Writer – S.A. Rivera
Artist – Jeff Kraven
This title’s blurb on the Amazon website:
Dr. Alpha is one of the most dangerous supervillains in the galaxy. However, when another evil genius Molvion the Martian Mastermind returns with a massive armada, the superhero Glorious and his teammates must enlist the good doctor to help battle their common enemy. Twists and turns abound and secretes revealed as the Dr. Alpha and the daring Crusaders rushing to save the world.
… is quite different from the blurb on the Indiegogo website:
What would happen if Fight Club’s Tyler Durden became an evil scientist? Dr. Alpha has been considered as one of the most dangerous supervillains in the galaxy for decades. Now his former arch-nemesis, the Superhero known as Glorious suggests a team-up when another supervillain the Martian Mastermind returns from the dead to launch another invasion of Earth. But as everyone knows, when evil geniuses get involved, things are rarely how they appear.
Inspired by the legacy of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke combined with the ruthless pulp style of Frank Miller – Dr. Alpha: Miracle Child is a fast-paced, action-packed story that paints itself with shameless superhero cliche before taking a sharp turn into tragic human drama.
Enter a world without status quo. Where anything can happen. Where even the mightest superhero can’t always walk away without a scar if they manage to walk away at all.
The late Dwayne McDuffie, a prominent comic book writer who amongst other things created Milestone Comics, did a writing stint from 2007 to 2009 on DC Comics’ flagship title Justice League of America. Towards the end of the major storyline, Superman shreds the high-tech armour of his long-time adversary, Lex Luthor. Superman notes that this heralds the end of Luthor’s scheme, but Mr McDuffie wrote Luthor as snidely replying, “Does it, Superman?” The suggestion is that Luthor’s unequivocal and humiliating defeat at Superman’s hands is part of a long game. It is plainly ridiculous, and some very substandard dialogue from an otherwise good writer.
With all of of that in mind, we recently concluded reading the independent superhero comic book Doc Alpha (not to be confused with Star Wars character Doctor Aphra) by writer S.A Rivera and artist Jeff Kraven. Readers expecting the title to match the IndieGoGo blurb would have been disappointed. This book instead delivers a keen sense of satisfaction to those who find the supersaturation of superhero comics and movies claustrophobic. This is because at no point does it take itself seriously. It mercilessly lampoons the cliche of the all-too-clever bad guy. The plot, involving Doctor Matthias Alpha’s release from jail, the alien abduction of children associated with superheroes, and the archetypal family tensions which are a wet stain in this genre, spirals like a pig’s tail. Is his release from prison just a long game played by Alpha? Is the kidnapper Molvion the Martian Mastermind a mere puppet, or is he the true villain of the piece? Is Alpha a surly bad guy with a hidden heart of gold? Or is he just a relentlessly annoying and untrustworthy, where no matter what, everything is just as he planned?
Unlike his muscular appearance on the cover of the paper edition, Alpha is an average man in an old-fashioned surgeon’s smock, with a reflective disk strapped to his forehead. (Even in hospital with an oxygen tube up Alpha’s nostrils, that odd relic sits there like a reflective eye.) One almost expects to see him with blood up to his elbows. In addition, he has the moustache-less goatee we see on old-fashioned supervillains such as DC Comics’ Doctor Light. (The amusing website TVTropes.org calls this “The Beard of Evil”(https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BeardOfEvil .)
Doctor Alpha is given all of the good lines. The rest of the characters, save perhaps for the flawed superhero leader White Knight, have a cardboard consistency to them which is reminiscent of 1970s titles like Adventure Comics or DC Comics Presents. One of them is a direct copy of Star Trek’s android Data, and another is too close to Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage, and yet another must be a close cousin of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. In stark contrast to these caped and vacuous stereotypes, Alpha has dark swagger (“The only one around here allowed to kill my son… is me!”), misogyny (“Why don’t I just figure out a way out of here, take my grandson, give War Maiden a smack on her tight little ass and be on my way?”), smug indifference (“And so, Glorious has an extremely high metabolism and a killer immune system, cutting the effect of the medibots by 95%. Incidentally making him the perfect test dummy.”) and a cigarette always in hand. Just like the comic itself, we do not want to like Alpha, but we find ourselves engaged by his ridiculous self-importance nonetheless. Perhaps Alpha’s nicotine habit is a better metaphor: it is grubby and doesn’t taste all that good, but as a reader we are prepared to take another final drag, and another final drag, until we reach the end feeling a little guilty but happy.
In the printed edition, the main story is followed by some short back-up tales. The first sees Alpha’s first meeting with a youthful Molivian (they go to a movie theatre to watch War of the Worlds), The second is a very odd story involving a dominatrix superheroine named Lady Midnight, a murderous avenger named Hell Knight (who wears armour and carries an automatic weapon) and the villainous Red Santa (a man dressed as Father Christmas with a hammer and sickle tattoo on his chest). No one should spend too much time on these two features.
The biggest complaint we have about Doc Alpha is to do with the absence of editing. There are typos and an absence of punctuation littering the comic. (A good editor might have also told the creative team to rein it in in respect of the abundance of mostly quiet characters making up the cast. These made up unnecessary static to the tale, made worse by the fact that they are depicted in mostly identical uniforms.)
The title was the subject of a very successful Indiegogo campaign https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/doctor-alpha-miracle-child-graphic-novel#/ and is now available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dr-Alpha-Miracle-Literature-Devil-ebook/dp/B0B7F95YF3