Or – “The Return That No One Expected…”
For all the guff that I give fans of 90’s comics, the entire decade wasn’t deadwood. Indeed, near the end of the decade/century, there was a renaissance in comics that led to such wonders as Planetary, Rising Stars, and the entire America’s Best Comics imprint. Of these books, Top 10 was my quirky favorite, Promethea was probably the most successful artistically, Greyshirt was a noir flashback tale, but none of them had the pure comics vibe that Tom Strong had. Taking the most successful elements of Lee and Kirby’s Marvel, the tales of Doc Savage and bits and pieces of science fiction, movie serials and the future tales of the 1950’s, Tom’s adventures were at once grounded and fantastic, silly and grave, sentimental and all business. Ten or so years later, the first science hero has returned, things are about to get complicated, and I couldn’t be happier about it…
Tom Strong And The Robots Of Doom #1
Written by PETER HOGAN
Art and cover by CHRIS SPROUSE & KARL STORY
1:10 Variant cover by J.H. WILLIAMS III
Letters by TODD KLEIN
Colors by CARRIE STRACHAN
Published by America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm Comics
Previously, on Tom Strong: Years ago, Sinclair Strong packed up his wife and set out on a journey by ship, only to find himself stranded on the lost island of Attabar Teru. Using his scientific background, Strong breeds his son to be superior in mind and body, only to end up orphaning the boy not long after his 11th birthday. Freed from his father’s experiments, Tom was raised by the natives of Attabar Teru, the Ozu, and learns their ways as well as decoding his father’s science. Marrying a daughter of the Ozu, Tom returned to America and set up shop as a “science hero” in Millenium City, with wife Dhalua and daughter Tesla in tow (as well as King Solomon, an ape whom Tom gave human intellect, and who inexplicably speaks like James Mason) and, thanks to the age-retardant powers of the herb Goloka, has spent 100 years as protector of humanity.
We open in an unexplained floating castle, as an ancient wizard-looking man monologues about the beauty of the historical events he has witnessed, even a time when the living and the dead came together in a golden age, cementing a sense of being and belonging unheard of in human history. “[It was] replaced by something so FOUL it pains me to even remember it… All because one man’s heart was filled with poison.” Cut back to the present (or, indeed, September of 2009) as Albrecht Weiss, the biological offspring of Tom Strong by a soulless Nazi witch, seeks out a mysterious legendary cavern with some sort of mystical properties. Chris Sprouse is in top form here, as Albrecht, even 10 years older, looks as he did during his brief appearance in Tom’s book some years ago. He’s obviously older, and starting to resemble his father more, but it’s a wonderful bit of business for fans of the original book. Back in Millenium City, Dhalua Strong is trying (and failing) to get her family packed in their flying saucer for a trip to Attabar Teru. Tom is sidetracked by a mysterious piece of time-altering stone, Solomon hasn’t finished prepping the ship, and daughter Tesla is a little bit starry-eyed, as the reason for the trip is her wedding to Val Var Garm, king of the volcano men.
At the end of the original series of Promethea, the lead character broke through the walls separating the living and the dead, causing the last couple of issues of this book to be trippy, as Tom discovered that his longtime nemesis Paul Saveen was his half-brother. Saveen and Tom have a very warm moment here, analyzing the fragment of “Chronium,” when suddenly Paul screams in pain and fades away. At the same time, Tom’s photo of Einstein changes to a photo of… To avoid funny web-search issues, let’s just call him Randolf Hilter. You know, the kid who flunked out of art school and then made himself a little uniform? You know the guy. Tom realizes something is wrong and runs searching for his wife and daughter, only to find the entire city (presumably the world) has been transformed into a nightmarish alternate reality wherein the Ratzis won World War II. Albrecht greets his pater warmly, and the robots of the title stop the elder Strong from escaping or kicking his son’s butt. Listening to the mad tale of time-travel and altered states, Tom asks the obvious question: “What happened to me? Why am I still alive?” Albrecht waves away the paradox, and sends Tom to be locked in the requisite dungeon. Tom is visited by Ingrid (Albrecht’s mommy, who stole Tom’s genetic material decades ago to father nasty Al) who tries again to seduce our hero. She remarks on Tom’s heroism, throws a few racial slurs about his dark-skinned time-lost wife, and departs, leaving Tom Strong chained up, at his lowest point ever as we fade to black.
The first thing I have to mention about this issue is that it hasn’t suffered greatly from the absence of co-creator Alan Moore. Certainly this issue is pretty continuity intensive, referring to half a dozen plot points from the 36 issue original series, and a lot of this spins out of what Moore established, but Peter Hogan does good work with this issue. Tom sounds right, King Solomon and Dhalua sound right, and I actually felt a little pang of pride at the thought of young Tesla getting married and setting off to be an adult woman at last. All the right notes are struck as we go, and Chris Sprouse is still at the top of his game. The weaknesses of the issue come from the same place, though, in that I had to do a little digging in the back issue boxes in my office to remember all the plotty bits (Saveen’s ghost, the Chronium, Albrecht and Ingrid) in play, making me wonder if anyone who doesn’t already have fond memories of Tom and the ABC line is going to pick up this series. Still, being too involved and continuity-intensive is a common problem in comic books these days, and the lively storytelling makes up for a lot of sins (as do a couple of loving close-ups of Ingrid stripping to her corset and stockings, though this may create a couple of sins to offset the ones it makes up for.) Overall, it’s a nice continuation of a dearly missed series, and a well-handled continuation at that. Tom Strong and the Robots Of Doom #1 earns 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, and gives me hope that we might see more Top 10 or Jonni Future as well…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: This issue (and much of the ABC line) provided some very adult relationships and interactions, especially as regards sex and people liking it, without ever feeling gratuitous. Are there any non-Alan-Moore titles that you feel handled sex in a grown-up fashion?