In Praise of Peter Hogan’s Tom Strong

Of all the characters in Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics titles, Tom Strong has proved the most durable, once Moore himself gave up writing for the imprint in 2006. TOP 10, more or less a Hill-Street-Blues-with-superpowers cop series, had a couple of attempts at following on after Moore, which never really found their audience; PROMETHEA had ended up with nowhere left to go, as the world had ended; and only one of the TOMORROW STORIES characters, Greyshirt, got another series, although you should go look out for it – Rick Veitch’s excellent GREYSHIRT: INDIGO SUNSET, originally published twelve years ago now. (Yes, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is still going, of course, but that’s rather a different matter, and is wholly owned by the creators, which none of the other ABC titles were.)

TOM STRONG, however, and his greater milieu, always seemed to be the title that was most readily suited to multiple interpretations by different writers, as it was being written by a lot more people that just Moore, even during its original run. Geoff Johns, Brian K. Vaughan, and Ed Brubaker all wrote stories, along with Moores Leah and Steve – one related to The Original Writer, and one famously not – and so did British writer Peter Hogan.

Following on from these, Hogan would be entrusted with telling more stories of TERRA OBSCURA, a Tom Strong spin-off title featuring an alternative version of Strong’s own Earth, but at the far end of the galaxy, which had appeared in a few of the issues of the original Tom Strong title. This world was populated by characters who had originally been in Nedor Comics titles in the 1940s, but which have since lapsed into the public domain. These are good old-fashioned comic book adventure stories, the likes of which we don’t seem to get as much of as we used to, so deserve to be treasured all the more.

Somewhere in the course of all this, I found myself interviewing Peter Hogan, which I’ve done twice now (here and here), and we finally got to meet in person a couple of months back. He is, quite frankly, a lovely man, so I’d be saying nice things about him anyway. However, my deep-seated sense of Catholic guilt is at least assuaged by the fact that he’s actually a great writer, and an excellent successor to Alan Moore on these titles. So I have no qualms in urging you to go look out for a couple of things that are due out about now, which will help brighten up these dark and icy winter days.

The two series of Terra Obscura that Hogan has worked on – with some authorial assistance from Moore – have now been collected into a single, satisfyingly large, volume, TERRA OBSCURA: S.M.A.S.H. OF TWO WORLDS, published on the 8th of January by Vertigo – tomorrow, as I type this – accompanied by an introduction from Hogan, development sketches by series artist Yanick Paquette, and the relevant parts of the long out of print ABC A-Z: TERRA OBSCURA AND SPLASH BRANNIGAN, a sort of who’s who of the various Terra Obscura characters.

However, when that ABC A-Z title was published, one text box got lost in the works. It was the piece about Mystico, later known as Set. Sadly, this text box wasn’t restored for the collected edition. However, all is not lost: We here at The Beat can exclusively offer you, this one-time-only offer, strictly limited to one per reader, the text that was originally meant to appear in that very text box. Feel free to copy it, paste it into a document page, and print it out in the font of your choice, before pasting it into your newly-acquired copy of S.M.A.S.H. OF TWO WORLDS.

An Egyptian mummy restored to life by an insane scientist’s vita-ray machine in 1940, Mystico possessed magical powers seemingly without limit. His godlike abilities were finally explained in 2003 by the discovery that he actually WAS a god: Set, the Egyptian Lord of Chaos, who had bonded with the human identity of the Pharoah Smenkhkare. Set’s bid for world domination was foiled, and in the peace settlement he was granted co-rulership (with THOTH) of New Egypt. Whether Set is now hero or villain remains to be seen, but he did help Thoth to contain the Hiroshima atomic blast during 2004.

While you’re buying your copy of this, you might as well pick up the six-issues of the TOM STRONG AND THE PLANET OF PERIL mini-series, the last part of which hit the shelves on the 31st of December. Tom Strong and his son-in-law, Val Var Garm, have to travel to Terra Obscura to try to find a cure for Tom’s pregnant daughter, Tesla, because her unborn child is threatening to kill her – probably something to do with its father being a pyrotechnic being from deep inside the Earth – where they find that all is not well, and they have to go through lots of difficulties before they finally get what they need. But will they get it all on time? Will Tesla be alright? And, if so, what sort of child is she going to have? Really, you need to read these comics to find out. They are, it should be said, a little more downbeat that the rest of the titles, because the unseen adversary, the thing hidden behind the curtain, is Death itself, which hovers over the proceedings, right from the start. But it’s good, well-thought out stuff, and the last page of #6, all on its own, make the whole thing worthwhile.

Comments

  1. I loved the original two series of Terra Obscura very much, one of my favorite things ever and truly wonderful. Great writing and great art, a joy to read.
    However, the Planet of Peril was a big letdown for me. Can’t we tell stories without millions of casualties and killing off characters? (Not really a spoiler).

  2. I’ve been following Tom Strong from issue #1, and I agree that Peter Hogan is a capable and inventive writer and has introduced some very intriguing concepts to the character, but something that I think is missing from the recent run of Tom Strong stories is the “personal cost ” that was such a huge part of the character in the beginning. This current Tom is definitely a bit more downplayed and while I think the evolution of the character is generally headed in an expansive direction the conflicts themselves ,while interesting set pieces, lack any real sense of danger for Tom and his family…case in point for this current storyline. Nothing new is risked for Tom and his family and the consequences are too neatly wrapped up by series end. I see great potential in this character and hope that my criticism is not taken for nitpicking, as it is not intended as such.

  3. I’d skipped a lot of the interim Tom Strong stories, picking up Planet of Peril because I like Hogan’s “Resident Alien” series so much. Glad I did, since I really enjoyed it… and now I have a bunch of earlier comics to catch up on!

  4. Don Murphy says:

    If Padraig and Rich Johnston ever met and spoke about their Alan Moore obsessions they would do so until the fucking Rapture!

  5. joe musich says:

    Tom Strong is what Captain Marvel could be handled correctly. Which dead comics does not seem to want to do. DC is still celebrating a legal victory over Fawcett rather then let this character be handled as it was.

  6. Peter Urkowitz says:

    I think Hogan is a good writer, and I have mostly enjoyed his Tom Strong and Terra Obscura series, but I always feel like the pacing is a little off, like six issues for a miniseries is a bit too long. I know, I know, it’s the perfect length to be collected into a TPB, so that’s what it has to be. But I think maybe three or four issues would have been better for most of them. Hard to explain exactly why I feel this way. Maybe it is the tendency of everything to get wrapped up very very quickly in the last issues? So a good part of the middle issues feels more like filler than like essential development of the plot. Oh well, it is still more enjoyable than most comics on the stands today, so never mind my quibbles.

  7. Chris Hero says:

    I loved Tom Strong from Moore and I’ve loved Tom Strong from Hogan. Hogan had the not enviable task of grabbing the baton from a man who’s very unique and has done a phenomenal job with it.

  8. The ABC comics are wholly creator owned? does Alan more own them solely, or did he at one point?

  9. >> The ABC comics are wholly creator owned? >>

    No, LEAGUE is. The others aren’t.

    kdb

  10. Steve Replogle says:

    Thank you, Padraig, for this well-deserved shout-out to Peter Hogan. I think his work on Tom Strong has been exemplary, and I imagine Chris Sprouse feels the same way, since he made sure to collaborate only with Hogan when those all-star guest writers were taken turns with the series. Peter Hogan has taken the tropes and themes that Moore developed for Tom Strong and built upon them with a kind of authenticity that demonstrates he’s a kindred spirit with the original creators. I especially like the way that he has taken left-over plot threads from Moore’s run and brought them to a satisfactory conclusion, or at least a satisfying continuation. Case in point: Pluto Parulian, Dr. Permafrost, who was allowed by Hogan to redeem himself in “Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom.” In this series, he’s a member of Tom Strong’s circle, like Svetlana X, and has become the family’s de facto physician. Redemption was a strong theme in Moore’s run, and continues to be examined by Hogan. I’d suggest, in fact, that the latest series, “Planet of Peril” seems to consider the redemption of the entire concept of Terra Obscura. It’s a fun and odd amalgamation. There are loopy Nedor-based characters, the odd quantum relationship to our Earth, and an ever-present current of tragedy. Because, as readers will find, there’s a lot of death in the Terra Obscura stories.

    I would respectfully disagree with the posting above that states these stories lack a “real sense of danger for Tom and his family” or that “nothing new is risked.” The new series begins with Tesla near death, and the story becomes more grim as it continues, seeming to lead to Val’s death as well. I was particularly moved by Tom’s reflection (or flashback) in the first issue, as he remembers his own father’s misbegotten ideas about child-rearing and, in turn, worries about his own abilities to be “strong” enough to help his family with the current crisis. As a father myself, I have often experienced similar doubts, and examined my relationship to my own parents as I looked for my answers.

    It does seem that there is great potential for one more story – and one that would address the theme of redemption, too. What is going to happen to those characters who are irredeemable, the ones currently in prison on Aztek Empire Outpost 2050? We have Ingrid Weiss, Albrecht Strong, and Tiberius and Twyla Strong. Tesla ominously characterized them as a potential “nuclear family from Hell.” Unlike the Modular Man or Quetzalcoatl-9, these are antagonists who seem to be beyond reform. A related question: will there be further Tom Strong stories? I believe this series had been approved while the first series was still being published. Has “Planet of Peril” done well enough for Hogan and Sprouse to produce another Tom Strong series? I hope so.

    In the meantime, this was a greta story. I was really worried about both Tesla and Val, and was so happy with the way the story ended. Moore has recently spoken of his pride in creating one of the few biracial couples in comics. I can’t help but think he’d be happy with Tom and Dhalua’s granddaughter being a floating flame spirit of a baby.

  11. Steve Replogle says:

    Oh, I see I made a mistake in my last paragraph. Sorry! This was not a “greta” story, although Greta Gabriel was referenced in the first issue. I meant it was a GREAT story!

  12. Jeremy Holstein says:

    I loved Planet of Peril, and thought the final issue very moving. I’ve been surprised by some of the negative reviews, as it eased a tear out of this jaded fan’s tear ducts. Kudos to Hogan (and Sprouse!)

  13. Rich H says:

    I love Tom Strong, but only when Alan Moore was writing him. There was something subtle about his mix of humour and “adultness” (can’t think of the word) in his take. So many ideas and imagination every issue.

    Sadly, Peter Hogan… I don’t think he gets Tom Strong and what he represents. He plays Tom like a superhero (which Tom isn’t) and in a flat way. And reusing Terra Obscura is just not an interesting enough way to reintroduce him to comics.

    I bailed after issue 1, but will probably get the trade, if only for the art.

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