Doctor Muscles is a bizarre science fiction story, and, at times, that works in its favor, and, at other times, it works directly against it, convoluting what may already be a bit muddled. Overall, though, I think Doctor Muscles crests more peaks than it treads through low valleys, but the trip is a sporadic one, tedious here, electric there. I know this reads a bit vague and abstract, described like a dream I am slowly forgetting, but that is the feeling I often had while on the adventures of Doctor Muscles in this second volume, dubbed Journal Two, which picks up directly after the events of the first volume. Created and written by Austin Tinius and Robert Salinas, the main characters of Dr. Arthur E. Muscles, “The Smartest Man in Philadelphia,” and his sidekick Mickey, the self-professed “Droxin Slayer,” are interesting and fun characters, and the situations they find themselves in can be exciting and, every once in a while, pleasantly unexpected.
The art in the book, done variously by Ignacio Vega, James Brunner, Victor Cabaneles, Earl Geier, and Greg and Fake Petre, is unique and distinct to each artist and their section of the story, but, in my opinion, not all of the artists are at the same level, so to go from the more complex and consistent art of one artist to the more basic, inconsistent art of another is jarring, making the whole book as a piece of sequential storytelling feel disjointed, though I do not believe this constructive criticism is only for the artists. It is obvious that particular stories are more solid and well constructed than others. The first arc, taking place on a space station high above the alien land of Quargo, with its wizard cousins and supreme ruler The Ultra-Lord, is the most engaging, with the highest stakes and most dynamic storytelling. The later story, “Cursing Cousins,” is easily the most abstract and confounding, but also one of the most enthralling. The art as a whole, though, has a rough Heavy Metal-type vibe to it, and it alternates between ribald and violent, depending on the stories, some of which are more action packed or crass than others.
My main issue with Doctor Muscles is that I want more world building from Tinius and Salinas, as they obviously are brimming over with odd, hilarious, and creative ideas, and yet they often seem to keep them at the micro level instead of moving into macro, or they opt for the path of least resistance. Also, too much time is spent on interesting characters that we eventually don’t really care about; I would prefer them to unpack more of Doctor Muscles’ and Mickey’s individual pasts and to add more intricate layers to their relationship. The land of Quargo is bizarre and surreal, and I often felt there was greatness just beyond sight on the horizon. There are definite instances where that brilliance shines through, and I believe Doctor Muscles is capable of a much more consistent, intriguing brilliance. One other issue is the need for an editor, and this is something that should fall to indie publisher Bogus Books. Writers often miss simple mistakes, because they’ve looked at their words so many times that they just don’t see the little errors. That is why an editor is a wonderful resource, because it is their job to catch those grammatical trivialities that can take you out of the story.
Doctor Muscles: Journal Two is a very odd science fiction book, and that makes for a fun read; there is a lot to love about Doctor Muscles and Mickey and the world of Quargo. Having read both volumes, I can see how Tinius and Salinas have improved and tightened up their storytelling, and I am excited to see where on Quargo these two burgeoning creators take Doctor Muscles next, and I am more than willing to tag along on those further adventures.