, aspirational, and fun. It’s an extremely tricky balance, and the idea of the multiverse was the key to unlocking that, by splitting up the same Bart into separate characters!
MFR – The trope of time travel tends to lessen the drama since you can easily retcon the story. How do you avoid this as a writer?
Arbona – In any good story, no matter what genre, the highest stakes are the emotional ones. Even if a story is about life-or-death peril or the Earth hangs in the balance, the main characters are always going through something emotionally, too. If they aren’t, it’s a boring story. That’s why even detective stories and courtroom procedurals, which are just about somebody doing their job, always feature some wrinkle to make it personal for the protagonist. And hitting a time-travel reset button to retcon the plot can’t change that the characters have taken that journey, and the audience with them.
MFR – With a five-issue story, how do you reveal enough to keep the reader wanting more each issue, but not showing too much, or ending an issue on a flat note?
Arbona – The challenge of serial storytelling is that each issue needs to tell a fun, engaging story by itself, while it also advances the main story of the series. I can only try my best and write the story that I find entertaining in each issue, and hope the reader agrees with my opinion. But I think that as long as each issue features new twists and surprises, with action and laughs and compelling heart, and ends with a question mark that the reader can’t resist coming back to find out more about, then we’re pulling it off. And you know what, I think we do that! Give us a try and see for yourself, why don’t you!
MFR – The comic book industry is at crossroads here in 2020, what are your predictions when it comes to what the industry will look like in 2030?
Arbona – I could see it going several ways. On the one hand, digital is shaking everything up so quickly that even comics, which were slow to adapt, will continue to evolve, hopefully not just in distribution but also in how they’re created. We’re also finally, finally seeing more widespread acceptance toward comics in libraries and classrooms, and there’s been explosive growth in comics for kids. With more kids reading graphic novels, I can only hope we’ll see more business for comic book stores, but also, comics being sold in more places. I love it when a bookstore has a respectable, worthwhile graphic novel section with stories for a plurality of different readers, not just a few half-assed shelves. On the other hand, the comic book industry is very resilient, both in a good way because it’s tough and in a bad way because it’s resistant to change. In ten years, maybe we’ll still be chugging right along the same way we are now, and I don’t mean that as a good thing. Most comic book stores survive on razor-thin profit margins. Most comic book makers earn very little money and do the work at great personal sacrifice out of love for the art form. The industry is lousy with exploitative working conditions and abuse of all kinds. The decade of the 2030s will be the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the modern comic book, and many of those problems have existed for pretty much all those one hundred years. Hopefully, we’ll finally get better at fixing them in the next ten.
MFR – Thank you for your time, and best of luck with Doctor Tomorrow!
What did you think of the interview? Are you reading Doctor Tomorrow? Comment below with your thoughts.