Tom Strong is a comic for those who love adventure stories. Or sci-fi. Or pulp characters. Or ace women heroes. Or space sagas. Or future tales. Or family stories. Heck, Tom Strong is for everyone!
I didn’t realise that for a long time, putting off the reading of this strange entry on Alan Moore’s catalogue of comics, assuming from the name and few covers that I’d seen that it was space combat style stuff: laser guns and superheroics for boys. Not that I object to such comics of course, but it didn’t zoom to the top of my reading pile. What a silly mistake.
When I did come to Tom Strong, first via his later adventures and then rummaging around for the original series, I realised how wrong I had been. Tom Strong is indeed a science hero, but holy socks, are his adventures entertaining. There is a real sense of fun to the world of Tom Strong, a playfulness that avoids pastiche or parody and instead revels in a Silver Age type enthusiasm. Best of all, Tom is joined by a stellar cast including his fierce wife Dhalua and their daughter Tesla, who get to have their own adventures and are seen as complete equals to the hero himself. This is actually very important given the context of the new mini, that sees Tom having to save Tesla which is by no means a common occurrence!
Now as part of Vertigo’s stunningly impressive 2013 line-up, tomorrow sees the publication of #1 of a brand new Tom Strong miniseries: Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril.
At last, it’s the return of Tom Strong—too bad he’s powerless! The lives of his daughter Tesla and her unborn child both hang in the balance, and there’s nothing Tom can do to save them…until he remembers the one thing that just might. To find it, he and Val Var Garm must journey to the far side of the galaxy, and the mysterious world known as… TERRA OBSCURA!
I highly recommend catching up with the previous series, not because you need to in order to enjoy or understand the new miniseries, but because you won’t want to miss a page of these fantastic tales. One person who shares my love for the world of Tom Strong is of course Peter Hogan, writer on the new miniseries alongside original co-creator Chris Sprouse, who last brought us Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom, as well as Terra Obscura. That latter series is perhaps well worth reading too, as the latest adventure hints at that perilous planet…
I caught up with Peter to chat about his new series, the move from America’s Best Comics to Vertigo, and just why Tom Strong is so appealing. Many thanks to Peter for his time, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Tom Strong and the Teens From Tomorrow is up next!
For fans old and new, what can you tell us about the story of “Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril”, and indeed the world of Tom Strong?
PH: I think Alan Moore’s original intention with Tom was to do something that drew upon the roots of the superhero genre – the pulps, in other words. So there’s a superficial resemblance between Tom and pulp characters like Doc Savage, and that’s the thing that people tend to pick up on. But Alan also imbued the strip with a very modern sensibility, and I’ve always felt it also draws very heavily on the Silver Age. It has that blend of innocence and imagination that you find in the Superman or Fantastic Four comics of the early 1960s – a sense that anything is possible, and that it’s going to be a fun ride whatever happens.
That said, this series is kind of different, in that it deals with quite dark territory, though it does come out into the light again before it’s done. Tom’s trying to save the life of his daughter, and has to travel across the galaxy for help, to the world of Terra Obscura, which is going through a truly awful global crisis. On one level, this is a story about death, and how different people deal with it. It’s also a story where the focus is on the heroes of that world as much as it is on Tom.
Tom Strong is originally the creation of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse, and is one of the few Moore creations of old to continue with the writer’s blessing. Was that an important box for you to tick, and does Moore keep up with Tom’s newer adventures?
PH: Well, when DC asked me to consider taking over Tom, it was conditional on Alan being okay with the idea – and that was a key aspect for me too. If Alan had been unhappy about the prospect of Tom carrying on without him, I’d not have done it, and I’m sure Chris felt the same way. As it turned out, fortunately for us Alan had no objections.
And yes, Alan did read the last miniseries, though that’s kind of between me and him. Let’s just say that I can live with his verdict.
Previous adventures were released under America’s Best Comics, an imprint that housed titles with a very unique feel. Can readers expect any change now that the title is with Vertigo?
PH: No, none at all. We still have the same editor, Kristy Quinn, who was assistant editor on all the ABC titles back in the Wildstorm days. So, it’s just a label change. I think it’s a shame to have lost the ABC tag, but since Tom’s the only ABC title still coming out, they probably felt it was weird to keep an imprint going for just one comic.
Do you think they’ll ever publish the rest of Top Ten Season Two ?
PH: I wish they would. I’d like to read the rest of the story, and I know I’m not alone.
Of course it’s not the first time you’ve worked with Vertigo, as you did some Sandman Presents stories in the late 90s after your 2000 AD days. Can I ask how you fell into comics, and how you came to be writer on Tom Strong?
PH: A long story, but I’ll try and give you the quick version. I was a journalist during the era of Watchmen and Dark Knight, so I interviewed all the major players of the day – Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, the Hernandez brothers and so on – and got to know pretty much everybody on the English comics scene. I also had a background in book editing, so that’s probably why Fleetway asked me to help out as assistant editor on Crisis, and later gave me the Revolver anthology to edit.
Anyway, when Revolver came to an end, I decided to try my hand at comics writing myself. Wrote for 2000AD, then got asked to write for The Dreaming and Sandman Presents. I’d stayed in touch with Alan Moore, and sent him some of the comics that I was really proud of, like the Sandman stuff – which he evidently liked, since he later asked me to come and write for ABC.
So I did the Tesla Strong special, then co-plotted two series of Terra Obscura with Alan, which I wrote the actual scripts for. Then I wrote three issues of the original run of Tom Strong, which Chris Sprouse drew.
Didn’t write any comics at all for a few years after that, until Ben Abernathy brought me back to write Tom again, the result being the Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom miniseries of a few years ago.
The blurb for the new series tells us that Terra Obscura is going to play a large part in the story – you are of course the co-writer of the previous Terra Obscura miniseries. Can you tell us a little about that alternate Earth and how things have changed since our last visit?
PH: As I understand it, the first Terra Obscura story that Alan wrote in the pages of Tom Strong came about because someone told him that there was an America’s Best Comic back in the 1940s, which intrigued him. When he saw that it had the original Dr Strange, who looked a bit like Tom Strong, and that there were all these other superhero characters from that era that were all now out of copyright, he thought he could do something interesting with them.
I certainly thought he had. When Alan asked me what I wanted to do after the Tesla special, Terra Obscura was my first choice. I thought all those characters had real potential, and I still do.
Anyway, Terra’s set-up is that it’s a parallel Earth, but situated at the far end of our galaxy, rather than in some other dimension. It’s a world that has superheroes, except that there they’re called ‘science-heroes’.
I always wanted to go back there again someday, so it’s a happy accident that Terra Obscura provided me with the only story solution I could think of to the dilemma that Tom faces in this series. But like I said, the place is undergoing a terrible crisis – one that Tom has to help solve if he’s ever to get home again.
You’ve written a few Tom Strong issues and series in the last decade, not to mention Terra Obscura. What is it that keeps bringing you – and Chris – back to Tom Strong?
PH: He’s a great character, with a great supporting cast, and a world that isn’t ever about to become incomprehensible because of convoluted continuity – it’s much neater, and more elegant to my mind. So, Chris and I can do things there that probably can’t be done in the superhero mainstream – and I think we both feel we’re a good team. Quite a few people have said they’d like to see us take a crack at Superman, which sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
With super strength, super intellect, and super inventions, not to mention being near immortal, Tom Strong has always seemed a surprisingly believable character – at odds perhaps with both the sillier and grimmer characters. He also, unlike many superheroes, has a wife and daughter who join him in his adventures as equals. How do you balance the jolly adventures and family interactions without compromising the complexity of the characters? (I ask because many others seem to fail!)
PH: Well, Tom’s a grown-up, most of the time. He’s trying to balance career and family, and if his family point out his failings he’ll generally – eventually, at any rate – try to see their point, and be big enough to admit it if he’s in the wrong. To put it another way, he’s capable of growth, which is probably quite unusual in comics terms, where characters have a tendency to be frozen in time – or else somebody presses their ‘restore factory settings’ button every few years.
As to balancing all the ingredients … I suppose you just develop a feel for it. When something’s getting too top-heavy, you can tell.
Dhalua, Tom’s wife, and Tesla, their daughter, are both major stars in the Tom Strong world, possessing power and agency of their own. This is something that really surprised me when I first came to the title – are you conscious of how different these female characters are from many other superhero or “boys” comics?
PH: Well, obviously, I’m just following Alan’s lead with those characters, since he created them. I think both of us have tried to write them in a way that rings true with our own experience of real women in the real world – and since we’re both married to intelligent women who aren’t shy about giving their opinions, hopefully we’ve learned a thing or two! Plus, Alan has two grown-up daughters, and I’m sure they probably influenced the creation of Tesla.
Aside from Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril, you also have a new mini(?)series of Resident Alien coming out from Dark Horse, with #0 released on the 14th of August. Can you tell us anything about your alien creation, and what he’s up to in the new series?
PH: Resident Alien was co-created by myself and Steve Parkhouse, and like Tom it’s an ongoing series of miniseries. It concerns an alien who’s shipwrecked on Earth and posing as a doctor named Harry – and he’s a genuinely nice guy who just happens to be stuck here, and is making the best of it. Although the reader sees him as an alien, everybody else treats him as a normal person, so he’s obviously hypnotizing them in some way.
Anyway, Harry’s been here for a few years, keeping a low profile, but in the first series we saw him getting drawn out into society. He not only became the doctor of a small town, but got involved in solving a murder mystery. In the new series we’ll learn a bit more about him, and more about the government agents who are trying to find him, while Harry deals with another crime. The story’s called The Suicide Blonde, and it’s about a death that may be suicide or murder, and Harry has to find out which.
And finally, can we hope to see more Tom Strong adventures from you and Chris in the future?
PH: That’s up to Vertigo, but I certainly hope so. I think Chris would probably be happy to draw Tom forever, and I have ideas for at least two more miniseries. The first of those would be called Tom Strong and the Teens From Tomorrow, and it’d be a lot lighter in tone than this one.
Okay, one more sneaky question! I’d love to see a series or issue where Dhalua and Tesla go off on an adventure of their own – is that something we’re likely to see at any point?
PH: I’d happily write one if they asked me, but I think they’d probably rather just have another Tom Strong series. If and when that happens, I’ll try and squeeze in some more page time for those two.
Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril #1
Writer: Peter Hogan
Penciller: Chris Sprouse
Inker: Karl Story
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Todd Klein
Editors: Ben Abernathy & Kristy Quinn
Tom Strong created by: Alan Moore & Chris Sprouse
Diamond Code: MAY130248
Release Date: July 31st
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.