Review by Karl Verhoven
If Alan Moore wasn’t going to be writing Tom Strong for a while, which he doesn’t until the final chapter here, could there be a better substitute than acclaimed novelist Michael Moorcock? He takes the themes Moore played with throughout the series – alternates, divergence, adventure – and weaves them all into a rollicking pirate story. As Moorcock’s own writing influenced Moore, this success should perhaps be no surprise, and fans might be particularly pleased at the presence of an albino adventurer whose swordsmanship is beyond compare. Jerry Ordway is an artist possibly taken for granted, but his storytelling skills impress throughout, as does his adaptability. He’s equally at home illustrating a Millennium City bar and piracy on the high seas of the 1700s, and his trip across the multiverse is noteworthy.
Joe Casey and Ben Oliver focus on the under-used Pneuman, starting their tale with some manifestations of odd behaviour. It’s a clever plot, with an unpredictable solution that’s well illustrated, comments equally applicable to Steve Moore and Paul Gulacy’s ‘The Spires of Samakhara’. That, though, is a little heavy on the exposition as Tom Strong heads into China to a mystical city previously only known via a 19th century novel.
In Book Five Peter Hogan and Chris Sprouse produced two stories, and a sequel unites them. It’s more traditional superhero material than those predecessors, although entertaining enough, and draws a line under the tragic return of Tom Strong’s old flame. Two further collections of Hogan and Sprouse’s Tom Strong work are available as The Planet of Peril and The Robots of Doom.
Sprouse returns with Moore for the finale, but it’s entirely different in tone from their previous material, signified by the colours of Jose Villarrubia replacing the usual flat and bold work, and the use of all the characters Moore created for accompanying series. Their assorted spheres of reality are coalescing as the apocalypse occurs, and Moore notes some cultures would have this signifying the revelation of secrets. That’s his cue for a grand finale, with Paul Saveen as guide and interlocutor. While referred to as Tom’s arch enemy, Saveen has never featured in the series as himself in his prime. His appearances have always been deceptive or alternate, and here he’s Moore’s voice, feeding directly through the pages to provide “Everything you’d ever want from a narrative. Passages that excite you, make you laugh, make you cry. And best of all, on each fresh reading there’s new details, new layers of meaning to uncover.” It’s a promise Moore keeps by revisiting a previously depicted scene to unpeel it.
Moore’s conclusion is the very antithesis of his previous Tom Strong, and more in keeping with his work on Promethea, who’s instrumental here. The complexity, however, isn’t forced on what was previously simpler material, and the philosophical musing provides for a fine valediction. On the final page Tom exhorts us to “Love yourselves. Love each other.” The cynic may dismiss it as hippy-dippy optimism, but try taking it at face value.