A man in glasses with a beard and short hair
Peter Calloway ’04 has written comic books (Gotham City Sirens) and TV series (Legion, Cloak & Dagger) featuring some of the most famous characters from Marvel and DC, but his latest comics project is something far more personal. Shadow Doctor, a new series from AfterShock Comics with art by Georges Jeanty, tells the story of Calloway’s grandfather Nathaniel, a Black man in 1930s Chicago who graduated from medical school but was shut out by the medical establishment because of his race. Unable to find legitimate employment as a doctor, Nathaniel instead offered his medical services to local organized crime.

Although Nathaniel died two years before Calloway was born, he grew up hearing stories about his grandfather’s exploits. “I don’t have a specific memory of when I first started to hear these stories,” he says. “They’ve sort of been around for as long as I can remember.” As Calloway made his way as a TV writer in Hollywood, he began to think of his grandfather’s story as one he wanted to bring to the world. “That story was always in my head,” he says. “It was like, OK, what am I going to do with this? How do I tell the story?” He first envisioned it as a TV series, but then his former DC Comics editor Mike Marts launched AfterShock, and Calloway brought it there instead.

A book cover showing a gun and the title Shadow Doctor

Shadow Doctor

Written by Peter Calloway ’04, drawn by Georges Jeanty
AfterShock Comics

There’s no official documentation of Nathaniel’s criminal activities, so for research, Calloway (a history and philosophy double-major at Amherst) relied on his relatives. Calloway’s father, David, had heard about his own father’s time with the mob when Nathaniel was near the end of his life. “The truth is that these are just family stories,” Calloway says. “I don’t know how much fictionalization was there to begin with.”

That gives him the leeway to craft an entertaining story while remaining true to his family legacy. “It’s trying to take these stories and tell them in a narrative”—one that makes sense to a general audience, “not just a bunch of aunts and uncles and cousins sitting around the Thanksgiving table.”

Al Capone makes a splashy entrance at the end of the first issue. “One of the things that is difficult in a story like this is, even though it’s my grandfather’s story, keeping him at the center of it, because there are such big actors that are in the same sandbox as he was,” Calloway says. To that end, later issues delve into Nathaniel’s childhood, including time he spent on a Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma after being “kidnapped” by his mother.

“There’s a whole story and saga there about the relationship between his mother and father,” Calloway says. “His time there and the experience he had with a medicine man were formative. I hope [that story] is as impactful to the readers as it was to him and certainly is to me.”

That’s a different kind of impact than Calloway created when he wrote about Batman or the X-Men, but it’s just as important to him. Nathaniel went on to become a respected doctor and professor, and Calloway hopes that Shadow Doctor honors that legacy.

Bell is a critic and writer based in Las Vegas.

Photo courtesy Peter Calloway