Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Doctor Andromeda and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows by Jeff Lemire and Max Fiumara

You know, I'm starting to think the "how to read the Black Hammer-iverse" graphic on Dark Horse's site - which I am not linking here because I'm sarcastically throwing shade at it - is really just a list of everything in that universe in basically publication order, without any thought for what the actual main story is or focus on readers who may want to get to something like an ending before the heat death of the universe.

Again, I may be making an unwarranted assumption that the "actual main story" has ended or will ever end; writer Jeff Lemire is indulging all of his superhero-universe ideas in this meta-series and the whole point of superhero universes is that IP roams free as long as there is money to be made. It may be that this was the idea all along: set up a dramatic situation, and then tell other stories set in the related universe for as long as the marks will keep paying, without ever moving that initial story forward. (I hope not: I had more respect for Lemire than that.)

Anyway, the "fourth" book listed on that graphic is Doctor Andromeda and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, written by Lemire and drawn by Max Fiumara. It has nothing at all to do with the previous three volumes, aside from being in a shared universe. There is no reason at all to read this next; it doesn't even act as a flashback the way the Sherlock Frankenstein book did. This is entirely a story of some other guy in the same world, who was a sometime co-worker of the characters in the first two books.

That guy is Dr. James Robinson, who is Starman Doctor Andromeda, a WWII-era superhero. The story opens many years later - how many is vague, but probably '80s-90s, around the time of the big "Event" from the main Black Hammer series. Dr. A's son Charlie is dying, and Dr. A is very estranged from that son and, we learn slightly later, the rest of his family as well (now-dead wife, daughter-in-law, unspecified grandchildren).

At this point, we start to uneasily wonder if "Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows" is a god-damned metaphor for regrets and growing older and neglecting the actual human beings in your life to fly around punching people wearing too-tight spandex. I would not dream of spoiling such a realization.

So we see Dr. A in his civilian guise going to visit his dying son Charlie in the hospital, being sad and middle-aged and serious. Interspersed with that, we see young Dr. A. discovering his super-science-y stuff, joining up to fight the Nazis, and generally finding any and every opportunity to avoid his wife and new baby. (Superheroes! They can be workaholics just like anyone else! The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon!)

The description of Doctor Andromeda describes it as having two plots, which is slightly untrue. It takes place in two timeframes, but neither of them quite rises to the level of a full-fledged plot. In one of them, Dr. A. does superhero stuff, leading to a stupid mistake that has consequences for his long-neglected family - but this is a sequence of events over a long period of time rather than any single coherent plot. And in the "modern" story, Dr. A mostly mopes and thinks about how, OK, sure, all of the punching and long hours in the lab were totally awesome, but maybe he should have given the wife and son attention at least once a year or so, especially since not doing so made them hate him forever and it's not like a genius still-fairly-young superhero who probably has patents to seven dozen things that underpin the modern world could have any other life or love options in the world.

Anyway. Dr. A fucked up, and He Is Sad. The point-source fuckup wasn't entirely his problem, but it was based in his blissful neglect of everyday life (which itself was the longer-term, more core fuckup), so it's not like he can get off the hook on a technicality. But the point-source fuckup also has super-science-y implications, and maybe, just maybe, he can use that to cure Charlie's cancer and then the son he neglected for (checks figures) forty-some years will suddenly love him again!

Well, no. But sort-of yes, at least in a Jeff Lemire everybody-is-sad-and-has-family-problems kind of way.

I should say that this story really does end, and the four issues collected here are entirely self-contained. So, for all of my snark, this stands alone reasonably well, and I probably would have liked it much better, and been much nicer to it, if I didn't come to it expecting it would somehow advance the Black Hammer story (which, again: it totally doesn't). If I had read Doctor Andromeda completely alone, I think I would have been at least mildly positive about it, and said things about human concerns in a superhero story and how at least it doesn't really focus on the punching.

But, in the end, this is a "I spent too much time in the office, and my kid grew up to hate me" story. (Little boy blue and the man in the moon! When you comin' home dad, I don't know when!) And it doesn't really elevate the cliché, or do much more than tell that very familiar story in a superhero setting.

Hence my sarcasm.

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