Monday, June 25, 2012
Comic Review: Tom Strong Deluxe Edition Volume 1
More than ten years ago, I read Hellboy: The Conqueror Worm and a trade paperback (I think) or two of Tom Strong, loaned to me by the corrupting Dan Fleming. That’s what took me from not being into comics to being an avid comic reader. That was the seed at least. And now, all these years later, I’ve finally revisited Tom Strong with the first hardcover collection of Alan Moore’s love letter to classic comics and pulps.
Now, Alan Moore is a contentious topic with me. I LOVE League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Tom Strong. But I can’t get into several of his other works, don’t much care for others I have read, and think the guy usually comes off as a total dillhole in any interviews or essays. He’s kind of like Harlan Ellison in that way. I respect some of his works, but think he’s a giant A-hole. And I refuse to bow with the armies of comic-fan sycophants. I don’t think he’s the end all be all of comic literature. There. I said it. And I’m done for now.
Getting on with this review, one of the things I love about this series is that like Hellboy, it spans a really long stretch of time, and frequently calls back to earlier days in Tom’s life, building his history even as we see his modern day adventures. I also love its complete embracing of old time super-science love. Tom is himself a creation of science, being raised by a somewhat cracked father to be better than other men. With tastes of Tarzan and Doc Savage, Tom becomes a Golden Age hero. But he doesn’t die, and the Golden Age doesn’t fade to Silver. He marries a woman who is a worthy match, has a daughter who’s cut from the same cloth of heroism. He has an intelligent ape and a robot companion. He battles Nazis, extra-dimensional Aztecs, super-science villains, and whatever stands in the way of progress and peace. And like the best old time heroes, he’s not only extremely strong, he’s also extremely smart. Not only is he an inventor, but he’s also able to see potential outcomes that get beyond the emotional needs for revenge or retribution. Like the best heroes, he is the best of what we are, what we can be.
Colorful characters, daring adventures, humor, danger, nostalgia, and hope for the future, all cleanly illustrated by Chris Sprouse and written with a surprising lack of cynicism by Alan Moore. None of the ‘deconstruction’ of the myths you find in Watchman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the occasional strong language, this feels totally appropriate for younger readers. Even the violence is usually restrained. There’s an innocence to it that I find most charming.
Moore and Sprouce seem to be, like Hellboy’s Mike Mignola, fans of many of the same things I love, with tons of references and lines of inspiration left fairly clear. Reading it again, I can see not only why Dan thought I’d like it, but why it helped me see the potential of comics, especially outside of the major DC and Marvel lines. I also see why my old roleplaying game analogy holds. DC and Marvel are like TSR (then publishers of Dungeons & Dragons). They’re what the general public knows, they’ve got the largest market share, and they’re successful weather they do good work or not, so the passion to do good isn’t always there. They’re also beholden to a much larger crowd of rabid fans, so taking chances, being bold, or shaking things up is much more dangerous than for other companies. Other gaming companies (or comic companies) did MUCH better work, but were never as popular, because they didn’t aim at the largest audience. In comics it’s the same way. Smaller companies, or even smaller labels of larger companies (Vertigo, for example) can make much more interesting comics because most people who would get upset by what’s contained aren’t ever going to look at them in the first place. Make Spider-Man non-white and people flip, start using the weighted and kind of inaccurate term “PC” (just about as useful a phrase as “overrated”). But have an interracial relationship in Tom Strong, deal with suicide in The Walking Dead, or feature an epic story about an abusive husband in Finder, and few heads turn. Few old ladies cluck. Few dirty shirted fan-boys wag their pizza stained finger.
Go out and get Tom Strong. It’s grand adventure fiction, fun and exciting. Great characters, both heroic and villainous. A cool world with a deep history. It’s the kind of world you’ll want to revisit time and again. And one of those most rare things, a depiction of a happy, loving married couple.
Tom Strong: Deluxe Edition Volume 1
Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Chris Sprouce, etc.
Publisher: America’s Best Comics