We recently had the opportunity to chat with Alejandro Arbona about their Valiant miniseries, Doctor Tomorrow, taking a deep dive into Multiversal implications, Valiant Classic inspirations and even the possibility of Doctor Tomorrow II! See below for the full interview.
COMIC WATCH: To start, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us here at Comic Watch about the exciting new series at Valiant Entertainment, Doctor Tomorrow. As an editor and creator, you bring some unique insight into the industry. So, can you give us some background on how you got started with Valiant as well as writing Doctor Tomorrow?
ALEJANDRO ARBONA: Thank you for having me! My history with Valiant actually stretches all the way back to the start of my career in comics. In the mid-2000s I started working as an editor and writer at Wizard Magazine, where Fred Pierce was president. I’d been reading comics all my life, but working at Wizard taught me how the industry actually operated, and it got me fixated on the idea of being an editor and a writer. After that I went to work at Marvel, where Warren Simons hired me as his assistant editor. Eventually Warren left, and I stayed on and kept editing projects and cutting my teeth. A couple of years after that, Valiant launched, with Warren and Fred and the rest of them, and Warren called me up to edit for them. After Valiant, I went full-time freelance. Warren and Dinesh knew I was a writer, and they encouraged me to pitch, so I started dreaming up Valiant ideas almost right away.
CW: This series holds significant importance in the Valiant Universe because of time travel and the concept of a multiverse. Can you talk a little bit about how the worldbuilding and rules of such concepts were formed and how they might be different from what we have seen in other connected universes?
AA: Complicated concepts like time travel and parallel universes, when they’re done well, originate from the story first, from the characters. In the case of Doctor Tomorrow, the first thing I knew was that I wanted a kid, a superhero, and a villain who all turned out to be the same person at different ages, and I knew that the emotional heart of the story would be the toxic cycle where each one evolves to become the next one and take their place. That was actually the initial pitch to Valiant! When I told this story before the comic had launched, I couldn’t reveal what the pitch to Valiant had been, because it was a spoiler, but I can tell it to you now. Starting from that idea, the question became, how do you create that situation? And the answer was parallel universes. From there, everything else clicked into place. The concept of parallel universes isn’t different from what you’ve seen in other comic book stories, but I think this particular story is unique. When all five issues are out and it’s all said and done, you’ll see what I mean.
CW: Were there any particular inspirations you had when approaching Doctor Tomorrow that you felt had an influence on your work?
AA: I drew from tons of inspiration, influences, and references points, and you’ll only notice some of them if and when we get to do our followup story, which I’m tentatively calling Doctor Tomorrow II. You heard it here first! It goes without saying that the original Doctor Tomorrow written by Bob Layton was our biggest influence, and this story has more of that DNA than what you think you’ve seen so far. Obviously Superman is an inspiration, and even more than him, Shazam. Not just because of the teen protagonist, but also the freewheeling, colorful, inventive, jubilant style of those stories. This is an influence I hope you’ll see a lot more in Doctor Tomorrow II, if we manage to get there. Shifting to a totally different and much darker gear, another comic I thought about a lot while we were developing this was Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock story, “The Magus Saga.” It was a gloomy, fatalistic story about Adam Warlock battling his evil future self, the Magus, across space and time, even meeting a slightly older version of himself who’s grim and unhappy and ready to die. He’s determined never to let himself turn into that guy, but he does anyway. There are a few interesting echoes there that I was definitely aware of, but also steering clear of, because our story follows a very different character arc.
CW: The series features a remarkably large cast that seems to touch every corner of the Valiant Universe. Can you give some insight on how this helped to shape the story and if there were any challenges with incorporating all of them?
AA: That’s a great question, because it actually evolved constantly all through development. From the initial one-line pitch until getting the green light to write the first script, I wrote at least half a dozen outlines. The first one was about one or two pages long, and by the time we’d zeroed in on the final story, that outline told the whole story beat by beat, almost page by page for all five issues, and the background ensemble of Valiant characters evolved and changed during that whole process. My initial pitch was just the core characters, Bart and Gretchen and Doc and Hadrian. Then Valiant came back with a beautiful bit of feedback: if the idea is to introduce Doctor Tomorrow to the Valiant Universe, why not literally introduce him to the Valiant Universe, all of them at once? And we had a rare opportunity with this concept, thanks to having not just a new superhero character, but also the viewpoint of a new teen character, to do what Robert Meyers called “a guided tour of the Valiant Universe.” In the next evolution of the outline after that, we took Doc and Bart to meet different characters one by one as they got ready to fight Hadrian. Neela detects the temporal disruption and finds them, then she introduces them to Faith for Bart’s flying lesson, and Faith introduces them to Livewire to help Bart make his own suit, stuff like that. But then we ran into the first problem. At only five issues, twenty pages each, we just didn’t have the space. And the more you explore the personalities of every other Valiant guest star, the further you get away from the small, personal story of Bart. Another bit of guidance Valiant suggested was to think about this story something like The Valiant. If the entire universe is at stake, you better believe all the heroes will drop whatever they’re doing, fall in line, and help to stop it. But there’s a key difference between Doctor Tomorrow and The Valiant…in The Valiant, you have multiple protagonists. Bloodshot, Kay, Ninjak, Gilad each get their own separate introduction, and their own throughlines that criss-cross with each other as the story unfolds, even while Gilad remains the central figure. But in Doctor Tomorrow, the minute we started to spend too much time on characterization for Faith and X-O etc., you lose focus on intimate moments like Bart having a quick phone call with his dad, or Bart having an argument with Gretchen. Doctor Tomorrow is a small and intimate story about a boy, and we keep it intimate on purpose. It just happens to have the entire Valiant Universe as a backdrop, and the fate of the entire Valiant Universe hangs in the balance.
CW: There is a fun Easter Egg in Doctor Tomorrow #3 mentioning a “Man of the Atom” that longtime fans are sure to love. Are there any Valiant Classic characters you would like to bring back and write a series for in the modern Valiant Universe?
AA: My answer to this question is super boring, but I’ll tell it to you anyway, because it’s the truth! It’s Dave Hoban. Pitching to a publisher like Valiant or Marvel or DC can be a numbers game sometimes. You send something in, they like it, but the timing isn’t right, or the characters are already in another pitch they’re developing, or that character’s actually about to get killed off unbeknownst to you, or whatever, and it doesn’t work out. So between the time I left Valiant and the approval of Doctor Tomorrow, and even after Doctor Tomorrow was underway, I pitched lots of different story ideas to Valiant, and at least two or three of those pitches featured Dave Hoban, the handler of the Secret Weapons team. The first mini-series I pitched to Valiant was a take on Livewire that would have been like a Mission: Impossible-style spy story. I don’t mind telling you this now because that pitch is dead in the water and not likely ever to happen. Then again, maybe whenever Valiant wants to relaunch Livewire, they can give me a call! In my story she would chase down a team of all-new super-villains called the Secret Weapons, only to discover they’re an off-the-books CIA asset run by Dave Hoban. Little did I know when I sent that in that Valiant was already developing something, as we know now in hindsight. Bad timing for me! And sure, Dave Hoban was never going to become the star of his own comic, but I thought he could stick around as a sort of anti-Neville Alcott, a shady guy within the intelligence community, always up to something, not necessarily bad but usually not good.
CW: You’ve mentioned before that this new vision of the Doctor Tomorrow character tinged with a Silver Age sensibility, and that is something we’ve been very interested in here at Comic Watch. Did you set out to inject the Valiant Universe with a more classic superhero persona or was it just an organic process?
AA: That was the rare serendipity of all of us coming to the opportunity on the exact same page. Valiant wanted an aspirational, classic style of superhero character of the kind we’ve never really had before…ever! Even Faith is more Spider-Man than Superman, in terms of her personality. She’s one of us, we like her because we see ourselves in her. But Superman is somebody we look up to. We don’t necessarily see ourselves in him, but we try to find the Superman in ourselves and rise to his level. And these times that we’re living in are so toxic and negative, I think a lot of us are craving stories that aspire to decency and compassion. That was a story I wanted to write, it was a story Jim wanted to draw, and it was the story Valiant was looking for, so we all met right there exactly where we wanted to be.
CW: The artwork in Doctor Tomorrow really helps to establish an exciting, but still lighthearted feel that is just a lot of fun. So, how is the collaborative process with everyone involved in the creative team?
AA: Ninety-nine percent of creating the right sensibility in the comic is simply deciding who to hire, and that’s all on Robert Meyers, who brought Jim Towe to the table and put us together. Once that dynamic was in place, everything just flowed. As soon as Jim started to do character designs, he inspired ideas and influenced how the story took shape. Diego Rodriguez and Kelly Fitzpatrick brought the absolutely note-perfect color palette for a light-hearted, uplifting, action-heavy superhero comic. They both just clicked into it instantly. When we had to lose Diego over a snarl-up in his schedule, Kelly joined us, and one of the first pages I saw from her was the arrival of the new Bart at the end of #3. I was blown away! And the comic couldn’t be what it is without Clayton Cowles, especially his elegant choices for the captions, and his dynamic special effects. He’s a Simpsons fan, so I knew he’d appreciate the sound effect “yoink!” The whole team is just doing incredible work.
CW: With only two more issues left to release in the five-issue miniseries, is there anything you can tell us about what to expect as we draw closer to the conclusion of Doctor Tomorrow?
AA: No dice. I like hitting you with the surprises.
There you have it! Be sure to stay tuned to Comic Watch for all your latest fandom news and reviews!
Aspire to Decency and Compassion: An Interview with Alejandro Arbona
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