“You expect my baby to be raised by a machine?”
I loved America’s Best Comics.
You’ll undoubtedly see me singing the line’s praises in this space in the future, and I’ve touted them in the past, as I consider what Alan Moore and his collaborators did with those books essentially a love letter to comics. Often in ingenious ways, like Moore and Kevin Nowlan’s Jack B. Quick or the powerhouse of imagination that was Moore, JH Williams III, Mick Gray and co.’s Promethea.
Tom Strong, created by Moore and Chris Sprouse, was a paean to the pulp heroes like Doc Savage and to the storytelling ingenuity of CC Beck, particularly on Captain Marvel. In its course, it was one of the few that had other writers and creative teams tackle his stories, like the spin-off anthology series Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, and a run in the main title of guest creators. One of the highlights of this period being Tom Strong #28 by Brian K. Vaughan, Peter Snejbjerg, Wildstorm FX, and Todd Klein.
This single issue story focuses on Pneuman, the Strongs’ robo-butler, as he gets his remit originally before Tom Strong’s birth of ensuring that he never suffers through to his interpretation of that edict in the then-present day. With the tragic deaths of Tom’s parents and a wacky misadventure with a villain who brings paintings to life, Pneuman experiences a rather unique perspective, coming to interesting conclusions that potentially transcend his programming. It’s the kind of morality play that often can only be explored in synthetic life. At the time, this story was rather unique for Brian K. Vaughan’s output. Even his superhero work was more grounded, even considering something like Runaways. This hints at some of the more fantastic elements that would come in Saga.
Peter Snejbjerg’s style isn’t that far off from Chris Sprouse. His lines might be a bit thicker and uses more exaggeration in characters’ features, but Snejbjerg still has a smooth, open style very well-suited to both the pulp adventure aspect of Tom Strong and to the weirder, wide-eyed characters walking out of the various paintings. He also nicely sets Pneuman apart as a solid, dark monolith, emphasizing that the pneumatic machine is apart from his mortal companions. This is echoed with Todd Klein’s usual flair for character-specific word balloons, providing Pneuman with a rectangular balloon with a broken, static-filled typeface for his dialogue. The colors from Wildstorm FX help keep the tone with the series overall consistent, opting for fairly bright tones suiting the more optimistic, comic book adventure nature of the story.
Tom Strong #28 by Vaughan, Snejbjerg, Wildstorm FX, and Klein is indeed a wonderful look at Tom Strong’s robot companion, though this issue also nicely serves as an introduction to the family and series as a whole, even so late in the game. It plays with all of the elements that make up a Tom Strong story and makes you wonder what’s going on within the shiny metal exterior of one of Tom’s oldest friends.
Classic Comic Compendium: Tom Strong #28
Tom Strong #28
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Peter Snejbjerg
Colourists: Wildstorm FX
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm | America’s Best Comics
Release Date: September 22, 2004
Also collected in Tom Strong – Volume 5
Read last week’s addition to the Classic Comic Compendium!