Review by Frank Plowright
Many of the superheroes Jeff Lemire created for Black Hammer and its spin-offs are homages, and the most obvious of them is Doctor Andromeda, even named James Robinson after the writer who made Starman such a compelling read in the 1990s. In that series a legacy name was dusted off and given a fresh polish while the past was simultaneously lovingly explored.
The Parazone is an area important to what’s happening in Black Hammer, and Lemire reimagines Starman as Doctor Andromeda, discovering the area with government funding, and using power derived from it to become a superhero. However, despite the similarities, this isn’t Starman, as the heroes Lemire’s created are far more human, and in Doctor Andromeda’s case more flawed. He’s seen in the present day, regretful when it’s too late, and his past is characterised by the constant ambition of discovery to the neglect of almost all else. It’s a human tragedy of a life with skewed priorities in some ways poorly lived, or at the very least not considering what really matters.
Max Fiumara’s art is far closer to traditional superhero pages than almost anyone else working on Black Hammer material, but it’s excellent. He’s imaginative, gives the right weight to the emotional moments, of which there are plenty, and it’s eventually revealed why more recognisably superhero artwork is necessary as Lemire merges the mythology of Doctor Andromeda with a far better known superhero.
That, though, is secondary to the skim through one man’s life from the 1940s to the present, and what motivates him at different stages. His single-mindedness is there for all to see, but readers won’t see his big mistake coming, and it’s nothing that can ever be taken back or rectified. It’s a memorable use of a standard science fiction trick, and it comes to define a life. The same air of melancholy surrounding all Spiral City’s superheroes applies to Doctor Andromeda, early optimism to the contrary, and Lemire’s speciality is characters wallowing in regret and isolation. Nothing indicates we’re heading to a happy ending. Will Lemire subvert expectation? Don’t bet on it.
The World of Black Hammer Library Edition 1 combines this with Sherlock Frankenstein in an oversized hardcover edition, and Fiumara’s art is worth it. The first printing of this graphic novel and original serialised comics had Doctor Andromeda as Doctor Star, but copyright and trademark issues raised by another publisher resulted in the different name and slightly modified clothing.