In Praise of Peter Hogan’s Tom Strong

Of all the characters in Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics titles, Tom Strong has proved the most durable, once Moore himself gave up writing for the imprint in 2006. TOP 10, more or less a Hill-Street-Blues-with-superpowers cop series, had a couple of attempts at following on after Moore, which never really found their audience; PROMETHEA had ended up with nowhere left to go, as the world had ended; and only one of the TOMORROW STORIES characters, Greyshirt, got another series, although you should go look out for it – Rick Veitch’s excellent GREYSHIRT: INDIGO SUNSET, originally published twelve years ago now. (Yes, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is still going, of course, but that’s rather a different matter, and is wholly owned by the creators, which none of the other ABC titles were.)

TOM STRONG, however, and his greater milieu, always seemed to be the title that was most readily suited to multiple interpretations by different writers, as it was being written by a lot more people that just Moore, even during its original run. Geoff Johns, Brian K. Vaughan, and Ed Brubaker all wrote stories, along with Moores Leah and Steve – one related to The Original Writer, and one famously not – and so did British writer Peter Hogan.

Following on from these, Hogan would be entrusted with telling more stories of TERRA OBSCURA, a Tom Strong spin-off title featuring an alternative version of Strong’s own Earth, but at the far end of the galaxy, which had appeared in a few of the issues of the original Tom Strong title. This world was populated by characters who had originally been in Nedor Comics titles in the 1940s, but which have since lapsed into the public domain. These are good old-fashioned comic book adventure stories, the likes of which we don’t seem to get as much of as we used to, so deserve to be treasured all the more.

Somewhere in the course of all this, I found myself interviewing Peter Hogan, which I’ve done twice now (here and here), and we finally got to meet in person a couple of months back. He is, quite frankly, a lovely man, so I’d be saying nice things about him anyway. However, my deep-seated sense of Catholic guilt is at least assuaged by the fact that he’s actually a great writer, and an excellent successor to Alan Moore on these titles. So I have no qualms in urging you to go look out for a couple of things that are due out about now, which will help brighten up these dark and icy winter days.

The two series of Terra Obscura that Hogan has worked on – with some authorial assistance from Moore – have now been collected into a single, satisfyingly large, volume, TERRA OBSCURA: S.M.A.S.H. OF TWO WORLDS, published on the 8th of January by Vertigo – tomorrow, as I type this – accompanied by an introduction from Hogan, development sketches by series artist Yanick Paquette, and the relevant parts of the long out of print ABC A-Z: TERRA OBSCURA AND SPLASH BRANNIGAN, a sort of who’s who of the various Terra Obscura characters.

However, when that ABC A-Z title was published, one text box got lost in the works. It was the piece about Mystico, later known as Set. Sadly, this text box wasn’t restored for the collected edition. However, all is not lost: We here at The Beat can exclusively offer you, this one-time-only offer, strictly limited to one per reader, the text that was originally meant to appear in that very text box. Feel free to copy it, paste it into a document page, and print it out in the font of your choice, before pasting it into your newly-acquired copy of S.M.A.S.H. OF TWO WORLDS.

An Egyptian mummy restored to life by an insane scientist’s vita-ray machine in 1940, Mystico possessed magical powers seemingly without limit. His godlike abilities were finally explained in 2003 by the discovery that he actually WAS a god: Set, the Egyptian Lord of Chaos, who had bonded with the human identity of the Pharoah Smenkhkare. Set’s bid for world domination was foiled, and in the peace settlement he was granted co-rulership (with THOTH) of New Egypt. Whether Set is now hero or villain remains to be seen, but he did help Thoth to contain the Hiroshima atomic blast during 2004.

While you’re buying your copy of this, you might as well pick up the six-issues of the TOM STRONG AND THE PLANET OF PERIL mini-series, the last part of which hit the shelves on the 31st of December. Tom Strong and his son-in-law, Val Var Garm, have to travel to Terra Obscura to try to find a cure for Tom’s pregnant daughter, Tesla, because her unborn child is threatening to kill her – probably something to do with its father being a pyrotechnic being from deep inside the Earth – where they find that all is not well, and they have to go through lots of difficulties before they finally get what they need. But will they get it all on time? Will Tesla be alright? And, if so, what sort of child is she going to have? Really, you need to read these comics to find out. They are, it should be said, a little more downbeat that the rest of the titles, because the unseen adversary, the thing hidden behind the curtain, is Death itself, which hovers over the proceedings, right from the start. But it’s good, well-thought out stuff, and the last page of #6, all on its own, make the whole thing worthwhile.

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