COMICS: John Reviews “Metadocs: Anatomy of a Super Hero” by Joe Dunn and Rod Espinosa

As I mentioned in my previous review, I relish stories of superheroes in supporting roles.  You might call them the “heroes behind the heroes,” if your mind isn’t quite as dirty as the late Dr. Frederic Wertham.  Given my penchant for “hero support” stories, you can imagine my delight when I walked by a shelf at one of New York City’s fine comic shops and came across Joe Dunn and Rod Espinosa’s Metadocs: Anatomy of a Superhero.  The concept is brilliant, and I’m fairly surprised at how rarely (if at all) it’s been done before:  What happens when the dust settles after an epic battle and the participants (hero and villain alike) lie wounded and dying?  Enter the Metadocs: A crack team of medical professionals (some with superpowers) trained and equipped to save those who save the world.

Metadocs is an ensemble story with a developed cast of characters, but the audience’s “in” is young Dr. Rayos, who begins his first day as a metadoc before he even reaches the hospital.  His monorail is attacked by the evil Lord Drehd (who is most certainly not a rip-off of Doctor Doom!) and before long, the scene has turned into a pitched battle between Drehd and a cadre of superheroes.  The clash ends with both heroes and villain in critical condition, and Dr. Rayos is quickly joined by the metadocs field team in stabilizing and transporting the injured to Ultra City Metamedical Hospital.  Things only get more exciting from there, as the doctors must contend with treating alien physiology, neutralizing one of the most powerful villains in the world, fending off evil henchmen, containing a plague reminiscent of the Marvel Zombies virus, and much more.  It’s all in a day’s work for a metadoc!

One area that seems to both help and hurt Metadocs is its status as an indie book.  Dunn and Espinosa weren’t able to get the rights to any characters from the Big Two, but that didn’t stop them from creating tons of homages to the most famous characters in comicdom.  I’m actually surprised that they were able to use a buxom redhead called Gravity Girl without being sued by Hanna-Barbera (who had a buxom redhead called Gravity Girl in Birdman and the Galaxy Trio. She later appeared as “Gigi” on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.) My personal favorite character is Dr. Wayne, who is a cross between hard-boiled heroes like Nick Fury, Doc Savage or Sergeant Steel and grizzled, prickly TV doctors like Greg House or Bob Kelso.  House, M.D. comparisons are particularly appropriate for Metadocs, since so much of the doctors’ time is spent solving the puzzle of how to treat patients’ unique maladies.  For all I know it could have elements in common with the other popular medical dramas, but I never bother with anything other than House or Scrubs.

The fact that the art style is so drastically different from issue to issue in Metadocs is partly due to the way the series was solicited and released.  Instead of simply being Metadocs #1-3, we have Metadocs #0, Metadocs: Type A #1 and Metadocs: Code Black #1.  The #0 issue and Type A #1 are both illustrated by Rod Espinosa in a style that perfectly matched the series’ themes and attitude.  Espinosa’s lines are clean and sharp, showing almost surgical precision.  The colors are crisp and bright, as if under high-powered lights.  Ultra City looks like a positive take on the “bustling future metropolis,” and a gigantic hospital for superhumans does not look out of place there.  The hospital itself is drawn to seem plausible, if a bit on the fantastic side. Whites dominate the hospital interior scenes, which helps to give the book a clinical look and feel.  Code Black is illustrated by the team of Craig Babiar and David Hutchison, and uses very different visual techniques.  The characters take on a distinctly manga look, and the inking and coloring look far more computer-assisted (in that Udon Comics sort of way, for those who have read anything from the publisher.)  It’s not necessarily a bad look for the issue, but it is a bit of a jarring transition.

Metadocs makes use of a fantastic concept, but this collection feels somewhat stuck on the “beginning.”  Such things can happen when you never have an issue higher than #1, I suppose.  I hope that Dunn and Espinosa can convince Antarctic Press to publish a full mini-series, because their foundation is strong and there are so many places this concept can go.  I recommend Metadocs for anyone who enjoys both superhero stories and medical dramas, and has wondered, “Who saves the superheroes?”


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