Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tom Strong

Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Alan Gordon & others
Tom Strong book one (2000)

Interviewed in the Guraniad last November, Alan Moore made some people a bit cross by suggesting that the sequentially delineated escapades of costumed super champions were mostly a big mound of wank:

I haven't read any superhero comics since I finished with Watchmen. I hate superheroes. I think they're abominations. They don't mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine to thirteen year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to thirteen, it's nothing to do with them. It's an audience largely of thirty-forty-fifty-sixty-year old men—usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spiderman without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don't think the superhero stands for anything good. I think it's a rather alarming sign if we've got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the twelve-year-old boys of the 1950s.

This more or less reiterates what Moore said in another interview - which I can't seem to track down - asking something along the lines of how many times the general public really need to see Peter Parker bitten by a radioactive spider over and over again. All fair comment, although, as Daniel O'Mahony has pointed out, it might have carried a bit more weight had Moore not spent the previous couple of decades harking back to the more wholesome superhero comics from when he were a lad and it was still the old days and everything was better than it is now. I'm not fully convinced there's a contradiction here; well, not exactly, and yet something doesn't quite sit right.

Tom Strong appears to be Supreme done properly, a character revised right back to the source and in the process losing the Rob Liefeld associations, both legal and the bad mojo of scowling superdudes with too many lines on their faces. It's a conflation of Superman and things like Doc Savage, I suppose, overtly aimed at a nine to thirteen year-old readership and thus roughly carrying the tone of something from 2000AD before the Mighty Tharg started printing it on fancy paper. The art is breathtakingly gorgeous, and it's both imaginative and wonderfully crafted just as you would expect, but the bottom line for my forty-eight year old ass is that Tom Strong is also very, very familiar, recycled tropes done respectfully and those pastiche interludes in the style of comics from the forties and fifties, as seen in Supreme; so it doesn't really do anything surprising. It's an old song played well, although I kind of wonder how a nine to thirteen year-old would find it, assuming one could be prised away from his or her iPad for long enough to sit through an issue of Grandad describing how he used to love going to see the Daredevils of the Red Circle serial at the picture house.

Tom Strong is wonderful of its kind, I guess, but as a fat old man I found it somehow underwhelming, and not quite sufficiently charming for the author to get away with doing the Supreme thing a second time around; and the Aztecs of a parallel Earth tale is bollocks, as such things usually are, depicting Quetzalcoatl literally as a winged serpent, confusing Mexica iconography with that of Xochicalco, El Tajín and Teotihuacan - because it's all the bleedin' same, innit - and filling Aztec speech bubbles with glyphs which are actually just strings of day names. Given the medium and the genre, I didn't expect a Henry Nicholson level of authenticity, but given the author, I had hoped it could have at least demonstrated a bit more effort than an episode of fucking Sliders. Also I'm afraid I found the talking gorilla somewhat irritating.


  1. Basically agree with this but it's worth noting Moore was writing this at the same time as he was writing monthly issues of Top 10, Promethea, the League of extraordinary gentlemen and assorted other bits and pieces so I think a bit of coasting was acceptable, they're good well crafted kids comics and the art is always good and sometimes great.

    It's pretty much more of the same until towards the end when it starts getting interesting and crossing over with the end of the world plot of Promethea. There's also my favourite story, a very touching couple of fill in issues written by Ed Brubaker which charmingly riffs off Moore's work on Miracleman in the same manner as Moore homages Superman...

    1. Interesting - I picked up book two at the same time, and I was thinking I'd probably leave it at that, but I may take a look at the later ones after all, depending upon how I find Promethea, which I'll get around to reading eventually.