Story: Peter Calloway
Art: Georges Jeanty
Letterer: Charles Pritchett
What They Say:
Years in the making, this is the true story of writer Peter Calloway’s grandfather, Nathaniel Calloway, a Black man who graduated from medical school in the early 1930s. Unable to get work at any Chicago hospitals because he was Black and unable to secure a loan from a bank to start his own practice because he was Black, he turned to another source of money in Prohibition-era Chicago: the Mafia, run by none other than Al Capone.
As Calloway himself says, “On the one hand, his story represents the promise of America. On the other hand, it shows the worst of it.”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Shadow Doctor is a series that I’ll say I wasn’t looking forward to in a big way mostly because I’d only see the cover artwork and it doesn’t do anything to sell the book, at least to me. I’m not sure what would work better for the material, but for me that was the biggest stumbling block and then a mixture of being based on a true family story. I’m not familiar with any of Peter Calloway’s comic work but I liked his time on Cloak & Dagger, a series that disappeared far too soon, and I have fond memories of Brothers & Sisters that he work on multiple episodes of. His work here is far more personal and that definitely gives it a different flavor but also one where Georges Jeanty brings his interpretation of it to life and we get a really great collaborative experience that shines with Juancho working the color design.
With so many stories of the past focusing on certain key periods, the 1930s is generally not one of them and that provides for a very welcome change. The story follows Nathaniel Calloway, first starting in 1923 as a young man as he’s driving trucks for the local mafia during prohibition for the Italians. We see how things go badly during one of the drives when they get attacked by the Irish and a gunfight ensues, causing Nathaniel to rethink his life. He’s earned the respect of the Italians in this and took advantage of being able to go to medical school to become a doctor. And that takes us to 1931 where the bulk of the book takes place as it explores how Nathaniel has to face institutional racism in just trying to do what he’s got the skills to do.
With it being somewhat framed as Nathaniel telling his son about his past knowing that his own death is coming soon decades later, it allows for some contextualizing in the present but it’s not really necessary other than to the show the bonds that carry down the decades and makes it a personal story. Nathaniel’s tale is more than engaging in 1931 as we see him being hired at a hospital based on a recommendation received, but because he’s black he can’t even enter the building. It’s not personal they say, but when you receive rejection after rejection, hospitals you can work at being closed because there’s no funding for it, and banks that refuse to deal with you, it feels very personal. We see him reconnecting with his mafia side, the intent clear but unstated in the early pages of it here, as the Italians he ran with have grown in stature and notoriety over the years and may be able to offer him something there. But even here he faces the same kinds of issues, only salved by the fact that he has a history that the newer guys don’t know about.
There’s a lot of good detail to be had in this book but what I’m the happiest about is that Peter Calloway was able to make this completely accessible with the time period, the characters, and moving around in the timeline so that you get the scope of things. I always dread first issues because so many forget how to set the foundations to bring readers into it rather than frustrating them. Here, he makes me want to know all about Nathaniel’s story from the mafia time driving the trucks to the struggle to find work as a doctor and beyond. And to see what has haunted him for years so as to not tell his family about it until his deathbed. Georges Jeantry brings it to life beautifully and captures the places and people with really great style that lets you feel like these are real lived-in places, not just notes for a story design. I’m excited to see what comes.
Age Rating: 15+
Released By: AfterShock Comics
Release Date: February 17th, 2021