Sunday, 5 April 2015

Tom Strong

Alan Moore, Chris Sprouse, Al Gordon & others
Tom Strong book two (2001)

At the risk of simply repeating whatever it was I said about the previous collection, Tom Strong is Alan Moore doing Supreme properly, as in without the baggage of Rob Liefeld, Image Comics, or the obligation of working with anyone else's playset. It's Moore's own brand mash-up of Superman, Captain Marvel, Doc Savage and others - the square-jawed good guy - starring in stories told just as they were way back when, loopy ideas, bright colours, and very little in the way of cynicism; and it reads as though aimed at children or at least younger teenagers, as I'm sure it is.

This presents a sort of problem in so much as Tom Strong so obviously speaks to an idea of teenagers as I guess Moore would like them to be - or would have liked them to have been fifteen years ago when this came out - rather than to actual teenagers who were probably more likely to have been playing Decapitator XII for Nintari X-Cube, or reading X-Men variants if they were actually reading comics at all. Tom Strong is pitched to a generation of kids who probably couldn't have cared less about Jack Kirby, or any of the hokey golden age team ups and crossovers so deftly parodied within - well, not even parodied exactly because most of it is played absolutely straight. This leaves the narrative light on substance, and yet heavy with material resembling subtext, or at least requiring a fairly thorough knowledge of the history of comics. This would tend to define a fat, old cunt like myself as the target audience, except I'm quite obviously not. The whole therefore comes across as lacking balance in some sense which is quite difficult to identify. The art, writing, and mechanics of how it all fits together are stunning, beautiful, perfection itself - and yet the whole somehow fails to engage, at least for me.

There's probably a clue as to why this should be in Space Family Strong, drawn by Hilary Barta in a style which I assume pays homage to Wally Wood's strips for Mad magazine. The tone is perfect - exaggeration and parody executed with affection which unwittingly and unfortunately throws the admittedly flawless artwork of Sprouse and Gordon into sharp relief as a good idea taking itself just a little bit too seriously. Even when Alan Moore fumbles the ball, he manages to do it in an interesting way and to make it look like it was deliberate.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly what you mean about Tom Strong, it's definitely one of Moore's lesser works but to be fair, he was knocking out Promethea, Top Ten and the League at the same time and it's still pretty good. The final episode when it 'crosses over' with Promethea and Top 10 is definitely the best bit... There's also a great story by Ed Brubaker which riffs off Moore's own Miracleman very touchingly