Review by Karl Verhoven
Within the context of ABC’s “Science-Hero” universe Tom Strong was the character who combined the best elements of Batman and Superman, but with the traditional light and wholesome approach of the latter. The opening chapter details why he’s far more powerful and longer-lived than the usual human lifespan, while his scientific and deductive approach to crime fighting and adventuring are as much a matter of a genetically inherited intelligence as anything else.
Alan Moore surrounded his lead with equally capable characters. His wife Dhalua is from the tiny island race that inhabited the young Tom’s homeland, and their daughter Tesla may resemble a teenager physically, but she’s in her sixties, the family being equally long-lived. Pneuman, is a steam-powered robotic butler constructed in 1899 by Seymour Strong before his death in a volcanic tragedy, and Tom’s companion Solomon was created by genetically tinkering with a gorilla, whose resulting speech patterns aren’t too far removed from Bertie Wooster: “Toodle pip till next time, wot?”.
Tom Strong’s tone is deliberately one combining wonder, variety and light, and exemplified by the clear and dynamic layouts of co-creator Chris Sprouse. His designs and panel compositions emphasise space and marvels, while the adaptable Matt Hollingsworth compliments the mood by opting for bold, bright and flat colours.
The stories are all over the place, and stronger for being collected as opposed to being consumed individually on a monthly basis. The collection reveals the astonishing breadth of what Moore’s playing with, as his characters adapt to pretty well any genre. In the opening chapters we have light versions of science fiction, Lovecraftian squidgy horror, an all-female Nazi fighter pilot squadron and an invasion from an alternate world where the Aztecs have become the predominant culture. That leads into a major theme for the series, that of alternates, or divergence.
This opening material is well crafted fun, but the true wonder occurs when Moore begins producing bite-size stories complete in eight pages. There’s an astonishing variety displaying a prodigious imagination. After Tom uses a device that takes him to a cartoon world and he meets his rabbit counterpart, daughter Tesla is faced with half a dozen alternates from other worlds. Dhalua’s coming of age ceremony in a cave involves ingesting hallucinogenics and confronting a snake God. We have a lost space creature inhabiting an Incan ruin, cowboys and aliens and so much more. Adding to the impressive nature is that much of this is not only introducing wondrous new characters, but they’ll return.
Sprouse establishes the artistic style, but guest artists appear, each of them excellent and suited to the material. Art Adams, Paul Chadwick, Gary Frank, Dave Gibbons, Russ Heath, Jerry Ordway, and Alan Weiss contribute. All broadly follow Sprouse’s lead, with the exception being Gary Gianni’s spectacular harkening back to the 19th century echoing both Gustave Doré and Charles Dana Gibson. This is for a tale in which Tom travels to the city of the dead to view the past. Anyone enjoying these different artistic interpretations is guided to two collections of Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, where Moore’s contributions all live up to the title.
A second deluxe volume mops up most of the remaining Moore Tom Strong not included here.