Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Max Fiumara
This kicks off a marathon of reviews for Jeff Lemire’s World of Black Hammer comics over at Dark Horse. I started reading the series three years ago and like to revisit it every so often. This particular comic is profoundly inspired by James Robinson’s Starman comic that was published during the 1990s/early 2000s. The main character, actually named Dr. James Robinson, was a Golden Age hero of Spiral City. He constructed a device that allowed him to harness the power of distant stars and set off on a lucrative career fighting alongside his contemporaries.
The story presents a dual narrative, showing the glory days of Doctor Star while jumping the present day where Dr. Robinson has found his adult son is dying of cancer. You don’t need to have read a single issue of any other Black Hammer comics to pick this one up and jump right in. Lemire can give us all the information we need upfront and allow this heartbreaking human story to unfold. It’s a quick four chapters, but they weigh heavy and deliver a beautiful finale. The story also brings in elements of the Green Lantern comics in a surprising way that doesn’t play simply as a gimmick but adds even more pathos to Robinson’s relationship with estranged son.
One of the things that set Robinson apart from his peers is that there comes a moment where the Golden Age heroes begin to hang up their capes and masks. Their time is over, and the younger generation is coming. Robinson is caught up in his obsession with the power he’s unlocked and the freedom it gives him to break the bonds of Earth and explore. In this way, Lemire is having a conversation about legacy heroes and the refusal to pass the torch. Stepping back even further, you can say this is about an older generation refusing to recognize their children’s agency and desires. Robinson never takes these steps because he hates his son, he’s so wrapped up in his own life and experiences the doctor never stops to think about the wife and child he’s abandoning.
Eventually, time runs out, and Robinson can see the futility of his fantastic powers in the face of a menace he can do nothing about. But by reflecting on his history, thinking about the scope of the universe, he finds a way to connect with his son. There are moments where he could succumb to self-loathing and inadequacy, but he can muster those traits that made him a hero in the first place. Doctor Star reflects back many of the themes Lemire is exploring in the core Black Hammer series but distilled down to a pure and beautiful level.
The artwork by Max Fiumara is perfect for this tale, capturing the cosmic beauty of alien worlds and the bleak septic pallor of a hospital room. It’s hard to find a single fault with this mini-series, and I honestly think it is my favorite piece of the Black Hammer universe so far. It doesn’t over-complicate its narrative, shows a nuanced development of its characters and theme, and manages to be emotionally touching.